By ALEX MALM
Last Thursday the Crowne Plaza was the site for the first public forum featuring candidates for governor hosted by the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council. The forum, …
By ALEX MALM
Last Thursday the Crowne Plaza was the site for the first public forum featuring candidates for governor hosted by the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council. The forum, consisting of five Democrats and Ashley Kalus the lone Republican, was moderated by Stephanie Machado from WPRI 12. Here’s how the candidates stood on key issued raised during the forum:
One of the biggest questions facing the state right now is how to spend the $1.24 billion in ARPA funds that the state currently has.
Kalus said that the state has a once in a lifetime opportunity to “hit the reset button in Rhode Island.”
The number one issue that she would want to tackle with the funds is education.
“I am not interested in one-time fixes or unfunded commitments in programs. We need to invest in education, competitiveness and housing,” said Kalus.
Community activist Dr. Luis Daniel Munoz said that he thinks it’s more important now more than ever that the state prioritizes healthcare.
“We need to invest heavily in community health infrastructure,” said Munoz.
Munoz said that the state needs to create a sustainable healthcare system which includes allocating funds to a free community health “hub” across the five counties.
“By doing that we need to take an active step as a state to ensure that we are controlling the procurement process so that price controls are set,” said Munoz.
Former CVS executive Helena Foulkes said that she has a detailed plan on how to spend the funds on her website and said that she proposed spending $500 million on education.
Some of the specifics for the funds would go towards summer learning, before and after school learning and to make sure every school in the state has a guidance counselor.
“I have a host of things I like to see,” said Foulkes.
Foulkes said that she recruited many people to work at CVS who lived in Massachusetts to take advantage of their public school system.
“I think it is both a moral duty we have for our kids and a huge economic opportunity,” said Foulkes.
Former Secretary of State Matt Brown said housing was his top priority with the funds.
“We have a situation in this state where most people, everyone except the very rich, are struggling to afford housing,” said Brown.
Brown said that everyone wants to be able to put a roof over their family’s heads but it is difficult currently in Rhode Island.
“For a lot of people that’s a huge struggle right now,” said Brown.
Brown said specifically he would put funds towards building 10,000 “truly affordable homes.”
Brown said he would also propose capping rent increases at four percent per year.
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said that she thinks housing is very important and is one of the areas she would use the funds.
“We have to use it in a way that is long lasting,” said Gorbea.
Gorbea said that stable housing would also help with education because it would allow students to stay in the same schools instead of moving often.
“Housing is absolutely foundational for improving our quality of life and being able to invest in an infrastructure that has an impact beyond just today,” said Gorbea.
Gov. Dan McKee said that when he was preparing the budget and collecting suggestions from people he said that the funds couldn’t be for a program that needed to be funded in the future and wanted to focus on increasing people’s incomes and helping the economy.
McKee said that a 10 year working document was created that deals with education, the economy and healthcare to name a few.
“The economy is central to the issue but housing is about economy, education is about economy, childcare is about economy, jobs and good paying jobs are about the economy,” said McKee.
On inflation Brown said that the cost of basic needs continues to go up which is compounded by the current inflation problem.
“I’m not talking about the luxuries, I’m talking about housing, I’m talking about healthcare the basic things people need have gone up hundreds of percent while wages have stayed essentially the same,” said Brown.
Brown said that the state needs to raise the minimum wage to $19 an hour.
Gorbea who proposed temporarily suspending the gas tax said that when the inflation problem first started people were feeling it at the gas pump.
“It was really about speaking to people’s pain,” said Gorbea.
Gorbea said she personally knows people who weren’t filling their gas tanks in hopes of prices going down by the end of the week.
Gorbea also said that they need to increase manufacturing in the state to help with the supply chain issues.
“We should be doubling down on manufacturing in our state,” said Gorbea.
Foulkes said that she proposed a one time $500 middle class tax cut for anyone making under $100,000 a year. She said she would use part of the surplus to fund it. Foulkes argued that it is a better option than suspending the gas tax because not everyone has a car.
“I think it’s a better proposal than a gas tax cut,” said Foulkes.
McKee said that his administration is trying to help small businesses with the over $600 million surplus.
“It’s a matter of being smart about how we use the surplus dollars,” said McKee.
McKee also pointed to the elimination of the car tax as helping people and businesses.
“That’s a major pivotal play,” said McKee.
Kalus agreed with suspending the gas tax.
“Inflation is hurting working families,” said Kalus.
Kalus also said that the state needs to look at long term solutions for inflation.
“We need to have a better business environment. It’s the only long term way we can deal with this issue,” said Kalus.
Munoz said “It’s not just inflation, it’s mismanagement. It’s a misallocation of priorities.
“I believe we need a supplemental wage program,” said Munoz.
The forum was just a few days after a draft of a Supreme Court ruling that would strike down Roe V Wade was leaked.
Machado asked the candidates if they thought that abortions should be covered under the Medicaid program and for state employees health insurance plans.
“Rights that can’t be accessed are not rights,” said Gorbea.
McKee said he also supports it and would sign legislation if it reaches his desk protecting a woman’s right to choice.
Kalus said that she is pro life and said that the right to an abortion is codified in state law.
She also talked about how it was a personal decision for her including having struggles with IVF.
“Life is a personal issue,” said Kalus.
Kalus said that the state shouldn’t expand it any further.
Munoz said, “Women always have autonomy over their health.”
Munoz also said that reproductive rights is a human right.
“No one should ever threaten that,” said Munoz.
Asked about it, Foulkes said, “Absolutely.”
“I don’t think that your insurance should allow us to decide,” said Foulkes.
Brown said that is a “crisis.”
“It is a personal crisis for people across the country right now,” said Brown.
Brown said that the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act needs to be passed right away.
“It’s not a real right if people can’t afford it,” said Brown.
Brown also said “I will not endorse and will not accept the endorsement of any elected official who is opposed to codifying Roe versus Wade.”
On the issue of minimum wage Foulkes said, “I would accelerate the move to 15.”
Gorbea said she agreed that they need to get to $15 an hour as a state.
Kalus said that the state is on a path for a $15 an hour minimum wage and that they should not deviate from it.
McKee said that, “Fifteen dollars an hour is a good start but that›s not enough money for people to actually earn a living.”
McKee said that the state needs ways to raise incomes.
Munoz said, “our goal should be $25 however long it takes.”
All the Democratic candidates at the forum said “yes” to the question of supporting the Democratic nominee for governor if they don’t win the primary.
Aside from Kalus who is Republican and would be supporting her own candidacy, Munoz said he would “as long as they’re consistent with the values we represent on this stage by the time we get there.”
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