Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Democratic Reponse to State of the State

Democratic Message Following State of the State Address

January 22, 2008, M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Senate Majority Leader

Good evening. I am Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed, and I am joined this evening by House Majority Leader Gordon Fox in presenting our vision for 2008.

Like most of the country, our state is facing serious financial strains amidst a flat, receding, economy. Unemployment and energy prices are up; the housing market and consumer confidence are down.

The last time Rhode Island faced such a serious budget shortfall was the Banking Crisis. Many of the issues raised by Governor Carcieri – furlough days – cutting municipal aid were discussed then. At that time, then-Governor Bruce Sundlun gathered all parties together to seek solutions. There were disagreements and debates, but there was cooperation. All of our citizens were asked to share in the budget cuts, local government, labor, business and human service agencies. The fiscal crisis we face today will require similar cooperation. Bringing people to the table – leaders in government, business and labor – enables us to make smarter decisions.

Budget decisions must be based on facts. The proposed supplemental budget includes eliminating health benefits for 9,000 women and children. The overwhelming majority of funds in the Medicaid budget are not those used to assist these working families.

These are the facts:

The average cost of Rite Care is less than $3,000 a person

The average cost of all other adults on Medicaid is more than $23,000 a person

Children and families on Rite Care comprise 70 percent of the Medicaid enrollees, yet only 20 percent of the Medicaid budget

Rite Care is a highly cost effective program. In examining necessary Medicaid cuts we cannot simply shift costs to our health centers and hospitals.

Our priority should be to keep people out of emergency rooms for routine care, and support them at home for long-term care.

We need to redouble our efforts to address the other 80 percent of the Medicaid budget. Unless we restructure Medicaid to insure the best patient outcomes by providing care in more appropriate and less costly settings, the cost of Medicaid will continue to balloon uncontrollably.

We are encouraged by the appointment of Gary Sasse to head the Department of Revenue. The Senate is scheduled to vote on his confirmation tomorrow. The legislature worked closely with RIPEC and in particular Mr. Sasse when we developed Rhode Island’s property tax cap, and we look forward to working with him to gain a better analysis of the effectiveness of various tax incentives.

Fair and predictable funding for our schools is an urgent need. The joint committee led by Senator Hanna Gallo and Representative Edith Ajello has laid the groundwork for a new school funding formula. Let’s work together and get it done this year.

Accountability and efficiency will be a critical part of any proposal. The Senate is holding hearings next week to review the efforts currently being made by the state’s five regional collaboratives to determine if they can be building blocks for increased collaboration among our school districts.
Property tax reduction has historically been a Senate priority. As a state, we must support local initiatives that will help municipalities meet their expenses without raising taxes. Now is the time for local government leaders to come together, city and town managers, school superintendents, school committees and councils, to discuss where efficiencies can be found. This is not just a state budget problem.

Yet we must keep our promise to support their efforts by reimbursing mandates or reviewing their necessity. Despite the clamor of the House Republican caucus that mandates have been left unfunded, the Administration’s supplemental budget proposes to make funding for reimbursable mandates optional. We urge the Governor to include this funding in the 2009 budget proposal.
The economy and education are inextricably linked, and we have focused much of our effort over the past year on workforce development issues.

The Senate and the House are working with and support Governor Carcieri and the Economic Development Corporation on an initiative to help CCRI better prepare its students for a 21st century workplace. We will support efforts to further strengthen Rhode Island’s research and development capacity. The legislature will continue its support for the defense industry which is so important to Aquidneck Island and the entire state.

Finally, while economic issues will certainly be the focus in the upcoming months, the General Assembly will continue to address the many issues that concern Rhode Islanders including reforms to our criminal justice system, public safety, consumer protections, and environmental issues.

For example, shifting to greater use of renewable sources of energy has been and will continue to be a top priority for both chambers, as Leader Fox will discuss momentarily.

This session, improving the state’s recycling efforts has been identified by the Senate as a priority. The Central Landfill in Johnston is rapidly approaching capacity, and the state is recycling far less than our potential.

Earlier today, the Senate took the first step in this process by bringing together industry experts as well as city and town leaders. We hope to adopt policies which will result in increased recycling success in communities.

We are committed to working with the Governor to resolve the current budget crisis. We ask each and every one of you to work with us. We know that we will not always agree (debate is the very heart of the democratic process) however working together, we hope to find acceptable solutions. To quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment.”
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