Governor Gina Raimondo took questions from reporters Wednesday, during the latest in a series of occasional lunches with the media at the state Department of Administration cafeteria. Here's a look at the highlights:
Budget: The governor plans to sign the $8.9 billion budget approved over the weekend at 10 a,m. Friday. "I couldn't be more pleased with all that we've accomplished," Raimondo said, pointing to her first two budgets and major initiatives like RhodeWorks. She acknowledged some self-inflicted mistakes since her team took office, but said she would have been surprised two years ago by the number of accomplishments during her tenure. Regarding the budget, the governor said, “It makes record investments in public education, investments in job training, reductions in business taxes, big reduction in unemployment insurance, which helps every business in Rhode Island. It’s a good step forward to getting this economy back on track.” Republican lawmakers faulted the spending plan for not being bold enough in cutting spending and reducing taxes.
Economy: Despite the loss of 3,900 jobs in April and May, Raimondo said she does not believe Rhode Island's economy is slowing. She said it hasn't turned the corner, though, and vowed that improvements are on the way. Here's her characterization of the local economy: “It’s a little bit stuck. You know, I don’t think we have fully recovered. We had a good year last year – our unemployment dropped significantly, we created thousands of jobs, but it’s not where it needs to be. It needs to be revitalized. I’m not sure we’re backsliding per se. But we need to keep going, because we’re not doing enough to create enough high-quality jobs.”
Line-Iten Veto: Raimondo acknowledged she has avoided a confrontational approach with the legislature, in an attempt to strike a productive working relationship. She said pursuing a line-item veto will make more sense in 2018 than next year, since it can't go on the ballot until 2018. "I was clearly on the record," in support of a line-item veto, Raimondo said, although some backers of the issue felt her support was somewhat muted.
Recruiting Businesses: "I don't know," was the governor's answer when asked whether other companies will announce over the summer that they're coming to Rhode Island, following a recent announcement by General Electric. The governor reiterated that she had a good meeting with PayPal.
Legislative All-Nighter: Raimondo said the way in which the final legislative session of 2016 ended after sunrise Saturday morning reflects something that "seems to be kind of a tradition in Rhode Island." She said she had a hard time remembering when a legislative session ended before midnight. "There's got to be a better way," the governor added. (House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has said that the all-night session that stretched from Friday into Saturday will not be repeated.)
Vetoes: "I don't know if I'm doing to veto any other bills," beyond revenge porn legislation, Raimondo said, adding that more 300 pieces of legislation are headed toward her desk. She said she remained undecided on whether she will veto a bill sponsored by Rep. Patricia Serpa (D-West Warwick) and Sen. Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston) related to charter schools.
ProvPort: The governor said she isn't concerned that a $20 million ballot question to support improvements at ProvPort could be a risky investment. She said the proposed spending squares with strengthening infrastructure to boost the economy. At the same time, Raimondo acknowledged that some details concerning the state's role in the port's proposed expansion remain to be worked out. The governor said it's not fair to compare the ProvPort issue to 38 Studios. "We have to learn from the lessons" of that, she said, while moving on.
Staff: Raimondo characterized the pending exits of Chief of Staff Stephen Neuman and communications director Joy Fox as part of the typical change that happens within an administration, and she said further changes could happen as her administration takes a mid-term assessment (though she said she isn't aware of any more imminent departures). She said if all other things are equal she'd like to hire a Rhode Islander to succeed Neuman, although she did not commit to doing so. Jamia McDonald, who is leading changes at the state Department of Children, Youth and Families, will eventually transition away, although that time is not at hand, the governor said.
UHIP: Raimondo expressed frustration about further delays with the state's biggest IT project, the United Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP. "We haven't hit the milestones that we want to hit," she said, adding that delays and cost overruns on IT projects are very common. The latest delay came as a recommendation from the federal government, which is paying for 80 percent of the project. UHIP is touted as a way to reduce state spending.
Tax Returns: The governor said she was surprised by the extent of mistakes revealed in a new review of state tax returns. She said taxpayers won't face the same delays next year, since problems are expected to be resolved during the initial year of a new approach.
This post has been updated.