Transcript:

Ian Donnis: Governor, your latest budget includes plans for an unspecified number of state-run marijuana shops, although Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Ruggiero have indicated they would not support legalization. You're trying to put in limited tax hikes previously rejected by the legislature, and you're trying to slow down the car tax phase-out, close to the heart of Speaker Mattiello. Why pursue all these things if the General Assembly is not likely to support them? 

Gov. Gina Raimondo: My job is to move Rhode Island forward and do what I think is in the best interest of Rhode Islanders most especially to protect and sustain our economic progress. You know, as I said last week, the economy now is stronger than it's been in 20, 30, 40 years. I have to keep that going. So this budget is designed specifically to invest in those initiatives that have been proven successes: proven to create jobs, improve education, create opportunity. And that's why I've made the decisions that I have. I will say, I can't allow the state to go backwards to the old way of doing things or disinvest in what works just because one or two members of the legislature have their opinions. 

Donnis: I understand you say you're putting your best foot forward, but the political reality is that tens of millions of dollars in your proposal are going to be wiped out by the legislature ….

Raimondo: …. How do you know that, Ian? A few years ago, I put in tolls. They said it was dead on arrival. We have tolls. Last year, the speaker insisted - no new compassion centers; they approved six new compassion centers. The point of government, you know, one person shouldn't have all the power. The people of Rhode Island have been crystal clear about what they want. They want line-item veto on the ballot. They want better roads and bridges. They want more job training, they want better schools. So let's do our job and invest in proven successes that allow Rhode Islanders to have opportunity. 

Donnis: Okay, you're saying there's more uncertainty in the process. Let's go to Scott. 

Scott MacKay: You have to look at one thing about Nick Mattiello, the speaker. And I agree that the governor has a problem here. Look, this guy's got a Trump district, it went 55-45 for Trump. He says things that, frankly for a Democrat are somewhat ridiculous. This whole denial of climate change that we saw just recently; a couple of years back, he said there's no such thing as white privilege. I mean, I understand he's talking to his constituents, but most Rhode Islanders don't really believe this. Certainly not most Rhode Island Democrats.

Raimondo: So, therefore it's our job, certainly my job, as a statewide elected official to stand up for all Rhode Islanders. Not just a few, certainly not just a few that are out of step with what the majority of Rhode Islanders want and need. To me, it really isn't politics. It's today our economy is growing. We're fixing our roads, people are getting educated. We've increased by a lot the number of people going to college and graduating. So I just have to fight anything that I think puts that at jeopardy. I have a job to do to stick up for Rhode Islanders.

Maureen Moakley: Okay, this is your vision. And I think it's probably a good one. But the fact of the matter is, you have put them in something of a box in the sense that either they have to go along with some of your proposals, like the marijuana ... revenue, or they're going to have to make the cuts.

Raimondo: Absolutely, yes. 

Moakley: And the point there is that this is one time when not having the line-item veto -- this budget is completely theirs. They have to do it. And the only thing you possibly can do at the end is veto it. 

Raimondo: Correct 

Moakley: Is that a possibility? 

Raimondo: Of course, that's a possibility. If they give me a budget that I think is bad for Rhode Island, puts jobs at risk, puts prosperity at risk, I would have to veto it. Now, we've never had to do that. And I don't see it is that this is that different than any other year. You know, the governor's job is to put in a proposal, there's give there's take, there's compromise. And we come up with something that at the end of the day, I could put my name on and they could put their name on. I happen to agree with the vast majority of Rhode Islanders that line-item veto would make for a cleaner, less corrupt, more efficient government. But even without it, I think we'll be able to come up with a budget where there's a give and take and we get to a good product. These proposals that I'm getting behind are very popular. So Scott makes the point that, you know, every legislator is on the ballot next summer, they're all going to be campaigning. And...

Donnis: …. Are you going to follow through with your talk about possibly supporting challengers to some legislative incumbents?

Raimondo: Absolutely, if I have to. Again, this isn't personal.

MacKay:  They think it is!

Raimondo: But it isn't. These are fights worth fighting.

Donnis: ‘If you have to’ - How would you define what would make you have to follow through on that threat?

Raimondo: A budget that I think takes Rhode Island backwards - exactly what Maureen was just saying, I don't know how to say it more plainly. For years for decades -- you have been around -- Rhode Island's been the story of fits and starts, fits and starts. We finally have a bit of momentum, not perfection, not there. On every metric, we're moving in the right direction. So I'm not allowing us to go backwards. I want a future where people have good jobs where kids can get a good education, where we have more people who have a degree past high school, so I'm going to go to the mat for that. That's a fight worth fighting. 

MacKay: We can argue about the jobs part. You know, the Republicans are going to say this is because of Trump's great economy. The jobs are up all over New England and all over the country. However, when you first came in, you did say you want to grow the economy. The other thing you said you wanted to do is end this constant conga line of structural deficits. Let's give you - let's cede that on the economy, things are better, and they are. But, you haven't really dented this whole problem of these annual annual deficits $200 million this year, $300 million last year, and just goes on and on. Why is that? 

Raimondo: Well, I didn't foresee we'd be cutting taxes as much as we have. You know, since I've been governor, we've eliminated the energy tax on businesses, that's tens of millions of dollars. By the way, I think it was the right thing to do, to give businesses a chance; three times cut the unemployment insurance tax, cut the corporate minimum tax, cutting the car tax. That's hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that contributes to the deficit. Also, if I'm being very honest, we have had to make up for lost time, probably more than I realized in terms of our investments, you know, like, infrastructure, education, school buildings. We had gotten out of the business of investing.

MacKay: But you bonded most of the school buildings.

Raimondo: Much of it, but not all of it. It's tens of millions of dollars out of the state budget. 

Moakley: But when you talk about revenue differences, the fact is when you look at the big picture, we are spending more and more money …. our budget keeps going up. Over 10 billion. People are concerned about the size of government, state employees, as well as the cost of government. Is there anything you could see in the future where you can cut down on the state workforce in other ways or reduce this constant escalation of the money?

Raimondo: So two things: Rhode Island has one of the least numbers of state employees per capita of any state in the country. We actually have very few state employees per capita. Now, part of the reason for that is because in the Carcieri years, it was eight years of cuts. I don't know is the answer to that question of …  I'm always looking for efficiency. We have an overtime problem that we need to crack down on. We have to constantly be more efficient. If you look at the budget, the real money's in two areas, education aid to cities and towns over a billion dollars and Medicaid. So the place I think, to reduce spending and do it smartly, is in those two areas. And as it relates to Medicaid, I have an initiative in this budget designed to bend the cost curve on Medicaid. Over time, it will save real money. And by making sure that people who have jobs can get their insurance from their employer, not from Medicaid. So the answer is yes, we have to keep shrinking, but we have to do it smartly and not shortchange investments. 

Donnis: We need to hold it there because we're out of time. Thanks for joining us.