The Legislative Press & Information Bureau
|Senate continues to take action to make it easy to do business in Rhode Island
By President of the Senate M. Teresa Paiva Weed
|In the 2011 legislative session, the Senate
continued to listen to the business community and monitor
implementation of the reforms put in place last year to overhaul the
income tax, cut red tape, and improve access to capital and workforce
development. Our objective continues to be to work together with the
business community to help them thrive and, in turn, create good jobs
for all Rhode Islanders.
As part of these efforts, we hosted an economic summit in March focused
on workforce development and the critical need to align the skills of
the workforce with industry demands. Two pieces of legislation stemmed
from that summit. One, now enacted into law, is aimed at ensuring
career and technical education programs address the changing needs of
local businesses, promote workforce development, and align with
industry standards and higher education institutions. This helps to
ensure that students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century and
the requirements of post-secondary education and training programs.
The second bill, which the Senate passed, would create an easy to use
Rhode Island Enhanced Jobs Match Program to strengthen interagency
collaboration among state departments that help job seekers, enhance
the current web-based workforce development and job match system, and
quickly identify and address skill gaps among job seekers.
At our second economic summit, held in May, we listened to the needs of
representatives from Rhode Island’s manufacturing, tourism and
hospitality industries as we discussed job development opportunities
and challenges. One of the actions coming out of that summit is the
legislative Port Commission’s examination of growing exports.
The Port Commission also worked throughout the session to explore
maximizing the potential of Rhode Island’s working waterfronts. A
study commissioned by the Commission found that additional development
in areas such as the automobile business, bulk fruit, container barges
and wind energy staging could generate more than 1,000 jobs, with more
than $70 million in wages and $8 million in new tax revenue.
In our continuing efforts to cut red tape, the Senate developed
legislation, enacted into law, to speed the issuance of building
permits for residences and commercial projects. The Senate passed a
bill that responds directly to the time and money being lost by
companies frustrated by the varied community-level approvals by
establishing a funding mechanism for an online, local-level building
plan permitting process. In addition, the Senate passed legislation
aimed at addressing the boiler inspection process so that small
companies aren’t subject to the same requirements as large
companies. The Senate will continue to work with the House to address
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio spearheaded the effort to
establish a mechanism to sell and market the land made available in
Providence through the relocation of Route 195. He worked in
collaboration throughout the session with Governor Lincoln
Chafee’s administration, the House of Representatives, Providence
Mayor Angel Taveras and Providence officials and Providence’s
Senate and House delegation. The legislation ensures that this prime
real estate is best utilized to enhance the knowledge economy and
attract private investment in the capital city, create good jobs, and
invigorate new industries.
In partnership with the House, we developed a landmark package of
renewable energy legislation that will facilitate and promote the
growth of green jobs and clean energy in Rhode Island. These new laws:
reconstruct the state’s “net-metering” statute to
promote small-scale energy-generation projects; establish a new
financing structure to promote “distributed generation” of
renewable energy, simplifying the process of contracting with National
Grid; and speed the process of necessary technical studies to promote
renewable energy projects. Also enacted was legislation to establish a
Renewable Energy Coordinating Board to develop and recommend a
strategic implementation plan for the state.
The Senate’s Fisheries Task Force worked collaboratively with the
fishing industry to help cut through the complex regulatory hurdles
they face. One of the key results of that task force was establishment
of a Seafood Marketing Collaborative to support local fishermen and
small businesses in the marketing of locally produced seafood, similar
to local farmers’ markets.
We worked to improve government efficiency and transparency, also
important to our state’s overall competitiveness. Every floor
vote in 2011 was placed online in real time. Committee votes are online
as well. More than ever before, there was a steady pace of legislation
passing throughout the session, with more than half of the bills that
eventually became law approved in the Senate by the end of May.
In addition to these efforts, Rhode Island’s competitiveness and
the creation of jobs was our foremost concern in development of the
state budget. In his budget proposal, Governor Chafee put forth a bold
plan which started a necessary discussion regarding the sales tax.
Following months of hearings in the Senate Finance Committee during
which we listened to the concerns of the business community, we chose
instead to close the budget gap largely through government spending
cuts, with a focus on reducing the structural deficit.
Working together with our colleagues in the House, we eliminated future
longevity raises for state employees, consolidated several state
agencies, and reduced human services spending without cutting
eligibility. At the same time, we made critical investments in
education, including full funding of the state aid formula and
increased funding for higher education. We worked to help cities and
towns manage their budgets efficiently, enabling municipalities to
require eligible retirees to enroll in Medicare, investing $5.5 million
in Payment in Lieu of Taxes funding, freezing municipal tipping fees,
reforming the process for municipal workers who are injured on duty,
and restoring the cut to the textbook loan reimbursement program.
The state budget also restores the Unemployment Trust Fund to solvency
by 2015, eliminating borrowing from the federal government. It creates
a sustainable funding structure for transportation projects,
eliminating the need to rely on bond funding. It replenishes the Rainy
Day Fund, and significantly reduces out-year deficits, a priority for
These changes help to put our state on more secure economic footing
well into the future, and will help in our shared efforts to grow jobs.
But our work is not done.
We are currently engaged in the process of addressing the state’s
massive unfunded pension liability. This will mean very difficult, but
necessary, choices in the coming months. While we continue to meet
regularly with General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Governor Chafee, we
are preparing for committee hearings and a fall session to reform the
retirement system in a manner that is fair to taxpayers and ensures a
viable, sustainable retirement system is available for current and
The very successful 2011 session of the General Assembly also included
significant progress on many other fronts. To name a few: a compromise
was reached in the seemingly intractable issue of access to birth
records for adult adoptees; the Henry Shelton Act provides a fair and
practical means for families behind on their payments to keep the heat
on; and the state took the historic step of granting equal state rights
and benefits to same gender couples through civil unions.
I thank Speaker Fox and Governor Chafee for their continued strong
leadership and partnership as we work together on these and many issues
to lead Rhode Island to a prosperous future.
(Senate President Paiva Weed represents Senate District 13, Newport and Jamestown)