Paiva-Weed, Perry answer major questions facing Jamestown
Campaigns are drawing to a close and as Election Day draws near, incumbent Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport, Jamestown) and her opponent Donna Perry share their views on some of the major questions facing Rhode Island and Jamestown in the upcoming year.
What do you see as the top solution(s) for the state budget crisis?
Paiva-Weed: The most important thing we can do in response to the state budget crisis is to invest in education, from pre-K through collegeand encourage the creation of higher-paying jobs. The Economic Development Corporation's 21st Century Work Force Initiative that I proposed and which passed this year matches local graduates with local businesses. I strongly support adult education and training as well. We must prepare our work force to transition to new jobs in fields such as bio-technology, the marine industry and environmental or green jobs in areas like wind power or bio-diesel. I also support the recommendations of Judge Robert Flanders to invest in the University of Rhode Island as a research institution. Another area of concern involves our current tax policies. I intend to continue to work in a bi-partisan fashion to review our tax policies and evaluate what areas we can improve and what changes we can make to improve Rhode Island's image. I will continue to make policy decisions that will make Rhode Island more attractive to business and to grow and protect our existing businesses.
Jamestown may not receive any state funding for education next year. How do you feel about that?
Perry: Even before I am a candidate, first and foremost I am a parent. I have two children in Melrose School here in Jamestown and I am very concerned with educational funding. The state ought to be able to support schools and meet educational mandates whether in regular education or in special education. Cities need money in order to meet these mandates. The state must get hold of the budget or schools and communities will certainly suffer.
In my role as majority leader, I have successfully advocated to protect the current funding that Jamestown receives. I will continue to work on issues that will save communities money through the use of statewide purchasing power, such as an out of district transportation policy. The statewide transportation initiative began in Jamestown. I believe that if we can help communities to save money on non-educational related services such as busing, we can return that money to the community for use in education. I secured funding for the Department of Education to have a consultant look at the cost to communities for busing private students, charter school students, and special needs students to evaluate where communities can collaborate or consolidate these services in order to save money.
What are your top priorities if you are re-elected/elected?
Paiva-Weed: My first priority will be to address economics, job development and our statewide tax policy. I will also focus on our educational funding formula and the issues associated with that. When we passed the property tax cap, the legislature committed to delivering a predictable school funding formula. Those efforts were de-railed last year while I fought to preserve funding for Jamestown and Newport. I am committed to resuming the work to draft a fair educational funding formula in the upcoming year. I will also continue to focus my efforts on renewable energy initiatives, which is something we worked really hard on last year.
The first thing I will do is to push for the structural changes necessary to address the budget. I would like to look at personnel costs, especially retirement costs for state workers. Presently, there is a panel assigned to study this issue. The time for study is over. The panel must complete this work immediately and structural changes must be put into place now. We can no longer afford a defined benefit plan. Many states have done away with this defined benefit plan years ago. Rhode Island is very behind the times in this regard. I will push to get this done, to bring it right to the floor and to move forward. I will also have a voice in state gambling concerns and will make this a priority. I believe there should be a moratorium on gambling that involves no more expansion of gambling hours or types of games. Since gambling is the third biggest source of revenue in the state, I believe it is important to have a voice in this area.
What legislation do you plan to introduce that would directly impact Jamestown?
I look forward to working with the bipartisan group working on appropriate illegal immigration enforcement. I support the E-Verify Bill. This is a sensible bill. It is not an extreme bill. The E-Verify Bill mandates background checks for all hires in all companies, not just the state or companies doing business with the state. The governor has already implemented an executive order to mandate the verification of those workers. This is an extremely tough economy and Rhode Island has the highest unemployment rate in the country. I have a hard time believing that there are not local people willing to take these positions. We need to protect those jobs for legal residents.
Last year I was very involved in net metering which impacts Jamestown's ability to have a successful windmill project. I anticipate continuing to work with the town council and to address any concerns as well as to further incentivize that development. Regarding educational funding, I intend to insure that Jamestown's interests are protected. I also anticipate that transportation funding will be one of the first issues we will address. I will work to insure that residents of Jamestown/Newport are not left to unfairly subsidize the bridge improvements alone. If legislation is necessary to address this concern then I will introduce it. I am also prepared to introduce legislation to restore the RIPTA bus routes. I look forward to working with the town council and the town administrator on any concerns and to work toward the passage of any initiatives brought forth by the council.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the state and Jamestown next year other than the budget crisis?
In addition to the budget and transportation funding, finding ways to insure the affordability of health care for individuals and businesses in Rhode Island will be a priority.
In talking with people, whether a small business on Narragansett Avenue in Jamestown or a big firm in Providence, we have burdensome taxes on our local businesses. We are not competitive with nearby states. Overall, our business tax rate is less attractive than either Connecticut or Massachusetts. We know we are losing businesses. Providing relief to small businesses, which are the backbone of communities like Jamestown, will need to be a priority. Vital changes need to be made. Rhode Island has reached the tipping point.