2010-10-21 / Front Page

General Assembly candidates on island’s top issues

By Holly Benton

The Jamestown Press asked candidates running for Rhode Island House and Senate seats several questions of interest to islanders. Included in the interviews are the three candidates running for the House District 74 seat. All Jamestown residents, they are Dan Capuano, an Independent; Republican Anthony Mastrostefano, and Deb Ruggiero, the incumbent Democrat who is completing her first term in the House.

Also interviewed were candidates for the Rhode Island Senate, District 13 seat, including nine-term incumbent Democrat M. Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport resident who currently serves as the state’s Senate President, and Republican Geoff Cook, also a resident of Newport. Following are their answers in alphabetical order.

Q: How do you plan to balance Rhode Island’s state budget? Raise taxes or cut spending? Do you think the reduction of state funding to cities and town should continue?

Dan Capuano: I’m a very selfish person on this island. We’ve got a great highway department, a great fire department, a great school system and our police department is fabulous. Those issues are self-contained and I am adamant that they should stay the same. The state should cut spending. Use those funds to continue valid programs. They need to put a moratorium on foreclosures and reconsider the interest so homeowners can have a fighting chance.

Geoff Cook: First there needs to be a reduction in spending. We have to stop the “spending spree”departments have at the end of the fiscal year when they realize they have money left in their budget. Rather than penalize departments for their thrift they should be rewarded. Departments must also fight wasteful spending. We must cut taxes too by making our tax rates competitive with other states. Cities and towns must also cut their spending too.

Anthony Mastrostefano: My primary focus is growing our economy and making Rhode Island an attractive place to do business. This will bring greater tax revenues. Raising taxes will hurt our economy. We need tax cuts to stay competitive and keep opportunity in R.I. There’s a “right size” for government and I’m committed to finding it. New Hampshire spends $2.3 billion less than we do, has 300,000 more people and 5.1 percent less unemployment.

Teresa Paiva Weed: Fiscal year 2010 ended with a surplus, which was achieved principally through reductions in revenue. There will be difficult decisions in 2012 as Rhode Island will lose Federal stimulus funds. We will need to examine all alternatives with a focus on responsible reductions of spending while protecting vital investments in areas such as higher education and health care. Mandate relief and consolidation alternatives will be critical at the local level.

Deb Ruggiero: We don’t need more taxes, we need more taxpayers. That means creating jobs and shoring up business that’s here paying taxes and employing neighbors. The new governor will be scrutinizing the budget of every state agency. A budget can’t be balanced on the backs of children, elderly, or developmentally disabled people. Some 60 percent of the budget is spent on education and elderly services. We have a high percentage of people over 65 – these services are a lifeline.

Q: Why should Jamestown residents vote for you? What can you do for Jamestown if elected?

Dan Capuano: I just want a chance. And I’ll give you a chance. If elected, I will leave the island’s infrastructure the same-- we’ve got a good handle on it. I’m an independent and the Democrats have this state in turmoil. They’ve had their chance to do something and they haven’t. It’s time for the people to come to the table and elect new legislation. I’m honest and I’m accessible and I’ll work hard for you.

Geoff Cook: I will work with the residents of Jamestown to ensure their best interests are represented at the state level. Jamestown’s quiet charm is opposite to the hustle and bustle of Newport, and needs to be protected. Ensure funds are available to repair and maintain Jamestown’s infrastructure to cater for resident and the influx of seasonal visitors.

Anthony Mastrostefano: I will bring a lifetime of business experience and a plan to create jobs. I’ll guard against further “back door” tax transfers from the state to Jamestown, which made our car and property taxes increase. I’ll ensure that Jamestown graduates have opportunities close to home, seniors can afford to live in their own homes; families can afford inherited property to keep their roots. I’ll also work at preserving our environment and share my expertise in energy conservation.

Teresa Paiva Weed: It has been my honor to serve as Jamestown’s senator. As your senator, I have worked with the Turnpike and Bridge Authority to ensure discounted rates for the bridge, on environmental issues including responsible renewal energy legislation, open space and habitat restoration funding. I initiated the Rhode Island Equity Aid Program and ensured that Jamestown received $250,000 in resurfacing and sidewalk repair funding.

Deb Ruggiero: Voters tell me they’re pleased with what I’ve done as a freshman legislator – reinstating the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner, the only watchdog scrutinizing our health insurance rates. I collaborated with the town for our Jamestown Juvenile Hearing Board so we can intervene and redirect our kids if they make a mistake. Also, serving on the House Committee for Small Business, I’ve supported tax reform and cutting red tape doing business in this state.

Q: What is your position on the proposed Weaver’s Cove LNG port in Fall River?

Dan Capuano: I’m totally against it. But for the future energy development in this state, LNG is a necessity. They have to reconsider where they should put it – not inland but outland. We have to encourage alternative energy – like solar or wind.

Geoff Cook: It is interesting – many environmentalists want American to move away from its dependence on foreign oil, yet block new options that work to that aim. I’m aware of the studies, which suggest Weavers Cove is a bad idea, including the security concerns expressed by the Coast Guard. I understand a good portion of District 13 residents are concerned and against Weavers Cove, and I will work at the state level to find a suitable alternative.

Anthony Mastrostefano:

Transporting five million cubic feet of explosive material through a highly populated area defies all sensibilities. It jeopardizes Rhode Island’s most precious asset, Narragansett Bay. It is simply too big of a risk. The bay is our identity and the center of our economy. I will oppose this bad idea at every turn.

Teresa Paiva Weed: I have consistently opposed the Weaver’s Cove LNG port in Fall River. I formed a Senate Task Force to research the project’s potential impact on our state’s safety, economy and environment. I have written to FERC asking that 1) they deny the amended Weaver’s Cove application, 2) that any approval require state approval by the Rhode Island CRMC, and 3) supporting the federal delegation’s request that the members of FERC come to Rhode Island.

Deb Ruggiero: I’m not opposed to LNG, I’m opposed to an LNG facility in a densely populated area, threatening the safety of our family and neighbors. The economic and environmental fallout will be devastating when bridges close and boaters and tourists – without notice – have to clear the Bay. Tourism is a $650 million industry and our local businesses cannot afford to lose visitors. It’s a fight on the federal, state, and local level – we must be vigilant.

Q: What can be done at the state level to improve the quality of education in Rhode Island?

Dan Capuano: Mandate programs but let the money follow the programs. Current state legislators took money away from the schools. Education is what this country is built on. We have to educate, employ good teachers and pay the teachers what they’re worth. Have a longer school day. Give these kids teachers they will look up to and who will work hard with them. Teachers do a great job in Rhode Island—they should be rewarded for that.

Geoff Cook: There are so many factors, which effect the quality of education. Disengaged parents, poverty in the inner city (Providence), union demands. We need to make sure the resources made available to schools goes to educating the children. I am fed up with these flashy titles programs – Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind – which really have done nothing to help the kids.

Anthony Mastrostefano: A strong economic environment is needed to cover expenses, provide opportunities for graduates, and give students a reason to study hard and attend college. Four out of 5 college graduates seek jobs elsewhere. I want to retain talent in R.I. through economic growth. I’m also in favor of developing mechanisms in which districts save money by working together to increase purchasing power for items, such as textbooks, curriculum, supplies, maintenance and health care.

Teresa Paiva Weed: Education reform in R.I. has received a kickstart with the receipt of $75 million in Race to the Top Funding. This grant will be used to help districts with professional development, technology, and curriculum development. I will continue to work with the R.I. Department of Education, teachers, the Rhode Island Foundation and superintendents on the implementation of these reforms. We need to focus on pre-K, full day kindergarten and after school programs.

Deb Ruggiero: Education is economic development because we need an educated workforce. The state has to fund our state colleges and make career development a priority. The good paying jobs in this ‘knowledge economy’ require a college education. Also, early childhood education and integrating technology in the classroom will help our students with new learning. Teachers also need the respect and resources to prepare our students for the workforce.

Q: What can the General Assembly do to improve the business climate in Rhode Island?

Dan Capuano: There are 3,500 little business in RI – that’s our infrastructure. We have to reduce business tax. We have to make Rhode Island a state that new businesses want to develop in. There are too many regulations that prevent new businesses from coming here. This administration has completely failed.

Geoff Cook: Removing some of the excessive red tape which people have to jump through to start or maintain a business in Rhode Island. I know two businesses that closed after the legislation introduced after The Station nightclub fire, because they couldn’t afford the costs associated with it. Reducing corporate taxes to make RI competitive with other states. Reduce the costs associated with hiring new employees.

Anthony Mastrostefano: I’ll work to improve business climate through growth policies – tax cuts, reduced regulations, and reductions in state spending so employers will have funds available to expand and hire. I’ll change the direction our past legislators have taken us. In 2008 Rhode Island was 47th in business friendliness. Today, Rhode Island is 49th. I’ll work to keep shoppers and jobs in RI by helping create an attractive overall business climate for every business and industry.

Teresa Paiva Weed: A first step was reforming the tax code, reducing the top marginal rate of 9.9 percent to 5.99 percent. Tax Code reform helps correct a perception problem that turns Rhode Island’s image as a high tax state around on a national scale. We passed a package of legislation this year geared towards making it easy to do business in Rhode Island. These laws consist of three elements: cutting red tape, workforce development and ensuring access to capital.

Deb Ruggiero: We must support businesses already in this state. We need to incubate start-up companies and give them tax relief to stay and expand here. The American Jobs Act will bring $13 million to RI for small business loans and will leverage banks to lend. Lowering the tax rate from 9.9 percent to 5.9 percent helps small businesses as many are LLCs and income passes through personal taxes.

Q: Do you favor helping small businesses create jobs?

Dan Capuano: Absolutely. I’m a businessman. The federal funding should help the little businessman. Little businesses are the key to this society. Take government out of their pocket and you’ll see this state boom. You’ve got the ocean, you’ve got docks, you’ve got everything here – we were the greatest port in the world at one time.

Geoff Cook: Of course. The state needs to provide the climate for small businesses to grow.

Anthony Mastrostefano: I promote policies that help businesses lower their costs, policies that benefit small, medium and large businesses alike and produce the diversified mix of companies that will build a strong, stable and growing economy. With lower costs, businesses can offer goods and services more affordably and will hire people to meet the increased demand. This is the basicsof job creation. I’ll also work to attract large businesses by reversing policies that kept them away.

Teresa Paiva Weed: R.I. is a small business state. Working together with the legislature, Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation has established an Offi ce of Regulatory Reform, which includes a newly created smallbusiness ombudsman who will assist small businesses through the local and state approval process. Making it easier for small businesses to achieve speedier approvals, will help companies attract and retain talent, and make the state more attractive to businesses looking to remain and grow or locate here.

Deb Ruggiero: Absolutely. It’s why I’m on the House Committee for Small Business. I have a strong voice at the table framing policy, reforming R.I. tax code, and helping taxpayers who want to start a small business. I meet with many business owners because that’s where you get the best ideas. It’s about collaboration. We can jump-start the economy by supporting our farms and small businesses and buying local goods.

Q: What is your vision of Rhode Island’s economic future and how do you plan to make that happen?

Dan Capuano: Transportation and education are key. My big push is Light Rail. Connect Newport into Fall River into Boston – that’s the key to the other side of this island. Have a line into Providence. Our highway, fire and police departments shouldn’t change; they do a great job. In other areas, we need consolidation – there are too many duplicate jobs. Give me a chance and I’ll work hard for you. Please consider me on November 2.

Geoff Cook: I hope this election will finally break the stronghold of Democrat one-party rule in Rhode Island. With a better twoparty system in the statehouse, bringing more efficient government to the state we can provide a better climate to do business.

Anthony Mastrostefano: Social programs, education, and our overall quality of life hinge on a healthy economy. I envision R.I. as a low-tax state that attracts businesses – a state where jobs are plentiful. Smart business policies will enable residents to stay, prosper, and enjoy our coastline and nearby urban cultural centers. Most important, residents will have the means to provide food, shelter, and education for their families. Please vote for me on November 2. Thank you!

Teresa Paiva Weed: I envision a Rhode Island that is business friendly and has a balanced economy. I believe Rhode Island will be a leader in the Renewable Energy Industry. Rhode Island’s unique location and prestigious institutions of higher education position us to be the home for innovative technology-based companies. Finally, our industries of Tourism, Defense, Fishing and Boatbuilding will continue to flourish and thrive.

Deb Ruggiero: How R.I. is poised when we grow up and out of this recession – and we will – is critical to our future economic development. Jewelry manufacturing is not returning to R.I. The emerging industries are renewable energy, biotech, digital marketing, and information technology. We need to make R.I. more competitive for business. We need more jobs, affordable healthcare, and to educate our kids to compete in a different economy than the one we grew up in.

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