Good evening, I’m Blake Filippi, the Leader of the Republican Caucus in your House of Representatives. Please join me for 10 minutes as we address some of the import issues we face in Rhode Island.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Civil rights challenge of our time is access to a quality education.
Rhode Island has a two-classed education system: if you live in the right zip code or have the means to send your family to private school, they will most likely get a good education and have limitless potential. If you don’t live in the right zip code, and can’t afford private school, your family faces an uncertain future, lacking social mobility.
Martin Luther King understood that legal equality isn’t enough – there must also be economic opportunity: he said “What does it profit someone to sit at an integrated lunch counter if they don’t have enough money to buy a hamburger.” Our primary civic duty must be to fix our education system, and it must take precedence over any other government programs – and any other interest groups.
Our children must come first.
We have watched the necessary state takeover of the Providence School system, with an estimated turn-around time of 5 to 10 years – and there are many other failing schools now eligible for intervention. But a state takeover isn’t the cure all. The state took over the Central Falls school department over 25 years ago, and it is still one of the worst performing school systems in the state.
Indeed, our Governor and Secretary of State, who live in Providence, send their children to private schools -- as does our State Commission of Education. In fact, fewer than half of the school-aged children of elected officials from Providence attend traditional public schools. And we cannot fault them for this – I would do the same!
But we can fault them if they oppose these same choices for parents in failing schools who do not have the resources to send their kids elsewhere. We cannot expect these parents to wait 5 to 10 years for a state intervention with an uncertain outcome.
Frederick Douglass observed that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Let us come together now to build strong children, and in turn, a strong future for Rhode Island.
Here’s how Republicans will do just that: we will empower families in failing schools to send their children to performing schools, within, or outside, their existing district. If another school has space, it will have the option to receive these students, and the money will follow the child.
Republicans trust families most to do what is best for their children, rather than being stuck in a failing school . . . with no alternatives.
Republicans will also submit legislation to create focused “Language Academies” to address the English as second language crisis we face. Many school districts are inundated with children that cannot speak English – driving up the cost and downgrading the quality of education for all children.
State Language academies will focus on English proficiency. Once proficient, students will matriculate back to their sending school district, where they can then begin their careers as lifelong learners.
We will mitigate the costs for these proposals, such as transportation costs, with a new tax on universities and colleges related to their endowments.
Right now, Rhode Island universities and colleges largely do not pay property taxes. Brown University sits on over $1 Billion Dollars of real estate in Providence, with an over $4 Billion Dollar investment portfolio . . . yet it is largely exempt from property taxes that would help to fund the Providence School system.
This is intolerable, not just for Providence residents, but for everyone in Rhode Island that funds the annual $324 Million in state aid to Providence and its schools. It’s time for our local universities and colleges with substantial endowments to share in the cost of educating the next generation of higher education learners.
Our college graduates also face a college loan crisis brought on by overpriced tuitions and government-sponsored student loans. While we cannot fix this problem on the state level, we can mitigate its impacts on our citizens.
Here’s how: Republicans have long been opposed to the State’s robust corporate welfare programs -- handouts of taxpayer money to various special interests. We give $20 million per year to the Hollywood movie industry!
Our position is this: while we oppose corporate welfare, if our leaders see fit to appropriate it in our yearly budgets, our children and neighbors struggling to pay off college loans get the first bite at those monies -- with a $1000 per year tax credit on their student loan payments. Whatever is left over would then be available for the corporate special interests that sought the money in the first place.
We also need to make sure the next generation of Rhode Islanders can find meaningful pursuits -- right here at home.
One of our biggest exports is our children – and it is heartbreaking when Rhode Islanders must move away to find a job. It’s no coincidence that Boston is booming, while our tallest building stands empty. This is the result of our hostile business climate. Many times, it does not make sense to invest in Rhode Island unless you can obtain handouts of taxpayer funded corporate welfare. It not only morally wrong to hand out our money to businesses, it further scares away other investment that does not want to compete against those getting public money.
We must enact intelligent tax policies and regulatory reform that everyone can advantage of -- that will nurture local and out of state investment, and create the ground-up businesses development our state needs.
We also must act decisively to stem the tide of our seniors leaving for other states that do not tax their retirement income or life’s work when they die.
When seniors depart, they take with them their wealth, spending, business contacts, and mentorship for the next generations. They’re not going to Florida solely for the weather. Seniors largely leave because it is in their financial interest to do so. Just today Wallet Hub rated Rhode Island the 4th least affordable state to retire in, and we cannot blame seniors for leaving and doing what is best for their families - but we can enact pro-retiree policies to keep them here – similar to many other states – like not taxing retirement income and providing greater estate tax exemptions.
The outflow of our educated youth, businesses and seniors has created serious budgetary constraints in our state – yet our budget continues to balloon – now at 10 Billion dollars – that’s $10,000 for every man, woman and child, not even including your local taxes.
Even with our $10 billion budget, we are failing to adequately provide for core government functions, like taking care of children in DCYF custody, honoring our veterans, and maintaining public infrastructure. The simple fact is that we fail to efficiently operate and monitor government spending.
Perhaps most concerning is that Rhode Island faces a $200 Million deficit – we’re taking in $200M less than we need to fund our $10 Billion dollar budget. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has a $1 Billion surplus. We are facing this deficit during one of the greatest economic expansions our country has experienced – we should be having surpluses right now, like Massachusetts.
We must get our fiscal house in order, because we a setting up government expenditures that will not be able to survive an economic downturn – and there will be immense pain from drastic cuts in the event of a recession.
Republicans have long called for: - A line item veto to empower the governor to eliminate portions of the legislatively enacted budget, - An independent office of inspector general to root out waste, - And zero based-budgeting that requires every department to annually justify its expenditures – like your family does. These smart initiatives are great start to stem the dramatic annual increases we see in our state budget, protect us from recession, and keep more money in your wallet. People want live here, if they can afford it. One reason is our environment – that is a social and economic treasure, which must be protected.
Yet, we’ve taken our eyes off important local environmental issues that we have the ability measurably impact, like: - Protecting our eroding shorelines; - Repairing dams that are hazards to entire communities; - Managing our forests that are primed for fires similar to the 1942 disaster; - Adequately funding the Department of Environmental Management and our parks -- which we have been gutted in recent years; -And ensuring our water quality – like cleaning the lead out of the pipes in our urban centers which is poisoning our children, and dealing with the industrial hazardous chemicals – which has been found in our water supplies from Cumberland to Charlestown
While we do have a beautiful environment, we must be able to enjoy it, and that includes being able to exercise our constitutional right to access our shoreline in this Ocean State.
There is a lack of clarity where private property ends and the public shoreline begins – all over this state – and this has led to unnecessary conflict. Republicans will submit smart proposals that protect our citizens’ constitutional right to access their shoreline, while respecting private property.
Now that it is 2020 and an election year is upon us, we must act to protect the sanctity of our elections. Right now, we allow Senate and House leadership to draw up our Senate and House legislative districts – benefiting those in power at the expense of our right to choose our representatives. It’s called gerrymandering, and it is done to the extreme here.
We fully support Common Cause’s initiative for a citizen’s commission to draw legislative districts, not legislators, which will vindicate our most fundamental right to vote in this Republic.
Our citizens also face significant privacy challenges in this modern era. Privacy is a cornerstone of a free society. However, right now, government agents do not need a warrant to access your internet search history. Republicans have, and will continue, to advance legislation to protect your digital privacy, including what you read on the internet, from prying government eyes absent a warrant signed by a judge.
Tonight, we’ve laid forth specific policy initiatives to solve some of the most pressing issues we face. Perhaps more important is how we together accomplish these goals, and others, in the months and years ahead.
Many times we Rhode Islanders believe there is little hope and that our voices don’t matter - that our path is written by others in rooms we can’t access. I’m here to tell you that there is nothing further from the truth -- and that people get the government they demand in this country.
The Rhode Island we know has an incredible revolutionary heritage. One of liberty, justice, free enterprise, and citizen activism. The Rhode Island we know can have future of incredible opportunity, where every child can get a great education and have a bright future, where families and businesses can thrive, and where retirees can call home in financial security.
This can be our future --- if we demand it.
The choice is yours Rhode Island. This is your home and there is no place like it. If you too believe there is a better way, join us, demand it, fight for it, and we all share in a bright future.
In 1636, Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, established the first working model of Democracy after being banished from Massachusetts for his “extreme views” concerning freedom of speech and religion. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams publicly acknowledged Williams as the originator of these concepts, along with the freedom of public assembly, in the First Amendment in the United States Constitution. Today, Rhode Island House Republicans uphold the liberties designed by our Founders and preserved in our Constitution, and are the primary legislative body promoting lean government, fighting for lower taxes, and advocating for initiatives and policies that improve the economy and in turn, the lives of Rhode Islanders. As members of a part-time assembly, we are small business owners, retired educators, community activists, lawyers, farmers, military service veterans, volunteers, former local officials, retired social workers, coaches, musicians, churchgoers and board directors -- bringing these community engagement and professional experiences to our work, on your behalf, at the Rhode Island State House.