Nicholas Mattiello, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, spoke for about 45 minutes at the Rhode Island Taxpayers summer meeting, interweaving specific policy proposals, with ideas on the philosophy of governing throughout the course of his remarks. Below is a retro-liveblog of Speaker Mattiello’s presentation:
[0:14] Speaker Mattiello thanks the RI Taxpayers association for being “such great watchdogs for the Rhode Island taxpayer”.
[0:26] “Advocacy and different opinions make us all stronger”.
[0:56] The Speaker recognizes Rep. Robert Craven (in the audience) as one of the reasonable and business-friendly voices in the RI House.
[1:27] The Speaker recognizes the other (small-s) speakers today; Janet Coit from the Department of Environmental Management, Justice Robert Flanders, and Bill McCort from the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association.
[3:02] The Speaker recognizes two statewide office seekers in the audience, Ken Block and Ernie Almonte.
[3:39] Speaker Mattiello offers his condolences to the family of Harry Staley. “It is a tremendous loss to the state…he was a gentleman, and he brought an important perspective to the discussion”.
[5:06] Mentions that Harry Staley was an advocate of putting GA votes on line, the speaker thinks Harry would be pleased that votes are now online in realtime, and that legislative sessions are livestreamed.
[5:26] The speaker also notes that Harry Staley worked tirelessly on the Master lever. The speaker is “honored and pleased”, that the House passed master-lever repeal unanimously this session. “It seemed to be an issue that was important to the citizenry, and because it was important to the citizenry, I thought it was important to do”.
[6:15; Audio: 0m 57s] “I think everybody has recognized that I’m trying to be a different kind of speaker. I believe that the Speakership is the people’s office”.
[6:55] Mentions that he believes that he’s the first speaker that’s ever spoken to this group.
[7:42] “When I became speaker, I indicated that we have to become business-friendlier”.
[8:35] “As soon as I became speaker, I concentrated on jobs and the economy…”
[8:43] “…and I agree, what government does is create the environment for economic activity and job creation. We should not be in the business of picking winners and losers, or trying to directly create jobs”.
[9:00] “I’m pleased to say that, since I became speaker, we’re all working together in the House; myself, my leadership team, every colleague in the House….We’re working together to serve you, and that’s Democrats and Republicans. I’m proud that I was elected by Democrats and Republicans, as speaker 5 out of 6 Republicans voted for me, and I’ve worked very collaboratively with the Republican minority in the House”.
[9:34] “Politics is politics, but when we get elected, we’re there to govern, and I was pleased that I set a different tone with the Republican minority, and we’re actually working together very well, and a lot of the ideas that we actually enacted came from the Republicans”.
[10:05] “There’s no monopoly on good ideas. Democrats, Republicans, we’re all people, and we’re all there with the best intentions of serving the public”.
[10:20; Audio: 1m 46s] “Sometimes, I think there’s a disconnect between the elected officials, the public and groups such as this. We’re all well-intentioned, but we see things a little differently”.
[11:00] Says elected officials share the public’s frustration with RI’s high unemployment rate and generally poor economic performance. “That cannot stand, and we have to make changes to improve all of that”.
[11:37] “I think most people in government are well-intentioned, and that they work very hard on behalf of their constituents”.
[11:47] “And as long as I am speaker, until we are not anywhere near last in the ratings and the unemployment rate, we will continue to concentrate on jobs and the economy and move this state in the right direction”.
[12:33] Speaker Mattiello says he is pleased that the House led the way in lowering the corporate tax from 9% to 7%, which gives RI the lowest corporate tax in New England…
[13:55] …and he’s pleased with the changes in the estate tax. The “cliff was inherently unfair”; “it was like a slap in the face to folks”.
[14:26] The raise of the estate-tax floor to $1.5M is an improvement, but still not where RI should be.
[14:57] The sales tax is “something we will continue to look at”.
[15:10] Statement that “even by your standards” (referring to the audience) it was a good house session is met with laughter and applause.
[15:19] “I think that our regulatory burden is also a problem in the state of Rhode Island….Unfortunately, a lot of the burden is at the local level”.
[15:49] “We will continue to try to streamline the regulatory process”.
[16:15] “I think we’ve made good strides in regulatory reform, but we have a long way to go…that’s been an area that frustrates me”.
[16:50] “I’ll give you specifics”; the Speaker discusses the problems CVS’s Minute Clinics had getting licensed in RI.
[17:00] “When I heard some of the regulations they were planning to put on the Minute Clinics, I immediately brought everyone into my office at the statehouse. Needless to say, by the next day, all of those conditions disappeared”.
[17:36] “When the speaker is working with you, remarkable things can be done”.
[17:46] “The legislature is that body that is as close to you, as you’re ever going to get”.
[18:16] In any group — even this one — you’re not going to get unanimity on every issue. “You’re never to end with a product where everybody agrees 100%. That’s not democracy”.
[18:50] “You may not like things, or 100% agree with things, but I hope you like the overall product, because society has to serve many different interests, and I am pleased that out of this budget cycle, the business community is very pleased, and labor is very pleased”.
[19:30] “A few pillars of the business agenda I have set forth have to be infrastructure and education. I’m pleased that we created an infrastructure fund”.
[20:33] The Speaker explains that we have the “most freeze-thaw cycles anywhere in the country”, i.e. when you go further north, things stay frozen for longer periods. “It creates havoc on our roadways”.
[21:02; Audio: 2m 25s] “In the past, we’ve always dealt with infrastructure needs by borrowing…that’s not the right way to do business, and after a while you start to cannibalize the funds you’re borrowing, to pay interest on the past borrowing”.
[21:25] “We’re going to create a fund, that’s going to grow over time, that’s going to serve our infrastructure needs in a comprehensive manner”.
[21:48] The speaker defends raising the gas-tax — “We all paid less in gas tax than we did five or ten years ago”, because vehicles are more fuel efficient, and the gas tax is based on number of gallons sold, not dollar amount. Plus infrastructure needs are more expensive due to inflation.
[22:45] The Speaker says he doesn’t like raising any tax, but believes that increasing the gas tax to fund infrastructure is a worthwhile investment. “Business cannot be done without a good, solid infrastructure”.
[23:50] Over the long-term, the added fees for infrastructure are still cheaper than the old borrowing-based financing.
[24:10] “A thriving society is based on a well-educated citizenry. Businesses need a well-educated and well-trained workforce”.
[24:30] This is the fourth-year in a row that the state has “fully-funded” the education funding-formula.
[24:38] “Our students will be better educated, ultimately our businesses well get better-trained and better-qualified employees, and an educated citizen is just better for society in general”.
[24:55] “We were able, for two years in a row, to freeze our tuitions at URI, RIC and CCRI”.
[25:20; Audio: 0m 56s] Speaker Mattiello begins talking about visiting the career-tech center in Worcester, Mass.
[25:37] “With a similar demographic to some of our urban centers, all of the kids in the school are thriving. They’re either going on to being employed, or they’re going on to a four-year college program”.
[26:00] “And they pulled it off with good-leadership in the school, leaders that put the kids first”.
[26:14] Discusses his sponsorship of legislation that passed, creating a commission “to create a collaboration between our educators and the business community, so that we can try to re-create the model here in Rhode Island for our career tech schools”.
[26:21] “The business community is clamoring for it, they want to get engaged, they want to help our youth, they want to help create the talent and the workforce of the future, and we’re going to create the system that is going to do that”.
[26:37] “That passed this year…and that all started with a visit from your Speaker and some of the representatives going up to Worcester”.
[26:50] “I’ve tried to get around as much as I can, and tried to educate myself as to the needs of our community”.
[27:20] “I’m very pleased with this session, and already looking forward to the next session”. The speaker is looking forward to meeting with economists from Bryant and URI, as he did this year, to get expert opinion on what will give Rhode Island the biggest bang for the buck.
[28:00] You need to prioritize, because you can’t do everything in one year. He plans to put together a couple of reforms, and lead the charge on them in next year’s budget.
[28:35] Mentions eliminating the 7% sales tax on utilities paid by businesses (but not manufacturers, individuals, and non-profits) as a possibility for the next session — no commitments to any plan right now though, until the he talks to the economists.
[29:07] The Speaker also talks about ideas to waive permit fees and taxes, for the first-year, for new-businesses and looking at the $500 corporate minimum tax.
[29:20] “I believe there’s a new beginning in the House, and I’m going to work on moving us in the right direction”.
The final section of the Speaker’s remarks, dealing mostly with 38 Studios, will be posted tomorrow.
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?