- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday she wants to reinvent Rhode Island’s manufacturing industry, provide free tuition at state colleges, raise the minimum wage and cut car taxes by 30 percent.

The Democrat delivered a State of the State speech that outlined initiatives she said would help the state adapt to an economy that is “changing in ways that are causing real challenges for a lot of people.”

“Rhode Islanders aren’t asking for any special treatment. They just want a shot,” she told a packed chamber of the state House of Representatives.

It was her third annual address since taking office in 2015, and roughly marked the halfway point of her term as she eyes re-election in 2018. Her proposals included:

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FREE TUITION

Raimondo has become the second Democratic governor this month to announce a plan to guarantee a college education. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was the first, with a $163 million proposal to cover tuition at New York’s public colleges and universities for in-state residents whose families earn no more than $125,000 a year.

Raimondo said her plan will cost $30 million a year and cover two years of free tuition at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. The idea, called the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship , doesn’t propose an income cap as New York’s does. Neither plan would cover room and board.

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MANUFACTURING

Raimondo spoke broadly about ways of rebuilding and updating the state’s manufacturing industry. Her office said her plans include a $3.75 million business incentive program to help small manufacturers buy equipment, $4.1 million for manufacturing and welding classes at Davies Career and Technical High School in Lincoln, and $1.2 million to expand a program that provides college-level technology courses for high school students.

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CAR TAXES

Raimondo partly endorsed the top priority of Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello by announcing a plan to cut car taxes by 30 percent starting in late 2018. Car taxes are levied by cities and towns, not the state, which means that the state would likely reimburse municipalities for the lost revenue. Raimondo’s proposal would require cities and towns to use what her office described as the “fair trade-in value” in levying car taxes, or about 70 percent of full valuation. Mattiello said after the speech that he’s still pushing for full repeal of car taxes within five years.

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MINIMUM WAGE

Raimondo proposed increasing the hourly minimum wage by 90 cents to $10.50 an hour in October. It’s been $9.60 an hour since the last increase a year ago. Raimondo proposed an increase last year, but the Democrat-controlled General Assembly didn’t include it in the budget it approved in June. This year, however, top legislative leaders have expressed support for an increase. Raimondo also proposed a minimum wage increase for home care workers and caregivers for people with developmental disabilities.

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PAID SICK LEAVE

The governor said she wants to follow many neighboring states in guaranteeing paid sick days.

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BUDGET

In a change from the previous two years, Raimondo didn’t unveil her budget plan on the same day as the speech. Her tax-and-spending plan for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year will be rolled out Thursday and further detail the initiatives she outlined Tuesday. It hasn’t been revealed if it will also include cuts. State officials are projecting a $112 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year driven by increases in education funding, Medicaid and other health care expenses.

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GOP RESPONSE

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan delivered a Republican response to what she described as Raimondo’s “soaring rhetoric and more promises” that will do more harm than good. She expressed misgivings about the free college idea.

“We already have a pretty significant structural deficit in our budget,” Morgan said in an interview before the speech. “Starting a brand-new entitlement program with very few safeguards in it is foolhardy.”

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