PROVIDENCE – Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz, a Republican who represents District 23 in North Smithfield, Burrillville and Glocester, delivered her party’s response to Gov. Dan McKee’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 17, stating that proposals laid out in the speech don’t go far enough to help struggling Rhode Islanders.
“I come to you tonight committed to making sure that this state that we love, with its beautiful coastlines, vibrant communities and resilient hard-working people, is on a stable path forward with its best days yet to come,” de la Cruz said.
The senator said that while she and the governor agree on many of the issues facing Rhode Island, their proposed solutions are, “very different.”
“To learn from our mistakes, we need to be honest with our assessment,” she said. “It’s time to stop blaming our systemic problems on COVID.”
Earlier in the day, McKee rolled out a $100 million tax relief plan that included a decrease in the state sales tax, a two year halt to the planned 3 cent gas tax increase, energy rebates, elimination of the litter tax on businesses, and more.
“Republicans, however, want to provide immediate relief,” de la Cruz said. “Our state overtaxed Rhode Islanders and now, it’s time to send a refund.”
She said her party plans to propose legislation that would require that Rhode Islanders get money back from the state’s $600 million surplus.
Similarly, de la Cruz described the gas tax hold off as, “too little, too late,” noting that when gas prices were high last year she submitted legislation to temporarily suspend the tax that was ultimately rejected.
And for the sales tax, she suggested a larger decrease than McKee’s proposed cut from 7 to 6.5 percent, proposing a decrease to 5 percent.
de la Cruz was also critical of McKee’s handling of the housing crisis, stating that the governor has “spent $250 million with no tangible progress,” on the problem, and pointing to the recent resignation of the state’s housing secretary as the result of a, “poor choice in personnel.”
“Precious time was wasted,” she said.
“It’s more important than ever that we are responsible stewards of your tax dollars,” said de la Cruz. “We must make sure Rhode Island is getting a good return on investment.”
de la Cruz called on the governor to dismiss the appeal of the state’s, “unconstitutional truck tolls.”
“That is a prime example of what it looks like to waste millions of taxpayer dollars,” she said.
For education, de la Cruz noted that the state pays $20,000 per child annually on average on students in grades K through 12, but two thirds lack proficiency in English language arts, and three fourths are not proficient in math.
“Our children have immense potential, but their progress is being stunted by a broken system,” de la Cruz said. “We need to take decisive action now.”
As a solution, she pointed to education choice and the need to grow the charter school system.
“Republicans have repeatedly affirmed that access to quality education is the civil rights issue of our time,” she said. “What I’ve learned in my four years in the Senate is that we need people to challenge the status quo and to present alternative solutions.”
de la Cruz said Rhode Island should utilize the surplus and American Rescue Plan Act funding to address. the ongoing issues.
“Our state has a once in a generation opportunity,” she said. :We could take bold action on housing the economy and our failing education system. We shouldn’t squander the surplus and ARPA funds on gimmicks, pet projects and insider deals.”