From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in GoLocal24.com
‘Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s second inaugural speech, starting off her second term, continued her emphasis on improving public education, which is essential to promote the state’s economic and civic health. Equally hopeful is that House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio agreed last week that improving schools is central, with the latter calling for “a meaningful comparison of our education system with the system in Massachusetts,’’ considered by many people the nation’s best. Reversing the state’s mediocre record on public schools will take years but that prospect must not be allowed to dilute the sense of urgency about the task.
There are also some other things that the governor should she should take on, such as:
Addressing “affordable housing’’ and environmental challenges by leading an effort to reform zoning laws, including allowing more density in some places to encourage more housing construction (and thus curb housing-cost increases) and discourage sprawl. And while building light-rail lines in the more densely settled parts of the state could take up to a decade, state government should get the process started. That Greater Boston has lots of rail service is one big reason for its prosperity.
For that matter, the governor and the legislature should strive to make Rhode Island’s public policy, including taxes and regulation, as similar as possible to that of Massachusetts, the successful giant next door. Of course, Rhode Island is a much poorer state and so it will be tough….
The Ocean State’s political leaders should trim layers of government that citizens and companies must deal with so that it’s easier to get things done. This would mean in some cases reducing local control. Take Providence’s Route 195 relocation space, which is state land whose development has been slowed by municipal politics as well as by the city’s legal and regulatory red tape. Rhode Island is tiny and yet there are 39 cities and towns in it, all of course with their own rules. But the localities are legal children of the state, which has broad rights to change local powers.
The efforts that the governor cited to promote the rather murky concept of “inclusion,’’ while well-meaning, will have far less impact on the state than the factors above. In any case, political leaders should avoid identity politics and focus their efforts on doing as much as they can to improve life for everyone.