State Report: RI’s Massive Surplus, Bridge Tolls & Keith Stokes’ New Gig
Saturday, September 08, 2012
This week's State House Roundup presents a mixed bag of news stories, which includes everything from increases in the state's recycling program to a decrease in its emergency jobless benefits. Additionally, we turn the spotlight away from the Cicilline/Gemma battle to focus on Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty. Also notable this week is that Rhode Island managed to finish this past fiscal year in the black. Lastly, we take a look at one of the men behind 38 Studios coming to Rhode Island and his surprising new gig.
Emergency jobless benefits being reduced
Although the state’s unemployment rate is the second highest in the nation, the number of weeks unemployed Rhode Islanders can collect federal emergency unemployment benefits is being scaled back.
As of Sunday, the maximum number of weeks to obtain Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) dropped from 53 to 47 weeks, according to the RI Department of Labor and Training. The EUC program will be phased out in late December.
The six-week decrease does not have an effect on regular Unemployment Insurance, which offers up to 26 weeks of benefits. The upcoming federal roll back of the EUC program will also not affect basic Unemployment Insurance.
The EUC program gives additional benefits to claimants who have used all of their regular unemployment benefits receive additional benefits. Just how commonly do Rhode Islanders utilize the EUC program? Rhode Island claimants have received about $993.7 million from the federal government since the EUC was established in 2008.
Rhode Island’s unemployment rate presently sits at 10.8 percent, which is behind just Nevada (12 percent).
RI ends fiscal year with $115 million surplus
Rhode Island concluded the 2011-2012 fiscal year with a $115 surplus, according to a statement by the state’s controller. The surplus is higher than the state had previously anticipated.
The state’s revenue for its most recent fiscal year was almost $13 million greater than projected, while general revenue expenses were $29 million less than initially budgeted, according to Marc A. Leonetti, CPA, State Controller.
State budget officials had estimated that the surplus would be $102 million.
Also worth noting is that the budget reserve and cash stabilization account is fully funded with a balance of $153.4 million, while the state Capital Fund available balance is $125.6 million.
Despite the positive news, the surplus will hardly put a dent in Rhode Island’s considerable budget deficit
projected for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. In fact, the $21.7 million surplus will make up for just 15 percent of the state’s expected $148.9 million shortfall.
to read Leonetti’s report.
Republican Doherty denounces Sakonnet Bridge toll
On Thursday, Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty took a stand against putting tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Doherty, who was standing at the Tiverton end of the Sakonnet Bridge, told onlookers that if elected, he would petition the federal government for help in his quest to curb the tolls.
Doherty told the crowd that the toll would unfairly burden East Bay residents. “The toll that will be put on this new bridge is unfair to the residents of Aquidneck Island, Tiverton, Little Compton, and Bristol. It is an impediment to the economy, to those towns and Rhode Island as a whole. It is a result of failed leadership,” said Doherty.
Although proponents of the toll say that it is needed to help pay for road maintenance, Doherty insists that there are other options available. The former head of the state police insists that he would pay for road and bridge maintenance with federal funds allotted to the state for building new infrastructure.
Additionally, Doherty proposes leasing federal lands for clean energy project and using the money to fund highway projects. Lastly, he intends on establishing a public-private infrastructure bank for large building projects.
Doherty will face off against the winner Sept. 11 Democratic Primary between Rep. David Cicilline and Anthony Gemma. For the record, Cicilline also opposes the Sakonnet River Bridge toll and favors a similar infrastructure bank program.
Former EDC director lands new job
Keith Stokes, former director of Rhode Island’s Economic Development Corp., has been hired by a Providence lobbying and consulting firm. Stokes began work on Tuesday as president of strategic economic planning and development for the Mayforth Group, according to The Providence Journal.
Stokes resigned as from his post at the RIEDC in May as a result of the 38 Studios debacle. Stokes was instrumental in luring 38 Studios from Massachusetts to Rhode Island with a $75 million loan guarantee. Stokes served on the RIEDC board of directors for 16 years, making it the longest board tenure in the state’s history.
“Stokes is a published authority and frequent lecturer on economic development, community planning and historic preservation issues. His leadership and expertise have been recognized by many distinguished organizations, including the NAACP, the United States Small Business Administration and the Daughters of the American Revolution,” said the Mayforth Group in a statement.
The Mayforth Group was founded in 2002 by Richard M. McAuliffe Jr., who is the former legislative assistant of Jack Reed.
Rhode Island reaps the rewards of recycling
As we reported last month
, recycling has dramatically increased lately due to the state’s Resource Recovery Corp.’s new policy of accepting unsorted recyclables. Earlier this week, the RRC reported that the sale of the state’s recyclables has made Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns $1.94 million richer.
The nearly $2 million in profits was distributed to the state’s local communities on Thursday with the intention of funding the state’s numerous recycling programs. Providence received $204,000, the biggest share of the proceeds.
The RRC indicated that it recycled more than 90,000 tons of recyclables at its Johnston facility over the past year. The state saw a 7.5 percent increase in recycling in July, one month after the RRC began accepting unsorted recyclables.
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