WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Republican gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan offered her first detailed policy proposals on Wednesday, suggesting Rhode Island create an inspector general’s office to root out waste and also work to replicate the success of Quonset Business Park.
Morgan included those suggestions and others in what she calls her “Blueprint for Rhode Island,” a set of priorities she would focus on as governor. Her comments Wednesday centered on economic development and clean government, and also included a pledge to eliminate truck tolls and overhaul the R.I. Commerce Corporation.
“The recession has been over now for 10 years,” Morgan told reporters during a news conference at her campaign headquarters on Bald Hill Road in Warwick. “State leaders have been giving us happy talk about how well Rhode Island is doing. And they point to an unemployment rate and a few hotels going up in Providence.”
“I see a different part of Rhode Island, and maybe that’s because I actually walk door to door, and I see people and talk with them on a daily basis,” she continued. She noted that about a third of Rhode Island residents are now on Medicaid, and said half the jobs created in the state since the recession pay less than $35,000 a year.
“We have to change the way we run government in Rhode Island, and we haven’t done it,” Morgan said.
Morgan is facing two opponents in the GOP primary, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and businessman Giovanni Feroce. Fung was better-known than Morgan in a February WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll, while Feroce has been entangled in legal and business problems that led to a warrant for his civil arrest being issued Tuesday.
Morgan has alleged that GOP leaders in Rhode Island and Washington want to clear the field for Fung, the 2014 nominee, who has almost twice as much campaign cash as her. She was adamant Wednesday in saying she will stay in the governor’s race through the Sept. 12 primary and has no interest in seeking a different office, such as lieutenant governor.
“I am in the governor’s race. I am staying in. I am completely, and unequivocally, committed to staying through November and winning,” Morgan said. Asked how she would defeat Fung if she continues to lag him in fundraising, she said simply, “Better ideas.”
As for Feroce’s legal situation, Morgan said she thinks he ought to drop out of the primary to take care of his personal and professional problems. (Feroce said he had no response, because he is “running a positive campaign to fix Rhode Island and will not go negative on my opponents in the primary.”)
Morgan has showed a passion for policy details during eight years in the Rhode Island House, where she currently serves as GOP leader, and she offered a long list of ideas Wednesday. She estimated her proposals would cost a combined $80.5 million but would generate $191 million in savings.
The creation of an inspector general’s office would fulfill a long-held dream of many Rhode Island reformers, particularly on the right. Morgan said research in other states shows the waste and fraud uncovered by such offices saves taxpayers significant money even after accounting for the cost of staff.
Morgan is also looking to double down on the successful model of the Quonset Business Park, the former Navy base where businesses now employ more than 10,000 people. The state-owned facility has been praised for its infrastructure and streamlined permitting process. Morgan said she would like to create three similar parks in other parts of the state: a Quonset North, a Quonset East Bay and a Quonset South.
“Quonset has provided an incredible amount of growth, an easy place for businesses to establish, grow, come, bring jobs – good jobs, good-paying jobs – and I want to replicate that throughout Rhode Island,” she said. “I’ve had many, many businessmen complain to me about not being able to find space on the East Bay.”
The Commerce Corporation, which has granted more than $100 million in tax incentives to lure businesses and spur development under Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, would receive an overhaul under Morgan, who has long derided its approach as “corporate welfare.” She said she would refocus the Commerce staff on assisting homegrown companies.
On taxes, Morgan said she would eliminate Rhode Island’s estate tax, which is levied when deceased individuals leave behind at least $1.515 million in assets; estate and inheritance taxes yielded $85.4 million in revenue last year. She would axe the tax on military pensions, as well, in a bid to keep retired service members in the state. Rhode Island is the only New England state that taxes military pensions, she said.
Morgan said she is the only candidate for governor who has signed the anti-tax pledge from longtime conservative activist Grover Norquist’s group Americans for Tax Reform, which commits them to opposing all tax increases. She suggested the state’s sales tax could be reduced from 7% to 6% over the next four years, a less aggressive offer than her rival Allan Fung, who wants to drop it to 5%.
Other Morgan proposals include requiring the state to seek a new bid anytime so-called “change orders” boost the cost of an existing contract by more than 20% and offering companies tax credits if they help employees pay their student loans.
Morgan said all her ideas flow from the time she has spent analyzing Rhode Island government.
“I didn’t poll to get my policy,” she said. “I actually have studied it for eight years. And I know what works.”
Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.