How should RI spend $1 billion federal windfall? RI Foundation seeks to generate ideas

Politics

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With billions of dollars of federal money set to pour into Rhode Island from President Biden’s new relief law, the state’s biggest community foundation is embarking on an effort to help ensure the windfall is spent wisely.

The Rhode Island Foundation announced Wednesday it is launching a new initiative — Make It Happen: Investing for Rhode Island’s Future — that will come up with ideas for spending over $1 billion that the state government will receive in direct aid under the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act.

As Target 12 reported last month, Rhode Island’s state government is set to get $1.1 billion under the law, with over $500 million going to the 39 municipalities and another $400 million going to the state’s K-12 school districts. Additional, more-targeted grants will be available to the state, as well.

The foundation said its new effort will focus only on how to spend the $1.1 billion in direct aid to the state government, which is coming with few strings attached. The organization said it is providing funding for the work but did not disclose how much.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg said in a statement. “Strategically invested, we can responsibly and creatively leverage these taxpayer dollars to hopefully change the trajectory of the state for generations to come.”

The foundation said it will work with the Economic Progress Institute and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council to “develop an array of recommendations over the next six months,” then present them to Gov. Dan McKee, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

“We welcome input from organizations such as these as well as other stakeholder groups and members of the public as we formulate our plans for the expenditure and investment of these federal dollars in collaboration with the General Assembly,” McKee said in a statement. “In the coming weeks, the state will be undertaking a coordinated planning, outreach and public input process for this purpose.”

“Ultimately, the way the General Assembly invests these resources should help strengthen our economy and the financial wellbeing of our citizens,” Shekarchi and Ruggerio added in a joint statement.

The foundation announced the creation of a 15-member steering committee that will brainstorm ideas and help solicit public input. The members are:

  • Marcela Betancur, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute
  • Jessica David, consultant and former executive vice president of strategy and community investments at the Rhode Island Foundation
  • Ditra Edwards, executive director of Sista Fire
  • John Friedman, professor of economics and international and political affairs at Brown University
  • John Galvin, president and CEO of AAA Northeast
  • Marie Ganim, former state health insurance commissioner and former state Senate policy director
  • Ross Gittell, president of Bryant University
  • Rajiv Kumar, technology entrepreneur and founder ShapeUp
  • Tony Maione, former president and CEO of the United Way of R.I.
  • Anna Cano Morales, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Rhode Island College
  • Nina Pande, executive director of Skills for Rhode Island’s Future
  • Dr. Megan Ranney, associate professor of emergency medicine and associate dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University
  • Nic Retsinas, director emeritus, Harvard Joint Centers for Housing Studies
  • Don Stanford, adjunct professor of computer science at Brown University and former chief technology officer at GTECH
  • Edi Tebaldi, professor of economics and executive director of institutional effectiveness and strategy at Bryant University

A process for members of the public to share their ideas is still being worked out, but in the meantime, citizens are invited to provide their suggestions by emailing arpideas@rifoundation.org.

This isn’t the first time the Rhode Island Foundation has sought to play a role in steering state policy. In 2012 the foundation held a “Make It Happen RI” conference that generated ideas for economic development, and in 2015 it helped fund a Brookings Institution report on Rhode Island’s economy that influenced the early days of the Raimondo administration.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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