Asked whether he did this because of concerns that some Republican representatives might have voted for Murphy, Watson parses the question, saying the GOP decided to send “a cooperative signal.” He adds: “That is not to say that Republicans wouldn’t prefer a Republican speaker, but the numbers do the talking.”
The challenges at hand
Murphy outlined four overriding goals during his opening day address: promoting tax fairness and tax competitiveness; growing the economy; changing the image of the House of Representatives; and helping Rhode Islanders who can not help themselves.
Many liberals and social advocates were troubled by how the General Assembly last year backed a tax cut plan that mostly benefits wealthy residents. For his part, Murphy was unapologetic, warning during his opening speech, “Unless we find ways to boost our state’s overall competitiveness, we’ll see less in personal income tax collections, less in charitable giving, and less in jobs growth.”
Sounding not unlike a Republican, he calls flattening and modernizing taxes an important part of economic development, adding, “I want to see taxes going down, not up, and as long as I’m speaker, the pressure will all be in that direction.”
When it comes to economic development, Murphy has called for a comprehensive look at Quonset Point. This marks a contrast from Carcieri, who quickly ended the effort by his predecessor, Lincoln Almond, to bring a container port to Quonset.
As a general proposition, many Rhode Islanders can appreciate Murphy’s desire that his two young sons — and by extension, other members of their generation — will be able to find good jobs in the state when they grow up.
However, state leaders have to bring a lot more imagination and gusto to bear if they are to make this a reality. As University of Rhode Island economist Leonard Lardaro recently told the ProJo, in the story on the state’s brain drain, “No one is going to accuse Rhode Island of being a job-creation machine. This is not our decade. New England is kind of sitting this decade out. As a group, we led in the ’80s, we led in the ’90s, [but] we’re being left behind in the ’00s.”
Murphy credits the legislature, thanks to a grant, with juicing the number of local TV and movie productions, although the economic impact of this effort remains a topic of some dispute. Asked how the state will solve the deficit, while trying to grow the economy, and protecting the vulnerable, Murphy predictably cites the need for “tough choices.” Beyond Quonset, a desired focus on growing industries, and what he calls a growing appreciation that Rhode Island is a good place to do business, he offers few other specific ideas for economic development.
As part of the effort to raise the image of his chamber, he envisions “Project Open House,” a process in which every standing House committee will hold a hearing around the state during the course of legislative business. The effort is a response to how Carcieri and former Lieutenant Governor Charles Fogarty, the Democratic candidate for governor, tapped the General Assembly as a useful whipping boy during the bygone campaign season.
This much is clear: some topics near and dear to liberals, such as choice and gay marriage, are unlikely to get much serious discussion in the House (or Senate) this year, although Murphy suggests he might be amenable to supporting an effort to expand stem cell research in Rhode Island.