On Rhode Island’s economy, Kalus and McKee describe alternate realities

For Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, Rhode Island is making a sturdy recovery from a traumatic pandemic. The state’s vaccination rate is the highest in the nation and its unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since Rhode Island began measuring the statistic.

McKee said his administration is building on that progress by putting public money behind private developments that will continue generating jobs, like the redevelopment of the Superman Building in Providence, new port facilities on Quonset Point and a proposed soccer stadium where the PawSox used to play in Pawtucket.

“What we’re doing in Pawtucket,” McKee said, describing details of the deal, “is going to be good for jobs at the moment and long-term growth around the Pawtucket area. I’m not turning my back on the city of Pawtucket.”

Republican challenger Ashley Kalus called the development proposal “a dirty backroom deal,” though she avoided answering a yes-or-no question about whether she would cut public funding for the proposal. More broadly, she warned that Rhode Island “has a history of being first in and last out of a recession.”

“Food prices are soaring, electric and gas bills are through the roof, and the dream of owning a home is out of reach for many,” Kalus said.

As a means of relief, Kalus promised to cut taxes, including completely eliminating the income tax for people earning less than $50,000 a year. She also urged the governor to halt a significant increase in electricity prices that residents across the state are expected to face this winter.

Gov. McKee said he favored a means-tested approach to providing relief to rising electricity prices for the state’s poorest residents, a strategy he said would allow him to avoid litigation with utility providers.

“We’re lowering electricity rates for 39,000 people who need it most,” McKee said. “We’re not going to get involved in a wild goose chase that has no merit.”

He also pointed out that, under his leadership, Rhode Island is eliminating a 7% sales tax on the purchase of cars in the state.

At times, the candidates could barely get their answers heard over cheers and heckling from a large crowd of Kalus supporters that dominated the auditorium.

After Kalus and McKee left the stage, the forum continued with Libertarian candidate Elijah Gizzarelli and independents Zach Hurwitz and Paul Rianna.

Gizzarelli said he has no illusions about his chances of winning the governor’s seat. Still, he made the case for why a third-party vote would not be a waste.

“Kalus isn’t going to win,” Gizzarelli said. “What we can do in this election is get a third party recognized. The Libertarian Party is the third largest party in the nation. If we receive 5% of the vote, we will be recognized as a party.”

Rhode Islanders will choose between the five candidates for governor in the midterm election ending Nov. 8.

Read more at thepublicsradio.com.