1. The future of Gov. Gina Raimondo's free college tuition program at the Community College of Rhode Island (Promise RI) is one of the looming questions of this year's state budget battle. Raimondo needs lawmakers to extend her signature higher-education program or it will go away after this year's high-school seniors matriculate. With the budget as tight as ever, Raimondo might have to expend significant political capital to keep free college alive, making it tougher for her to stand up to lawmakers on other issues.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said after the speech he is awaiting a report from CCRI on how students are doing under the program.
"The governor has been very optimistic about the outcomes. I have not been hearing that," Mattiello told reporters. "I hope she is correct. We are certainly going to look at the data and report that is due us."
2. Raimondo received loud applause in the chamber when she said "we have to address climate change with urgency" and set a goal of a 100% renewable electric grid by 2030. (Raimondo will be term-limited out of office by 2023.)
But Raimondo made no mention of her most ambitious climate-change policy initiative, a regional wholesale tax on gasoline and diesel fuel known as the Transportation Climate Initiative. A dozen Northeast governors, including Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, have agreed to a framework for the carbon tax, but while specifics are being ironed out, some governors, including Ned Lamont in Connecticut, have begun questioning it.
Raimondo has made no indication she wants Rhode Island to commit to a plan this year, but her silence on it in the speech is a sign of the difficult politics.
3. The chances of Rhode Island's governor getting line-item veto power remain bleak. (Mattiello made clear to reporters after the speech he remains opposed.) But, unlike last year, Raimondo mentioned it and her support of it in the State of the State speech. For long-time supporters and Republicans, it's a start.
4. It may have been tough to pick out on television, but there was a muted response in the chamber among some lawmakers, including Democrats, to Raimondo's call for a dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said afterward he was "enthused" about the focus on housing. Mattiello said only "the devil is in the details."
5. Music to long-suffering Rhode Island mass-transit advocates' ears in Raimondo's speech: "Now, just imagine what Rhode Island would look like if we improved our trains, buses, and public transit the same way we’ve tackled fixing our roads and bridges. Imagine a day when high-speed commuter rail connects Providence to Boston, when electric buses powered by solar panels zip through dedicated bus lanes."
So far, these future visions are just that. Details to be determined.