State Planning Council approves RhodeMap RI
Members of a raucous crowd accused the State Planning Council of being traitors and socialists on Thursday as it unanimously approved a state-mandated economic development plan over objections of the House speaker and other lawmakers.
More than 200 people filled the meeting room to capacity as others crowded in the hallway. Critics have called the plan, RhodeMap RI, "socialist" because of some of its land-use language and said that because its development was federally funded, the government could insert itself into state and local decisions. Others have taken issue with the timing, mere weeks before the new legislative session.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he's disappointed the plan was approved and that controversy over the plan has diverted attention from the state's economy.
"If this plan intends to set the direction for our state, it really needs the support of Rhode Islanders," he said. "It would have been more appropriate to hold off a vote until after the new governor takes office next month."
The General Assembly had required approval of a long-term economic development vision by Oct. 31 to boost economic development. Mattiello requested more time to review it.
Council members said incoming Gov. Gina Raimondo and the General Assembly are not bound to anything and that the plan is merely a guide developed after a lot of public input.
The plan says the state should provide education and training opportunities, foster an inclusive economy and support industries that play to Rhode Island's strengths. It proposes investing in the state's maritime, defense and tourism industries, among other measures.
Associate Planning Director Kevin Flynn said RhodeMap RI does not change any laws or create any offices, diminish personal property rights or take away authority from local governing bodies. Rather, it builds on the state's strengths and gives lawmakers and businesses "a toolkit of options," he said.
The council voted after hearing about an hour of public comment on the plan. Critics reacted by calling out "Railroad RI" while supporters cheered.
Earlier, council Chairman Steven Hartford stopped the meeting to ask people to refrain from catcalling "treason" and accusing the council of supporting the plan because the governor does.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who attended, said the plan puts the state on the right road. Audience members in favor of the plan cheered as other supporters spoke.
The state Division of Planning oversaw the RhodeMap RI process and conducted multiple forums and workshops. The work was funded by a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and more than $100,000 from the Rhode Island Foundation.
Diane Slader, of North Kingstown, compared language in the plan to something one would find in The Communist Manifesto. She said after the meeting that she was not surprised it passed and that it was a "foregone conclusion."
"It's their brainchild. They think it's great," she said. "They're not willing to look at why people are so upset."
Critics worry the plan would lead to the seizure of land for affordable housing, but Flynn stressed that was not the case.
"The plan does not make Rhode Island subject to any rules or regulations it or any other state aren't already subject to," he said.
Members of the General Assembly asked the council at the meeting to postpone its decision so they could scrutinize the plan in the new session.
Hartford said it was time to move forward.
"It will set a good stage for the next governor and the next session of the General Assembly," he said.