In 2015 when Raimondo took office, Rhode Island ranked No. 48, according to CNBC's annual list of "America's Top States for Business." The state sat at No. 50 in 2016, No. 45 in 2017, No. 45 in 2018 and No. 50 again in 2019, the outlet's latest list of the best states for business.
WalletHub's 2019 "Best & Worst States to Start a Business" report also put Rhode Island in last place.
A spokesperson for Rhode Island's commerce agency told Fox News that Rhode Island was one of the only states in the country not to shut down construction and manufacturing during the pandemic, and that the year Raimondo took office, Rhode Island saw an increase in commercial real estate investment from $84 million to more than $1.3 billion.
The agency also noted that new investments totaling $1.1 million for the state's Quonset Business Park made under Raimondo's leadership have yielded an expansion of 2,282 new jobs – a 22.8% increase. One out of every six jobs in Rhode Island is located at Quonset, which creates $4.27 billion in annual economic output.
CNBC cited consistent economic problems including the poor condition of state finances, outdated infrastructure, tax and regulation issues and slow economic growth as the reason behind Rhode Island's ranking on its list.
Rhode Island was facing a $800 million federal budget deficit and with state spending expected to rise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Providence Journal reported in May.
Despite Raimondo's hopes of an economic "comeback" in the state that she expressed during a 2019 State of the State address, CBNC noted that her hopes were not reflected in Rhode Island's infrastructure costs and unemployment rate, citing statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
The state's unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7% as of December since it spiked to a record 14.8% in April due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
CNBC also named Rhode Island as having the worst infrastructure in the U.S. in July 2019 with a total score of 98 points out of 350, citing data from the DOT, Census Bureau and Environmental Protection Agency. CNBC found that more than half of the state's roads were in "unacceptable condition," and 22% of the state's bridges were in "poor condition."
Raimondo's 2016 "RhodeWorks" plan to fund infrastructure improvements charges tractor-trailer drivers maximum tolls of up to $20 for a single trip or $40 for a day's worth of travel across the state. The plan aims to fund about 10% of the state's $4.9 billion budget for road repairs, which resulted in a lawsuit from the American Trucking Association, according to CNBC and the Rhode Island DOT.
The Rhode Island commerce agency spokesperson said that under Raimondo’s leadership, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, through RhodeWorks, is replacing 150 structurally deficient bridges and repairing 500 bridges. The RIDOT has also overseen 224 road and bridge projects with a total investment of $2.2 billion.
In 2021 alone, RIDOT will oversee $525 million in infrastructure projects, the spokesperson said.
Raimondo said during a Tuesday Senate confirmation hearing said that as governor, she is "deeply in touch with how much increasing bills affect the average American family" in response to a question from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., about raising the gas tax.
"Having said that, we do need to meet the climate change challenge, and we need funds for improved infrastructure -- better roads, safer roads, safer bridges -- which also creates jobs, so I would work to balance those interests and work as a piece of the president's team," she said.
Raimondo, whose grandfather arrived in the U.S. at the age of 14, studied economics at Harvard before going on to Oxford and Yale University. Raimondo founded venture capital firm Point Judith Capital and was later elected to serve as General Treasurer of Rhode Island in 2010.
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