Candidate Fung visits the island
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the Republican locked in a tight gubernatorial race against incumbent Gov. Gina Raimondo, is obviously aware that every vote counts. He was on the island on Victory Day, Aug. 13, making the rounds with Block Island Republican Town Committee Chair Jerry Zarella.
Having a few minutes before getting on a 10 a.m. boat, Fung, who is 48, sat down at The Block Island Times conference table. Given that he had come into the newspaper’s office unexpectedly, he was immediate asked about the rumor that he was not talking to the press.
“Not true at all,” he said. “I’m on talk radio, doing interviews, visiting cities and towns. What I am is a lot more disciplined” — Fung ran for governor and lost to Raimondo in 2014 — “talking about what I am doing, what I hope to do to change things. But one of the areas I’m not talking about is what’s going on at the federal level. I’m going to focus on the issues and what’s important for Rhode Island.”
He was asked what is important for the state.
“Our economy is lacking. I hear it all across the state. It’s happening in our border states but it is not happening in Rhode Island.” He said that Raimondo’s policies have “really hampered” the state’s ability to participate in an economy that seems to be improving each quarter.
When asked specifically what policies of Raimondo’s were hurting the state, Fung said “corporate welfare,” which, he said, may lure big companies such as Johnson & Johnson and General Electric to the state, only to see them leave a relatively short time later. He mentioned that Pinnacle Logistics, which provides warehouse and airport-loading services for Amazon, had left its Quonset location in July. He said that he felt government support for a new PawSox Stadium was not appropriate.
He felt what was done in Massachusetts with Gillette Stadium was a better business model: provide government support for the infrastructure surrounding the stadium, which would be good for associated businesses.
“It’s frustrating,” said Fung, who is an attorney and has been mayor of Cranston since 2009. “We have to fix our finances. We need to double down on our roads.” He mentioned that the state’s roads are crumbling and covered in weeds. When asked if the physical condition of our state negatively impacts tourism, he said that he felt it does. Fung mentioned he does not support the recently added tolls aimed at truckers travelling through the state.
“We have to go on a diet, and live within our budget,” he said. Fung said he has a plan to reduce the state sales tax in his first four years by a half-percentage point a year, reducing it from seven percent to five percent. He said he wants to reduce fees for businesses, and reduce the red tape that may be prohibitive to getting a business started in Rhode Island, as well as reducing permit fees and general bureaucratic inefficiencies. When asked if that meant, given the huge number of people that are employed by the state, that he would have to cut jobs to cut back on the red tape, Fung said, “It’s going to have to happen.” When asked where he would cut, he said he would first go after the six-figure middle management positions that he said have been created in the Raimondo Administration, specifically the 70 or so people that are in media communications.
He also mentioned the computer fiasco associated with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project that was launched two years ago and designed to streamline the process of integrating dozens of state and federal benefits programs.
In just a few months after the launch, about 15,000 applications were backlogged. “That computer system was a disaster,” said Fung. He said it was so broken he was unsure “if it is capable of being fixed.”
When asked what was working well in the state, Fung spoke in more general terms. He said that his parents had emigrated to the state from Hong Kong, and he said the state reminded them of that city. “It was beautiful, the land of opportunity. I want to keep this place the land of opportunity,” he said.
When asked to be more specific, he said that in Cranston there are many families that have lived in the same neighborhood for generations.
“That’s the kind of pride you can have in Rhode Island,” he said.
A poll conducted by WPRI on Aug. 6 showed Raimondo leading Fung by two percentage points: 39 percent to 37 percent.