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RI gov OKs economic board, ponders commerce chief

Erika Niedowski, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed legislation creating a planning council to chart a long-term economic course for the state but hasn't acted on a restructuring he had opposed under which a cabinet-level secretary would oversee economic development efforts.

The governor's office said Friday he signed legislation creating a 19-member economic development planning council that will draw up an economic vision for the state and a plan for implementing it.

Chafee, a Democrat, hasn't taken action on a bill that would create a new executive office of commerce led by an appointed commerce secretary who would coordinate economic development. Spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger said Friday he is evaluating it.

Legislation to rename the troubled Economic Development Corp., whose board was responsible for the state's failed $75 million investment in former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's now-bankrupt video game company, was slated to become law without Chafee's signature at midnight, Hunsinger said. The new name is the Rhode Island Commerce Corp.

Legislation creating a separate nine-member council of economic advisers also was to become law without his signature.

The bills are part of a package passed by the General Assembly in an attempt to stimulate the Rhode Island economy and improve economic development efforts that have been criticized as piecemeal, scattered and ineffective.

Critics of the package say it amounts mostly to bureaucratic reshuffling and will do little to address the state's underlying problems, including an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent, the fourth highest in the nation.

Chafee had threatened to veto the restructuring efforts, saying that creating a new agency or adopting a new agency name are not the best ways to help businesses and improve the economic climate.

The EDC came under fire after Schilling's 38 Studios went bankrupt last year. Chafee has since replaced most of its board, appointed a new executive director and said he thinks the agency is headed in the right direction.

The governor's office said Friday that Chafee also signed legislation allowing people out of work to continue getting unemployment benefits while participating in job training programs.