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RI Senate leader vows more to be done for economy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed conceded Tuesday that state leaders haven't done enough to address Rhode Island's traditional poor economic standings and released a new Senate analysis that she said offers promising steps to reverse that trend.

The Democrat from Newport called "Moving the Needle" a "first step" toward improving the state's business climate and moving it from the bottom of many national economic rankings. The report was done in partnership with the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

"It's meant as a starting point, a recognition that action is needed," Paiva Weed said. "...We have tried in the past to address these issues. I don't think we've done enough."

The report compiles a list of findings that place Rhode Island among the worst states when it comes to business red tape, unemployment, the tax burden, economic competitiveness and road conditions. It recommends the state develop a long-term strategy, revise its regulations, and pass historic tax credits to spur economic growth.

The report is the latest of several that catalog complaints heard from business owners for years, primarily that the nation's smallest state doesn't do enough to help businesses locate there and thrive.

Paiva Weed called the report is "an honest, frank assessment" of the state's business climate, and she promised many of the recommendations would be introduced as legislation.

Providence Area Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White said she was pleased with the report, saying it represented "a significant shift in our mindset."

The report also offered a few bright spots. Among them were:

—State revenues are improving.

—Opportunities to protect or increase investments in education are growing.

—The state ranks third in the U.S. for high-speed Internet access.

—Rhode Island has a higher-than-average number of residents with post-high school education.

—The state has shorter commute times than its larger neighbors Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Other reports are on the way. Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced Tuesday a partnership between college and university researchers to help provide independent economic analyses to the state. Also, Chafee said on Monday the state has hired a Pennsylvania consulting firm to study the state's business climate. That report is due out next month.