PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo on Monday handed over budget powers to her soon-to-be successor, Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, with her departure for President Joe Biden’s cabinet possibly stretching into March.
A budget for the next fiscal year has to be submitted to the General Assembly by March 11. Raimondo was expected to be well on her way to D.C. by then, but her confirmation as commerce secretary by the U.S. Senate has taken longer than anticipated. So with an executive order from Raimondo Monday, McKee will be able to develop his own budget and submit it to the General Assembly, even if he’s not yet the governor.
“As the budget will go through the legislative process over the coming months, and will be in effect for the coming year, the Governor feels it is important that the Incoming Governor have the opportunity to set his own direction and priorities,” Raimondo spokesman Josh Block said in an email.
McKee has been working on his own proposal all along; Raimondo’s order on Monday directed state departments to cooperate with him in his efforts.
Raimondo also named three people to serve as the acting heads of state departments.
Matt Weldon, currently assistant director of the Department of Labor and Training, will take over as the department’s acting director starting Tuesday. Current Director Scott Jensen’s last day was Monday. Jim Thorsen, the director of the Department of Revenue, will become the acting director of the Department of Administration on March 2, taking over for Brett Smiley, who announced Feb. 10 that he would be stepping down to run for mayor of Providence. Marilyn McConaghy, head of legal services for the Department of Revenue, will become the Department of Revenue’s acting director.
Raimondo spokeswoman Audrey Lucas said those job moves were at McKee’s request.
Many people believed Raimondo could be confirmed as Biden’s commerce secretary by early to mid-February. But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican of Texas, put a hold on Raimondo’s confirmation over the Biden administration’s stance on Chinese telecom company Huawei. That delayed a vote until after the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which fell short of the two-thirds majority vote required to convict.
Raimondo told reporters Monday she wasn’t sure when she’ll be confirmed, but said in her executive order that the process could stretch into March, when the budget will be due to the Rhode Island General Assembly. A vote in the full Senate hasn’t been scheduled.
Raimonodo’s fellow Democrats hold sway in the U.S. Senate with a 50-50 split while holding the vice presidency.
McKee recently criticized the Raimondo administration’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which had been slower than most states before climbing in the rankings over the past few days. On Monday it was in the middle of the pack nationally.
Though Raimondo and McKee are both Democrats, they’re not allies, and the transition has been rocky at times. On Monday, though, Raimondo’s office included a picture of the governor and lieutenant governor together, both wearing masks, as she signed her executive order handing him some of her authority.