State Report: Chafee’s Budget, Unemployment Rate & Gay Marriage Vote

Saturday, January 19, 2013


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This week's State Report examines two important new stories that will have a direct impact on Rhode Islanders: Gov. Chafee's $8.2 budget proposal and the state's dipping unemployment rate. Also on the docket, a proposal to raise the state's legal gambling age and a shakeup in the Providence Public School District. And lastly, the House sets a date for same-sex marriage voting.

Overview of Chafee’s budget plan

On Wednesday, Gov. Lincoln Chafee revealed his $8.2 billion budget proposal, which doesn’t raise taxes on individuals and lowers corporate tax rates from nine to seven percent. Unlike past budget proposals, Chafee has ditched his intentions to raise taxes, choosing to focus on a “no new taxes” agenda.

“We have avoided tax increases and are lowering the corporate rate through both good fiscal management and a strengthening economy,” said Chafee. “As we move forward, it is important to keep investing in the building blocks of progress – that is, investing in education, infrastructure, and workforce development.”

Aside from taxes, Chafee’s proposal includes increased funding for education and job training. Specifically the governor would boost spending on public education by $30 million and increase higher education funding by $8.2 million to circumvent any tuition increases. As for workforce development, Chafee’s budget proposal sets aside $3 million over two years to reimburse businesses for internships that pay minimum wage.

Additionally, Chafee wants to assign $600,000 in additional funds to market Rhode Island as a tourist destination, which is a $200,000 increase in funding. The governor’s plan also addresses a pair of social service items. Not only would Chafee allocate $3 million in federal funds to offset child-care costs for struggling workers, but he also plans to close the Zambrano facility in Pascoag.

House Finance Chairman Helio Melo says the General Assmbly will begin reviewing Chafee’s budget proposal within weeks. The governor’s plan has earned praise from Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, House Speaker Gordon Fox and House Republican Leader Brian Newberry.

Rhode Island unemployment rate dips to 10.2 percent

The state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 10.2 percent, its lowest level in almost four years. On Thursday, the state Department of Labor and Training reported that the jobless rate for December was 10.2 percent, down from 10.4 percent in November.

The total number of Rhode Island-based jobs went up 1,200, to 458,000, with the professional and business sectors adding the most jobs. The number of employed Rhode Islanders grew by 2,200 to 508,400 compared to November. The state’s labor force also increased by 1,300 to 566,200. Lastly, the number of unemployed Rhode Islanders was 57,800 in December, down 900 from November.

Although the professional and business sectors posted significant job gains (1,100 jobs), multiple sectors reported sizeable losses. In fact, Construction sectors lost 900 jobs, while Other Services sectors were down 500. Manufacturing and Financial Activities sectors each lost 200 jobs in December as well.

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate is now tied with Nevada for the highest in the nation. Nevada’s unemployment rate fell from 10.8 percent in November to 10.2 percent last month. The national unemployment rate average in December was 7.8 percent.

Rep. Fellela introduces bill to increase gambling age to 21

Rep. Deborah A. Fellela (D-Dist. 43, Johnston) has introduced a bill that would increase the state’s legal gambling age from 18 to 21 years old. On Thursday, Fellela proposed House bill (2013-H 5032), which would provide penalties for gambling underage, including fines and loss of one’s driver’s license.

“We allow adults to handle alcohol at a minimum age of 21 years old because it comes with a lot of responsibility and potentially severe consequences when abused,” said Fellela. “Gambling comes with hefty consequences as well. A 21-year-old theoretically is enrolled in an institute of higher education, is a member of the military holds a job or has at least had a few years of real world experience. I think it’s reasonable for the General Assembly to look at raising the legal age at a time when Rhode Island has agreed to allow Twin River casino to expand.”

Under the bill, anyone convicted of underage gambling would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and be fined between $100 and $500. Furthermore, that individual’s driver’s license would be suspended for six months. If the convicted person is under 17 years old and does not yet possess a driver’s license, the issuance of his or her license would be postponed by six months.

Individuals or parents convicted of allowing underage persons to gamble may be subject to the same penalties.

Providence school principals get reassigned

Earlier this week, Providence Superintendent of School Susan Lusi announced the reassignment of eight principals to the city’s lowest performing schools. According to school district spokeswoman Christina O’Reilly, the mid-year shakeup is designed to match the right principals to the right schools.

The middle school assignments are as follows: Janelle Clarke-Holley will head to DelSesto Middle School; Edward Halprin will be principal of Stuart Middle School; Dinah Larbi will be principal on special assignment at Roger Williams Middle School and Jennifer Vorro will be principal of Roger Williams Middle School.

As for high school assignments, Robert Dimuccio will head to Central High School; Jeffrey Goss will serve as principal on special assignment at Mount Pleasant High School and Michaela Keegan will lead the Sanchez Educational Complex. Also, John Hunt will be a principal on special assignment for the district.

Principals will move to their new assignments on Jan. 29.

House Judiciary Committee schedules vote on gay marriage bill

A mere two weeks after Democratic Rep. Art Handy (Dist. 18, Cranston) introduced his same-sex marriage bill in the House, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on the legislation for Tuesday. Handy’s bill would allow same-sex marriage and recognize unions previously made under Rhode Island’s current civil unions law as marriages.

The bill will likely pass the Democrat-controlled House, with more than 40 members signing on as co-sponsors. Despite enjoying a majority of support in the House, the Senate version of the bill faces a tougher challenge. In fact, just 11 of 38 Senators signed on to Democratic Sen. Donna Nesselbush’s version of the legislation.

Additionally, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Dist. 13, Jamestown, Newport) has stated she would not vote for the legislation as it’s currently written. Weed did say, however, that she would allow a committee vote on same-sex legislation if it passes the House.

The House Judiciary hearing on same-sex marriage is scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 3 p.m. in Room 205 of the State House.

Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not legalized gay marriage.


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