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Top 10 Most Important Issues of the 2013 General Assembly Session

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

 

Same-sex marriage, budget deficits and tax credits are expected to be among the key issues addressed when the General Assembly convenes for the beginning of the 2013 session next month.

GoLocalProv asked lawmakers and advocates to preview what they consider to be the top ten topics most likely to be addressed in the coming months.

Same-Sex Marriage

House Speaker Gordon Fox has already committed to bringing a gay marriage bill to a vote in his chamber in January, but all eyes are on Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed and Senate Judiciary chairman Michael McCaffrey, who are still considered to be major road blocks on the issue.

Bringing the bill to a vote early in the session gives gay marriage advocates the entire session to lobby the Senate and if Fox needs to, he can probably hold up legislation the Senate wants passed until they consider a vote. Look for some conversation about placing same-sex marriage on the ballot as well, although Fox says he is completely opposed to this option.

Restructuring the EDC

Governor Chafee made headlines recently when he said he doesn’t plan to call for major changes to the state’s Economic Development Corporation, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t try anyway. With the 38 Studios debacle still fresh on the public’s mind, the benefits of shaking up the EDC would be two-fold: On the policy side, lawmakers desperately need to do whatever it takes to prove they are trying to make Rhode Island more business friendly. On the politics side, restructuring the EDC would allow lawmakers to go back to their constituents to say they are taking steps to ensure that 38 Studios never happens again.

Education Board

The Board of Governor for Higher Education had its final meeting Monday, but there are still plenty of questions left to be answered about the implementation of the new merged education board, which will be chaired by George Caruolo. There are some who believe the new board could be put on hold early in the session as leaders scramble to figure out what to do with a structure that very few people are happy with.

Historic Tax Credits

Lawmakers eliminated the historic preservation tax credit in 2008, but it appears the program is on track to return in some form in 2013. A report released by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Counsel (RIPEC) earlier this year suggested reinstating credit could provide a boost to the state’s economy. With questions about what to do with the Superman building in downtown Providence, there will be plenty of support in the business community for restoring the tax credit as well.

Of course, bringing back this tax credit will also likely lead to a broader conversation about tax expenditures, an issue progressive Democrats are particularly interested in. Look for Rep. Teresa Tanzi to lead the way on this cause.

2014 Budget Deficit

With a projected $130 million deficit for the 2014 fiscal year on the horizon, lawmakers will likely be forced to make difficult cuts. State Senator Lou DPalma says he is particularly “concerned about any projected budget cuts to the Health and Human Services associated with the developmentally disabled and seniors,” but he also knows it will take more fiscal responsibility to address the state’s structural budget challenges.

Infrastructure Funding

With the potential tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge still a major point of contention for a lot of residents in the state, look for lawmakers to consider options for addressing the state’s aging roads and bridges. There will likely be at least one bill introduced to attempt to block placing tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge as well, but some lawmakers believe the state’s infrastructure problems are far-reaching.

Oversight

The House Oversight Committee has rarely met in recent years, but the fallout of the 38 Studios deal is expected to make lawmakers take the committee more seriously beginning in 2013. Speaker Fox made the oversight issue a topic during his difficult re-election campaign and will need to follow through on his commitment to at least hold oversight hearings on Curt Schilling’s failed video game company.

Payday Loans

A year after another payday lending reform bill was killed despite many lawmakers believing they had the votes to pass the legislation, the issue is expected to be addressed this year. Still, if former House Speaker William Murphy remains the lead lobbyist for the payday lenders, the passage of any type of reform bill will be difficult.

Voter ID

The long lines at the polls in 2012 have prompted some lawmakers to call for a review of the election process and in a legislature that only got more Democratic this year, don’t be surprised if an attempt is made to toss out the state’s voter identification law (the key architect of that bill, Rep. Jon Brien, lost his re-election bid).

Even if voter ID remains, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the legislature consider in-person early voting, closing polls later in the evening and potentially allowing for more polling locations to open on Election Day.

Tax Equity

Last year, a push to raise taxes on the wealthiest Rhode Islanders went nowhere, but with a massive budget deficit on the horizon in 2014, some lawmakers may be more receptive to the idea this year. With the economy still struggling, any type of legislation will of course be met with opposition from the business community, but if lawmakers can work out cuts to balance a slight tax increase, they might be able to get a bill passed. Remember, 2013 is not an election year; so if a tax increase is coming, it is far more likely to happen sooner than later.

Dan McGowan can be reached at dmcgowan@golocalprov.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.

 

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