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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 [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.

 

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Comments:

I figured that the Dems, the good guys that voted in Voter ID, would somehow make it possible to rewrite or abolish the law.

It was too darn weak to begin and didn't contain ANY teeth if you were to commit voter fraud. But hey, somehow, some way, hoards of people showed up at the same time therefore given the appearance that Voter ID was the culprit.

Or was it? It seems that everyone I've talked with, including radio shows, thought Voter ID was a good thing and didn't impede with the voting process.

Now, there was more than ample time for ALL voters to have a picture ID and be ready for the 2012 election. Once again, voter fraud seems be on the lips of poll watchers.

Comment #1 by RolandJ Lavallee on 2012 12 11

Most important, or most likely to make the headlines? I don't see the needs of our cities and towns mentioned here; acceleration of the crappy education funding formula to distribute the funds as the formula says it should be (or God forbid, correcting it!); relief from mandates; assistance with local pension management?

If they do nothing, more bankruptcy will come. I would have thought that would make a list of the "important" issues for 2013!

Comment #2 by John Ward on 2012 12 11

Tax equity? Why is tax equity always the monkey on the back of the wealthier Americans? Sounds like the typical Democratic battle cry that even if implemented, will fund government for less than a week. After all, it's not the money that will be funneled back into the economy.

Want tax equity? Make it possible for the 47% that don't pay taxes because of child tax credits to finally pay their fair share.

Seems to me that government wants to reward those that make social programs so alluring to the rest of the working, taxpaying masses.

Comment #3 by RolandJ Lavallee on 2012 12 11

Identify
Prioritize
Take Action

By far the most important issue is the financial condition of our state cities and towns.
The 2014 budget deficit is a reasonable and obvious focus but the rest of the list pales in comparison to the fact that taxpayers are facing either chapter 9 in their own communities or much,much higher property taxes. It boggles my mind you missed this.

Michael G Riley

Comment #4 by michael riley on 2012 12 11

of all the assinine things wrong with this state, fox will make sure nothing else goes for a vote until he gets what he wants, period. if all his people in the house (dems) dont pass it he will make everyones life a living hell, until he gets what he wants. this is the kind of person he is, all for himself. so in 2 more years when we are all saying how screwed up this state is, then its time to get rid of fox. this way we can get the next corrupt speaker of the house.
RHODY SUCKS SAME CRAP GOV DOWN TO TOWN COUNCILS!!!

Comment #5 by steven richard on 2012 12 11

"By far the most important issue is the financial condition of our state cities and towns.
The 2014 budget deficit is a reasonable and obvious focus but the rest of the list pales in comparison to the fact that taxpayers are facing either chapter 9 in their own communities or much,much higher property taxes. It boggles my mind you missed this."

I don't often get a chance to say this, but I agree with Mike Riley here. We absolutely need to address the finances of cities and towns, who have been laying hardworking Rhode Islanders off in droves and spiking property taxes to pay for the cuts in aid forced by the tax cuts for the rich. In a way it was addressed, though, because that's the real driving force behind tax equity legislation.

Comment #6 by Samuel Bell on 2012 12 11

Well, thank God the General Asssembly has got their priorities straight:
High tax burdens?
High unemployment?
Pension mess?
Employers leaving the state?

NOPE! GAY MARRIAGE FIRST ON THE AGENDA!

Comment #7 by Joyce Bryant on 2012 12 11

Gay Marriage is the #1 most important issue we face? To who? Really, to who?

As for Voter ID, if you can't get your act together and get one legit photo ID, what can we do? Seriously... Do it right or dont do it.

Comment #8 by Save Chadbrown on 2012 12 11

I must say that while I was campaigning this year I had a ton of constituents tell my that gay marriage was going to get them employed, save their houses from foreclosure and put food food into the stomachs of their children...

Comment #9 by Michael Chippendale on 2012 12 11

Shouldn't the definition of tax equity be: Ensuring that RI businesses are not disadvantaged relative to businesses outside our borders by RI state-imposed tax policy? It is VERY difficult to make a case that businesses should locate within our borders if those businesses have an immediate 1,2,3 or even 4% additional cost on their net profitability imposed by state taxes that businesses in MA do not have.

Comment #10 by Ken Block on 2012 12 11

Ken, one of the main reasons for tax equity legislation is that by raising more revenue from the wealthy in individual income taxes, we are able to lower taxes that have a much harsher effect on our economy. Property taxes on businesses, unemployment insurance taxes, sales taxes, bridge tolls, and the minimum corporate income tax are all highly regressive taxes that are devastating for businesses. In Rhode Island, the top 1% pay a cumulative tax rate of just 5.6%, while the middle 20% pay 10.1%. It's middle class families and small businesses who are getting squeezed, not the wealthy. In fact, the rich have been fleeing this state after we slashed their taxes. Why? Because we cut spending on programs that businesses need, and we raised taxes on businesses through the property tax hikes. Studies consistently show that businesses respond the most to property tax rates, and there is barely any correlation with individual income tax rates for the rich. That's why tax equity legislation is pro-business.

Comment #11 by Samuel Bell on 2012 12 11

raising taxes is better for businesses....i guess businessmen just dont get it....what are you guys smoking over there Sam?

Comment #12 by michael riley on 2012 12 11

Sam -your logic is faulty, because for most small business owners their personal income tax return represents the net profitability of their businesses - and when you increase the income tax on these folks you are taxing the net profitability of their companies, which reduces their operating margins, which is a major metric for all businesses. Insult is added to financial injury in your scheme because a great many small business owners leave their net profits in their businesses to fund their operations, so when you increase the tax on this pool of money you reduce their strategic reserves. It is important to look cross border competitiveness issues when looking to reform taxes. Unless the 'tax equity' legislation gets more nuanced in terms of what kinds of income see increased taxes, you will just be pricing RI right out of the biz market, holding down growth and keeping jobs out.

Comment #13 by Ken Block on 2012 12 11

Progressive voter fraud explained

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=DHCf6b9OZlA#!

Comment #14 by michael riley on 2012 12 11

The state budget for 2001 was about $4.6 billion as I recall. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

While the state's population of about 1 million has not changed significantly, the 2012 state budget ballooned to about $8.1 billion. Please explain that.

It seems obvious that the biggest problem is out-of-control spending. The legislature needs to cut spending so the state as a whole can live within its means -- more than an issue, it is our survival.

Comment #15 by Art West on 2012 12 12

The GA priorities are totally different to what is needed to gain a competitive state in attracting business. New and growth business is the key to our getting anything like a state to live in.
The GA is totally blind as to how to build a business friendly state of RI.
Pretty bad no matter how you look at the above list.

Comment #16 by Gary Arnold on 2012 12 12

Why does this top 10 list not make any mention of "job creation" as an issue for the General Assembly?
The owners of small and medium sized businesses set up as Sub-S corporations should be incentivized to hire new employees instead of being threatened with tax increases.
If someone who is currently on unemployment gets hired into a new position, lets find a way to reward this business owner for taking this financial risk. Having 90 days of unemployment payments go directly to the new employer would be a start. If someone not on unemployment is hired, an equivalent tax credits could be earned by the employer.
Lets stop penalizing the private sector job creators; lets reward them instead.

Comment #17 by craig evans on 2012 12 12

how about getting the unemployment rate down !

Comment #18 by anthony sionni on 2012 12 12

Gay marriage is a major issue?Not to most people who have other things to worry about-but never fear-we will get the same dog and pony show for and against regardless-put it to a floor vote in both houses and live with the result and then move on to issues most people care about.

Comment #19 by Joseph Bernstein on 2012 12 12

What about giving the General Treasurer some power to take all of those troubled municipal pensions and OPEB Trust accounts in and managing them there? The Municipalities have already shown thay lack the fiscal discipline to manage them.

Comment #20 by Gov- stench on 2012 12 12

One thing is certain, democrats will work as hard as possible to ensure that as little as possible happens to over turn their own apple carts.

Comment #21 by David Beagle on 2012 12 12

The biggest problems in RI are financial, and the biggest fiscal issue is the unfunded liability in municipal pensions--$5.6 BILLION in September 2011 and getting bigger every year. Of course, I’m assuming the courts don’t overturn the 2011 state pension reform act. If the legislature doesn’t address this problem, they should all be thrown out as they created it.

Some legislators keep introducing bills to keep collective bargaining agreement provisions in place even after the contracts expire. They always entertain bills that call for extending binding arbitration rights to state teachers (that will destroy every municipal budget), and they are the ones who enacted minimum manning laws for public safety officers further straining municipal budgets.

Chafee introduced seven bills (2012-H8006 through 2012-H8012) earlier this year to address this problem in “distressed” communities, but the legislature should amend his bills so the provisions in them apply to all RI cities and towns. Then vote to approve all 7. Anything less would be gross negligence on the part of our legislative leaders.

Comment #22 by robert benson on 2012 12 13




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