Five Big Issues Heating Up at the General Assembly

Wednesday, May 03, 2017


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Governor Gina Raimondo and Speaker Nick Mattiello

This year's General Assembly battles are not between Democrats and Republicans or between the House and the Senate, but are more of a power struggle between rivals Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello and Governor Gina Raimondo -- both Democrats.

While Raimondo is getting national press as a possible Presidential candidate in 2020, Mattiello seems more focused on keeping his campaign promise to eliminate the car tax.

Raimondo is all Oxford, Harvard and Yale, while Mattiello is all Western Cranston.

Not Much Time

For both Mattiello and Raimondo, there is little time. Both Senate and House leadership want to adjourn by early June, and thus, the pressure is on for Raimondo to lock in some legislative wins as she heads towards a 2018 reelection campaign. GoLocal spoke to legislative leaders to get their insights on the five biggest legislative issues of the 2017 session.

As Senate President Dominick Ruggerio tells GoLocal, "I hope to see progress towards improving the economic competitiveness of the state. We will continue to invest in education, infrastructure and workforce development, while protecting the most vulnerable Rhode Islanders."

See the 5 biggest issues below.


Related Slideshow: Five Big Issues Heating Up at the General Assembly

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Battle #1

Providence Water Supply Board Sale

Going back to Buddy Cianci in the early 1990s, Providence Mayors have wanted to sell off the Providence Water Supply Board and cash in.

Now, with the City of Providence facing both short-term and long-term financial issues, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is seeking legislative approval to sell the State’s leading water supply.

But, mismanagement of the timeline of preparation by the city has now jeopardized the initiative.

On Tuesday, Speaker Nick Mattiello told GoLocalProv, “This legislation is not in the best interests of ratepayers.  It does not have my support.”

Battle over.  And with 2018 being an election year, the hurdle's even steeper. 

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Battle #2

Car Tax Reduction

The battle over the car tax has pitted Speaker Mattiello against Governor Gina Raimondo.

Last week, Raimondo released her own ad which criticized the Speaker's plan. He is calling for a complete elimination of the car tax while Raimondo seeks only a 30 percent reduction.

“I am committed to giving taxpayers immediate relief in next year’s budget from the oppressive and regressive car tax.  My plan is coming together as the fiscal staff is working with the Department of Revenue and getting input from the League of Cities and Towns.  It is a very technical issue and we have found that certain practices differ widely among communities.  When the plans are finalized, specifics will be released and the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing,” Mattiello told GoLocal.

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Battle #3

Marijuana Legalization Battle

It's not just those who are for and against -- there seem to be more opinions than there are decision-makers.

“I think it's still too early to pass any kind of legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island. We need to gather more data, and if and when it comes, we do it the right way. The data is still coming in from those states who have legalized it,” House Minority Leader Patricia told GoLocal. “They've realized a lot of revenue, but they've taken on a lot of costs -- prevention, DUIs, underweight babies. If we do it, we want to do it right. It's a false argument to say we need to do it now [or] we'll lose out. As soon as we do it we'll realized our market share. I think we should wait and maker sure.”

While Morgan opposes legalization, Governor Gina Raimondo has sent mixed messages on legalization. Recently, a number of her cabinet members voiced opposition to legalization, but her comments have been across the board.

Even Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who has sponsored legalization legislation, now raises concerns. On Tuesday, he told GoLocal, “While I co-sponsored the marijuana legalization legislation because I support a strong regulatory framework, I still have concerns on numerous issues related to legalization, including the federal government’s position, potential impact on children’s development, potency, and edibles. I am inclined to support a commission that will more closely examine the experience of other states before we proceed.”

Speaker Mattiello continues to hold his cards close, telling GoLocal, “This is an issue that is being studied and I will meet with my leadership team and my colleagues in the House as we approach the final weeks of the session.”

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Battle #4

Taxpayer Subsidies for PawSox Stadium

The ownership group of the PawSox have a collective net worth in the billions, but they continue to press for significant state subsidies - rumored to be upwards of $75 million.

“No proposals regarding the PawSox or the Superman building are presently before the legislature. Any proposal that comes before us will receive a full and public vetting, whether that is during the session or during the off-session,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “We will undertake a transparent process, which will include hearings and taking public testimony. Both the PawSox and the Superman building are iconic in Rhode Island. I am hopeful that we might find ways to keep the team in Pawtucket in a manner that ensures the team, city and state all flourish, and to support redevelopment of the Superman building to both restore the structure and create jobs for Rhode Islanders.”

Governor Gina Raimondo met last month with PawSox President Larry Lucchino and Providence Equity Partner’s Paul Salem. 

House Minority Leader Morgan strongly opposes funding for a PawSox stadium - or Superman development. “Neither of these proposals should happen -- I don't know how my colleagues would vote on either of them [if they come before us] but is the wrong path for the state to travel. If those private owners want to use their own money, fine. But not ours.”

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Battle #5

Free College Tuition

The battle between Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello is not limited to the car tax. The other issue which has created tension between the two Democrats is Raimondo’s proposed college funding program.

In the past month, a spinoff of the Democratic Governors Association began running ads promoting the Raimondo plan. 

Last week, former close Raimondo ally and now-House Democratic Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi said on ABC6’s “In the Arena” that there may not be the funding available for Raimondo’s request.

But, the nail in the coffin was uttered Tuesday by Mattiello. He told GoLocal, ”It is being studied on its merits. I am not sure that it is a solution to the problems that exist.”


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