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Horowitz: Raimondo’s Free College Tuition Proposal - A Smart Investment in RI’s Future

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

 

Boosting the percentage of Rhode Islanders who earn college degrees is central to making our state more economically competitive. For businesses thinking about locating or expanding here, access to an educated and skilled workforce is a top consideration. Additionally  a college degree is more important than ever to an individual’s ability to earn a middle class income. As documented in a 2014 PEW study, among young adults, ages 25-32, who are working full time, those with college degrees earn about $17,500 more annually than those with only a high school diploma.  This is the largest education-based pay gap in the modern era-more than double what it was less than 50 years ago in 1965. 

To increase the percentage of people starting college in the first place and most importantly, sticking with it and graduating, requires making college more affordable.  Research shows financial pressure is a key factor in people leaving college before earning their degree.  Not surprisingly, students from low income backgrounds, who tend to face serious financial difficulties, have lower college completion rates than their wealthier peers.  

Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposal for providing two years of free tuition at Rhode Island public colleges, if adopted, is a giant step forward towards making college more affordable to Rhode Islanders. Aptly named “Rhode Island’s Promise’, it goes a long way towards restoring the American promise of equality of opportunity to Rhode Island youth.

More specifically as outlined in a media release announcing the proposal, “The Governor's free-college plan covers the entire cost of tuition and mandatory fees for full-time students who qualify for in-state tuition earning an associate's degree at CCRI. At RIC and URI, the scholarship will cover tuition and fees for a student's junior and senior years.”

Governor Raimondo said, “When I was my children's age, most jobs in Rhode Island required nothing more than high school degree. But for all of our kids, that's not the case anymore. The reality is most jobs being created now in Rhode Island will require some degree or certificate beyond a high school diploma. We are going to stand up and make the college dream a reality for every Rhode Islander who wants it."

The proposal will substantially reduce the amount of debt students need to incur—debt that creates great financial hardships and is a drag on the state’s economy because it reduces young college graduates purchasing power forcing delays in first time home buying, among other spending.  According to the Governor’s office, the average student graduating from a Rhode Island college incurs more than $35,000 in debt. That is the second highest debt load in the nation.

At an estimated annual total cost of $30 million when fully implemented, this proposal is truly cost-effective and will move Rhode Island from lagging dangerously behind to the head of the class on college affordability.

The General Assembly should move quickly to adopt this proposal. It is a smart investment in our children’s and our state’s economic future.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

 

Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY17 Budget Proposal

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Winner

School Infrastructure

An $80 million appropriation for construction and renovation, including of $9.1 million for the school building authority.

A $40 million general obligation bond to renovate and modernize school facilities with a focus on immediate health and safety, and investing in STEAM learning spaces.

A requirement that all schools post their actual budget online.

The Governor continues to address the pressing needs of the state’s children and the condition of the schools they attend in her FY17 budget proposal; the public could have the opportunity to follow-suit by approving the general obligation bond in November — or not. 

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Winner

Hospitals

While the Governor delved little into structural healthcare issues in her budget address on Tuesday (she did propose a multi-million dollar comprehensive strategy to address the opioid overdose epidemic which includes medication assisted treatments at the prisons, and $187,000 to combat lead poisoning), the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year

“The Hospital Association of Rhode Island applauds Governor Raimondo’s commitment to strengthening our state’s health care system,” said Michael R. Souza, president, Hospital Association of Rhode Island.  “Although hospitals will face reductions in the proposed budget, we look forward to working with the General Assembly and Administration to implement lasting solutions that provide us the resources and tools necessary to transform the health care delivery system. Hospitals will continue to invest in innovation, technology, and a high-quality workforce with the continued support of our State partners.”

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Winner

Affordable Housing Advocates

Proponents of affordable housing opportunities in the state notched a preliminary victory by landing a spot in the Governor's’s budget.  Now they need to make it through the General Assembly — and garner approval from voters in November. 

Said the Housing Network of RI following Raimondo's budget address:

The Housing Network of Rhode Island and its membership of sixteen nonprofit affordable housing developers wish to thank Governor Raimondo for recognizing the importance of state investment in housing opportunities for low and moderate income Rhode Islanders. As we all work together to reinvigorate the state’s economy, affordable housing development plays a critical role in our state’s recovery plan. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond in her FY 17 budget will not only stimulate the creation of new housing and boost economic growth by creating jobs in the construction, retail and service industries, but will also bring substantial additional outside financial resources into our state. 

Data shows that many Rhode Island households continue to struggle to find housing options that are affordable to them. According to HousingWorks RI, two in every five Rhode Island households are cost burdened, spending more than thirty percent of their income on housing. Governor Raimondo’s inclusion of an affordable housing bond recognizes this need and is a notable step towards addressing a major need of working class Rhode Islanders. We commend Governor Raimondo’s efforts and are grateful for her leadership on such an important issue.  

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Winner

Recent Grads

Raimondo continues to try to stave off the “brain drain” in Rhode Island by supporting incentives to keep recent college grads in the state.   

In her FY17 budget proposal, the Governor upped the Wavemaker Fellowship to $5 million to increase the loan forgiveness program, and through the Ocean State Grad Grant looks continue funding through RI Housing to provide recent college graduates with up to $7,000 in down payment assistance on a first home.

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Tie

Minimum Wage Increase 

Good for employees, not so much for business owners.  The Governor has proposed raising the state’s minimum wage to $10.10, making good on her campaign promise to do so (albeit one year later that planned).

The business community including the National Federation of Independent Business, who said that “any increase in the minimum wage will impact job create at small businesses for younger, less experience workers," continues to push back on the issue. The same arguments were made last year when the state raised the minimum wage to $9.60; watch and see if any new approaches are taken by employers during the session related to the issue. 

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Tie

Increase in Cigarette Tax

First blush win for the state — the state gets more revenue ($7.1 million) by increasing the cigarette tax twenty-five cents from $3.75 to $4.00.  The price per pack would still be less than neighboring Massachusetts ($9.78 in RI vs $10.18 if it goes through — it’s now currently $9.49 in RI). More Rhode Islanders might be deterred from smoking with the increased cost.

The National Federation of Independent Business, however, said the proposed increase in the cigarette tax will hurt small convenience stores. When CVS stopped selling cigarettes, those smaller stores undoubtedly saw the windfall.  Can they absorb a small tax increase?

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Loser

Medical Marijuana Caregivers - and State of Rhode Island

The RIDOH and DBR along with the State Police are calling for medical marijuana caregivers and cultivators to now pay an annual fee for a tag on every medical marijuana plant.  The state entities claim that “under current law, the caregiver market lacks accountability and oversight” as opposed to compassion centers.  The state agencies say that the tags amount to just 2 percent of the value of the marijuana produced. 

The Governor and the General Assembly however need to address an underlying issue that has plagued them since the implementation of the medical marijuana — which is that the oversight committee as mandated by law has never once met.  The state should be included on the “loser” list for failing to adhere to the mandate as required by law, as they would have the input from stakeholder and empirical evidence to what is working — or not — in the current law.  Instead, the state is clamping down with zero input from the community. 

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Loser

Home Care Agencies

The Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care blasted Raimondo's budget almost immediately after its unveiling:

“Governor Raimondo’s proposed budget does not provide for the substantial increase needed for home care agencies to comply with new federal and state mandates, the increased cost for delivering healthcare services in the home, the barriers that Rhode Islanders face when accessing home care, and the ability for home care agencies to retain direct care workers.”, said Nicholas Oliver, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care. 

While the Governor proposed a seven-percent increase for Medicaid home and community-based long-term services and supports, including personal care attendant services provided by contracted home care agencies, the Governor also proposed another increase in the state’s minimum wage from $9.60 per hour to $10.10 per hour, a 50 cent increase. Because the current average home care aide starting wage is $10.50 per hour, the proposed increase, earmarked toward direct care worker wages, increases the wage to a minimum $11.00 per hour, but without financial support for compliance to the employer mandate for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act for home care agency employees and compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor overtime and travel rules impacting home care. Oliver added, “The Governor’s proposed increase is nothing more than an inflation adjustment that otherwise establishes a ninth consecutive year of frozen rates. This budget proposal does not reflect in writing what the Governor has publicly stated in the past year, such as the need to rebalance long-term care, the need to shift funding toward home and community-based healthcare services over nursing homes, and her interest to establish a comparable wage for home care workers to their counterparts throughout the healthcare sector.” 

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Loser

Fiscal Conservatives

Governor Gina Raimondo's budget proposal raised some eyebrows in Republican (and Libertarian) circles for the expansive role of the state government in market-based conditions. 

Justin Katz with the free-market Center for Freedom and Prosperity offered the following budget release. 

After budget addresses from progressive governors, free-market commentators frequently refer to the budget's focus on special interests, but Governor Raimondo's fiscal year 2017 budget is a stunningly special-interest budget.  Nearly every item is directly targeted toward a particular narrow group of recipients.  It's the kind of budget a chief executive puts forward when she doesn't trust the people of her state to make their own decisions.  For example, despite a projected increase of $85 million in income and sales taxes, next year, the governor offers offers no broadbased tax reductions.  In fact, she wants to add nearly $250 million in debt to the $300 million she wants to incur without voter approval for her RhodeWork's program.
 
In short, this budget doubles down on the strategy of remaking Rhode Island in the governor's image.  If you fit her vision for the state, there's money for you.  If you're one of the existing special interests, in Rhode Island, you'll like what you're getting.  But if you're a regular Rhode Island chasing your own dreams according to your own lights and supporting your own responsibilities, you'll find yourself holding the bill, and without subsidies. 

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Loser

Toll Opponents

It comes as no surprise that the Governor remains committed to pushing through her newly revised RhodeWorks plan — which includes truck tolls — to address the state’s infrastructure needs.  On Tuesday, Raimdondo said the state needs to “stop playing the politics of procrastination” with fixing the state’s bridges and roads.

Pay-go proponents — as well as public-private partnership ones — will have a short window to contest the Governor’s new plan to have a $300 million Garvee bond in order to support the program, which is on the fast track for consideration at the General Assembly with the Speaker’s stated goal of sealing the deal before the body breaks for February vacation.

Expect the opposition to remain heated in these coming weeks, however. 

 
 

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