RI Progressive Dems Blast Budget, Urge Assembly Dems to Vote No
Saturday, June 17, 2017
The Progressive Democrats released the following statement from political director Capri Catanzaro Friday afternoon.
"With the release of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s budget, the annual revealing of wolves in Democratic clothing begins. This budget favors the rich and demonstrates a lack of concern for every Rhode Islander who is not so wealthy.
This budget relies heavily on deep across the board cuts to state agencies--cuts that have not been clearly specified. When a budget refuses to detail openly and clearly exactly what the cuts will be, we are highly suspicious that services, wages, and benefits will suffer. After the brutal pension cuts, we are already seeing signs of decreasing functionality in our state agencies, with the ongoing UHIP debacle the most visible sign of the dysfunction. Further cuts will only lead to worsening performance.
While we appreciate that the Speaker's budget pares back some of the worst of the Medicaid cuts advanced in the Governor's original proposal, it still cuts Medicaid, which we find unacceptable. While our country is uniting against TrumpCare's Medicaid cuts, why would so-called Democrats want to cut Medicaid here in Rhode Island? We call for a full repeal of all of Raimondo's Medicaid cuts, and we demand that she cease and desist from her cruel Trumpian plan to kick 20,000 Rhode Islanders off of Medicaid administratively.
The Speaker’s budget, however, worsens one of the few good parts of the Governor's original budget proposal. It undercuts students at Rhode Island's colleges and universities with shriveled funding. It even scales back the Rhode Island Promise tuition support program, limiting tuition exclusively to new high school graduates for two years at CCRI.
Meanwhile, the Speaker's budget continues to divert millions to the Commerce Corporation--the controversial agency that did the 38 Studios deal and has evolved into Governor Raimondo's corporate welfare slush fund.
The budget promotes a "car tax repeal" that fails to replace the revenue that the car tax provides, blowing up the long-term structural deficit. Without replacement revenue, we risk worsening schools, poorer roads, and shrinking services thanks to the missing funds. While we support car tax reform, we have always been very clear about how to pay for it--repealing the 2006 income tax cuts for the rich. With the news that Massachusetts is raising its top income tax rate for the rich by four points, the conservative machine's opposition to repealing the tax cuts for the rich grows more and more absurd.
This budget misses other financial solutions as well. What the budget does not address is the tremendous sums that are wasted arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning of nonviolent drug offenders. Nor does it take advantage of tax revenues that we would see from a Rhode Island marijuana industry. A majority of Rhode Islanders support legalization, but Mattiello insists on prohibiting recreational marijuana despite the fact that his position is both fiscally irresponsible and cruel.
We are happy to see that the only budget amendment from the left last year--to reinstate RIPTA bus passes--made its way into the budget. We credit Representative John Lombardi for fighting for this key priority on the floor last year. We see this as a vindication of the strategy of using budget amendments to advance progressive policy goals, and we urge progressive legislators to utilize this proven and successful tactic.
All said, it is a great budget for the wealthy and the politically connected corporate interests. It is a bad budget for the middle class, the poor, and supporters of economic growth. It also a good example of the machine's single-minded determination to shift money from the many to the few—in any way possible and at any cost. Democrats in the legislature should vote against this clearly right-wing budget.
The people are watching."
Related Slideshow: FY18 House Finance Budget
The state's community college is poised to be the sole beneficiary of the Governor's Promise scholarship program.
It would make Rhode Island the fourth state to have tuition-free community college, allowing every resident the opportunity to earn an associate's degree tuition free. There is no means testing for the program and few standards.
The cost would be roughly $3 million in the FY18 (for the first cohort of students) and then $6 million the following year there are two classes.
As part of negotiations -- and the fiscal realities facing Rhode Island with a nearly $140 million shortfally, the Speaker announced Thursday that $25 million will be cut in general spending.
"It's something we discussed with the Governor and she thinks she can make [it] work," said Matteillo.
Also on the chopping block -- funding for the legislative office to the tune of $2 million.
Elderly and Disabled Bus Riders
After levying fares on some of the most needy RIPTA bus riders (the elderly and disabled) for the first time this past year, which resulted in strong public outcry, the House Finance budget contains just over $3 million -- for each of the next two years -- to refund the program this coming year.
Mattiello noted that after the two years is up, it is up to the Governor to find the funding.
On Thursday, Raimondo learned she is poised to get a piece (jCCRI) of her free college tuition proposal, which had been a major focal point of her budget proposal - and political strategy.
On the flip side, she is tasked with finding $25 million in government spending to cut, in order to balance the budget.
Unlike the May estimating conference, where Rhode Island revenues were found to be off nearly $100 million plus, the Governor can't say she didn't see this coming.
Medical Marijuana Expansion
In June, Raimondo called for an increase in medical marijuana dispensaries and an increase in licensing fees to generate $1.5 million in revenue for the state.
She called for "no less than six licensed compassion centers."
On Thursday, Mattiello said it was not in the budget, due the proposal's late timing.
While Mattiello made scant mention of cuts in the briefing Thursday - save for the $25 million out of government spending -- the question was raised as to where the rest of the $140 million shortfall will come from.
"Millions in cuts came from the Commerce Corp budget. The budget kept the Rebuild RI funding, but money for several other Commerce programs were reduced," said Larry Berman, spokesman for Mattiello.
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