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Religious, Advocacy Groups Call for General Assembly to go Back in Session

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Georgia Hollister Isman

More than 20 religious and advocacy groups sent a letter to the Rhode Island General Assembly calling for them to get back into session to completed the business left unfinished, including the 2018 budget.

“Every day that goes by without a budget makes it harder to have a good revenue and spending plan for 2018. We’re glad to hear there is movement toward coming back into session and urge leaders to keep those conversations going,” said Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute.

In the letter, the groups call the delay in passing a budget has “real and mounting human costs” and that it will become increasingly difficult for local governments to make up lost revenue and implement savings, particularly in funding educational programs.

The organizations also urge reconciliation and passage of bills to disarm domestic abusers, guarantee earned sick days, adopt proven reforms to criminal justice, allow workers to form co-ops, reduce toxic substances, and protect healthcare.

“Despite popular support among lawmakers for legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of state residents, change is stalled until the General Assembly can come back together to complete their work. Based on what we have been hearing in the news, we’re hopeful the House and Senate will come back soon. Rhode Islanders really want that to happen,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, director of Rhode Island Working Families.

The groups also urge the House and Senate to reconcile differences and pass bills that were left in limbo at the end of the session.

The letter is signed by:

  • The American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island
  • Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights
  • Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)
  • Economic Progress Institute
  • Fuerza Laboral
  • Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
  • Mental Health Association of RI
  • Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island 
  • Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
  • Progreso Latino
  • Religious Coalition for a Violence-Free Rhode Island
  • Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • RI Community Action Association
  • RI Council of Churches
  • RI Jobs with Justice
  • RI NOW
  • RI Racial Justice Coalition
  • RI Regional Adult Learning (RIRAL)
  • RI Working Families
  • Sierra Club, Rhode Island Chapter
  • Step Up Center International
  • United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP)

Related Slideshow: FY18 House Finance Budget

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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. 

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State Government 

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. 

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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. 

WATCH: Opponents of RIPTA Fare Hikes to Rally at RI State House Wednesday Afternoon

Mattiello noted that after the two years is up, it is up to the Governor to find the funding. 

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Governor Raimondo

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.

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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.

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Davies High School

The House finance budget contains additional help for manufacturing, including $3.6 million to upgrade facilities at Davies Career and Tech.

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Commerce Corporation

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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Mininum Wage Hike

Workers will be happy, employers might not. 

The FY18 budget proposal calls for a $.50 minimum wage increase as of January 1, 2018, and then an additional $.40 the following year.

Business owners have continuously fought against such hikes. 


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