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Unless You’re From the Southside, It’s True - You Don’t Understand: Guest MINDSETTER™ Wright

Friday, May 19, 2017


Luis Aponte

I lived in South Providence for 6 years, on Broad Street to be exact. I left in 2013, but I think I understand a great deal about Wards 10 and 11.

If you're from somewhere else in Rhode Island, there's ZERO chance that you would understand what's going on here. I happened to be driving through Rhode Island this afternoon, and I listened to Dan Yorke's radio show on WPRO. I respect Dan, and I think he's very talented. That being said, I don't think South Providence is exactly in his wheelhouse. That's fine... but, in order to comment intelligently about the politics there, I think you need to understand the dynamic.

If you simply read the statistics, you would get an incomplete picture of the people who live there. You would assume that South Providence was a crime-ridden, low-income wasteland overrun by drugs and gangs. This couldn't be further from the truth. Is South Providence 88% black and Hispanic? Yes. Does South Providence have gang activity and drugs? Sure. In fact, I would submit that 90% of the violent crime on the Southside is a direct result of gang activity and the drug trade. With another, 5% accounted for by the homeless community that is much more prevalent there.     

The bulk of the population is made up of hard working, honest family oriented people who simply want to make a decent living and raise their families in peace. 

Now, here's where the T-shirts come in. "It's A Southside Thing, You Don't Understand."

Pretty spicy stuff, right? 

It's really not that complicated. The people of South Providence are woefully underserved. The public schools are the worst in the state, in a state that has the worst schools in New England. Public services such as community pools and recreation centers are promptly closed without explanation when they are needed the most. Although I am a strong supporter of the Providence Police force, I will admit that I witnessed numerous instances of overly aggressive officers while responding to incidents in South Providence. The sum of this equation is a population that has a contempt for local and federal government. 

So, here's the rub.

Drive down Broad Street, Chalkstone, or Elmwood Avenue, and you will see hundreds of family owned businesses. Hard working people who enhance the community they serve. Do they use the government services available to them? Yes. Many are on food stamps, welfare, state healthcare, and the like. Do a good number of those on government assistance obscure a portion of their income in order to qualify for assistance? Well, I will leave that up to you.

Luis Aponte has been their City Council member since 1998. He goes to their children's kindergarten, grade school, and high school graduations. He is there at every funeral of his constituents. Whether it be the 15-year-old gang member or the 98-year-old Mother who raised 8 children in his Ward. He is at the Amos House working with the homeless. Chances are if you are a lifetime resident of Ward 10, Luis Aponte has sat in your kitchen and listened to you concerns and fears. He has been your champion.

Do you think for one second that these people give a damn about the misuse of campaign funds? He made sure they had a turkey on Thanksgiving in 2004. So, when they say, "It's a Southside Thing, You Don't Understand"... In all honestly, you don't. 


Jim Wright is the National Director of Catch a Rising Star Comedy Clubs. He lives in Providence.


Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal

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Criminal Justice Reform

Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget. 

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English Language Learners

Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent.  The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.

The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”

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Car Owners - and Drivers

Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.  

In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."

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T.F. Green

The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).

Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”

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Minimum Wage Increase

An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.  

The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015.  Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.  

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Cigarette Tax

Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers.  Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.  

The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead. 

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As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “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.”

This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018. 

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Online Shoppers

The taxman cometh — maybe.  Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.

"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."

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Long Term Care Funding

The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration. 

Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million. 


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