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Where is Regunberg on RI Progressive Democrats’ Opposition to Budget? UPDATED

Monday, June 19, 2017


Rep. Aaron Regunberg

Despite emails, texts, messages, and phone calls to State Representative Aaron Regunberg by GoLocalProv to find out the East Side Representative's view on the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America (RIPDA) blistering opposition to the House Finance budget approved last week, he has refused comment. 

Regunberg, who was endorsed by RIPDA during the 2016 election cycle, was non-responsive on RIPDA blasting the House Finance budget that was released after 10 p.m. last Thursday - and voted on after midnight. RIPDA said:

"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."

In November, GoLocal columnist Russ Moore wrote, "The Two Faces of Aaron Regunberg:"

Will the real Aaron Regunberg please stand up? You might think of him as a progressive hero. But there are really two Aaron Regunbergs.

Sure, there’s the East Side of Providence’s pro-choice, pro-gun control, Bernie Sanders supporting Aaron Regunberg that he purports himself to be on social media as well as in his district.

But that’s the not the mask Aaron Regunberg was wearing on election night this year. Regunberg was watching the election results at the Oaklawn Grange in Western Cranston. There, he was surrounded by guys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.

Democrats Fire Back

While Regunberg failed to respond, William "Bill" Lynch, Senior Adviser for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, issued the following statement on Sunday night -- taking RIPDA to task.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the [press release] offered by the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, an organization which opposes the state budget.  This small group certainly does not speak for the vast majority of the Democratic Party, and not even for many of the progressives in the General Assembly. 

 All 15 Democrats on the House Finance Committee, including some who would identify themselves as progressives, voted in favor of the very responsible and well-balanced state budget that resulted from a collaborative effort of the House, Senate and Governor Raimondo.

When the full budget comes to the House floor this Thursday, I am confident the overwhelming majority of Democrats will support it.  They understand that good Democrats like Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney and Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Conley had the best interests of the entire state in mind when they worked so hard on this budget.  

Most Democrats are proud of what is contained in a budget that was not easy to craft this year, given the $134 million shortfall after the Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference in May.  They developed a document that protects our most vulnerable citizens, helps our hard-working Rhode Islanders, and delivers true tax savings.  

They accomplished these goals without having to raise any broad-based taxes, which I know disappoints the Progressive Democrats of RI, who offered the solution of raising taxes as part of their alternative ideas. Instead, the responsible Democrats in the General Assembly closed the gap by spreading out dozens of smaller cuts, delaying some new initiatives, and limiting new hires to essential personnel in customer-service operations to better serve our residents.

The Assembly’s Democrats also added millions of dollars to stave off cuts to hospitals and nursing homes, and provided badly needed raises for home health care workers and those who serve the developmentally disabled.  Taking care of those on the front lines of health care delivery shows the compassion contained within the budget. 

In another example of mainstream Democrats helping our hard-working residents, the budget includes a 90-cent raise in the minimum wage over two years.  By hiking the wage to $10.50 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019, Rhode Island’s wages will become more competitive with neighboring states.

This balanced budget also included Speaker Mattiello’s plan to begin the phase-out of the car tax, which will provide meaningful and immediate relief to every car-owner in Rhode Island, with more than 150,000 cars immediately removed from the tax rolls of working-class citizens.

The General Assembly, urged by Senate President Ruggerio, restored free RIPTA bus passes for the elderly and disabled.    

A compromise was reached with Governor Raimondo to provide a pilot program of two years of free tuition to those maintaining good grades while studying at Community College of Rhode Island, where students need the training for a variety of critical skills badly needed in our state.  

In further commitments to education, the budget included increased funding for elementary and secondary schools with high numbers of English-language learners and provided $3.6 million to upgrade Davies and Career and Technical High School for students to learn modern manufacturing skills.

I fully understand why every Democrat on the House Finance Committee supported this well balanced budget plan.  As a life-long Democrat and former chairman of our party, it truly disappoints me that this small progressive organization is so out of step with the majority of our party.   

UPDATED Monday 8:43 AM

Regunberg provided the following update Monday morning. 

"I'm still reviewing the budget. No budget will be a total reflection of my values - whenever there are cuts proposed, I have concerns, and obviously I advocated for a stronger, longer-term increase in the minimum wage. On the other hand, I'm glad that critical programs that community members have fought so hard for - like RIPTA bus passes and funding for ELL students - were included. Those wins belong to the community. And I'm glad the budget restores a great deal of funding to nursing homes by paring down corporate giveaways.

RIPDA's job is to put pressure on the General Assembly, and I appreciate that advocacy. I hope RIPDA will show up to support the multiple pieces of legislation I and my colleagues introduce and push for to make sure the wealthy pay their fair share, so we can keep building for real, progressive revenue reform in Rhode Island."

SLIDES: House Finance Budget Winners and Losers 2018


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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