OP-ED

Income tax hike unlikely this year at General Assembly

Posted 6/18/21

More than a decade has passed since Rhode Island cut the state's top marginal tax rate under then-Gov. Don Carcieri in 2010. Now, with more progressives in the General Assembly, there are growing calls to raise taxes on affluent residents. The Rhode

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OP-ED

Income tax hike unlikely this year at General Assembly

Posted

More than a decade has passed since Rhode Island cut the state’s top marginal tax rate under then-Gov. Don Carcieri in 2010. Now, with more progressives in the General Assembly, there are growing calls to raise taxes on affluent residents.

The Rhode Island Business Coalition fired back last week, arguing in part that higher taxes would hurt the state’s less-than-robust business climate. Progressives define the issue as a matter of fairness, pointing to how wealth is growing mostly at the upper income level. Driving that point home, ProPublica reported recently on how, for example, Jeff Bezos did not pay any federal taxes in 2007.

But Gov. Dan McKee is temperamentally opposed to an income tax hike and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi appears sensitive to the same issue, although the state Senate leadership – mindful of a growing progressive presence in that chamber – has expressed some support for higher taxes. Add this all up, and a hike of the state income tax appears very unlikely this year, in part due to state revenues running ahead of earlier estimates.

But progressives aren’t going away, and the dynamic could change in the future with more electoral gains. For now, Reclaim RI has canvassed some legislative districts in support of its “tax the rich” message, and the group planned to hold an event in Warwick – Speaker Shekarchi’s home community.

Of course, there’s always the option taken by lawmakers in Massachusetts, where voters will decide whether to impose higher taxes the wealthy.

The long, hot summer

Violent crime traditionally increases in American cities in the summer, so Col. Hugh Clements, chief of the Providence Police Department, not surprisingly said that his counterparts elsewhere and he are bracing for summer.

“There’s a huge supply of firearms out in our community,” Clements said during an appearance on Political Roundtable at The Public’s Radio.

He said things have been fairly good since about 60 shots were fired during a shootout last month on Carolina Avenue in the city’s Washington Park section.

“We’re doing what we normally do, tightening up with our community partners. We know with all of these major issues that we deal with, we can’t do it alone, we can’t arrest our way out of the situation. It’s important to make arrests, to hold people accountable, and we did on that [Carolina Avenue] occasion. We charged seven young men, and they’ll face some serious time as they go through the system. But I think it’s important for us to strategize and partner with our community partners and in that I mean the Nonviolence Institute, all of our regular partners surrounding violence but as well our law enforcement partners in targeting those young men who are prone to pick up a gun and more so to pull the trigger.”

Whose shoreline is it?

My colleague Alex Nunes has a detailed report on our website, thepublicsradio.org, rich in Rhode Island history, on how private interests blocked the public from one R.I. barrier beach, Quonochontaug in Westerly and Charlestown.

As he reports, elected officials are not much interested in discussing or wading into the issue: “For now, state lawmakers for Westerly are shying away from this and other shoreline access debates, which public shoreline advocates say contributes to the problem. Neither state representative Brian Patrick Kennedy nor Sam Azzinaro agreed to be interviewed for this story. Westerly state Sen. Dennis Algiere has previously said taking on fire districts is not on his agenda.”

Advantage: McKee

As he marked his 100th day in office this week, Gov. Dan McKee remains in the driver’s seat in the early stage of the 2022 gubernatorial race. The only announced major candidate so far, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, continues to tout her job performance as SOS as the reason for why she should be governor.

McKee, though, has a potent trifecta: incumbency, a waning pandemic, and improving economic conditions. The latter will likely continue for a while, meaning that challengers will face the hurdle of offering an effective rationale to oust the incumbent.

The perennial issue

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green has been on job for a little longer than two years. The recent stretch has been particularly challenging, due to not just the pandemic, but strife over the future of Providence schools and the controversy involving a former administrator accused of assaulting a youth.

Infante-Green nonetheless sounded resolute when we spoke after a financial literary news conference held recently at Tolman High School in Pawtucket.

“I look at the work,” she said. “I ground myself on the work we have done, and I have to tell you, I know very few districts in the nation that have done as much work as has happened in Providence. So this is not about one person. This is about the commitment we have made to the district and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Asked how that work is evident, Infante-Green said, “When I first came in, the Department of Justice came in and said that we did not have enough certified ESL teachers. So what did we do? We invested our money. We reframed the money so that we can give teachers scholarships to go get their certification. We did it with 125 teachers. We’re doing it again with another 125. We spent $4 million on a curriculum, K to 8, because the community in Providence is highly mobile, so that was really important. We found a million dollars savings in the district, we reframed what that means. We have gotten guidance counselors for every single elementary school in the district. So those are facts. Those are things that have happened – and those are just a few of the things that have happened. We started the school year with a shortage of just 20 teachers when we used to start with a [shortage of] 100-plus teachers every year. So there has been great strides made. We’re at the beginning stages, but we have laid a very strong foundation. I’m very proud of that work.”

Pension puzzle

A bill to move West Warwick’s severely under-funded pension into the state system has been introduced at the request of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The expected 2022 gubernatorial candidate was among those testifying in House Finance last week against Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s latest pension plan.

While Elorza warns against the risk of inaction, as I recently reported his pension obligation bond concept is drawing fire from across the partisan spectrum. RI National GOP Committeeman Steve Frias multi-tasked by using his Cranston Herald column as testimony in House Finance excerpt.

Shrinking democracy?

A trend worth noting, via NPR’s Mara Liasson: “Right now, the [U.S.] Senate is split evenly in half, but the 50 Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican senators. By 2040, if population trends continue, 70% of Americans will be represented by just 30 senators, and 30% of Americans by 70 senators. That has lots of implications, such as for the Senate filibuster, where a party that represents a shrinking minority of voters can block almost all major legislation.”

Matos’s influence

Oscar Vargas, an aide in the Rhode Island Senate, won a special election last week for the Ward 15 Providence City Council seat vacated by Sabina Matos when she became lieutenant governor. Matos’ candidate, Delores De Los Santos, placed second, sparking questions about Matos’ influence in the ward she represented for more than a decade. Yet Vargas won on the strength of an effective focus on mail ballots. And Matos, who routinely accompanies Gov. McKee during public events, continues to build her statewide profile.

Local Pultizer

Big congrats to Laura Crimaldi, an alum of the Providence AP bureau, who is part of a team at The Boston Globe that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, on how Massachusetts was failing to keep dangerous drivers off the road.

The National Pastime

You ever hear of Spider Tack before last week? Me neither, and while baseball players have a long and rich history of doctoring the baseball, this latest controversy went from a whisper to a media fixation with lightning speed.

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. For a longer version of this column, visit www.thepublicsradio.org.

politics, Donnis

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