Public pressure works, but budget still places the rich before working families
Following approval this weekend of the nearly $10B budget by the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats would like to thank the public, our allies, and the media for holding House leadership accountable. Because of the immense pressure placed, a $1M giveaway to an alternative medicine chiropractor was taken out of the budget. Funding for the Nonviolence Institute was restored. This and many other wins would not have been possible without public oversight in an often rushed budget process.
However, we are also disappointed by decision to place the rich before Rhode Island’s working families. The budget rubber stamps Trump’s tax cuts, otherwise known as “Opportunity Zones.” It also approves tens of millions of dollars that effectively subsidize luxury apartments. At the same time, the House did not include a minimum wage increase for those that need it most. We are hopeful that the same public pressure placed on House leadership is also placed on the Senate: increasing the minimum wage to $11.50 stands to benefit full-time workers, many of whom are women and parents. Ultimately, Rhode Island must strive to implement a $15 minimum as our neighbors in Connecticut and Massachusetts have done.
In response to the budget approval by the House, Rhode Island Progressive Democrats Board Member, Rodrigo Pimentel, wrote the following Op-Ed for the Providence Journal:
The nearly $10B budget approved by the Rhode Island House preserves much of the status quo – something we should not be celebrating. The status quo is one that has left working families in Rhode Island behind. The budget gives away millions in tax breaks to the rich, shoulders the tax burden on the poorest in our state, and leaves out funding for important programs such as Rhode Island Promise.
So-called Democrats have rubber stamped Trump’s tax cuts for the rich in Rhode Island’s budget. In 2017, Trump’s tax bill implemented “opportunity zones” that incentivize investment in poor areas selected by each state’s governor. The reality, however, has proven the opposite. A recent report by ProPublica shows how Under Armour’s billionaire CEO, Kevin Plank, will be winning big after lobbying Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, to include Port Covington as an opportunity zone. In selecting the tract, the governor excluded a neighborhood that was actually poor from the program. As a consequence, the residents of Baltimore lose out, while Plank’s corporate development will now benefit from millions in tax breaks. With opportunity zones approved as part of the budget, the tax code is rigged in favor of billionaire real estate developers like Trump.
While it is clear that the rich gain from this budget, Rhode Island’s working families continue to shoulder a disproportionate tax burden. According to a study released last year by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and the Economic Progress Institute, the lowest-income Rhode Islanders were found to pay over 12 percent of their income in taxes, while the top one percent paid 7.9 percent of their income in total taxes. The Institute also stated that if income inequality remains unaddressed, states with regressive tax structures will have difficulty raising revenue — exactly the situation Rhode Island is in with its projected budget deficits going forward.
Perhaps even more troubling is when Rhode Island’s tax cuts for the rich are placed in context. From 2009 to 2019, Rhode Island’s reduction to the top marginal income tax rate for the rich was the second largest at 3.91 points, only surpassed by Tennessee, which had a cut of 4 points, according to data from the Tax Foundation.
At the same time, House leadership pushes a false narrative promoting austerity. Working Rhode Islanders are told we can not afford to fund important programs such as Rhode Island Promise or fully fund universal pre-kindergarten. But somehow, we can afford to subsidize rich real estate developers like Jason Fane. The Speaker’s choice to leave funding out for the Promise program means the $4.5B in student debt that Rhode Islanders carry will continue to balloon. Working families will have to go another year without a minimum wage increase. The poorest Rhode Islanders will continue to suffer, while the rich get their taxpayer-subsidized luxury apartments.