Revenue for Rhode Island coalition seeks to raise taxes on the richest one percent“Our state’s priorities are upside down when we give millionaires big tax breaks and don’t invest in residents living with developmental disabilities and the direct support staff who care for them,” said Seaniah Ballah, a Rhode Island College student and Direct Support Professional at The ARC of Blackstone Valley. “Instead of calling on the most fortunate Rhode Islander’s to pay
Published on February 26, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist
“Our state’s priorities are upside down when we give millionaires big tax breaks and don’t invest in residents living with developmental disabilities and the direct support staff who care for them,” said Seaniah Ballah, a Rhode Island College student and Direct Support Professional at The ARC of Blackstone Valley. “Instead of calling on the most fortunate Rhode Islander’s to pay their fair share, politicians under-invest in Medicaid or even cut the program, which pays to care for adults with developmental disabilities…”
A newly formed coalition called Revenue for Rhode Island launched their campaign today to raise revenue for the state by adding one new tax bracket for the top one percent of earners. The legislation, sponsored by Senator William Conley (Democrat, District 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Representative Karen Alzate (Democrat, District 60, Pawtucket), will add one new tax bracket – from 5.99 percent to 8.99 percent on adjusted gross income above $475,000. The legislation would raise $128.2 million in new tax revenue, and would only impact the top one percent of tax filers.
The coalition held a press conference in the Rhode Island State House Library to announce the initiative. All the video is available below.
Senator Elizabeth Crowley (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls) asked if this initiative might cause well off Rhode Islanders to leave the state rather than face higher taxes.
Senator Conley called the fear of rich people moving out of the state due to a sleight increase in taxes “one of the myths that underlie this whole discussion.” In other words, it doesn’t happen.
UpriseRI noted that at the recent Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon, General Assembly leadership made further tax cuts for the rich a priority, including “a tax exemption for retirement income would flow to the richest 20 percent of Rhode Islanders, and a bump in the estate tax threshold would help the heirs of about 300 large estates.”
Given these expressed priorities, will the state simply be raising the taxes only to give those gains away in the form of newer and different tax cuts? Rachel Flum, Executive Director of the Economic Progress Institute, answered the question, saying, “I would argue that we should have everybody in this room going to those hearings on those proposals and arguing why those are not good policy, so that we can preserve this funding to go to the goods and services that we all need and support, rather than further cutting the budget as was suggested by the Chamber.”
“It is very hard to support myself as a college student and at home with the low wages we make as caregivers for individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Seaniah Ballah, a Rhode Island College student and Direct Support Professional at The ARC of Blackstone Valley. “I have established meaningful relationships with my clients and I simply love the work that I do. And although I love supporting my clients at medical appointments, facilitating in-home activities or assisting them when we try out a new recipe for dinner, I do not know how long I can continue working a job that can also be very demanding on my body and mind, with such low pay.”
“Our state’s priorities are upside down when we give millionaires big tax breaks and don’t invest in residents living with developmental disabilities and the direct support staff who care for them,” continued Ballah. “Instead of calling on the most fortunate Rhode Islander’s to pay their fair share, politicians under-invest in Medicaid or even cut the program, which pays to care for adults with developmental disabilities. We need a more equitable path forward where multi-millionaires pay their fair share so that people like me and my coworkers – and the people we care for – get the support and services they need.”
“For far too long the state has failed to raise the revenues needed to provide [needed] good and services,” said Rachel Flum in her remarks. “Also, our tax code is upside down…
“That means the least among us, the least able to pay, or those earning about $21,000 a year, are actually paying 50 percent more of their total income in taxes, if you take into account all taxes together… than the top earners in our state do.” Think sales tax, property tax and income tax.
This campaign, continued Flum, seeks to partially remedy this problem.
“This legislation will give us the flexibility needed to properly fund vital programs and services for Rhode Islanders who need them most, and invest in Rhode Island’s future while promoting a more efficient and equitable tax structure,” said Senator Conley. “This is a reasonable proposal that asks the wealthiest among us to pay a small percentage more, while having no impact on anyone making less than $475,000 a year.”
“With Rhode Island once again facing a sizable budget deficit, it is imperative that our state raise revenues so that crucial and often life-saving programs and services remain available to Rhode Islanders in need,” said Representative Alzate. “With this modest revenue proposal, our state will have the funds to properly support our citizens and our infrastructure, establishing Rhode Island on firm footing for future success.”
“Our cities and towns are being asked to do more with less,” said East Providence Mayor Roberto DaSilva. “This additional revenue can prevent deep cuts to education, Medicare and city services and help ease the burden on local property taxpayers, who have funded state-wide cuts over the years. Asking the top one percent to give a little more is a sensible solution that will help all Rhode Island families.”
“For too long, lower and middle class families have paid a higher percentage of their income in overall taxes than the wealthiest Rhode Islanders,” said RI AFL-CIO President George Nee, who emceed the event. “We have given big federal and state tax breaks for the wealthy – from the Bush federal tax cuts to Governor Carcieri’s state income tax cut to President Trump’s most recent tax cuts. In Rhode Island, when you factor in income tax, property tax and sales tax, the poorest Rhode Islanders pay 50 percent more as a percentage of income compared to the wealthiest one percent. This proposal would put the top one percent more in line with the next 79 percent of taxpayers.”
“This bill will raise revenue that can be used for schools and public education, infrastructure improvements, increased state funding to cities and towns, funding for our Veterans Home, senior citizens, and individuals living with developmental disabilities,” continued Nee. “It’s time, as a state, that we recalibrate our priorities and make our budget work for all Rhode Islanders.”
Nee noted that the coalition would be spending money on a campaign to get the word out about this effort.
Revenue for Rhode Island coalition members include the RI AFL-CIO, NEARI, RIFTHP, SEIU State Council, SEIU District 1199, Economic Progress Institute, RIASSE Local 580 SEIU, Coalition of Labor Union Women RI, Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), Providence Central Federated Labor Council, RI Association for Infant Mental Health, RI Coalition for the Homeless, RI National Organization for Women, The Right from the Start Coalition, URI American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and the Women’s Fund of RI.
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