Editorial & Opinion

Coalition to future Governor McKee: Tax the rich and invest in housing, economic justice and decarceration

“It’s time for the richest among us to pay their fair share, especially if we want to live in a fair society with a high standard of living. There should be no reason why the tax burden is on working families when we know so many of these tax benefits only help the wealthy. That has to end. We can begin righting these wrongs by taxing the rich and investing in our communities.”
Photo for Coalition to future Governor McKee: Tax the rich and invest in housing, economic justice and decarceration

Published on February 11, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

A coalition of community groups from across Rhode Island called on presumptive future Governor Daniel McKee to adopt a state budget that stimulates “an economic recovery that addresses the root causes of our current crisis, and invests in the well-being of all Rhode Islanders.”

The coalition expressed concerns about what kind of budget might be adopted this legislative season, saying that the budget must include policies and investments that move towards achieving racial, economic and gender equity and that cuts to programs and services that foster equity must be avoided.

“The communities we serve are all too familiar with the cost of austerity,” writes the coalition, “and Rhode Island is no stranger to the detrimental long-term impact of budget cuts in times of economic recession.”

The coalition’s proposal calls for taxing high-income earners and ending the car tax rollback, while investing in programs that provide housing for those most in need. In addition, the proposal emphasizes diverting funds from prisons and policing to serve community needs, as you can read below:

Our Vision

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted the deep inequities in our society and our economy. White supremacy and racism, capitalist exploitation, patriarchy, heterosexism and ableism are the root causes of our fractured society and unbalanced economy. We cannot continue this way.
  • We must ensure that all Rhode Islanders have what they need to thrive, not merely survive. The tragedies of the pandemic must move us toward a systemic, intentional set of policies and investments that are grounded in our shared future. We must acknowledge the root causes of our fractured society and be deliberate in our actions to move ahead. All of our neighbors, citizens and immigrants alike, must be part of plans for shared prosperity. We must hold corporations to account as good citizens of our state, and ensure that our tax system is fair and equitable. Together, we must rebuild a Rhode Island that works for all of us, not just the well-connected few.

Revenue

  • End the car tax rollback
  • Increase the income tax from 5.99% to 8.99% on adjusted gross income above $475,000

“It’s time for the richest among us to pay their fair share, especially if we want to live in a fair society with a high standard of living,” said Kinverly Dicupe, Co-Organizing Director at ReclaimRI, “There should be no reason why the tax burden is on working families when we know so many of these tax benefits only help the wealthy. That has to end. We can begin righting these wrongs by taxing the rich and investing in our communities.”

Housing

  • Establish a dedicated funding stream in the state’s general budget for affordable housing production and operation of at least $8 million in FY21, set to increase annually.
  • Maintain the dedicated source of revenue for rental vouchers and hotel costs for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, with a mandate to increase it annually, based on need.
  • Make adequate funding available for housing programs and rental vouchers to support individuals released from incarceration, including those for whom a lease or other housing accommodation is a prerequisite for securing parole and funding sufficient to meet the need for housing programs that support individuals ineligible for public and other forms of subsidized housing due to their records, including sufficient funding for programs to house those with sex offender status.

“No matter where we come from or what our color, Rhode Islanders work hard for our families. It’s time we had a state budget that works hard for us too,” said Zack Mezera with the RI Working Families Party. “Let’s invest our way out of this crisis by funding schools, jobs, and housing, and let’s make sure that the wealthiest in our state pay their fair share toward this recovery.”

Economic Justice

  • Increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2022, pegged to inflation and eliminate the sub-minimum wage
  • Expand the state’s unemployment insurance program to match the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), including unemployment insurance for freelancers, self-employed, and gig workers, as well as for those leaving work due to sexual or domestic violence.
  • Increase the benefit amount and provide the annual clothing allowance for all children for RI Works families.
  • Increase funding for social safety net programs based on the increase in need due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Criminal Justice

  • Promote further justice reinvestment efforts to decrease spending on corrections by reducing the number of people incarcerated pre-trial and for probation violations; supporting reclassification of simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor and decriminalizing buprenorphine; and passing geriatric parole for those over the age of 50.
  • Explore opportunities for longer-term savings by closing the Women’s prison and developing a plan for the future of the Maximum and High Security facilities.
  • Reinvest funds into evidence-based programming and transitional housing, housing vouchers available through the pay for success initiative, and the creation of harm reduction centers/safe consumption sites.

“We’ve all heard it more times than any one of us can count. ‘Preventative medicine is the best medicine,'” said Leonard Jefferson, a member of the Direct Action for Rights and Equality Behind the Walls Committee. “We call on our legislators to support these sage policy recommendations, which will interrupt systemic cycles of poverty and incarceration and allow our community members to thrive.”

The coalition includes ReclaimRI, Demand Progress, RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, RI Working Families Party, Economic Progress Institute, RI Center for Justice, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, Housing Network of Rhode Island, Temple Sinai, Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, Childhood Lead Action Project, The Womxn Project and Women’s Fund of Rhode Island.

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