2011-03-17 / News

Ruggiero settles into second term at State House

By Tim Riel

Deb Ruggiero Deb Ruggiero Now in her second term, state Rep. Deb Ruggiero continues to get more confident on Capitol Hill in Providence. As the District 74 representative serving Jamestown and Middletown, the island resident has been active in legislation lately to do her part to improve the condition of Rhode Island.

“It’s been great,” said Ruggiero, who was re-elected in November by comfortably winning 53 percent of the vote in a three-way race. “I’m really honored to serve. It’s remarkable to be a steward of the state.”

Most recently, Ruggiero has focused her attentions on two bills – the “Safe Schools Act” and legislation that would establish a tax holiday on the second or third August of each year.

Ruggiero, along with state senators John J. Tassoni Jr. and Beatrice A. Lanzi, held a press conference at the State House on Tuesday to discuss the “Safe Schools Act.” The legislation, which has stemmed from a yearlong study by a special commission chaired by Tassoni, hopes to eliminate the policies of the 36 school districts in the state and make one blanket policy for all public schools. The statewide policy would include prohibitions against bullying and retaliation. It would also outline procedures for students, faculty and parents to report bullying, along with a range of disciplinary actions that can be taken against an offender.

“Facebook and Twitter have taken bullying to a whole new level,” Ruggiero said. “All kids tease each other. That’s going to happen. But sometimes it crosses the line and it’s becomes bullying. It’s harassment. Technology has changed the landscape of bullying. It’s just doesn’t happen at school anymore.”

Ruggiero used the death of 16-year-old Jeffrey Michalenka in June 2006 as an example. Jeffrey, who was a sophomore at Lincoln High School at the time of his death, took his own life after enduring years of bullying and harassment from classmates. “No parent should bury their child,” Ruggiero said.

The commission has also launched a web site – www.stopbullyingri.com – to help raise awareness.

Ruggiero has also submitted a bill to the House Finance Committee that would establish a tax holiday for the state. Initially, the legislation said that the holiday would fall on the third Saturday in August, but Ruggiero is thinking about amending it to coincide with Massachusetts’ tax holiday on the second Saturday in August.

The tax holiday would make all items purchased for under $2,500 on that day in Rhode Island exempt from the sales tax. According to the bill, the only items that wouldn’t qualify for the tax exemption would be motor vehicles, motorboats, meals, utilities and tobacco products.

“It’s more than just generating sales,” Ruggiero said. “It shows that the state is supporting small businesses.”

Currently, Massachusetts has a two-day tax holiday that falls on the second weekend in August. Last year, Massachusetts reportedly lost $25 million in tax revenue because of the shopping sprees that were induced by the holiday, but Ruggiero said that in the long run, the state benefits.

“There is a residual effect,” she said. For example, Ruggiero explained that parents might buy their children a video game station during the tax holiday. The other 364 days of the year, when the sales tax is in effect, that child might want a new video game for his system. This, in effect, makes sales that otherwise would not have happened if not for the primary purchase during the holiday.

According to studies, if Rhode Island would enact the one-day tax holiday, $2.2 million in tax revenue would be lost. Ruggiero said that studies by the Economic Development Corporation said that a tax holiday for the state would result in $40 million in additional retail sales.

Ruggiero also said that a tax holiday that coincides with Massachusetts would keep Rhode Island shoppers in the state. Scott Humphrey, who owns multiple lumber retail yards in Rhode Island, testifi ed in front of the House Finance Committee on March 9. According to Ruggiero, Humphrey said that during last year’s tax holiday, he made $20,000 in one day from deliveries to Massachusetts’ customers.

“We may have a 10 percent unemployment rate,” Ruggiero said, “but about 90 percent of Rhode Islanders are working and have income. We need to support small business.”

Ruggiero also discussed Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s recent budget address. “There are a mix of gains and pains,” she said. “I don’t agree with a two-tier tax system.”

Ruggiero says that she disagrees with Chafee’s plans to tax service industries like landscapers and hairdressers. “Sales tax is a regressor,” she said. Ruggeiro added that she is also against his planfora1percenttaxonhome heating oil.

“I think that is a terrible idea,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like a death from a 1,000 paper cuts for middle-class families and home owners.”

There are highlights though, she says. “He is investing in higher education, which is very important.” Chafee reportedly plans to invest $10 million to higher education in Rhode Island.

“I’m a fiscal conservative,” Ruggiero said. “I live for equity, not debt.” She added, “We can not continue to hurt the middle class and home owners.”

Ruggiero defeated 28-year incumbent Bruce Long in January 2009. Ruggiero said she enjoys every minute as state representative, despite some of the differences in the General Assembly.

“I think there are always people who will disagree,” she said. “My philosophy is to communicate and collaborate.”

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