From the State House
Greetings friends and neighbors. This year’s legislative session has ended with a state budget that did not raise a meals-and-beverage tax, did not increase personal-income taxes, and did not extend the hotel tax to bed-and-breakfasts or vacationhome rentals. These were some of the suggestions in the governor’s original budget.
Some of the highlights of the General Assembly budget include putting a casino referendum on the November ballot with the state’s share of table games at 18 percent. Whether you are for or against gambling, the expansion of table games at Newport Grand and Twin River should be left to the voters to decide in November.
Gambling is the third largest moneymaker in the state of Rhode Island, generating close to $300 million a year in revenue. Although Newport Grand is not a “destination,” it is an attraction and part of the overall hospitality industry on Aquidneck Island. Newport Grand provides about 250 jobs, $30 million to the state and more than $1 million to the city of Newport. There would be more growth in our local economy if the hotel industry could figure out how to provide space for conventions.
We took steps to boost the local economy and the quality of life. I lobbied hard in the House, along with Sen. Paiva Weed in the Senate, to restore funding to the developmentally disabled. Restoring nearly $10 million is the right thing to do.
Other highlights include boosting education funding by $31 million to cities and towns. The minimum wage was raised 35 cents to $7.75 an hour so people can earn a fair wage. We’re still lower than Massachusetts ($8) and Connecticut ($8.25). Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is no longer a misdemeanor but a civil penalty. Rhode Island is one of 15 states to decriminalize marijuana. It becomes law in April 2013. The compelling argument being that under current law a young person caught with a very small amount of pot faces a year in jail and a criminal record that follows that person for the rest of their life.
The Homeless Bill of Rights is civil-rights legislation prohibiting people from treating homeless people unfairly in employment, medical care and use of public spaces. There are 4,400 homeless in Rhode Island – yes, there are homeless in Jamestown – and 40 percent are women and young children.
Gov. Chafee’s municipal package allowing cities and towns to reduce pension benefits fizzled. It was disappointing that the “payday lender” bill did not come to the House floor. This bill would have capped the 260 percent interest rates charged by payday lenders. The industry spent more than $100,000 in advertising and lobbying efforts, including hiring former House Speaker Bill Murphy as its lobbyist and it helped.
I supported a bill requiring individuals and groups who contribute $1,000 or more on political advertising to be disclosed. The bill is directed at “super PACs,” which has flourished since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protects the First Amendment rights of corporations to fund political messages. This is a state law that now requires people to own up to their political acts. It’s about transparency and civic courage. Without it, democracy fails. Like you, I want to know who is behind all the political spending when it hits the airwaves this summer, especially the gambling referendum.
I am honored to serve. Thank you for the privilege to be your state representative. I’ll be stopping by your house this summer with my potholders! If you need a new potholder, please contact me at 423-0444 or rep-ruggiero@ rilin.state.ri.us. Enjoy your summer. Stay well.
Rep. Deb Ruggiero serves District 74 (Jamestown and Middletown) in the state House of Representatives.