From the State House
Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the session to improve business and help create jobs in Rhode Island.
Family farms won a big inheritance victory that will prevent them from being driven out of business or sold off when one generation passes the farm to another. Inherited working farmland will be assessed at its “use value” as farmland and not its higher cash value as house lots. Since most farms are zoned for residential or commercial use, the assessed value was often higher, resulting in high estate taxes to heirs who were forced to sell all or part of the land to pay them. This change takes care of that problem. We need to preserve our farms where food is grown or raised locally.
The historic structures tax credit was restored, but with safeguards. This will help jumpstart construction work and jobs for the Rhode Island economy. It will also strengthen municipal tax bases as historic buildings are revitalized in many communities. The credit is capped at $5 million, or 25 percent of a $20 million project. Payment is made when the project is complete. There was good news for the arts community, as the sales tax exemption for original artwork takes effect Dec. 1 of this year.
The Innovate Rhode Island Small Business Program will help small businesses in Rhode Island’s growing science and technology sector. This creates a bioscience and engineering internship program, and helps assist businesses in those fields that are applying for federal grants. This sector is important to Aquidneck Island, where the defense industry is a major economic sector. In Rhode Island, the defense industry generates $1.75 billion, employing 16,000 people.
The newly established “Made in Rhode Island” manufacturing collaborative will market, brand and promote Rhode Island-made products.
Improving education and access to college creates economic empowerment, so tuition at all of Rhode Island’s state colleges was frozen to stem college costs. While it varies across occupations, those with bachelor’s degrees earn about 50 percent more during their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. By 2018, 61 percent of jobs in Rhode Island will require at least some college.
The session will also be known for some of what didn’t happen. The master lever bill never came to the House floor. You evaluate the person, not the party, as a prerequisite for your vote. Another disappointment was the payday lending bill not coming to the House floor. Predatory lending on people who can least afford to pay a loan with a 260 percent annual interest rate every two weeks is wrong.
The Sakonnet tolls issue was divisive. We cannot pit one area of the state against another. If tolls are not placed on the Sakonnet River Bridge upon “substantial completion,” the feds may never allow tolling on the bridge. The study commission will have to frame a solution to fund all four bridges, whether it’s a combination of tolls and state revenues or another plan. The safety and maintenance of our bridges is a priority.
I am honored to serve. Please call or email me with any questions or concerns. Enjoy the summer.
Rep. Deb Ruggiero serves District 74 of Jamestown and Middletown in the state House of Representatives.