Paiva Weed’s focus is on economy
When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, his advisor James Carville coined the famous phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The pejorative may have gotten lost along the way, but when it comes to pressing political issues in Rhode Island, the state’s economy is at the top of the list.
The current legislative session opened in Providence on Jan. 7 and Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed made it clear that improving the state’s economy is foremost among her priorities. Rhode Island currently has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.
“The economy and workforce development in particular is going to be our focus in this session,” said Paiva Weed, who represents Jamestown and her hometown of Newport. “One thing we need to do is to focus on bringing down our very high unemployment rate.”
The senate president said a critical part of workforce development is a continued focus on education from prekindergarten through college. She anticipated working with House Speaker Gordon Fox and Gov. Lincoln Chafee on restructuring higher education. Last year there were no increases in tuition at the state’s colleges, and the governor has proposed holding the line again this year.
Paiva Weed also wants to help people finish their college degrees. She has asked the state colleges to check their records and provide a list of people who have credits but no diploma. Paiva Weed hopes there will be an outreach to those people – some of whom are just a few credits short of a degree – to encourage them to complete their studies.
According to Paiva Weed, there have been important steps already taken to improve the business climate in Rhode Island. She said those efforts, including restructuring the income tax and enacting a formula to fund education, are beginning to show results.
The credit-rating agency Moody’s recently improved Rhode Island’s national ranking from 46th to 40th in terms of job growth.
“A six-point jump in one year is a significant increase and we need to take advantage of that momentum and continue to move forward,” said Paiva Weed.
Paiva Weed also mentioned the Marketplace Fairness Act, which is currently under consideration in Congress. The act would enable states to charge sales tax on online purchases in order to level the playing field for bricks-andmortar businesses. The state Senate has already passed legislation that says if the marketplace act is passed, the state’s sales tax will be lowered to 6.5 percent. Chafee has proposed an even steeper cut to 6 percent.
Paiva Weed thinks a look at the estate and corporate tax rates may also be in order.
“I think lowering the corporate tax rate would have a more significant impact in terms of our perceived overall business climate here in the state,” she said.
The arts received a big boost in the governor’s recent budget proposal. Paiva Weed said the creative industry is one sector the state has continued to see increased growth over the last five years. Last year, legislation was passed exempting sales tax on original art. Paiva Weed anticipates there will be a number of other initiatives this year that will allow Rhode Island to continue to promote itself as a state of the arts.
“We’ve seen that when we repealed the sales tax on boats, we were able to improve the marine industry,” she said. “We believe the statewide repeal of sales tax on the arts will certainly provide an incentive for people to purchase art.”
One issue that strikes close to home for Jamestown residents is the proposed tolling of the Sakonnet River Bridge. Paiva Weed said in light of declining gas tax revenues, the issue has given rise to an important discussion of how traffic infrastructure is funded in the state. She said the initial toll proposed by the bridge authority was too burdensome on the East Bay community.
“Jamestowners and Newporters alone should not bear responsibility alone for maintaining the Sakonnet River Bridge,” she said.
She hopes to expand the discussion to determine whether the span connecting Portsmouth and Tiverton should remain under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority or be transferred to the state Department of Transportation. Maintenance of the bridge is funded in different ways depending on the agency controlling it. Paiva Weed said the Jamestown Bridge is also part of the discussion.
“It would not be fair to ask RITBA to maintain the Jamestown Bridge if they don’t have another source of revenue,” she said.
Paiva Weed said she has been working to secure funding for several issues that are of importance to Jamestown residents. As an example, she cited the recent opening of the residential units for developmentally disabled people at Bridges Inc.
Another priority for Paiva Weed is the state’s historic tax credit that she believes is an important factor to the state’s economic recovery. The program facilitates the restoration of historic structures, and Paiva Weed has been in discussions with Chafee’s office in hopes of continuing the tax credit.