I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the opinion piece offered by the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, an organization which opposes the state budget. This small group certainly does not speak for the vast majority of the Democratic Party, and not even for many of the progressives in the General Assembly.
All 15 Democrats on the House Finance Committee, including some who would identify themselves as progressives, voted in favor of the very responsible and well-balanced state budget that resulted from a collaborative effort of the House, Senate and Governor Raimondo.
When the full budget comes to the House floor this Thursday, I am confident the overwhelming majority of Democrats will support it. They understand that good Democrats like Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney and Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Conley had the best interests of the entire state in mind when they worked so hard on this budget.
Most Democrats are proud of what is contained in a budget that was not easy to craft this year, given the $134 million shortfall after the Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference in May. They developed a document that protects our most vulnerable citizens, helps our hard-working Rhode Islanders, and delivers true tax savings.
They accomplished these goals without having to raise any broad-based taxes, which I know disappoints the Progressive Democrats of RI, who offered the solution of raising taxes as part of their alternative ideas.
Instead, the responsible Democrats in the General Assembly closed the gap by spreading out dozens of smaller cuts, delaying some new initiatives, and limiting new hires to essential personnel in customer-service operations to better serve our residents.
The Assembly’s Democrats also added millions of dollars to stave off cuts to hospitals and nursing homes, and provided badly needed raises for home health care workers and those who serve the developmentally disabled. Taking care of those on the front lines of health care delivery shows the compassion contained within the budget.
In another example of mainstream Democrats helping our hard-working residents, the budget includes a 90-cent raise in the minimum wage over two years. By hiking the wage to $10.50 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019, Rhode Island’s wages will become more competitive with neighboring states.
This balanced budget also included Speaker Mattiello’s plan to begin the phase-out of the car tax, which will provide meaningful and immediate relief to every car-owner in Rhode Island, with more than 150,000 cars immediately removed from the tax rolls of working-class citizens.
The General Assembly, urged by Senate President Ruggerio, restored free RIPTA bus passes for the elderly and disabled.
A compromise was reached with Governor Raimondo to provide a pilot program of two years of free tuition to those maintaining good grades while studying at Community College of Rhode Island, where students need the training for a variety of critical skills badly needed in our state.
In further commitments to education, the budget included increased funding for elementary and secondary schools with high numbers of English-language learners and provided $3.6 million to upgrade Davies and Career and Technical High School for students to learn modern manufacturing skills.
I fully understand why every Democrat on the House Finance Committee supported this well balanced budget plan. As a life-long Democrat and former chairman of our party, it truly disappoints me that this small progressive organization is so out of step with the majority of our party.
Editor’s note: Bill Lynch sent this unsolicited post to RI Future in response to Capri Catanzaro’s post on Friday urging liberal legislators to vote against the proposed budget. Catanzaro represents the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America.