A CCRI education and owning a car would both become more affordable for Rhode Islanders, thanks to the 2017-2018 state budget proposal unveiled late Thursday night and passed by the House Finance Committee early Friday morning.
In other words, the House budget proposal seeks to eliminate the car tax, Speaker Nick Mattiello’s legislative priority this year, and experiment with free public college, Governor Gina Raimondo’s top priority, by making two years at the Community College of Rhode Island mostly free to Rhode Island residents. The compromise gave both the Governor and Speaker room to claim political victories.
“Rhode Island’s going to be the 4th state in the nation that offers tuition-free community college and gives every single Rhode Islander the opportunity to be able to get that,” Raimondo spokesman Mike Raia told reporters last night according to WPRI. Raimondo had sought to make two years at any state school – CCRI, RIC, or URI – free for two years to local high school students.
And Mattiello boasted that “We are going to take 150,000 vehicles off the car tax rolls in the first year alone,” according to RIPR.
But the broadest effect of the proposal could prove to be the nearly $50 million it cuts from Raimondo’s budget – $25 million of which is labeled as being undefined in the bill.
“Well into the night, the big question remained unanswered: How will lawmakers plug the big hole that the state’s number-crunchers have identified in the budget that Raimondo first proposed to lawmakers in January?,” reported the Providence Journal, explaining how the cuts were rolled out to reporters last night. “Mattiello said Raimondo had promised him she could achieve” the $25 million in undefined cuts.
And evidently that was close enough to budgeting for all 15 Democrats on the House Finance Committee, who voted to approve the proposal, while all four Republicans voted against it.
Progressive policy wonk Sam Bell suggested on Twitter that broad-based cuts would squeeze already-strapped state services.
It seems like most of the cuts squeeze agencies across the board. Can they really take more cuts?
— Samuel W. Bell (@SamuelWBell) June 16, 2017
The bill reinstates funding for free bus fare for elderly and disabled people. Last year this program was eliminated, and some progressives supported that idea at the time. But with the program gone, free meal sites saw a correlation with fewer attendees. This seemed to alter the politics on this issue and, after Mattiello indicated he would support the program earlier in the session, even some of the most conservative members of the House (reps. Corvese and Chippendale, for two examples) told me they would support the program.
The budget proposal also includes a nominal increase in the minimum wage, even though minimum wage laws have no relationship to the state budget. It’s unclear if earned sick time, a priority for progressive legislators, was included.
The House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday or Friday of next week. The Senate typically approves the bill shortly thereafter. Much negotiations will happen between now and then. In an effort to add transparency to the process, Mattiello has promised budget sessions won’t go past 10pm this year.