Progress Report: Budget Day at State House, Projo Welcomes Netroots, Influx of the Earls

What a day for Rhode Island … up at the State House, they will be debating the annual budget bill and the big question is whether or not an amendment calling for the richest Rhode Islanders to pay more in taxes has more juice with rank-and-file legislators than it does with leadership. A concerted effort by the Netroots crowd and Occupy Providence could surely sway the debate in favor of the people.

Meanwhile, Netroots kicks off in earnest at the Convention Center … the Projo runs a somewhat unwelcoming editorial purportedly welcoming the conference of progressive journalists and activists to town writing, “…in recent months state and local leaders in this almost one-party polity have worked hard to address our budget crises with prudentially rigorous steps that might discomfit keynote speaker Paul Krugman, the Nobel economics laureate and New York Times columnist. So our esteemed visitors should not leave with a simplistic image of Rhode Island.” Translation: don’t let all the “D” after our local politician’s names fool you, this state isn’t nearly as liberal as you might think. Don’t worry, Projo, Netroots already knows this … in fact, there’s a panel to discuss as much.

But back to the budget bill for a minute … if you have to wonder why a proposal to merge the committees that oversee high school and elementary public education with the higher education board is in this year’s spending plan then you don’t understand local politics here. The reason is so the issue can receive as little public scrutiny as possible. Indeed, the idea has not one thing to do with the budget – it wouldn’t even take effect until 2014. The idea, which may have some merit, should be separate from the budget and debated in full next session. Both citizens and students deserve at least that.

While local conservatives will tell you that the so-called “job creator” class is fleeing the state to avoid paying taxes, it turns out the opposite is true with the population of people who earn more than $200,000 grew by almost 60 percent between 1999 and 2009. Of course this is the case … people have always, and probably will always, relocate here primarily for the quality of life and those who make that decision tend to have the money to do so. It’s high time we start making them pony up for the amenities they are moving here for.

Another untruth local conservatives are trafficking in: the Wisconsin recall election was about democracy vs. organized labor. Yes, the Wisconsin recall was about democracy and people power, but one side or the other didn’t have a monopoly on this. The divide was between labor’s organizing power and corporate America’s financial prowess. As is so often the case in this country, money won.

It’s frightening how much power Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has over the future of Woonsocket.

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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

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