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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tax Justice bills come down to the wire

Tax Equity Still a Question for Impending Budget Bill
One of the key ingredients in this year’s impending proposed budget from the House Finance Committee will be how to pay for existing services that have already been cut to the bone in recent years.

There’s the governor’s proposed 1 or 2 percent meals tax increase, which would raise some $20 to $40 million for education. There’s also Rep. Edith Ajello’s proposed soda tax, which would net another $40 million in revenue.

But the most talked-about revenue-increasing mechanism debated this year has been increasing income taxes on Rhode Island’s richest residents.

The Miller-Cimini bill would raise state income tax rate on Rhode Islanders who make more than $250,000 a year from 5.99 percent to 9.99 percent, but the percentage would drop with every one percentage point decrease in the unemployment rate. 

Rep. Larry Valencia’s proposal would make a similar increases without being tied to unemployment.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who pushed for tax cuts for the wealthy as majority leader when former Gov. Don Carcieri first proposed the idea, doesn’t want to touch the tax rate this year, but Majority Whip Patrick O’Neil has signed onto the Miller-Cimini bill.

Fox has told lawmakers he doesn’t want a floor amendment on a tax increase during the budget debate.
Some speculate that a compromise put forward by local fiscal guru Gary Sasse of raising the rate slightly and earmark those additional funds to economic development.

“I don’t think anyone in this room could really defend the difference between 5.9 and 6.2 percent among certain levels of income,” he told the House Finance Committee on April 24. “My conclusion is there’s some room to make a modest increase to the top rate.”

Whatever happens, Rhode Islanders for Tax Equity, a group made up of community activists and organized labor, knows well this is the time of year the bill is being scrutinized the most. So they’ve flooded the marketplace of ideas with advertisements. In addition to buying space with RI Future, the group also put together a radio ad and a TV spot.

The TV spot was only seen on ABC6, though … that’s because WJAR and WPRI didn’t air the ad. WPRI didn’t, according to a source familiar with production of the spot, because it prominently features their news staff. WJAR, the source said, didn’t because it prominently features WPRI’s news staff. Sales reps for both companies could not be reached for comment.

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.