I am proud that the General Assembly adopted a pro-business, pro-consumer budget that reflects our commitment to operate within our state’s means. We are fully funding the essential programs we provide to our citizens, particularly education, and we kept our commitments without instituting new taxes or plunging our state into unjustifiable debt.
The new budget is balanced and sound, and will help Rhode Island continue to move forward with a strong focus on improving our job climate and economic development.
I am particularly proud that we have fully implemented the third year of the six-year car tax phase-out plan. Despite pressure to slow down this phase-out, I remain steadfastly committed to its complete elimination in three more years. Getting rid of the car tax is the single biggest request that I hear from constituents in Cranston and throughout the state, and I am committed to keeping that promise.
The phase-out provides full reimbursement to municipalities from the state to supplement the taxes that are no longer received from the motor vehicle excise tax. The budget that was just enacted includes $94 million to cities and towns, including $10.6 million to Cranston residents, for the continued reduction of your car tax bills.
I am also proud of our deep commitment to public education. We increased direct aid to schools by $33.4 million over the current year’s amount, with more than $3 million of additional funding to Cranston schools. We also added additional support for English language learners and for the expansion of pre-kindergarten classrooms.
The Assembly did not include the governor’s proposals to institute taxes on businesses. This included denying the request for new fees on large businesses whose employees are enrolled in Medicaid programs, nor did it include her proposal to expand the sales tax to include design services and commercial building contracts for services like cleaning and landscaping. We also declined to increase the hotel tax and didn’t include a new excise tax on firearms and ammunition. We also denied her request to increase the cigarette tax, which would have had a detrimental impact on convenience stores.
We also pro-actively eliminated some taxes, exempting feminine hygiene products from the sales tax beginning on Oct. 1, and we added urns to the list of funeral items that will now be tax exempt.
Also, we rejected a proposal to increase beach fees, and instead we froze the beach parking at the current rates for the next three years. Our coastline is one of Rhode Island’s most treasured assets and I am committed to keeping our beaches affordable.
We also continued to make investments in our most vulnerable populations, including increases for hospitals, nursing homes and the developmentally disabled.
Enacting a budget is our single biggest responsibility in the legislature, and one that I take very seriously. I am pleased that we increased our commitment in funding to reduce your car taxes, while investing in a brighter future for all Rhode Islanders.
Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat representing District 15 in Cranston, is speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.