Since the world did not end as the Mayan calendar may or may not have predicted, and since the rapture has not yet left empty piles of clothes in kitchens, on subways, and in front lawns around the evangelical world, the time is right for predictions for Rhode Island politics for the coming year. 2013 may not be a lucky number, but the 2012 election cycle left Rhode Island with a tidal wave of progressive victories.
Prediction 1: Marriage Equality
The state has been edging its way closer to allowing what, in this author’s opinion, is a no-brainer and simply catches the state up with other states that have found themselves on the correct side of history. There is no language in the Rhode Island Constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage and all the rights and privileges that accompany such a union. The state Senate has moved just enough in the right direction (actually, the left direction) and Senate President, Teresa Paiva-Weed, will step aside and allow a marriage equality bill through the Senate and on to the governor’s desk. Chafee will sign it into law.
Prediction 2: Pension Reform
The facts that the court ordered all influential parties into negotiations and the governor met with union leaders of affected memberships prior to Treasurer Raimondo being prodded by law to entertain the notion of civil communication leads to the conclusion that, should this go to court, the pension reformers might lose. Lest one forget, the issue was never that the state’s pension system was mathematically unsustainable, though the mismanagement of pension plan funds leading to insufficient returns is an unfortunate fact. Rather, that a group of those in policy-making positions enacted massive changes to the security of current and retired public sector employees without bothering to negotiate with the collective bargaining units that represent the statutes. Had unions been invited to play in the legislative reindeer games, perhaps a collective bargaining would have been able to bargain … collectively. The pension reform as it currently stands will be markedly amended to include fair compensation to those affected by the reform, whether through negotiations or, more likely, in court.
Prediction 3: Tax Fairness
There will be no comprehensive tax reform enacted in the next 12 months. However, serious talks and planning will begin and pressure will be increased on recently elected and re-elected lawmakers to hold firm to campaign promises about reforming Rhode Island’s regressive tax structure. When the economy was strong, legislation taxed the top earners at just under 10%. In 2006, in the name of simplification, taxes on the upper income bracket were reduced to just under 6%. In spite of four years of epic economic failure, in 2010 only a minor modification was made to a flat rate option. However, the rates remained the same. The difference in tax revenue has been made up in the form of higher municipal property, car, and other taxes. For those millionaires, this is not a road to poverty. However, to those straddling the poverty line, this can mean the difference between ownership and foreclosure, heat or electricity, food or a doctor’s visit. Much of the General Assembly will go into the 2013 session on the back of comprehensive tax fairness for tax relief on the middle class and lower income demographic. This will be a key campaign factor for the much-anticipated 2014 election cycle. The constituents have spoken, and they will continue to pressure the General Assembly to hold up their end of the bargain.
A Political Organizer for the 2012 election cycle, Jonathan Jacobs also served as a Senior Employment & Training Interviewer for the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor & Training’s Division of Income Support, Unemployment Insurance Sector. Jonathan is an actor, graphic designer and community organizer.