2016-01-14 / Opinion

A Tough Act to Follow

As the Rhode Island General Assembly slowly acquires its sea legs for 2016, we look back on its 2015 effort with, dare we say, a modicum of admiration.

For the record, lawmakers in the House and Senate submitted 2,399 bills last year. Of those, 285 measures with some statewide impact were enacted. That is, they were passed in both branches and were either signed into law by the governor or allowed to become law without her signature.

Meanwhile, another 138 bills had some local impact. On top of that, there were 439 House and Senate resolutions—those “feel good” measures that do not carry the force of law but, usually, congratulate everything from Little League teams to Brownie troops or simply individuals who’ve enjoyed one good fortune or another.

If you’re keeping score at home, that means, from momentous measures such as the annual state budget to the least significant resolution, 862 pieces of legislation won approval out of the 2,399 submissions. If you were a baseball player with 862 hits in 2,399 trips to the plate, your batting average would be .361—and you’d be on your way to Cooperstown.

We’re not about to enshrine any Rhode Island lawmakers into a mythical hall of fame. Not yet, anyway. However, a look back at last year’s Assembly session suggests some noteworthy achievements. Did you know, for example, that the 2015 Assembly enacted three different state tax cuts? And besides that, lawmakers rejected another controversial new tax proposal sought by the governor that would have established a state property tax on non-owner occupied and residential properties worth $1 million or more.

The three tax cuts were: y Elimination of the state income tax on Social Security benefits for individuals with income of up to $80,000; for joint filers, the income ceiling is $100,000. y Increase in the state earned income tax credit that helps low- and moderate-income wage earners from 10 percent of the federal credit to 12.5 percent of the federal levy. y Elimination of the commercial energy sales tax on electricity, natural gas and heating fuels formerly imposed on commercial entities.

And one more thing—lawmakers raised the state tax on cigarettes by $.25 to $3.75 per pack. While we suspect that smokers were not cheered by this, we also surmise that people concerned about good health habits may still be applauding.

There were numerous other worthy, non-tax-related enactments. These include a “reinvention of Medicaid” bill intended to save $91 million this fiscal year; raising the state minimum hourly wage from $9.00 to $9.60; and a measure to improve police-community relations.

The “good” enactments are too numerous to fully mention in this space. We hope the 2016 Assembly will do at least as well.

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