PROVIDENCE — House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) along with other members of the House Republican Caucus brought forward four proposals which they say will lead Rhode Island into a more sustainable future. Representatives Antonio Giarusso, Bob Quattrocchi and Robert Lancia joined Morgan in presenting the proposals in a press conference on Tuesday.
The four budget reform initiatives include eliminating the prevailing wage requirement for school repairs, reforming the disability pension system, eliminating the Tangible Personal Property tax (TPP) and establishing an Office of Inspector General to detect fraud, waste and abuse and find savings for taxpayers.
“It’s not a secret that the budget is the most important document we deal with in the House of Representatives,” Morgan said. “We’ve spent countless hours listening to testimony to try to come up with a budget that meets the needs of our state.”
She highlighted the recent news of a $134 million hole in the state budget and said, “it’s a sign that something is desperately wrong with our economy.”
“We look at the state budget as a plan to pay our bills […] but it shouldn’t just be a tool to get us from one year to the next. That makes us weaker as a state.”
If passed, she continued, the four policies will stop the need for an annual increase in property tax while reducing the cost of repairing schools.
“These four ideas are a small down payment on the reforms that need to take place,” Morgan said.
Lancia said the idea of establishing an Office of the Inspector General started when the Minority Leader had raised an issue 10 years ago about the educational enterprise being run by former Chairman of the House Finance Committee Ray Gallison.
“There was no place for her to go with that,” Lancia said, pointing out that 9 other states already have the office.
He said from 1986 to 2016 Gallison received a total of $3,783,000.
“She found some place to go with that four years ago, but I found in the process that this could be so much more.”
According to Lancia, the Massachusetts Inspector General found $12.6 million in fines, repayments and penalties in 2016, and identified another $233.5 million in potential cost savings in 2012. The Pennsylvania Inspector General, he said, saved the state $87.6 million in welfare fraud prevention in 2015.
“I believe this will send a message that we will not accept corruption and the misuse of public offices,” he said, later adding, “my goal is to put a dollar back in people’s pockets. That’s where we need to go and this is one way to do that.”
Quattrocchi said the plan to eliminate the prevailing wage requirement for school repairs would “cost nothing to implement and can begin immediately without the need for more bonds.”
The plan, he said, calls for exempting schools across the state from having to pay a prevailing wage rate, or a union rate, on building projects.
“Releasing them of this burden has an immediate impact on reducing the costs of these projects."
He said Rhode Island schools are in desperate need of infrastructure repair and the plan would make such efforts possible.
“We’re passing this debt onto our children and their children,” said Quattrocchi of the state's current financial path.
Giarusso said the elimination of the TPP tax through money from the Commerce Corporation would lighten the load carried by business owners and said Rhode Island has one of the highest TPP tax rates in the country, second only to Virginia.
“If you don’t have to worry about this issue you can reinvest and you might even grow and hire more people,” he said. “That’s much better than the corporate welfare we have going on right now. Why would we not help the businesses that have been here all these years already?”
On pension disability reform, Morgan said that although the system does help some, “we don’t want to reward workers who abuse our generosity.”
“When they unjustly take a disability pension they get other benefits like college tuition and medical insurance,” Morgan said. “And that’s more cost on the taxpayers.”
She also used Coventry as an example, pointing out that the police department pension system is only funded at 14.6 percent and said “it’s almost impossible to salvage it.”
“I think all of us know someone who is on disability pension who appears to not be totally disabled,” she said. “We’re willing to look at anything but we know this has to happen.”
Morgan added she has spoken with the Speaker of the House about the proposals and said he seems interested in some of the ideas, including the prevailing wage requirement and TPP tax reform.
“We need the public to get engaged in this, said Morgan. “This is about good government for them.”
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