As we begin our 2019 legislative session, I want to give the people of Cranston an overview of what they can expect from their House of Representatives this year. Before doing so, however, I wish to sincerely thank two key groups – the voters of District 15 who returned me to the State House as their representative, and all of the House members who recently re-elected me to the position of speaker.
With the campaign season behind us, my hope is that we can all work together for the people of the state. Over the last five years that I have been speaker, we have worked together to improve our state’s economic climate, assist working families and improve the quality of life for residents throughout our state. As I stated when I took the rostrum for the very first time in March 2014, our focus will be on “jobs and the economy.” Working with Gov. Raimondo and the Senate, our focus has not strayed from that mantra.
A few short years ago, our unemployment rate was 11.3 percent. It now stands at 3.8 percent, the lowest it has been in 29 years. For six straight months, more than a half-million Rhode Islanders are working, which is highest number in our state’s history. The Jobs’ Incentive Act, a House initiative, has resulted in more than 3,200 new good-paying jobs.
In the coming two years, I want to stay on that path. We need to reduce regulatory burdens that hamper our businesses. We also need to support programs that ensure our Rhode Islanders are well-trained for the jobs of the future. And we must continue to lessen the tax burden on all of our citizens. My number one priority will continue to be phasing out the car tax and eliminating it completely.
This will be the third year of the six-year phase out. After this session, we will be halfway to our goal of providing significant relief from this regressive tax. Before we implemented the phase-out, we had the highest car tax in the nation – and we are three years away from joining half the states in the country that don’t have such a burdensome tax. Cutting the car tax has improved our tax competitiveness nationally, moving us up in the rankings. And just a few months ago, I was proud to accept on behalf of the entire House an award from the Tax Foundation, a national nonpartisan organization, for our collective efforts in creating an improved tax policy.
There are other priorities that I want to look closely at this session:
We should take a fresh look at possibly expanding the estate tax exemption to keep our retirees from moving elsewhere.
We will continue to work on enacting strong measures to address the opioid crisis. We passed some important legislation last year, and we will continue to do all we can legislatively to save lives and provide the help and treatment that is needed.
We will also continue to work collaboratively with the State Police to enact more school safety measures. Nothing is more paramount than keeping our children safe in schools.
Going forward, I hope you’ll let me know what’s on your mind. Please send any questions you may have about the 2019 Legislative Session, or about a specific bill or issue to “Ask the Speaker,” care of firstname.lastname@example.org. In future columns, I’ll address those specific inquiries, as well as keep you updated on the progress we make together this legislative session. Thank you.
Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat representing District 15 in Cranston, is speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.