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September 14, 2022 Letter

Yesterday’s District 3 primary voters renewed my nomination to appear on November’s ballot as the Democratic Party candidate to represent our neighborhood in the Rhode Island Senate. Thank you for approving my return to office with an unofficial majority of 73.6% to 26.4% for my worthy opponent Robin Xiong, whom I commend for providing us with a substantive choice. My hundreds of discussions with you at your doors helped inform me of the priorities and ideas for our neighborhood, our City and our State. As has been my experience in prior campaigns, you provided me with a valuable free public education, something that I remain committed to enshrining in our State Constitution as a fundamental right for all of our school-aged children. 

Since there are no Republican or independent candidates for the seat, I can in the coming weeks and months (after catching my breath) begin work on legislative initiatives for next session of the General Assembly. As we get closer to the start of that session, I look forward to renewing our dialogue through the weekly emails that help me explain to you what I am working on, and which, through your feedback, help me to do a better job as our State Senator.

As almost 4,500 of us voted in the primary (including almost 1,200 who voted for my opponent), I would be presumptuous to describe the outcome as unanimous “mandate” for a particular detailed policy platform. With that said. I believe this year’s primary result provides a useful contrast to last year’s, in which the 31.2% plurality I received raised questions about both the legitimacy of my election and whether the differences and disagreements among our electorate overwhelmed those items on which we could agree. 

As you may remember, last year I reached out to my four fellow candidates after the primary. Three of them were kind enough to share with me their views and ideas, which helped inform my work in the Senate. I view this year’s result as a validation of last year’s outreach, and as a data point suggesting that our neighborhood’s areas of agreement are wider and deeper than those areas on which we disagree. While I will continue to do my best to represent all of our District, I am hopeful that I can return to work next January to work with my colleagues to advance those broad areas of agreement our neighborhood shares with the vigor and urgency that they require.  

August 16, 2022 Letter

Many of you have been gracious enough to share with me your thoughts and ideas about the State when I have interrupted your dinner.   Your feedback has helped to educate me about what is important to the residents of our District, while giving me new policy ideas to pursue if our District chooses to send me back for another term.  In this letter, I provide an update on mail ballots, early voting and voting precincts for the September 13 primary.

The deadline for submitting a mail ballot application is next Tuesday, August 23.  You can obtain the application form by clicking on this link, printing up and filling out the application form, and returning it to Providence City Hall by next Tuesday. 

Beginning on Wednesday, August 24, you can vote early in City Hall during business hours.  Early voting will continue through Monday, September 12.

Finally, you can vote on Primary Day,  September 13.   As a result of the 2022 redistricting, the Providence Board of Canvassers has divided Senate District 3 into a new set of precincts with new assigned polling stations.  You can find your polling station from the Secretary of State’s website by clicking on this link.   The polling station assignments are different from last year, but are similar (though far from identical) to the polling station assignments from the 2020 presidential election.  The following map and chart provide a rough idea of where your polling station is located, based on your home address:

If you are interested in supporting my campaign, you can do so by filling out a Volunteer Form or making a contribution.  Thank you again for your interest and your help.

Sincerely,

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July 3, 2022 Letter

Thank you for electing me last year to serve as our State Senator, granting me the privilege of returning to public service. With the conclusion of the General Assembly session, I have begun my campaign to ask your support to allow me to continue working on the projects you elected me to pursue.

In my eight-month term as our Senator to date, I successfully advanced two legislative priorities of our community, namely:

  • General Assembly enactment of S-2838B, which provides a first step in increasing accountability and oversight of the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools;
  • Senate passage of S-2462, through which the General Assembly budget revised the Governor’s budget by fully funding the State’s Payment In Lieu Of Taxes program, adding $2.3 million to the appropriation, of which $1.7 million in additional unrestricted funds were allocated to the City of Providence.
  • As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I advocated for the General Assembly’s changes to the Governor’s budget, including:
  • Additional funding to mend our “safety net” of services to our most vulnerable Rhode Islanders, including expanded health care, social services and child care;
  • Increased support for affordable housing;
  • Increasing the State’s contribution to the unemployment insurance trust fund, thereby reducing insurance premiums paid by all Rhode Island businesses.

There is much more work to do, and if given the opportunity I would like to advance these issues (among others):

  • Gaining prompt passage of the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act to ensure that Rhode Island women receiving Medicaid have access to this form of health care;
  • Reforming the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights;
  • Ensuring the complete and timely attainment of the benchmarks of the Act on Climate, to ensure Rhode Island does its part to curb climate change;
  • Codifying and clarifying the public’s right to shoreline access;
  • As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, continuing to advocate for a stronger financial partnership between the State and the City of Providence;
  • Strengthening oversight of the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools.

For those of you who are not familiar with my background, let me tell you a little about myself. I have deep roots in our neighborhood, growing up on the East Side and graduating from Classical High School. After I completed my education and began my legal career, I returned to our neighborhood in 1990 to raise my family and practice law. My three children attended the Providence Public Schools, and I had the opportunity to serve our community on the Providence School Board and the Providence City Council, as unofficially as a private citizen advocating for the re-opening of Nathan Bishop Middle School and representing pro bono a South Providence neighborhood group in a successful effort to prevent the opening of a solid waste transfer station.

I am preparing for a seriously contested primary campaign, and I need your help. My first task is collecting at least 100 more signatures to qualify for the ballot during July 6-15. If you have time to help collect signatures, please sign up on my Volunteer Form. You also will find on that form other ways you can help, such as hosting a lawn sign and/or a “meet the candidate” coffee hour. Many of you already have made a financial contribution to my campaign, which is both appreciated and needed given the amount of resources this contest will require. If you have not yet contributed but wish to do so at this time, please click on the “Contribute” button on the bottom of this letter. 

To qualify for the ballot, I will be holding a “Signing Party” in the front yard of my home at 330 Grotto Avenue on Wednesday, July 6 at 6:00-8:00 p.m. (In case of inclement weather, I will open my garage door and we will set up there.) I will be joined by Councilwoman Helen Anthony and State Representative Edie Ajello, who also will have petitions for your signature should you choose. (I believe both are doing an exceptional job representing our neighborhood in City Hall and in the State House.) Modest refreshments will be served. If you are able to come and you are interested, you can pick up a lawn sign at that time and/or offer other ways to volunteer. I also will enjoy hearing your ideas about how to improve our State and our State government.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to seeing you on the campaign trail.   

July 10, 2022 Letter

Dear Neighbors:

I hope you enjoyed your Independence Day weekend. This week’s letter discusses the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act and tonight’s “meet the candidates” gathering.

The General Assembly recently adjourned without considering the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (“EACA”), a bill that would guarantee State employees insurance coverage for abortions, and similar coverage for Medicaid recipients. This was a missed opportunity, as the Governor failed to include the Act’s provisions in his budget but later said he supported the Act. The General Assembly adjourned on Friday, June 24 at 1:00 a.m. Hours later, the United States Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson Womens’ Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade. Had the General Assembly not adjourned, the Court’s decision might have spurred it into action. After the Dobbs decision came out, the pro-choice community advocated for the General Assembly to return in special session to review and pass the EACA. Special sessions to consider a single bill are rare; however, the Speaker of the House of Representatives stated he would poll his membership to consider this possibility. I support EACA, and I informed my colleagues I support its fastest possible review and passage. The best chance for Senate consideration may arise in the fall, when the Senate is expected to return to session to review judicial appointments. With that said, I would be surprised if the Senate took the first step on this initiative, and I believe the better hope is that the House of Representatives brings up the matter soon, creating momentum that will carry it over to and through the Rhode Island Senate.

I am grateful to all of you who came to a “Signing Party” my house last Wednesday to sign my nominating papers to allow me to appear on the ballot for September’s Democratic Party primary. Thanks to your efforts, I was able to submit 101 verified signatures on Thursday to qualify me for the ballot (and 25 more on Friday to provide a margin of safety against a possible ballot challenge by my opponent). My colleagues in office Helen Anthony (City Council) and Edie Ajello (Rhode Island House of Representatives) were also successful in meeting their ballot requirements. As a result, we are changing the previously scheduled “Signing Party” that will take place this Sunday, July 10 at 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Helen Anthony’s home, 654 Angell Street to an Open House where will be happy to discuss issues that interest you, fueled by modest refreshments. I also plan to bring lawn signs to Helen’s home to hand out to any of you who would like one. If you cannot attend but would like a sign installed on your lawn, please fill out this form and we will get one to you.

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June 26, 2022 District Letter

Dear Neighbors:

I hope are enjoying Summer’s first weekend. Billy Herman, who managed the Red Sox during 1964-66, once said “Boston has two seasons, August and winter.” Fortunately, our June is proving him wrong (at least in Providence). This week’s letter discusses the conclusion of this year’s General Assembly session.

On Friday morning at around 1:00, the Senate and House adjourned the current session. The Senate approved the budget enacted by the House described in my June 19 letter. During this final week, both chambers also enacted a flurry of other bills, including three that I introduced having to do with the State takeover of the Providence Public Schools, State aid to Providence and alternative voting systems. A brief description of each follows:

Adding Oversight To The State Takeover Of The Providence Public Schools

Last Tuesday night, the Senate enacted S-2838 sub A, described in my June 12 letter. On Thursday night (the last night of the session), the House of Representatives passed an alternative version, S-2838 Sub B, which changed the School Board’s role from oversight to discretionary consultation, and imposed a July, 2024 “sunset” after which the bill’s modest reforms would cease to have effect. Because of the timing, the House Bill went to the Senate in a “take it or leave it” posture, and I asked my Senate colleagues to pass the House bill despite its obvious limitations. I am hopeful that the bill will allow the School Department to develop a stronger working relationship with the School Board, and that the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Providence School Department will see fit to take advantage of the opportunities that can arise when one is willing to listen to other people’s ideas before making a decision.

Increasing State Reimbursement Of Property Tax Losses Resulting From Tax-Exempt Property

The Senate approved S-2462, which committed to fully funding the State’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, ensuring all cities and towns 27% of the revenue lost due to tax exempt properties. This represents an increase in State aid of approximately $2.7 million beyond the amount in the budget, the majority of which will be allocated to the City of Providence.

Studying Alternative Multi-Candidate Voting Systems

The Senate approved S-2232A, which will establish a Senate commission to study alternative voting systems (open primaries with run-off elections, ranked choice voting and others) to bring a stronger form of majority rule to our multi-candidate elections. As you may remember, I received the Democratic Party nomination last year with 31.2% of the vote among a field of five candidates, meaning that more than two thirds of the primary voters preferred another candidate. This frustrating result was not unique to our prior experience in Rhode Island (or perhaps to our future experience in the upcoming Democratic gubernatorial primary), and other states have developed alternative systems that may provide a better way to address the challenges of multi-candidate elections.  

As the General Assembly session concludes, my re-election campaign will begin. I expect to file my Declaration of Candidacy at Providence City Hall on Monday for the Democratic Party primary on September 13 and (if I win the primary) the general election on November 8. In the coming weeks, I will make my case to you concerning my work in office this term and my goals for another term if you grant me that opportunity. 

In the meantime, let me thank you again for choosing me conclude the term we elected Senator Goldin to serve in 2020. I hope I have been sufficiently productive to justify the trust you placed in me. I can say for sure it has been a supremely rewarding personal experience I will always remember.     

 

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June 19, 2022 District Letter

I hope you have time today to celebrate and reflect upon the significance of Juneteenth, commemorating the date in 1865 in which the message of the abolition of slavery in our country finally reached all of its citizens.  I commend to you Senator Mack’s Resolution describing some of the holiday’s historical background. For example, I was interested to learn that beginning before the Civil War, Rhode Island’s African community celebrated August 1 as Emancipation Day, marking the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. This week’s letter will discuss the House of Representatives budget that was passed last week.

The Legislative Budget

Last Thursday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed its version of the State budget, which tracks closely the Budget proposed on June 9 by the House Finance Committee. The Senate is scheduled to take up the House budget this Wednesday (June 22), at which time it will consider various amendments proposed by individual Senators. While it is possible that those amendments will produce modest adjustments, the House budget resulted from an agreement between and among leadership of both chambers, and while I personally would have preferred some shifts in priorities, I plan to vote in favor of it should it retain its current basic outlines.

At the beginning of this session, the Governor introduced his budget which is summarized by the Senate Fiscal Office here.  The House budget incorporates a total of 352 changes to the Governor’s budget that are summarized here. I will now offer a high level summary of those changes that reflect the ways in which the General Assembly changed the State’s funding priorities.

1.     Tax Savings

Following the presentation of the Governor’s budget, stronger projected State revenues for the current fiscal year provided an opportunity to return some tax savings. The General Assembly selected two. First, the budget contains a one-time child tax credit of $250 per child for up to three children of any parents whose income was at or below $100,000 (individual return) or $200,000 (joint return), resulting in the return of approximately $44 million in tax revenues. Second, the budget accelerates by one year the complete phaseout (through a State subsidy) of local motor vehicle excise taxes, a commitment of an additional $63.9 million in State revenues.

In the House, legislators debated an alternative tax savings from suspending the State gasoline tax (currently at 34¢/gallon). The opponents argued that gasoline station operators in Massachusetts and Connecticut had kept much of those states’ fuel tax reduction as profits, thereby reducing significantly the savings enjoyed by fuel purchasers.

2.     The Safety Net

As noted in my previous letters, the Senate Finance Committee heard extensive testimony concerning the fraying of the State’s “safety net” through inadequate payments to providers of such services as home health agencies, nursing homes, hospitals, childcare, and children’s therapeutic and respite services (among others). The legislative budget commits another approximately $95 million (divided almost evenly between State general revenue funds and matching federal funds) for this purpose.

3.     Support For Businesses

The Governor’s budget included approximately $36 million in programs to direct aid to businesses and small businesses that the General Assembly redirected (along with another approximately $35 million) into replenishing the unemployment insurance fund, which was depleted by the pandemic, and which is funded by assessments on businesses. In my observation, many of these direct aid programs were designed to “make businesses whole” for losses they sustained during the pandemic without clearly targeting the relief to businesses that required the aid in order to continue operations. The General Assembly’s substantial investment into the unemployment insurance fund will likely produce a significant reduction in the employer assessment, providing relief to all businesses. 

4.     Affordable Housing

The legislative budget increases funding for affordable housing from the $250 million in the Governor’s budget by providing $10 million more for low-income housing vouchers and $5 million more for transitional housing for the homeless, as well as $25 million more to subsidize heat pumps for low- and moderate-income households. I requested a significantly larger commitment of additional funds for affordable housing, and this area represents my largest regret in a budget that accomplishes many desirable goals.

5.     Additional Major One-Time Programs

The legislative budget includes these additional one-time programs:

·        $45 million in additional aid to hospitals

·        $30 million in additional aid to nursing homes

·        $10 million in additional funding to nonprofits providing relief from the impacts of the pandemic

·        $5 million for adult education

6.     Non-funded American Rescue Plan Act Programs

The legislative budget does not include funding for these American Rescue Plan Act programs proposed in the Governor’s budget:

·        Municipal Learning Centers ($15 million)

·        Higher Education Academies ($13.5 million)

I support both of these decisions, as neither program contained sufficient clarity about its design, its coordination with overlapping existing programs and/or the measurable criteria it would use to define the success of the program.

7.     Miscellaneous Programs

The legislative budget included full funding of the State’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes program, providing Providence with approximately $1.5 million in additional funds to compensate for the property tax revenue lost to tax-exempt owners.

The legislative budget included a $2.3 million subsidy to RIPTA, which will allow it to operate fare-free service on its R-Line.

Conclusion

Between the federal American Rescue Plan Act budget and the surplus State budget, the Governor and General Assembly had the opportunity to “think big” about “once in a lifetime” investments. I was surprised to see how much of the money had to be used to close longstanding deficits from the past (such as inadequate funding of our “safety net”) as opposed to investing in a better future. As a result, many of these “one-time” expenditures may provide only a temporary resolution of needs we will have to continue to address in the future.

June 12, 2022 District Letter

Dear Neighbors:

Yesterday provided the perfect setting for PVD Fest, which I encourage you to visit if you have not already. This week’s letter will discuss reforming the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools, a proposal to bring “advanced recycling” to Rhode Island and legislation to allow the City to grant a 30-year tax stabilization agreement to promote the construction of apartments at 111 Westminster Street (also known as the Superman Building).

Reforming the State’s Takeover of the Providence Public Schools

Last Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee approved S2838-A,  an amended version of a bill I introduced (and described in my April 3 letter) that would bring bring limited oversight to the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools. In response to testimony at legislative hearings, the amended bill:

  1. removes the sections that would govern future takeovers of Rhode Island schools and school districts, narrowing its focus to the current State takeover of the Providence Public Schools;
  2. assigns oversight responsibilities to the Providence School Board rather than a newly-created Board of Trustees, and
  3. extends by two years (until October, 2024), the duration of the takeover, subject to renewal under defined criteria. 

The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday (June 14) and forward the bill to the House of Representatives if it passes. In the meantime, the House of Representatives also will continue its review of the companion bill introduced by Representative Kislak. 

Introducing Advanced Recycling to Rhode Island

Last Tuesday, the Senate approved S-2788A, a bill designed to promote the introduction of “advanced recycling,” using a process called pyrolosis, to Rhode Island by exempting its facilities from the standard solid waste regulatory framework established under state law. As described in a 2021 Reuters report, the goal of advanced recycling technology is to break down used plastic into component parts that can be used for fuel and for feedstock for new plastic. To date, recycling plastic in bulk has proven difficult because of the varied chemical characteristics of different types of plastic in manufactured goods (even those which have the same “recycling number” assigned to them). Unfortunately, as described in the Reuters report, the current technology has not yet achieved this goal, instead producing unusable (and in some cases toxic) byproducts and air pollution. 

The bill was amended in committee to reduce the eligible locations in the State where the facility could be sited, and to add some regulatory safeguards. On the other hand, the amended bill still excludes other important components of the Department of Environmental Management review of other solid waste disposal facilities. Because I believe it is at a minimum premature to exempt this technology from DEM’s standard regulatory program, I voted against the bill. The bill passed the Senate; therefore, environmental advocates will shift their attention to the House of Representatives in the hope of preventing the bill’s passage in that chamber.

An Extended Tax Stabilization Agreement for the Superman Building

On Tuesday night, the Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend passage by the full Senate of legislation that would allow the City of Providence to negotiate a tax stabilization agreement of up to 30 years with the owners of 111 Westminster Street to promote its development. As many of us know, that building has been vacant for nine years, and the high cost of renovation (along with the weakness of the City’s downtown commercial real estate market) make it especially difficult to identify a financially viable reuse of the building. The typical Providence tax stabilization agreement postpones the taxation of the building at full post-development value for a period of up to 20 years, escalating the taxable value over the stabilization period. The agreement typically also includes regulations concerning worker apprenticeship programs, requirements to employ minority-owned businesses and community benefits programs. 

 

As a State Senator, I voted in favor of authorizing Providence to use this enhanced tax incentive. As a Providence resident, I will urge City officials to engage in careful and vigorous negotiations with the owner, and not to “give away the store” if the owner fails to produce a proposal that justifies the investment of substantial public resources in the project’s development.