Budget Message from RIDE Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner
Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner, has responded to teachers throughout the state regarding the recent budget agreement at the State House. His statement:
"I am pleased to report that, as you may have heard, the Rhode Island Senate reconvened yesterday and passed the FY18 budget. The budget went to the desk of Governor Raimondo, who promptly signed it, bringing to an end an impasse that I know has been challenging for our partners in the field. We can now move forward, together, and focus on preparing for a successful school year.
We have also been informed that LEAs (local school districts) will receive the total funding appropriated in the FY18 budget, including funds to offset the initial reduction in July payments. We will send out updated information next week that reflects this retroactive payment schedule, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to reach out," said Wagner.
The Senate today approved and the governor signed into law a $9.2 billion 2018 state budget bill that includes excise tax relief, along with a separate bill protecting taxpayers in case the economy sours.
The Senate vote was a reconsideration of the chamber’s vote on the bill on June 30. Today’s vote removed an amendment the Senate placed on the budget in June concerning the six-year excise tax relief plan introduced by House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, ending a month-long impasse and sending the budget to the governor, who signed it moments after its passage.
“We have come to an agreement that allows us to move forward with the business of the state, allowing the excise tax phaseout while still providing protections that will monitor its economic feasibility for the state,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket). “While the excise tax has been the focus for several weeks, it’s important to remember that it’s just one part of the budget that does much more. In a difficult year where we faced lower-than-anticipated revenues, I’m pleased that we were able to maintain the progress we’ve made at reducing taxes while restoring no-fare bus passes for low-income elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders, and increasing funds to hospitals and nursing homes. This is a budget that bridges the shortfall without hurting those who can least afford it and without any broad-based tax hikes. It helps maintain and restore services to Rhode Islanders to the greatest extent possible with the resources we have, and I’m glad that we were able to push it over the finish line today,” said a Conley press statement.
The plan fully funds the seventh year of the state education funding formula, increasing education aid by $46 million. The Assembly plan makes permanent a pilot effort in the current year to provide a total of $2.5 million in extra funding for schools with high numbers of English-language learners, as well as permanently funding recovery high schools, which were previously funded only for this year. It also includes an additional $1.1 million for early childhood learning programs.
Lawmakers concurred with the governor’s proposal to enhance efforts to have online retailers collect sales tax. Amazon.com began doing so voluntarily this year.
The bill (2017-H 5175Aaa), which passed the Senate 30-5 and passed the House June 22 on a 64-11 vote, eliminates the $134 million shortfall that opened up in May, raises the minimum wage, restores no-fare bus passes for low-income elderly and disabled people, includes a pilot program to provide two years of free tuition at CCRI and once again does not include any broad-based tax increases.
The plan includes a 90-cent increase in the minimum wage over two years, raising the wage to $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2018, and to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2019. If enacted, it would make 2019 the sixth year out of seven that that the Assembly raised the minimum wage.