PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From increased state aid to changes to the car tax, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has asked state lawmakers to approve a slew of bills he believes will help Rhode Island’s capital city during his first year in office.
Elorza submitted the city’s annual legislative agenda to the 21 state representatives and senators who make up the General Assembly’s all-Democratic Providence delegation Friday, a day after Gov. Gina Raimondo released her first budget proposal.
Here’s a breakdown of the 15 bills Elorza has asked the General Assembly to approve this year. (These are not ranked in any order.)
1. Increase state aid
Elorza told the delegation he supports any bill that “would provide aid to cities and towns,” but the one he’s got his eye on is legislation that would require 50% of any state budget surplus to be divided among municipalities with the other half going to the general fund. That would have resulted in quite a windfall for cities and towns last year as they would have benefited from splitting up half of Rhode Island’s $68-million surplus. With Providence facing a projected budget gap of between $10.3 million and $23.1 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year and Raimondo proposing a slight cut in the state’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, Elorza will undoubtedly seek to make up those funds elsewhere.
2. Lift the school construction moratorium
Gov. Raimondo wants to set aside $20 million for a new program for school construction while also budgeting about $71 million to help pay for older projects. Elorza has asked lawmakers to approve legislation that would “expand the powers of the Health and Education Building Corporation for financing and granting approval” for projects. Providence needs it. Some have estimated the city’s schools need more than $750 million in repairs.
3. Accelerate school funding
Gov. Raimondo has also proposed an additional $35 million for public schools as part of the state’s education funding formula, but Elorza is encouraging the General Assembly to approve a bill that would accelerate the amount paid to cities and towns.
4. Raise the minimum wage
Like the majority of the state’s Democratic elected officials, Elorza supports a bill that would increase the minimum wage from $9 to $10.10 per hour as of Jan. 1, 2016.
5. Changes to the car tax
On the campaign trail, Elorza called the car tax “one of the most regressive taxes that we can have here in the city.” That’s why he’s requesting that the General Assembly pass a bill that would allow cities and towns to create a “more progressive and equitable car tax assessment,” in part by allowing them to use a combination of car retail values and trade‐in values for their calculations. (For more on Providence’s car taxes, click here.) State lawmakers have said it is unlikely this will be the year for significant changes to the car tax.6. Historic tax credits
Elorza has asked state lawmakers to approve legislation that would “renew and/or expand” the state’s historic tax credit program, arguing that it would “move the economic climate of Providence forward by providing incentives to businesses to relocate to the city.” Earlier this year, he and nine other mayors or town administrators signed a letter to Gov. Raimondo asking for an expansion of the program. Raimondo’s aides have suggested her budget’s proposed Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits could accomplish the same purpose.
7. Increase fines
As it stands now, the city of Providence can only levy fines – like for its snow removal ordinance – of up to $500. Elorza wants the state to up the maximum fine to $2,000.
8. Housing Court property liens
Before he was mayor, Elorza was a Housing Court judge who was known for taking on big banks in an attempt to hold them accountable for vacant and blighted properties across the city. In one instance, he fined Bank of NY Mellon $235,000 for no-showing court six times. Now he wants the General Assembly to pass a bill that would allow the city to place liens on the homes of owners who have been fined by the Housing Court.
9. Expand property receivership program
Under former Mayor Angel Taveras, the city created a receivership program that allowed it to rehab abandoned residential properties. Elorza wants the General Assembly to allow Providence to expand that policy to commercial property.
10. Revenue-sharing on the I-195 land
Raimondo has set aside $25 million for a program that could help subsidize key projects on the vacant I-195 land. Elorza is also requesting legislation that would fully compensate the city for lost tax revenue as a result of tax-stabilization agreements for projects on the former highway land. That funding would be phased out as developers begin to increase their tax payments to the city.
11. Snow removal
Spring may be under a week away, but snow is still very much on Elorza’s mind. That’s why he has asked lawmakers to approve a bill that would reinstate a “1985 public law that requires the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to maintain all State roads and highways within the city of Providence.” Elorza also wants the state to cover the cost of snow removal on highway overpasses and pedestrian overhead walkways.
12. Bond refinancing
Currently 80% of the savings earned on the refinancing of Rhode Island Health and Educational Building Corporation bonds go to cities and towns, but that provision is set to sunset this year. (Municipalities would then get 50% of the savings.) Elorza has asked the General Assembly to keep the 80/20 rule in place.
13. Study the Woonasquatucket and Providence Rivers
Elorza has asked lawmakers to set aside $75,000 for the Department of Environmental Management to examine ways to prevent sedimentation and “find cost‐efficient ways to remove the sand and silt build‐up” in the Woonasquatucket and Providence Rivers.
14. Community Police Relations Act
Elorza wants the General Assembly to pass a bill that would require all police departments to submit annual reports to the Office of Highway Safety detailing any racial disparities in traffic stops.
15. Narcan in schools
With heroin and prescription drug abuse an ongoing problem in Rhode Island, Elorza wants lawmakers to pass a bill that would require all middle and high schools to have opioid antagonists – like Narcan – on their premises at all times.Dan McGowan ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan