Rhode Island Considers Progressive Approach


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Rhode Island remains one of a handful of states seriously considering revenue increases to help address significant state budget shortfalls. 

In March, Governor Lincoln Chafee put forth a plan that would expand the state’s sales tax base to several dozen services currently not taxed and lower the state sales tax rate from 7 to 6 percent.  He also proposed a new 1 percent sales tax on some currently exempted goods and a variety of changes to business taxes.  Altogether, his revenue plan would have closed around half of a $331 million budget gap.

At legislative hearings in April, dozens of special interests lined up in opposition to Chafee’s sales tax expansion plan, which has since stalled in the legislature. 

Last week, an alternative revenue-raising plan emerged.  Representative Larry Valencia filed a bill for a temporary personal income tax surcharge of 4.1 percent on the state’s wealthiest residents, which would raise around $130 million. 

Rhode Island’s top marginal tax rate of 5.99 percent currently applies to taxable income of $125,000 and above for all taxpayers.  Under Rep. Valencia’s plan, a fourth bracket would be created.  Married couples with taxable income of $250,000 and single people with taxable income more than $200,000 would pay 10.09 percent on their incomes above those amounts.  

An Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy analysis of the proposal found that only 2 percent of the state’s taxpayers would be impacted by the tax increase.  More than 90 percent of the increase would be paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Rhode Islanders, who have average incomes of close to $1 million.

Representative Valencia considers his bill a reversal or ‘recapture’ of the federal tax cut wealthy Rhode Islanders will receive as a result of the extension of the Bush tax cuts Congress enacted last December.

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