Community leaders, advocates, and lawmakers gathered outside the Veterans Memorial Auditorium—the temporary meeting place of the RI House of Representatives—on Thursday with a clear demand: it’s time to invest our communities’ well-being by raising revenue from the top 1% highest income earners in our state. 

State Representative Karen Alzate, sponsor of H-5227 to raise revenue from the highest-income Rhode Islanders, spoke first: “It’s time to invest in our people again. I’ve proposed this legislation because my neighbors in Pawtucket, and working families across our state, cannot continue to bear a higher responsibility for our tax burden than the very rich in our state. All of us—white, Black, and Brown, native and newcomer—deserve to thrive in our state, and this legislation is designed to ensure that the people who can most afford to invest in all of our well-being chip in a little more to make Rhode Island a community that cares for each other.”

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Additional representatives in the crowd included: Reps Bennett, Kislak, Tanzi, Ajello, Cassar, Giraldo, Speakman, Potter, Alzate, Henries, Kazarian, and Morales.

Attendees drove home the demand by holding up giant, cut out letters spelling “INVEST IN US, TAX THE RICH”. Each letter was hand-painted with imagery showing priorities that could be invested in with increased revenue, including schools, healthcare, and housing. “This event is about what kind of community we want to live in,” said RI Working Families Party Organizer Andrea Rojas, who co-planned the event. “The wealthy have profited throughout this pandemic, and now they need to invest in our long-term recovery.”

Khadija Lewis Khan, Executive Director of Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center stressed the investments that these funds could make in childcare. “Nothing is more important than investing in our children’s education, and in the quality childcare programs our children and families need. Let’s raise this revenue and make sure that we can support small businesses like mine and open up more high quality, affordable early childhood opportunities to families across our state.”

“It’s hard being a small business in this current environment,” said Roger Flores of La Bella Boutique, a local small business in the Mount Pleasant area of Providence (speaking in Spanish). “We’re fighting so hard to keep our doors open, while money keeps flowing into the pockets of the very rich and staying there. We need to put these dollars back into work in our communities, so they can be spent at businesses like ours.”

DARE leader Terri Wright said, “This pandemic has put so much pressure on working Rhode Islanders who are struggling living paycheck to paycheck trying to remain housed, while others are looking to find adequate housing. We have to raise new revenue and use it to build quality affordable housing across our entire state. A tax hike to RI’s wealthiest will allow communities to Thrive and save lives!”

Joe Benton, also a leader with DARE, said it’s past time to invest in getting formerly incarcerated Rhode Islanders on their feet: “There’s no excuse for our government policy to be keeping millions in the hands of the very rich while our formerly incarcerated neighbors need more support to transition back into society.

Multiple speakers highlighted years of decreases in taxes for the wealthiest Rhode Islanders at the state and federal levels, and declared support for bills H-5227 and S-0326, which would add a new tax bracket only on residents making over approximately $475,000 a year. The proposal would bring in about $182 million each year for investments in key programs—childcare, housing, infrastructure, services for people with disabilities, and much more.

“The economics behind taxing the rich and investing in Rhode Island programs is clear,” said Rachel Flum of the Economic Progress Institute. “This helps small businesses, and there’s no proof that raising taxes on the very wealthy will drive them out of the state. Rhetoric like that is an attempt to divide us against each other—investing in our communities would make all of Rhode Island a better place to live, work, and raise our families.”

Pastor Rodriguez, from The RI Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty Steering Committee, and Pastor of Gloria Dei Church, outlined a moral imperative for holding accountable those with the most ability to pay for the welfare of our society. “Building the beloved community means ensuring that everyone gives what they can to support and lift up our neighbors.”

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