Anchor Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I., — In an interview with Anchor Staff Writer Raymond Baccari earlier this month, Rhode Island Speaker of the House Joseph Shekarchi spoke about a variety of topics including how he felt when he was elected Speaker of the House. He also spoke about what he foresees for the future of the Rhode Island Promise Program, which he, along with Senate President Dominick Ruggiero, introduced legislation earlier this year to make the program permanent.
“Some people will choose to go to [CCRI] and not go to a paying school, but the evidence that I have seen is that the people going to [CCRI] wouldn’t go to any other school, and wouldn’t be able to,” He said. “Enrollment is down at RIC, for many reasons [mainly] because we are in a pandemic. In some other four-year institutions, enrollment is at an all-time high. I don’t want to [point to] the Promise as the best program that solves all the problems, and I don’t want to say it’s the worst program ever and that’s why RIC or other institutions are hurting.”
Shekarchi asserted that the program is good, those concerns are being paid attention to, and disagreed that it is contributing to RIC’s declining enrollment. He also disagreed that the concerns aren’t being paid attention to in the process of making the Promise program permanent.
The Speaker also introduced potential solutions that could address issues at Rhode Island College including increasing the classroom sizes, offering better class times in a better variety, and promoting good programs that don’t have many students in them. Nonetheless, Shekarchi said that the State Assembly is leaving these decisions to the college and Department of Education.
First elected in 2021, Shekarchi served as majority leader under Mattiello who was defeated by Republican Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung in the November election. “It was overwhelming, it happened extremely fast. I did not expect Speaker Mattiello to lose, I expected him to be re-elected.” Shekarchi said.
Two of his predecessor’s biggest promises to Rhode Islanders were that truck tolls would not be extended to cars and a complete phase-out of car taxes. “We are not going to extend tolling to cars. Not as long as I can see in the foreseeable future.” Shekarchi said.“It’s written right into the law. It would take an act of the House, the Senate, and the Governor to sign it. If any one of those branches didn’t agree, it would not happen.”
While not wanting to extend the tolls to cars, Shekarchi remains a firm supporter of keeping the truck tolls, citing that they do the most damage and use the roads the most.
Regarding the car tax phase-out promise from Mattiello, Shekarchi said, “I don’t have that same promise. I want the car tax removed like everyone else does, but I look at it on a year-by-year basis. We were able to include it in the December budget that we did and I’m proud of that. It is currently in this year’s budget. Beyond that, I don’t want to prejudge what the out-years look like.”
Shekarchi also cited that while personally favoring the abolishment of car taxes, he doesn’t want to make long-term commitments that could be disrupted by an unforeseen circumstance down the road that hurts the state financially (i.e. another pandemic, major flood, super storm, etc). He also personally wouldn’t want to raise a tax in another area to make up for that potential loss in revenue but is sticking with the wait-and-see approach on that.
Additionally, Shekarchi also spoke about other key issues facing the state such as the state’s budget, the legalization of marijuana, current bills with mixed reactions like Senate Bill #64 that would allow speed cameras to be all around the state, and the charter school moratorium bill and what a Green New Deal in Rhode Island would look like.
Shekarchi also spoke with Baccari about non-political topics such as what he thinks Rhode Island is best known for.
To view the full interview with Speaker Shekarchi, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3c5uzrMGQc&t