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Senator Mack challenges Senate President Ruggerio’s stance on taxing the rich

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, the progressive Providence Democrat talks about legalizing marijuana, the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, and rugby

State Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence DemocratHandout

PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, state Senator Tiara Mack challenged Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio’s claim that raising the top income tax rate would cause the rich to flee the state.

In a late December podcast, Ruggerio said he is against proposals, made in the House and Senate last session, to raise the top rate to 8.99 percent on income of more than $475,000. He said the state’s highest earners would move out if Rhode Island raised that top income tax rate, especially now that people are working remotely amid the pandemic.

But Mack, a progressive Providence Democrat elected in 2020, called that “completely incorrect.”

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She said, “I think it is a failure of our leadership to not be reading the research that shows that taxing the wealthiest Rhode Islanders will not impact who lives here. It will only have a positive impact.”

Affluent people are unlikely to leave a state when they have families and businesses here, Mack said. “Even with the rise of remote work and being able to work from anywhere, I don’t anticipate that we’ll see those folks leaving, because they have options already to leave our state,” she said. “And they’re not. They’re staying here.”

Mack also rejected the argument that Rhode Island should not raise taxes when it is receiving an influx of federal funding.

“Rhode Island was one of the states that had the hardest time recovering from the last recession,” she said. “We have an opportunity to make sure that we’re building a cushion and building up our social programs to make sure that every single Rhode Islander is taken care of, whether it’s housing, whether it’s food, whether it’s our schools, our roads, our buildings, and other public social safety nets.”

With the 2022 legislative session just beginning, Mack called for legalizing recreational marijuana in a way that benefits poor and working-class communities of color.

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“The first thing about marijuana legalization is we need automatic expungement,” she said. “There should be no one incarcerated for marijuana drug charges. If we are seeking legalization, that is the absolute bare minimum across the country.”

Mack said legalizing marijuana would not only stop Rhode Island from losing revenue to neighboring states, it could help make up for past drug policies.

“It’s the justice reinvestment in communities that have been primarily impacted by the war on drugs and have seen their brothers, uncles, sisters, fathers put into the criminal justice system for the last few decades,” she said. She called for “getting that money back into those communities because they’ve lost generational wealth, they’ve lost access to wealth.”

Mack said she could not have won her 2020 race without the Rhode Island Political Cooperative. But she explained why she became disillusioned with the group’s decision-making process. “It became a lot more of a top-down system rather than the collaborative system that we had hoped for,” she said.

Mack said she would not describe the friction between liberal organizations in Rhode Island as a progressive civil war.

“I would call it a great misunderstanding,” she said. “And maybe it’s because I’m an optimist, and maybe because I believe that if we all got together and had that facilitated conversation with an outside mediator facilitator, we would all see that our goals are aligned.”

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On a personal note, Mack talked about being a donut lover and a rugby player, revealing her favorite donut shop and which she considers tougher – rugby or State House politics.

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.