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Mattiello continues to oppose Raimondo’s free tuition, car tax proposals

Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello spoke to NBC 10 News about his thoughts on Gov. Gina Raimondo's free college tuition plan, which seeks to give two years of free education to any Rhode Island high school graduate at either the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, or the Community College of Rhode Island. (WJAR)

Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello spoke to NBC 10 News about his thoughts on Gov. Gina Raimondo's free college tuition plan, which seeks to give two years of free education to any Rhode Island high school graduate at either the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, or the Community College of Rhode Island.

The speaker said the term "free tuition" sounds nice, but it's not that cut and dry.

“Nothing’s for free," Mattiello told NBC 10 on Wednesday. "Nothing’s easy and we’ll vet it and we’ll do a balancing test and we’ll see what’s appropriate.”

Mattiello also said that he does not support the governor’s plan to tax all Rhode Islanders for the tuition. The balance he seeks is that all tax payers need to see a benefit to the money they are spending.

“It’s hard to consider a plan where you will be the only state in the union to do something where the taxpayer is asked to bear more expense when you’ve got one of the highest taxes in the area of the car tax in the nation that makes you non-competitive,” he said. “So, that’s an area that we have to address first.”

Mattiello went on to say that his car tax plan will benefit the majority of taxpayers, while the tuition plan will not. He said that the two plans can co-exist, but looks forward to many more answers from the governor.

“You have to look at the equity of it," he said. "You have to look at the societal benefit of it, not just the individual taxpayer standpoint. The correlation is going to have to be factually made on what the benefit is to society.”

It's not the first time Mattiello savaged Raimondo's free college tuition proposal and car tax plan.

In a rare Twitter barrage on Feb. 24, Mattiello called the governor "tone deaf."

"I have heard from the citizens of the state and I understand they want the burdensome car tax eliminated," Mattiello posted to his account. "The Governor is tone deaf on this issue and should start listening to the people of Rhode Island."

Mattiello also called Raimondo's free tuition proposal "unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible."

"What is truly unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible is her plan to make us the only state in the nation to give away 'free' taxpayer-funded college tuition," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Raimondo answered questions about her tuition plan in front of the House Finance Committee on Wednesday night. She said the proposal isn't about giving something away for free, rather, "it's about guaranteeing access to opportunity and job training for every Rhode Islander."

"If we make this investment, we will see meaningful change," Raimondo said. "That's exactly what's happened in other states. In Tennessee, they passed a similar initiative with leadership from a Republican governor. The first class of students with the scholarships saw graduation rates increase by 80 percent."

A contingent of high school students were on hand to show support for the plan, saying it gives them opportunities they haven't had before.

"I feel like it's important for me to be here, not only for myself, but for those who aren't able to be here and who aren't able to afford college," said Thaina Merlain, a junior at Classical High School in Providence, with Racqueline Toribio, a senior at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence, added, "My little sister is eventually going to go to college and...I don't want her to throw away her dream because she doesn't have enough money."

Raimondo shared similar sentiments, noting that she has received hundreds of letters and e-mails from Rhode Islanders who tell her the program would change their lives for the better.

She said Elizabeth O'Flaherty wrote, "As a middle class family, we finally feel like we may possibly get a break. This proposal is proof that working hard pays off," while Sandy Salimeno wrote, "As a single mom of an honor roll student in seventh grade, I have lost many nights' sleep worrying about how I would send my son to college. I work seven days a week, working two jobs just to get by week to week. I was literally in tears when the [Rhode Island Promise initiative] was announced. My son deserves the same chance at a college education as [every other Rhode Island] child."

"Every Rhode Islander needs training or education to get a good job and deserves access to that education, regardless if they're from a rich family or poor one," the governor said. "At the end of the day, this isn't about me. It isn't about you. it isn't about politics. it's about giving Rhode Islanders a shot. We have an opportunity to give thousands of Rhode Islanders a shot at a good job that they otherwise won't have."


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