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2-Year Tax Increase Proposed To Offset Budget Cuts in R.I.

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Gov. Edward D. DiPrete of Rhode Island last week called for a two-year sales-tax increase in order to offset his earlier proposed cuts in education and other state services.

The Governor proposed to raise $79 million by boosting the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent for the year beginning July 1, and 6.5 percent in the second year.

The tax, if adopted, would restore $2 million to the school-lunch program, $1 million to vocational education, and $500,000 to Head Start.

Also restored to full funding with the additional revenue would be state aid for school-bus monitors for elementary students.

Mr. DiPrete's efforts to scale back spending for bus monitors had generated strong opposition from many parents and politicians in the state.

Last month, for example, children and parents protested the proposal at a rally at the State House in Providence, where they heard one state official warn that reducing the use of bus monitors "would be playing Russian roulette with the lives of our children."

Since 1986, the state has required school districts to provide school-bus monitors, in addition to drivers, on all morning and evening routes for children in grades K-5. The law was adopted after a child was struck and killed by a school bus in 1985.

Districts are required to pay for the monitors, but are reimbursed by the state for a portion of their costs, depending on their relative fiscal wealth.

In his original budget, submitted in February, the Governor proposed making monitors for morning routes optional, for an estimated saving to the state of nearly $1 million.

The tax increase would allow the monitors for morning routes to remain a requirement, said Nancy Rhodes, Mr. DiPrete's education adviser. But districts would still have to absorb a statewide cut of $1 million for school transportation, she noted.

Lorraine Silberthau, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Joseph DeAngelis, said that although the legislative leadership had not taken a position on the new tax proposal, it was "an excellent starting point."--ef

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