‘Enough study,’ Cote says of car tax proposals


Car Tax Revolt leader Rob Cote said he knows some people are sick of hearing him run his mouth at meetings and hearings, but there’s one particular phrase he is tired of hearing in terms of the car tax issue: “This bill is being held for further study.”

“Everyone agrees that the tax is not fair and that it doesn’t reflect the actual value of a piece of property, but the first words out of their mouths is that it’s being held for further study,” Cote said during a recent phone interview, “It should be a priority.”

Cote is referring to legislation Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick) drafted and was heard by the House Finance Committee Tuesday. The bill is similar to one Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) submitted last year, as it seeks to assess motor vehicles based on the average trade in value opposed to the full clean retail value.

Unlike the McNamara bill, which Cote helped draft, the new bill doesn’t include a portion that would have allowed taxpayers to appeal the tax with an appraisal from a local car dealer. Cote said he advised Shekarchi to remove that portion before submitting the bill, and Shekarchi did.

“It’s a spotlessly clean bill,” Cote said. “It’s fair, it’s equitable and it’s just.”

Shekarchi agrees that the bill is fair. He said while he initially drafted legislation that would have issued a flat tax based on the age of a vehicle, it didn’t receive much support from colleagues and citizens alike. He changed course after Cote contacted him and made a few suggestions.

“The latest bill before you is a bill that I think works,” Shekarchi said at the hearing. “It taxes a fairer value and that’s all people are looking for. People know they have to pay a tax, but they want to pay a fair share and not an inflated value. The car tax, in my opinion, is one of the most regressive taxes … when I campaigned door-to-door, people were upset about a tax on a value that was not correct. That’s the big issue before the Committee.”

He went on to say he is aware that there are multiple bills relative to car taxes and he hopes the committee will use the best parts of each and come together to provide relief for taxpayers. That is the goal at hand.

“My bill is a very simple bill and I want to accomplish some good for the taxpayers,” he said.

But Peder A. Schaefer, associate director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, said it isn’t that simple. He asked for a fiscal note for the bill, and expressed concern that the bill would be implemented in 2014 when communities like South Kingstown are approving their budgets this week.

“They are approving their budgets based on the laws that are in place right now,” he said. “They are using values of motor vehicles as of December 31, 2012. They’ve already based their budgets upon those values in the law that applied at that time. I don’t dispute that a change needs to be made, but it needs to be made over a two-year period and we need to have the numbers run for us.”

Cote wasn’t pleased with Schaefer’s remarks. At the hearing, he told Schaefer that because Shekarchi’s bill is “basically identical” to the bill McNamara introduced last year and was held for further study, the League of Cities and Towns had plenty of time to look into it.

“What further study did you do?’” Cote said. “Did you do any further study? What further study did this body do? I don’t think there was any further study. In fact, the general consensus is that bills that are held for further study go into the waste can. When a bill like this comes before you, start to sharpen your pencil and do some homework. I don’t see that that’s happened.”

Cote said he’s also fed up with hearing the argument that if the bill is implemented, it will only result in higher property taxes, as cities and towns need it to continue their revenue streams. But raising property taxes isn’t the solution, he said. He has another solution in mind.

“Our local budgetary processes are not going to be repaired until we start to restrict the cash flow to them,” Cote said. “That revenue needs to continue to keep the status quo of out of control spending, fictitious estimates of rates of returns on pension programs, unfunded liabilities for health care, [and] waste and abuse in departments. This is what happens when we have these types of taxes … and we need to do something about that … the debt rises and we keep having to have taxes like this particular car tax.”

Cote said he hopes the bill is soon moved out of committee for a vote.

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