While a handful of people gathered outside his Park Avenue law office demanding he get back to work at the State House and settle the budget impasse, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said unequivocally that there will be car tax relief.
And what if some communities like Johnston don’t wait to send out motor vehicle tax notices? And what if the state budget impasse isn’t resolved until this fall when it would be difficult to amend municipal car tax bills?
Mattiello said he would then act to “double up” car tax relief next year.
“There is going to be car tax relief. I can’t tell you when. If it’s next year we’ll double it up next year. The car tax proposal is going to stay on course and we’re going to get the public the tax relief that they demand and deserve,” Mattiello said, standing in the doorway to his second story law office. Earlier in the afternoon Mattiello had a similar position after George Hanley, his two sons and three or four others slid signs under his locked door requesting he return to the State House and approve the $9.2 billion budget as amended by the Senate. Mattiello told the group that it is his private business office and if the group wanted to meet with him they should schedule an appointment with his State House office.
“I believe that the majority of folks, the folks that are working today like I am, are all very supportive of what I’m trying to do on their behalf. You had four people in front of my office today that disagree and I respect their right to do so, but they’re in the overwhelming, overwhelming minority,” Mattiello said.
Hanley, who doesn’t live in Mattiello’s district, said he is neither pro or anti Mattiello. However, Hanley feels as Speaker of the House and “king,” as he put it, Mattiello should be working to resolve the impasse. He said Senate President Dominick Ruggiero and the Senate did their “due diligence” by adding an amendment to the budget providing a “trigger” to delay full implementation of the six-year car tax phaseout if the state lacked the funds to do it. The amendment was introduced in the final hours of the session and when passed and returned to the House, Mattiello, in keeping with his vow not to carry the session into the morning hours, sent representatives home.
A social worker who is currently not working because of a disability, Hanley said he is in agreement with Mattiello’s efforts to eliminate the late night sessions. Hanley thought Mattiello could have reconvened the House on Monday, July 3. Hanley said he had not planned to similarly picket Ruggiero’s office with his plea to resolve the impasse. He was disappointed by the turnout for his picket, blaming it on the threat of rain and a possible thunderstorm.
In talking with reporters after Hanley and his group returned to stand outside his office, Mattiello said he has talked twice with the governor since the House adjourned but Ruggiero hasn’t reached out to him. He said he is open to meeting with the Senate president, but as he has made clear, Mattiello reiterated it is for the Senate to reconvene and approve the budget as approved by the House and the Senate Finance Committee.
As for what municipal leaders should do in the absence of a state budget, Mattiello said, “I think they have to call their senators and call the Senate leadership and ask them to pass the budget that their Finance Committee recommended overwhelmingly.”
In addition to his pledge to rid the state of car taxes and make municipalities whole for the revenues they would lose – ultimately $22 million annually – Mattiello spoke of his commitment to vet legislation and eliminate the last minute deals that were once the practice in the closing hours of a session. He pointed out that the amendment approved by the Senate wasn’t discussed in committee and, in his opinion, never properly vetted.
“However, what I will say is that the last-minute amendments, shenanigans, gamesmanship, holding the budget as a political football has to stop. That precedent cannot be allowed to start. There’s a big picture here, and if you allow that precedent to start it’s going to break down the process that’s there to serve the public.”
As for reaction to the budget impasse, Mattiello said constituents have told him to stand his ground and fight for car tax relief. He called Rhode Island car taxes the highest in the country.
“This is about the people of Rhode Island,” he said of his effort to eliminate the car tax.
Johnston car tax bills
“This is a mess, it really is, and I’m encouraging people to call Sen. [Frank] Lombardo because quite frankly and legally, the budget is now sitting in the Senate, it’s not in the House,” said Mayor Joseph Polisena. “He needs to talk to his leadership and get things moving.”
On July 10, Mayor Polisena scheduled a meeting with approximately 25 municipal leaders consisting of mayors, town administrators and council members from throughout the state, where they tried to “brainstorm” ideas. Polisena isn’t optimistic that the budget impasse will be broken soon, and believes the stalemate may continue until January.
“This is going to affect the cities and towns tremendously,” said Polisena.
In talking with various communities, Polisena found that many are not sending out car tax bills under the Mattiello plan.
“If I do it that way, we’re going to start off with a deficit because let’s say they don’t sign the budget until January when legislators come back, that’s six months of money that we’ll lose and never get paid,” said the mayor. “So if I went with the Mattiello plan, and I’m just using a number, say we lose $300,000, where do I make that up?”
Polisena stated that he now plans to send out tax bills utilizing the old car tax, as the budget has not been passed into law. If something should happen with the state budget during the next six months, and a resident would be due reimbursement, the town will credit their account toward a future balance or provide a check for the refund.
According to Polisena, the town’s real estate and tangible tax bills will start to be mailed on Friday, with a July 24 payment date. The car tax bills will begin to be sent within 10 to 14 days, and residents will be given an extension for the first quarter payment.
“We’re not going to press them and say it’s due on the 24th. We’re going to give them some time because, once again, I’m trying to play the odds here,” said Polisena. “If the taxpayers are upset because they don’t have car tax relief, they need to call their senator from Johnston.”