House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello on Tuesday called members of the media to Taco Inc.’s Cranston Street headquarters to hear an outline of his legislative priorities for the General Assembly’s upcoming session.
Mattiello spoke mainly about the estate tax and the “regressive” car tax, the latter being one he said his constituents helped him decide to prioritize. He said he aims to increase estate tax exemptions from $1.5 million to $2 million. Though he wanted to go to $2 million initially, he said, it wasn’t possible before.
“Why couldn’t we go higher? Everything we do, we have to find the money for,” he said. “As much as I wanted to go to $2 million in that first year, we had the money to go to $1.5 million, and that’s exactly what we did and we balanced our budget.”
Mattiello said his goal is to eventually eliminate estate and car taxes altogether.
“I have never proposed anything since my first day of being speaker that I have not delivered on in a very real way,” he said. “I would not be standing up here and telling the citizens of the city of Cranston and the state of Rhode Island that they’re going to get relief on their car taxes if I did not 100 percent plan to deliver on that.”
The speaker also promised to increase the tax exemption on retirement income from $15,000 to $20,000 for both private and public incomes.
When asked why other priorities have been addressed ahead of the car tax, he pointed to need to focus on the state’s economic climate and controversies that have swirled at the State House of late.
“When I became speaker roughly 2-1/2 years ago, I acknowledged that the state was not where it should be both economically and ethically. However at the time, there is a time and a place for each priority,” he said. “At that time, our first focus was on the economics of businesses.”
Mattiello asserted that he has been one of the “most pro-business speakers we’ve had in a very long time.”
“We’ve started on a path and are continuing our mission to improve the business climate of RI, create jobs, create a better economy, better economic conditions so middle class individuals have a better job all middle class folks have the types of jobs [CEO John Hazen White Jr.] is creating here at Taco,” he said. “We’re going to make sure we create the environment to do that throughout the entire state.”
Mattiello is just weeks away from facing Republican challenger Steven Frias at the polls, and the two are set to meet for a WPRI debate on Nov. 4. The speaker on Tuesday insisted there was no political motivation behind the announcement of his legislative priorities.
Frias, in a Tuesday afternoon news release titled “The speaker had his chance to get RI on the right track,” claimed Mattiello called the news conference “because he needs to push the reset button on his campaign.”
“Voters are dissatisfied and he is afraid they will hold him accountable,” the release reads. “Whatever the Speaker proposes for 2017, the question must be asked: Why didn’t he do this during the last three legislative sessions while he reigned as Speaker, and why is he proposing it now right before the election?”
Frias in the release also points to Mattiello’s support for an end to the car tax phase-out in 2010, when he was the House majority leader.
White said he was “happy to oblige” the speaker’s request to host the conference at the manufacturing company’s Cranston headquarters.
“This speaker has proven to me to be particularly effective … both in a good government standpoint and a business standpoint. Rhode Island does not have the best reputation in terms of our friendliness to business,” he said. “The speaker has taken action in his term to turn that around.”
Speaker Nicholas Mattiello addresses members of the media during a news conference Tuesday at Taco’s Cranston Street headquarters. (Herald photo)