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House panel schedules tax bill vote

May 17, 2012

PROVIDENCE — The bill to allow Woonsocket to assess a 13 percent extra tax on property and vehicles in the city appears to be headed for passage.
The House Finance Committee has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday afternoon at the Statehouse and a vote on the Woonsocket bill is the only item on its agenda. Legislation is seldom brought up for a vote if there isn’t sufficient support to pass it, at least at the committee level.
The commission caused consternation among city officials earlier this week when, after a hearing on the supplemental tax measure, it voted to hold it for further study, an action that often augurs doom for proposed legislation.
House Spokesman Larry Berman told The Call Thursday that the reason the committee held the bill is that none of Woonsocket’s three members in the House spoke in favor of it at the hearing. “So the members of the committee and Chairman (Helio) Melo (of East Providence) said that they were concerned there was no support from the host community so they held it.
“Then within the last day or so,” Berman added, “the three representatives have come forward indicating to the leadership and Chairman Melo that they would be voting for it when it hits the floor. So with that support coming forward, they put it on the calendar. They are confident they have the votes (to pass it) in committee.”
How about when it comes to the House floor? “It all depends on the amendments that are proposed,” he said. “Put it this way, in the normal course of events, when a community asks to raise taxes and they have the support of the local representatives and the local officials, we normally do pass them.”
If the bill does indeed get voted out of the committee on Tuesday, Berman said, it would likely come before the full House on Wednesday or Thursday. The measure has already passed in the Senate, so if it succeeds in the House, it would go directly to Gov. Lincoln Chafee for his signature or veto.
If Chafee signs the bill into law, it could forestall or even eliminate the need for state intervention in Woonsocket finances in the form of a budget commission or receiver.
City officials have said that the $6.6 million the supplemental tax bill is expected to bring in, which would be permanently built into the city’s property tax rate (but would expire on vehicles), along with anticipated increases in state aid, should be sufficient to solve the school department’s structural deficit problem going forward. The supplemental tax would hit the average city property owner with a bill of about $350, city officials estimate.
Outside the House chamber on Thursday, Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien, a Democrat, called the additional tax bill, “a tough thing to foist on a struggling community.”
Noting that the 13 percent hike would likely be added to a 4 percent hike (the maximum under state law) in the budget year starting July 1, Brien said, “that’s a 17 percent tax increase. So am I happy about that? Would you be?”
After walking away briefly, Brien returned to the conversation and added, “I just hope it works the way they say it will.”

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