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A compromise within reach?

March 13, 2013

PROVIDENCE – Members of Woonsocket’s General Assembly delegation still aren’t fully committing to supporting the city Budget Commission’s request for a $2.5 million supplemental tax increase in the city, but there seems to be a consensus that a compromise is within reach that would allow the city to levy the additional assessment.
Lawmakers told The Call after a closed-door meeting they held with the commission on Tuesday that there may be changes from the way the commission wants to impose the tax and they want to be sure other pieces of the deficit reduction package are in place at the same time the tax legislation comes up for passage.
“A conceptual agreement has been made,” Sen. Roger Picard said. “We all understood a supplemental tax has to occur,” he added, “how it is spread out through the entire community is what was discussed.”
“We wanted to kick around some ideas on how we might address the supplemental in a way that is more palatable and less burdensome on one particular group over the other,” Sen. Marc Cote said. “We don’t know what scenario is going to come out in terms of specifics, but we spoke conceptually about how it might be better for the community.”
Asked whether a supplemental tax in some form is probably going to happen, Cote answered, “Yes.
“They acknowledged again that this is a complete package program that not only the supplemental, but all parts of the (commission’s) five-year (deficit reduction) plan are integral,” he reported.
“We’re going to try to do the best we can to get this accomplished so we can demonstrate to everybody who has an interest in this – taxpayers, bargaining units, retirees – that we are all in this together and have to come together to make it happen,” Cote said.
“There are numbers that need to be run to make sure what has been proposed actually works,” Picard said when asked what counterproposals legislators made to the budget panel’s plans. He was reluctant to detail exactly what the compromises might look like, “in case the numbers don’t support what was agreed upon.”
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Robert Phillips said the Budget Commission is calculating the costs and savings of the various counterproposals and would likely have answers for the lawmakers by Friday or Monday.
He also said, “It looks like there could be a compromise on what the supplemental will be and we will just go from there.”
Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said, “We spoke about the legislation that the delegation would be putting forward and look at some timelines and target dates. The Budget Commission is still working on its end as far as putting the pieces of the plan together and we basically understand what we need to do legislatively, which would include some type of incorporation of a supplemental tax that would amount to $2.5 million. “What we put forward is what the budget commission is requesting, we just need to be certain that the five-year plan and all the components have to come together and be one contained package that gets passed,” she noted. “Our only duty is to pass the legislation which allows them to collect the supplemental tax.”
Asked if that is what will happen, Baldelli-Hunt said, “that’s contingent upon the rest of the plan being agreed upon by the other entities they are speaking with.
Cote agreed, saying, “We talked about how we would introduce the bills in each (chamber), how we would seek to have them heard together as a package so the finance committees would be aware of the importance of each piece.”
“It will be all done in unison as much as possible,” Picard asserted.
As proposed by the budget commission, the supplemental tax would reduce the homestead exemption on property taxes by one-fourth, from 39 percent to 29.9 percent, bringing in an additional $2 million and hiking the tax bill on the average home by about 14 percent. That hike would become a permanent part of the tax base as officials with the Budget Commission see it. Another $500,000 would come from a one-time tax on vehicles, about $3 per thousand dollars of a vehicle’s value. State law prohibits that from becoming a permanent part of the automobile excise tax.
The commission’s overall five-year plan to eliminate a deficit that could grow to $23.3 million during this fiscal year also includes contract concessions from current city workers and pension reductions from retirees. If the supplemental tax and other deficit-reducing options are not approved, officials fear the city would likely be headed toward state receivership and possible bankruptcy
Rep. Stephen Casey said, “we just heard some plans for the Budget Commission’s supplemental tax and we presented alternative proposals for the structure of the supplemental tax. We are going to meet again at some point in the near future to see what we can come up with.
Casey also declined to discuss the specifics of what proposals legislators made.
“It’s a multiple part plan and we have to do our part to help come to a resolution for the city,” he said. “If the supplemental tax is one of those pieces that need to happen, then we would have to support it.”

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