WOONSOCKET – After spending half a day touring the city with Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and local legislators, new House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called Woonsocket “a community that needs our attention right now.”
Mattiello, who assumed the most powerful position in state government two weeks ago after a scandal felled his predecessor, Gordon Fox, told a Rotary Club luncheon that “I got a good view of Woonsocket today. You’ve got some great things going on, but there is also blight in certain areas.”
While there are areas like the shopping centers along Diamond Hill Road with vacant retail space and darkened windows in what used to be big-box department stores, the speaker said, there are also places like Landmark Medical Center, which he said is thriving with its new for-profit ownership and The Plastics Group, a facility that is bringing manufacturing jobs back to Woonsocket.
Mattiello was also impressed by World War II Memorial Park, which he said “must have been a beautiful park in its day.” He said there is $2.6 million earmarked for the park in the proposed 2015 state budget that is likely to be approved.
“I think that park – I saw where it was situated, with high-rises right around it, a lot of population right around it – that would be a great way to invest in Woonsocket, so we are going to work collaboratively to assist the city in that regard.”
With Baldelli-Hunt, the new Majority Leader, Rep. John DeSimone of Providence, Woonsocket Reps. Robert Phillips, Stephen Casey and Michael Morin in tow, Mattiello visited an advanced placement government class at Woonsocket High School.
Mattiello, who has sworn to be a “jobs and the economy” speaker, said education and infrastructure are the “pillars” of building a good economy.
“We have to stop having an infrastructure system that our citizens complain about, and we all complain. We have to develop an infrastructure we can be proud of. Education is the foundation of our society. A well-trained, well-educated workforce produces more and it makes us better citizens.”
Playing to an audience heavy with businessmen and women, Mattiello said, “it reinforces for me that we have to be more competitive with our neighbors. Our tax structure is a little bit higher than Massachusetts and you are on the border, so how do your businesses compete with Massachusetts successfully when your tax costs are higher in Rhode Island.”
When he was questioned about taxes at the end of his presentation, Mattiello said, “I am looking at the corporate tax, I want to get rid of the inheritance tax cliff.”
Currently, Rhode Island’s estate tax – sometimes called “death tax” by critics – exempts the first $921,665 from taxation. So if a deceased person’s estate is worth $921,665 or less, there is no tax. But if it is worth $921,666 or more, the entire amount is subject to the tax. Removing the cliff Mattiello referred to means the state would tax only the value above the exempted amount.
“I resist and reject class warfare,” he said, apparently referring to proposals that would increase the income tax rate on upper income Rhode Islanders. “You need the high wage earners to create the middle class jobs.”
“I’m tired of being last in unemployment,” Mattiello said, “we all are. Whether it is our tax structure, our regulatory structure, Rhode Island is a small state, we should be in the middle, we should be 25th. We’re never going to be number one and we shouldn’t be 50.”
Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron.