PROVIDENCE — Ending another busy week at the statehouse, Representative Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) has introduced several new pieces of legislation involving reduced municipal spending to permanently eliminate the contentious car tax and reduce the overall tax burden on the state.
Morgan introduced a series of bills on or around March 1, all focused on reforming state mandates that limit the amount of control held by municipalities over their spending. The legislation focuses on decreasing pension, insurance, litigation and building repair costs in cities and towns in order to start reducing the need for higher taxes.
Although the Republican caucus sponsored a budget amendment last year to eliminate the car tax, Morgan said they are still in support of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello’s efforts to do so this year. She did, however, caution that not all of the down payment for the elimination “can or should” come from the state budget.
“The price tag is over $200 million and that money comes from the same taxpayers who are paying the property taxes and car taxes at the municipal level,” Morgan said. “We must start finding ways to lessen the entire tax burden on average families and give municipalities tools to control the items in their budgets that drive taxes higher.”
House bill 5602 proposes to raise the prevailing wage cap for municipal projects from $1,000 to $200,000 to reduce costs and increase competition among bidders. H-5603 requires the state’s Department of Labor and Training to provide training in contract negotiation for local leaders.
“This could help level the playing field for school and town officials,” Morgan said.
H-5718 and H-5719 focus on joint and several liability.
“They each reform the current legal standard, which allows a defendant with as little as 1% responsibility to be forced to pay 100% of the damages awarded,” said Morgan.
With the amendment, no party can be deemed jointly liable unless it is determined that they are least 51% liable.
H-5747 deals with disability pension reform and reducing abuse and fraud.
“It is too easy and lucrative to abuse,” Morgan said. “And it is an expensive program that drives property taxes higher and higher. We all want those who are truly hurt and unable to work to be protected, but we don’t want to reward cheaters.”
H-5798 calls for a study to be performed on how municipalities can consolidate their debt and feed the savings from that consolidation back in to relieve some of the debt.
Finally, H-5891 involves taking extra money accumulated from the 911 fee on telephone bills, and giving it to municipalities to upgrade dispatch equipment. This also ensures that police departments are up-to-date with the latest technology which increases safety.
“These are common sense reforms that will make our citizens more financially secure,” said Morgan. “If we want to eliminate the car tax forever, we must find the wisdom to reform these bad, tax-gobbling policies. If we fail, I fear our state will continue to suffer with a tax burden among the worst in the country. This has created an environment that increases our cost of living, drags down our economy and sends municipal leaders searching every year for new ways to tax or fee their residents.”
The ultimate goal of these bills, she said, is to “take costly mandates off the backs of hardworking Rhode Islanders.”
“It’s time to fix longstanding policies that are broken.”
Follow Kendra Lolio on Twitter @kendralolio