January 23, 2006

Senator Montalbano Shouldn't be Offended Because People are Paying Attention to the Legislature

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a Mark Arsenault article in today’s Projo, Senate President Joseph Montalbano is looking out for your best interests when he protects the government’s authority to seize your home in a tax-lien sale…

Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano says he would support a proposed overhaul of the way liens are sold for delinquent property taxes if he could be sure the legislation would not hurt the tax collection rates of Rhode Island municipalities….

Some supporters of the legislation have grumbled about a similar bill that was filed last year, blaming the Senate for taking out a provision to allow Rhode Island Housing to buy liens in bulk. Montalbano, a lawyer who has conducted tax sales for several cities and towns, said he takes offense at the suggestion that the Senate "watered down" last year's bill.

I am not sure what exactly Senate President Montalbano finds offensive. There is no doubt that last year’s tax-lien reform bill was “watered down”. Provisions giving the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation the right of first refusal in tax-lien sales, tightening up procedures relating to the notification of delinquent owners, and involving the Department of Elderly Affairs in cases involving elderly citizens were all present in the tax-lien reform package introduced in the legislature last year. All had vanished by the time the final bill was voted on. Is Senator Montalbano offended because he wants us to know that it was the House, and not the Senate, that initiated their removal? (Incidentally, all three provisions have already been reintroduced to the legislature this year.)

Attention may be focusing on the Senate, in part, because of campaign contributions made from people actively involved in tax-lien sales to Senator Montalbano. John E. Shekarchi, a direct participant in the purchase of Madeline Walker’s house out from under her because of an unpaid sewer bill, gave $200 to Montalbano last year. Patrick T. Conley, described by the Projo's Katherine Gregg as one of the most prolific tax-lien purchasers in Rhode Island,

Conley has also figured -- and is likely to figure again this year -- in State House efforts to rewrite the state's ever-controversial tax-sale laws.

One of the busiest players in this field, Conley recently estimated having bought titles to 8,000 pieces of tax-delinquent property in Providence since 1979. About 5,700 were redeemed by their owners.

By his own estimates, he took ownership of the remaining 2,300 when the owners didn't pay their debt,

...gave $1,000 to Montalbano.

Both Mr. Shekarchi and Mr. Conley gave their contributions in March 2005, after the tax-lien bill was introduced to the Rhode Island Senate (February 2005), but before it was voted on by the full Senate (June 2005).