September 27, 2010

What the Vote on the Car Tax Tells You About Your Legislator

Carroll Andrew Morse

As you may have heard, the Rhode Island legislature voted in this year's budget to reduce state reimbursement of the $6,000 local car-tax exemption to a reimbursement on only the first $500 of value. In the same budget article (Article 23), cities and towns were given the option of making up the lost reimbursement money by reducing the exemption itself to as little as $500, i.e. by raising a local tax.

To understand your state representative's position on this issue, votes on two amendments need to be considered in addition to the final vote (pg. 160) on the Article.

  1. The original version of the bill submitted to the legislature would have had the state reimburse the cities and towns for an exemption on the first $3,000 of vehicle value. Representative Steve Costantino of Providence introduced an amendment (pg. 155) which reduced the reimbursement to taxes paid on the first $500 of value. The amendment passed.
  2. Rep. Karen MacBeth of Cumberland introduced an amendment (pg. 157) to make the reimbursement rate uniform across all cities and towns in RI. This did not alter a city or town's power to set the level of the exemption, only the amount that the state would reimburse. The amendment failed.
A sizable majority of reps (46) voted both for the amendment lowering the exemption amount and for the final article. Of this group, only 4 voted to make the state reimbursement rate uniform; they are underlined in the list below...
The Honorable Speaker Fox, Ajello, Almeida, Azzinaro, Carnevale, Carter, Coderre, Costantino, Diaz, Driver, Edwards, Fellela, Ferri, Fierro, Gablinske, Gallison, Gemma, Handy, Hearn, Jackson, Kennedy, Lally, Malik, Marcello, Martin, Mattiello, McCauley, Melo, Murphy, Naughton, O'Neill, Pacheco, Palumbo, Petrarca, Pollard, Rice M, Ruggiero, San Bento, Serpa, Shallcross, Silva, Sullivan, Vaudreuil, Walsh, Williams, Williamson.
This is yet another example of the dysfunction in Rhode Island's governing class; proposals that take the form of shifting costs from one place to another can expect to receive overwhelming support from the current statehouse majority, while reforms that would nudge the system towards a more rational and equitable structure garner little support.

In addition to the 46 reps listed above, another 7 representatives voted to lower the vehicle tax exemption from $3,000 to $500 but voted against the final article. Of this group of 7, 3 voted in favor of a uniform state reimbursement rate (indicated below using the same underlining convention as above) and 4 voted against...

Ehrhardt, Kilmartin, MacBeth, Menard, Rice A, Savage, Winfield.
Don't let this group of 7 tell you that, because they voted against the final article, they were stalwarts in opposing the vehicle tax change -- they all supported lowering the exemption to next to nothing, when that specific issue was voted on. Reps MacBeth, Menard and Rice may have voted against the final article on principle because of the failure to make the reimbursement uniform, but I'm not sure what excuse Reps Ehrhardt, Kilmartin, Savage and Winfield have. (And shouldn't a guy who aspires to be the state's AG have a better sense about bringing some fairness to the entire state?)

Two other reps voted no on lowering the exemption from $3,000 to $500, but yes on the final article, with Rep. Trillo also voting in favor of making the reimbursement uniform...

Caprio, Trillo.
Finally, 13 reps voted against the entire article changing the car tax and its associated reimbursements, against the specific amendment that lowered the new statewide exemption from $3,000 to $500. Of these 13, 9 voted in favor of a uniform state reimbursement rate...
Baldelli-Hunt, Brien, Corvese, DaSilva, Giannini, Guthrie, Jacquard, Lima, Loughlin, Messier, Newberry, Schadone, Wasylyk.
There were also some amendments offered on the subject of fire-district taxes that may have impacted a few votes, but the anti-correlation between the "let's-make-the-reimbursement-fair" group and the "let's-shift-the-burden-to someone-else" group is sadly telling. Rhode Island's state representatives most eager to shift their fiscal problems to someone else are also the reps who seem to care the least about creating a system that is maximally fair to all of Rhode Island's taxpayers.


Rep. Jon Brien of Woonsocket has brought to my attention the section of the House Journal from June 8, where he had his intention to vote against the amendment lowering the statewide car-tax and associated reimbursement from $3,000 to $500 entered into the official record. I've updated the post above to reflect Rep. Brien's intent.

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Footnote on Reps who didn't vote on all 3 votes tallied in this post:

Reps DeSimone, Slater, Segal and Ucci did not vote on the amendment to lower the reimbursed amount from the first $3,000 of value to the first $500 of value. Rep Watson voted against.

Rep Ucci did not vote on the amendment to make the reimbursement rate uniform. Rep. Watson voted for, and Reps DeSimone, Slater and Segal voted against.

Rep Watson did not vote on the final article. Reps DeSimone and Ucci voted for, and Reps Slater and Segal voted against.

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Heh, mine's easy. I'm in District 52, MacBeth.

Posted by: Patrick at September 27, 2010 7:45 PM

Way to go, Andrew. Just the kind of information that voters need about their elected officials.

(And it was oh so easy to obtain, wasn't it? what with G.A. votes being available on line and all ... cough)

Posted by: Monique at September 27, 2010 9:17 PM

Great analysis. Seems like a lot of leg-work, but it's inconclusive. Exactly WHO voted in taxpayers best interest?

Posted by: george at September 27, 2010 9:26 PM

Only those who voted down the budget were in the taxpayers best interest.
Certainly not the House Leadership.

Posted by: Jim at September 28, 2010 8:06 AM

Only those who voted down the budget were in the taxpayers best interest.
Certainly not the House Leadership.

Posted by: Jim at September 28, 2010 8:06 AM

and sadly, the same must be said about the Governor. What use is there having a conservative Governor to sign crap like this?
No-let the communists/progressives take the Governorship and responsibility for the marxist debacle this state has become.
The people of this state deserve everything they get.

Posted by: Tommy Cranston at September 28, 2010 8:36 AM


You have to build up a picture of a legislator from a series of votes. As we often say here at AR, taxing and spending need to be considered together. So while you begin to learn something about a legislator from his or her votes on eliminating the car tax reimbursement and replacing it by increasing local taxing authority, you learn even more by looking at, for instance, which legislators voted to increase local taxing authority as a revenue strategy at the same time they refused to release localities from any unfunded mandates. Maybe someone somewhere on the internet will post that second half of things, in a day or two...


From analyzing bunches of GA votes, I know that Rep. MacBeth often votes with the Northern Rhode Island fiscal conservatives, but there are also clues that she's in with the no-structural-reform-for-education crowd. Can you offer any other insights from your closer vantage point?

Posted by: Andrew at September 28, 2010 8:36 AM

Andrew, I think you're on target. I speak with Karen over email on occasion and am supportive of her re-election. She does seem to be a fiscal conservative, but pretty progressive when it comes to education. She is a school administrator, and I did let her know that I disagreed with her signing on to Segal's bill in an attempt to make life more difficult for charter schools.

It's her fiscal conservatism that I like. She submitted an amendment to the budget to force all legislators to pay a portion of their health insurance (which got shot down without a vote, a Gordon Fox parliamentary trick killed it), and even in 2009 she was the only Democrat to vote against the budget. Some can say that she was "allowed" to vote against the budget in exchange for other leadership-friendly votes, but I haven't seen any evidence of those. And the fact that Gordon Fox twice talked one of his business associates into running against MacBeth in a primary really showed how she's not "one of 'em".

Now in the other house, we have a different story. We're currently represented by Dan Connors. But not for long. Hopefully the Beth Moura campaign will stay ahead in the race and be able to defeat the admitted hand-picked successor by Connors. A 22 year old who decided less than 15 minutes before the filing deadline that he wants to run. A kid who thinks the best way to improve RI's government is more spending and more taxes.

So you can see, to me as a voter, MacBeth is one of the least of my problems.

Posted by: Patrick at September 28, 2010 9:11 AM
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