Delegates say they'll hold supplemental tax until five-year plan shows progress

Delegates say they'll hold supplemental tax until five-year plan shows progress

PROVIDENCE - The General Assembly is expected to hold on to two bills authorizing Woonsocket to raise $2.5 million in supplemental taxes until members of the city's delegation are satisfied with the progress the Budget Commission has made in implementing other elements of the five year plan.

"We're getting our responsibilities in order, but we still need to see where they are with their responsibilities," said Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, a Democrat from District 49 and mayoral candidate in the fall elections. "If the rest of the plan is not in place, then we need to meet to decide what our position is. Before we take the final step of transmitting it to the governor, we need an update."

Baldelli-Hunt said the House version of the bill, which was scheduled to be taken up after The Breeze's print deadline Wednesday evening, appeared to have majority support, and would likely pass the floor.

But like the Senate version, the legislation, she said, will be held while the city's delegation discusses their next move.

"We will sit as a delegation and determine which one we support," Baldelli-Hunt said of the two bills. "Then meet with the Budget Commission to make a final decision.

The tax, which needs General Assembly approval because it exceeds the state-mandated four percent annual cap on increases, is just one element of a five year plan developed by the commission to resolve the city's fiscal crisis.

Other elements include concessions from the city's unions and retiree groups, and changes to municipal services such as trash collection.

Negotiations with six employee groups affected by the plan, however, are reportedly not going well.

"I'm not very encouraged that the Budget Commission is going to make any type of progress with the bargaining units," said Sen. Marc Cote of District 24.

Cote said the Senate version of the bill, passed several weeks ago, has been held with the understanding that it will not become law until progress had been made with the plan's other factors.

"We would need an indication from the Budget Commission that they have commitments from the unions," Cote said.

The state-appointed Woonsocket commission did pass several bills stating that new union contracts, which meet the criteria of their plan, will be enacted on July 1 if alternative agreements can not be reached. The action, however, will likely be challenged in court.

"We'd still be looking at the prospect of passing a supplemental tax and finding out that nothing else happens," said Cote. "We just can't expose the taxpayers to a one-sided plan."

The House bill calls for $1.5 million to be raised through new motor vehicle taxes and $1 million through residential taxes. That plan, devised in part by Baldelli-Hunt with help from the Budget Commission, exempts owner-occupied single family dwellings and condominiums.

A bill for a larger tax failed last year after members of the Woonsocket delegation withdrew their backing. And while Baldelli-Hunt said that she "reluctantly supports" this plan, nothing will move forward without an update from the Commission.

The Senate version differs in how the burden is divided between property classes, raising the $1.5 million from residential property and $1 million from automobiles.

Baldelli-Hunt said she is confident the delegation will be able to agree on which bill to support, and that they will also likely agree to hold or finalize the tax in unison.

"We're a very well-jelled delegation and we respect each other's opinions," she said. "We work together very well so we will need to talk as a group to decide what we're going to do."

City officials have said that if some version of the tax is not passed, and agreements with the city's unions are challenged, Woonsocket will likely head quickly towards receivership, the next level of state control.