ARLENE VIOLET - Senate panel 'taxes' marriageto help local non-profit

ARLENE VIOLET - Senate panel 'taxes' marriageto help local non-profit

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to add $46 surcharge on the $24 current fee to get a marriage license. The first $2 will go to the city or town clerk's office that issues the license and the other $44 to the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence. Like far too many happenings on Smith Hill, this is one more example of "What are they thinking?"

Certainly, not too many people are going to refrain from the married state because of the increase, but there's something undignified about linking the cost of entering marriage to domestic violence. There are violence issues to be sure when domestic bliss takes a turn for the worse but there are many cases of unmarried people who engage in fisticuffs. In effect, the people trying to make the commitment to a marriage have to pay for a program for those violent offenders who don't. Would we want to have a surcharge on the taxes for married couples for divorce court since they are the only people potentially who are going to need it?

Furthermore, why is a specific program becoming the beneficiary of the de facto "tax"? The R.I. Coalition against Domestic Violence - not a state agency - does good work, but, if it like any other program is worthy, it should be funded by general revenue. It is poor public policy to fund a specific program recipient with dedicated funds. Its fortune should not rise and fall with the decision by some extraneous parties who decide to marry.

Furthermore, its funding should be constant. Recently, it had $100,000 restored by the General Assembly for its court advocacy program. Just like other agencies the budget for the organization should be part of annual reviews regarding its efficacy for state funding rather than automatic funding.

What's next if this becomes a trend? Should a surcharge on fishing licenses underwrite a non-profit agency to insure that fish taken from the waters aren't too small? Should automobile taxes be diverted to an agency charged with monitoring speeding on the roads since accidents can kill? How about a portion of driver license fees going to a non-profit agency who wants to watch for people texting while driving?

Laudable tasks should be done by government agencies or funded through the budget for the activities delegated to non-profits. Having one class of people pay for a program is discriminatory and dumb.

Apparently, this legislation passed as a result of a half-dozen people who testified, as well as letters from the mayors of Warwick, Pawtucket, and Johnston. For the effort of writing such a missive they and other towns will get $2 per marriage in the municipality coffers at a projected increase of revenue to the tune of $9,000 a year. They sure came cheap!

The full Senate must first pass the legislation. If it does, then the House of Representatives will take up the bill. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the legislation hasn't gone anywhere. If it has, the governor should veto the bill.

Earmarking a single agency as a recipient of a hike in a fee is a poor practice to fund non-profits and will, no doubt, be followed by a bevy of special interest fee hikes for the benefit of other non-profits who also do laudable works. This approach to funding should tank.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.