Burying the Legislative Lead

Most legislation introduced into the General Assembly comes with a brief summary that appears with references to the bill — most visibly on the various pages of the legislature’s Web site.  Sometimes the descriptions are misleading; sometimes they’re just confusing.  (Usually, they’re pretty good, assuming one understands the lingo of policy.)

Today, Representatives Thomas Winfield (D, Smithfield, Glocester) and Gregory Costantino (D, Lincoln, Smithfield, Johnston) submitted legislation with a description that puts a superficial effect first and excludes the most significant purpose of the bill from the locations where it would be most easily spotted.

Here’s the description appearing with the bill, H5083, in the General Assembly’s tracking tool:

would amend the 1949 act used to incorporate the Bryant College of Business Administration to reflect its current name of Bryant University

And here’s language from the bill’s final paragraph:

… the value of the estate, both real and personal, of said corporation, wheresoever located, whatever its condition, or whenever acquired, shall be subject to taxation commencing July 1, 2014 by the town of Smithfield in the same manner as other businesses in the town, whether or not said property is used exclusively for educational purposes, unless the corporation and the town of Smithfield reach an agreement on payment in lieu of taxes on or before June 30, 2014.

As written, the bill would appear to give Smithfield the right to tax Bryant’s properties anywhere in the world.  More important, though, is the strategy of requiring the university to negotiate its payment in lieu of taxes with the town holding all of the cards.  Not coming to an agreement means full taxation.

Frankly, I’m not sure where I stand on the taxation of lucrative ventures in higher education, but it would be nice if Rhode Islanders didn’t have to read every bill from front to back to know what their most profound effects would be.

  • lblais

    Legislating the legislature. That's the answer to this! Clear, straightforward explanation of all bottom line ramifications of any bill, upfront and center.

  • guest

    Amazing..this legislation would never hold up in court..and is the town of Smithfield going to pony up the $$$ in legal challenge if it every made it through as law. Can you imagine a precedent where a town is able to tax you, your company, or any business for any property located anywhere? Geez,,heard you have a vacation home in NH, here's a bill (oh, and a fee to cover the assessor going up there).

    Brown, PC, Roger Williams gave into the pressures (although let's be honest, Brown, PC, Johnson and Wales all got nice land deals in their "voluntary agreements") — do you think they'll stand by if this passes..imagine Providence being able to tax Brown for all its property anywhere and in any condition.

    The legislators do know that Smithfield gets $500,000K a year from the state for having Bryant there…these are just thugs looking to find anywhere to keep the trough flowing..are they going to go after the nuns at Salve Regina next?

    Do your homework — what services do these schools use from the town that they don't pay for or the cost of such services compared to the payment they get from the state? The schools in Providence may take up a lot of the city, but the Roger Williams and Bryants are probably no more than 1 to 2% of their towns..and these places want to claim how much "stress" they put on the town? Do they ever produced facts — how many non-reimbursed fire or ems trips? how much police activity compared to the rest of the town (given all these schools have in-house security forces)? Do they ever mention they get money from the state?

    This is pathetic extortion..I hope Bryant fights it all the way legally..I can't imagine a court setting a precedent of a town able to tax property, especially of a tax-exempt organization, anywhere..