The Governor requests that several amendments be made to Article 11 entitled “Relating to Revenues”, including changes to sections 3, 8 and 15. The changes requested are listed and explained below.
The bulk of the changes (irrespective of the actual impact of each one) are geared toward removing the language that, as I first pointed out last month, makes the “Taylor Swift Tax” on valuable second homes a tax on the privilege of owning the property, rather than on the property itself. As a matter of legal and political philosophy that’s a massive affront to property rights, because it implies that owning property is not a right, but a privilege granted by the state.
Of course, this only adjusts the outrage from being an assault on rights to being a first step toward imposing a new tax on Rhode Islanders, and a duplicate one, at that — even a triplicate or quadruplicate one. Rhode Island cities and towns already have property taxes. Indeed, fire and water districts also levy taxes on real estate holdings, as do (or will) waste-water districts, like the one that the General Assembly just imposed on the people of Tiverton.
Apparently, reading all of the reports that the General Assembly has commissioned to study our tax and business environment, government officials took the fact that we have high property taxes as an indication that it was a good place to stick a syringe. Here’s the new language from Governor Raimondo:
Imposition of Tax. (a) The tax administrator of the state of Rhode Island is empowered to impose a tax on non-owner occupied residential property within the state during any tax year commencing with the tax year beginning July 1, 2015 and every tax year thereafter.
In other words, the only thing making this a tax on high-end properties is the “definition” section of the legislation. This could easily be adjusted downward as budget shortfalls require.
Worse, now that the tax is on the property, not the “privilege” of owning it, rental properties with “five or less units” will definitely be caught up in it. A landlord renting out five units valued at $200,000 each (not exactly luxury living, necessarily) will be caught. And as property values climb (assuming they do, in Rhode Island) more and more properties will be captured, even without the General Assembly lifting a finger to tighten the screws.
In the not-too-distant future, a family owning a relatively modest vacation home or renting out property will face up to four different taxes on it. As the song goes: “Ask any economist, he’ll tell you we’re insane/But you know we love taxpayers, like hungers love game.”