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.