House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello wants to eliminate the "Taylor Swift tax" -- Governor Gina Raimondo's proposed statewide property tax on vacation homes worth more than $1 million.
"I'm hoping that the revenues are there to eliminate that," Mattiello said during a taping Thursday of Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Roundtable. "You could look to see that eliminated. I agree with the public sentiment that you don't open the door to a new tax, because it's just going to expand in the future, so that's something that I'm really looking to eliminate."
Mattiello added, "I don't want to speak for her, but I believe the governor concurs with that at this point, and we're doing that collaboratively."
Asked for comment, Raimondo's press secretary, Marie Aberger, said via e-mail, "Once the new revenue estimates come out," at the May revenue estimating conference, " we will evaluate all options and continue working with the Speaker, the Senate President, and the entire General Assembly to enact a plan to expand opportunity and put people back to work."
The tax on second homes worth more than a million dollars has been one of the most controversial elements of Raimondo's budget proposal, drawing brickbats from critics near and far. They say the tax -- so named since pop singer Swift owns a home in Westerly -- creates a slippery slope and sends a bad message about Rhode Island's tax climate.
Raimondo and her key lieutenants have described the tax on second homes, projected to generate about $12 million in revenue, as a way to share responsibility in paying for state needs.
"I think it sends a message about the fairness of the Raimondo administration, about the equitable approach that our team takes to budgeting," Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said during last week's RIPR Bonus Q+A. "You know, there's a $190 million budget deficit that has to be closed this year. It's escalating to nearly half a billion over the next several years. A number of actions need to be taken in tandem to close that gap. To be sure, one of them is Medicaid reform, but it has to be a balanced effort."
A trend of better than expected revenues continued after Pryor made his remark, allowing the General Assembly more flexibility in considering Raimondo's almost $9 billion budget proposal.
Mattiello called the Taylor Swift tax "something she suggested at a time when the revenues were very scarce and the budget was very tight."
The speaker said he's "generally very supportive" of Raimondo's budget, but plans "to lessen that impact" from $22 million in anticipated savings from unfunded Chafee-era raises for state employees.
"There are things with that that are problematic," Mattiello said. "Furloughs and so forth don't make the state look well. I want us to project a healthy economic outlook and so forth."
Mattiello said he expects Raimondo's package of incentives -- touted by the governor as a way to boost Rhode Island's economy -- "to be very well received by House Finance Committee. However, the governor and myself have already had discussions -- we have to tighten certain things up. It's a good proposal that we're going to look to make better after getting some public input, but I'm working collaboratively with the governor on it. I think overall, the idea is very good. The state needs the tools to incentivize investments in jobs and businesses in the state of Rhode Island."