After recently meeting with Rob Cote, who spearheaded the car talk revolt during the summer, State Representative Joseph McNamara pre-filed a bill to revise automobile valuations and the assessment of excise taxes, as he, along with many other Rhode Islanders, believe the current process is “unrealistic” and “out of control.”
According to a press release the State House issued Thursday, nearly 4,000 appeals have been filed since 2010. Within the release, McNamara shared his plan to hold a meeting at the State House on Jan. 4 at 3 p.m. to discuss how the state uses the clean retail value of vehicles, the highest in the NADA bluebook, and how the book does not take into account the mileage or condition of an individual’s vehicle. City officials; State Representatives; and Senators from Warwick, as well as members of the General Assembly; the League of Cities and Towns; and Governor Lincoln Chafee’s administration, have been invited.
McNamara said he feels assessments should be more personalized and reflect the true value of what someone would receive if they were to sell the vehicle they are being taxed on. His new legislation would create a better appeal process, giving taxpayers an option to appear before the Vehicle Value Commission to present evidence as to why the assessed value on a vehicle may be too high, as well as ensure that a declining percent value is given to all vehicles based on the age of the vehicle or would allow for a set, nominal amount to be assessed on older cars.
While Cote said he is pleased about McNamara’s efforts, he believes the legislation is not worded as “strongly” and as “specific” as he would have liked. Nevertheless, he thinks it’s a step in the right direction.
“If it gets the conversation moving so be it,” Cote said in a phone interview last week.
He said he would have included verbiage to address the fact that the Vehicle Valuation Committee is in violation of Title 44, which was passed in 1998, as the statute dictates a seven-member commission and there are only four current members. He views the commission as “handicapped” due to the lack of additional members, one of whom he said should be a member of the automobile industry.
In response, McNamara said in a phone interview, “The fact that they haven’t been appointed is something the Governor has to deal with and that’s why we’re meeting with the Department of Administration.”
Cote also said he would have discussed his issue that all public hearings that are held or called by the Vehicle Value Commission to begin after 7 p.m. so the general public can attend, as he said most people are still at work or just getting out of work at the time meetings are typically scheduled. McNamara said Cote will have the opportunity to mention that to the Commission in January.
Further, despite the fact that McNamara included his opposition of the Commission using clean retail value to access automobiles, Cote said he should have been more clear that the Commission violates Title 44 in this aspect. Cote also wished he added information about the need for a realistic appeal process that has continuity with the appeals process used for collection of sales taxes on automobiles.
Again, McNamara said Jan. 4 will provide the chance to make changes to the language of the pre-file.
“I look at this as an initial draft and there will be amendments before it’s submitted, as well as other legislation that is introduced that will ensure our cities and towns have the capability to adjust their budgets because I would guess that statewide evaluations will significantly be reduced,” he said. “The language we have is a starting point.”
McNamara also said the Commission will most likely establish an appeal process that includes criteria such as mileage and condition of the vehicle, which will be factors for reduction of value.
“We want a process that is fair, transparent, efficient and most importantly doesn’t have a whole, unfunded band aid,” he said. “In other words, something we can do with existing staff and the existing budget. We also want to ensure that cities and towns will have time to adjust their rates to these newer values that I would expect would be lower.”
Cote also said he wasn’t thrilled that McNamara didn’t ask State Representative Doreen Costa to co-sponsor or co-author his on the pre-file, as he said she has attended all of the council meetings at Warwick City Hall in regards to the excise tax. She also briefly met with McNamara and Cote more than a week ago.
“She has worked behind the scenes for months on the issue,” said Cote. “I would have reached across party lines to set an example that when it comes to fair and equitable treatment of individuals who are the hardest hit, that party affiliation has no bearing on the resolution of the issue.”
Yet, McNamara said he isn’t trying to steal the spotlight on the matter. Rather, he praised Cote, the members if the car tax revolt, plus Costa, for speaking out.
“I give Rob a lot of credit, as well as the individuals who were vocal about this inequity in the law,” he said. “It’s an important issue, not only in Warwick but statewide. Automobile taxes are difficult enough but when valuations are inflated it really frustrates people. It adds insult to injury and we’re looking to correct that.”
McNamara also said he believes another piece of legislation will be put forth to allow the League of Cities and Towns to adjust their rates to new, lower valuations. He thinks it will be an involved process, but is confident changes will be made.
“My colleagues in the House and the Warwick delegation are looking forward to working with me on this issue, as well as representatives outside the Warwick area,” he said. “The meeting will be very interesting and I think this is the beginning of the process. I hope to build some consensus so we can get legislation approved that addresses the inequity and the vehicle valuations.”
Cote is in agreement. He said it doesn’t matter who passed the legislation or if he receives accolades for his efforts, he just wants to see changes for the better.
“I could care less whose name is on it or who takes the political credit as long as it gets fixed,” he said. “The only thing I ever wanted my name on was my children’s birth certificates and my licenses.”