Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blake Filippi’s first week at the State House

See how well he kept his campaign pledges
By Will Collette

When Blake Filippi ran against Rep. Donna Walsh, he made a lot of promises to inveigle folks like the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party), the victims of the Copar Quarry, the elderly and others to support him.

He promised to introduce bills* to stop state interference with local land use, repeal state income tax on Social Security, regulate quarries and mines and exempt consumers from having to pay state sales tax on National Grid’s new rate hike as soon as his feet hit the State House marble floors.

He was sworn in last Monday and his report card for his first week in office bears little resemblance to his campaign pledges.

According to the General Assembly database as of Saturday, January 10, he sponsored no new legislation, even though he told the Block Island Times just last week that he entered the legislature ready to do just that.

He was, however, listed as a co-sponsor on five bills introduced by other legislators. 

The first bill he co-sponsored, HB 5044, is a developers’ bill. According to the official caption for this bill, HB 5044 “Creates an exemption from taxation for certain residential property developments which have not been completed or, not been sold and occupied.”

During the campaign, Flipper won the CCA Party’s covert but substantial support by promising to protect local government from efforts by the state to infringe on local land use policies. This very first bill does the opposite - it directs towns to change their taxing policy to benefit builders and developers who perhaps have over-built and can’t sell the units they have built.

This will provide additional incentives for developers to come into places like Charlestown and throw up buildings before the market need is there because it will reduce the holding cost for unsold buildings.

Whether this is fair or not, I’ll leave to the CCA Party to explain…after they finish throwing up after realizing what a huge mistake they made in backing this guy against Donna (who in a million years would never sponsor or co-sponsor a bill like this). 

Let me offer these words of condolence to the CCA Party – Suckers! You just got Flipped!

The second bill Flipper co-sponsored, HB 5051, would ban the use of any electronic device to track a vehicle travelling on a public road without a search warrant. Except the bill then adds so many exemptions that make the bill pointless.

I looked at the bill carefully to see if it would ban Charlestown’s new red-light camera system, but it probably doesn’t since that seems to be covered in the many exemptions.

It exempts situations where the devices are being used to enforce the law, search for a particular law-breaker, is authorized by statute, is kept internal to the monitoring agency (e.g. security cameras at state bridges) and so on.

RIDOT has traffic cams at strategic points around the state and you can see live feeds from those cameras on their website and on the local TV news. Flipper had promised to introduce anti-drone legislation, but this isn’t it. Frankly, I don’t know the point of this bill other than to convey the impression that it protects privacy when it actually does virtually nothing.

The third bill Flip co-sponsored, HB 5054, would create a new Joint Committee in the General Assembly called the Committee of the Repealer. This is a committee that would take requests from the public for laws, regulations or executive orders they don’t like and would like to have repealed on such grounds as being "unfriendly to business" or "outmoded."

I had actually suggested in 2012 that Charlestown should create a process to take a look at Town Ordinances to see which are outmoded, unenforced or unenforceable or otherwise useless. CCA Party leaders, especially Deputy Dan Slattery and the Chambers attacked this idea as impractical. I wonder if they’ll give the same verdict on their new legislative BFF’s bill.

Finally, the last two bills where Flipper was a minor co-sponsor** are bills that he had promised to directly sponsor himself to exempt all or most retirement income from state income tax. Both are introduced by fellow Republican legislators***.

The first, HB 5056, was introduced by Flip’s long-time friend and mentor, Rep. Patricia Morgan. This bill would exempt Social Security and just about all pension and deferred compensation income from state income tax. He was the third co-sponsor of Morgan’s bill.

He was also the third co-sponsor of wingnut Rep. Doreen Costa’s HB 5057 which would focus solely on exempting Social Security from state income tax.

The Morgan bill is a “Me, too” bill that is virtually identical to the very first bill introduced in this year’s session of the General Assembly, HB 5000, which was introduced by Rep. Bob Craven on behalf of the House Democratic leadership.

Cut our taxes to zero or we're outta here!
In the interest of full disclosure, Cathy and I draw almost all of our income from Social Security and pensions. We stand to gain if the state exempts all or part of our retirement income from state income tax. 

But despite my considerable self-interest, I think this is a bad idea.

First, it’s being pitched as a way to boost the economy by preventing geezers like Cathy and me from leaving Rhode Island for Florida and Texas. Except that most migration by the elderly is driven by the desire for warmer climate and more affordable housing, not the state income tax.

There are no overall limits or “means test” attached to any of the proposed income tax exemption legislation. Using simple math, the biggest beneficiaries are going to elderly people with high incomes. People living on $12,000 a year in Social Security will see no benefit but will bear the consequences of the shredded social safety net. 

This “Geezer Tax” bill is meant to benefit elderly in the top income bracket, not seniors living on small fixed incomes.

As for the prospects for the “Geezer Tax,” if the General Assembly is going to enact any such legislation, do you think they will pass a bill by Bob Craven (D) for the House leadership, or one of the two bills by Republicans Patricia Morgan or Doreen Costa?

Sign of discontent
Sorry, Copar folks. You're not a priority after all.
Let's now look at what Filippi failed to do. Conspicuously absent from Flip’s first week report card:
  • No Copar/quarry legislation
  • No sales tax exemption on the National Grid electric rate hike
  • No legislation to stop the state from interfering with local land use (in fact, he co-sponsored a bill that does the opposite)

I am reminded of a favorite saying of my sainted grandmother about Filippi’s unmet promises, “Don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash.” 

I am also reminded of my pre-election reporting on Filippi and how he can’t ever seem to keep his stories straight about where he lives and who he's connected to, and seems to lie as a matter of preference.

Here’s his report card for his momentous first week in office:

From the General Assembly legislation tracker database, Saturday, January 10, 2015
Bills where Blake Filippi was a sponsor or co-sponsor.

House Bill No. 5044
BY  Edwards, Nunes, Marshall, Newberry, Filippi
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION - LEVY AND ASSESSMENT OF LOCAL TAXES (Creates an exemption from taxation for certain residential property developments which have not been completed or, not been sold and occupied.)
01/08/2015 Introduced, referred to House Municipal Government

House Bill No. 5051
BY  Edwards, Filippi, Roberts, Bennett, Abney
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO STATE AFFAIRS AND GOVERNMENT - SURVEILLANCE DEVICES (This act would prohibit surveillance on any public highway in the state unless specifically authorized by statute or court order. This act would also provide for the confidentiality of information collected or stored.)
01/08/2015 Introduced, referred to House Judiciary

House Bill No. 5054
BY  Edwards, Newberry, Filippi, Roberts, Corvese
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY - JOINT COMMITTEE OF THE REPEALER (Creates the joint committee of the repealer in the general assembly.)
01/08/2015 Introduced, referred to House Judiciary

House Bill No. 5056
BY  Morgan, Lancia, Roberts, Filippi, Price
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION -- PERSONAL INCOME TAX (Exempts retirement and social security income from state personal income tax.)
01/08/2015 Introduced, referred to House Finance

House Bill No. 5057
BY  Costa, Lancia, Nardolillo, Filippi, Reilly
ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO TAXATION -- PERSONAL INCOME TAX (Exempts social security income from state personal income tax.)
01/08/2015 Introduced, referred to House Finance


* Note that he promised to INTRODUCE bills, not get them passed. He has control over getting bills introduced – and claimed in interviews that he has the experience and expertise to write his own legislation. Indeed, that was his claim to fame with his phony one-man “RI Liberty Coalition,” that he created this “coalition” to push a piece of legislation he wrote. 

Actually getting his bills passed by the General Assembly is outside of his control. I doubt ANY of his bills will actually get passed. As a Republican masquerading as an independent, he has no juice to get his bills enacted.

** Newly sworn-in Rep. Justin Price who defeated Larry Valencia despite having no experience other than running for a slot as as a Ron Paul delegate (and coming in last in a field of six) to the 2012 Republican National Convention, also co-sponsored the Morgan and Costa income tax bills. He had no other legislative history recorded in the database for his first week.

New Sen. Elaine Morgan whose incoherent campaign was enough to defeat incumbent Cathie Cool Rumsey had one legislative success in her first week. She co-sponsored a Senate resolution of condolence sponsored by Sen. Dennis Algiere on the death of Jeannette Katherine Kennedy. This resolution was adopted without the need to be passed by the House. Other than that, Morgan had nothing on the record.

*** Yes, I know he is maintaining the fiction that he is an “Independent,” but he is a registered Republican and has been a major Republican Party political donor for the past decade. In his new role, he caucuses with the Republicans. Theory: he ran as an independent at the urging of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) which distains party labels.