2016-05-19 / Opinion


Don’t Smash the Glass Ceiling

For cities and towns in New England, the challenge of maintaining– and paying for–municipal infrastructure never ends. Mindful of that, managers of Newport and Middletown, as well as their municipal councils, are working together to find additional money to help pay for road improvements as well as sewage treatment and stormwater collection.

We hail this municipal camaraderie.

At the core of these efforts, as reported on May 5 by Newport This Week, are two measures placed before the General Assembly by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, D-Middletown, whose district also includes a portion of Newport. One of the measures, S-2686, would make convenience stores subject to the state’s meals and beverage taxes. A second, S-2987, would enable Newport and Middletown, on top of what they now get from this tax source, to collect an additional one percent tax on meals and beverages “to fund road and sewer repairs.”

As things now stand, restaurant goers here pay a seven percent sales tax and one percent meals and beverage tax in addition to the actual cost of meals. The proposed legislation would add another one percent meals and beverage levy.

Under Newport's 2011 federal consent decree, paying for clean water improvements is not optional.

From a financial perspective, we depend greatly on the ability of residents and tourists to easily access our restaurants, hotels, historic attractions and scenic vistas.

Without first-rate infrastructure, the economic well-being of Aquidneck Island would be dealt a mortal blow. With our infrastructure in good repair, everyone on our island stands to benefit.

And after all, an extra $1 on $100 in good food and service is, we think, worth it. And while restaurant owners my initially balk at the thought of charging customers more, we believe infrastructure costs demand creative solutions to spread the burden.

At the same time, though, we also concede that with all the various taxes imposed here, there is a “glass ceiling” that we can’t afford to shatter. Indeed, to many, T-A-X is a three letter word that should be a four-letter word.

Just this week, the board of directors of Discover Newport, the agency that exists to promote the interests of Newport and Bristol counties, declined to take a formal position on these tax proposals.

Asked about that, Evan Smith, the organization’s president and CEO, said it is important to remain mindful that any single tax is just one element of a much wider portfolio of taxes, tolls and fees that residents and tourists alike face daily on Aquidneck Island. During the 1980s, he said, New York City decided to increase revenue by raising its lodging tax. The resulting uproar, he said, resulted in a large loss of market share–and revenue–for the city.

For us, the glass ceiling for taxation is there. We need to meet our obligations without smashing through it.

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