2018-06-21 / Opinion


Address Tax Issues

To the Editor:

Technology development keeps changing everyday life in ways that were unforeseeable only a few years ago. A decade ago, probably few people would have believed that our economy would soon be changed by apps that would let you hail a cab online, or websites that would crowdsource funding for entrepreneurs or charitable causes. Or that in 2018, a significant portion of travelers would sleep in a stranger’s home instead of a hotel.

Government at every level has struggled to keep up with the dizzying pace of this development, and the result is that policy has not caught up to technology. Short-term rentals coordinated through third-party hosting platforms is one such wild frontier where an entire economy has sprung up, unregulated, unchecked and very questionably taxed.

In my district in Newport, where hospitality is the driver of the economy, the effects of this development are particularly evident. Our tax and health and safety codes were developed with the expectation that residential properties housed residents, not travelers. This new hybrid use–and the use of third-party hosting platforms that complicate the identification of the properties being used — have left Newport, other municipalities and the state at a loss to determine how to ensure that hosts are complying with the measures that are intended to keep guests safe and in compliance with the collection of hotel and sales taxes.

An attempt was made in 2015 to collect the hotel tax from the third-party hosting platforms, but the result was the delegation of tax collection to the hosting platform, which submits only one double-sided form once a month with only a grand total of the taxes it says its users owe the state and the fraction that should go to each community. We’re just accepting the money and their word.

The tax problems are just the tip of the iceberg. This use may well also be putting a squeeze on our housing stock, as investors have begun buying properties solely to rent out the rooms in this manner.

Proponents argue that the model provides homeowners, particularly women and seniors, with income that helps them afford their homes. But what can it do to protect these vulnerable populations from those who spend the night in their homes? Background checks and analytics cannot detect first-time offenders who recognize this opportunity.

I have submitted legislation that will help ensure compliance with our tax laws and building codes. My bill requires third-party hosting platforms to use best practices to ensure the properties they list are complying with all applicable local, state and federal laws regarding their rental and use, and ensure that they are complying with any local registration requirement. Additionally, the bill requires them to provide each property owner with a monthly accounting of the taxes collected for rental on that property. It would be the property owner’s responsibility to remit that accounting to the state along with any taxes they have collected themselves for rentals outside the platform.

The use of third-party hosting platforms will only continue to grow, and Rhode Island must adapt. We cannot continue to allow a very significant portion of our hotel taxes to be collected and submitted anonymously, without verification. I urge swift passage of my legislation to rectify this situation.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson,
Democrat, District 75 Newport

The Inclusiveness of Rugby

To the Editor:

I believe rugby is more than a sport. The game of rugby has been described as “elegant violence” or “organized chaos.” It has even been called “a hooligans game played by gentlemen,” but to me it is the purest definition of the word Team. Traditional rugby is played with 15 on each side for two halves of 40 minutes. It requires commitment from all fifteen players playing together to be successful. Because the rugby ball is passed backward to advance it forward down the field communication is essential. The best teams win not because they are bigger, stronger or faster but because they possess a synergy of innate trust that their teammate will be “with them” as they advance toward the try zone to score.

A rugby team is comprised of two components “The Pack” (players #1 to #8 ) and “The Backs” (players #9 to #15); both parts must play cohesively to be successful. A player’s number relates to their position and their role during a game. Rugby is an inclusive game. You do not have to be the best athlete, it does not require expensive equipment, and anyone tall, short, bulky or slim can play. Because it is such a team sport, it is hard for one individual player to be a stand-out, and the constant motion of the game means any player can score.

Rugby players respect the opposition because the physical endurance requires a camaraderie like no other sport. In rugby, opposing teams can be friends, and long-held traditions of sharing a drink after the game still continues. Yes, winning is exciting and fun! However, the lifelong friendships that are forged are valued more.

In 1995, the Rugby World Cup games were played in South Africa, and former President Nelson Mandela saw it as an opportunity to unite his country. He said,"sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers."

Rugby bonds, unites, and welcomes all who dare to challenge themselves. And this Sunday, at Fort Adams, the “Powered by Prince” Island Rugby Football Club (youth rugby program) will have the opportunity to demonstrate on the pitch their growing rugby acumen. Since 2014, the generous support from the Frederick Henry Prince Memorial Fund provided by Newport Hospital, has enabled Rhode island boys and girls to give rugby a try!

Kim Ripoli

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