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Senator Bell meets with constituents



Rhode Island State Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) held a constituent meeting Monday evening and talked about his accomplishments during his first year in his position. He also took questions from his constituents.

“I’ll just give you a brief rundown of what I’ve been up to this legislative session, which just finished at the end of June,” said Bell. When I was knocking on people’s doors during the campaign, I’d always get the question, ‘How are you going to get things done?’ and I said, ‘The most important thing, is that we fight against the power of the political machine here in this state,’ because right now it’s really hard to get the kind of things that are really important for us to get done, done. It’s time that we stand up to the powerful system inside the State House. That’s what I’ve tried to do, that’s been the most important focus.

“I was one of two senators to vote against the Senate President [Dominick Ruggerio] because I had strong concerns about his record of personal misconduct and his very right-wing policies. I thought I was going to be alone, that I was the only one in the caucus, but veteran Senator Donna Nesselbush from Pawtucket decided to join me on the floor, which was really great.

“Throughout most of the session I’ve been working hard to try and make sure that we fight for the values that we hold so dear here.

“I was the only Senator to vote against the bill to exempt Providence Country Day School, which is a wealthy private school in East Providence that owns a lot of woods behind it, from taxation,” continued Bell. “I think it’s important that these really wealthy nonprofits not get tax exemptions on all of their non mission essential property, because that revenue is really important.

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“I was also the only one to vote against a bill that gave $42M to insurance companies who would get to make an investment and then they get more than 60 percent of the value of that investment back in tax credits from the state. It got into the budget. Although I was the only one to vote against it in the Senate, the Governor implements the program and she said that she was so concerned that this was, even for Rhode Island, really abusive, that she might not actually implement it, which could be good. In Maine there was a scandal where this program led to some investors stealing $8M rom the state.

“We also had a couple of successes. I was really happy that this year we were able to make sure that we blocked all the really terrible legislation. There was a bill for the Trump tax cuts for the rich that would implement a version of the Trump tax cuts for the rich in Rhode Island and take the tax exemption zones from the Trump tax cuts for the rich and give 20 percent of the value of any large investment, including all of downtown Providence and the CVS headquarters. It would have cost the state billions but got it pulled off the floor even though it passed the Senate Finance Committee. I was really happy about that.

“My goal this session has been damage mitigation. I think we’ve done a really good job of that. Some bad things have gotten through, but the scariest stuff that’s happened in previous years, we were able to slow down.

“Another thing I got done: I was really concerned with the tax cuts of the rich that we’ve had in the state, and one of the worst parts of it is that we have a lot of white-collar criminals, who are very well-off but they just don’t pay their taxes. A lot of times these are businesses that just pay cash under the table or things like that, but there’s a long list. The top of the list are the parents of a former Republican lawmaker and the second one is a former Republican candidate for Governor, but there’s a big list: People who owe the state millions of dollars.

“So there is a bill that’s been pushed for years, that finally moved this year, that put a 10-year limit on collecting taxes. I was able to get the bill amended, this is probably my most substantive policy win, I was able to get it amended to say that you can’t run out the clock. You can’t just say, ‘Okay, I’m not paying taxes,’ then 10 years later you’re done. As long as the state starts collecting within 10 years they can keep collecting after that,” concluded Bell. “It’s important that we not let these criminals, who refuse to pay their taxes, bilk the state for hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Below are a series of questions ask by Bell’s constituents. I’ve attempted to paraphrase the questions as best I can, though sometimes the answers are a bit free ranging.

“Do you consider Brown University a wealthy non-profit?”

“It’s a tightrope, isn’t it?”

“I followed the debate about new license plates. You voted against it. Good for you.”

“Voter approval on bonds can be very risky…”

“Ask them how much the citizens of Providence contribute in tax dollars to the state revenue, and then what the state gives us back…”

“Do you have any idea why the City is poor?”

“When taxes keep going higher and higher, who’s going to invest?”

“The building of luxury housing in Providence has been going on for 20 years. If you are a property owner, and you own a multifamily home, with the taxes and the insurance, you have to get that $12- $13- $1400 a month…”

“Taxes went up, property value came down, can you tell me why?”

“I am constantly hounded by companies that want to buy my house…”

“We have a lot of power over business regulations at the state level,” said Bell. “So if certain businesses are misbehaving, it can be easier to work through the administrative system,” rather than the legislative process….

“Why do so many laws in Rhode Island hurt the poor?”

“People don’t have a plan and a vision for how to fix things,” said Bell.

A complaint about Mayor Elorza and his travels out of state…

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

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