Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley wants 10% supplemental sales tax on guns

Brett Smiley

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence mayoral candidate Brett Smiley on Thursday called for a 10% supplemental sales tax on all gun and ammunition purchases to create a funding stream for anti-violence programs in Rhode Island’s urban communities.

The sales tax pitch was part of the Democrat’s eight-page public safety plan to make Providence “the safest city of its size in the country,” a goal he said he could achieve by growing the police force, reducing gang and domestic violence, and expanding treatment services for addicts and offenders.

“What makes Providence so special is our quality of life,” Smiley said during a press conference at the Silver Lake Community Center. “What brings people to our city and makes them want to stay is the quality of life here, and the recent violence has threatened that quality of life.”

Smiley, a former lobbyist and chairman of the city’s Water Supply Board who has never held public office, formally launched his campaign for mayor earlier this month. The 34-year-old East Side resident will face a primary challenge from City Council President Michael Solomon, former Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza and businessman Lorne Adrain.

The winner of the Democratic primary will square off against Republican candidate Daniel Harrop in the general election.

Smiley’s public safety plan – the first comprehensive policy proposal from any of the major candidates in the race – comes at a time when crime statistics have inched downward in Rhode Island’s capital city. A WPRI.com review of city crime data shows violent crimes such as homicides and robberies are down 2% in 2013 compared with the same point in 2012, while property crimes have remained flat.

But Smiley has said the city “hasn’t felt very safe lately” and pledged to make public safety “a top priority” if he’s elected Providence’s 38th mayor.

For his 10% supplemental sales tax on guns and ammunition, Smiley would need help from the General Assembly, which balked at passing the majority of gun control bills that were introduced in the wake of Newtown, Conn., school shooting last year.

Smiley said the state could rake in an additional $2 million annually from his plan to levy sales tax on the roughly 20,000 firearms that are purchased in Rhode Island each year. He said he’d like the funds to be dedicated to anti-violence programs such as the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence or Project Night Vision.

Smiley also proposed increasing the size of the police force, which he said has approximately 76 fewer officers on the streets than it did five years ago. He said he didn’t have an exact figure for the number of officers he’d like to hire, but indicated he would aggressively pursue additional federal funds to help grow the force.

In July, WPRI.com reported the police department had seen its federal funding slashed by 92% over the last two years, from $2.9 million during the 2010-11 fiscal year down to just $243,000 during fiscal 2012-13. Those cuts forced officials to scale back on overtime pay and funding for specialty units.

“The national pie has shrunk, but our slice of the pie has also shrunk,” Smiley said.

Smiley said he supports keeping a public safety commissioner in place, but he’s also indicated he would conduct a complete review of all city personnel before making a decision about the future of Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare and Police Chief Col. Hugh Clements.

Smiley’s proposal also includes plans to strengthen community policing, an initiative that was championed by former Police Chief Dean Esserman, who is now replicating many of his policies as chief in New Haven, Conn. Smiley said he’d like to “develop networks of social service and community supports” to address gang violence and pledged to reduce domestic violence by expanding the police department’s Special Victims Unit.

Smiley said he supports Mayor Angel Taveras’s plan to institute a one-strike rule that would automatically revoke the licenses of any adult entertainment venue where dancers are caught soliciting customers. He said he would also hire more licensing officers to better enforce city laws on the city’s bars and clubs.

“While a vibrant bar and club scene is important to our economic health, it must be balanced with the needs of the neighborhoods at large,” Smiley’s proposal states.

The Democratic primary is Sept. 9, 2014.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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