In series of tweets, Mattiello calls governor ‘tone deaf’ on car tax, opposes free college plan

Gov. Gina Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello speak before a press conference on the toll legislation on Jan. 28, 2016. (photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — In a series of four tweets Friday afternoon, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello called Gov. Gina Raimondo’s free college tuition plan “unsustainable” and “fiscally irresponsible,” while also criticizing her position on the state’s car tax.

“I have heard from the citizens of the state and I understand they want the burdensome car tax eliminated,” Mattiello tweeted. “The Governor is tone deaf on this issue and should start listening to the people of Rhode Island.”

Mattiello’s spokesperson Larry Berman told Eyewitness News the tweet storm was dictated to staffers by Mattiello in response to a press tour by Raimondo’s communications team “to discredit the speaker’s plan to eliminate the car tax.” Berman said he had received requests for comment from local newspapers like the Woonsocket Call and Pawtucket Times after the newspapers met with Raimondo’s team.

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Speaker Mattiello first promised to eliminate the car tax on the campaign trail, proposing to do it over the course of five years. Rhode Island cities and towns currently collect roughly $215 million in car taxes per year, so state legislators will need to figure out how to offset the costs with state dollars while balancing the budget.

Gov. Raimondo’s budget proposal does not include Mattiello’s car tax elimination plan, but does propose a 30% cut to the tax starting in 2018 by requiring municipalities to use a car’s fair trade-in value to calculate the tax bill. She also proposed a plan to provide free tuition to Rhode Island students at public colleges and universities for two years. The free college plan is estimated to cost $10 million in its first year, eventually reaching $30 million per year.

The governor’s director of communications, Mike Raia, responded to Mattiello’s tweets Friday, saying the governor’s proposal allows for both car tax relief and tuition relief for Rhode Islanders.

“Governor Raimondo is focused and determined and committed to stand for working middle class Rhode Island families. It’s why she proposed a 30% car tax cut and why she’s fighting to make college more affordable,” Raia told Eyewitness News. “The simple truth is that 75% of jobs coming to Rhode Island require a degree past high school, and less than 50% of Rhode Islanders have that. The Governor won’t rest until Rhode Islanders get those jobs. It won’t be okay if those jobs go to people in other states.”

The governor’s senior adviser David Cruise weighed in with his own series of tweets, saying the free college plan “will give at least 5K kids from the Class of 2017 the opportunity to attend CCRI, RIC or URI tuition free….that includes at least 450 in Cranston,” which is where Speaker Mattiello’s district is.