In legislative agenda, Mayor Elorza targets hotels, nonprofits for new revenue

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From raising the hotel tax to issuing more red-light camera traffic tickets, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is asking state lawmakers to approve a slew of bills that would boost the city’s coffers in the coming years.

The legislative agenda Elorza will unveil to the Providence delegation in the House and Senate during a 5 p.m. meeting at Trinity Brewhouse Monday also includes a proposed tax on certain properties owned by nonprofit hospitals and colleges, a dedicated funding stream for English language learners in schools and support for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to increase other forms of state aid to the capital city.

“Most of these bills are designed to improve the long-term financial stability of the city,” Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Elorza, told Eyewitness News. The mayor and the lawmakers are all Democrats.

The majority of the legislation Elorza is asking lawmakers to approve has already been introduced in either the House or Senate, but his aides confirmed Monday they are still hopeful a bill will be submitted in the coming months that would allow the city to profit from its water supply.

On the hotel tax, Elorza is asking the state for a 1.5% increase so that cities with hotels would receive 2.5% of revenues rather than the current 1%. The existing hotel tax already includes a 7% sales tax and a 5% statewide tax that is shared by local tourism bureaus. Reps. Joe Almeida, Aaron Regunberg, Edith Ajello, Anastasia Williams and John Lombardi introduced a version of the bill last week.

For red-light cameras, the city is asking the state to allow it to issue tickets to violators within 28 days of the incident, up from the current two-week policy.  The mayor’s aides say the additional two weeks will allow the city to process more tickets.

The city is again asking lawmakers to approve legislation that would require nonprofits to pay taxes on non-mission-essential properties. Although similar bills have been shelved in recent years, city officials say the legislation proposed last week is more focused this year, specifically identifying parking lots and vacant lots as potential targets for the tax.

Elorza is keeping a low-profile on the year’s most contentious issues: the car tax and Raimondo’s college tuition proposal.

The mayor’s legislative agenda includes support for a reduction in or elimination of the car tax, but his aides stressed the city isn’t backing a specific version of the proposal yet. While the mayor, his appointed school board, and the Providence City Council have all endorsed the governor’s plan to provide two years of free college tuition to new high school graduates, the proposal is not included in his legislative agenda.

On education, Elorza supports Raimondo’s proposal to set aside $2.5 million for English language learners (ELL). The current fiscal year’s budget included ELL funding, but lawmakers recommended revisiting the line item in the next budget. Elorza is also backing a proposal to create an early childhood innovation fund that could eventually provide funding to the city’s Providence Talks program.

The mayor is also supporting Raimondo’s proposal to give Providence an additional $3.1 million in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and about $193,000 more in distressed community funding. All told, the governor’s proposed budget gives Providence $33.2 million in PILOT funding and $5.8 million in distressed community dollars.

Not every bill Elorza wants the General Assembly to approve is directly related to city revenue.

The mayor has again asked lawmakers to approve driving privileges for people in the country illegally, although his aides acknowledged they understand House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has repeatedly said he opposes that type of legislation.

Elorza is also supporting a bill designed to close a loophole in existing state law that allows catering companies to serve alcohol after 1 a.m. The proposed legislation appears to target the city’s only after-hours nightclub, which has come under fire for using a catering company to serve booze, in part because it does not have a liquor license of its own.

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