Valley Breeze

The North Providence Breeze 02-13-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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8 OPINION FEBRUARY 13-19, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION WPRI-TV's investiga- tive reporter, Tim White, exposed a scandal at the state's sheriff department. It seems that a dispropor- tionate number of Rhode Island sheriffs are out of work after claiming an on-the-job injury which allows them to collect their full-time salaries tax free at a cost to taxpayers of more than $2 million a year. As of last fall, 23 out of the 179 sheriffs were on injured duty status, seven of them dating back more than four years with four of them collecting a sal- ary for more than eight years and one more than 11 years and nine months (WPRI, 1/17/19). White's research also revealed that, by contrast, only three out of 226 state troopers are out on injured duty. Pause on that statis- tic. Without question the state police are in numer- ous situations that could provoke an injury. State sheriffs usually are in situ- ations with some excep- tions, which could provoke a hangnail as three of them surround a handcuffed prisoner. For years appointments to the state sheriff corps has been a plum political job. You had to "know a guy." While at least some sheriffs had law enforce- ment backgrounds it was not a prerequisite – only political ties were. Indeed, an ex-Democrat legislator was selected to be High Sheriff and his background was that he was a lawn- mower repairman. To date the 23 "injured" sheriffs have collected more than $5 million in tax-free money. That, however, is not all they cost. Court sessions are delayed because there are an insufficient number of sheriffs on duty to guard the judges. The presid- ing justice of the Superior Court acknowledged that courtrooms open on a staggered basis because of the dearth of sheriffs. Many litigants pay lawyers by the hour. When their counsel sits around wait- ing to see if a courtroom will open to hear their case, you can hear the "ca- ching" of mounting legal fees. Regular folk also take time out of work and are then required to return on another date. So how did the system get so bad? Politics, of course. Unlike law enforce- ment personnel elsewhere in the state who have to have medical doctors attest to their disability and who have a limited time of full disability before being required to convert to an accidental disability pension where two-thirds of their salary is tax free, the sheriffs have no such requirement. In effect, the "word" of the employee creates the status, without oversight. To her credit last year, Gov. Gina Raimondo tried to make the injured- on-duty status for sheriffs a temporary program. A sheriff would only be allowed out on this sta- tus for 18 months before seeking retirement with an accidental disability pension thereafter. The legislative leaders, not wanting to have their pals come in from the cold, promptly stripped this provision. The governor's spokesperson said that she will seek anew to establish this protocol. When the changes were proposed initially, some sheriffs – in anticipation of its passage – did apply for a disability pension, but the retire- ment board denied their request. That tells you something about the bona fides of their respective injuries. Yet, when Smith Hill didn't pass the gov- ernor's proposal they all went back to tax-free full salaries again! It's time to get a new sheriff 's policy. Violet is an attorney and for- mer state attorney general. 'Injured' sheriffs deal a disgrace In last week's column, I took a "swing and a miss" as I explained my position on the creeping socialism in our nation's political narrative. So let me cut to the chase this time: Yes, our country will need more revenue, and yes, "the rich" should probably pay more. A "Reagan conserva- tive" like me can find common ground with the "progressive" arguments being made today. Here's how: • I've been paying atten- tion since the 1970s. That's 40+ years, since the Carter "malaise" and "Reagan Revolution." Congress will spend, a lot. Both parties buy votes; they only have different friends. Republicans talk of spending cuts, but do nothing. Democrats increase spending, always. Neither party gives a damn about the federal bud- get. Today's good times will be followed by a bust, but nobody will save for it. Ever. • Last week, I noted that "income inequality" was spreading. It is. That's not debatable. Less money is reaching the bottom, and more is going to the top earners. As I wrote, this is made possible by the internet, which replaces workers with computer code, and an outdated tax policy that doesn't properly tax those who get rich very, very fast. I also wrote about the young men who formed Snapchat and became billionaires before the age of 25. That wasn't possible before the internet. And so, progressives right- fully ask "Is it fair for a person who quickly gains a billion dollars to pay the same taxes as the family which makes about $600,000?" This is a fair question. The answer should probably be "no." And if we are to level a middle-class play- ing field and help those left behind, we really should be finding some way to get more of that money from those who get rich very quickly. • So what does the fair- minded person do? Well, I'm no CPA, but here's what I'd do if I were king. A) In the recent tax reform, the highest marginal (37 per- cent) rate begins at $600,000 for a husband and wife. I would have placed an even higher bracket of 45 to 50 percent for truly high income earners of perhaps $3 million or more. It was discussed, but killed by Republicans. Too bad. The recent idea of 70 per- cent is far too much, as those earners (say, in New York or New Jersey) would owe another 10-15 percent in state and local income taxes. From the 15 percent left over, they still have to pay property and sales taxes. Add it all up, and let's face it: there's no reason to go to work. It is not the 1950s, where there were loopholes galore. B) Stock dividends: Many people or retirees in the middle class earn "qualified dividends" on stocks they may own, like shares in large companies listed on the stock exchange. The tax rate on that income is 15 to 20 percent, no matter how wealthy they are. This was the Mitt Romney trap: He had tons of money earning qualified dividends. Taxes on millions in dividend income were low. Is that fair? No, not really. Is there room for a higher tax rate for Mitt Romney and others like him? Yes, there is. Then there is kindly grandpa Warren Buffett. His Berkshire Hathaway pays no dividends, so no taxes for him. He admits his holding time on good com- pany stocks is "forever," so no capital gains, either. He pays himself $100,000 per year. So what he does with his billions is give them away, which is nice. He pays little in tax, and gets to choose where his bil- lions go. We don't. Is there room for improvement? There is. Jeff Bezos grew Amazon rap- idly, and plowed all his profits back into growing the firm. No profits, little or no taxes. Until recently, when profits finally exploded. Was his "free tax ride" for such a successful company fair to the rest of us? Probably not. Finally, there is the "death tax," or estate tax. I'm glad current law protects family farmers. That's noble. But is there a difference between a family having to sell a $5 mil- lion business to pay its taxes, and a couple sitting on a bil- lion dollars to give to the kids? Yes. And so a fair estate tax makes sense to me. Dividend, capital gains, and estate taxes are not on a sliding scale, with the very wealthy paying more. I don't under- stand that. They should be. So yes, I think there is com- mon ground for discussion in the years ahead. Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers Common ground on taxes From the Publisher TOM WARD Poli-Ticks ARLENE VIOLET ABOUT US The Valley Breeze Newspapers are a locally owned and operated group of free weekly newspa- pers serving the people of Cumberland, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Smithfield, Scituate, Foster, Glocester, North Providence, Pawtucket, R.I., and Blackstone, Mass. Each Thursday, 58,500+ copies are distributed to retailers, banks, offices, and restaurants and other busy spots. Circulation is audited by the Circulation Verification Council of St. Louis, Mo. and has earned its "Gold Standard Award." OUR MISSION It is the Mission of The Valley Breeze to facilitate a positive sense of community among the res- idents of Northern Rhode Island by providing a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and to provide information of local events and neighbors. It is our further Mission to provide the highest quality advertising at the lowest possible cost to retailers, professionals, tradespersons, and other service providers in order to enhance the economic well-being of our community. Thomas V. Ward, Publisher tward@valleybreeze.com James Quinn, Deputy Publisher jquinn@valleybreeze.com Ethan Shorey, Managing Editor ethan@valleybreeze.com Barbara Phinney, Controller accounting@valleybreeze.com Volume X, Number 26 February 13, 2019 valleybreeze.com @ Breeze THE VALLEY

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