“Doing the dance”
Lobbyist Rick McAuliffe paid a visit to the Town Council last Friday to give an update on how things are going for the town’s legislative agenda at the Rhode Island State Legislature. The town has sent three resolutions to the General Assembly: one resolution calls for the income limits for affordable housing eligibility to be increased to 140 percent of area median income; one resolution seeks enabling legislation to grant New Shoreham the ability to re-classify and re-organize the property tax structure on the island; and one resolution “postponing the Town of New Shoreham revaluation from 2021 to 2022 and to be
based on valuations as of December 31, 2022.”
McAuliffe explained to the council that there are a total of six bills introduced, one for each resolution in the Senate and one for each resolution in the House. He said that four of the six bills have already had hearings, and he expects to have hearings for the two bills for property revaluations in the next two weeks.
The hearings have gone pretty well, according to McAuliffe, as there were no objections in the House or the Senate to the tax legislation, and the Senate has scheduled its bill for a vote. McAuliffe said he expected the bill to pass and expected the House to pass its version as well.
The bills on affordable housing eligibility met with some resistance, particularly from the Rhode Island Housing Network. McAuliffe told the council he had met with the representatives from the Housing Network and that “they are coming around.” He said that the bills would have a provision added to restore the eligibility requirements to the current level of 120 percent of AMI, should Block Island’s affordable housing stock fall below the state-mandated level of ten percent. Block Island currently has 11 percent of its housing stock designated as affordable.
McAuliffe said that the legislative session usually ends June 30, with the House and Senate passing most bills in the final week of the session. He said that his job as lobbyist for the town was to get the town’s bills “out of committee and to the floor” where they could be discussed and voted on. He said then he and the bills would “do the dance,” as the House bills have to clear the Senate and the Senate bills have to clear the House, all before winding up on the governor’s desk to be signed into law. McAuliffe said the governor seemed on board with the town’s bills.
Council Member Keith Stover praised the work McAuliffe was doing, saying that “retaining a lobbyist is a long-term play.” He said the work McAuliffe was doing behind the scenes advocating on the town’s behalf, meeting with the Housing Network for instance, was “valuable.”
McAuliffe said the state was planning to make investments in housing, workforce development, and child care, and he planned to advocate for Block Island’s
share of the state money. He said he had met with the deputy secretary of commerce and housing, Josh Saal. Also known as the “Rhode Island Housing Czar”, Saal will oversee funds related to affordable housing. McAuliffe said Saal will be “flush with money” when the governor’s budget comes in, and he was already “advocating before the money Is available” for funds to be sent to Block Island. McAuliffe also said he hoped to improve the relationship of the town with the Department of Agriculture, as Block Island is a rural community, and there is “money available for rural communities.”