2014-10-30 / News

Newcomer to oppose 22-year incumbent

By Ken Shane

Political neophyte Mike Smith is challenging Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed for her Rhode Island Senate seat in the November election. Paiva Weed represents District 13, which includes Jamestown and Newport. Smith is a small business owner from Newport.

Ballot Question 3 on Nov. 4 is a referendum asking voters to decide whether there should be a constitutional convention. Supporters suggest that topics could include education, powers of the Ethics Commission, and whether to give the governor veto power on line items. Opponents say the last convention in 1986 was dominated by special interests, and fear that a convention could turn back the clock on human rights.

While Democrat Paiva Weed supports placing the referendum on the ballot, she is opposed to holding a convention. She is concerned there would be an influx of money from special interest groups that want to influence the convention. If those efforts were successful, certain issues would be reconsidered legislatively, and many would revolve around civil rights and liberties, she said.

Smith, a Republican, said that he would support a constitutional convention. He cited the current ballot initiative that proposes expanded gambling at Newport Grand. Initially, there were two ballot questions, one for the entire state and one just on Newport ballots. In order for the referendum to pass, it needed support at both levels. This summer, however, the two questions were combined on the state ballot. (Although the legislature says the Newport voters will be counted separately, opponents point out that a portion of the electorate doesn’t vote on statewide issues, only local ones.)

That would be a good topic of discussion at a convention, he said.

“We need to make sure that we’re adhering to the constitution,” Smith said. “Right now I feel that there is some confusion about what the constitution is saying about ballot issues.”

Warren lawmakers Rep. Jan Malik and Sen. Walter Felag have introduced bills in the General Assembly calling for a reduction in the sales tax from 7 percent to 3 percent. The reduction would cost the state $467 million. Another bill proposes a reduction to 6 percent, while completely eliminating sales tax on heating oil. That would result in a revenue loss of $99 million.

Paiva Weed said she supports ongoing efforts to reduce the sales tax. She pointed to federal efforts under consideration that would charge a sales tax on Internet transactions. If the federal legislation were approved, it would help offset revenue losses incurred by a local tax cut.

“Internet sales compete unfairly with our taxpaying brick-andmortar businesses,” Paiva Weed said. “Local small businesses pay taxes, they employ individuals, and they invest in our economy. They are at a disadvantage in competing with Internet sales.”

Even in the absence of federal legislation, Paiva Weed said she “unequivocally” favors a tax cut to a level that can compete with Massachusetts, which has a 6.25 percent sales tax. She’s led efforts to eliminate the sales tax on artwork, boats, beer and wine in the

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