R.I. Senate passes marriage tax

Last week, the Senate judiciary committee approved a bill to add a $46 surcharge on the current $24 marriage license fee. The first $2 will go to the city or town clerk who issues the license; while the other $44 will go to the Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence. What are they thinking?
Nobody will refrain from getting married because of the increase, but there’s something undignified about linking the cost of marriage to domestic violence. To be sure, there are violence issues when domestic bliss takes a turn for the worse, but there are many cases of unmarried people who engage in fisticuffs as well. In effect, the people trying to make the commitment to marriage have to pay for a program for those violent offenders who don’t. Should we then have a surcharge on the taxes for married couples to cover divorce  court, since they are the only people who might need it?
Furthermore, why is a specific program becoming the beneficiary of the de facto “tax”? The Rhode Island Coalition against Domestic Violence, not a state agency, does good work. If worthy, it should be funded by general revenue. It is poor public policy to fund a specific program with dedicated funds. Its funding should be constant. Recently, it had $100,000 restored by the General Assembly for its court advocacy program. Just like other agencies, the budget for the organization should be part of annual reviews of its efficacy, not  automatic funding.
What’s next if this becomes a trend? Should a surcharge on fishing licenses underwrite a non-profit agency to insure that fish taken from the waters aren’t too small? Should automobile taxes be diverted to an agency charged with monitoring speeding on the roads since accidents can kill? How about a portion of driver license fees going to a non-profit agency who wants to watch for people texting while driving?
Laudable tasks should be done by government agencies or funded through the budget for the activities delegated to non-profits. Having one class of people pay for a program is discriminatory and dumb.
Apparently, this legislation passed as a result of a half-dozen people who testified, plus letters from the mayors of Warwick, Pawtucket, and Johnston. For the effort of writing such a missive they and other towns will get $2 per marriage in the municipality coffers at a projected $9000 annual revenue increase. They sure came cheap!
The full Senate must first pass the legislation. If it does, then the House of Representatives will take up the bill. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the legislation hasn’t gone anywhere. If it has, the Governor should veto it.
Earmarking a single agency as a recipient of a hike in a fee is a poor practice to fund non-profits and will, no doubt, be followed by a bevy of special interest fee hikes for the benefit of other non-profits who also do laudable works. This approach to funding should tank.


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