Despite strong opposition from cities and towns, Gov. Dan McKee, a former mayor of Cumberland, has allowed a bill providing a tax break to solar-energy developers to become law without his signature.
The solar developers’ tax break was one of at least 112 bills – and possibly more, not yet visible online – that McKee allowed to become law without his intervention in a year in which he vetoed none.
Others in that category included a bill allowing cities and towns to seek waivers from a state law requiring all “single-user toilet(s)” in public buildings to be accessible to people of any gender, as well as a slew of local bills, including one raising the “affordable housing eligibility-standards for households” on Block Island.
When asked why Democrat McKee, who frequently portrays himself as a sympathetic advocate for cities and towns, allowed the solar developer relief bill to become law automatically on July 4th weekend, his press secretary, Alana O’Hare, said: “House Bill 8220A was passed by the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority.”
She stated that the lack of vetoes “reflects the governor’s strong collaboration with the General Assembly and [its leadership] throughout this legislative session.”
The solar developers’ bill was at the heart of Senate leaders’ eleventh-hour rescue effort on the final day of this year’s legislative session.
The quick version: On a 4-to-3 vote, the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Development defeated legislation promoted by Green Development, which is owned by a major political donor, Mark DePasquale, and Revity Energy, a former client of House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.
In response to this defeat, Senate leaders performed a loop-de-loop.
They called a vote by a different committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on the separate but identical House-passed version of the bill (H8220). Within hours, it was approved by the full Senate by a vote of 28 to 10, and then by the governor.
The lengthy tax legislation boils down to this: “The real property on which they are located shall not be reclassified, revalued, or reassessed as a result of the presence of renewable energy resources.”
According to Revity Energy representative Nicholas L. Nybo, “all assessments on real property with renewable energy resources thereon shall revert to the last assessed value immediately prior to the renewable developer acquiring an interest in the real estate.”
The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns attempted to derail it with the following argument:
According to a League spokesman, the solar developers’ bill would “create preferential tax treatment for ALL renewable energy projects and tax them differently than any other revenue-generating commercial operation,” shifting those lost revenues to other taxpayers.
Sen. Gordon Rogers led the Senate opposition to the bill. “The local municipalities are getting trampled by the laws that we’re creating up here,” said a Foster Republican who represents parts of western Rhode Island where projects abound.
“When the General Assembly establishes special treatment for one population or industry, those lost revenues are pushed to other property taxpayers,” McKee wrote in a subsequent letter urging a veto.
“The arbitrariness of certain municipalities’ tax assessment practices in relation to renewable energy developers renders these important projects less financially viable,” he said.
House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, a lawyer, has previously represented Revity in some of its previous solar projects.
Green Development also sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to support the bill. Mark DePasquale founded Green, and he and other political contributors who list Green Development as their employer have contributed more than $92,000 to Rhode Island officeholders and candidates since 2015. McKee will receive $4,300.
McKee vetoed a bill last year pushed by a single renewable-energy developer, DePasquale, that could have shifted millions of dollars in solar and wind project costs from developers to ratepayers.
McKee stated in his first veto message as governor, “This bill will have the effect of shifting millions of dollars of costs from renewable energy developers… to National Grid ratepayers.”