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I-Team: Candidates offer no specific solution to car tax

It's a battle few taxpayers take on and even fewer win. But Jim Aubin is determined to fight back.

Aubin said he paid $1,200 for a 14-year-old BMW 740, once a luxury car, now showing its age.

The Kelley Blue Book value is about $2,700. The state of Rhode Island's value is $7,400.

What does that make him think?

"That they're ripping people off, pretty much," Aubin said.

The NBC 10 I-Team took the car tax crisis to the candidates for Rhode Island governor during Thursday's debate. But none of the candidates offered a specific solution.

"We cannot just keep taxing working people. We need to create jobs," said General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the Democratic nominee.

"We need to look at a statewide teacher contract that's funded through the income tax system," Moderate Party candidate Robert Healey said.

"Once you have those tools that can manage expenses, that's how we're going to have a serious discussion about the appropriate way to cut taxes at the local level," said Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the Republican nominee.

The I-Team used public records requests to dig through car tax appeals for the past two years.

We found 757 people appealed their cars' values in 2013 and 2014, but just 42 had their cars' values corrected.

Ninety-five percent of the time, taxpayers' appeals go nowhere.

Thereason? Rhode Island law doesn't allow the valuation commission any leeway. The law says retail value must be used, regardless of what a car is actually worth.

"People lose faith in the government they're paying to support," state Rep. Joe McNamara, D-Cranston, said.

McNamara introduced legislation to change the way cars are valued after getting the bill for his own clunker.

"It was like a 1996 Plymouth Breeze. It was probably worth around $200, but it was valued at that time at $3,000," McNamara said.

Cars valued at less than $6,000 used to be exempt from taxes, but that changed in most communities when the state cut off municipal aid.

Peder Schaefer represents Rhode Island's League of Cities and Towns, a group that's fought McNamara's bill.

He said cities and towns were left hanging by the state.

"Well, certainly. No one cared about this five years ago, when the exemption was $6,000," Schaefer said.

Schaefer said if cities and towns reduce car taxes, they'd be left with a $40 million hole to fill, so real estate taxes would rise.

"There's no zero-sum game here. Someone else is going to pay," Schaefer said.

Any long-term change would require changing Rhode Island's tax laws. That means the new governor would have to work with the General Assembly to get it done.

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