Caprio Goes Left for Primary… Harms Campaign (?)
The assumption — especially when gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio was attending every right-of-center event, shaking hands and touting his number 5 ranking on our right-of-center list — has been that he held the advantage for the general election but might not make it through the Democrat primary. Success at pulling off the dodge-left, run-center maneuver, though, depends on the manner in which it is performed, and in a sense, enabling everybody to believe that, fundamentally, you’re on their side. His Drinking Liberally performance certainly constitutes a misstep, from where I sit.
One expects a candidate to emerge a bit bloodied after primary season, but shifts in character ought to be avoided. In courting the progressives, for example, it’s several steps too far to join them in taking cheap shots at the outgoing Republican governor.
Picking an issue, back when Anchor Rising met with Caprio in his capacity as General Treasurer, last year, his response to my question about social concerns was that he wasn’t going “advocate either” abortion or same-sex marriage. Asked about the latter in a roomful of progressives, his answer was “let’s make it law.”
To clarify the treasurer’s statement, I emailed his campaign staff to ask: “Is it Mr. Caprio’s position that same-sex marriage should be made law in Rhode Island?” The answer: “Yes.”
Perhaps it’s a fine line of nuance between “I won’t stand in the way” if other people push for same-sex marriage and a stated policy that it should happen, but if so, it ought to be a step too far for those who believe that marriage is inherently a relationship between a man and a woman. With Caprio’s previous stance, one might expect that a large enough constituency could introduce the possibility of a gubernatorial veto. Now, such a veto would represent a reneged promise. Moreover, the privately opposed/publicly ambivalent evasion requires that one actually be, you know, ambivalent.
A second question that I directed to Caprio’s campaign has to do with this odd concept, from the Ed Fitzpatrick column linked above:
During a question-and-answer period, Matt Jerzyk (a lawyer and former editor of the liberal Web site RIFuture.org) told Caprio, “You have been one of the most outspoken advocates for tax breaks for the richest of the rich in Rhode Island” while “the middle class is being squeezed and squeezed” by rising health-care, tuition and housing costs.
Caprio said, “You are referencing comments I had made over a long career in public service. When times are good, we have the ability to make changes, to make our state more competitive. When times aren’t good, like we have now, we need to have targeted incentives that are going to create jobs — period — before we do any other tax changes.”
My question to the candidate, and his staff’s answer:
I’m a bit confused about whether Treasurer Caprio believes that such policies as eliminating the capital gains tax and offering a flat tax help the state’s economy and create jobs. What’s the distinction between “making our state more competitive” and offering “targeted incentives that are going to create jobs”?
Tax policy and business climate are important factors in creating jobs. While in the long term Rhode Island needs to adopt tax policies that distinguish Rhode Island from its peers, right now, in the short term, we need to focus on target incentives that help the 35-thousand small business owners to retain and create jobs. Mr. Caprio has met with and listened to over 500 small business owners , and engaged 1000 Rhode Islanders at Planforri.org . Throughout this process, he has heard that businesses are struggling with employment taxes and expenses, and that is where he remains focused on having targeted incentives for companies to retain and add additional employees.
It may take a moment to process the practical implications of this position, but in essence, Caprio is saying that creating a tax environment that would be attractive to the sorts of folks who build and invest in businesses — as well as the top talent whom they would seek to employ — is a long-term project that should be abandoned in favor of restrictive tax breaks contrived by politicians, for short-term boosts. It’s a curious suggestion. Even economic conservatives will disagree with each other about the optimal shape of tax incentives for economically productive people purchased with limited political will, but Caprio’s shift undermines the incentives he claims to desire.
Employers don’t tend to hire full-time, long-term employees for the duration of a recession (that’s why unemployment goes up), so either the tax breaks will have to be perpetual or (more likely) the business leaders will be wary of their evaporation once they’ve already committed to employees. On the other side, what could possibly be the long-term incentive for improvements to high-end income tax burden if the investments that one has made in expectation of capital gains savings or a flat-tax calculation are apt to dry up just when the economy sours and the additional resources would be most needed? And if the wealthy have less money to spend and invest when tax cuts disappear, where are businesses going to find the resources to hire more employees?
Personally, I think we ought to respond to Rhode Island’s collapsing economy by throwing every incentive conceivable at the problem. That would include, of course, erasure of mandates and adjustment of regulations, which needn’t cost the state a dime. The point is that Caprio’s own adjustments appear to depend upon political circumstances.
The last point on which I sought clarification related to education funding:
Caprio said, “You want to talk about property taxes — what we need is a fair and equitable school-funding formula.” To applause, he said, “In my first 100 days during my administration, we will pass a fair and adequate school-funding formula that will put the resources into the school districts that deserve it.”
As you can see, I got a non-answer on my follow-up:
Which districts “deserve” the larger share of the school-funding pie via a “fair and adequate school-funding formula”?
As the only state in the nation without a school funding formula, Mr. Caprio is committed to adopting and implementing a school funding formula that increases the predictability of school funding and aligns the incentives for districts to be run more efficiently.
In other words, the campaign doesn’t want to admit that they’d take tax dollars from the suburbs and transfer them to the urban districts, essentially taxing and spending without direct representation.
In summary, according to primary-season rhetoric — to which I, for one, intend to hold Mr. Caprio — moving the general treasurer to the governor’s office would put the entire state in the hands of a single party and a politically dynastic heir who isn’t willing to challenge the dangerous preconceptions of an economically illiterate population and aristocracy, and who would rubber stamp the social wish list of the left.
If that’s what we’re going to get with Caprio, I have to say that I think Chafee would at least be more fun to watch.