Chafee’s Aimin’ to Give It
What’s the famous H.L. Menken quotation? “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” I suspect that’s going to be the unofficial slogan of the Linc Chafee years in Rhode Island. It came to mind when the Department of Revenue found that Chafee’s plan to tax everything that moves in Rhode Island would actually increase the taxes that we pay by $121 million, rather than the $89.4 million that he’d been claiming:
The list of 93 items that are exempt from the existing 7-percent state sales tax, in addition to food, clothing and medicine, is made up of items that state lawmakers deliberately chose not to tax, among them: school meals, prosthetic devices and sales to charitable, educational and religious organizations. Also included: equipment purchased for manufacturing purposes and adaptive equipment that helps amputee veterans drive their cars. [Don’t forget heating fuel.] When asked last week whether Chafee favors taxing such items, his spokesman, Michael Trainor, said the former U.S. senator “never wavered” during the campaign from his plan to establish a 1-percent tax on exempt items, and is not wavering now.
“Certainly, in the early days of his administration, there needs to be additional revenue,” Trainor said. “He views this as a temporary extension to the exempt items that would be retired as soon as the budget situation is under control.”
And what happens when “the budget system” (along with spending) becomes more out of control? Well, the difference between items currently taxed at 7% and those to be taxed at 1% is minimal, wouldn’t you say?
The quotation came to mind, again, when Chafee dug in on his pledge to wipe away E-Verify at the state level, doubled down with an intention to bring this campaign across state borders, and offered this non sequitur, which raises serious questions about the governor-elect’s capacity for reason:
“We have a disaster of an economy. Unemployment is one of the worst in the country. We’re way worse than our neighbors, who all have the same labor laws as us,” except for the immigration order, he said. “Obviously it’s not working.”
Blaming the state’s economic woes on the fact that the state government has at least minimal controls against the hiring of illegal immigrants is nonsense on its face. Can the man who is soon to be the chief executive of our state think no more clearly than that? Even the Providence Journal editors think Chafee’s way off, on this one:
The governor-elect argued that E-Verify “simply doesn’t work” and “has proved ineffective.”
That would surprise people with much greater expertise on the subject, including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security for President Obama, whom Mr. Chafee strongly supports.
“E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that helps employers and businesses throughout the nation maintain a legal workforce,” Ms. Napolitano said this month, in announcing that the program is being expanded at the federal level to include U.S. passports and passport cards for employment verification. Thirteen states now mandate E-Verify and the number will grow. (See “Chafee understates use of E-Verify system,” news, Nov. 19.)
And even you don’t agree with Chris Plante and the National Organization of Marriage, perhaps you’ll hear echoes of Menken in the Chafee camp’s handling of Plante’s effort at least to be heard on the issue in the governor’s office:
[Dhavee spokesman Michael Trainor] also denied ever telling Plante “that the governor-elect would sit down with him.” In fact, Trainor said, his letter reflected his belief that a meeting would probably “not be productive” in light of Chafee’s “long-established position” on the issue.
But Trainor said Chafee is, in fact, open to talking with Plante one-on-one about the issue. Explaining why his own letter to Plante did not raise this possibility, Trainor said it was sent without the governor-elect’s knowledge, amid “literally hundreds of requests for meetings.”
“But now that Mr. Plante has decided to make a public issue of this, Lincoln Chafee is more than willing to have him in and to have a conversation.”
It’s just basic politics to make some effort to allow the opposition to feel as if it has had input, thereby defusing some of the bitterness from the debate. Governor Carcieri, for one, met with advocates for same-sex marriage even though his stand was at least as strong in the opposite direction as Chafee’s.
The frightening theme that recurs with every article concerning the soon-to-be governor of Rhode Island is that the people of the state are going to have to look to the General Assembly for balance and reason while Chafee’s in the executive seat. Those who believe that the healthiest outcome for Rhode Island would be a hastening of its demise (and therefore, its recovery) may soon get their wish.