Don Botts: The Decline of Rhode Island On a Personal Level
I’m not sure if everyone is feeling the same way I am about the budget Governor Chafee introduced to the General Assembly a few weeks go. Besides talk radio, the reaction has been muted. And even more maddening are the people that don’t mind the new taxes (like Ernie the Barber) or say “eh, what else can we do?”
Since the recession hit RI in 2007, more and more costs have fallen on us, the middle class. From my personal experience, one example I can give is the Cranston East Band. When I attended Warwick Vets back in 1988, where I made a cameo in band and sang in the chorus, there was zero cost to join. Today, that isn’t the case. Many of you have seen me rail against the Cranston School Committee for the poor choices they have made over the years. As a result of their ineptitude of the past and present, it costs about $300 for my son to participate in the band. Besides that, in order to keep the band operating, the parents and alumni also work concessions at Gillette Stadium. The band keeps cut of the sales and all of the tips. But keep in mind, this is for operating costs that in the past were part of the school budget and not extras such as traveling to perform at Disney or new uniforms. There was also an additional cost for my son to play in the Cranston East Winter Percussion group.
Furthermore, one of my daughters takes violin lessons after school. But last year, elementary music was cut from the school curriculum. Kerri Kelleher and the BASICS group stepped up to the plate and created an after school music program. But in order to participate, the cost was $70.
Taxes go up, services go down, and we are left with more costs and fees.
What led me to write this piece is both of these groups tried to fundraise recently. Both had similar ideas. BASICS and the CHSE Alumni were going to have dinners, one at $25 per ticket; the other at $50 per ticket. But generally, the people that attend these functions are the same people already involved with the programs. Therefore, the fundraisers actually take more money out of our own pockets ($50/couple for one, $100/couple for another). Both of these functions were canceled. I believe the reason is we cannot afford it any longer.
There is only a finite amount of disposable income for every family. Some examples of where my disposable income is spent: $125 for baseball for my son, $120 on softball for my two daughters, $130 on soccer for my two daughters. By the way, that was all in March. My oil bill for the last delivery was $700. I owe on the car excise tax, which was raised last year. Tickets for the father/daughter dance was $48, plus dresses. Gasoline has gone up $.50 per gallon since last year. And while I received refunds on my Federal and Massachusetts income tax returns, in Rhode Island, I have to pay.
Now Governor Chafee wants to further erode whatever disposable income we have left. Taxes on services, taxing heating oil, doubling beach fees (which was very affordable, but if passed, not so much). But can’t you see that not only will this hurt us economically, but also on a civic/social level? Between his $165 million in new taxes and the pension systems taking a bigger piece of the budget pie on a yearly basis (which eventually falls on us due to budget constraints), there will be nothing left to donate to activities like the band, BASICS, Boy or Girl Scouts, sports organizations, etc.
The scary part of Governor Chafee’s budget proposal is the fact that I consider it DOA (in deficit on arrival). There are no true cuts in the budget to go along with one of the largest tax increases in state history. And the Governor himself has admitted that his budget actually grows what was a $290 million deficit to $330 million. And looking out over five years, each subsequent budget is in a larger deficit, ending with year five at $450 million. Given his philosophy to tax and ask questions later, the new one percent tax will surely have to grow to four or five percent. His one percent tax is a Trojan horse to take even more of your money down the road.
Anyone that reads this needs to rise up and fight the Governor’s plan. Why should the conversation always be about raising revenue through taxes and never about cutting our bloated state budget? We can no longer afford generous Health and Human Service programs that cause annual structural deficits. These structural deficits existed long before the recession hit, but were hidden by one time fixes (i.e. bonding out the tobacco money settlement) and, as former Speaker Murphy put it, pulling rabbits out of hats.
Write your state representative and state senator. Write the representatives on the House Finance Committee. Tell them to gut the Governors budget proposal and start from scratch.
Everyone is fighting for that finite amount of disposable money that is out there. But if Governor Chafee’s plan is passed, the fight is over because government wins. And our civic organizations, our economy, and we, the middle class, will lose.
Don Botts is a former candidate for Cranston’s 16th House District who works in Massachusetts, volunteers for his community and is a husband, father and average Rhode Island tax-payer.