Chafee's budget is a blueprint for voters

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Governor Lincoln Chafee has submitted his first budget proposal. WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay discusses what his taxing and spending plan means for the new governor and for his critics.

A governor's first budget provides the blueprint to what voters can expect from an administration. That's because the important message in this budget isn't the numbers. It's in the policies represented by the governor's choices.

In Chafee's case this is clear. He has presented Rhode Islanders with a pragmatic, moderate taxing and spending plan that plugs a yawning deficit makes long-needed investments in public education and makes our tax policies more competitive with our New England neighbors, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Yes, Chafee is proposing an increase in sales taxes by extending that tax to items that have long been exempt. And he wants to drop the top rate from the current 7 percent; New England's highest, to 6 percent, slightly below the Massachusetts rate.

Other major provisions of Chafee's plan include making state employees and teachers pay more for their pensions, cutting what the state pays private lawyers and reducing payments to some health and human services providers.

As is ever the case, Chafee has met with criticism from some of the businesses to be taxed and from politicians in his former party, the Republicans. Republican House leader Robert Watson of East Greenwich slammed the sales tax hikes and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, a conservative group, claims the governor is making a ``taxing attack on the middle class.''

Owners of dry cleaning shops, movie theaters and other businesses that don't pay these taxes now are upset. They will all have their day in the General Assembly where this tax plan is full-employment for lobbyists. Each special interest will have the opportunity to hire a guy who knows a guy to fight the new levies.

So some businesses are miffed and so are elements of organized labor. The state employee and teacher unions are not happy that they will have to contribute more toward their pensions. But the taxpayers are no in a position to solve the state's pensioning mess, so the future beneficiaries have to ante up.

Chafee's budget makes no one happy. But it does give legislators cover to vote for more state revenue. And at least our new governor told us during his campaign what we could expect. He said he would raise the sales to support education and state services. The two other candidates who had a chance at being governor, Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican John Robitaille had no such plan. Both Caprio and Robitaille spoke in campaign season clich s, with few details about where they would cut state programs or raise revenue.

Now, Chafee is being bombarded again by the naysayers. But what are they offering in response? The next time some politician blasts Chafee's budget, ask where is their specific taxing and spending program?

In an election, you can't beat somebody with nobody. And at the General Assembly you can't beat back a plan with little more than carping by the practitioners of the perennial campaign.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you.