Chafee's message emerging in the run-up to 2014

Jan 17, 2013

Chafee delivering his State of the State address.
Credit Ian Donnis

Glimmers of Lincoln Chafee's campaign message for 2014 are starting to emerge as part of the media offensive in support his latest budget.

As Rhode Island's unemployment rate shows some modest improvement, Chafee is taking credit for steering the state in the right direction. And though different groups and individuals began clamoring last year for a more robust effort to improve Rhode Island's economy, the governor insists he's been working at it all along.

"You can't say there's not a sense of urgency with this administration," Chafee insisted during a taping Thursday of RIPR's Bonus Q+A. "I've heard that accusation. It's just completely false."

"You can't say that because of my style, which is very deliberative and methodical, that there wasn't a sense of urgency, and now that style is paying off. We're building the economy the right way, with the right investments. We're not panicking, which we saw the previous governor do with just an ill-thought out plan to attract jobs with the 38 Studios deal. It was sure panic, and we'll never do that in this administration."

Get used to hearing that: "We're building the economy the right way."

And prepare for more variations on the new version of the old fable of the tortoise (Chafee) who compares favorably with the hare (former governor Don Carcieri).

During a taping of RIPR's Political Roundtable, Chafee bristled when asked if he took his new budget in a different direction (with no new taxes) because of how his previous proposals for new taxes attracted negative reactions. Chafee insisted his philosophy has remained consistent, with an emphasis on education, infrastructure, and aiding cities and towns.

When Chafee narrowly won the governor's office amid a bad economy in 2010, time was on his side in allowing a few years for improvement.

Now, we're in spitting distance of 2014, and the lift from a better national economy is trickling toward Rhode Island.

Not coincidentally, Chafee was able to offer a more congenial budget thanks to a bigger than expected surplus, better than expected revenues, and budget savings from the pension overhaul engineered by one of his expected Democratic rivals, Gina Raimondo. (EngageRI put out a statement Thursday afternoon, saying the pension savings for FY2014 were about $250 million and made possible Chafee's proposed investment and tax cut initiatives.)

Chafee won't rule out the possibility of taking a job in the Obama administration, although he says he's pursuing plans to seek re-election.

During a background briefing Wednesday at the state Administration building across from the Statehouse, Administration director Richard Licht initially reacted with mock shock when asked what role politics played in the development of the governor's latest budget. He then described the spending plan as in line with the governor's priorities. Whether the budget amounts to good politics, Licht said, will be decided by Rhode Islanders.

Later that evening, as part of his State of the State address, Chafee riffed on a favored quote among some politicos: "Don't tell me what you value; show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value." (I initially attributed this quote to Vice-President Joe Biden, but it has been uttered by many others.)

Chafee has a history of supporting budget components like transportation and infrastructure. Yet his spending plan tells us also that he values his political future.