Thursday, July 15, 2010

David vs. Goliath: Chafee vs. Status Quo Politics

Yesterday's New York Times had a great column on Lincoln Chafee's Herculean task of taking on the timeless political credo: get elected and stay elected at any cost. The former Republican Rhode Island senator is now running as an independent for the state's governorship and the other front-runner is current RI General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio, a Democrat. The main difference between the two is not the stereotypical Republican vs. Democrat tax stance.

Chafee is advocating eliminating a series of exemptions from the state's sales tax which would close around a quarter of the $400 million shortfall in the $7.8 billion budget. He opposes cuts to social services. Caprio, on the other hand, has stated his motto for the upcoming election, should he and Chafee find themselves in the big time: "If you want to pay more taxes, support Senator Chafee. If you don’t want to pay taxes, support me."

No one likes paying taxes, but at the same time no one likes budget shortfalls and decreased services (just ask any person unlucky enough to have to use the MTA). But, to be honest, Chafee's plan will only raise the sales tax about 1% on items like food and clothes. It sucks, but in times like these when governments don't cut social services there needs to be some added revenue.

On the other side of the coin, Frank T. Caprio wants to cut taxes by handing out tax credits for small business under the guise that it will help these businesses grow and alleviate some of Rhode Island's 12%+ unemployment rate. Additionally, Caprio wants to increase available capital for small businesses through loans, and create a state-sponsored healthcare system for small businesses and the uninsured (with a new tax credit, to boot.) Now, I'm not knocking Caprio for these ideas; most of them are pretty good. The main question is how is Rhode Island going to pay for this?

I sympathize with Caprio, because sometimes I daydream about winning the lottery and plot out all of my first purchases (a Maybach with a full time driver, a NetJets account, white tiger cubs.) The difference, though, is that I'm just playing a game with myself, not promising these things to one million people. Chafee has the testicular fortitude to stand up and deal with the most pressing issues (the budget shortfall) instead of planning what to do when the state has a balanced budget without first focusing on getting it there.

I actually read Caprio's quote about the tax situation in the Times article while laughing, because it sounded like some parts were left out. "If you want to pay more taxes [and have a chance of balancing the budget sooner], support Senator Chafee. If you don’t want to pay taxes [in order to harbor a false sense of economic security which will be shattered when I have to drastically cut services to pay for my initiatives], support me." It's a classic Reagan-Bush scenario, except it will be played out over less time because Rhode Island is not as large as the United States. Rhode Island's metaphorical boat is filling with water. Chafee's plan is to begin bailing the water out while Caprio wants to put more water in and hope the boat rights itself. The sad part? Caprio has a better chance of winning than Chafee because of this.

Photo - Lincoln Chafee, former Rhode Island senator and Supercuts model (

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