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Peter Lord
By Peter Lord March 16, 2011

Chafee’s budget increases taxes but doesn’t address mandates

Lincoln D. Chafee could not have been more clear on one issue he raised during his campaign for governor. He said he would oppose making any changes to state taxes without first reforming state spending, in particular state mandates requiring communities to spend their tax dollars to meet certain state standards.

He made the pledge in interviews with reporters and, more specifically, in a "Budget Deficit” position paper on his campaign website:

"Chafee wants to again point out that he will oppose any increases to our taxes without first reforming our spending, particularly the costly, and unfunded mandates on cities and towns. After we work to address the mandates, and cut government spending, then he suggests we review the idea of a two-tier sales tax if needed to close the budget gap.”

Chafee did not state what mandates he wanted to address, but municipal officials have complained repeatedly about such things as requirements that they hire monitors for school buses that carry elementary students and that school nurses be certified teachers.

On March 8, he delivered his first state budget, a $7.6-billion tax and spending plan. It included numerous new taxes in a proposed two-tier sales tax. Many formerly exempt items and services, such as hair cuts, clothing and drinking water, would be taxed, either at 1 percent or 6 percent, if the General Assembly approves the plan.

Overall, the proposed budget is about $450 million less than the current budget, but it requires more than $200 million extra in state spending - largely due to reductions in federal stimulus grants.

It also includes about $60 million in cuts from health and human services spending and $20 million more from other parts of state government. But it did not address mandates.

When asked why Chafee proposed tax increases without addressing mandates, his spokesman, Christian Vareika said: "We believe that this question is really about timing.” He said the new taxes were necessary to "get Rhode Island"s fiscal house in order,” while cuts and reforming and reorganizing government will take longer.

"It takes more than 70 days to develop a thoughtful, prudent approach to reform, and we believe that while the governor has made significant strides in cutting spending and reforming evaluation of services, to judge this promise at this point would be premature.”

But it was the governor himself who set the order of priorities when he released his position paper.

Chafee said he would reform spending and mandates and he would oppose new taxes until those tasks were completed. So by his own measure, we judge this Promise Broken.

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