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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) They'll never run out of things to tax

June 19, 2011

You’ve gotta love the General Assembly.
Last year they said they balanced the budget without raising taxes. But you got whacked with a big tax bill for your car that was either the first one you had seen in years, or that was much larger than in previous years.
This year they said they balanced the budget without raising many taxes, except for a few items added to the sales tax.
But, thanks to this budget, by 2016 the price to register your car will go up from $60 to $90 and the price for a driver’s license will go from $30 to $60. And thanks to action already taken by the Chafee administration, if you drive to the beach, the cost to park your car is about to double.
I’d hate to see what would happen if they really did decide to raise taxes.
The General Assembly and the federal government both claim they have been avoiding raising taxes for years now, but have you looked at your telephone or cable bill lately? Taxes and government fees now make up a significant portion of the total.
During the recent budget discussions, I was reminded of the old Beatles ditty “Taxman”:
“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street” (Chafee still wants to put tolls on the Interstates)
“If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat” (Chafee wanted to tax movie and concert tickets)
“If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat” (Chafee wanted a tax on home heating oil)
“If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet” (A tax on shoes was part of the governor’s plan, too)
A little bit later, there was a line that said:
“So my advice to those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes” (Caskets and burial clothes were also on the Chafee tax list).
So I guess things could be worse. At least the General Assembly isn’t going along with any of that stuff. But don’t think for a minute that some or all of those proposals won’t be back next year, or the year after.
If the governor and the General Assembly really have to increase revenue, they should be honest about it and raise a broad-based, progressive tax like the income tax, rather than nickel and dime us all to death with hikes that hit the poor and middle class the hardest. The best and cheapest entertainment middle-class and low-income Rhode Island families had around here in the summer was to take the kids for a day at the beach. Now some folks are going to have to save up if they want to do that. If you have no choice but to buy a junker car for $500 or $600, soon you are going to have to pony up another $90 just to register it. If your kid starts coughing and his nose is running, you will now be paying taxes on cough syrup and cold pills. An insignificant cost for the well-to-do, but for a low-income family with three kids who are going to pass the bug from one to the other, it represents a pinch on an already tight budget.
Anyone in government who still believes that raising the income tax, especially on the highest incomes, is “punishing job creators” should be put in a straitjacket and shipped off to the Institute for the Terminally Thickheaded.
Governor Chafee thought that when a lot of people didn’t show up to a Chamber of Commerce event it meant that businesspeople had become comfortable with his sales tax plan. That wasn’t it. What happened is the businesspeople eventually shut up once people started figuring out that the thing to do if those new sales taxes were so objectionable would be to raise the income tax. Can’t have that, can we?

On spicy chicken wings
As I watched the GOP Presidential debate on CNN last week, I kept thinking that CNN's John King should call Channel 12's Tim White and get some pointers on running a candidates' forum.
Besides the fact that the candidates seemed to go out of their way to be vanilla and dull (the LAST thing a candidate, especially a little-known candidate, wants to be at this point in the race; now is the time for the longshot hopefuls to break from the pack and make themselves known for something) but the whole format was a hopeless mess.
King would ask a question and — literally — within five seconds he was interrupting with an "um" or an "uh" or to prompt "quickly."
John, if you have a date or you have to be somewhere, give the microphone to someone else. King kept urging the candidates to restrict their answers to "30 seconds" or "a couple of sentences."
What serious person can limit his response on an important issue like the economy, Social Security, Afghanistan or the proper role of government to 30 seconds or a couple of sentences?
And we wonder why our political discourse is being dumbed-down!
The whole idea behind rushing the answers was to get more questions in, especially the stupid ratings gimmick of soliciting questions from people in the studio audience or watching at remote locations. What is wrong with professional journalists who know the issues and background, and are used to asking questions to make it difficult for the politicians to evade, asking the questions? That is their role. The role of the viewer is to watch and the role of the reader is to read? What is this silly fetish with audience participation and taking questions from Twitter?
People picked on King asking soft questions going in and out of commercials. I didn’t mind that, it actually can be illuminating about the character of the office-seeker to see them answer a question they couldn’t prepare for. At candidate debates in which I have asked questions, I asked candidates what their favorite TV show is, what is the last book they read, or what they would do to make life more fun for the people they are looking to represent.
But King asked dumb questions. Who cares if Herman Cain the pizza guy likes deep dish or thin crust? What does that tell us? On the other hand, even a dumb question can occasionally give us a peek into the psyche of a candidate. For instance, I obviously have no way to really know this one way or the other, but I would bet a paycheck that Mitt Romney was lying when he said he prefers spicy wings over mild. He was just afraid he would be painted as too bland if told people he likes mild chicken wings. I will go to my grave believing he lied on that one.

On idiot columnists
At the beginning of every presidential election season, some idiot columnist tries to make a case that this is the year an independent or third-party candidate could break out and, if not win, at least be a major factor in the race.
Well, let’s get the 2012 presidential race under way.
I think Mitt Romney should seriously consider running as an Independent.
I truly believe that, under the right circumstances, Mitt Romney could be elected President of the United States. But I believe he can not and will not be elected as presidential nominee of the Republican Party.
Thirty or 40 years ago, he would have been a shoo-in as Republican nominee. They wouldn’t have even bothered to run primaries. The GOP convention would have nominated Romney by acclamation. He looks like the kind of guy the Republicans nominated back then, and he walks and talks like one, too.
Not anymore. Not since first the Moral Majority and now the Tea Party started dominating Republican politics. He doesn’t have a prayer (pun on his Mormonism intended).
If the Republicans are hell-bent on nominating a right-wing “social conservative,” and they are, Romney is wasting his time and money trying to appeal to them.
After last week’s debate, people are saying Rep. Michelle Bachmann has a shot at the nomination. Analysts are also pumping up Texas Gov. Rick Perry, if you can believe that. Two years ago, Perry was promoting the idea of Texas seceding from the union. Now he wants to run for president? And let’s not even discuss Newt Gingrich. Romney has no chance running with that pack of yahoos.
He’s got millions of his own money and the ability to raise much, much more. He can make the appeal to the sane wing of the Republican Party to back him. He can woo Democrats who have come to the conclusion that President Obama isn’t getting it done on the economy, and middle-of-the-road Independents are his real base.
He would have to flip-flop yet again to the positions he actually believes on social issues such as abortion, not the knee-jerk, right-wing stands he switched to in his futile attempt to appeal to the GOP right. But the people he would be talking to would forgive him for that, where Republicans never believed he really switched in the first place and resented him for trying.
If Romney really wants to reach the White House, he should take a shot at doing it on his own. Because he will never get there from the Republican Party.

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