Travis Rowley: Democrats Want to Return to Failed Policies of the Past

Saturday, March 17, 2012


In an attempt to socialize the burden of high local property taxes, progressive Democrats are currently proposing an increase to the income tax rate for Rhode Islanders who may take home over $250,000 in a given year. Proponents of this tax hike claim that it would “recover $188 million in revenue,” and would “help lower and middle-income Rhode Islanders” by increasing the “funding to struggling cities and towns” – which would “lower property taxes on hard-working, less-fortunate Rhode Islanders.”

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Supporting the efforts of Rep. Scott Guthrie (D), Rep. Maria Cimini (D), and Sen. Joshua Miller (D) is Jeffrey Thompson of the Political Economy Research Institute, who argues, “Wealthy households have reaped vast benefits from state and federal tax codes for decades now, and to look to them now for much-needed revenue is sound policy.” And Democratic Mayor of Pawtucket Don Grebien states, “We can’t keep strangling lower and middle-income Rhode Islanders with more and more property taxes while we continue to give tax breaks to those who need them the least.”

Democrats never learn. They still want to force Rhode Islanders to pay other people’s property taxes.

How We Got Here

Progressives remain under the delusion that Rhode Island’s high property taxes were suddenly caused by simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting state aid for cities and towns. But even when the state was savaging its wealthiest citizens with a 9.9% income tax, the state’s property taxes were among the highest in the country. In fact, it was many years ago that the General Assembly felt compelled to enact the state property-tax cap.

At the outset of former Republican Governor Don Carcieri’s first term it had already become evident that years of Democratic policies – including a heavy progressive income tax – had taken their toll on Rhode Island. Workers were suffering from a horrid business environment that extended statewide. Even with an income tax rate of 9.9% being imposed on the “wealthy,” tax revenues were plummeting while government expenditures were rising. One-time gimmicks were being used to balance the state budget. Former House Speaker Bill Murphy (D) was once forced to admit, “Over several of our budgets, it seems that we’ve been able to pull a rabbit out of a hat.” And Governing Magazine would soon report that “auditors haven’t issued Rhode Island’s financial reports a clean bill of health in more than 30 years.”

The progressive course was no longer sustainable. The jig was up. Among other things, the state’s anti-business tax code had to go. With Connecticut and Massachusetts offering significantly lower rates, even the Democratic leadership realized that an income tax cut would have to be the first baby-step toward a better Rhode Island.

Continuing to be challenged with annual budget shortfalls while attempting to become more competitive with neighboring states, “state aid to cities and towns” – one of the largest items in the state budget – would naturally be considered for cuts. And when state aid finally did land on the chopping blocks, Carcieri responsibly asked the Democratic General Assembly to free cities and towns of the unfunded mandates that had always endangered their own financial condition.

Time and time again, Carcieri insisted that municipalities be given the “tools” and “flexibility” they needed to balance their own budgets. The state was tightening its belt. Carcieri thought the cities and towns should be allowed to do the same.

Democrats resisted. And municipalities were forced to raise your property taxes.

It's time for every concerned citizen to investigate exactly why Smith Hill Democrats refuse to allow municipalities to govern themselves. The corrupt union autocracy they'd discover would be more than enough to offend even the most politically detached Rhode Islander.

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Why Can’t Progressives Learn?

Progressives are fond of ridiculing the incremental tax cuts that began in 2006 by pointing to Rhode Island’s sluggish economy. United Food and Commercial Workers Secretary/Treasurer Jim Riley said, “When the General Assembly enacted the alternative flat tax option in 2006, they said it was going to help create jobs and stimulate our economy…But where are the jobs? Six years later, unemployment is still high, important services have been slashed and property taxes are disproportionately hurting lower and middle class Rhode Islanders. And the wealthy got wealthier. This tax policy has been a miserable failure for the vast majority of hard-working Rhode Islanders. It’s time to try a new direction.”

Of course, by “new direction,” Riley really means “old direction.” To steal a Democratic phrase, progressives want to “return to the failed policies of the past.” And they want to do so by sucking another $118 million out of Rhode Island’s private sector – a surefire method of further destroying the state’s business climate.

Leaving aside Riley’s convenient omission of a deep recession spawned by reckless housing policy, Riley’s irreverence for relief for Rhode Islanders who were being unduly over-taxed for years perfectly demonstrates Democrats’ tyrannical temperament and their lack of economic imagination. If Democrats aren’t taking other people’s money in order to spend it how they see fit, they can’t fathom a scenario where the rightful owners of that wealth would do anything that might be of any societal or economic benefit – like, say, start a business.

What makes Democrats so certain that, without the 2006 income tax cuts, Rhode Island’s economy wouldn’t have eroded even faster than it did? Don’t they know that states with much more conservative tax codes are faring much better than Rhode Island?

If Democrats can’t see it – if Democrats can’t control it – then Democrats don’t trust it. The “tax and spend” process is something tangible that progressives can witness, manage, and manipulate. But the free market, well, that’s just too much freedom for the peasants to handle.

Rhode Island is dealing with an entire party of simple-minded elitists armed with a naïve faith in themselves to run your life better than you can.

And they’re going to go get someone else’s money to help them do it.

Travis Rowley ( is the chairman of the RI Young Republicans and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.


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