An unfortunate side-effect of our unbalanced government is our unstable budget process. Instead of reducing expenditures, our state lurches from crisis to crisis, perpetually searching for more revenue from more sources. Over the past two years, small business owners and employees across Rhode Island have had to be particularly vigilant, as it seemed each new tax proposal to emerge placed a new group of earners in the cross-hairs. This year we went after dog groomers and taxi drivers. The Providence Journal reported last week that the taxi drivers, who average approximately $24,000 in annual salary, are banding together to try for relief from the General Assembly in 2013.
What’s really sad about this story is that the legislature didn’t have to go after these particular groups of working poor to balance this budget. The entire tax could have been avoided by using just part of the money that the General Assembly Leadership sets aside for itself in the form of legislative grants. These are special disbursements used to purchase good will for individual legislators (and support pet projects such as the Institute for International Sport) in their districts.
During the Senate floor debate, I proposed a budget amendment to do exactly that, as did House Minority Leader Brian Newberry in the opposite chamber. I think it was a common sense idea that would have prevented the legislature from harming yet another group of its citizens, and it reflects a different way of thinking than those currently calling the shots on Smith Hill.
I hope the taxi-drivers and the dog-groomers are successful in getting redress next year. Real stability and prosperity for Rhode Island, however, can only come by electing more leaders with long-term vision and respect for the consequences their actions impose upon the people they represent. As you can see from the vote tally, we don't have enough yet.