Earlier this month Gov. Linc Chafee made it clear on WPRI’s “Newsmakers” that he plans to run for re-election in 2014. He said that he wasn’t decided about whether he’d run as a Democrat. If he does, he’ll end up “pulling a Mayor Vincent Cianci,” i.e. running as a Republican, Independent and a Democrat! For sure, however, it is too soon for him to elect any party moniker. He’d had to run the numbers on his success given a specific field of candidates.
Mr. Chafee wasted no time touting his “fiscal management” skills by presenting a budget that had no new taxes. This was an abandonment of his attempt last year to extend the sales tax to many items heretofore not taxed. He credited his appointment of directors of various agencies who followed his instructions to keep a ceiling on added expenses.
Asked by Channel 12’s Tim White whether EngageRI, a pension reform advocate group, was correct when it attributed the state’s healthy finances to the pension reform, he acknowledged that reform had something to do with it. He couldn’t resist taking a sideswipe of General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a possible challenger for his seat, by segueing into her reluctance to mediate the lawsuit in state court. Time will tell whether he or she is right on this matter since there is a substantial issue as to whether a court can order the General Assembly to take any action. I think not.
Flush with extra cash, the governor proposed giving tax relief, albeit modest, to city and towns. In a carrot-and-stick approach, he also extended some money to any municipality that took steps to correct its pension contributions by making payments consistent with the its pension needs. He scores both with taxpayers and unions with these items. Citing some $34 million it takes to perform upkeep on the state’s four bridges, the governor opined that a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge was inevitable.
Certainly, the governor has a story to tell. Although there are only modest gains, the recovery has been tough in Rhode Island. Mr. Chafee lauded the reduction of the unemployment rate to 10.2 percent but it still is the second highest in the nation. Espousing a goal of reaching the national average, his assertion was quixotic since the United States rate is about 6.7 percent and analysts have projected that the state wouldn’t near that goal until 2016 or 2017. His new transparency project, whereby citizens can find out public information online, is also a step in the right direction. New jobs at Electric Boat also will help him in his bid.
The most important thing for the governor to do is to continue his narrative of economic growth. He has a tendency to get sidetracked on emotional issues like the “holiday tree” and the death penalty. While he may feel very strongly about them, he spends far too much time rhapsodizing. A simple suggestion, for example, that the Catholic organization The Knights of Columbus might erect the Christmas tree, would have bulletproofed it as the private installation of the menorah did a few days later.
The governor is starting early on his re-election campaign. He probably will have a lot of company the next time around in this quest. He is smart to start now.