- - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A budget crisis means different things to different people. For a family, a budget crisis might mean an overdrawn checking account, an empty refrigerator, a stack of unpaid bills and a house foreclosure note on the front door.

For politicians, a “budget crisis” usually means this year’s spending increase turns out to be less than expected. Wait ‘til next year.

Making ends meet by slashing expenses isn’t how many governors deal with fiscal crisis. Why bother, when they can simply dig deeper into their constituents’ pockets?

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, wants to reward his constituents in Minnesota with a $2.1 billion tax increase. Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont, a Democrat, who has done nothing to prevent enormous property-tax increases in his state, is about to sign legislation to levy new taxes on tobacco and certain health care services. Last week, Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Democrat, wants to make an unpopular income-tax increase permanent. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, is eager to raise taxes on electronic “cigarettes.”

Perhaps no governor introduced a more irresponsible budget, or intends to pay for it in more irresponsible ways, than Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Democrat. He proposes the costliest budget in the state’s history, setting off a budget crisis, and immediately said he plans to pay for it with tax increases on bed-and-breakfast inns and e-cigarettes.

Rhode Island taxpayers will get a better understanding of just how outrageous Mr. Chafee’s budget is Wednesday when the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a Providence-based free-market think tank, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a government watchdog, will release a report with particulars of the state’s spending spree.

The publication identifies nearly $225 million in wasteful, duplicative and unnecessary state spending in the governor’s proposal.

A $1.4 million budget line item would pay for a 5,000 square-foot Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center at the University of Rhode Island. The proposal gives away $775,000 to subsidize a boat race, underwrites $43,109 in maintenance expenses for a state-owned golf course, and offers $7,500 grants to train employees at a beauty salon how to remove tattoos.

There’s no austerity in Rhode Island. Mr. Chafee is pushing to double the amount the state spends in handouts to artists, art projects and art organizations.

It’s not about inspiring the next Rembrandt or da Vinci. Last year, the state blew taxpayer cash on “human statue art,” dressing people up and having them stand very, very still for a very, very long time. The state-subsidized Rhode Island International Film Festival screened a film about a woman who stores the corpse of her dead boyfriend in the walk-in refrigerator at the grocery store where she works.

Rhode Island’s 9 percent unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. Perhaps if the state quit paying people to stand still and enabled businesses to keep more of their money there would be greater economic opportunity for everyone.

The secret of solving a budget crisis, as every thrifty family knows, is to cut out unnecessary expenses, which many state governments have in abundance.

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