The deadline for residents to file their taxes is today, but the state's Tea Party wants Rhode Islanders to know that the battle against the tax expansion proposed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 wages on.
At the third annual Tax Day rally Friday, several hundred Tea Party supporters took to the State House steps to protest Chafee's tax plan and voice support for lower taxes and smaller government. Chafee's proposal to raise $165 million by lowering the state sales tax to 6 percent, taxing some currently exempt items at that rate and imposing a 1 percent sales tax on other exempt items was the rally's main target, with public sector unions and deficit spending also taking jabs from speakers.
"Read my lips, as George H. W. Bush said," WHJJ radio personality Helen Glover told the crowd. "There will be new taxes unless you speak out." Former President George H. W. Bush famously pledged, "Read my lips: no new taxes," at the 1988 Republican National Convention, but his failure to fulfill the pledge is widely considered a decisive factor in his 1992 reelection defeat.
Glover hosted the event, which featured an '80s-style rock band called Reagan's Edge and Revolutionary War re-enactors, who treated the crowd to musket salutes at the beginning and end of the rally. Ralliers carried signs emblazoned with "TEA'D Off," "Taxed Enough Already" and "Not a Fan of the Chafee Tax Plan." Another sign, bearing a picture of Chafee, read, "Japan was hit by a typhoon, Rhode Island was hit by a buffoon."
Speakers said Chafee's plan was dealt a setback Wednesday night when House Speaker Gordon Fox said the proposal was "unacceptable" and called the suggested 1 percent tax on items like heating oil and water "particularly offensive." But the battle to kill the tax hike completely is not over, speakers said.
"We cannot let up," said Colleen Conley, the Rhode Island Tea Party's founder and leader. "We need to keep up the pressure."
A representative of Rhode Island Salons United Against Taxing Services, a coalition of beauty service providers opposed to Chafee's proposal to extend the sales tax to previously untaxed services, also spoke.
John Robitaille, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate who lost to Chafee by less than 3 percent, did not speak at the event but told The Herald he was there to support small business owners. Though he said it was too early to announce whether he would run again in 2014, Robitaille praised the Tea Party for engaging so many people in the political process.
"Many people haven't been involved before," he said.
Gail Riddensdale, a Warwick resident whose husband recently lost his job as an engineer at a Wakefield manufacturing company, said she believes the governor and General Assembly are out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people.
"It's not the taxpayers who are at fault," Riddensdale said. "It's the people in this building right here."
A handful of counter-protesters from Brown and the liberal organizations Ocean State Action and Rhode Island Jobs with Justice were also in attendance. Tea Party supporters carried signs reading "Infiltrator" and "Not with the Tea Party" as they followed counter-protesters around the event, making them easily identifiable.
"To be honest, I'm impressed at the level of organization that they were ready for counter-protesters," said Katherine Cielinski '12, adding that she did not mind the attention, since it let people know that not everyone at the rally supported the Tea Party.
Travis Rowley '02, chairman of the Rhode Island Young Republicans, called out the counter-protesters for alleging that conservatives do not care about the state's poor. He said supporters of Rhode Island's liberal establishment have done little to improve the plight of impoverished people in places like Central Falls.
"These are the people who have been laughing at you, laughing at us for the past two years," Rowley said, pointing to the State House.
"I want the governor and the General Assembly to succeed," said John Reynolds, a Robitaille supporter and a member of the Woonsocket Taxpayer Coalition. "But if they continue to act like this, I want them to fail."