How many times have you witnessed an individual standing at a street corner or waiting at a traffic light requesting a cash handout? Did you decide to give that individual a few dollars? Did you decide for whatever reason to ignore that request and continue or your way?
The General Assembly recently passed a new law signed by the governor a few weeks ago that will require each gas and electric customer to pay a nominal surcharge on their bills of about $20 a year. The purpose is to create a program that will assist low-income Rhode Islanders pay what they can afford to prevent utility shutoffs. Advocates claim more and more Rhode Islanders are in need of this kind of help. The new tax will generate approximately $7.5 million to supplement the millions available in the federally funded low-income energy assistance programs.
Frankly I have a problem with the government mandating more and more programs without addressing other reforms that would do more to help low-income people then making them dependent on government intervention.
If you decide not to give money to that person soliciting on the street corner does that mean you are uncaring with no compassion for the needy? Of course not. My point is that we all should have the freedom to determine who to help and what institutions to support based on our beliefs and our ability to be charitable. I chose to contribute to my neighborhood church, Catholic Charities, Easter Seals, the American Cancer Society and many other worthwhile causes not only with money but also with food, clothing and by volunteering my time.
Throughout the state many homeowners, especially the elderly are struggling to stay in their homes. Living on fixed incomes, every new tax diminishes their disposable income and moves them closer and closer to losing their home.
Some claim that $20 per year isn’t even noticeable by most. They may be right, but the cumulative effect of ten similar programs soon turns that $20 into a $200 tax. On top of that there seems to be new regulations or fees imposed each year on individuals and businesses. Going to the beach for example just doubled a few weeks ago.
Government spending is out of control at all levels requiring more and more tax dollars each year and at the federal level we still can’t balance the budget.
Rhode Island, being labeled the worst state to do business in the country, is not going to help promote job expansion. The General Assembly, Governor Chafee and city and town leaders can do so much more to help the needy by cutting government spending and making state and local government more efficient.
How can government leaders advocate for the needy on one hand, when on the other hand they allow one of the most regressive taxes on the poor? Eliminating the motor vehicle tax exemption on the first $6,000 of value has resulted in higher property taxes on older modeled vehicles that are owned primarily by lower income individuals.
Proposing reforms to state and municipal pension and public sector employee healthcare benefits would save hundred of millions of dollars in future tax dollars. Consolidating redundant programs across city and towns would also reduce costs. These are just a few significant steps to develop a competitive tax structure that will expand private-sector business opportunities across the state and thereby helping get many more people back to work.
American’s are the most generous people in the world. Every year our tax dollars support people not only in the United States but also throughout the world. When a disaster occurs, Americans are one of the first people to respond with million of dollars in contributions straight from our pockets. We don’t need new government programs to tell us how to donate our money, food, clothing and time.
Robert Cushman (Cushmanr@cox.net) is a former Warwick City Councilman and former school committee Chairman.