There were signs. There were shouts. There was tea.
About 100 protesters gathered on the south lawn of the State House yesterday afternoon to protest the proposed 2 percent increase in the state’s meal and beverage tax.
Lead by Dale Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, and restaurateur John Elkhay, the crowd marched from the State House to Waterplace Basin to dump tea into the Providence River. The scene was meant to evoke the historic Boston Tea Party when colonists threw thousands of pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor to protest British taxation.
“We’re only going to be throwing in 30 pounds,” said Elkhay. “It’s going to be covered up in a plastic bag so no animals or wildlife will be harmed. It’s a symbolic gesture to show the State House that 2 percent is too much, and that 25 percent is way too much.”
Under the proposed budget, the state’s meal and beverage tax would rise from 8 to 10 percent; a 25 percent hike that those in the hospitality sector say is too much.
“This could be the final nail in the coffin for small mom and pop places,” said Mark Garofalo of Fireworks Catering in Providence.
Garofalo said it could also hurt catering companies like Fireworks.
“Destination weddings are a huge draw,” he said, explaining that people might choose Cape Cod over Newport for their summer weddings and special occasions.
Garofalo said he was taking part in the protest to get the attention of politicians and the general public alike.
Walter Thierfelder, a retired member of the colonial militia, came dressed in full colonial garb. A former bartender, Thierfelder said his costume was intended to draw attention.
“People are walking down the street, and if I dress like this, they come up to me and ask why,” he said. “This [tax] will affect all of Rhode Island.”
As the group marched from the State House to the Waterplace Basin, bystanders joined in with the crowd’s cries of “Ten percent is too much!”
Michael Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Posterity, said the tax would only yield $35 million of the projected $95 million in additional revenue due to decreased spending. He also said the tax would cause 1,400 private sector retail jobs to be lost.
“This tax would make Rhode Island less competitive to our neighbors,” he said. “Why would we want to do anything that would worsen our standards?”
Stenhouse is in favor of eliminating the sales tax altogether.
Susan Wynne, the new Tea Party president, addressed the crowd gathered at Waterplace Basin and encouraged them to challenge their government.
“Today we suffer from taxation without competent representation,” she said. “If Governor Chafee was your CEO, you would all be unemployed.”
Wynne argued that the citizens of Rhode Island must instill a sense of fear into the government in order to achieve liberty.
“They know how Rhode Island works,” she said. “They know they’re going to get re-elected. Nothing is going to change until this cycle is broken, and we need to make that happen.”
As Elkhay and Venturini dumped the 30-pound plastic bag of tea into the Providence River at a dead low tide, the crowd cheered and yelled, “Spill the Tea!” The bag was secured to a rope so they could easily remove the parcel from the water after the protest was finished. The Department of Environmental Management approved the tea dump.