Who needs the government’s help more: restaurants or public schools? Which do we value more as a society? The answer to these questions is likely to play out as Rhode Island debates Gov. Chafee’s proposed increase to the meals tax.
While Tea Party activists and restauranteurs rally against the 2 percentage point increase – which, just so we are clear about the kind of increase Chafee is suggesting, would amount to four dimes on a $20 lunch or less than $2 on an $80 dinner – they are effectively lobbying against a $40 million to boon to public schools.
That’s because Chafee proposed the slight increase as a way to better fund public schools in Rhode Island.
“This is a way that the governor could accelerate the education funding formula,” said Chafee spokesperson Chris Hunsinger.”You can talk to almost any mayor who was in the municipal strategy session up here and accelerating the funding formula was one of the ways that was talked about at length that the governor can help cities and towns.”
She mentioned Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung by name.
Public school funding is one of Rhode Island’s biggest problems, as evidenced by Woonsocket’s inability to pay for its schools and the state take-over in the 1990’s of the Central Falls school district. And a recent report, as reported by RINPR, shows that graduation rates in Rhode Island are falling.
The restaurant industry, on the other hand, is one of the state’s most successful sectors. Whenever almost anyone talks about what’s right with Rhode Island its world class cuisine is almost always mentioned. Chafee told me recently that as we’ve seen unemployment skyrocket and schools, cities and towns fall into further economic morass, the local restaurant industry has stayed level.
You’ll have a hard time convincing me that people are going to stop going out for an $80 dinner because it’s going to cost $82 instead. Similarly, I think most Rhode Islanders would be happy to pay an extra quarter for a pizza if it means more money for our struggling schools.
Conversely, if the state doesn’t find a better way to fund public education, more and more of our children will be looking for jobs in restaurants rather than looking to spend money in them.