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RI tax hike critics hold eco-friendly Tea Party

RI restaurateurs dump tea in river _ and then remove it _ to protest proposed meals tax hike By The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) ' It's not the natural environment but the anti-business environment that Rhode Island restaurant owners say they protest.

So when a hundred people gathered Wednesday to oppose a proposed tax hike on meals, they wrapped 30 pounds of tea in a giant plastic bag before dumping it into a downtown Providence river.

Moments after the eco-friendly reenactment of the Boston Tea Party, restaurant owner John Elkhay pulled the tea out of the water to make sure no littering laws were broken.

"We wanted to make a clear statement," said Elkhay, who owns five restaurants in the state. "If we got arrested or ruined the environment or something, it would be a distraction."

The state's restaurant industry is fighting a call by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to raise the state meals-tax from 8 percent to 10 percent. Chafee, an independent, wants to use the estimated $40 million in new revenue to bolster education funding.

The proposal also faces widespread opposition in the General Assembly. But despite its poor chances of passing, Dale Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, said her group isn't declaring victory.

"We need to continue this fight until it's over, until it's taken out of the budget," she said.

Elkhay said participants considered dressing in Native American dress for Wednesday's reenactment at Waterplace Park, just as the participants of the original Boston Tea Party did in 1773. Instead, a few men donned Revolutionary War uniforms and carried antique firearms. A speaker quoted Thomas Jefferson.

Sporting a tricorn hat, Frank Daly and Elkhay then tipped a wooden barrel containing the big plastic bag of tea. It hit the water with a plop, not too far from a floating compact disc. The seagulls in attendance were unimpressed.

Elkhay said he doesn't know whether tea is an environmental hazard. He said the protesters wanted to err on the side of safety. "It is regular," he added. "Not decaf."

Rhode Island Tea Party member Susan Wynne called the protest a "politically correct tea dumping where no one is harmed."

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