PETERBOROUGH — As yet another coat of snow came down Friday afternoon, more than 200 people took refuge in a Peterborough bowling alley to hear from Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.
The Bay State senator, 70, marked her 175th town-hall-style event in the Granite State at Bowling Acres on Elm Street, flanked by rows of voters with campaign signs with polished lanes as the backdrop.
This was Warren’s fourth trip to the region, featuring her signature selfie line and lottery system for taking questions from voters.
In between greeting local volunteers, Warren snagged a booth to speak with The Sentinel about how she plans to pay for her “big, structural-change” policy proposals.
From tuition-free public college and student loan forgiveness to Medicare For All and universal pre-K, most of Warren’s myriad plans are to be paid for by her wealth tax.
Similar to a property tax — but for a wide spectrum of assets — Warren says the federal government would tally up the assets of everyone with a net worth of more than $50 million and have them pay two cents on every dollar of assets exceeding that threshold.
The Warren campaign estimates the revenue from such a tax could exceed $2 trillion — or about half of the current federal budget — over 10 years, and provide a safety net for struggling Americans in addition to reducing severe income stratification.
However, critics have pegged the proposal as unrealistic, difficult to enforce and often cite versions of it that failed in Europe, ultimately leading to repeal across the EU with the exceptions of Norway, Spain and Switzerland.
Earlier this week, fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang argued a value-added tax would be a more feasible way to increase revenue without overburdening average consumers, describing Warren’s plan “as either an optimistic or unrealistic way to try and pay for various social proposals.”
Warren told The Sentinel she would be open to a value-added tax, but argued her wealth tax plan would more effectively raise revenue from only the ultra-wealthy by having no exemptions for any particular kinds of assets — such as paintings or antiques — that were protected under the French model that was ultimately repealed.
The Massachusetts senator used the framework of the 90-10 effect to explain how, from her research, most of the assets would not require intense governmental resources to track down. The remaining 10 percent — the paintings, antiques and the like — could very well be hard to tally up the first time around, she said, but not as much so in subsequent years.
“So the Rembrandt painting, yeah, the first time, you’ve gotta work through with the experts, but c’mon, once you know what it’s worth the first time, the variation to the second year or the third year is actually pretty modest,” Warren said. “Same sort of thing with tracking where the assets are.
“If you had a Rembrandt last year, you’ve gotta either still have a Rembrandt this year or a whole lotta cash. So, again, tracking down every last penny? Sure, there are going to be some places where it takes a lot of effort to get that done. But big hunks of what we can cover in a wealth tax? Not gonna be that hard.”
For Cynthia Caddell of Peterborough, Friday afternoon was a chance to kick the tires and see if Warren is the real deal in-person. Waddell, a 71-year-old retiree, said she has seen Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Deval Patrick and Tulsi Gabbard so far out of the still crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field.
She said she looks for candidates who can “describe their policies and not pander for votes.”
In a follow-up interview after Warren’s remarks while Caddell was waiting in the selfie line, she said Warren won her over and exceeded her expectations from seeing her only on television.
“I just loved it,” Caddell said. “She’s just so down to earth and understandable.”
Caddell was one of several voters who touted Warren’s experience launching the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the outset of then-President Barack Obama’s first term.
Susan Arscott of Peterborough cited Warren’s “track record of helping ordinary people” as her main reason for supporting the candidate. Arscott, a 62-year-old retiree, said she wants to hear Warren improve her pitch for her Medicare for All health care plan to show Americans how they would be less burdened by out-of-pocket insurance and hospital expenses. But generally, Arscott indicated she remains a satisfied supporter.
One Warren volunteer who won’t even be able to vote on primary day or during the general on Nov. 3 next year nevertheless came out to the bowling ally.
Lilly Schwabe, a Peterborough resident and sophomore at ConVal Regional High School, said she volunteers for Warren on weekends and tries to rope her friends into helping out.
Schwabe said her top issue priorities are free college, climate change and women’s rights, all of which she gave Warren top marks on.
Judy Mortner, a self-employed 60-year-old who splits her time between Peterborough and Cambridge, Mass., said that after Friday night, she’s ready to start frequenting the campaign’s new field office at the River Center on Vose Farm Road.
“I love her,” Mortner said, approaching the end of the selfie line as a campaign staffer took her bag and coat.
“And I don’t think we’re worthy.”