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Former Gov. Frank Licht Dies; Modernized State Government

May 30, 1987

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Former Gov. Frank Licht, who pushed through a state income tax to end Rhode Island’s 1960s fiscal crises, died Saturday at the age of 71.

He had suffered from cancer and died at Roger Williams Hospital.

Licht, a Democrat, served as a state senator and judge before being elected governor in 1968. He was re-elected in 1970, but chose to return to private life after his second term ended in 1973.

Former colleagues praised Licht as a man of fierce integrity and political courage.

Gov. Edward D. DiPrete called Licht a man of rare accomplishment who served the state with distinction, and his nephew, Lt. Gov. Richard A. Licht said, ″He played an important role to me as a mentor ... a person who set standards of ethics and conduct.″

Licht’s outstanding contribution was to restore the state’s fiscal health by pushing through Rhode Island’s first income tax, associates said.

The state in the 1960s lurched from one fiscal crisis to the next as the cost of government rose but tax revenues fell with the decline of the state’s industries, said state Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Shea, who was an executive assistant to the former governor.

Licht had the vision to see he must reject his campaign promises of 1968 and 1970 and establish an income tax during his second term, said Shea.

″At great personal cost politically, he reversed himself, and he did it without whimpering,″ he said.

″He made it possible for all succeeding governors to have fiscal stability,″ said state Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, who sat with Licht in the state Senate in the 1950s and on the Superior Court in the 1960s.

During his Licht’s tenure, he reorganized and streamlined state government, laying firm foundations for today’s state bureaucracy, his nephew said.

A Providence native, Licht graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School. He was a partner in the Providence law firm Letts & Quinn from 1943 to 1956 and represented Providence in the state Senate from 1949 to 1956.

He retired from the Senate to take a seat on the Superior Court in 1956, but left the bench in 1968 to fight an underdog campaign to oust then-Gov. John H. Chafee, now a Republican member of the U.S. Senate.

Licht is survived by his father, Jacob Licht, 97; his wife, Dorothy; three daughters and four grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at noon Monday at Temple Emanuel in Providence, followed by burial at the Lincoln Park Cemetery in Warwick.

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