HEADLINES

The Silver Lining on Rhode Island’s Foam

I have to break into my Friday evening pre-reveling (“reveling” being something I’ve recently discovered to be illegal in Tiverton, if it disturbs somebody else) to note that this is one list on which I’m happy to find Rhode Island in the bottom 10 of states:

Tax treatment of beer varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of $0.02 per gallon in Wyoming to a high of $1.29 per gallon in Tennessee. Check out today’s map below to see where your state lies on the beer tax spectrum.

Although, the half-drunk libertarian in me (whom I’ve suspected to be half drunk even when I’m completely sober) can’t help but bristle at this:

The Beer Institute points out that “taxes are the single most expensive ingredient in beer, costing more than labor and raw materials combined.” They cite an economic analysis that found “if all the taxes levied on the production, distribution, and retailing of beer are added up, they amount to more than 40% of the retail price.”

I’ll put that on my list of injustices to battle, but noting that the list is long, so anybody inclined to rush forward is encouraged to do so.

Property Tax Reform Lessons from Small Town Rhode Island

At a public hearing to discuss the two budget options that would be on the ballot for local voters in the smallish town of Tiverton, Rhode Island, the town administrator shook his fist at me.  “Every single account you cut needs to have the money in it,” hesaid.

I’d submitted an “elector petition” budget for the town government that would hold the total tax levy at a 0.9 percent increase, versus the 2.9 percent increase proposed by the government.  The 0.9 percent budget, which voters ultimately chose with a 60:40 margin, meant a drop of the highest tax rate in the area, across two states, and savings for property owners of $39 per $100,000 of value on their home (about $100 on average).  The previous year, my proposed 0.0 percent budget had won a smaller amount of savings.

In recent years, Tiverton has led the two nearest Rhode Island counties in foreclosures.  The town’s total tax burden had doubled in about a decade.  In that context, what struck me about administrator Matthew Wojcik’s speech — apart from the Republican’s Obamaesque threat to “get in [my] face”–was the insistence that local government could not possibly make cuts, paired with the assumption that residents of the town always can.

Property taxes are a problem in Rhode Island.  According to the Competitiveness Report Card put out by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, based on data from the Tax Foundation, Rhode Island has the seventh-worst property tax burden in the country.  In 2006, the state’s General Assembly passed a law phasing down a cap on each city and town’s property tax revenue increase, to 4 percent by 2013.

Continue to read on WatchDog.org.

Political Outrage Rather than Community Interaction

Long-time readers may recall the time a local political activist managed to stoke up a phony scandal over some tweets of mine, when I was running for school committee in Tiverton.  Well, the same group has struck again.

A supporter of my petitioner’s budget, who is also a town council member, set up a display outside the town’s polls at the high school, Saturday morning, consisting of a replica military motorcycle with various accessories.  Leaning against it was a drill-dummy rifle with a helmet over its pretend muzzle.  Most people passing paid no attention to the display, and those who did were admiring.

Late in the day, somebody called the police, and at their request, the owner put the fake gun away.  Now the same group of political activists who went after me have cranked up the outrage machine with the help of the local news media.

I go into detail on Tiverton Fact Check, noting that similar outrage could be ginned up about the town council president smoking while campaigning for the other side.  Neither is an outrage, and neither should be leveraged to create scandal that does nothing to resolve the town’s challenges, but does much to make people feel that civic participation is not part of full involvement in the community, but rather that it’s a risky and dangerous (yet dull) duty best left to others.

Children as Political Hostages in an Empty Room in Cumberland

Marcia Green’s Valley Breeze article on the Cumberland School Department’s threatened cuts if its budget isn’t increased by more than the mayor has proposed caught my attention when Monique tweeted it thus: “Cumberland School Committee issues list of (budget) hostages; threatens to start shooting.”

This sort of thing takes place all over the state — probably the country — and it’s a good example of why it’s dangerous to attempt to do things through government.  Everything’s a battle.

For contrast, try to imagine a similar situation for a private school.  It’s actually not that difficult, with so many smaller schools that serve working-class populations closing.  They don’t berate the parents with threatened cuts.  Instead, they very often try to increase programming, asking faculty and staff to pitch in to move a plan forward, and then asking parents to volunteer in order to minimize tuition increases and ensure the best educational experience for the students.

If faculty, staff, and parents don’t step up, it’s on them.  Note this, for example, from Green’s article:

Monday’s subcommittee meeting drew a half-dozen parents, including Laura Sheehan and Linda Haviland, who were not only speaking against the proposed cuts, but beginning to prepare for Town Council hearings.

Cumberland has nearly 5,000 students, and about six parents showed up at a meeting discussing supposedly dire cuts in programming.

Perhaps one of those parents should research the budget of Cumberland’s schools.  As it happens, I’ve been doing just that, looking into comments made by Sen. Ryan Pearson (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) about the cost of charter schools during the hearing the other day on the Bright Today legislation.

In the five years ending with the current one, Cumberland Schools’ revenue and expenditure increases have averaged a little more than 4%.  Meanwhile, its October enrollment has dropped an average of 2% per year over those five years.  That has led to average per-student expenditure growth of 6.21% — or 5.34% if we take out the tuition paid to charter schools.  Inflation, by contrast, has averaged around 1.7% per year.

Discussions about schools should be sensitive.  Maybe one of the reasons parents and other members of the community are checking out is that they aren’t being offered decisions; they’re being whipped into inexplicable frenzy.  The first approach is empowering; the second is enervating.

The tone should not be “give us more money or else.”  It should be, “here’s where we are, here’s why these are the best steps to take, and here’s what we can do to live within the means that the people paying the bills are willing to provide.”

Of course, a calm recitation of reasonable options might lead people to choose them.  Where would that leave the folks with very healthy salaries and unparalleled benefits working for the system?

Excitement for the Wrong Direction for I-195 Land?

Rhode Island’s informderati is all atwitter (pun intended) with the news of a “life-sciences complex” proposed for the land formerly occupied by I-195:

A real-estate investment and development company that partners with universities and hospitals across the country to build research parks has submitted a joint proposal to build a multimillion-dollar facility on 5 acres of former highway land in Providence — drawing praise from Governor Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and others. 

Wexford Science & Technology of Baltimore, a subsidiary of BioMed Realty Trust Inc. in San Diego, and CV Properties LLC, the Boston firm leading development of South Street Landing on Eddy Street in Providence, hope to build a life-sciences complex with lab space, academic research space, a hotel, and retail and residential space. Richard Galvin, founder of CV Properties, said it’s too early to pin down exact costs, but “it will be several hundred million dollars” to build.

The details are sparse, so far, and one question that will need to be made explicit is whether “partnership” with a bunch of non-profit organizations means tax exemption for the development once it’s done.  One can imagine a bunch of tax deals to get the thing built and then payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) once it’s operational.

Off the top of my head, the scorecard for that supposedly game-changing property is:

  • Student housing
  • A minor-league baseball stadium
  • A facility with no prospective clients, thus far, other than non-profit universities

These strike me as things that a state should seek when its people are thriving, not when they’re tapped out for taxes and leaving the state in despair.  But whaddayagonnado, I guess.

So far, developers that have submitted proposals are seeking tax-stabilization agreements with the city because Providence’s commercial property taxes are far higher than in other communities. Yet the city has not granted any such tax treaties yet.

It all comes back to an institutional mandate to maintain the power of government insiders.  Unless that changes, Rhode Island’s done.

James Cournoyer: Please Allow Municipalities to Have the Flexibility of a Three Platoon Firefighting System

[James Cournoyer sent the following e-mail to members of the General Assembly. It is published here with permission. Additional background on this subject is available here.]

Dear members of the General Assembly,

Please reject House Bill H-5473 and Senate Bill S-0533, which seeks to make fire-fighter Platoon Structures / Shift Schedules subject to Collective Bargaining, and therefore potentially subject to the decisions of unelected and unaccountable arbitrators.

These bills serve only to further erode essential Management Rights and the ability of municipalities to exercise home rule.

Employees are already afforded an abundance of work-place and employment protections via the myriad of state and federal labor laws and regulations that currently exist.

RhodeMap and the Sustainable Elimination of Freedom

With the House Finance Committee scheduled to hold a hearing on several bills related to state planning and RhodeMap RI, this afternoon at the rise of the House, this article with similar themes in the Midwest caught my eye:

Here in the Twin Cities, a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region. According to the urban planners on the city’s Metropolitan Council, far too many people live in single family homes, have neighbors with similar incomes and skin color, and contribute to climate change by driving to work. They intend to change all that with a 30-year master plan called “Thrive MSP 2040.” . . .

Thrive MSP 2040 is part of a nationwide movement called “regionalism.” Regional planning of infrastructure is important, of course. But regionalism, as an ideology, is about shifting power away from local elected officials and re-engineering society on behalf of “equity” and “sustainability.” According to regionalist guru David Rusk, author of the book “Cities Without Suburbs,” federal programs that promote regionalism should strive to produce “racially and economically integrated and environmentally sustainable regions.”

This is a well-planned assault on American freedoms concocted by a global elite and in the ivory towers of the U.S. that has been facilitated and substantially funded — in planning and implementation — with taxpayer dollars by the Obama Administration.  Of all the damaging initiatives that have been undertaken in the process of “fundamentally transforming” the United States of America, as Obama pledged to do, this one may be a sleeper that creeps up on Americans, but it may also be the one that locks the chains around our ankles.

Why Not Set the People Free?

J.D. Tuccille highlights some murmurs in Europe that remind one of the Rhode Island attitude:

The shadow economy—off-the-books business and labor that would be perfectly legal if people felt like subjecting themselves to taxes and regulations—ebbs and flows with the years. Right now, it’s down a bit in many countries from the days of the recession, but shadow economic activity is still huge. Across the European Union, it’s estimated to amount to 18.4 percent of GDP. Why people work off the books is no secret—high taxes and burdensome regulations are constantly cited by economists as primary drivers for people to hide what they’re doing. So, current policies are like kryptonite to people who want to keep the fruits of their labor. Got it. The obvious solution then is to…harangue and coerce people back into the official economy?

Even though regulations are pushing people out of the taxed-and-regulated economy, leaving them with effectively no taxes or regulations, government officials aren’t simply going to reevaluate their approach.  In their view, it isn’t government’s job to accommodate the people.  The diktat has been issued, and the people must be made to comply.

Even if it means banning cash so every transaction can be traced.

At least in Rhode Island, government officials make periodic noises about easing regulations.  Still, the plan appears to be to try every power-centralizing solution they can imagine for a hundred years before simply doing the obvious and leaving people alone.

(Via Instapundit.)

Late Additions to the Week’s General Assembly Committee Calendars


A number of major bills in the policy areas of education, state “planning”, and illegal immigration were added to this week’s General Assembly committee calendars at the start of the week…

S0607: From the official description: “This act would provide parents of K-12 students in Rhode Island with an opportunity to enroll their child in an educational program of their choosing, either via open enrollment in a traditional public school in their own district or any other public school district, or by receiving a scholarship, with designated public monies to follow the student to a participating private school or private curriculum program selected by the parent”. Scholarships can be up to $6000 and are income adjusted. (S Education; Wed, May 20)

H5644/H6041/H6042: Allows cities and towns to decline to “comply with any provision” related to local planning laws or with “the state guide plan relating to affordable housing programs” by filing a notice with the chief state planner. (H Finance; Thu, May 21)

Other bills on state “planning” below the fold

S0391: “The division of motor vehicles is authorized to issue driving privilege licenses and driving privilege permits to any applicant who meets the licensure requirements of this chapter but is unable to establish legal presence in the United States”. The bill then lists an extensive set of documents, two of which must be provided to establish eligibility for a “driving privilege license”. (S Judiciary; Thu, May 21)

Other bills on illegal immigration below the fold

The IRS, Media, Democrat Nexus

Eliana Johnson phrases her recent National Review Online article as if it nudges the controversy over the IRS’s Tea Party targeting in another direction, but I think it fills out the picture in exactly the way that most Tea Party types would expect.  Consider:

The targeting of tea-party groups traces back to February of 2010 when a low-level employee in the IRS’s Cincinnati office flagged a single file for his superior. In an e-mail written on February 25, 2010, Jack Koester, a revenue agent, told his boss, John Shafer, that “recent media attention” made the application at hand a “high-profile” case. In doing so, he was following the Internal Revenue Manual’s directive to agency personnel to elevate to senior managers cases that fall into several categories, including those “that are newsworthy, or that have the potential to become newsworthy.”

In a comprehensive analysis, Step #1 wasn’t the low-level employee’s flagging of the application.  Rather, it was the news media’s handling the Tea Party movement as a suspicious, controversial development.

Next, the flagged file worked its way up the ladder until it got to the political operatives at the top of the IRS.  In D.C., the issue took another step:

Once in Washington, the applications landed with a group of attorneys known in the IRS as tax-law specialists. The Internal Revenue Manual directs tax-law specialists to create what is known as a “sensitive-case report” if, among other possible criteria, the application “is likely to attract media or Congressional attention.”

Such judgement is subjective, of course, but one suspects that any individual Tea Party group’s application would have fallen well short of national media or Congressional attention.  Attention to a movement is quite different than, say, attention that might be paid to a specific charity created by a political family that has the potential to be used for laundering political donations.

That’s when the politics came into it:

Disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner didn’t become involved with the tea-party cases until May 13, 2010, when she received the sensitive-case report created by tax-law specialists in Washington. Then, in early 2011, Lerner ordered that the cases go through a “multi-tiered review” process, called the tea-party cases “very dangerous,” and reiterated, “Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”

It may not be the case that the Obama Administration had the idea, one day, to disrupt the development of the Tea Party movement with the IRS.  But when a biased news media had made backlash against President Obama’s policies a matter of national controversy, and when a Democrat-heavy bureaucracy had interpreted some individual manifestations of that backlash as “sensitive cases,” the idea arrived on the administration’s doorstep with ribbons and bows.

The partisan Democrats at the top of the chain (perhaps including the President) could have declined the opportunity in the name of freedom and the rule of law, but they didn’t.

When the Students’ and the Teachers’ Interests Differ

This paragraph out of a 2010 Julia Steiny column has come to mind periodically ever since, but I somehow never got around to posting about it.  It makes an important point that is too easily forgotten as the state argues over standardized testing, teacher evaluations, charter schools, school choice, and even property taxes:

When Marcia [Reback, President of the RI Federation of Teachers] had had enough, she outted the elephant in the room. The interests of the teachers and kids are not the same, but were sometimes in direct conflict with one another. And when their interests diverge, she said, “I represent the teachers.” And shrugged. Who could argue with that?

Think about that.  Here we have a wealthy and powerful union organization, funded with money forcibly taken from taxpayers and frequently used to help elect politicians and modify laws in order to tilt negotiations and the entire educational landscape in its favor, whose mission is, at least in part, to advocate in opposition to the needs of school children.

Reback’s statement has come to mind for two reasons, this week.  The first is that the school choice legislation on which I’ve been working is being heard by the RI Senate Education Committee, today.  The second is that the 0.9% budget that I put in for Tiverton won, and the local school department has been threatening not to go forward with all-day kindergarten in the upcoming school year if it didn’t get its full budget request (even though doing so is a no-brainer).

In both cases, we’ll get some indication whose interests elected officials put first.

That’s a critical question at the local level.  Sure, most cities and towns probably have it written down, somewhere, that school committees are supposed to put the children first, but the incentives undermine that mandate.  Many school committees are stacked with teachers, whether retired or active in other communities, and many others were elected with the help of teachers unions and their activist allies.  Even if they weren’t, the nature of their position creates incentive to balance the demands of the teachers with the needs of the students and their families, not to advocate for the latter.

It’s an imbalanced system that can’t do otherwise than harm children.

 

First Hearing for Bright Today, Tomorrow

The legislation on which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has been working that would implement the education savings account (ESA) variety of school choice in Rhode Island is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow.  It’s the second bill on the agenda of the Senate Education Committee, scheduled for room 313 at the rise of the chamber — somewhere around 4:30 p.m., give or take.

The bill in question is S0607.  Here is information about the idea.  And here is the membership list for the committee.

Legislation to grant freedom from government monopolies on this scale are a challenge in Rhode Island under any circumstances, but the public is going to have to show growing interest in the possibility for it to have any chance.

Rhode Island’s Ghost Train

Tim White and Ted Nesi have checked in on the ridership of the newish Wickford Junction:

Service started at the Wickford Junction station in April 2012. The latest ridership figures supplied by the R.I. Department of Transportation show 391 people used it on an average weekday as of last September, up from 338 a year earlier.

By comparison, the 2005 South County Commuter Rail Service operations plan that was used to build support for the effort contained a forecast that daily ridership would hit 3,386 by 2020. To meet those projections, Wickford Junction ridership would have to increase by 776% over the next five years.

The study used to project ridership was done in 1995, and an update has missed its deadline.  U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D, RI) argues that ridership at the Providence station was low once, too.  ““Now it’s one of the most popular stations along the whole route, about 2,300 passengers a day,” he says, and it’s interesting to note that 2,300 passengers a day in Providence is more than 1,000 fewer than was projected for Wickford.

To modify a saying, if it looks like a boondoggle and costs money like a boondoggle…

Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 19 – May 21


1. H5553/H5793: Repeals the sections of the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans to be made. (H Finance; Wed, May 20) According to the official description, this bill disallows pay-day lenders in Rhode Island.

2. S0574: Allows anyone who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced “to file a petition with the superior court requesting the forensic DNA testing of any evidence that is in the possession or control of the prosecution, law enforcement, laboratory, or court”; currently this law only applies to individuals who are imprisoned. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 19)

3. On Tuesday, May 19, the House Finance Committee will hear the department budget for the single largest major division in the state budget, $2.4B for the Executive Office Of Health and Human Services. (H Finance; Tue, May 19)

4. S0044: Provides a $13.97-per-hour subsidy (to be adjusted for inflation going forward) to “direct support professionals employed by private development disability organizations”. (S Finance; Tue, May 19) 1) It’s not clear from the bill whether this is an entirely new subsidy, or directly legislating something that’s annually done by the department of behavioral healthcare, developmental disabilities and hospitals. 2) As written, this seems to make state government partially responsible for paying the wages/salaries of every direct support professional employed by a private development disability organization in the state of Rhode Island; 3) Under some interpretations of current RI law, doesn’t this potentially become a “contract” that can never be changed?

5. Bud. Art. 14 sec.1: Blocks the legally mandated transfer of excess general revenue to the pension system, if the director of the office of management and budget determines there is a projected deficit for the current fiscal year. (S Finance; Tue, May 19)

Withstanding the Whispers

Musing about her experiences as conservativish libertarian (or maybe she’s a libertarianish conservative) in the world of sci-fi publishing, Sarah Hoyt touches on the insidious power of whisper campaigns:

Whisper campaigns are scary effective, because they can get in behind your rational thought. If someone told you to your face that I was a white supremacist and you’d met me and (particularly) my kids, you’d probably pee yourself laughing. BUT if the same info came to you whispered, as “Well, you know, her opinions on race are just nuts” or worse “of course, I disagree with her thing on race” – incredibly effective because it leaves you to make up in your own head how bad my opinions must be for someone to say just that.

There is also the corresponding difficulty of standing up to them:

It’s easier to cow most humans (social animals) with social ostracism than with death threats. There’s something heroic in standing up against a death threat while merely standing up against losing your job because of a whisper campaign calling you a poopy head looks slightly silly. Worse, because it’s a whisper campaign you’re never absolutely sure it’s not all in your head.

My experience in the whisper mill of Tiverton politics leads me to think Hoyt somewhat understates the problem.  Standing up to whisper campaigns isn’t merely difficult because the sense of something’s being juvenile too easily transfers from the whisperers to the self-defender.  Even if the subject matter is quite adult and serious, using means of communication that are likely to reach large numbers of people can seem defensive, especially if none of the whispers have been uttered loudly enough to hear in the public sphere.  Depending what the floating accusations are, the fact of a prominent response could even reinforce them.

Standing up, then, means continuing to do whatever it is that’s evoking the attacks while also continuing to go about your life, daring to live as if you aren’t a wicked, ostracized outsider.

Robbing productive class Peter to pay college graduates Paul

Is the departure of recent college graduates keeping Rhode Island at the back of the pack economically? Progressives in the state’s legislature apparently think it would be beneficial to have taxpayers subsidize student loans. A look at student debt data suggests that would be a major burden on a population that’s already heavily taxed–and that the idea may, in fact, backfire.

The debate has been raging almost since the turn of the millennium: With Rhode Island’s population waning, who’s leaving?  The first assumption was that the rich were fleeing the high taxes, which inspired policies meant to keep them — like an alternative flat tax and a phase-out of the capital gains tax.

Progressives objected that the evidence did not show flight of the rich, and as it turned out, they were right.  The departing demographic was the “productive class” — families in that highly motivated period of their lives when they’re exchanging their time, sweat, and talents for a trip up the rungs to the middle class.

To make that group stay, though, politicians can’t cut taxes in exchange for the campaign support like do for the wealthy.  And the productive class doesn’t use direct government handouts, so the government can’t make them stay by handing out entitlements.  They need less regulations so they can work and innovate, and they need to be able to keep the money that they’ve earned, rather than having it taxed away.

If we look at who is sponsoring two relevant pieces of legislation on the subject, it becomes clear that Rhode Island progressives have decided to try and bribe recent college graduates into staying in the state. Based on the rationale described in the bills, they hope a younger crowd will be like their older brothers and sisters in helping the economy to grow.

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

Tracing the Problem of School Budgets

Two Providence Journal articles related to Warwick schools, yesterday, raise a broader question, and a partial answer to that question raises an important point that one seldom hear’s considered, in Rhode Island.  First up is the tale of the excess capacity:

The consultant hired to help consolidate the district’s 23 schools briefed City Council members and Mayor Scott Avedisian on Wednesday, and said as much as 40 percent of classroom space is sitting vacant. 

“I’d have to say, it’s the most dramatic I’ve seen in all my years of analysis,” said Edward Frenette, a senior vice president at Maini & McKee Associates, the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm in charge of crafting a master plan for the district. The firm has done 21 school consolidations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The second article has to do with Mayor Scott Avedisian’s suggested use of those savings:

Edward Frenette, a consultant with Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates working with the School Committee, has told city officials Warwick could have as many as 8 to 10 more school buildings than it needs.

“Closing school buildings and consolidating schools is not an easy task,” Avedisian said in his budget message to City Council members. “It is very difficult and I will stand behind whatever decision is made. But a decision must be made. Simply not making a decision is costing millions of dollars a year that could go to technology and programs.”

A taxpayer advocate’s first response might (rightly) be to wonder why tax relief wouldn’t be on that list of things for which school consolidation savings could be used.  The study’s conclusion is that taxpayers are paying for school capacity that the city doesn’t need, so why wouldn’t it make sense to return that money to them?

The question is partly rhetorical.  One suspects that government officials see the current tax revenue as what the public is willing to pay for government, so if money is saved on one thing, it should just be spent on another.  I don’t think most taxpayers look at it that way; they tend to think they’re paying only what they have to for necessary services.

In fairness to Avedisian, though, state law complicates things.  Cities and towns are required to keep up maintenance of effort, which basically means that local school funding can never go down.  Municipalities can calculate that funding on a per-student basis, to account for falling enrollment, but I’ve never seen a clear answer to how that works.  In Tiverton, for example, the administration simply projected more students to enter our schools next year.  Taxpayers could presumably look at a ten-year average, or something, but the potential exists for an expensive legal battle.

As the article intimates, closing schools is difficult enough without the unknowable factor of a lawsuit.  So, the money stays with a school.

The question of why a union-dominated General Assembly would impose that difficulty on cities and towns pretty much answers itself.

Campaign Finance and Petty Tyranny

Let’s get one thing straight.

A group of town residents gets together to persuade their neighbors to vote for lower taxes at the local level.  They spend hours generating information to persuade and hours walking streets talking with people in the community and delivering literature.  They ask some friends for help covering the costs of things like printing and postage.

If you think this group of people ought to have to register with some bureaucrat in the state government and file reports about donations and expenditures, you do not believe in freedom of speech or freedom, generally.  You believe in tyranny, even if it’s only petty for the time being.  You believe in making it more difficult for the average citizen to affect his or her government and disadvantaging them in their fight against special interests and government insiders and ensuring that people on the government payroll (one way or another) are able to undermine any advantage that citizens might find.

It really is that simple.  You cannot believe in government of, by, and for the people and also believe that some government agent (making north of $75,000 per year, plus benefits, with pension promised) should be breathing down the necks of people who are trying to get control of their labor-union-dominated municipalities.

I bring this up because I received an email from Board of Elections Director of Campaign Finance Richard Thornton saying that “it has come to the attention of this office” that the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) “has been expending funds to support a position in the upcoming Tiverton Financial Town Referendum.”  I am not a board member of the TTA, so I did not respond.

However, I did opine on Twitter: “Received a friendly reminder from BOE about filing for local budget advocacy. Doesn’t apply, here, but even so, it’s absurdly undemocratic.”

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Thornton emailed again asking for “clarification” of the meaning of my tweet.  I clarified as follows:

I wasn’t aware that the Board of Elections was monitoring my Twitter feed.  Have you friended me on Facebook, yet?  I’m on LinkedIn and Pinterest, too, by the way, although I don’t think my resume or pictures of things I’ve seen around Rhode Island are relevant, here.

I’m happy to affirm officially that I believe state-level campaign finance laws and regulations imposed on grassroots groups attempting to affect local ballot questions in their own communities are offensive and probably unconstitutional.

That said, I am not a board member of TTA and don’t know why you included me in your original email.  Strictly speaking, TTA has done no advocacy in this campaign, and certainly not enough to come anywhere near the threshold.

For my own advocacy, I hadn’t yet crossed the $1,000 threshold until (I think) today.  Although I find it obscene that I have to answer to the state for these purposes, I will file whatever documents are necessary.

Whether it’s me or the group opposing me, this is absurd.  Campaign finance is not some benign, feel-good civic altruism. It’s the camel’s nose of tyranny.