This point in the Sakonnet Times editorial I mentioned earlier is worth a little more mental energy:
Voters, of course, flock to the bargain rate — a 3.5 percent tax hike faces long odds against a 0.9 percent alternative.
Specifically, it’s the “of course” that stands out, because it seems to imply that the job of government is to trick or otherwise coerce people into paying more in taxes than they would voluntarily pay for the services that government is delivering. This way of thinking fascinates me, because I have to believe that if the people who say and write such things were to think them through carefully, they’d be forced to confront clichés that allow them to support certain comfortable positions that have no justification.
Thinking in terms of economics, the more-accurate statement is that Tiverton voters are not willing to pay the price demanded for the services actually offered. Having spoken with many of them, I can attest that some significant portion, at least, is willing to risk deterioration of the services they do utilize on the chance that they can push back against corrupt waste sucked up by special interests.
The town library provided a good example of how the corruption works by pushing its supporters to approve of $1.3 million more in taxes so that their special interest could receive another $16,500. On the day of the vote, one angry library supporter acted as if I was being ridiculous for complaining about the $16,500, when the reality is that simply paying that amount wasn’t on offer.
A more didactic example may be garbage pickup, which Town Council member Joe Sousa threatened might go away if the budget I proposed were to win. The rationale for town-provided trash pickup is that the economies of scale make it less expensive than individual contracts, but that ceases to be true if the town government uses the threat of eliminating trash pickup to pour money into other things for which people do not wish to pay. You don’t get the discounted trash pickup unless you also support everything else that goes with bloated government.
Throughout Rhode Island, taxpayers are realizing that the cost of the services that they do receive from government (often very poorly) have been made inextricable from things for which they would never willingly pay, like absurd job security and benefits for union members and handouts for favored groups, whether in human services or corporate welfare. That’s why productive residents leave, and it’s a major part of the toxic formula that has pushed Rhode Island into its current death spiral.