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.