The Providence Journal article on the Rhode Island House’s budget vote last night captures in one quotation the problem our state is struggling to overcome:
“I expect the budget to rise every year,” said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello after the final vote, a few minutes before 10 p.m., in response to Republican complaints about overspending. “To not expect it to rise every year is not realistic.”
First, let’s go along with the premise that the state budget should rise every year. Does it have to go up 3.9% every year, regardless of the health of the economy or changes in taxpayers’ ability to pay? That’s the important next question. From Mattiello’s explanation, it doesn’t seem that there is any limiting principle. From his comments to WPRI’s Ted Nesi:
“I always look at the specifics,” he said. “The level of spending in this case was appropriate to the needs of our society.” He noted that the cost of social services continues to rise faster than other areas.
But there is no reason a budget this big has to climb every year. If it’s possible that annual growth of 3.9% is too much, then it’s possible for it to be too high, right now. Sadly, state leaders exhibit is no underlying philosophy. There is only a balance of various interest groups’ power. Raises for state employees. Increases in welfare-related spending. More crony deals (as foreshadowed by the increased generosity of tax credits for movie productions).
Taxpayers will only become a consideration when they do one of two things:
- Change their voting habits in a way that threatens entrenched politicians.
- Leave the state in sufficient numbers that the politicians have no choice but to reduce spending or squeeze those who remain painfully enough that they notice (and resort to #1).