The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Freedom Index makes clear a stark reality.
The legislative session for 2019 follows a series of bad years for freedom in Rhode Island’s General Assembly, but in some respects, it felt like the year the restraints broke. Legislators finally gave in to the teachers unions for evergreen contracts and brought municipal workers along with them. They meddled with local contract negotiations by imposing new overtime rules for firefighters that make some shift schedules financially unworkable.
Abortion became written into state law for the first time, and the lingering bogeyman of eminent domain loomed a little closer, as part of expanded redevelopment powers. The state also admitted, at long last, that it had no intention of reducing the sales tax rate as soon as Internet purchases began to be taxed. The fact that the abortion bill required legislative maneuvers to overcome strong opposition was only the icing on the poisoned cake.
These are the fruits of a progressive surge in Rhode Island, propelled by an unhealthy dose of out-of-state money. Even the self-avowed conservative “firewall” against the progressives, Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, had to allow the flames to get through. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, another establishment Democrat whom progressives deride as too conservative, played semantic games to bring abortion to the floor of his chamber for a vote that he knew would pass.
All the while, the growth of the budget continued, bringing Rhode Island up to a $10 billion expense, or roughly $10,000 out of the pocket of every Rhode Islander, every year.
Perhaps the most discouraging thing about this trend is the evidence it provides that the Ocean State has entered an irresistible downward spiral. As productive residents either find it increasingly impossible to turn their smarts, labor, and investment to their own benefit or find it increasingly clear where the state is headed, they leave. This simultaneously increases the desperation of insiders to find new ways to maintain their own publicly funded profits and decreases the constituencies for resisting ever-more-radical impositions.
In this condition, the state is reduced to two hopes that might save her short of utter calamity. By necessity, budgets that are increasingly difficult to flood with cash will force insiders to begin feuding for their shares. This turmoil may create opportunity for reformers to make inroads. Such success, however, will be contingent upon their ability to use intelligent organization and cooperation to maximize their influence. After all, their natural supporters have been fleeing the state for decades, so the average engagement of each of those who remains must be higher than was necessary toward the end of the last century.