The night that the Rhode Island House of Representatives debates the budget is annually full of drama and sometimes even surprises. The only surprise this year was how little drama there was. The budget is a massive piece of legislation, not only appropriating billions of dollars, but also implementing new policies that change the way in which the state operates and its people must live.
Last night, the House passed the budget unanimously in not much more time than it regularly spends on bills of much less import, like banning tip pools for waitstaffs, for example.
The future is a tricky thing to predict, and events are subject to interpretation even when they have become history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this clip from Capitol TV’s coverage of the session depicts the very moment at which Rhode Island entered the final stage of its decline:
The legislative process allows a ridiculously small window between when the House’s budget appears in the public eye and the deadline for submitting floor amendments, and Rep. Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) and the House Republicans’ office had put a good bit of work into devising a new article that would eliminate the need for more infrastructure debt. Everybody knows, going into such things, that they’re doomed to fail, but you do them anyway, because there has to be an alternative suggestion out there.
But in the race to pass the budget in record time, Morgan decided not to stand in the way. Later, she told Matt Allen, on his 630AM/99.7FM WPRO show, that she looked around and saw that the majority Democrats all had their talking points ready and rehearsed. Quoting from memory, Morgan said, “I’m there to fight for the people of Rhode Island, but I’m not there to be beaten up.”
As the final signal to history that the incident marked the beginning of Rhode Island’s end, other representatives in the room hooted and cheered Morgan’s decision. Last night, in short, was the moment at which Rhode Island’s government finally decided to stop pretending.
House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) explained the unanimous vote for the budget to Ted Nesi for a WPRI article by saying, “If you want to be part of the process, you can’t just always criticize.”
This budget is a decisive step in the wrong direction, from a small-government, free-market perspective. For instance, it finally consummates former Governor Chafee’s health benefits exchange into state law, with a new health insurance tax plus a state subsidy. Its tax cuts are nice ideas for a minority caucus to push every year, but as the tax-cutting component of the main budget (combined with tax increases elsewhere), they become more like special interest giveaways.
Worst of all, the biggest economic development component of the budget lunges in a particular direction by leveraging debt wizardry to finance a top-down, centralized scheme that gives the bureaucracy scores of millions of dollars to have a go at running our $55 billion economy even more directly than our insanely burdensome system of regulations currently attempts.
And now, our elected representatives have decided to stop pretending that anything meaningful happens outside of the back rooms, where insiders make deals. That’s the process that Leader Newberry wants his caucus to be a part of.
The problem when that happens is that even pretending requires particular mechanisms to operate, and those on the outside who want to bring larger-scale new ideas can work these mechanisms to transform let’s pretend into actual change. Apparently, Rhode Island can no longer put forth even a single person willing to go through the process and make of herself a target simply because that’s politics, that’s our government.
Pretending at least requires a surface agreement about how the system ought to work. When that consensus dissipates, it represents a fundamental change in the kind of government we have. We know from history that the system we had (past tense, now) has proven to be the only one that can expand (or even sustain) freedom, prosperity, opportunity, and equality for any length of time.
We’re in a new era. Fear the next one.