Rhode Island Crossword Clue: Common Knowledge, Perhaps. Answer: Our Demise.
Knowledge of the approaching precipice in Rhode Island — or rather, the precipice that Rhode Island is approaching — has moved off the commentary pages in the Providence Journal. Here’s Lifebeat section columnist Mark Patinkin today:
“Fascinating, Spock. It seems this planet has organized itself into the perfectly self-destructive organism.”
“Indeed, sir. As one example, the normal life forms here — taxpayers, they’re called — spent $350 million this year on the state pension system. Next year, it will be $400 million, meaning taxpayers have gone from footing 10 percent of government pension costs in 1999 to 25 percent today. Not to mention that the unfunded pension liability has risen to a preposterous $4.9 billion. But even whisper the words ‘pension reform’ and you’ll be lynched.”
“Madness, Mr. Spock. Pure madness. There must be a solution. Can’t this planet attract new businesses to expand the tax base?”
“Not likely, Captain. Just last week, an objective tax-research group in Washington ranked Planet Rhode Island dead last in the whole galaxy of 50 planets for business climate.”
… “There’s got to be a solution. Can’t this planet attract more high-net-worth taxpayers?”
“Indeed, the 2 percent of Rhode Islanders who make over $200,000 pay 44 percent of all taxes, but oddly, Captain, they are being chased away. If you start to make a high income here, the state will tax you an unheard of 9.9 percent, not to mention that property taxes are almost the highest in the galaxy. All high-income life forms here are fleeing to planets like Florida, which have lower taxes. And ironically — is that the word, Captain? — such low-tax states have budget surpluses.”
“Why doesn’t Planet Rhode Island try the same system?”
“Like I said, Captain, it’s a strangely illogical place.”
And here’s Business section columnist Neil Downing:
Higher-income people aren’t stupid. They know how much they pay overall in taxes — often 50 percent or more of their individual incomes, especially when federal and state income tax and self-employment taxes are counted.
They typically don’t hold jobs in government or in nonprofits; they run businesses, creating wealth and jobs and money for charities — and they pay lots and lots of taxes.
That’s why we need to keep them here, not in Florida.
Still want to raise taxes even more? Fine. If you’re employed in the government or nonprofit sector, maybe it won’t matter, at least not right away. But it will in the long run.
And if you’re employed in the private sector, you may feel the impact far more quickly.
So while you’re reading the usual blather from the usual commentators about taxing the rich, remember that seminar that’s coming up in Warwick, and others like it.
Keep an eye on the airport, as well. Flights to Florida are leaving daily. Raise Rhode Island taxes even more, and maybe the owner of your business will be onboard, leaving Rhode Island.
Maybe your job will be leaving Rhode Island, too.
The disheartening, even frightening, question to ponder is how deep the state will have to sink before this knowledge makes the leap to a medium with which even those who don’t read the paper are familiar — say, their layoff letters and notifications that their public assistance is being cut.