Evergrow Government in Tiverton
Some small-government types in Tiverton support an all-day referendum, instead of the financial town meeting, to handle the town’s budget on the grounds that it would give the average working citizen more opportunity to vote and would diminish the out-in-the-open pressure power of such vested interests as public-sector unions. While both of those points are well taken, a couple of provisions in the proposed charter revision (PDF) seem designed to make the most of the opportunity for the town government.
First, there’s opportunity to offer one side of the budget debate right on the ballot — the town’s — with no mechanism for argument from the other side (emphasis added):
The ballot shall have a single question with a yes or no choice and a short explanation of what will happen if the proposed budget is rejected.
Nowhere are interested citizens empowered to explain why the consequences are counterbalanced or to enlighten the voter as to alternatives.
Second, the proposal would ensure some increase in the budget every single year:
The no vote explanation will state that if the proposed budget is rejected then the current fiscal year tax levy multiplied by an indexing factor up to a maximum of four percent (4%) will be the budget for the next fiscal year. No exception to exceed any tax increase “cap” will be allowed if a no vote prevails.
Roughly speaking, in other words, the referendum would give voters the opportunity to deny exceptions from the tax cap imposed by the state but would ensure that the town government always gets its increase at about the level of the cap. The only way to achieve level funding or a decrease (as merely theoretical as that budgetary possibility may be) would be for the town government itself to propose it.
With the town council apparently poised to assert its authority to change the proposal at a special meeting tonight, the balance could shift even more toward government’s favor.