Where Tiverton Goes from Here
Saturday morning, a majority of electors at the Tiverton financial town meeting (FTM) for 2009 voted to cut the Budget Committee’s recommended school department budget by $627,247 — explicitly subtracting $174,054 from the local contribution and $453,193 from the expected general state aid. Owing to a Budget Committee resolution passed earlier in the meeting, any “federal, state, or local government aid” in excess of that amount would be “returned to the Town’s General Fund as a surplus.”
If not for a time limit before the meeting would automatically have recessed until the following week — thus risking a repeat of last year’s performance — the municipal budget could have experienced a similar cut.
As one might expect, rumors (aka threats) of litigation are already circulating, and Rhode Islanders have been conditioned to see such actions as unavoidable consequences of cold process. As with children decrying the restrictions imposed by peer pressure, the excuse will go out from officials and union members alike that laws, mandates, and contracts leave them no choice. Adults should understand that there are always choices, the question being who refuses to make the right ones.
In evaluating the path forward, Tiverton should recall to mind two antecedents without which Saturday’s result would likely have been quite different: the suspicious outcome of last year’s FTM and the imprudent raise and retroactive giveaway to the teachers’ union in January. Both galvanized those of us who see a need for an overhaul of priorities, and both compounded the difficulty of dealing with current financial strain.
For all the shades of gray, there are really only two paths forward. Our representatives can take the taxpayers’ cue and push back on those whom they’ve previously perceived as tying their hands — the unions and the state. Or our representatives can continue fighting reformers and attempting to move as much of their habitual agenda as possible.
If they choose the former approach, they’ll force the unions and state lawmakers to accept the mantle of intransigence against financial reality and taxpayers’ demands. They’ll also find eager support amidst a growing wave of active citizens with their eye on transforming Rhode Island into the national leader that it ought to be.
If they choose the latter approach — if they cling to the remnants of a withering status quo, if they continue to pile on the antecedents to escalation — they might just push an increasingly organized opposition to the next level of involvement: namely, campaigns for office.