The Problem Is Big Government, Not Dispersed Government
Roger Williams University Political Science Professor Matthew Ulricksen provides an impressive list of public-sector functionaries in Rhode Island:
Rhode Island claims a population of slightly more than one million people in a territory of about 2,000 square miles. Yet, it is feudalized into 39 municipalities, governed by nine elected municipal chief executives, 25 appointed chief executives, 237 council members, 209 school committee members, 38 tax assessors, 14 deputy tax assessors, 38 building-code officials, 39 town or city clerks, 37 deputy town or city clerks, 16 town or city engineers, 31 finance directors, 23 fire chiefs (not including the chiefs of incorporated fire districts), 24 highway supervisors, 14 minimum housing officers, 18 management information system directors or coordinators, 15 personnel directors, 35 planning directors, 38 police chiefs, 34 probate judges, 11 purchasing agents, 29 recreation directors, 34 superintendents of schools, 15 sewer officials, 21 tax collectors, 14 town or city treasurers, and 16 water officials, not to mention legions of rank-and-file government workers from clerks and maintenance workers, to teachers, police officers and firefighters.
The first question that comes to mind is what these people do all day. It’s not an idle thing to wonder, because if each town generates enough work to keep a planning director busy (for example), then economies of scale won’t save all that much by pushing them under the aegis of the state government. The people who actually do the work might make a little less money each, but somebody above them would have to coordinate. And if “centralizing” them — as Ulricksen advocates — will save money mainly by eliminating payment for work that municipal employees aren’t doing, then we ought to squeeze that waste out on a town-by-town basis.
Having spent an enjoyable few minutes on the radio with the University of Rhode Island’s Maureen Moakley, who shares Ulricksen’s vocation of political science professor, I’d suggest that the state of Rhode Island has more such instructors than an outsider might believe to be necessary. Putting aside public/private -university distinctions, the point is that centralizing the oversight of Rhode Island’s political science education would not save all that much money, but would affect the function.
The lure toward a big, centralized government is attractive and many colored, but looking behind the curtain, one sees only intellectuals and power seekers who believe that they could conduct the world better than it conducts itself… or at least wish to be paid for trying.
Consider: Do we really want the General Assembly controlling more of our state’s civic sphere?