Government in Miniature
With Tiverton’s financial town meeting (FTM) fast approaching, I’ve been having to attend multiple town meetings per week to keep an eye on the local powers who be. For anybody who’s interested, the resulting liveblogs and videos are up on the Tiverton Citizens for Change Web site.
The experience has been a real education in the functioning of government — which clearly operates in a separate and distinct reality from the rest of us. From the rhetoric being flung at those of us who wish to halt the perpetual tax increase during a time of economic hardship — that we’re “destroying the town” and so forth — you’d never guess this to be the case:
The school side of the budget is particularly disconcerting. According to state law, school committees cannot request “municipal funds (exclusive of state and federal aid) in excess of one hundred four and one-half percent (104.5%) of the total of municipal funds appropriated by the city or town council for school purposes for fiscal year 2010.” As far as General Assembly language goes, that couldn’t be clearer. Yet, the committee actually requested 106.17%.
Its stated reasoning was that last year’s FTM “appropriated” both the local funds and the estimated state funds, and since the state cut its contribution by about $300,000, that money ought to be figured into the budget. Nevermind that the above legislation contains language making all laws to the contrary “notwithstanding.” Nevermind that the state actually did give the school district all of its expected aid, just using federal funds to fill the gap.
Over the past week, TCC finally managed to learn the district’s revenue from all sources. Until now, the school department has kept millions of dollars undisclosed on the grounds that it was for “restricted” purposes. Working that data into the mix reveals that direct state aid to Tiverton schools actually went up. Moreover, federal money exploded, moving the total state and federal aid from $6,150,846 to $6,967,039.
The problem, from the school department’s perspective, is that total aid is expected to drop back to $5,848,725 this coming year — mostly through a drop in those secret “restricted” funds. The end result is that all of the declarations of hardship and of a danger of the schools’ being “gutted,” “destroyed,” and “decimated” represent an attempt to pressure the town into making up for “restricted” money that the district built into its budget. It seems to me that money for special purposes — of which townsfolk supposedly had no reason to be informed — should bring those special purposes with it when it goes. Otherwise, it wasn’t really “restricted,” was it?
Of course, we all know where most of the money actually goes:
What makes the battle all the worse is the creeping suspicion — rather, confidence — that government functions like this all the way up the chain, only exponentially more expensive and exponentially more deceptive the broader its reach.