Small Reasons to Stay and Fight
I know of several people who’ve taken Tiverton’s recent financial town meeting as evidence that it’s time to pull up stakes and leave or, if they’d already intended to flee, to redouble their efforts. Much was made of claims that the presentation of the school department’s budget left the town liable for funding amounting to a maximum of a 22% tax increase, but really, a seven percent increase in the current economy is affront enough.
The town’s tax levy has doubled in the past decade. The Town Council was satisfied with “zero impact” contracts with its employees, without pursuing actual savings. The teachers’ union clearly is not intending concessions, and the School Committee is unable to extract them. (Truth be told, none but one on the School Committee have any real desire to achieve concessions.) Moreover, the combined forces of public officials, the unions, a compliant local media, and a largely apathetic public that is therefore susceptible to well-rehearsed maneuvers from the other groups leave substantive change unlikely.
So, once again, I find my town to be a microcosm of the state. Schools and infrastructure will continue to underperform and deteriorate, while expense goes up, and the people who must be rallied to stop the process decrease in number year after year. Rhode Island has been at the national forefront in population loss for years, and those who are leaving are those who would back necessary reforms were they adequately presented and initiated.
This is to suggest that those of us who’ve been pointing to the problems that must be resolved have been remiss in neglecting to incorporate into our polemics reasons that people should stay and fight. It would be unreasonable to expect positive messaging from the RIGOP or any of the good government groups — much less, from Anchor Rising — to counterbalance a family’s calculation that the opportunity cost of hanging in there (in here) overwhelms the benefits of Rhode Island life. But those benefits do exist, and it affects the fundamental message of reformers if they do not often mention them.
Why do you want reform? Out of principle, or because there’s something worth saving? If wholly the former, then people on the fence might fear that principle will trample quality of life — as guardians of the status quo have been anxious to claim that any change of operations will do.
Such have been my thoughts as I’ve taken alternate routes home from work, recently. The contrast is stark between the suburban stop-and-go of West Main Rd. in Middletown and the largely empty back roads that flow past beaches and high-end waterfront manses and farms — at the cost, ultimately, of mere minutes of travel time. It would be a travesty to mar such views as this:
If there’s a threat to these constituent parts of Rhode Island’s character — in this case, “hanging rock” in the Norman Bird Sanctuary across the street from the Middletown beaches — it lies along the path of inadequate reform. The choice is not between total change and minimal change; it is between incompatible qualities of the state as it exists. Preservation requires a healthy economy and residents with the resources of time and money to take care of and enjoy all that the state has to offer.