Opinion

Costly can-kicking in Rhode Island’s little Detroit

Mike Stenhouse CEO, RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity
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You have to wonder if state and local officials managing the city of Woonsocket, Rhode Island — already under state oversight for their dire financial straits — are living in the real world or in the land of make believe. After all, they were all smiles as they prepared to send out supplemental tax bills that would assess a 23% local tax hike on the city’s average resident.

In the land of make believe, you deal with unsustainable levels of benefits and promises by piling more and more taxes on residents, thinking this will have little consequence. In the real world, this tax hike really hurts real people, and will likely be a death knell for the city.

In their land of make believe, this tax hike will solve the city’s past and future budget deficits. In the real world they have done little to address the structural spending problems that got them into this situation in the first place.

In the land of make believe, the tax hike can be absorbed without any significant consequence to its city’s residents. In the real world, this already devastated city will continue its death spiral as it sees even more of its people and businesses leave town or shut down, reducing its tax base even further, and putting even more financial pressure on those that remain.

In the land of make believe the fact that city of Woonsocket has recently also received national attention for its unusually high percentage of people living on food stamps and other social services was not a cause for alarm. In the real world they have made yet another policy blunder that will do nothing to help its people live independent, prosperous lives.

In land of make believe there is no connection between high taxes and a population dependent on government services. In the real world high taxes and poor public policy do have tangible effects on where people choose to live, shop, and work — and will further trap many others, who have no option to leave, in a life of poverty.

In the land of make believe, as in Detroit, avoiding the real issue and passing the problem on to the next administration might relieve officials of a sense of personal responsibility. In the real world, also like Detroit, the can has merely been kicked down the road yet again, delaying the city’s inevitable bankruptcy filing for one more year.

This kind of policy culture is tearing our families apart. It is all too common that our state’s young graduates leave in search of work, that retirees decide to settle in other states, and that entire families and business owners seek lower-cost and higher-opportunity environments. This death spiral brings with it a lack of faith in state and municipal leaders — that they will never find the courage to take the steps necessary to reverse course.

The latest charade in Woonsocket demonstrates why voters have such little faith in their elected officials, who prove time after time that they are deaf to the real struggles of the citizens they are sworn to serve. Similar delusions have been emanating from Washington, DC for decades. The political class appears to be living in an imaginary world of their own making; a land of make believe, where anything can happen.

What happened in Woonsocket is also happening statewide in Rhode Island, and across America. In the make believe world of the entitlement culture, public policy is conducted solely with regard to its intent, and without any thought given to its predictable adverse consequences.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, the Ocean State’s leading free-market, nonprofit think tank.