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Travis Rowley: Apparently, the Taxpayers Have No Contract!

Monday, May 09, 2011

 

With Statehouse Democrats levying financial pressure down to the cities and towns in the form of unfunded mandates (minimum staffing, binding arbitration, hiring and firing regulations, etc) in order to coddle unionized government employees, local elected officials have always been compelled to raise property taxes in order to balance their budgets. Rhode Island’s property taxes, as a result, are now ranked amongst the highest in the nation.

Politically beholden to the public unions, but also shepherding Rhode Island toward financial collapse in the meantime, Democrats’ grand plan in 2006 to rectify this situation was to adjust the existing annual property-tax cap from 5.5% to 4% by 2013. In fiscal year 2012, the cap is 4.25%.

With taxes on the rise, the party causing the tax escalation needed to appear fiscally reasonable. So the Democrats’ solution to the problem they were causing was to direct, yes, another decree down to the localities. You must spend this much! But you can only tax this much!
That’s how Democrats govern. Clumsily, from high atop the Statehouse, with an iron fist.

Rather than allowing the cities and towns to control their own budgets by rescinding unfunded mandates – giving more autonomy back to the municipalities and their citizens – the General Assembly decided to put a soft check on their labor allies by instituting a tighter local tax cap. In theory, this would serve as a reminder to labor thugs that they couldn’t push town officials too far because, by law, they wouldn’t be able to raise taxes enough to pay for all of the public employees’ contractual goodies – rollover sick days, vacation time, automatic pay increases, lavish pensions, and bathroom breaks. Oh yeah, and recess.

Helping Democrats disguise their true tax-and-spend identity, former Democrat Party chairman William Lynch bragged that his party had “led the charge for the establishment of a property-tax cap.” Oh woopee.
This is how Democrats protect the private economy and defend the taxpayers – by promising not to raise taxes too much.

Effect on Infrastructure and Basic Government Services

While attempting to contain tax increases is a good idea in spirit, the property-tax cap amounts to putting a band-aid on a skin rash. It has never addressed the root cause of local tax hikes, and it only further restricts the flexibility of local budgets. With Statehouse Democrats mandating that blocks of property tax dollars be earmarked for municipal employees, there has always been a shortage of funds to pay for local infrastructure. And by further tightening the property-tax cap, Democrats have provided even less room for basic government services. Portsmouth Town Administrator Robert G. Driscoll raised this concern in 2006: "The biggest concern I have is, instead of…government being responsive, we will be in a situation where local government can't be responsive to citizens on initiatives that require additional spending.”

Rhode Island’s roads and bridges were already on their way to being ranked “among the nation’s worst.” But the tax caps hastened the decrepitude.

Tax Cap Exemptions

Providence residents discovered last week that the Democrats’ protection of the taxpayers was a charade. Just more political posturing from the political party that can’t run from its own reputation – a party indebted to labor, allergic to spending cuts, and addicted to tax hikes.
As GoLocalProv.com recently reported, it isn’t illegal at all for cities and towns to raise taxes more than 4.25% in 2012. There have always been a number of circumstantial exceptions available to a municipality that wishes to raise its property taxes above the cap. Struggling to balance Providence’s books, all that Mayor Angel Taveras has to do is “appeal to the state Auditor General to certify the ‘existence or anticipated existence’ of a financial emergency.” And if 12 of the 15 City Council members – all Democrats – approve Taveras’ tax hike, then the tax cap can be legally evaded.

So, basically, in order to get around the Democrats’ property-tax cap, the government has to ask the government for permission. Better yet, in order to get around the Democrats’ property-tax cap, Democrats have to get permission from other Democrats.
Awesome. That should make Providence taxpayers feel comfortable. Especially with the teachers, fire, and police unions currently unwilling to offer up “their share of the sacrifice,” and failing to illustrate a “willingness to be a part of the solution,” according to the Mayor.

There Never Was a Tax Cap

The property-tax cap was always a farce, because Rhode Island was always headed toward a “financial emergency.” The public unions have never felt obligated to temper their taste for other people’s money. There was always a “financial emergency” they could cause in order to skirt this phantom safeguard for the taxpayers. 

Providence citizens are now confronting Mayor Taveras’ perfectly legal 13.6% tax increase simply because Statehouse Democrats have never had the guts to truly stand up to public labor – their progressive brethren, and their financiers.

Mandated tax caps levied from the state’s central government can’t save Rhode Island. The state’s fast-approaching financial disaster will never be averted until cities and towns are relieved of Statehouse edicts. Power will never be restored to the people until Rhode Islanders shed themselves of public union oppression. And that will only happen after Rhode Islanders decide to dethrone the Democrat Party.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate. 

 

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