November 12, 2004

Burning a Hole in Your Pocket

Justin Katz

Pre–election day, Marc and I had a short cross-blog exchange that touched on the state ballot's spending referenda. Marc did his homework and argued on behalf of some of the spending measures, including the URI biotech center.

For my part, noting that I considered mine little more than a protest vote, I declared: "not a penny." Yes, various projects are good ideas. Yes, rehabilitation and maintenance are important. Still, it all seems like a scam to me: the powers that be spend all the money and then return to voters with some of the more important and/or interesting items and ask them to replace money squandered elsewhere.

Well, in a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal, Jeff Opalka of Cranston appears to be somewhere between. I think we all agree on the bottom lines, though:

Our state ranks 46th out of 50 for providing a business-friendly environment. Rhode Island also stands shamefully above the crowd with the third-highest gasoline tax, second-highest cigarette tax, fourth-highest property tax and eighth-highest corporate tax. If anything is preventing business opportunities in this state, it's the tax climate, not a lack of a biotech center or improvements in Quonset Point. ...

I recall the gas tax was to be used solely for maintenance of roads and transportation. The lottery was to be used for education, and the 7-percent sales tax was to be temporary during the banking crisis. How many more lies can Rhode Islanders endure? Now we have an additional 1-percent restaurant tax. When is enough enough? When will we start holding our officials responsible for what is an increasing fiscal crisis, with agencies like RIPTA constantly over budget?

A couple of days ago, I mentioned Froma Harrop's concerns about a "brain drain" as scientists interested in embryonic stem-cell research flood into California for that state's newly available largesse. Extending URI's biotech branch is a natural tangent to include in that discussion. That tangent, however, cannot be shorn of yet another tangent: the brain drain that occurs as a result of Rhode Island's high cost of living and lack of opportunity or incentives to build a business here.

As Mr. Opalka puts it, "We need to closely consider where this state is going, because soon many of us will no longer be able to afford to live here."

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I feel duty bound to note that retrospective instrospection (so to speak) and the recent overwhelmingly Democrat legislature victories, yet again, here in Rhode Island have somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for some of the spending measures. I predicated much of support, though perhaps not clearly enough, on the hope that responsible people would adhere to the vague standard of "doing the right thing." As Mr. Opalka's letter has shown, the citizen's of Rhode Island certainly have no reason to think anything will change, especially as they continue to vote the same culprits in again and again. With all that, and perhaps I'm looking for that sole ray of sunlight in the overcast skies, at least this time some of the measures were more directly for tangible economic benefits. That being said, the most tangible economic benefit would indeed be a lowered tax burden.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at November 12, 2004 2:53 PM
perhaps I'm looking for that sole ray of sunlight in the overcast skies

Like an... like an... anchor rising?

(Ugh. Sorry.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 12, 2004 2:57 PM

aaaack....that was bad.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at November 12, 2004 3:33 PM

In the interests of full disclosure, I voted for the road and bridges improvement, the water system-interconnect (both seem like legitimate governmental expenditures to me), both academic-research center type projects (a personal soft spot, given my grad-student past), and against everything else.

Posted by: Andrew at November 13, 2004 8:22 AM