November 15, 2004

The Influx of Sanity

Justin Katz

I see that Marc beat me to mentioning that Tom Coyne piece. When I first spotted Coyne's headline, on Saturday, before I realized who the author was, I smirked; in Rhode Island, even the mantra that the "politics have got to change" has been corroded by endemic apathy.

The most proximate cause of my delay was time spent reading a long comment to my post about teachers' salaries. In short, a recent transplant to Warwick from Minnesota has a whole lot to say about the Ocean State's political culture, and she gives a face (so to speak) to Coyne's suggestion that "the voting patterns of these new residents will be very different from what we see today."

If anything, Coyne underemphasizes this factor, because he equates new residents and "private-sector commuters," who earn their incomes in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although perhaps commentators can be forgiven for overlooking new residents who actually work here, too, one would think that citizens with both feet in the saltwater marsh that is the Rhode Island polity would be even more vehement in their desire to drain the swamp.

The Warwick commenter mentions that she'd been a teacher-union supporter back in Minnesota, but that Rhode Island has changed her view, which brought to mind a rough calculation that I'd posted at Dust in the Light in September 2003:

The fact remains, however, that, in 2001, the average public-sector employee in Rhode Island earned 32% higher than the private sector average. Using the corrected data for the number of private sector employees per public employee (in 2000), on average, every 7.4 private-sector workers in Rhode Island pays for one person to earn more than they do. Simplifying the numbers, take the average individual income in the United States to be $25,000. The public sector average in Rhode Island would therefore be $33,000, requiring each private sector worker to pay $4,460 (by force of law) to support one public worker, leaving the private workers with $20,540.

The calculation was spurred by an Edward Achorn piece that isn't available online any longer. Achorn, as it happens, is also a stunned Rhode Island newbie:

WHEN I MOVED to Rhode Island four years ago, I was struck instantly by its pinched and starveling economy, its oppressive taxes and poor government services. Most striking of all to me, perhaps, was the brazen sense of entitlement displayed by many public employees. They seemed to feel that they had a perfect right to drive the state into the ground, and they didn't seem to care about the consequences to themselves or their own children -- never mind to their neighbors' children.

I ended that post skeptical of "my ability to fight, if I stay." A little more than a year later, now a homeowner writing on this new blog, I'm somewhat more optimistic. Whether we look at all immigrants or emphasize those who work elsewhere, I increasingly suspect that each incredulous new arrival — for whom the quirks of corruption aren't an endearing character flaw of the state — counterbalances more of the endemic apathy than numbers alone suggest.