by: Sean O’Donnell
Jason Ralph’s great piece highlights an underlying root cause to respectful and effective spending of local tax dollars. Communities as a whole benefit from a balanced 2 party system. South Kingstown has no elected political balance at all.
No Republican has won a town wide race in SK in about 20 years. The combination of resident employees from U.R.I. and from SK public school system adds up to an inordinately large public sector union voting bloc. Democrat candidates in a town with political balance will, of course, side with and profit electorally from public sector employee votes. In a balanced town, this would just mean that these employees have a relatively strong voice. But in a town like SK, overwhelmed with such employees, any balance is impossible and actually traps the Democrat party into either affirming grossly irresponsible tax and fiscal policy OR yielding such irresponsibility to left of center “independent” candidates.
This dynamic totally erodes the type of purposeful spending that a well-meaning guy like Jason advocates. Our recent local election highlights this reality. In the School Committee race, a few Democrat candidates showed fiscal prudence and, as a result, were challenged; yielding a new School Committee that includes a high paid union activist and a cohort of “Independents” who see any limit in school spending as unthinkable. At the same time, the on looking Town Council is petrified to limit the spending as they see their seats being replaced next. Meanwhile, over the last 20 years the student population has dropped by almost 40% and the number of 60 and older residents has almost doubled (see Introduction 1-8).
In a town with reasonable political balance, town spending would adjust accordingly to broadly and equitably serve the needs of ALL local residents in the way I think Jason envisions. But with NO political balance, the type of community spending that Jason desires cannot exist. For example, the enticement of significant matching dollars from the State to consolidate buildings and renovate remaining structures in the interest of spending efficiency was largely ignored and then mishandled. State dollars are easily expendable when election results are nearly guaranteed.
The only reasonable prediction is that per pupil spending will remain inordinately high and will escalate exponentially. In a few years, our students will understand what Warwick students are currently experiencing. Further, there will be a never ending stable of candidates who, with a well-meaning naiveté and “woke” sense of righteousness, will amplify the untenable trajectory of school spending to the detriment of students and citizens in need of other critical town services.
The local Democrat Party will either continue in step with this group or perish. Bilingual education? Monolingual education? Future programs that may include State matching dollars (with efficacy strings attached) for a new High School? The needs of our ever aging community? These will all be of secondary importance. I’m afraid to say that without a balanced political plate, you cannot have meaningful community spending. It is ONLY with constant political consequences that tax dollars can be guided properly and efficiently toward collective goals. That I can tell you.
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