Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Newporter's Love Letter to R.I.

Henry Rosemont Jr. doesn't quite live in this District, but he's so close on Thames that I'll grant him honorary status anyday. It bears a reprinting. As a non-native outsider, I'll echo his statements. People who've lived here all their lives (like my kids), often don't realize how lucky they are!


DEAR Little Rhody — I know that you now prefer your more grown-up nickname “the Ocean State,” but there is an affectionate flavor to “Little Rhody” that I want to keep at the heart of this letter.
You know, of course, that you are being deserted by some people who believe that you have become too rich for their blood, and ignored by many respectable businesspeople for the same reason. Others complain of your seemingly wanton ways, especially with respect to exchanging money or other goods for your favors. All of this must rightfully cause you anguish. But do not despair, because many people love you dearly, not least those of us who have only come into your embrace recently.
First, the stories and statistics about what a spendthrift you are lose much of their plausibility when examined closely, and the quality of life is factored into the equation. My wife and I moved to Newport in 2002 upon retirement, following a daughter who moved here with her family earlier (yes, younger families are still coming to you, too). We love the rich history, friendliness and human-scale dimensions of our adopted city, and are amazed at how low our property taxes are for the benefits we receive.
Our prior home in rural Southern Maryland had property taxes just a bit more than half of what we now pay in Newport, but there’s a catch: In Southern Maryland, the taxes didn’t pay for sidewalks and streetlights (there weren’t any), nor garbage pickup (all private); the taxes didn’t pay for fire departments or rescue squads either, because these are all volunteer in Southern Maryland. We paid nothing for city or county water or sewers, either; our home was watered by wells and septic systems. In brief, what our property taxes paid for was a sheriff’s department and a school system staffed with heavily overworked and underpaid teachers.
You compare even more favorably on property taxes when we look northward. Prior to our life in Maryland we lived in Lexington, Mass., for a number of years. Then, as now, it is a very pleasant place to live. The towns are arguably equal in terms of historical importance and all-round livability, and Lexington provides all the city services that Newport provides for my wife and me. But again, there’s a catch: In Lexington, the property taxes on an equivalent home there are more than double what we pay in Newport. If anything, our taxes are not high enough.
Yes, many other states have income and sales taxes lower than yours, Little Rhody, but the way you spend them shows you have a heart of gold.
Although there are problems in some schools, you pay those to whom you entrust the young very well, with the lowest student-teacher ratio of any other state except Vermont. You acknowledge the bravery and dedication of your firefighters by paying them more than their peers anywhere else in the country, and compensate the police well, too. Perhaps most significant, the manifold services you provide to the old, the sick and the needy rank you ninth in the U.S.; clearly you understand that aiding victims is far more humane and efficient than blaming them for their plight. And you do all of this without taxing necessities of life — food, clothing, shoes, reading material — unlike almost all other states
There are many other facets of your character that endear you to us. To name only a very few, and quickly, we believe strong labor unions are a necessary condition for democracy to flourish in a capitalist society, and hence are pleased that yours are so strong. We are proud to live in one of only 14 states that do not sanction socially premeditated murder.
Three-quarters of your congressional delegation voted against the vile resolution to invade Iraq in October 2002 — including the lone Republican senator courageous enough to do so.
Finally, you are beautiful. Bays, rivers, beaches surround you; lovely woods and rolling hills make the drives to the water pleasurable (although the high quality and quantity of public transportation makes taking one’s car optional); most of your small towns have classical New England charm, and your capital has undergone a stunning makeover.
In sum, Little Rhody, like everyone else, you have a few faults, but they are fairly minor in comparison to all the wonderful things you are, and do.
We love you.
Henry Rosemont Jr. is a distinguished professor of the liberal arts (emeritus) at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and a visiting scholar in the Religious Studies Department at Brown University. Thanks to Projo (link is in title) for printing this.
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