In a stunning turnaround, the RI Tea Party today made a full-throated endorsement of some of the most intrusive government regulations on the books. In a fundraising email, the group called on its supporters to “…rise up against this assault on everything you’ve worked your entire life to earn” — by defending existing zoning and land-use regulations throughout the suburban and rural parts of our state.
For years, suburban communities in Rhode Island (and elsewhere) have stood firmly against affordable housing through land use regulations demanding such things as minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, and prohibitions on multi-family housing. Making it perfectly clear that land-owners’ rights to property are not absolute, these zoning regulations set very clear limits on what can and cannot be built on a piece of land, the key reason it is such a surprise to see these restrictions endorsed by the RI Tea Party and other “property rights” defenders.
There is demand for affordable housing in almost every community in Rhode Island. Were the housing market a free market, it would be built, and there would be affordable housing all over the state. But in the suburban and rural communities, local land use regulations often prevent such housing from being built anywhere in town.
A sensible state would not throw out land use regulation — building codes and zoning regulations exist for a good reason — but would recognize when those rules and regulations had been used in ways that encourage segregation and make finding affordable places to live so difficult.
This is exactly what RhodeMapRI proposes — in the very passage the RI Tea Party quotes in their fundraising email shown here — and perhaps is why the plan enrages them so. Apparently they prefer the old restrictions on market forces to new ones.
Rumor had it that this endorsement would have come out a week or two ago, before the RhodeMapRI plan was approved by the RI Planning Council, but that there were delays in filing the paperwork necessary to renounce the group’s previously held pro-market, anti-regulation, views.
For the RI Tea Party to endorse the status quo of zoning regulation was a surprise for many local observers. As one put it, “It’s really remarkable how flexible they are. It’s almost as if the political philosophy they espouse is just a cover for, well, something else.”
Another man on the street said, on the contrary, it was laudable for the group to be flexible about the government regulations they hated. “It’s the mark of a sophisticated mind that it can believe two completely contradictory ideas at the same time. Somebody smart said that once, wasn’t it Socrates or George Washington or someone like that?” He went on to say, “It’s like Mitch McConnell running against Obamacare in Kentucky while endorsing, and even defending, KyNect, Kentucky’s popular Obamacare exchange. If that kind of flexibility is good enough for Mitch McConnell, it’s good enough for the RI Tea Party!”
A random woman accosted on the street said, “Let go of me!”