Paired with the beauty, history, and quaint quirkiness of New England is another feature: economic stress. All six of the New England states are experiencing various forms of economic difficulties, some more dramatic than others. It is possible that one factor exists which is keeping these states from moving forward, a factor upon which New Englanders pride themselves to a fault: independence.
It is no secret that over the past two centuries (plus) the people of New England and their respective governments have clung to independence and self-reliance with a tenacity that may seem commendable to authors, artists and musicians. However, this same tenacity may be driving the New England province into a level of economic despair which is unnecessary.
I have lived in five of the six New England states, having yet to experience residency in New Hampshire. And in each the pride of unique historic experience is heralded, perhaps nowhere as strongly as in Rhode Island where I live presently. Rhode Island’s embracing of its unique founding as a place where religious liberty could flourish and high ideals could find birth and be nurtured is not only commendable; it is laudatory. Over the past several months that pride of high ideals has been acted out in the refusal of Governor Linc Chafee to turn over a murder suspect to the federal government for prosecution. Rhode Island has a long-standing objection to the death penalty, and Governor Chafee believed (correctly as it turns out) that the feds would press for the death penalty should they get their hands on the prisoner. Federal courts prevailed and the subject is now being held in a federal lockup on charges which, if proven in court, will lead to a sentence of death. The legal principle of the State of Rhode Island has proven to be ignored.
It is that kind of tenacious, independent thinking that has characterized not only Rhode Island, but the other five states in New England. Too frequently, however, that independence has proven to be a barrier to cooperation and collabortion by the six similar and neighboring states. In its place, competition among them is fierce at times, as experienced recently in the debates of location of gaming resorts, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island establishing fierce barriers as they battled for the tax-rich potential income needed to balance their struggling budgets.
Each of the six states has under-funded transportation budgets, including some of the worst roads, condition-wise, in the country. Schools struggle and fail, their plans and their budgets dependent upon parochial thinking. Prisons and other public institutions, replicated but under-funded in each state , fail to embrace new but expensive methods which, in other parts of the country, have proven effective in the provision of appropriate services.
Regionalization appears to be anathema to New Englanders at the governmental level. Even in tiny Rhode Island there exist 8 cities and 31 towns, each providing schools, highway maintenance, police departments, fire departments, and the myriad of agencies and organizations necessary to maintain a municipality. Magnify that to the region of New England and the waste of funding and limitation of potential is exaggerated to the point of obscenity. And all this on the heels of diminishing industrial income.
If the six New England states were to see themselves as the entity they are, a proud and integrated region of the United States with unique qualities and capabilities, the possibility exists for marketing, economic development, and the kind of forward-thinking progress that would lift them from the doldrums of economic plight. There is a treasure of good minds in New England, where some of the finest universities, colleges, schools and institutions in the country are located. If they were to be gathered into a creative planning process which was funded by all six states, the possibilities for progress are endless. Good harbors lead to marine transportation. Healthy rivers provide for hydroelectric capabilities that Southwestern states would die for. New energy possibilities are boundless. The potential for high-speed trains languishes on the desks of individual states where funding is beyond visibility. Tourism as a region exceeds any capability that an individual state can afford . The pattern of regional promotion being demonstrated by the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is a model to be noted.
It does not seem like rocket science to see the collaboration of the six New England states as a confederation charged with the overcoming of the regional morass which tends to characterize current patterns. This historically and geographically rich region of the United States deserves a better shot. Continuing parochialism will add to the rust and decay we see around us.
Photo Credit: Lee Bennett