Featured Videos
Images to Share
Recent Podcasts
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Canary in Seattle

The city of Seattle is blazing trails in the assault on business and disincentive for job creation, and Seattle Times columnist Jon Talton is correct to warn of a reckoning:

One thing is clear. The tax will not be paid by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, or any other real or imagined toffs running the targeted companies. It will be “paid” by hiring fewer people here, making fewer investments, thus perhaps reducing overall taxes to the city. This is not sticking it to The Man.

One of the fascinating aspects of the jobs tax is how it reveals a tectonic shift in Seattle politics.

The slow-moving but generally pragmatic center-left that governed for years has collapsed.

Some of Talton’s lessons are either (it seems to me) either off base or specific to Seattle.  I’m suspicious, notably, of the blame that he puts on the GOP for becoming a “hard-right party” that exploded its leverage by booting its centrists.  One needn’t change the tilt of one’s head too much to see that as something more like a center-right party that didn’t move far enough to the left to keep progressive activists from attacking its donors and volunteers.

Consider Talton’s complaint that voters don’t have options; that can be a sign that people won’t run, given the charged atmosphere.  In short, this probably isn’t quite the distinct trend that he presents it as:

Meanwhile, a hard-left movement arose with the activist foot soldiers, infrastructure and energy to win municipal elections. It might represent a minority of voters, but given the withering away of the old order, it can win. Voters don’t have alternatives.

This lesson is probably increasingly universal across the country.  An activist infrastructure has been built up with funding from embedded interests (like labor unions), a supremely wealthy progressive elite, and siphoned taxpayer money from the Obama Administration.  At the local level, it targets any politician or grassroots organization that attempts to offer an alternative, and so the alternative doesn’t get a voice.

So… the city gets insane tax-and-spend policies that create obvious incentives against economic activity and for reliance on public subsidies.  A reckoning will come, indeed.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Glimpse at Changing Property Tax Tides

Here’s an interesting milestone over here in the East Bay, as I wrote on Tiverton Fact Check

Looking at the actual comparison for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, if Budget #2wins at this week’s FTR, Tiverton’s tax rate is projected to be $15.96.  Meanwhile, the proposed budget in Portsmouth is projected to bring that town’s tax rate to $15.97, and taxpayer advocates tell Tiverton Fact Check that the proposal is likely to be accepted.

Matching Portsmouth’s rate shouldn’t be the finish line for Tiverton, but it is a major milestone.  Notably, the comparison should take some of the shackles off of the high-end real estate market in Tiverton and help to balance out the tax burden around town.

Obviously, I’m observing these tax trends in the thick of a budget battle (with voting in Tiverton’s financial town referendum going on today, tomorrow, and Saturday), but in general, it’s disappointing that we don’t have these discussions more often at the local level.  Many factors can move what might be seen as a theoretically appropriate tax rate up or down, but comparisons from town to town do make a difference.

More importantly, we’d all be much better off (and maybe even more civil) if we were more thoroughly conversant about why various government numbers matter.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Matt Brown’s Disastrous Platform

One can have little doubt that Matt Brown’s platform is right in line with the views of progressive Democrats.  One can also have little doubt that Matt Brown’s platform would be economically disastrous for Rhode Island:

On policy, Brown said he wants to reverse various recent state tax cuts, such as by raising the top income tax rate from 5.99% back to 9.9%, where it stood until 2010. He also said he would raise the top corporate rate from 7% back to 9%, but wants to create a graduated system that lets smaller companies pay a lower rate. He has not yet decided whether he wants to raise the estate tax, he said.

Brown pledged to increase funding for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income residents that has grown to about a quarter of the state budget.

So, increase dependency on government and suppress the free market dynamism that pays for government programs.  Brown’s program would push Rhode Island into the accelerated spiral that Connecticut is experiencing and the flight of the productive class.

It seems unlikely that Brown will actually have a chance to push his program as governor, but his end point is that toward which progressives are incrementally moving the state.  We need to take his succinct statements as a warning.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Coy Calculations for Sports Betting

I’ve got a post on Tiverton Fact Check that might be of some interest statewide.  Most of it has to do with the increased expectations for revenue from the Twin Rivers location soon to open in town (which argues against the pessimism that some have about estimates in the 2.9%-tax-reduction budget that I submitted for a vote this week at the financial town referendum [FTR]).  But the introduction of the topic of sports betting has broader implications:

Also this week, the United States Supreme Court “struck down a 1992 federal law… that effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states,” as a New York Times article put it.  Expecting this outcome, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo had already included a provision in her proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year suggesting that referendum votes across the state and in Lincoln and Tiverton had already provided authority for the state to conduct sports betting.  She estimated $23.5 million for the state from this source.

However, no language yet exists describing whether this betting would count as a VLT, table game, or something else.  Therefore, although Rhode Island is apparently planning to allow only in-person betting, probably at the two Twin Rivers locations, how much the host communities would receive from these transactions is not yet known.  State officials are coy on the matter, even on the way in which the $23.5 million estimate was calculated, but it is clear that negotiations are underway.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence of how the state thinks this money should be attributed or any calculation that led the governor to estimate her millions, even after communicating with multiple state departments.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

NAEP Fruits of Reform in Florida Versus Rhode Island

By way of a contrast of two states when it comes to education reform, Florida has been among the pioneers in school choice–themed education reform, especially for disadvantaged and disabled students.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island pursued a “fix the system” approach that hit a political ceiling when Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee took the reins.

Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test give a sense of the divergent results.  The following chart combines 4th and 8th grades and math and reading scores:

RIFL-NAEP-allgradessubjects-group-2000-2017

 

Generally, looking at the red line for “all students,” one could suggest that Florida’s reforms were more stable, compared with the now-sinking results for Rhode Island.  But look at the difference for disadvantaged groups!  Poor students (“school lunch”) have made huge progress in Florida, and “disabled” students (including all variations of learning disabilities) have at least kept pace with general improvements, while they’ve lost ground in Rhode Island.

To put it in progressive terms (or the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s 2012 report), look at the closing of the gaps in Florida.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Well, This Is… Depressing

Ashley Welch reports in CBS News:

The highest rate of depression was in Rhode Island at about 6 percent, while the lowest was in Hawaii at 2 percent. Every state except Hawaii experienced rising diagnosis rates of depression over the course of the study period.

The report notes that a variety of factors contribute to depression rates as calculated using insurance data.  Obviously, areas in which doctors screen for depression more often will have higher rates, as will areas in which people are more likely to seek a doctor’s help when they’re feeling low.

To have the worst rate in the country, though, Rhode Island must surely have more going on than these technical reasons.  One suspects a healthier economy with more opportunity (that doesn’t require insider schmoozing) would help, as would freedom from the sense that powerful people are always trying to take advantage of you.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

Asset Forfeiture Reform in Rhode Island

Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property. While many policymakers might assume that such laws are directed at criminals, in reality, simply being accused of a crime or violating a regulation may be sufficient for the state to take your property.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

National Popular Vote and the End Game

Upon the entry of Connecticut into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Michael Walsh emphasizes the practical motivation and effect:

“Work-around”? Nullification is more like it. But this is typical of the fascist Left, offering a “solution” to a non-existent problem in order to improve their chances at permanent political domination. It frustrates them to no end that having conquered California, New York, and Illinois in order to bank 104 electoral votes before a presidential campaign has even begun (270 are needed to win), they discovered that transforming those states into Democrat ghettos meant that every popular-vote margin over 1 is wasted, since the overall national popular vote doesn’t matter.

As I argued when Rhode Island took this leap, it makes no sense for small states.  Rhode Island and Connecticut have more leverage under the electoral college than under a popular vote regime.  But the powers who be in these states trust that their political party will continue to dominate other, bigger states, so they’re willing to sell out their own voters in order to take leverage away from other small states that either aren’t as partisan or are partisan in the other direction.

Walsh has it correct when he writes:

… the idea of independent and, dare I say “diverse,” states is repugnant to totalitarians. As they go about rewriting the history of the United States, one of the things they’re trying to expunge is the idea that thirteen separate colonies came together in order to form a more perfect union. The nation they envision — and which they’re on their way to realizing — is one ruled from Washington, with the states acting as administrative satrapies.

We can project farther into the future, too.  We’ve already had plenty of indication that, once Washington, D.C., is reliably fixed in the hands of an executive to their liking (one who will use the power of government to hurt their enemies and skirt the Constitutional order to subvert that troublesome legislature), they’ll turn to shifting power to a global elite.  Their goal is a planet that has no place to go where you can live as if their philosophy might be wrong.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

UHIP Problem Is Less the Technology than the Intention

So Rhode Island’s state government paid about a half-billion dollars for software to manage its various welfare programs, and now it’s having to “upgrade” to put bar codes on paper applications so it can properly track them:

“I have an idea,″ [Rep. Jason Knight, D-Barrington] said. “Put a box in each building and that’s where the scanned applications go…This is not difficult…Put a box in the corner.″

“Understood,″ Hawkins said, but “DHS [takes in] thousands of applications every month.” She said a technology upgrade “in the coming months″ will put a bar code on every document that is received by the department to ensure that every one “gets scanned to the right case and eliminate the errors.”

“We believe the technology system should solve this problem for us,” she said.

With a little work, perhaps Rhode Island can graduate to the latest technology of the 1970s.

Not to repeat what’s been written in this space before, but the problem, here, isn’t the technology so much as what the state is trying to use it for.  Tracking all of the information necessary to determine, on an ongoing basis, the eligibility of everybody in the system for every welfare benefit requires a great deal of information.

It is within the competence of state government to set up agencies to process individual welfare programs.  It is not within its competence to vacuum us all into its data base and get us on the dependency highway.  And we should be relieved that that’s the case.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Evidence of an “I Got Mine” Mindset

Let’s be clear that this guy should not be considered representative of either law enforcement or welfare recipients:

A Rhode Island deputy sheriff, who was praised as a hero in 2015 for saving the lives of two women, has been arrested for fraudulently collecting more than $12,000 worth of food stamps, according to the Rhode Island State Police.

Edward Cooper Jr., 49, of 78 Commodore St., Providence, obtained the food stamps while collecting a tax-free salary because of a job-related injury, the state police said.

It’s reasonable to suggest, though, that some people tend toward a mindset of taking what they can, or even of entitlement.  It’s also reasonable to wonder whether government occupations and programs are an especial lure for such people.

The “I got mine” mindset isn’t a healthy one for the individual nor a just one for the community, so we should keep an eye out that we’re not creating incentives for it.  Rhode Island clearly has such incentives.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

In RI, Hispanics Lag on NAEP and Whites Lose Ground

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive application for reviewing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gives users an easy way to see how students in their state are doing from a number of angles.

One angle that seems of particular concern in discussions about education has to do with race, and Rhode Island’s results are somewhat unique.  The top line in the following chart shows that the demographic majority, white students, is on a down-slide when 4th and 8th grades and math and reading scores are averaged and combined.  For the average state in the country, at least this group is holding more or less steady.

The story for black students is somewhat the reverse, with this demographic group holding steady in Rhode Island but sliding nationally.  As a result, in 2017, black students in Rhode Island actually outperformed the national average.  Of course, this cohort unfortunately remains well below white students.

The big difference comes with Hispanic students.  Across the nation, Hispanic students trend a bit higher than black students.  In Rhode Island, the two groups have been tracking pretty much along the same path since 2011.

RI-AveState-NAEP-races-2000-2017

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

An Indicator or an Outlier at the University of Denver?

I fear the University of Denver is more an indicator than an outlier:

Members of two conservative groups at the University of Denver say their organizations are likely disbanding after investigations by the university and pervasive harassment by fellow students have made the campus a “toxic environment” for their groups.

The school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom debated closing at the end of last year, with its members fearful that they would be unable to land jobs after being investigated for “hate speech” and labeled racists and white supremacists in, among other places, the school newspaper. The group remains on campus, but with severely reduced numbers.

The Federalist Society there, meanwhile, has dwindled to a single student, and is set to shut down at the end of the year when the last remaining member graduates. Pervasive bullying and concerns about being called racist induced many of its members to depart this year.

Conservative students are getting a taste of what it’s like to be constantly under attack, and many are explicitly worried about what might happen to their future job prospects when they’re publicly labeled — even with no basis whatsoever — as racists and -phobes.  When one side of public discourse treats the other side’s opinions as not only illegitimate, but a form of violence, and when the people who control our society’s institutions don’t enforce neutral rules, standing up for principles crosses over from a brave learning experience to a potentially reckless eccentricity.  Better just to keep quiet.

I’m still hopeful that the United States can snap back from this (with the help of us reckless eccentrics), but that isn’t assured.  In any event, we’re certainly getting a lesson in how a society can slide from freedom and dynamism into of suppression and injustice.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Edging Toward the Future of Our Oppressive Past

Christine Rousselle draws attention to a story that seems like a significant slip in our country’s shared appreciation of civil rights and dialogue:

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization that promotes life, marriage and religious liberty, has been removed from the “AmazonSmile” charitable giving program after being designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

AmazonSmile is a program that allows users to choose a nonprofit foundation to receive a small percentage of their Amazon purchases. ADF has been part of the program since its inception in 2013.

It is no longer the case that we can have multiple sides defending their own rights and interests.  The SPLC — itself a hate group that has inspired violent attacks — can designate as unacceptable an entirely mainstream conservative organization that specializes in the legal defense of civil rights, and the organization’s funding will come under attack even from broad and neutral-seeming public accommodations like Amazon.

We’ve already seen YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter suppressing conservative views and conservatives’ ability to raise funds.  Add that to campaigns to remove corporate sponsorships.  The next milestone will likely be a decision by Amazon not to carry books by those with whom its executives disagree.

Let’s be direct.  This was a predicted outcome of government’s decision to use the power of law to redefine marriage under the moral mandate that the traditional definition of the institution had no rationale but bigotry.  Once that principle is accepted, rights are written off cheaply.

Even non-conservative Americans aren’t going to like where this assault winds up, whether it’s civil war or shared oppression, but by the time they awaken to the hangover of the “tolerance” happy juice, doing anything about it is going to be painful, indeed.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Trading Water for a Fix

With his criticism of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo for appointing Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s son, Charles, to the Narragansett Bay Commission, Republican Mayor of Cranston Allan Fung has drawn attention back to the City of Providence’s perennial effort to turn its big water asset into a one-time payment, largely to infuse the city’s pension system with cash.

The immediate controversy is that Ruggerio, the younger, works in multiple roles as a lawyer for the city, but his appointment is most significant as a flash point to illustrate how government works, in Rhode Island.  The city has been after this for years.  In 2013, it took the form of an objectionable regional water authority.  Now, the strategy is to bring in the quasi-public Narragansett Bay Commission.

In every case, the goal appears to have been to come up with some excuse to saddle taxpayers and/or ratepayers with the additional burden of that one-time payment to the city.

Making matters worse is the general evidence that thinking about pension funds in this way is a mistake.  Just after the turn of the century, for example, the City of Woonsocket took on debt with the calculation that its investment returns would exceed the interest, and it could get its pension system on track.  That didn’t work out so well.

The Providence deal is different, of course, and would require a more thorough review prior to decisive pronouncements, but the impression one gets is that the primary difference is that the Woonsocket deal saddled the same people who owed the pension debt with the bond debt, while Providence is looking for somebody else to take on the new debt. Of course, Providence will also have offloaded an asset as a one-time part of the deal.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Conscientious Versus Issue-Conscious

I wouldn’t claim that I help this curve much, but it certainly has the ring of truth:

Do our behaviors really reflect our beliefs? New research suggests that, when it comes to climate change, the answer is no. And that goes for both skeptics and believers.

Participants in a year-long study who doubted the scientific consensus on the issue “opposed policy solutions,” but at the same time, they “were most likely to report engaging in individual-level, pro-environmental behaviors,” writes a research team led by University of Michigan psychologist Michael Hall.

Conversely, those who expressed the greatest belief in, and concern about, the warming environment “were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions.”

This applies to other issues, like charity.  Big-government types who want to use tax dollars to solve every problem sometimes behave as if that’s their contribution, so they don’t have to use any of their own money additionally.

The central consideration, here, is probably that concern about an issue is a different thing from agreement with a certain approach to solving the problem (especially in the balance of other issues), and “conservatives” tend to be more comfortable with this distinction. The lesson of the above findings may not be that self-identified environmentalists are more likely to be hypocrites, but that people who are willing to take individual action are more likely to see that as a solution.

I do think, though, that there’s something to the idea of “moral licensing”:

Previous research has found doing something altruistic—even buying organic foods—gives us license to engage in selfish activity. We’ve “earned” points in our own mind. So if you’ve pledged some money to Greenpeace, you feel entitled to enjoying the convenience of a plastic bag.

(Via Eric Worrall.)

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

On This Day in Old Rhode Island

Gail Heriot gives Rhode Island history some national attention today:

On this day in 1776, Rhode Island (officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) renounced its allegiance to George III—a full two months before the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. For such a little squirt, Rhode Island was fiercely independent. It refused to send a delegation to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and for a long time refused to ratify the Constitution the Convention produced. Finally, after the Constitution was up and running, President Washington was inaugurated, and the 1st Congress was assembled, Rhode Island was reminded that if it isn’t part of the United States and America, then it’s a foreign country. If it’s a foreign country, then tariffs can (and likely will) be imposed. Meanwhile, Congress passed the Bill of Rights, which reduced some of the concerns of Rhode Island citizens. Rhode Island decided to be “in.”

As a naturalized Rhode Islander (so to speak), I find myself wondering… what happened to our state?  How did that independent spirit become a willingness to follow and to give other centralized power of us?

Or maybe there’s more consistency than that read would suggest.  What if underlying that old cantankerousness was really just an attempt of the insiders of the day to make sure that folks in other states couldn’t meddle with their “I got mine” arrangements.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Good for the Rhode Island Womxns (to an Extent)

A sincere kudos to the Rhode Island Womxn’s Initiative, which originated as the Rhode Island branch of the National Women’s March for refusing to go along with the partisan mandate to ignore the bigotry of Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan.  The local group has principles, at least.

Of course, those principles come with a bit of the new left-wing craziness, as seen in the group’s name.  Womxn?  When did “x” become a vowel?  How does one pronounce that — “womzin”?

A more serious matter — fascinating, really — is how the concept of “an inclusive movement” winds up being so non-inclusive.  Most obviously, one of the two largest groups in the country, heterosexual white men, is clearly excluded, at least to the extent that we don’t repudiate our own identity as such.

But this new X dynamic also excludes women qua women to the extent that it denies the legitimacy of their having their own voice absent “trans women and all people who don’t identify as strictly male or female.”  That is, the group includes everybody up to, but excluding, those who identify as strictly male (although presumably those who are biologically women would get a pass on that, oddly), and it won’t recognize the unique identity of those who are biologically female and identify as such.

If one were to set out to construct a society in which nobody feels secure and settled except those who hold political power, and therefore feel untouchable, one could not do better than to concoct this ideology.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Quick Thought on the Politics of Choice

Progressive Democrat Representative Aaron Regunberg, currently running for the six-figure do-nothing gig of lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, has taken the opportunity of a Planned Parenthood endorsement to remind potential donors that his grandmother was an executive director for that abortion provider in the days before Roe v. Wade:

Her name was Bunny Regunberg. But “Bunny” was a bit of a misnomer. Grandma Bunny was not friendly and fluffy, she was a fighter. And she had to be, as executive director of her local Planned Parenthood in the years before Roe v. Wade.

My grandmother’s work stressed the importance of empowering people to make choices for themselves. Grandma Bunny passed away in 2016, but she left me with a deeply held commitment to stand up and fight for reproductive justice for all.

“Empowering people to make choices for themselves.”  One wonders how far support for such empowerment goes for Regunberg.  Choices about the schools that their children attend?  Choices about how their money should be spent?  Choices about work conditions and compensation?  The list of choices that progressives like Regunberg seek to remove from people’s range of freedom goes on and on.

Apart from self-destructive “choices” that tend to put people under the loving wing of government, progressives’ devotion to “choice” seems to be limited to this “reproductive justice,” which is the farthest thing from justice for the unborn children whom it kills.

In most areas, progressives understand that “choice” and “justice” can be in conflict.  I’m inclined to disagree with them about the circumstances in which that’s the case, but it would explode their rhetoric about abortion if they were forced to admit the trade-offs.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Turn Left Where the ACLU Used to Be

At least for my entire lifetime, there has been a tension to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The general sense in the ’90s that it leaned a little left transitioned in the ’00s to a period during which libertarian or even conservative supporters of the group could say things like, “But they’re still good on [this] and [that].”  Now, aided by the wave of available donations for anti-Trump activism, the organization has made a decision, as Scott Greenfield suggests:

This is no civil liberties program, prepared to stand up for constitutional rights no matter whose are at risk. This is a progressive political group, riding the legacy coattails of a group that may still be called the ACLU but has made the active decision to change its mission from the defense of civil liberties for all to promoting a distinct political ideology for its adherents. And it’s gotten fat and rich as a result. …

There are still state organizations, old-time members and staff, who have a certain lust for constitutional rights. When they can support them, stand up for them, without offending their groundlings and piggy banks, they will likely do so. But they will not defend the Constitution if it conflicts with the popular whims of progressive change.

Glenn Reynolds adds that the Trump Era is something of a “Great Revealing, where once-revered institutions turn out to be cheap, partisan shams.”  That may be a little harsh, if only because even shams have to do enough to keep people believing the hype if they want to be perpetual players.  What appears to be happening with the ACLU is that the rewards of letting its freak flag fly have swept away that long-term view and allowed the progressive organization to more overtly be itself.

There is still a need for organizations that promise to defend civil liberties across the board, so perhaps we’ll see right-leaning organizations take up some of the more-leftish causes in order to gain the market of the center.  Meanwhile, the ACLU will be just another far-left activist group, and someday, the tide of the Pubescence will recede, and the various flavors of activism will have to compete with each other for dwindling funds.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Raimondo’s Major (Union) Jobs Announcement

The expansion deal that the state government of Rhode Island has just announced with Electric Boat at the quasi-public Quonset industrial park includes an understated feature:

As part of the deal with Rhode Island, Electric Boat has agreed to use union construction workers on the expansion and pay the prevailing wage.

Why would the government of the State of Rhode Island negotiate for the mandatory use of union labor?  If state officials would rather have more money go to construction workers, rather than have it available for additional investment, the prevailing wage requirement would have been sufficient.

The likely answer sheds a different light on the component of the deal requiring “$14 million in state infrastructure spending at the Quonset industrial park.”  If the state is negotiating on behalf of unions, this provision may have been requested by the state negotiators.  That is, they were happy to tie taxpayers hands with a contract requiring new government spending for labor-union work.

Note, by the way, that the vast majority of the deal offered to Electric Boat is a targeted exemption from sales tax.  Imagine how much more other companies would invest here if the state would eliminate or dramatically reduce the sales tax as a blanket measure.  Of course, if people were investing their money in economic development on their own initiative, the government officials wouldn’t so often have a seat at the negotiating table to direct funds toward their friends and political supporters.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Million Dollar Quarter: Is Rhode Island for Sale?

Everybody who writes or comments on Rhode Island politics is expressing shock and striving to process the fact that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo took in $1.3 million in fundraising during the first three months of 2018.  That’s a 40% increase in her cash on hand over a period of time during which polling data and the general temper of the people of the state suggest lackluster support for the governor (to put it mildly).

So what gives?

Spreadsheets available from the state Board of Election Campaign Finance Unit show that a significant majority of the governor’s donations come from out of the state: 60.5%, to be exact.  Out-of-state donors tend to be more generous, too, with an average donation of $725, compared with $524 in state.  In fact 63% of Raimondo’s out-of-state donors gave her campaign the maximum of $1,000 (with one Robert Clark of Saint Louis, MO, apparently giving an illegal $2,500 donation).  This compares with 43% of in-state donations.

By contrast, Raimondo’s nearest Republican opponent, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, raised only 16% of his $191,460 first-quarter revenue out of state, with the average out-of-state donation amounting to $288.  Just 16% of Fung’s out-of-state donors gave the maximum $1,000 (with none giving illegal contributions greater than that).

The question Rhode Islanders should be asking is:  What do all of Raimondo’s generous out-of-state donors expect to get for their investments?  Neither of the two possibilities that come to mind aren’t encouraging.  Perhaps the donors want special deals from the governor’s office, using Rhode Islanders’ public resources.  Or perhaps they’re using Rhode Island’s governorship — the chief executive office of a state that has been mired in stagnation and controversy for way too long — as a stepping stone for national political ambitions.

Either option suggests a state for sale whose people will either have to tuck their empty pockets back in or brush the footprints off each other’s backs when the governor’s done with us.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Self-Driving Government Brainstorming Sessions

This Associated Press article doesn’t have much by way of detail, but it’s enough to be a head scratcher:

The state Department of Transportation is looking to get out in front of the self-driving vehicle movement with a plan to provide automated service for an underserved section of Providence.

The department on Monday announced that it is accepting proposals from companies who can test and eventually deliver such a service to fill a transportation gap between downtown Providence and Olneyville via the Woonasquatucket River corridor.

Rhode Islanders should be a little nervous when our state government starts talking about getting out ahead of the private sector with technological innovations.  A subsequent update to the article seems to go in an entirely different direction:

In an interview Monday, DOT director Peter Alviti Jr. said his agency doesn’t want to limit what private innovative concepts companies might propose, by mandating particular types of vehicles, the projects costs or even the route, which he said is not limited to just the Woonasquatucket River corridor.

Alviti said the DOT expects autonomous vehicles will begin appearing on Rhode Island roads with traditional cars within five years and the pilot is intended to create “tangible interactions” with the technology so the government can better understand how to plan for it. …

Although the pilot program could theoretically take the form of a bus, Alviti said the intent is not to create an autonomous mass transit system.

So, it appears the idea is to contract with some company to brainstorm just about any way self-driving vehicles might affect or be incorporated into public transit.  That’s a bit more open ended of an objective than we ought to accept, and a cynic might wonder who is going to turn out to be the owner of the company that gets this open-ended brainstorming project.

← Older posts...
Quantcast