Leader Brian Newberry Calls on Speaker to Investigate Potential Tactics by RIDOT During Toll Debate

The following letter to Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was released this morning by House Minority Leader Brian Newberry. The background to this request by Leader Newberry can be found, certainly in part, in this report by Justin Katz about correspondence received by the Ocean State Current-Anchor Rising sent from Rep Mia Ackerman (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) to a constituent.

Dear Speaker Mattiello,

I write to request you open a House Oversight investigation into RIDOT and its tactics with respect to passage of the recent tolling legislation. It has come to my attention that several Democratic members of the House have written letters to constituents explaining their support for the recent tolling legislation by, in part, expressing fear that if they did not support the bill RIDOT might retaliate against their districts by, among other things, slowing down or stalling needed repair work and similar projects. If these members have indeed been pressured it is an outrageous abuse of power by the Executive branch. When I first heard of this last evening I dismissed it as unlikely but then I recalled that the bridge over which you drive to your office was mysteriously closed by RIDOT immediately after you announced your opposition to the original toll plan last spring. I want to stress that all my dealings with RIDOT and in particular their legislative staff over the years have been nothing but professional and in fact their legislative lobbyist has been one of the best and most helpful I have dealt with. I myself have seen no whiff of this pressure. That said, it is quite possible that RIDOT officials are being pressured by higher ranking members of the Executive branch and/or that other Executive branch officials are indeed making quiet threats of this nature. Either way the public deserves a full explanation from the Executive branch and it in the interest of all House members to have this issue publicly aired out.

Thank you for your consideration.


Brian C. Newberry


How ‘Bout Some More (Green) Chains on Our Economy?

See, here’s the thing: If my understanding of economics were wrong, Rhode Island’s economy would be humming along right now. Three green-energy provisions in Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget just redistribute money to companies in a politically preferred industry, forcing us all to pay for profits that the market would never provide if people were free to direct their money where they wanted it to go:

“The governor wants to be as aggressive as she can be to expand clean energy sources,” Marion Gold, commissioner of the state Office of Energy Resources, said in an interview. “The three provisions send a signal to clean energy companies that Rhode Island is a good place to invest their dollars.”

The energy proposals would:

— Extend the Renewable Energy Fund another five years beyond its current scheduled expiration in 2017. The fund, which is replenished through a surcharge on all electric ratepayers in Rhode Island that totals about $2.5 million a year, is used to support grants and loans to developers of in-state renewable energy projects.

— Expand the state’s net metering program, which allows owners of renewable energy systems to sell power to offset their total electric bill. The program would allow “virtual” net metering for off-site systems and third-party ownership of systems.

— Impose a blanket exemption for renewable energy systems from municipal property taxes, unless a community actively chooses to tax the systems.

For people in the industry, it’s profits and investment returns. For those out of it, it’s surcharges, taxes, and socialized costs.

At the House Finance hearing regarding tolls, the Republicans’ plan to redirect some money from renewable energy handouts led to the declaration that it’s one of the few growing industries in the state. That’s because it’s heavily subsidized, and only subsidized industries are able to achieve health in this state.


A Reminder of the Simple Rules Reform Needed at the RI Legislature

With the removal of Representatives Raymond Hull, Raymond Phillips and Joseph Solomon from major committee assignments, apparently for voting against the truck-toll bill (though we cannot only be 99.9% sure of the reason, since the single individual with absolute control over all committee assignments under current House rules, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, has not said why), this is a good time to re-up the 3 rules reforms that are absolutely necessary to set the Rhode Island House of Representatives on the path of becoming a legitimate democratic body once again, with special emphasis on the first…

  • A prohibition on members being removed from a committee, without their consent, after they’ve received their initial committee assignment from the Speaker (this is so non-radical a proposal, the Rhode Island Senate already does it).
  • Creation of a clear procedure — that everybody understands exists — for rank-and-file members to use to recall bills “held for further study” and place them on committee agendas for up-or-down votes.
  • Tidying-up the discharge petition procedure for freeing bills from committee, removing the current rule preventing their use until 50 days into the session, and removing any ambiguity about the “only one petition to be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session” clause in the rules meaning one petition per bill, as opposed to one petition per year.

Bear in mind that leadership can only be partly blamed for the fact that committee reassignment can be used as punishment, as the total control that the House speaker has over committee assignments is not something that is etched in stone, but is a rule that the members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives themselves vote for, every session.

House and Senate rules however can be amended at any time, just like regular laws. And think of the interesting debate we might witness as part of a rules-reform bill — which Rhode Island representative do you think would make the dimmest-bulb statement of “We need to be controlled by the Speaker, because if you let committee members like me have actual freedom to decide on legislation, there will be chaos”.

One other note: It looks like Speaker Mattiello’s promise that “this House will be run by the Representatives themselves” has expired. Plan accordingly.


Are We Americans, or Are We Serfs?

Given much of the conversation in Rhode Island, particularly that range of the conversation that I bring up repeatedly in this space, a response of Kevin Williamson to a statement of belief from Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seems a propos:

Terry Shumaker, former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad (I wonder what that gig cost him) and current abject minion in the service of Mrs. Clinton, quotes Herself telling an audience in New Hampshire: “Service is the rent we pay for living in this great country.”

There is a very old English word for people who are required to perform service as a rent for their existence, and that word is serf. Serfdom is a form of bondage.

Americans are not serfs. We are not sharecroppers on Herself’s farm or in vassalage to that smear of thieving nincompoopery in Washington that purports to rule us.

We don’t owe you any damned rent.

The point is especially clear, as I spotlighted yesterday, when it comes to property rights and housing, but it applies throughout public policy. What’s more, this very distinction is the either-or behind every difference that some of us have with Rhode Island’s current governor, Gina Raimondo: Is government here to serve the people who live in the state, or are we servants and supplicant subjects of government? Is it government’s role to make our local society work for us, or is it government’s role to bring in new residents who and to modify us to better fit the government’s plan? Should our economy and its future be determined by our independent interests and actions, or should the government collect all resources and authority to itself and then distribute “incentives” and make “investments” according to the plans of a small group of insiders? Should we be free to act according to our own interests and dreams, or must we either clear our plans with government or find somewhere else to pursue them?

We’ve reached the point of absolutely no ambiguity on these questions from the people who run state government. They know what’s best; government truly has no limits; and representative democracy mainly means we have the opportunity to pick the people who will make decisions for two or four years (including the likelihood that those people will directly give us special payments or privileges).

If the Rhode Island electorate disagrees with this view, we have to let the state government know by the only means that it believes is legitimate.


Play Money for Government & RI’s Last Chance

Things are getting surreal in Rhode Island. I have in mind, at this moment, a Providence Journal article about some kind of well-funded experiment in public transportation that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo plucked from the recent Brookings Institution report and lavished with $1.5 million:

“It is not extremely convenient to get from Boston to Providence by train,” [Rhode Island Commerce Corporation spokeswoman Melissa] Czerwein said by phone. “Something like this would help create more interchangeable connectivity between the [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] and Amtrak. The hope is you would be able to get back and forth more quickly and conveniently.”

Beyond that, travelers will have to wait and see.

Czerwein could not say whether the $1.5 million in the budget is seen as going toward discounts themselves or development of the app, or whether the discounts would be open to anyone traveling between the two cities or select businesses for which Commerce wants to provide an incentive.

They don’t know what the money will be used for. They don’t know who, exactly, it will target. They just know that when they take your money and use it as they want, good things happen.

Add this to the outrages under the Raimondo-Mattiello administration. This little piece of her plan take the equivalent of almost 50 times the annual per capita income of the state and might give it to some folks who work for a quasi-public agency to play around with developing an app that nobody investing their own time and money has thought it worthwhile to develop. Or they might use the money as a slush fund to give to preferred companies. (Cough, 38 Studios, cough.)

They want money with no real plan and, therefore, no means of accountability. They want to take money from all of us to give to high-paid semi-government employees, perhaps to hand out to the high-income residents of a different state. How could anybody, Left or Right, support this kind of behavior?

Honestly, we’re still the better part of a year away, but the upcoming election is beginning to have the feel of a last chance… a really, truly, I-mean-it-this-time last chance. If Rhode Islanders don’t wake up enough at least to send a message and rattle the State House’s cage a little bit in November, we’re done.


A Clear Picture of the Inside Team in Senate 11

Portsmouth Town Council Member Jim Seveney posted a gracious letter of thanks after his narrow loss in the race for a partial term as the state senator for district 11, including a narrow strip of Tiverton, to Tiverton resident John Pagliarini. One paragraph, however, is worth clipping for reference because it so well illustrates the state of play in Rhode Island politics:

I also want to thank the many people and groups who supported my campaign. I thank my wife, Val, first and foremost; my campaign team for their hard work; the Democratic Town Committees from Portsmouth, Bristol and Tiverton for their strong support; RI Progressive Democrats and the RI Young Democrats who helped us so much with calling and knocking on doors; Rhode Island’s organized labor, including the AFL-CIO, the NEA, the RI Federation of Teachers and all their affiliates; the Rhode Island Democratic Party, Annie Pease for her expert problem solving; Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, and Whip Maryellen Goodwin who provided great support and advice; my friends Sen. Lou DiPalma, Rep. Jay Edwards, Rep. Dennis Canario, Rep. Ray Gallison, Rep. Ken Marshall, and Sen. Wally Felag; and many thanks to US Senator Jack Reed and Governor Gina Raimondo for their efforts on my behalf.

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.


Legislator Fears RIDOT Retaliation for Not Voting in Favor of RhodeWorks

Almost from the appearance of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks proposal on Rhode Island’s political scene, indications of the hard push have filtered out to the public. As the state Senate rushed to pass the enabling legislation last spring and the House resisted, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung (R) questioned the motivation behind the state Dept. of Transportation’s sudden closure of a key bridge a few blocks from Mattiello’s law office.

More recently, with Mattiello now on the other side of the issue, controversy has swelled around a meeting that the speaker canceled with South County officials and the treatment of House Finance Committee Member Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick and West-Warwick) by both the DOT director, Peter Alviti, and the committee’s chairman, Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth).

Now a constituent has forwarded to The Current a lengthy correspondence apparently from Mia Ackerman (D, Cumberland, Lincoln) in which the state representative explains why she intends to vote for the revised toll-and-borrow infrastructure plan. In addition to concerns about the state’s infrastructure and doubts about alternative proposals, the letter states:

I also do not want to be the legislator who voted against this bill. If I do vote against this bill, I have an uncomfortable feeling that if I call DOT with a request for a repair or replacement in District 27, my request will not exactly be a priority. I will have failed my constituents and placed them in further peril by shuffling them to the bottom of the pile, so to speak.

Ackerman did not respond to a request for additional information, and House spokesman Larry Berman says he has not heard of any similar fears. However, the substitute bill that sparked the exchange between Morgan and Gallison may not alleviate such concerns. Amid new language ostensibly intended to provide oversight of and accountability for the RIDOT, section 42-13.1-15(c)(5) appears to give the director broad authority to waive “bridge maintenance requirements” if he can cite “circumstances” that “eliminate the need for maintenance activities in any given calendar year.”


A Lesson on Public Policy and Economics in Tolls

It occurs to me that some people might respond to my example of the $40 round trip for me to drive from my house to Woonsocket under the RhodeWorks toll scheme with two points:

  1. You don’t drive a large commercial truck.
  2. Almost no large commercial trucks are likely ever to have a reason to drive from Tiverton to Woonsocket and back.

Let’s put aside the correction that my calculation would apply for anybody in any town to the east of the Seekonk River who wouldn’t go over the Newport Bridge. A more important principle depends on not getting bogged down in specifics because it has to do with opportunity costs.

So, yes, it’s difficult to think of a reason a large truck would have to do a lot of traversing of Rhode Island from Tiverton, although there are such industries as stone and soil delivery, lumber delivery, boat building, and seafood. By implementing a toll, the state government makes it that much less likely that any business needing to make such a trip would set up shop in Tiverton, even if this were otherwise an attractive location. That’s almost $15,000 per year if one truck makes the trip each day, and with the constant threat that the state will just ratchet up the toll. After all, the gas tax now adjusts for inflation, and the governor’s budget calls for school funding from local taxes to adjust for inflation, as well. How likely is it that the $15,000 won’t adjust, as well?

Perhaps businesses that are already in operation won’t find it worth their while to up and leave the state or just change their behavior over tolls (although we’ll see), but most of planning for the future involves creating space for new activities and new innovations. When it comes to making new decisions, whether for an existing business or a new one, that map of tolls will certainly come into play. Back when the Sakonnet River Bridge was in the crosshairs for tolls, local state representative John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) repeatedly declared that “a toll is a barrier.” Apparently, he and his peers are not so convinced that 14 tolls are a barrier.

The references to other states are significant, here. In general, tolls are applied to one road on a long stretch. Governor Raimondo’s web of tolls designed to capture all movement around Providence are a peculiarly Rhode Islandish and ugly image.

Now take the idea of that toll and add it to every other thing that Rhode Island does to make itself less friendly for businesses and innovative economic activity. Governor Gina Raimondo has led the way declaring that the state needs to spend taxpayer money on innovation, but what she means is that we must tax everybody and give government a slush fund so it can help chosen companies overcome our unnatural barriers.

If we really want Rhode Island to find sure economic footing for the future, what we have to do is stop creating barriers for those investments and innovations that we can’t predict.


Mapping Out the Tolls

Just for fun, I took the proposed toll amounts that Ted Nesi tweeted out earlier and put them on a Google Map. If I did this right, you should be able to click the toll locations and see the amount highlighted.

The RI Dept. of Transportation and toll supporters (most of whom represent interests that will benefit directly from the money or are otherwise entangled with state government spending) want it all ways on this matter. On the one hand, they argue that the state must have this new revenue or there is no way to repair roads and bridges. On the other hand, they point out (as at the House Finance hearing) that even if the tolls produced no revenue, it would “only” reduce the amount of money available for repairs (as in, no big deal). This applies on the individual level, implying that nobody will have to shoulder too much burden, but then emphasizing all the money they’ll collect for infrastructure.

Review the map and think like a trucker on routes with which you’re familiar. For example, traveling from my house to Woonsocket would cost a trucker $40 round trip. Taking an alternate route of routes 24, 495, and 126 — which I’ve done anyway, particularly during certain times of day — would cost $0. Zoom out on the map, and one can see just how easy it would be to avoid Rhode Island, or to only enter it where necessary.

In contrast, depending where trucks start out within Rhode Island, a round trip, say up 295 and down 95 would amount to less than an hour of driving yet cost around $30 in tolls. And that’s before RIDOT decides to start ratcheting up the tolls for more and more money.


The Car-Toll Referendum is a Perfect Example of Something that Belongs in the State Constitution

Subtitle: A rebuttal to Governor Gina Raimondo’s appearance on Newsmakers.

And which concludes with…If Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island lawmakers truly believe that tolling passenger vehicles should be placed beyond the reach of the legislature and are not merely slipping a few words into the law as meaningless political theater, then according to the most basic tenets of constitutional democracy, the referendum requirement needs to be placed into the constitution. And in the absence of a constitutionally-required referendum, it is entirely fair to describe legislators who support the current truck-toll legislation as supporting tolls on trucks now, with a legislative option for tolls on cars later.


Testimony on Avoiding Tolls and Debt with a P3 PayGo Plan


Good evening. My name is Justin Katz. I’m the research director for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

The amazing thing about infrastructure, and this whole issue, is that we’ve got roads that need repair, we’ve got workers who want to repair them, we’ve got a public that wants to pay to fix the roads — the problem is we’ve got special interests who already have the money we’re already paying to fix the roads that won’t let us do it. They’re holding that money hostage; they’re holding our roads hostage and holding the jobs hostage, saying, “You can’t do this unless you come up with new money somehow in your economy to fix this problem.

It brings to mind, actually, something a former chairman of this committee said recently, Steven Costantino, when somebody had suggested that he was in on the scandal of 38 Studios, and he said, “Well, look, I was just doing what I was tasked to do by my superiors,” meaning legislative leadership. That’s not how representative democracy works. The people upstairs are not your superiors; the people in Rhode Island are.

So, I’m basically here to give you the message that you have options. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to go out and say, “We had to fix the roads.” A lot of the benefits everybody agrees on: We need new infrastructure; we need repairs; we need maintenance. Don’t expect you’re going to be able to go out and say, “Well, we had to do it, and this was the only option,” because there are other options.

Continue reading on RIFreedom.org.


On Businesses’ Tilting Leftward

Aaron Clarey suggests brainwashed GenXers and their lack of new ideas are to blame for the seemingly inexplicable imbibing of leftism among a new generation of corporate leaders:

… the strategy here is something very simple and one politicians have been using for years – divide and conquer. Of course corporations and their newest generation of “leaders” don’t really want to “conquer” anything. They just want to sell their wares. But reliably and predictably, despite all claiming to be “independent minded,” the brainwashing in school and college worked. Today’s business leaders really do think taking political positions on race, sex, privilege, the environment, etc., is a genuine and effective business strategy. They think bragging about how they hire “minorities” but not “the best” is a long term managerial strategy. They think donating 5% of their pre-tax profit (because a corporate tax rate of 40% just wasn’t enough) will win people over.

Alas, this is the newest generation of business leaders. People who use “fads,” “political correctness” and “leftism” to sell their products. And if you thought the Baby Boomers were bad business managers, just wait for these over-educated, political-correct-crusaderist Gen X’ers to fully be at the helm.

Ed Driscoll broadens that view (without the generational dynamic) suggesting something more like a cultural feedback loop. I’d argue it’s more an all-of-the-above phenomenon. Corporate executives and boards who take truly inexplicable left-wing stands are like weaker predators imitating their alphas without knowing why.

The actual strategy behind it all derives from the reality that it’s a better bet to be on the side of an elite that’s inexorably building an anti-democratic machine with the purpose of bringing all of society under government and limiting the ability to change government itself than on the side of a disorganized population that’s too distracted and apathetic to put an end to the usurpation. The progressive movement filters this central objective through the various lenses of “green” fads, identity politics, and anti-traditionalism to distract, divide, and disrupt the public, and naturally corporate types aren’t immune.

The less-savvy among them pick up the virtue signaling (that is, the practice of taking supposedly virtuous stands in order to be seen taking them) without understanding the underlying motivation. They sense that leftism is to their benefit, but they haven’t quite figured out why, in the crass terms of cronyism.

Those who move on to bigger and better things in the corporate world will figure it out soon enough, though. And those who don’t, or who resist it on principle, will be held back by their wasteful progressivism and unable to compete.


Raimondo’s Putting It Right in Your Faces, Rhode Islanders; React to It

Every day, it seems, we get more evidence that Rhode Island’s ruling elite are done with pretenses about how they believe our system of government should work. It could just be, of course, that they aren’t sufficiently self aware — or sufficiently inclined to think about the consequences of their own demonstrated political philosophy. In that case, though, I wonder why the news media and activists aren’t calling them on something to which we all obviously need to be attuned.

Here it is, with everything short of a highlighting, slipping right by in Ted Nesi’s summary of Governor Gina Raimondo’s appearance on Newsmakers, this week:

As for all those companies howling [about truck tolls], Raimondo said state leaders “are very open to the possibility of coming up with an economic package that would take these concerns into account.” Keep an eye out for that.

This is nothing more nor less than admission that state government is more than happy to create loopholes and buyoffs for companies that are able to bring enough political heat. This is exactly Rhode Island’s core problem, politically and economically. If you can’t get a special deal from the state, you’re out of luck. (And, by the way, special deals can come in the form of hindering competition.)

Since this apparently isn’t obvious to everybody, let’s think it through: The state imposes tolls on large trucks. Either collectively or individually, businesses that are particularly hard hit appeal to the politicians, who craft specific carve-outs elsewhere in the budget — money taken from one pocket is simply placed in another. In order to place money in the second pocket, the government either has to redirect funds from other purposes (mainly by draining down the general fund) or come up with yet another source of revenue.

Why would politicians want to operate this way? Because they get to be the check point. The businesses are now reliant on the politicians to keep the special deal in place, and everybody else sees quite clearly that bowing to the politicians is a necessary part of operating in the Ocean State.

Postscript: For some reason I don’t understand, WPRI reporters Ted Nesi and Tim White let Raimondo repeatedly get away with the untruth that the tolls are capped at $20. Unless I’m missing something, the legislation is quite clear on this point: The $20 cap is on one truck going one way across the state, all on Route 95. These are truly the out-of-state trucks that everybody claims they want to target. The actual cap is double that — $40 during a full day.

It’s especially rich that Raimondo repeats this untruth so frequently, considering that she accuses truckers of lying about their likelihood of rerouting.


About Hitting Out-of-State Trucks for 60% of Tolls

An assertion made repeatedly by pro-toll people at the House Finance hearing on Thursday was that out-of-state truckers will pay 60% of the bill. A commenter on this site just made the same point:

At the hearing it was said that 60% of the toll revenue would come from out of state large trucks. I don’t understand why toll opponents want only RIers to pay for road repairs, especially as those large trucks do significant damage.

The first point to make in response is that the objection isn’t to people out of state helping to pay for our infrastructure. The problem is: To get out-of-staters to pay 60% of tolls, Rhode Islanders have to pay the other 40% on top of all of the already-high taxes and fees they pay to government. The argument is akin to expressing disbelief that somebody objects to paying $4,000 more for cable TV on the grounds that the bill is actually going up $10,000, but is discounted by $6,000. In other words, it’s the kind of argument that only sounds good in government debates in which facts and the truth don’t matter.

Speaking of the truth, though, unless there’s a new source for this 60% claim, it comes from a study by CDM Smith. Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, that study doesn’t account for diversion. In October, I found:

Just for illustration of the effects that change could have, if we apply the diversion evenly across all routes and assume the extreme that all diversion would come from out-of-state truckers, then the percentage of traffic more than flips. In-state trucks would account for 60% of all truck traffic in the state.

Applying rough ratios for a multi-trip discount and assuming the discounts would all go to in-state truckers, they would still be responsible for nearly 57% of all tolls, or $34 million per year, if the goal is $60 million in revenue. That’s more than $10 million larger than implied by CDM.

On the broader argument about user fees, as I’ve written often before, it would generally be a good thing to transition from broad-based taxes to user fees, but that’s not what we’re getting, here. State and local governments have maxed out the taxes they can collect from Rhode Islanders, so they’re using this stuff about a “user fee” as an excuse to raise even more money. By all means, get people who use a service to pay for it, but when we’re already paying for it and won’t be getting that money back, increasing revenue is simply a money grab for special interests.


Left-Wing Criterion of the Associated Press

Perhaps it’s more impression than reality, but it seems as if a growing number of conservatives… no, that’s too narrow; make it non-leftists… are catching on to the implicit double-standards of modern political talk. Just as a politician who is both a minority and a conservative often isn’t treated as a valid minority, a journalist who approaches his work with a conservative perspective can’t rely on supposedly objective news media to have his back on principle. Look, for instance, at this stunning opening paragraph of an Associated Press article by Juan Lozano:

An antiabortion activist’s plan to reject a plea deal offering probation for charges related to making undercover Planned Parenthood videos likely means his goal is to use a trial as a public platform to criticize the nonprofit group, according to legal experts.

Even if the AP sees a bright line between David Daleiden’s “activism” and the “journalism” of investigative news teams, mainly on television, that use similar methods, one would think their presentation would be a bit more nuanced. After all, Daleiden’s case cannot be considered apart from his methods, which were indistinguishable from some forms of journalism.

It’s dawning on conservatives and moderates, finally, that there’s no sense expecting credit for acting on shared principles in cases like this, just as it’s dawning on them that there’s no sense mouthing identity-politics pieties for which they will never receive credit.


Civility Deteriorates Further Under Mattiello and Raimondo

I’ve attended a lot of legislative hearings at the Rhode Island State House, and they’re often an exercise in endurance and almost always give one a sense that the plan is to dissuade the public from paying attention, as I described for WatchDog.org last May. Usually, though, the only real insult is the contempt and lack of serious that one would expect when the people conducting a long hearing know it’s just a dog and pony show.

House Finance under Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth) has been particularly bad, though, and yesterday’s 9+ hour hearing on Governor Raimondo’s toll-and-borrow RhodeWorks plan was exacerbated by the attitude of Dept. of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, which drew multiple remarks on Twitter about his rudeness and arrogance from people present and watching on television. Goading his behavior, no doubt, was Gallison’s repeated practice of intervening on his behalf in exchanges with Republican committee members, even chastising Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) when Alviti had interrupted her. Also prodding Alviti on was the vocal backing of Michael Sabotini of the Laborers union (which recently employed Alviti) and a gaggle of other labor lobbyists in the audience.

Here’s a clip of the most egregious moment. The performance-art cackling you hear in the background is Sabotini and cronies:

Anybody who’s gone to a school committee or town council meeting during a labor dispute will recognize the bullying strategy of both Alviti and his backers. It’s rare at legislative hearings with executive-branch department heads, though, and it’s unfortunate to see us descending to this level. The governor and her transportation director should publicly apologize to Morgan and to the people of Rhode Island.


Experts Who Miss the Obvious

A Sunday Providence Journal article by Kate Bramson is worth a quick look by way of raising the question of why experts seem to miss the obvious. A few quick hits, starting with this, from “labor economist” Paul Harrington:

“Older workers are going to retire at some point or other, and it’s going to be followed by a generation with less labor-force participation and less work experience” than earlier generations had, Harrington said. “To me, figuring out, ‘How do I get work experience for young people in urban areas?’ — that would be a top priority.”

This isn’t a difficult problem. Eliminate the minimum wage, lighten up mandatory benefits for employees (including both those imposed as regulations and those imposed as entitlement taxes), and end policies that attract low-skilled workers from other countries. Rather than non-living-wages for legal and illegal immigrants, you’d have additional spending money for lower-income households and young adults with work experience.

Then there’s this, from University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro:

“We’re much more about the here and now, and we never allocate enough resources for investment,” Lardaro said. “The result? Our physical infrastructure — roads and bridges — are among the worst in the country. The skills of our labor force are nowhere near what we need…. We have to be much more of a society that allocates toward investment, and we’re avoiding it.”

Various data points make this hypothesis suspect. We already spend a great deal on education, for example, which is ostensibly done as an investment. Meanwhile, younger “productive class” Rhode Islanders are leaving the state, which indicates a willingness to risk a little short-term discomfort for a long-term improvement. Even if we look at insiders, we see long-term thinking: The labor unions fight for things like longevity, and pensions are a central focus of their activism, while insiders put in some years of long hours and relatively low (or even no) pay on various boards and councils or in the legislature, with the expectation that they’ll be able to cash out with a cushy patronage job or benefit in some other way.

The people who set Rhode Island policy do plenty of long-term thinking. The problem is that we allow them to use government to serve their own interests. Fix the general mindset that such systemic corruption is acceptable, and the state’s seemingly intractable problems will begin to clear up. Unfortunately, the Raimondo-Mattiello Era is proving to represent a mad dash in the opposite direction, leaving us only the hope that the dash indicates a sense that we’re almost to the point of collapse.


AAA Southern New England Becomes a Political Action Committee

As a AAA member since 1992, when my late mother insisted that I join, I was disappointed (to say the least) to see WPRI’s Ted Nesi tweet, during a long RI Senate hearing on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s toll-and-borrow infrastructure plan, that AAA Southern New England is officially in favor of bringing widespread tolling to Rhode Island.

When the roadside-assistance organization released a poll, recently, showing that a relatively narrow majority of its members support Raimondo’s RhodeWorks plan, I was willing to let it slide as purely an information activity, even though people with whom I agree on the issue suggested that it had essentially been a push poll that obscured the difference between supporting road repairs and supporting tolls. (N.B., I was not polled.) Sending a lobbyist to actually put the organization on a particular side of the issue is an entirely different matter.

According to the Secretary of State’s Lobby Tracker, Lloyd Albert, the Senior Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Northeast whom Nesi had named as offering testimony, collects $100 per hour to lobby in Rhode Island. Another lobbyist for the company, Mark Shaw, collects $150 per hour. Some portion of my most recent membership check, in other words, went toward paying Mr. Albert to argue for a major government revenue grab that I believe will be terrible for the state.

Of course, even if my money all went to Albert, it wouldn’t have covered a full hour of hanging out at the State House. The state government, by contrast, gives AAA enough money to have covered its entire $21,000 lobbying bill last year. According to RIOpenGov, the state Dept. of Administration paid AAA an average of $21,222 per year from 2010 through 2014. According to the state’s transparency site, the Governor’s Workforce Board began giving AAA Southern New England thousands of dollars a year, as well, in 2014 — $18,100 in fiscal year 2014, $500 in fiscal 2015, and $8,523 so far in fiscal 2016.

Yesterday, I noted that the private-sector groups that should offer some counter-force to the agents of big government are next to useless in Rhode Island, perhaps because they’ve simply been bought off. It’s more important to the people at the top of these organizations to preserve their network with government insiders than to assert the interests of their members when they conflict with the government’s interests. Members and potential members should take this reality under advisement.


UPDATED: Frias Shows Raimondo Doubletalk on Taxes

One really has to go out of one’s way not to see evidence that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and the rest of Rhode Island’s political establishment is not interested in coming to correct answers so much as saying anything to get their insider deals over the (ostensibly) legal finish line. In today’s Providence Journal, Steven Frias notes that Raimondo’s friends at the Brookings Institution proclaim that “Massachusetts and New Hampshire show the way forward,” but gloss over the degree to which cutting taxes made a difference:

In 1979, the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC), a trade association of high-tech companies, declared that the “single most important step to stimulate the growth of the high technology industry in Massachusetts is real tax relief.” MHTC explained that the “higher cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts can no longer be offset by the proximity of MIT or Boston’s active venture capital market, or the cultural and environmental amenities.” Instead, MHTC insisted “Massachusetts must reduce the tax burden,” particularly for property taxes and income taxes.

MHTC and Citizens for Limited Taxation, an anti-tax grass roots organization led by Barbara Anderson, joined forces to support a voter initiative known as Proposition 2½. Proposition 2½ was designed to reduce property taxes and limit future property tax increases to 2.5 percent per year. To control spending, Proposition 2½ also repealed state laws that gave school committees fiscal autonomy and mandated binding arbitration for police and firefighter unions.

In passing, we should observe that Frias has hit on another of Rhode Island’s problems. Whether because of the state’s size or its long history of corruption, the “business backed” groups that should offer a counterweight to state government as the MHTC did in Massachusetts — think chambers of commerce, business associations, and RIPEC — have simply been bought into the insider system. In RI, they are now almost completely controlled by people with high (often six-figure) salaries who are more worried about losing access to the political font than losing ground for their members.

More relevant to the governor’s budget, though, is the tax-limiting reform: “Proposition 2½ was designed to reduce property taxes and limit future property tax increases to 2.5 percent per year.” Raimondo is headed in the opposite direction.

As I noted last week, her Funding Formula Working Group suggested getting rid of the legal requirement that local taxpayers must pay at least as much toward education each year as they did the prior year, instead requiring them to increase taxes every year for inflation and/or for enrollment increases. (The report did not suggest that this ratchet should go in reverse in times of deflation or dropping enrollment.)

I didn’t see confirmation in the governor’s budget documents that this provision made it in, and the budget legislation isn’t available, yet, but Lynn Arditi has reported that it is, presumably as part of the governor’s effort to make the districts’ complaints about charter funding go away by throwing more money at them.

Bottom line: The Raimondo-Brookings plan is an attempt to work around the problems we all know are destroying the state.

UPDATE (2/3/16 7:58 p.m.):

Well, there it is on page 167. Local taxpayer funding of schools must go up by the greater of inflation or the increase in student enrollment. Municipalities can still calculate the increase per student (to account for decreased enrollment), but inflation must still be included. (Of course, this per-student approach is tricky, because it’s not clear what number counts. If the district projects an increase, for example, even after years of decreases, does that mean the budget must go with the district’s estimate? In RI, the safe bet is that the answer is “yes,” if the district challenges the number.)


With Raimondo Budget 2.0, Welcome to Second Class Status, Rhode Islanders

Anyone who thought Rhode Island had reached its peak for governing in favor of special interests learned from Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget, released last night, that a whole new level exists. The overarching assumption is now that a few connected insiders in the state government, in nonprofit groups, from private companies and investment firms, and from Washington, D.C., think tanks and agencies can and should map a course for our shared future and spend our money to make us get in line.

“Nearly every item is directly targeted toward a particular narrow group of recipients,” said Justin Katz, research director for the Center. “It’s the kind of budget a chief executive puts forward when she doesn’t trust the people of her state to make their own decisions.”

In ways small and large, the vision of the budget is what one might expect to be crafted in the halls of the progressive Brookings Institution, with its recent report funded by private interests (mainly Raimondo donors), and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which got its hooks into the Ocean State through the RhodeMap RI plan.

Continue reading on RIFreedom.org.


Ten Thoughts on Ted Cruz

With Ted Cruz in the lead in the GOP primary race, Erica Grieder’s profile suggests he’s pretty much what you’d expect him to be, if you thought about it.


Constitutional Amendment Limiting New Tolls to be Heard Alongside the Rhode Works Bill

Today, the Rhode Works plan, which creates a system for tolling trucks across the network of Rhode Island highways, will have its first hearing in the RI Senate Finance Committee….the Senate Finance Committee will also hear a bill today to send to the voters a constitutional amendment which would require that any future car tolls be directly approved by voter referendum….and there is no reason why both bills shouldn’t move through the legislative process together — unless, of course, the plan all along has been to use truck tolls as a stepping stone towards car tolls.

Any legislator who votes for the Rhode Works bill without also voting for the constitutional amendment will be voting for truck tolls now with an option for car tolls later.


No Room for Policy Disagreement in RI Politics

Assuming Cynthia Drummond’s sources told the truth for her Westerly Sun story, this is another example of political behavior we all know goes on in Rhode Island, but that our latest, blunter generation of political leaders see less reason to slather with rules of propriety:

A Jan. 28 meeting between Hopkinton Town Council President Frank Landolfi, Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci and Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello was abruptly canceled because the town has voiced its opposition to truck tolls. …

“[House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Chief of Staff, Leo Skenyon] called me up and canceled, and he said ‘we’re not meeting tonight.’ I asked him why, and he said ‘because I read in the paper that you folks were against the tolls, so we’re not meeting today.’”

Down there in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie was badly damaged, politically, but a scandal involving his staff’s making road closure decisions to punish a politician. This is the same sort of behavior.

On one hand, it’s not healthy that we have this sort of political culture, in Rhode Island. On the other hand, having that political culture laid out for all to see is the first necessary step for the people to start coming to their senses.

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