The Big Apple’s Progressive Lesson

Let’s be honest, New York City has not been a bastion of conservative policies, at least in my lifetime, and its previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was progressive even as a Republican.  News of the Big Apple’s rapid deterioration under overtly progressive mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has been coming in from all directions.

The latest is from Myron Magnet, in City Journal, which ends with the following advice that Rhode Islanders should take to heart for their own government:

Listen, Mayor: the first job of government is to keep the people safe in their homes and in the streets. If you can’t do that as a municipal chief executive, you are a flop. Equality is not the job of government, unless you are a Communist, in which case equality usually comes at the barrel of a gun or the end of a noose. And voters of New York, please learn this lesson too, despite your attachment to FDR and the New Deal or your seductive professor of race-class-and-gender studies at Brown or Wesleyan. New York needs a realistic mayor. We don’t have one.


New England Elite’s Short Sightedness

Anybody with experience in higher education in the past quarter century or (I get the impression) elementary or secondary education within the past fifteen years has likely been presented with the notion that privileged people — by which is typically meant that source of all evil, the straight, white, conservative, and (even if latent) Christian male.  “Check your privilege” is the advice that accompanies them for their first quarter century of life and beyond.

Those lessons came to mind while reading David Holahan’s argument in today’s Providence Journal for remaining a Connecticut resident.  Writes the manager of public relations for Connecticut architectural firm Centerbrook Architects and Planners:

If you can’t find something to do here to cheer you up or to engage your mind and spirit, you probably won’t be happy anywhere. A recent article in the New York Post, of all publications, documented the allure of Connecticut living to outsiders; Town & Country Magazine followed up with a feature touting the “Golden Triangle” of Essex, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and their environs as the “New Hamptons.”

The magazine points out what many of us often take for granted, what motivates visitors to travel long distances to get here: there are a bazillion things to see and do and enjoy in just the one corner of the state that was the subject of the article. Last I checked, the stuffy old Hamptons had hardly anything to compare with what southeastern Connecticut offers.

That’s all well and good, of course, unless the thing that would be most conducive to one’s happiness is finding a way to be able to build a career and maybe one day have the leisure time to enjoy Holahan’s beloved Hadlyme Ferry.  As government grows in both taxes and in the number of requirements in laws, licensing, and regulation before a resident can do anything for which other residents are willing to pay, the economy will throw off fewer dollars to fund the niceties that folks like Holahan can afford to enjoy.

One imagines Mr. Holahan’s fellow passengers floating down the Connecticut river pondering the ways in which other people’s activities must be restricted in order to keep the scenery pristine (and, ahem, the established parts of the economy and government sufficiently free of competition to ensure the leisure time of the lucky few).

At the end of the journey, though, somebody has to pay the $350,000 or so every year to subsidize boat rides on what the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation calls “a quaint wonder.”  Based on numbers in a 2010 Hartford Courant article, tacking another $3 for every person and car that boards the ferry would bring the boat to profitability.  If people aren’t willing to pay that to a private ferry operator, why should people who are struggling to make ends meet have to pay it to the government?

As Holahan notes, fewer are willing to do so, and they’re leaving.


Rhode Island’s ‘Ouroboros’ approach to economic development

At the request of third graders from an elite Newport private school, lawmakers in Rhode Island this year declared the American burying beetle to be the official state insect. The designation is appropriate not only because the Ocean State is one of the few that still can claim the bugs as residents, but also because the species feeds on and breeds in carrion — i.e., “the decaying flesh of dead animals.”

If Rhode Island legislators are looking for ideas for next year, the Ouroboros should be a candidate for the official state economic symbol. Historically, the mythical snake eating its own tail has been emblematic of renewal and self-creation, but Rhode Islanders may finally answer its greatest mystery: What happens when the snake finishes?

Rhode Island’s strategy of subsidizing every step in the economic chain has a similar circular feel.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org and then… return for this bonus ending, only on the Ocean State Current:

Despite a one-month increase of 1,100 jobs in “education and health services,” the total number of jobs located in Rhode Island decreased by 300, in June, after a longer-term trend of slowed growth, and the latest economic development controversy is the shift of a local star start-up company, Teespring, to Kentucky, after that state provided $2.5 million in tax incentives while Rhode Island officials had no interactions with its executives.

Bugs that require carrion to survive must live in a world of living animals.  Somebody has to pay for expanded government programs that provide services to beneficiaries of other government programs.  Otherwise, the economy will ultimately become a central-planning head with nothing left to eat.


What the Radical Party Thinks of Its Country

You may have heard that Connecticut Democrats have disowned Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.  Here’s Dennis Prager, writing on National Review Online:

Every year for the past 67 years, the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner has been the major fundraising event for the Connecticut State Democratic party. Not anymore. The party unanimously voted to drop the two Democratic presidents’ names because they were slaveholders.

That is the way the Left sees American history.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the document that articulated the principle of human rights endowed by the Creator (thereby ultimately ensuring the end of slavery) and led to the establishment of the country that has served as the beacon of hope for people of every race and ethnicity. More black Africans have voluntarily emigrated to the United States to seek liberty and opportunity than came to America as slaves.

But that is not how the Left views Jefferson or America.

As the Far Left has completed its takeover of the Democrat Party, this sort of thing has become inevitable.  Prager goes on to describe why it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that the party has become the home for Americans who hate the United States, in the absence of radical transformation into something else.  Think of Michelle Obama’s admission that she had never, as an adult, been proud of her country until it put her husband in a position to undermine it.

To be sure, Republicans do a lot of dumb things, and I switched my voter registration to unaffiliated some years ago, but, wow, a party that has ample room for an organization that harvests the body parts of aborted babies can’t stand to be associated with Thomas Jefferson?


A House and a Heart Attack-ack-ack-ack-ack; Is That All You Get for Your Money?

Lee Habeeb’s reflections upon his father’s decision finally to leave New Jersey will have a very familiar feel for Rhode Islanders.  He bought his house for $32,000 at a time when property taxes were so low he can’t remember how much they were.  Now property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes give him good reason to worry that his retirement income and savings won’t be enough.

(To some degree, it seems, Social Security is just a way to shift local taxes to younger federal taxpayers.)

Habeeb refers to people who leave a state to escape the confiscation of their property by the strong-armers in state and local governments as “refugees.”  Rhode Island has produced a lot of those.

Unfortunately, experience suggests that Habeeb’s skepticism is amply justified:

… businesses are fleeing New Jersey for the same reason so many residents are fleeing: the high cost of doing business there. Indeed, New Jersey ranked 50th, dead last, in the Tax Foundation’s 2015 State Tax Business Climate Index.

It’s a vicious cycle, and stopping it is no small task. The country watched in disbelief as one of our great American cities, Detroit, created over a million refugees over five decades, as its population fell from a peak of nearly 1,700,000 in 1960 to its current 680,000. It spent, mismanaged, and shrank itself into bankruptcy. How states, cities, and nations treat capital — the human kind and the money kind — matters. How leaders think about capital matters too. The ability to manage, nurture, and preserve it, and to grow a healthy tax base (not destroy it), is what will separate winners from losers.

Megan McArdle gives some sense of the challenge when she writes about of the stupidity of rent control policies:

… this has one key advantage for local politicians: People who are not already living in your city cannot vote in local elections. Maybe in 25 years, when rent control has pushed unregulated prices sky-high and your city can’t grow because there’s nowhere to put anyone, this will become a problem for politicians. But those will be some other politicians in charge by then.

So while virtually all economists can agree that rent control is a terrible idea, local politicians may well think it’s splendid.

No development is more threatening to powerful insiders than successful non-insiders, especially those who don’t know the local rules of the game and want to do things just because (gasp!) they make sense.


Lawsuit: Police Officers’ Right to Work

A press release sent out yesterday by Gio Cicione, chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights seems like an important development:

Five part-time police officers in Westerly, RI, have filed a Civil Rights lawsuit against the Town of Westerly, several town officials, and International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 503 in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiffs are receiving free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation and lead local counsel is being provided by the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights.

Thomas Cimalore, Anthony Falcone, Scott Ferrigno, Darrell Koza, and Raymond Morrone brought the suit and seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief because a portion of every paycheck (at a rate of $5 an hour, or 13% of their pay) is being confiscated by the town and paid directly to Local 503.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs’ First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights (and other state labor and whistle blower protection statues) are violated when they are forced, as a condition of employment, to financially support Local 503 despite not being members, receiving no benefits from the union, and never authorizing or requesting that the town withhold a portion of their paycheck and distribute those funds to Local 503.

The complaint alleges attempts by the Town to stifle their objections, retaliate by diminishing hours and pay, and forcing at least one officer out completely.

“The union bosses and the bureaucrats have worked in concert to take money directly from these hardworking part-time police officers in order to subsidize the union,” said Giovanni D. Cicione, Chairman of the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights and lead counsel on the cases.

“The unions can’t afford to keep the empty promises they’ve made to their workers – we’ve seen this throughout Rhode Island with non-existent pension funds, economic stagnation, and fleeing businesses,” continued Cicione.  “It’s time someone really stood up for the workers who are the backbone of our communities and our economies – the union bosses seem to have forgotten how to do that, but the Hopkins Center is happy to step in and defend what’s right.”

Labor unions are part of the Rhode Island establishment that seems to believe that nothing should be allowed to happen in the state with their explicit or implied consent.  That’s not freedom, and it’s not good for Rhode Islanders.


After All, Theme Parks Are Places to Visit, Not to Live

Something sounds familiar about this description of Rome, doesn’t it?

A survey by the European Commission two years ago placed Rome last out of 28 EU capitals in a ranking for the efficiency of city services. Despite great food, superb coffee and an enviable climate, on an index of quality of life, the capital came second to last, with Athens at the bottom. Its Renaissance churches, cobbled streets and vibrant piazzas still wow tourists from around the world, but beyond the historic centre, the city is a mess and life is a struggle for locals.

As I’ve said before about Rhode Island, if you’re having to work too hard to go to the beach, don’t have the disposable income to go out for dinner, and have to cut corners on your grocery bill, living in a place with such attractions doesn’t do you much good.  In fact, when the local establishment leverages the premium that people are willing to pay to live in such a place in order to confiscate high levels of taxes and return low levels of service, living in such a place can do you harm.


Making Millennials Hear the Confidence of Millennia

Father John Kiley’s “Quiet Corner” column in the June 25 issue of Rhode Island Catholic helped me bring together a few thoughts that have been drifting in and out of my mind lately.

As somebody who works to develop and research public policy for a living — proposals like eliminating the sales tax and implementing school choice programs that bring private school within reach for all families — I’ve found my observations of the younger generation, the “Millennials,” discouraging.

On one hand, they seem to have replaced a full sense of pluralistic freedom with intolerance for views that differ substantively with their own. They insist on redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, for example, but think that business owners who do not wish to provide services for such ceremonies should have no choice — not just in their own communities, but anywhere across the country.

On the other hand, they find justification for this dogmatism in the narrative that they are at war with powerful, oppressive forces. As Father Kiley suggests, they have been enculturated with “an anti-establishment mood.” It’s what they were taught, and it’s been reinforced in countless television shows and movies.

These two hands fold together neatly. Without a full sense of history and the value of intellectual diversity, “the oppressor” is just a character in the latest HBO series. He is defined not by his actions — by actually oppressing people — but by certain political views that he might hold.

Continue reading on the Rhode Island Catholic.


The Decoding Key for Progressive Policies

Glenn Reynolds built Instapundit.com on two things: his relentless ability to supply a constant stream of links to interesting things on the Internet, and his talent for encapsulating concepts in brief phrases.  One of his best, on the latter count, is to say that this or that common sense policy is undesirable to the elite because it presents “insufficient opportunities for graft.”

This week, he’s elaborated on the point for his USA Today column:

… why are so many politicians coming out against innovative new services such as Uber or Airbnb?  The answer, I think, is simple: Those new services offer insufficient opportunities for graft.  The old services they compete with — hotels or taxi companies — offer politicians a better deal, even if the deal they offer for consumers often isn’t as good.  And politicians back the companies because — and be clear about this — politicians don’t care about you, they care about using their positions to accumulate money, power and prestige.

… politicians don’t care, except to the extent that we make them care.  Whatever they say when they’re running for office, their top priority once elected is to build a coalition that will keep them in power, and accumulating money and influence, regardless of whether the interests of that coalition coincide with the public’s.

There’s a lot of explanatory power in Reynolds’s short phrase, and readers can surely think of examples at all levels of government to prove its truth.  At the state or local levels, there is certainly a closer link between politicians and their constituents, so the urge toward graft will be balanced in some degree by a closer interest in the community.  But self-interest still exists, and a certain amount of back scratching is the price of gaining and keeping office.


Planned Parenthood’s Annual $100k from Taxpayers of Rhode Island

With Planned Parenthood baby-organ harvesting in the news (everywhere except Rhode Island), it’s worth turning to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s handy dandy RI Open Gov vendor payments module.  And, yes, there they are, separate annual payments to Planned Parenthood RI and Planned Parenthood of Southern New England totaling $516,755 over the past five years of available data.

Those two subgroups of the abortion giant go back and forth in the amount that they receive, but the total has typically been around $100,000, as follows:

  • 2010: $128,999
  • 2011: $87,058
  • 2012: $106,005
  • 2013: $87,356
  • 2014: $107,338

The better part of the money is given under the heading of “perinatal and early childhood.”  For those without a dictionary handy, “perinatal” means “occurring during or pertaining to the phase surrounding the time of birth, from the twentieth week of gestation to the twenty-eighth day of newborn life.”

According to the videos making the rounds (another of which I hear is expected tomorrow), the pre-birth part of that range can be a particularly valuable one for abortion providers.


Allowing Representative Democracy at Outdoor Restaurants

Reviewers of legislation for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Freedom Index had some mild disagreement about H6210, which passed the Rhode Island House but didn’t make it over to the state Senate before the end of the session.  Basically, the bill would have given restaurants with outdoor tables some flexibility to allow patrons to have leashed dogs with them.

The negative view of the bill begins with the (appropriate) belief that it is ludicrous for the government to be getting involved with this question at all.  On the other hand, the positive reviewers assumed that this was a legislative attempt to return some freedom to Rhode Islanders, providing relief from rules already on the books.

It turns out that the assumption is correct.  Regulation 6-501.115(A) of the state Dept. of Health’s “Food Code” is the culprit:

Except as specified in (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.

The exceptions are edible or decorative fish, patrol dogs, security dogs in outside fenced areas, service animals, and pets in institutional care facilities.  Arguably, the additional relief that the House bill sponsors sought to provide was so narrow and minimal that it didn’t justify inclusion on the index at all, but lovers of freedom in Rhode Island have to take whatever hints of light they can get.

Upon consideration, the bill actually raises an indictment of the depths to which we’ve allowed our government to sink.  Apparently, the process for law is for regulators to issue decrees, and people can appeal to the legislature for relief on specific grievances.  That’s more like a parliamentary monarchy, or something, whereby the emperor pronounces rules, but people can go to the parliament (or senate) to argue for mild relief.  That is, the representative aspect is effectively secondary.

In June, I noted a similar encroachment when it comes to the bureaucracy-decreed mandate for all seventh graders to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV disease.  In that case, it appears that Rhode Island is one of only two states to mandate the vaccine, and the other, Virginia, did so by legislation, not by bureaucratic fiat.

What legislators ought to begin doing — and what Rhode Islanders ought to begin demanding that they do — is going through the Rhode Island General Laws and tightening whatever language it is that allows unelected agencies to assume the authority to issue such edicts.  The basic assumption is that experts in the government have a need, and the right, to comb through our society searching for anything that might cause harm to anybody and implementing rules to protect us from ourselves.

If we don’t demand that such a bureaucracy be pulled back, then we can’t claim to be a society that values independence and freedom.



Getting Out of the Union You Didn’t Know You Joined

Tom Steward profiles, for the Minnesota Bureau of Watchdog.org, a woman who receives state subsidies as a care taker for her special needs daughter.  Being generally supportive of labor unions, Renee Katz (no known relation) signed a card “supporting an election to form a union.”

She didn’t realize that meant she would automatically become a member of that union if it won the election.  So, “she was outraged to learn that 3 percent of their gross wages [i.e., subsidies for her daughter’s care] would be taken for dues for a union she didn’t realize she joined.”

With the Supreme Court’s ruling that her union (the SEIU) cannot compel either her membership or her dues-like “fair share fees,” Katz has been trying to end the payments.  It became such a hassle that she switched to a whole different care program:

But Katz turned to a different opt-out option. The care recipients she helps have since switched to another state plan, under which PCAs cannot be union members, due to employment laws.

“They (care recipients) didn’t want to deal with the union. They didn’t want them calling anymore, they didn’t want them hounding them,” said Belisle. “And they believe that their salary and tracking information the union wants, their address, their phone numbers and everything else, they don’t believe they (unions) have a right to them.”

As I mentioned during budget season, Rhode Island’s version of this issue is limited to child care providers (also SEIU), and although no details have been released, the dues appear to be substantial.  I’m still trying to get details of the contract, but on based on total dollars, it appears that the governor’s office and the General Assembly gave the union a nice boost in the first contract to forestall providers’ coming to Katz’s conclusion.  That is, our elected officials negotiated sufficiently generous terms that the providers will calculate that being part of the union is definitely in their interest.

And thus is captured another group with a personal interest (and union organization infrastructure) to ensure that nobody is ever elected to office who might actually negotiate on behalf of the taxpayers who have to subsidize the scheme.  One might quip that we taxpayers have, in effect, found ourselves having joined the union, too.  How many of us are imitating Renee Katz and, rather than trying to get out of the deal, are simply moving to other states, beyond the reach of the state government?


Local Silence on Baby Organ Harvesting

If you don’t get your news only from local Rhode Island sources, you’ve probably heard that the Center for Medical Progress released a second undercover video showing a Planned Parenthood official negotiating prices for the sale of bodily organs from aborted babies.  This one is much more explicitly negotiating and jokes that she wants a Lamborghini.

A former Planned Parenthood clinic director (now pro-life) indicates that these aren’t just localized practices:

Abby Johnson wasn’t horrified by last week’s undercover video showing aPlanned Parenthood doctor describing over lunch and wine how to “crush” a fetus during an abortion to preserve the organs because she’s been there.

In her previous role as clinic director for a Planned Parenthood facility in East Texas, Ms. Johnson said part of her job was to sift through the aborted fetal tissue and organs, pack them in a container with dry ice, check the consent form and “ship them off.”

Johnson doesn’t believe that anything in the videos is technically illegal, given what she calls “loopholes.”  But that’s not really the point.  As Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin put it in a statement, it’s a “disgusting and depraved practice [that] should be condemned by everyone with a conscience.”  Legality does not determine morality, and Planned Parenthood’s activities are shocking.

On July 3, the Providence Journal had a front page story by Jennifer Bogdan on the politics of legislation that would have required more spacious coops for chickens.  I’m told WPRI did a TV report on the Planned Parenthood controversy, but site searches of every major news organization in Rhode Island (keyword “Planned Parenthood”) turn up no local stories.  I guess literally carving up pre-born children (some of them partially delivered using sonogram in order not to preserve the parts of them that are actually of value) doesn’t make the grade for the local media’s conscience.


Intrusive Agences Sloshes Billions Around for ObamaCare

I just came across this letter from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen related to his July 17 presentation to Congress on the tax implications of ObamaCare for last tax year.  I’m sure there are broad points that could be made with some investigation, about the additional expense of premiums, about likely increases next year, and so on.  On the fly, though, a couple of impressions are worth making.

First is how inappropriate it is for this to be the purview of the Internal Revenue Service.  It’s bad enough that the agency is empowered to take our money away and to collect all sorts of personal information in the process. Now our healthcare is mixed up with it.  This is an agency that targets people for audits if they give to the wrong kind of non-profit.

Second is how the billions just slosh around in government.  With two-thirds of the estimated number of Americans expected to file claims related to the “premium tax credit” having done so:

  • $10 billion was paid out in health insurance subsidies (3.2 million taxpayers; $3,125 average).
  • $780 million more was paid out after claims on tax returns (1.3 million taxpayers; $600 average).
  • $1.3 billion was taken back from taxpayers who’d received subsidies (1.6 million taxpayers; $800 average).
  • $1.5 billion was taken from taxpayers who had to pay the penalty for not having insurance (7.5 million taxpayers; $200 average). (The percentage of income used to calculate this penalty doubles in the current tax year.)

The IRS will now be sending collection letters to  710,000 Americans with a “reminder” that they have to file, along with “correspondence” to another 760,000 who filed tax returns without the ObamaCare form.

Beyond its attempt to take over healthcare across the country, this law is an excuse for government intrusion and redistribution of income.


Registration Now Required for Commenting

Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising before it have always had completely open commenting systems.  Times have changed, though.  Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have developed to answer a lot of the impetus that used to lead people to leave one-off comments on blogs, and proxy servers have become so commonplace that the light-touch comment management we used to pursue for random stoppers-by isn’t really possible anymore.  Meanwhile, many of the comments are from folks who read regularly.

Therefore, some registration will now be required in order to comment.  You can use Twitter, Facebook, or Google, or you can register quickly for a Disqus account.  It only takes a moment, and it’s still anonymous, if you insist.  The only real difference, if you go the Disqus route, is that if you don’t verify your email address, your comment will have to be approved before it appears.

We’ll give it a try and see how it goes.


A Cost to the Pope’s Polls

At this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the topic of Pope Francis, both Ross Douthat and John Carr mentioned the very strong, across-the-board favorability of Pope Francis in the United States.  As a central premise, of course, the leader of an organization driven by revelation and founded in the Word of God shouldn’t pay much attention to favorability polls, which are more appropriate to politics.  Still, with an eye toward being effective, no leader of any sort should dismiss the information if it’s available; the question is one of the weight it’s given on the decision-making scale.

In Douthat’s case, the New York Times columnist raised polling mainly by way of minimizing the significance of three groups of Catholics who were “unsettled” by the pope: Catholic traditionalists, politically and economically conservative Catholics, and socially conservative Catholics.  Carr raised the pope’s poll numbers to emphasize the huge potential for good could accompany Francis’s visit to the United States this autumn.  With such vast support, the pope would be better able to get across his message, and Catholics across the spectrum would presumably promote, reinforce, or at least not distract from it.

So what might it mean that Pope Francis’s approval ratings have taken a major hit in the past month?  According to Gallup, he’s still very popular in the United States, although his favorability among people who identify as conservatives has dropped from 72% last year to 45% now, and the drop was almost as substantial among Catholics as among non-Catholic Christians.

That said, in my running series of essays about the Portsmouth Institute presentations, I’m tracing what appears to be a subconscious concern that the pope might not be accurately assessing our point in history or his role in it.  Two problems that stand out, if such concerns are justified, are that the pope might play a role in hastening, rather than forestalling, a global crisis and that his intended message will be lost.

To oversimplify the first count, if the West is holding the world together by some remaining threads of actual economic and civic freedom, then attacking crony capitalism might advance the cause of corrupting socialism.  Thus a message that would be appropriate after a socialism-driven crash and shuffling of resources to a government-and-crony elite might push the world over the edge if what’s really happening is that the elite is using the pretense of solidarity in order to undermine its more-libertarian opposition.

On the second count, the more divided people are about the pope and his intentions, the less likely they will be to harken to his message of solidarity.


The Never-Learn-from-Your-Mistakes State?

Is it a central theme of Rhode Island’s civic culture that the state does not learn from its mistakes?  That’s a question of perspective.  Perhaps what most perceive as mistakes are not mistakes, but rather the entire corrupt purpose of state government.

Two articles might give some clues as to which perspective is more accurate.  The first is another historically driven column in the Providence Journal by Steven Frias:

In 1974, Rhode Island’s first moral obligation bond to promote economic development was issued by the Rhode Island Port Authority. This bond helped provide financing to Fairmount Foundry to purchase and keep open the ITT Grinnell Foundry in Cranston. In 1976, the foundry went bankrupt.

… after the General Assembly paid off the moral obligation bond, at a cost of approximately $4 million, Speaker Edward Manning created a new committee, the House Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. Raymond Gallogly, to investigate the Fairmount Foundry fiasco. …

After the hearings concluded, Gordon Bryd, the acting director of the Port Authority, stated: “I don’t think there will ever be another moral obligation bond issued by the Port Authority.” For about 15 years, Mr. Bryd was correct, because Rhode Island wisely avoided issuing another moral obligation bond for an economic development project.

Director Bryd seemed accurately to have predicted a lesson learned, but I wonder.  Maybe 15 years was just the interval for those who don’t think spending money by any means is a mistake to work the politics back toward allowing this particular mechanism again.  Here’s Brian Bishop, on GoLocalProv, taking up a different topic:

It is a perennial saw that Rhode Island’s bridges are bad and getting worse. But the stimulus friendly DOT under our new governor has caused the present consternation by proposing not to buckle down and prioritize its spending to climb out of this hole. Rather DOT wants to borrow $700 million just as the state’s road debt is finally improving. For a decade RIDOT has been struggling to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach to road work, thus putting the moneys previously consigned to interest and bonding expenses to work on the roads.

Whether this is paid for by tolls on trucks is a side show compared to the lunacy of undertaking such an effort without contemplating how it is that Rhode Island is in the top five states for spending per mile on its roads but has the highest percent of deficient bridges in the country?! Giving $700 million dollars to the combine of bureaucrats, contractors and labor that have produced that record is indefensible.

There are two lessons not being learned, there.  First, that we shouldn’t borrow our way to better infrastructure, and second, that giving the state’s bureaucracy more money is foolish.

Come to think of it, both perspectives come back to the same thing. After all, Rhode Islanders keep sending the same people back into public office, so even if they are repeating “mistakes” on purpose, the rest of us never seem to learn.


Keeping the Pension Fund Scam Alive

The accounting for public-sector pension funds is a scam on both taxpayers and government employees.  There’s no way around that conclusion.  Consider:

Rhode Island’s state employee pension fund made 2.22 percent in investment returns for the budget year that ended June 30, state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner announced Tuesday. 

That was below the pension fund’s internal benchmarks and substantially below the 7.5-percent assumed rate of return set for the pension fund, but Magaziner applauded what he said were good returns in a particularly challenging year for investors.

Comparison with other investors is not good enough.  If we were all running from an avalanche (didn’t want to go back to the lava well twice in one day), saying that you’re in the middle of the group of people racing for their lives is an irrelevant measure.  Middle, front, or back, the only measure that counts is whether your speed is enough to escape death.

The fund has to make a certain amount of money.  If it does not… catastrophe for taxpayers, beneficiaries, or both.

The risk does not lay evenly, either.  Note that Paul Edward Parker’s article highlights the fact that the formula for cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees goes by a five-year schedule, by which the state is doing OK.  As I’ve written many times (here, for one), pensions are a long-term investment, and over the long term — a 10-year average or longer — Rhode Island is behind on its investments.  We can’t afford only to beat benchmarks that are lower than the investment projections that we use to calculate contributions.

Back when the General Assembly passed then-Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s pension reform, I estimated that the game would last about a decade, before it would become apparent, again, that the system wasn’t sustainable.  The stock market boom of the last few years (which I’d characterize as artificial) may have extended that period a little bit… or it may have reduced it, depending on the timing and nature of the correction.  Either way, it wouldn’t surprise me to see now-Governor Raimondo find some way to move on from her current job, rather than seek a second term, so as not to be in the direct line of fire when questions about the pension fund become more difficult than Magaziner is able to spin.



Governor to Suspend Economics by Decree

On the tropical island of Rhod Ah, Chief Rai Mondo has convened a council of the Elders to craft words by which to decree that the island’s active volcano will no longer erupt.  Said the chief, through a translator:

Right now, if you own a business on Rhode Ah Island or if you’re anybody who lives here, the lava has been encroaching on your life every single year.  It’s unaffordable.  It puts a burden on islanders who just want to go about their lives.  It makes it so other people don’t want to come here and makes it harder for us to get anything done.  The whole point of this decree is to say, “Hold on.  We can’t sustain that.  Let’s bring the amount of volcanic activity down.”

OK, that’s not the story.  Actually, Governor Raimondo has convened a “Working Group for Healthcare Innovation” with the central mission of figuring out how to place “a cap on both public and private health care spending.”  The model state, Massachusetts, ties health care spending to the state economy, but according to Providence Journal reporter Jennifer Bogdan, “some suggested that the Massachusetts law did not provide a strong enforcement mechanism for sticking to those targets.”

This is a terrible, terrible idea, and it’s backwards in the both the sense that it seeks to decree a plug at the output-side of an essentially natural process (economics) and in the sense that it’s retrograde, like a laughable island dictatorship.  The Massachusetts experiment has not run its course, yet, and there’s always room for spin, but this September article from the Boston Globe shows hints of the problems that one should expect:

Partners spokesman Rich Copp said costs grew faster than expected in 2013, but that over time Partners will reduce costs by delivering more coordinated care in lower-cost community settings instead of its big academic hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham & Women’s. Partners is trying to acquire community hospitals north and south of Boston. …

… The annual estimates are an outgrowth of the state’s landmark health care reforms, which sought first to expand insurance coverage and later to control costs — among the highest in the nation. …

… Doctors at UMass Memorial Health Care decreased spending 1 percent for some patients, while the doctors group Atrius Health had a decrease of 3 percent for others.

Something and someone is driving the spending.  A top-down decree to control spending will not necessarily target the people and incentives that create the spending, but those that the people at the top want to target.

At the end of the day, such caps create incentive for consolidation and quotas, less choice, and increasing transfer of costs (which will continue to grow) to those in preferred groups or roles in the market and from everybody else.


Assessing Rhode Island’s ‘Sanctuary State’ Status Left to Suspicion, Anecdotes

An immigrant preparing to cross the United States’ southern border illegally who looked at the Center for Immigration Studies map of localities offering “sanctuary” might notice just two bright green markers for whole states that intentionally reduce their odds of being deported.  One is North Dakota, where the official unemployment rate has not been over 5 percent since 1987, but where the nation’s second-coldestaverage annual temperature is only slightly above freezing. The other is Rhode Island, which is not only more temperate, but provides some of the most generous public assistance packages in the country.

Soon after taking office in 2011, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee rescindedan executive order so that government entities would no longer be required to check job applicants for citizenship using the E-Verify program and state law enforcement and corrections officials would no longer work with federal immigration agents.  Soon after, through another executive action (by way of the Board of Governors for Higher Education), Rhode Island became the third state to extend discounted in-state tuition rates at its public colleges and university to illegal immigrants.

The topic of sanctuary cities, counties, and states has made national news, recently, after an illegal immigrant who had been detained and deported multiple times allegedly murdered a young woman at a popular San Francisco tourist location.  In Rhode Island, the effects of illegal immigration can be difficult to quantify, and evidence is often similarly anecdotal.

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.


The Salability of Liberal Guilt in Summer Recreation

At the end of the day, newspapers have to make money.  They have to publish things that people are willing to pay to read.  In that regard, I find myself wondering how much of a market there is for articles tweaking the guilt of while liberals and the grievance of non-white liberals.  The poobahs of the The Providence Journal demonstrably must believe the market is huge.

As the paper’s contribution to the progressive project of sowing racial discord during the lame-duck period of Barack Obama’s disastrous presidency, the paper is running an ongoing series called “Race in Rhode Island.”  This weekend’s offering — covering more than half of the Sunday edition’s front page and still at the top of the paper’s Web site — is Alisha Pina’s “The Play Gap: Summer programs in affluent communities can give kids a leg up on less privileged peers“:

A 44-page glossy South Kingstown brochure offers young people more than 100 summer recreation opportunities: pirates ahoy, riding the waves surf camp, rock band and many other activities under its motto, “Where tradition meets adventure.”

But at the other end of this tiny state, Woonsocket has just one basketball league and a four-hour “Just Play” program that runs three days a week. You can find the two programs only on fliers and Facebook.

Summer recreation opportunities are different from community to community in Rhode Island; some have millions of dollars while others have almost nothing. The Providence Journal looked at five cities and towns and found these wide disparities.

Again, is there really a market for this stuff?  And if so, does it ever get saturated?  How many people out there are just waiting to spend a chunk of their Sundays lamenting the plight of those poor, unfortunate urban children because their local governments don’t create employment for yet more public employees to increase our reliance on government to structure our lives for us?

Have no doubt that such is the meaning and purpose of this article.  Profiling five of 39 cities and towns is hardly sufficient to draw the generalized conclusion of the story’s lede.  That’s especially true considering that the profiles don’t neatly create the desired narrative.  Providence, for example, doesn’t look like it’s exactly depriving its students of the opportunity for government-subsidized activities.  Tiverton, for another example, is not among the profiled five, and the town is currently struggling to expand its summer offerings, even as it struggles to accommodate residents’ justified demand that the recently exploded tax bill be brought back under control.

In other words, this article must be about guilt and grievance, because the actual information isn’t as sold, and it doesn’t bother raising the question of whether government really needs to be taking over the summer recreation market.  An article about the factors that prevent the private sector from filling a presumed market need for summer activities might be worth reading, but then Rhode Islanders might, once again, have to face their government’s strangulation of their society.


Collecting DNA and National Security

Conservatives and Republicans in Rhode Island are still debating the justice of a law passed last year that would collect DNA from people not just upon their conviction for a violent crime, but their arrest.  See this Facebook post for multiple threads of the argument.

One of the first points made by those who favor such practices is that the collection is of a limited amount of DNA that can only be used for identification.  That’s not a very strong argument if your objection, like mine, is premised on the patent inability of the public to trust that government agents will only take what’s allowed, destroy what must be destroyed, and protect what they keep.  Still, for the general public it makes things sound reasonable, which is why the supporters press the advantage by saying it’s just like fingerprints.

That’s why I thought of the issue when I came across an article in National Journal titled “How Much Damage Can the OPM Hackers Do With a Million Fingerprints?.”  OPM stands for the federal Office of Personnel Management, and the issue (if you missed it in your news gathering) is that somebody (probably in China) succeeded with a massive hack of data about anybody who’s worked for the federal government, particularly those who’ve filled out extremely detailed and personal forms for security clearance.

Unlike abstract items of theft, like Social Security numbers, fingerprints can’t just be changed after a security breach, and…

Part of the worry, cybersecurity experts say, is that fingerprints are part of an exploding field of biometric data, which the government is increasingly getting in the business of collecting and storing. Fingerprints today are used to run background checks, verify identities at borders, and unlock smartphones, but the technology is expected to boom in the coming decades in both the public and private sectors.

“There’s a big concern [with the OPM hack] not because of how much we’re using fingerprints currently, but how we’re going to expand using the technology in the next 5-10 years,” said Robert Lee, cofounder of Dragos Security, which develops cybersecurity software.

How much worse would this be with DNA?  I’d argue that DNA collection should be kept entirely outside of purview of government, but if that’s a bit extreme, surely it’s reasonable to draw the net tightly enough only to catch people who’ve been convicted of violent crimes.

(Via Instapundit.)


The Web of Accumulating Legislation

On GoLocalProv, Stephen Beale revisits the habit of Rhode Island legislators to burden the state law with restrictions that make no sense and/or of which residents might not even be aware unless they’re cited for breaking them.  Both Steve Brown of the local ACLU and I point to the danger that this attitude toward the authority of government can move into areas of political activity:

“It is not far-fetched to worry that other dubious laws on the books, like one banning online impersonation, could easily be used against political speech or even satirical Web sites,” Brown said. He cited the newspaper case as an example of why such fears are not groundless. …

Katz … worries about further government limits on political speech.

“For example, S0384, which passed the Senate but died in the House would have expanded the requirements for politically active citizens to register and file reports, forbidding them from running for office if they run afoul of the regulations and owe fines. A story on your site today illustrates how people organizing on important political questions might be contacted by the state government to let them know that they’re coming up to the line of the law. Others are less fortunate and only find out that their civic engagement has been illegal when somebody files a complaint,” Katz said.

Of course, it’s much worse than direct regulation of political activity and related rights, like free speech.  In a society in which everyone has pretty good odds of breaking some law, somewhere, at any given moment of the day, government has a limitless power to arrest or at least discredit anybody in the entire society who might become a problem.

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