HEADLINES

monique-chartier-avatar

Pawtucket Train Station – So RI is Just a Suburb of Boston?

My main beef with the proposed Pawtucket train station is that it is completely absurd to spend north of $40M to accommodate only eighty nine (89) net new riders.

But in its weekly look at Best and Worst Bills of 2016, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (disclosure: I am their Communications Manager) raises another unfortunate aspect of the proposed station. They point out that it offers a disturbing insight into the economic development philosophy of state officials who are pushing for the station, which is that it

… perpetuates a submissive philosophy that the State of Rhode Island should be considered a suburb of Boston and should rely on the Massachusetts capital’s economy to achieve growth. The Center strongly disagrees and for years has advocated that broad-based reforms can transform the Ocean State into a vibrant and independent economy of its own that will benefit all families and businesses, as opposed to the insider few industries targeted by the Brookings plan.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Seek the Government Distortion to Solve Affordable Housing Problem

Upon reading an article such as a blurb by Christine Dunn in today’s Providence Journal, about Rhode Island’s high rental costs, my first reaction is always to wonder why nobody ever looks to the causes of supposed problems:

Rhode Island’s state minimum wage is $9.60 per hour, but a worker would need to earn $19.06 an hour to affordably pay a rent of $991 a month, the state’s fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment, the study added. The estimated mean hourly wage of Rhode Island renters is $12.59.

“Today’s report shows what we already know: we need to invest in and build more housing in Rhode Island,” said Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing.

Of course, one should challenge the assumptions of an article that is so thoroughly in line with the cause of an activist who has a personal interest in public policy on the issue.  Why should we assume, for example, that a person earning the state’s average should be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment on his or her one paycheck?  Add in a spouse or a roommate at the average, and suddenly Rhode Island rentals are very affordable.  Or hey, do what millions of families (like mine) have done and take on additional work!

But even going with the concept that Rhode Island needs “to invest in and build more housing,” why ought that to be done with government involvement?  Unless something (probably government policy) is getting in the way, the market should take care of this.

If apartments are drawing such an exorbitantly high rent for the area, then more people should be seeking to become landlords.  The higher the profit, the greater the motivation.  This should ensure that housing expands until its ready availability drives the price down to the point that the incentive to build more is no longer there.

If that isn’t happening, something is keeping the cost of building and maintaining rental property artificially high or keeping wages artificially low.  In Rhode Island, it’s probably both.  Or maybe the assumptions about what is “affordable” are flawed.

Whatever the case, using government to force more money into housing — with strings and bureaucratic rules — doesn’t solve the underlying problems, but takes resources away from something else that our community needs and wants, which could be the very something that will help resolve those underlying problems.  (Hint: like innovation and jobs.)

monique-chartier-avatar

Best of all Worlds for 38 Studios Bond Holders – At Taxpayer Expense

Excellent, disturbing report by WPRI’s Ted Nesi Tuesday. Buyers of 38 Studios bonds didn’t care about the company’s financial condition because they knew taxpayers were on the hook to repay the bonds – even though they were moral and not general obligation bonds.

The notes from SEC officials’ November 2014 interviews with 38 Studios bondholders show the lenders paid little attention to the underlying financial condition of Curt Schilling’s company, instead seeing the bond offering as a routine round of taxpayer-backed borrowing that posed little risk of nonpayment. …

In his interview with the SEC, [senior executive of USAA Jon] Spear analogized the moral obligation to a parent co-signing a child’s loan, saying he saw a “very, very low” risk that Rhode Island would not pay the bonds and “never assumed that Rhode Island would ever violate the moral obligation.”

Yet at 7.5%, the bonds paid a much higher interest rate – i.e., are costing the taxpayers a lot more – because they were supposedly riskier than general obligation bonds! As has been repeatedly pointed out, bond buyers are sophisticated, well informed people who understand the difference between moral and general obligation bonds. Why are our state officials pretending that bond buyers do NOT understand this difference and giving them (these eeeeeevil Wall Street bankers, remember) the best of all possible worlds – high paying interest plus no risk of default – by needlessly compelling taxpayers to repay these MORAL obligation bonds? How is it in Rhode Island’s best interest to repay these bonds?

It simply is not, though it almost certainly is in the selfish best interest of state officials who would prefer to avoid the boatload of awkward questions, not to mention subpoenas and summonses and (yikes) the need for statements to be made under pains and penalties of perjury that would quickly come in the wake of the state’s default on these MORAL obligation bonds.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Left Doesn’t Believe in Agreeing to Disagree

It seems that no school is too small to draw the attention of the conformity police in the new American progressive totalitarianism, as Holly Scheer highlights on The Federalist:

… The Obama administration is investigating a school in Wisconsin for sending home letters telling parents and students that they expect students to live within Christian values while at school. This is a private Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod school that serves a tiny group of students—from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade they have 147 students and 10 teachers.

In February the school instituted some new policies that sparked a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These policies include having parents provide a birth certificate (with the child’s sex on it) and signing a handbook that gives the school the right to discipline students for exhibiting sinful behavior.

Christians thought they could carve out enclaves for their beliefs if they gave up the tax dollars that they’ve already paid for public school and paid again for private school.  Now, progressives claim Christians can avoid persecution if they just give up their right to equal access to government funds for educational services.

We know that to be a temporary position, though, allowing the Left to keep its mask on for just a while longer, because we’ve already seen Christian bakers persecuted for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.  The clear reality is that if you go out in public — if you do anything that can have any effect on other people in any way (see Senator Whitehouse’s desired climate change inquisition) — progressives believe government should force you to conform to their worldview.

Whatever these people believe in, it isn’t freedom.  They are the heirs to the ideological oppressors against whom our history lessons were supposed to inoculate us.  They’ve just created a new church for themselves, and it will be all the more difficult to correct for the fact that it’s Godless.

UberOSCbanner810x300-featured

Serving One Another Through Innovation

There are bills being considered by the RI General Assembly, H8044 &S2864, which may kill the efficient transportation network services like Uber & lyft in the Ocean State.

In this video, I give commentary on testimony given by Rhode Islander to the RI State Senate on the role of Uber in his life. Nick Zammarelli, a blind Coventry school teacher, testified to RI State Senators: “As a totally blind school teacher, prior to Uber’s arrival in Rhode Island, I had to think about how got from point A to point B every single day. ”

Watch my commentary on the compelling testimony now. For my money, the most important part of the testimony had nothing to do with Uber, per se. It had everything to do with innovation and everything to do with the way in which Rhode Island government prevents us from finding the most effective ways to serve one another. Why do we tolerate elected officials to kill the innovation that will help the disadvantage among us?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Panopticon State Moving Forward with Prescriptions

For the 2013 Freedom Index, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity highlighted legislation that was ultimately signed into law “to create a state-controlled electronic prescription database storing all information related to electronically distributed medical prescriptions.”  We gave it a -2, and naturally the General Assembly passed it and Governor Lincoln Chafee signed it into law:

  • S0647, sponsored by Democrat Senator Donna Nesselbush (Pawtucket, North Providence)
  • H5756, sponsored by Democrat Representative Joseph McNamara (Warwick, Cranston)

Well, surprise, surprise, legislators are in the process of expanding the reach of this database in newly invasive and frightening ways, and naturally the Senate passed the legislation last night, with only Republican Elaine Morgan (Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) voting “nay.”  This legislation will “empower the state Dept. of Health to combine its drug prescription database with any other source of data to analyze the behavior and personal connections of patients and pharmacists, under the pretense of finding abuse”:

  • S2946, sponsored by Democrat Louis DiPalma (Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton)

Add this database to the information that will be produced by gantry-based tolling systems and license-plate readers looking for the uninsured, and then mix in the comprehensive data to be collected by the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) and that which is already collected for taxation and other economic activity, and everybody in Rhode Island will have a frighteningly complete digital profile accessible to unaccountable bureaucrats, following the lead of a gang of elected officials best known for violating ethics rules and being investigated by the feds.

monique-chartier-avatar

A Teacher Calls Out Teacher Seniority

Whoa. Exactly right, dude. (From an op-ed in yesterday’s Providence Journal.)

Is putting such emphasis on seniority really in the best interests of the teachers? We, as teachers and professionals, look foolish showing the door to a rising superstar while retaining the services of “Mr. Deadwood” upstairs in history.

If I’m clearly an underperforming teacher why am I not on the short list to be shown the door? What can we possibly tell students who lament losing that rising superstar when they sincerely ask, “Why is the abysmal Mrs. Do-Little still here?” Good question, kids. Unfortunately, the answer has nothing to do with what’s best for you. Sad.

monique-chartier-avatar

Speaker & Legislators Lash Out at the State’s Biggest Newspaper

It was an amazing spectacle yesterday evening at the rostrum and on the floor of the Rhode Island House. (Is this what is called, in parliamentary terms, making a point of personal privilege?) From a front page article in today’s Providence Journal.

But, in a highly unusual move, Mattiello on Tuesday also joined a chorus of lawmakers slamming The Providence Journal for what they described as “unfair’’ coverage of the House Finance Committee’s hearings on a controversial $11.6-million grant program that, year after year, has entangled the General Assembly in controversy. …

When Mattiello finished speaking Tuesday, he received a standing ovation from his House colleagues.

I’m still holding out hope that the review of grants promised by Speaker Mattiello – and the subject of the ProJo’s criticism – doesn’t end with these committee hearings, which were woefully inadequate. If that doesn’t materialize, the ProJo editorial of today will be proved right and it will be clear that these hearings

… were never intended to scrutinize these grants. Rather, they were cynically designed to cultivate support for them by bringing in needy recipients who might tug at the public’s heartstrings.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Rhode Island, Land of No Jobs & Opportunity

This week, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released its second monthly iteration of the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI).  With eight of the 13 data points that make up the index having been reported, Rhode Island’s score improved a little, although we’re still 48th in the nation.  Nonetheless, we did slip some, compared with our New England neighbors… not that there’s any danger of any New England states overtaking us, since we’re already trailing the pack.

 

The area of increase merits a closer look.  Where Rhode Island improved was the Job Opportunity factor, which puts the state’s labor force, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the numerator and three alternative measures of unemployment in the denominator: long-term unemployed, people who are marginally attached to the labor force (i.e., they don’t count, because they didn’t look for work in the prior month, but they’d like to work except for some problem), and those who are employed part time, but would rather be full time. The alternative measures are released quarterly, so they’ll have a bigger effect when they change.

Specifically, the Job Opportunity factor saw the numerator edge up slightly (pretty much flat), and the alternative measures decreased in the denominator, leading to a better score.  Even so, some interpretation is necessary.  All told, 3,700 Rhode Islanders left that denominator, but not many were added to the numerator.  Because the labor force is both employed and unemployed, these people on the edge of Rhode Island’s working economy must have simply given up and stopped even thinking about work, to the extent that the numbers can be combined in this way.

What all this parsing indicates, more than anything, is how painfully stagnant Rhode Island is.  We need to have clear improvements to the economy, as proven by people working, new jobs, and higher total income.

monique-chartier-avatar

Gov Raimondo Hands out Another $7M in Tax Dollars In Lieu of Real Econ Development

From the Providence Business News.

The R.I. Commerce Corp. voted to approve more than $7 million in state relocation and redevelopment credits Monday to several corporations that plan to invest in or bring jobs to Rhode Island.

“These are three fine projects that are helping to advance our economy,” said R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor.

What is actually needed to advance the state’s economy, Mr. Secretary, is substantive improvements to the tax and regulatory climate to signal to out-of-state businesses (and the jobs they bring) that they can come here and prosper without having to go on BENDED KNEE to state officials for CORPORATE WELFARE.

What is even more disturbing is the revelation that taxpayers are, in fact, being forced to come out of pocket via these subsidies to compensate for the business climate and market conditions created by decades of costly, anti-business policies that the Raimondo is studiously choosing not to address.

The company has developed two other hotel properties in Rhode Island, including the Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Providence. Like those, this project needs state assistance in bridging the financial gap created by market conditions. In Boston, he said, the company has properties built at similar cost that fetch $300-a-night for rooms. In Providence, similar rooms would be booked at $170 a night.

“But for this supplement, this project would not happen,” Karam said.

Remarkably, at a recent stop on her “listening tour”, Governor Raimondo actually touted the fact that she had increased such taxpayer-funded tax credit and give-away programs as though it were an achievement of her administration!

Rhode Island needs someone at the State House to be the adult here. Minimally, these taxpayer-funded subsidies need to be shut down while we wait for the governor to come to her senses about the real action needed on economic development … or, if that is not going to happen, until the next governor is installed which, hopefully for the sake of the taxpayer’s wallet, will be in two and a half rather than six and a half years.

monique-chartier-avatar

UPDATED – Monetized Firefighter Sick Time is Straight Up Rip-Off of Taxpayer

Great, important and infuriating article in the Warwick Beacon a couple of weeks ago written by publisher John Howell. From city documents obtained by taxpayer advocate Rob Cote, it demonstrates that Warwick taxpayers are being compelled to needlessly pay for monetized, unused sick days.

An examination of payroll records and information provided by Fire Chief James McLaughlin show that virtually no paid sick leave is used by department personnel, and that at the end of the year department members get a bonus – in some cases more than $5,000 – for unused sick days.

The total cost to taxpayers for the calendar year ending Dec. 31, 2015, was $442,913.87.

The huge problem here is that the basis for this abuse – sick days – shouldn’t even exist but is a completely unnecessary addition to the firefighter contract because Rhode Island law, Title 45-19-1, effectively stipulates that firefighters and police officers (more specifically, “police officer, fire fighter, crash rescue crewperson, fire marshal, chief deputy fire marshal, or deputy fire marshal”) shall receive unlimited sick and injury days.

This is not a criticism of firefighters but of Warwick officials who have agreed to a contract which includes these completely unnecessary, utterly wasteful provisions funded by Warwick taxpayers. Ken Block, who had previously completed a statewide analysis of the high cost of Rhode Island fire departments, identifies in the article why elected officials have done so.

He reasons payment for unused sick time has simply become a means for elected officials seeking firefighter union support to bloat their pay without making it obvious to the taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

Two things.

1.) Warwick officials, you’re busted. This utterly wasteful practice is a rip-off of taxpayers and needs to end immediately.

2.) What other cities and towns are similarly abusing their taxpayers by including sick days in their first responder contracts? Remember, Rhode Island law (Title 45-19-1) makes sick days completely unnecessary. Accordingly, the presence in any police or firefighter contract of sick days – which can then be monetized and abused – is not out of necessity but due to the selfish motivation of that municipality’s elected officials.

UPDATE

After review of the law and contracts, Justin Katz contacted me to point out a couple of errors.

1. The RI law cited is not quite as blanket about on-duty sick and injury as indicated in my post and the Beacon article. Justin reports:

In order to get injured on duty (IOD) pay, personnel have to file affidavits that they received their injury or contracted their illness directly as a result of their work. Just catching the flu wouldn’t do it. There is justification for having some provision that allows emergency personnel to call in when they aren’t physically up for doing their job for some reason.

2. The Warwick police contract does, in fact, include provision for sick and injury days, though it is far more tightly capped than the fire contract.

The Warwick police contract currently in effect includes separate sections for sick time and injured on duty time, *as does the fire contract,* …

It doesn’t look like the police get to cash in their sick days. However, they do get 8 hours of “miscellaneous time” if they go six months without using sick days.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Budgets, Hometowns, and Community

Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won.  Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.

But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit.  This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.

Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him.  Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries.  I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.

I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy.  New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island.  Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.

How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me.  What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.

The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication.  The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”

Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them.  It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.

Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.

monique-chartier-avatar

Grant Inequality is Also by Community

Today’s must-read-as-always Political Scene in the Providence Journal does a good job breaking down the top recipients, both legislator and community-wise, of legislative grants this year. (It was community service, not legislative, grants, that were the subject of the very lame House hearings last week.) Because legislative grants are given out entirely at the whim of leadership, those legislators who are favored are presumably going to get a larger share of the grants. But the result of that selection process is also a disproportionate distribution of grant monies by city and town. Here’s what that looks like.

Of the $537,040 given out by the 10 lawmakers, $113,850 went to organizations in Mattiello’s home district of Cranston, $82,700 went to Providence groups, $42,000 went to East Providence groups, and $38,500 landed in Warren-based organizations.

Legislative grants need to go away, largely because they are unconstitutional. But they also need to be gone because they are obviously unfair. Why should one city or town get more than another? Democrats wring their hands about income inequality. It’s interesting that, when political considerations enter the picture, Democrat leadership on Smith Hill not only tolerates inequality but deliberately creates it via the grant process.

monique-chartier-avatar

ProJo’s Fire-And-Brimstone Editorial About Grant Hearings is Spot On

The Providence Journal’s all out, fire-and-brimstone editorial yesterday against the sham House hearings on grants is welcome and fully warranted.

The hearings came across as nothing but a dog-and-pony exhibition, an insult to the intelligence of most Rhode Islanders, a fraud, a farce.

The editorial not only calls for an immediate end to grants but goes on to point out that the line item veto would be a curb on such excesses. (My comment: ahem, yes, in the hands of a Governor interested in wielding it.)

The editorial, further, makes reference to federal authorities.

This is rank enough, but the system has evidently metastasized into funneling money directly to legislators and other allies working for dubious nonprofit groups. If crimes have been committed in this manner, we hope federal authorities bring an iron fist down on the perpetrators.

It is very difficult to believe that leadership is attempting to pass off these Potemkin hearings as the promised review and oversight of the very troubled grant program and that they won’t, in fact, be bringing in independent investigators. If that is the case, however (and I would be thrilled to be wrong here), legislative oversight is pointless and it is clearly time to bring in a phalanx of feds. Grants and every campaign account on Smith Hill: let them go top to bottom. The “stench”, as the editorial calls the miasma emanating from the grant program, will not clear until this happens.

monique-chartier-avatar

Grant Hearings: No Hard Questions … Or Even Committee Members Half the Time

Good article by Tom Mooney in today’s Providence Journal about the subcommittee hearings this week on legislative and “Community Service” grants. He reports that not only were no hard questions asked … but testimony was given often with committee members largely AWOL.

But if anyone was waiting to hear if any of the $11.6 million in community service grants distributed this budget year was misused, they’ve been disappointed. One reason is there’s virtually no one around to ask the question.

Following the revelation of an ongoing federal investigation into now-resigned Representative Raymond Gallison and state grant monies sent to non-profits affiliated with Gallison that may largely have gone to his salary, Speaker Mattiello had promised to review all such grants. It is to be sincerely hoped that the intended review will extend considerably beyond these hearings, for which the description “Potemkin” would be generous.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Overtime Rule Affects Freedom and Innovation

Multiple posts on Instapundit, today, expand on the harm of the Obama administration’s mandating expanded requirements for overtime, which I mentioned yesterday.  Walter Olson hits on a key point:

Perhaps most significant, it would force millions of workers into time-clock or hour-tracking arrangements even if they themselves prefer the freedom and perks of salaried status. … Many workers will also lose the option of “comp time” arrangements, often valued as family-friendly, by which extra hours worked one week are offset by a paid day off in the next.

James Sherk fills in more similar details:

The rule will change how employees work. Overtime-eligible salaried employees must carefully log their hours. Each time they respond to a work e-mail, take a work phone call, or do any other work from home, their employer must track and pay them for it. If they do not, they risk getting sued. Trial lawyers filed 8,800 Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits in 2015, many of them for employers who did not compensate overtime-eligible employees for work done remotely.

In order to avoid lawsuits, many employers deny flexible work arrangements to overtime-eligible employees. Virtually all employers who permit remote work and flexible work arrangements allow overtime-exempt employees to use them.

Apart from the economics that I discussed, yesterday, the act of enforcing such regulations and the necessary calculations that businesses must make have an effect, too.  Even if both the employer and the employee wish to experiment with some new arrangement, the employer has to carefully consider the possibility that they’ll accidentally run afoul of the rules and create vulnerability for a lawsuit.

Ultimately, all innovation is related.  Innovative ways of working create new markets and may open up the possibility of innovative new methods, services, or products, while also freeing up costs in the economy that can be put toward something more desirable.  If you commute to work, would you rather spend your money on gas and your time on traveling, or would something else be of higher value?  The answer is obvious.

One unspoken rule of big government, though, is that society can never be permitted to advance more quickly than unimaginative politicians and insiders can figure out ways to profit from innovations and further entrench their power.

monique-chartier-avatar

Pro-Business? DLT Refuses to Cite Basis for Giving Unemployment Benefits to Striking Workers

Two weeks ago, the RI Department of Labor and Training authorized striking Verizon workers to receive unemployment benefits by erroneously labeling the action a lock-out. Not only does this egregiously wrong decision come at the expense of all RI businesses but, if it stands, it could set a costly precedent.

True to their word, Verizon was in Superior Court Wednesday contesting the decision and asking that unemployment benefits “be immediately suspended”. But DLT was not forthcoming, at least publicly, about the basis for its ruling.

[DLT Spokesperson Michael] Healey declined to discuss the evidence or the factual statements that led to Jensen’s decision, telling The Providence Journal that such information is “confidential.”

Two things. Why can’t they discuss the basis for the decision? Is it because it is so weak and indefensible?

Secondly, Governor Raimondo claims to be working vigorously on the economy and the state’s business climate. Does she agree with this blatantly anti-business, pro-union decision by the RI Department of Labor and Training?

monique-chartier-avatar

Huh. Why is Vice President Biden Really Coming to RI?

Governor Raimondo says its because her toll-funded

RhodeWorks, a program that is set to charge tolls on some trucks, and other construction projects, has turned heads, including in Washington

But could the real reason be to try and get someone, ANYONE other than those who would directly benefit from it (or is a personal friend of the Governor), to say something good about her toll program? If so, it’s interesting that Governor Raimondo’s administration had to go out of state and all the way to Washington, DC, to find someone to talk up this highly destructive new revenue stream. It would also confirm the generally held view that Governor Raimondo’s toll program, passed by the General Assembly (how did your legislator vote?), has pretty much the same political popularity as a new government Puppy Kicking Program.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Little Tastes of Big Government

Imagine a system in which people chose what products and services they valued, and the people who provided them determined what made it worthwhile to provide the service.  Then, under mutually agreeable terms, the customer could use some sort of measure of value (represented by money) to compensate the provider.

That’s the question that came to mind when I read Bill Rappleye’s WJAR story about confusion in the area of home health care workers, thanks to a new system:

“We really want the providers to know, and we’ve told them, that we will continue to keep the old system in place, so that if it hasn’t worked yet, for them, because this is about coordination from both sides, then we will continue to accept records on the old system,” Roberts said. “Claims and validations, on the old system.”

[Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care Nicholas] Oliver said that’s news to him. He’s meeting with Roberts on May 20. He said if he can’t get the deadline for switching to the EVV system changed to September, he will try to get the General Assembly to act, and if that fails, he may seek a legal injunction to try and straighten out the training and implementation process, before the system is introduced.

This isn’t a matter about which I’ve heard much, elsewhere, so I can’t say whether the new system is better or worse, or what’s driving its implementation.  It’s the whole exercise that gets my mind spinning.

The payment stream for this particular type of work has been consolidated to such a degree with government that it’s become worthwhile for the providers to pool money to fund a lobbyist.  The state implements a change about which the providers are unsure, and the next thing you know, we’ve got sympathetic stories raising vague anxieties and the potential for changes to state law, which would become more chips for political horse trading and yet another issue preventing voters from making straightforward decisions about elected representatives in order to ensure the sort of government that they want.

Now multiply this by everything that the state government does. No wonder government becomes ever-more expensive and people are becoming cynical about the degree to which it actually represents anybody but inside interests.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

DeSimone Hurts Providence Budget

Uh-oh. Looks like the structural deficit of the City of Providence is about to get worse:

“I know it’s probably not a good business answer, but I make one [property tax] payment at the end of the year and it works. It’s always worked for me … . Other than that, I really don’t have a good answer,” he said. “It’s not a financial issue. Obviously I am paying more by doing it that way [because of fees and interest].”

But DeSimone said he “got hell from my wife” after The Providence Journal ran a story this week about the latest tax-sale threat, and the story “made me think … I really shouldn’t do it that way especially if you want to be the majority leader.

No word, yet, on why DeSimone thinks Providence Journal political reporter Katherine Gregg “want[s] to be the majority leader” or why she would be hampered by DeSimone’s tax-paying practices in that effort.

monique-chartier-avatar

Good Grief – No Grants or Any Other Tax Dollars Should Go to Lobbying

Good article in today’s Providence Journal by Patrick Anderson, headlined: “Do R.I. General Assembly grants funnel back into lobbying?”

The answer, in many cases, is “yes, they do”. And for those recipient organizations who use this defense of the dollars they receive from Smith Hill:

Many said they use only non-grant funds to lobby.

Bosh. If your organization does ANY lobbying, grant dollars free up other dollars in your budgets to be used to lobby.

Often, the goal of lobbying is for policies that are antithetical to the best interest of the taxpayer. Accordingly, it is grotesque that tax dollars, whether via grants or any other source, would go to an organization that lobbies any arm of the government of Rhode Island.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

More Pay or Job Loss. Win Either Way!

The big-wave reaction of conservatives to news that the Obama administration is expanding the eligibility for overtime pay for U.S. workers in the private and public sectors is apt to be something like: “Where do these people think the money comes from?”

The hours and compensation of any given worker are determined by a complicated mix of factors that are impossible to tease out of the economy.  Using the blunt force of federal power, Obama is forcing all businesses to reevaluate that mix, all in the same direction.  If the progressives’ starting assumption is that workers are powerless and exploited, such mandates do not change their leverage.  Arguably, they weaken it by reducing their options for negotiation.

That’s the smaller wave that winds up stinging one’s eyes.  Here’s the vice president of the United States:

The White House estimates that the rule change will raise pay by $1.2 billion a year over the next decade. In addition, some companies may instead choose to reduce their employees’ hours to avoid paying the extra wages.

“Either way, the worker wins,” said Vice President Joe Biden on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez adds a cryptic note to the same sentiment:

Secretary Perez says employers have a variety of ways they can comply with the new rule when it takes effect Dec. 1. “People are going to get at least one of three benefits,” Perez said. “They’re either going to get more money … more time with their family, or everybody is going to get clarity.”

Putting aside the problem with interpreting “clarity” or assessing its potential value to workers, who are these people indiscriminately to determine what workers should value?  What if your employer gives you the “more time with family” benefit, but you want to be able to work, both for more money and more opportunity?  (What if — mystery of mysteries — you like your work?)

What they’re really doing is stealing your right to determine your own priorities and values and trading them in for some cheap votes and political support.

monique-chartier-avatar

JOI? About that Unemployment Rate, Governor

Governor Gina Raimondo’s approval rating isn’t good and, in fact, is going in the wrong direction due to

a sharp rise in her negative ratings this year, according to a newly released poll.

Asked about this in a couple of different instances by the press, the Governor responded by citing purported achievements of her administration but always including a reference to the state’s dropping unemployment rate – this one courtesy WPRI.

Asked Thursday how she reacted to seeing her approval rating at 41%, Raimondo replied: “I was pleased.”

“You know, it’s early in my term,” she continued. “We’ve been on for a year. We’ve had a lot of momentum. Our unemployment rate dropped.”

Actually, the unemployment rate is an inadequate reflection of the measure of employment as, among other things, it fails to distinguish between part and full time employment and actually counts a declining labor force participation rate as a good thing.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity has developed a more comprehensive snapshot, called JOI (Jobs & Opportunity Index), of the larger state economic picture, as opposed to the narrow snapshot of the monthly unemployment rate. From the JOI webpage:

JOI is a national index of states that incorporates three major factors, comprised of over a dozen variables derived from government reported data:

1) A proper measure of employment as it relates to labor force,
2) A measure of job/employment levels as compared with public assistance rolls, and;
3) A measure of personal income as compared with government tax receipts collected”

By this measure, Rhode Island ranks forty eighth nationally – not at all a ranking that any state official should or could brag about.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Rhode Island’s JOI ranking as the Center will be updating this important new measure every month when the state’s unemployment rate is released.

TransgenderOSC810x300-featured

What’s Really In Your Best Interests? Overreach in Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Directive

On this episode of, “What’s Really In Your Best Interests?” I discuss President Obama’s recent transgender bathroom directive. The administration’s directive regarding transgender access to bathrooms in public schools can only be viewed as a blatant threat and yet another assault against the cherished American cornerstones of federalism, local governance, individual rights, and transparent government. Rhode Islanders should speak out against this growing federal intrusion.

Regardless of how you feel about transgender access to facilities, the process by which this executive action will be implemented is nothing short of pure corruption.

If ever there was a time for school choice, to empower parents with the choice to escape schools that do not respect their personal values, that time is now. This increasing trend of arbitrary and unconstitutional government by activist and elitist executives, often a direct affront to the values of the very people they claim to represent – is dangerous to the cornerstones of our great American democracy.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Agencies Are Our Servants and Should Behave as Such

Focusing on the experience of farmers, Michale Walsh illustrates how government-by-bureaucracy is entirely antithetical to the principle of a government for, by, and of the people:

Faceless bureaucrats with guns arriving on your doorstep one fine day in order to investigate a citizen who is not even under suspicion. The Constitution doesn’t matter to them, nor do legalistic protestations, nor simple human decency. No, armed with nothing more than their own impunity, agents from EPA or OSHA or any other federal agency with a SWAT team (which is most of them) can simply make demands on citizens in the name of “regulations.”

It’s a nifty, tautological trick, government agencies have pulled in the United States:  Somewhere along the process, we all get to vote on politicians.  In progressives’ minds, that makes the government the Voice of the People, and as our duly elected, appointed, or hired “representatives,” they determine what the will and interests of the People are.  If you resist when they come to enforce that will and protect those interests, well, then, you’re an Enemy of the People.

Want to resist by legal means?  That’s fine.  They’ve got the endless resources of the People — even people who haven’t been born, much less voted, yet.

And don’t think this is just a problem with giant federal agencies.  Even in the government comedy that is the State of Rhode Island, agencies write their own regulations, work to enforce them, and then stand as the judges when people challenge them.  Tax officials pick businesses to target and then forbid them from talking about the extortion (thus keeping us from knowing how common it is) while legislators pass new enabling bills into law without even reading them, partly on the strength of leaders’ leverage with small grants that sometimes end up the pockets of the legislators or their friends.

This is a metastacizing disease that will not going away until We the People cut it out, but in practical terms, we’re probably beyond the point at which that’s possible.  After all, start running campaigns against the inside interests, and you too become an Enemy of the People.

monique-chartier-avatar

Now They’re Coming After Uber

… by they, of course, we mean a few highly misguided legislators at the General Assembly. From the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s weekly blast about good and bad bills at the General Assembly.

By adding unreasonable burdens, H8044, sponsored by House Majority Whip Rep. Jay Edwards (D, Portsmouth), would impose heavy regulations and fees for transportation network companies (like Uber), including (among other things) $150 fees for each driver, unusual insurance regulations, bans against cash use, bans on driver gun licensing, and disability mandates.

In other words, Rep. Edwards wants to do instantly what the Rhode Island General Assembly usually does more gradually and unobtrusively, which is to regulate a business out of existence. (Okay, slight exaggeration. But not much.)

Is this to protect the taxicab industry? If so, here’s an idea. Rather than regulate Uber and Lyft, DEregulate taxicabs. Does RI charge a taxicab medallion fee on the state or local level? Stop charging it. (Cue the gasps of horror from revenue hungry officials.)

Let a new form of commercial transportation lead the way to a new way of treating business here in Rhode Island, rather than allowing bad old government ways to damage a new industry.

monique-chartier-avatar

“Field of Trains” Redux: Why Would We Spend Millions for 89 Riders Net Per Day?

The Wickford Junction is an unmitigated disaster. So, of course, it makes sense (???) to strive to repeat it in Pawtucket.

Rhode Island has taken its biggest step yet toward building a new train station to serve Pawtucket and Central Falls, requesting $14.5 million from the federal government to cover about a third of the project’s cost.

But a new train station in Pawtucket would net only eighty nine new riders per day, with hundreds more poached from the South Attleboro and Providence stops. By the way, it isn’t just federal dollars that would be involved.

Separately on Tuesday, the House Finance Committee is scheduled to take up a bill sponsored by Rep. Carlos Tobon, D-Pawtucket, that would appropriate $10 million to help underwrite the cost of the Pawtucket train station. Tobon proposed a similar bill pegged at $20 million last year.

RIDOT is currently looking to fill a $126,648 – $140,920 position of “Administrator, Office of Transit, New Starts, Operations and Transportation Alternatives“. It looks from the job description that this proposed new train station would fall under the purview of this position. Is this taxpayer-funded job the sort of “opportunity to transform the area and provide much needed economic opportunity for local residents” that RIDOT Director Peter Alviti is referencing when he tries to justify this completely unneeded project?

This is serious derangement. The “If You Build It, They Will Come” approach to expensive public transit projects didn’t work in Wickford. We know NOW it won’t work in Pawtucket, either. So why are our elected officials working to repeat Wickford’s costly mistake in Pawtucket?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Heritage of Gaspee

May I indulge in a quick word about state representative from Warwick and Democrat Party chairman Joseph McNamara?  The cartoonish pretense of offense that he’s been expressing that anybody would dare criticize his fellow Democrats without exposing their donors to bullying from corrupt state officials and their activist allies is worthy of note, but what’s really been nagging at me is this, from a Katherine Gregg article:

“Unfortunately,” said McNamara, a Warwick state representative, “shadowy conservative groups like the Gaspee Project still get away with underhanded mailings like this with no reporting to the Board of Elections website. I find it disgusting, especially with the use of patriotic symbols like the HMS Gaspee,” McNamara said.

One wonders about McNamara’s sense of patriotism.  To be clear, I’m not challenging his patriotic feelings, but I wonder what they entail.  Frankly, it’s difficult not to conclude that they really are just that: feelings.  Presumably he has warm feelings about his family’s heritage, and he loves the country that’s allowed him to be a person of some small importance in his home state.  But really, what does he feel patriotic about?  I’d bet he’s never really thought about the message of the Gaspee burning or its relevance to modern times.

Consider the details.  Much of the aggression in those early days of our country had to do with high taxes, and high taxes are practically the defining value of Rhode Island Democrats.  The HMS Gaspee, specifically, was on an anti-smuggling mission, and smuggling is nothing but transporting goods for commerce without government approval.  Regulating economic activity might even be more important to McNamara’s comrades than taxing it.

Indeed, McNamara’s entire complaint against the wicked right-wing fliers is that they constitute free speech without government regulation.  In that sense, the Gaspee Project fliers are like smuggled goods, and McNamara wants to send out the ships to stop that suspicious activity.

Sorry, Joe.  Either you’re the bad guy or you have to reevaluate your affection for the incidents that defined the United States’s rebellious origin.  On further thought, you’re the bad guy either way.

← Older posts...