TivertonOnTrack-logo-featured

The Trick of “Move Forward”

A theme that emerged during Tiverton on Track Episode 13 was the tendency of government insiders to urge the public to “move forward” from the problems and mistakes of the past.  Depending on your perspective, it’s either a bug or a feature that this has the effect of making it more difficult to fix underlying problems.  (Probably because a major underlying problem is often the government insiders!)

In this episode, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and I discuss ways in which local government can get a handle on things, including meetings in which not everybody has to agree.

SRBtoll-featured

Christopher Maxwell: A Quick Cost Benefit Analysis for Tolls

The all-powerful director of the R.I. Department of Transportation, Peter Alviti, has invoked the authority granted to him by Gov. Gina Raimondo and General Assembly to double the toll rate at Oxford Street overpass. The increase is justified by a nebulous, internally-concocted cost-benefit formula.

I am reminded of the very telling testimony of one Mike Riley, my friend and the former head of the Connecticut Motor Truck Association, who joined us in opposition to RhodeWorks before the House Finance Committee back in 2015.

He stated: “Methinks your director protests too much. He wants way too much authority and you ought not give it to him. You ought to stop. You ought to think about this. Remember the highway intersection sign: Stop, look and listen.”

With the General Assembly’s self-proclaimed “firewall” against car tolls currently taking on water, the recently-announced move by RIDOT to “nationalize” the R.I. Turnpike and Bridge Authority, and this latest toll increase maneuver, I urge Rhode Islanders to “stop, look and listen.”

Methinks (MeKnows) you are next on the establishment’s “cost-benefit” menu. After all, the formula is very simple: your cost will always be to their benefit.

stateofthestate-casimiro-vellawilkinson-legislation-021020-featured

Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson on Pending Legislation

Guests: Julie Casimiro, State Representative, H-D 31, rep-Casimiro@rilegislature.gov
Camille Vella-Wilkinson, State Representative, H-D 21, rep-vella-wilkinson@rilegislature.gov
Host: Richard August
Topic: Vaping and other pending legislation
Host: Richard August Time: 60 minutes
Representatives Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson discuss a broad range of pending legislation and other matters, which have their concern. Topics include vaping legislation; a veteran joint oversight committee; pharmacist having birth control prescription authority; reproductive health; firearm legislation; climate control; out of school time learning; early parole for young rehabilitated offenders; military sexual assault trauma; and more. Other matters include the need for a constitutional convention; line item veto; minimum wage; and candidate endorsements.

notareflectionofthestatehouse-featured

The Independent Man Needs YOU: Consider This Call To Civic Action

Is it time for you to get involved… to save our state? If we are ever going to change the policies that are driving away families and crippling businesses, the sad truth, my friend, is that we are going to have to change the players.

Rhode Island’s political class is so beholden to so many special interest groups and agendas, that they are paralyzed when it comes to considering common-sense, pro-growth policy reforms.

TivertonOnTrack-logo-featured

Behind the Deterioration and the Hostility

Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) are finding a single cause behind many of the problems and controversies going on in town.  The guest for episode 12 of the Tiverton on Track podcast is Richard Rom, who is on the board of the Tiverton Library and who is the chairman of the Tiverton Republican Town Committee (TRTC).

Richard’s appointment to the library board generated a lot of heat last year, because he came from a different perspective than the other members.  That was exactly the reason the majority of the Town Council supported him, and now he’s offering suggestions as the board figures out how to address maintenance issues and the contents of the library.

Meanwhile, a group of men who have been supporters of a faction heretofore hostile to the TRTC have suddenly registered as Republicans and have begun to attend its meetings.  A big tent and conversations are great, but somehow they bring the air of a hostile takeover, rather than of an intent to build on shared values.

The single cause between these and other controversies is the sense among some in town that people who disagree with them should be locked out not only of decisions, but of institutions where they might feel comfortable.

giantraimondo-featured

The Governor’s Conflicting Projects

Rhode Island’s Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, has been pledging to do “whatever is needed” for a lot of people who aren’t Rhode Islanders, lately.  First she became one of six co-chairs of a new PAC called “Organizing Together 2020.”  As she says, “good organizing takes time.”  The she became a co-chair of Mike Bloomberg’s campaign for president, another national political effort that is not focused on Rhode Island.

Rhode Islanders might wonder what they’re paying her for.  We should also worry about what we’re paying her for.

After all, her fellow activists in Organizing Together are in large part labor unions:

The group includes labor unions — Service Employees International Union, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — and a collection of progressive advocacy groups including Planned Parenthood Votes, the Color of Change PAC, the NAACP and VoteVets, according to a news release.

One of the major challenges of the remaining years of her gubernatorial administration is going to be the improvement of Providence schools.  The state has taken over the district; the governor has hired a new education commissioner; and the commissioner has hired a new superintendent.  Whether the officials involved will admit it publicly or not, this project is going to require pressure to be put on the teachers union.  How does that play out when the governor has made common cause with their national organizations?  How can the families of Providence trust that she’s fully on their side as their governor?

As for the Bloomberg move, what’s notable is the focus on career moves.  The promise of a local campaign office for a presidential candidate who is a billionaire many times over gives the governor jobs to hand out out to allies… jobs that have nothing to do with governing Rhode Island.  And the responsibilities of a national campaign co-chair will give the governor reason to be outside the state, networking and building her brand in key battleground states that aren’t Rhode Island.

Again the question arises:  Does Gina Raimondo want to end her terms as governor on a high note from the perspective of the people of Rhode Island, or from the perspective of an ambitious career-building politician?

godzillavsghidorah-1964

The Gambling Giants Make Nice-Nice

Just a short while ago, Rhode Islanders were treated to a refreshing opportunity to see our system of government work the way it should.  With one of the two major managers of the state’s gambling line of business challenging a no-bid deal the governor had worked out with the other, it looked like the Ocean State might benefit from an open-bid process bringing in competing proposals and driving down the cost of the contract and/or the benefits to Rhode Islanders.

Oh, well.  Twin River and IGT have teamed up to present unified front to the state government:

If the proposed agreement is approved by lawmakers and state gambling regulators, Twin River would evolve from a casino-operating company to one that provides video-slot machines, giving it a large source of the revenue now going to out-of-state game manufacturers and suppliers.

International Game Technology would emerge as 60% shareholder of the new company, with a clearer shot at winning the 20-year contract it has been seeking from the state, without Twin River executives — and the big-name gaming industry players that Twin River had lined up as potential partners in a rival bid — nipping at its heels. Twin River would have a 40% stake.

And as if to capture the full circuit of issues that have illustrated Rhode Island’s flawed approach to government and economic development, Twin River has pledged to open up a new headquarters in the Wexford Innovation Complex, a recent addition to Providence that the governor has huge incentive to see filled with tenants.

Republican candidate, lawyer, and historian Steven Frias has it right when he says, in the first linked article above: “This deal does not automatically become a good one for taxpayers because IGT and Twin River will now be business partners.”

We benefit from competition, whether it’s political parties or private vendors for state, and we shouldn’t assume that it’s a good thing when they work together.

flyinglipstickpig-featured

Corruption as a Means of Survival and as a Weapon

As the subpoenas fly and the investigation continues into the unseemly air surrounding the Convention Center Authority and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s call for an audit, we’re stuck in a moment of intense interest but little information.  That gives us a chance to look for broader lessons.

One recurring theme with Mattiello is that his “friends” and allies keep popping up in a conspicuously connected way.  So, the former Authority employee whose suspension allegedly sparked the audit as payback, James Demers, is often called “a Mattiello friend.”  The head of the Joint Committee for Legislative Services (JCLS) who has been subpoenaed is “Mattiello friend” Frank Montanaro, Jr.  And when the offices of JCLS were suddenly cleaned out, ostensibly to address a mold problem, a company called Single Source, owned by Mattiello associate Jack Pomeranz, did the work.

An argument sometimes advanced by people seeking to justify Buddy Cianci’s activities comes to mind:  In a corrupt environment, those in power have a reason to cultivate a network of people they can trust… which starts to look like corruption.  A line exists somewhere between filling offices with people who’ll help you deal with the corrupt system and giving out patronage jobs to friends who bring nothing to the table.  The point at which an official crosses that line is not always clear, and it can move depending on the individuals and the circumstances.  We’re talking something more like a battlefield, where natural and strategic considerations may suggest rough boundaries, than a football field, where the lines are so clear that a toe can make a difference.

Of course, because the line is not clear, allegations of corruption can become a weapon even when not justified.  We have some experience with that in Tiverton.  When reform-minded residents (including this writer) claimed a majority of the council, cries of (and lies about) corruption became commonplace.  There was never any evidence, but the accusation was thrown around on social media and even statewide TV.  The slender hooks were that the council hired a solicitor whom we knew would not undermine us, but just explain the law, and appointed a resident with a different view than the establishment to the library board.

At the same time that we keep an eye out for corruption and hold officials accountable, we do need to be careful about being misled by accusations about it.

solar-featured

Promising the World to Sell the Policy

A couple things should be observed about the claims of RI Department of Environmental Management Deputy Director Terrence Gray on State of the State, recently.

Mr. Gray was on the show to talk about the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI).  That’s a proposed regional organization that our state government wants to permit to tax gasoline to create a slush fund for projects that can fit under the “green” umbrella.

The definition of the “tax” is the first observation that must be made.  At one point, Mr. Gray insists that TCI is not a new gas tax, but then he proceeds to describe the mechanism by which the tax is implemented.  It reminds me of an old Remi song about cap-and-trade schemes:

It sounds like cap and trade is a tax we pay then
No sir, cap and trade is just a regulation

See tax is when there’s money spent
this is just a fee to the government

With TCI, the new regional government artificially limits gasoline production and distribution, forcing companies to bid for “allowances.”  The profit from these bids goes to government.  It’s a tax.

Which brings us to the spending part of the equation.  The other important observation one can make from Mr. Gray’s commentary is that he tried to sell the new tax on a wide variety of great things that could be done with the money, when obviously, it can’t go to everything.  So, when convenient, he’ll talk about spending it on public transportation… or charging stations for private cars… or some sort of dividend or fund to offset the new costs for residents.  Until there’s a written plan, it’s possible to say that the money will do any number of wonderful things.

If we look to the spending of the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which covers energy production with a regional cap-and-trade scheme, we can get some sense of what actually happens.  Maybe early on the money is used to offset something in the costs to average Rhode Islanders, but inevitably, the funds drift toward government, whether solar for municipalities, buses for RIPTA, or similar programs.

Those may or may not be worthwhile projects, but one suspects it would be a harder sell if it were made clear that TCI is, yes, just another tax to fund government activities, which ought to be funded already if they’re good ideas, given the amount we already pay for government.

RIconstitution-proposed-featured

Redistricting Toward a People’s Convention

When an initiative like this moves through the news cycle, I find myself wondering what workaday Rhode Islanders think of it:

Common Cause Rhode Island is asking state lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission, rather than continuing to allow the legislature to create the commission and fill most seats with incumbent legislators.

This would be an important change to Rhode Island’s civic structure, but how many voters will find out about this legislation, and how many of them will know what it means (or bother to find out)?

Then there’s the path Common Cause is taking.  The bills in question are H7260 and S2077, and if either passes and is signed into law, the legislature and governor would ask voters in November if we want to modify the state constitution to take the power of setting up their own district lines away from legislators.    It seems obvious, but it also seems impossible.  After all, the assumption is that we cannot trust lawmakers to oversee the redistricting, so why would we pursue a plan that relies on the same lawmakers to change the rules that allow them to do that.

What’s needed is to back off the request one step more.  Ask the legislators to put a people’s convention on the ballot, as allowed under our state constitution.  Then a world of possibilities will open, including changing how we draw our legislative districts.  Voters could more readily understand the value of reviewing the constitution, and the people elected to the convention would more readily take the time to understand redistricting.

raimondo-hunter-featured

A Surprisingly Unknown Raimondo Pension Story

Reading Edward Siedle’s recent Forbes column, which is the text of a speech that he gave to a “Rally for Pension Justice,” involving the Rhode Island Retired Teachers Association, one can’t help but wonder why his claim isn’t more widely known around the state:

In 2007, Rhode Island current governor and former state treasurer, Gina Raimondo was a co-founder and partner in a very small local venture capital firm with very little money under management and a very short investment track record.

Miraculously, Gina succeeded in convincing the $8 billion state pension to invest $5 million in a brand new fund her nascent, unproven firm was offering called the Point Judith Venture Fund II.

According to Siedle, that one deal grew Point Judith’s portfolio by 33%, but the state considered the investment reasonable because the firm “had a billionaire hedge fund investor in New York backstopping” it.  Then, the state gave Point Judith a 2.5% fee, even though the sales presentation only asked for 2%, which is the industry standard.

There’s more.  Per Siedle, Point Judith gave Raimondo an ownership interest in the pension investment, with a $125,000 minimum payout per year, no matter how the fund did.  That revelation puts a much different light on the annual story we hear about Point Judith extending its contract with the pension fund without the state’s consent due to secret provisions allowing its investors to do so.

How is this not a regularly revisited investigative story in the Rhode Island press?  Granted Siedle was talking to a very interested crowd and telling them something sure to keep their interest, but he’s a credible guy in this area.  After all, the article appeared in Forbes.

Maybe the layers of secrecy and PR professionals, combined with the specialized knowledge to investigate it, move this down local reporters’ to-do list, especially given the flagging journalism industry, which can afford fewer and fewer specialized investigators.  (I’ll admit to being unable to devote time to the story, myself.)  Whatever the mechanism, though, it seems as if a healthy civic environment would somehow get this story into the awareness of more Rhode Islanders.

There’s something very similar between this story and the conspicuously timed clean-out of the JCLS offices just as the Speaker of the House is under fire for that agency’s activities.  That’s easier to speculate about, though, because white-collar schemes aren’t as easily understood.

TivertonOnTrack-logo-featured

Complaints and Interference

The pervasive theme throughout Tiverton on Track Episode 11 (stream below) is that a lack of transparency and a lack of respect for confidentiality when it is justified mix to create tension in a community.  That’s the case whether somebody elsewhere in the state tweets a detail out of supposedly confidential contract negotiations or the leadership of the Town Council attempts to resolve a community disagreement the way they want it resolved by keeping the details out of public view.

aliceinwonderland-caucus-featured

Iowa Caucuses and UHIP

The campaign manager for President Donald Trump, Brad Parscale, offered a take on the Democrats’ Iowa caucus troubles that probably occurred simultaneously to just about every conservative in the country:

And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?

A point often gets lost in all the jockeying for control of the American narrative.  When we object to this program or that one, conservatives aren’t typically opposing government-driven solutions regardless of whether they’ll work.  On the flip side, we also aren’t typically saying that the certainty of a fix can always overcome principled objections based on a philosophy of how government should function.

Rather, the conservative position tends to be that, for any given issue, the trade offs are not sufficiently clear, the benefits are not sufficiently certain, and side effects are so excessively probable that humility should be the underlying principle.

The debacle of the 2020 Iowa caucus should be more proof than anybody needs of this principle.  It’s not as if this was the first time Iowa Democrats have caucused, but now (regardless of the reason) there will be lingering doubts about the process, including discord between factions that suspect some sort of political scheme.

To be sure, government and political parties will naturally handle elections-related activities, but they don’t have to handle things like healthcare.  Look at experience with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  When bureaucrats committed Rhode Island to the scheme during the Chafee administration, they had wide eyes about “one-stop shopping” for government services.  When they rushed ahead with a system that they’d been warned was not ready, no doubt the Raimondo administration was hoping for some sort of PR win.  And we got… a debacle.

This isn’t a claim that Democrats are especially incompetent, but that our political system creates incentives and risks that should advise a strong preference for handling society’s challenges through other institutions than government.

stateofthestate-maxwell-trucktolls-012720-featured

Chris Maxwell on the Truck Toll Shortfall

Guest: Chris Maxwell, RI Trucking Association, www.ritrucking.org
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
In a recently completed study the state of RI learned that truck toll revenues have not yielded what had been expected or predicted by the RI Department of Transportation. This shortfall is consistent with what the local trucking industry has been predicting since the state announced its plans to toll trucks. The RI Trucking Association has filed a court case challenging the plan and more. Maxwell discusses various consequences of the tolling and the court case his Association has filed.

depetroshow-logo-featured

Political Monday with John DePetro: The Corrupt RI Filter

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 3, included talk about:

  • Raimondo’s anti-Trump special-interest PAC.
  • Will the new Providence superintendent earn his pay?
  • Everybody could be right, but is wrong, on the Convention Center.
  • RI gambling giants’ form a super-crony organization.

I’ll be on again Monday, February 10, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

notjustaprettyplacetopassthrough-featured

Q & A On TCI, The Transportation & Climate Initiative

Q. What is TCI?

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace.

stateofthestate-gray-tci-012720-featured

State of the State: Terrence Gray on TCI

Guest: Terrence Gray, Deputy Director, RI Dept. Environment Management, dem.ri.gov
Host: John Carlevale Time: 30 minutes
TCI is a multi-state effort of transportation, energy and environmental agencies to work collaboratively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fees. The model is a “cap and invest” approach which Gray explains will generate revenue which will be invested in more environmentally friendly systems to cut greenhouse gasses. The challenging question is: Will these fees levied at the petroleum produces increase the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel?

SRBtoll-featured

Tolls: What Happened to Gina Raimondo’s Promise to Hold off on Gantries Until After Lawsuit?

As public attention understandably turns to legal developments in the toll case and the very visible construction of toll gantries around the state, it is important to note how the governor explicitly broke her word on the critical matter of when toll gantries would go up and highlight the heavy financial consequences to which she has needlessly exposed Rhode Island residents with this completely unprincipled volte-face.

← Older posts...