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Free School Choice Movie and Event

Rhode Island Families for School Choice is offering an opportunity to spend some time on Martin Luther King Day learning about and celebrating a policy fight that would be a blessing for disadvantaged and minority families:

On behalf of National School Choice Week, please join us for a special screening of Miss Virginia. Hailed as a “must-see” movie by USA Today, the film follows a struggling inner-city mother who sacrifices everything to give her son a good education. Unwilling to allow him to stay in a dangerous school, she launches a movement that could save his future—and that of thousands like him.

After the movie, meet and talk with legendary school choice advocate Virginia Walden Ford (the real-life Miss Virginia!), who will join us in Cranston for this special event. She will also sign copies of her new book, School Choice: A Legacy to Keep.

Note that the event is free and requires RSVP.

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Rolling Effects of Housing Wealth Redistribution

As hints had suggested Rhode Islanders should expect, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 (beginning July 1, 2020) includes a new program with new dedicated funding to build affordable housing.  (Naturally, Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, of Providence and North Providence, a Laborers Union careerist, loves the idea.)

WPRI’s Eli Sherman summarizes the plan:

The budget, which will now be vetted by lawmakers during the coming months, suggests creating a two-tiered tax system that doubles the so-called “conveyance tax” to 0.92% on all property sales – both residential and commercial – totaling more than $500,000. The current rate — 0.46% — would apply to the first $500,000 of any transaction. …

State officials estimate the new tax would generate about $3.6 million in state revenue next fiscal year, and $8 million in each budget year afterward. The money would create a dedicated funding stream that would go into a restricted receipt fund at Rhode Island Housing, a quasi-public agency, and be controlled by the Housing Resources Commission.

This scheme brings to mind some analysis I did of tax rates in Tiverton back in 2018.  My conclusion was that the exorbitant tax rate was suppressing home values at the high end of the market.  At the same time, broader market forces were increasing house values at the low end.  Because the tax rate is uniform across the town, and because the tax rate is set in order to match the town’s budget (not the other way around), this had the effect of moving the tax burden toward the working class neighborhoods.  Their houses were worth more, while the expensive houses were worth less, so the taxes followed the value.

Of course, adding a couple thousand dollars at the point of sale will have much less effect than a tax rate that charges that amount every year, but the principle is the same.  Taxing high-end houses more will make them less valuable, shifting the real estate tax burden down the scale.

At the same time, the state projects that it will be building an additional 250 “affordable houses” every year.  Increasing supply at the low end of the market will tend to reduce prices there, too.  So, while the increased stock will expand the low-end’s share of total value, taxpayers’ bills will decrease with the value.  Whether this helps spread municipal tax bills to more homeowners will depend on whether the affordable houses are distributed evenly across the state.

This leaves the middle of the market, which will see upward pressure on its annual tax bill, while also being nudged toward the $500,000 line, where it will be more-expensive to sell.

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For and Against a TCI Gas Tax

The Gaspee Business Network — an alternative business group to chambers of commerce — has published an interactive table showing the opposition or support of the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI).

Such lists have long been a tool of professional lobbyists.  The movie, The American President, comes to mind, in which the president (Michael Douglas) begins to date an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening).  The Internet has increasingly broadened its utility to the general public.  If our elected representatives are going to be representative, the people need to know where they stand.

You might be surprised, however, how difficult it is to find out where they stand.  Send out emails asking where the various legislators who represent your town stand, and you’ll find some don’t bother to respond.  And some of those who do will give answers that evade and/or must be interpreted.  Asked if they support TCI, they might ask if there’s specific legislation.  Asked about the concept in principle, they might stop responding.

As of this writing, only 19 of 113 legislators (17%) have provided an answer, or something close enough to interpret as one.  The only one deemed by Gaspee Biz to support the initiative is Senator James Seveney (D, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton).  Notably, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) opposes it.

Imagine if tables like this were available for every hot-button issue the legislature was facing!  That might cut back on some of the late-night votes and horse trading.  And then imagine an electorate that actually paid attention… that would make all the difference.

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Municipal Government Moves to the Back Room

With the old establishment players back in power in Tiverton, we’ve seen a quick return to the practices that have done so much damage to local government over the decades.  Decisions are being made by a few, unidentified people in back rooms and private communications.  New hoops are being erected for community groups to jump through.  The law is being rewritten by the minute depending on what the Town Council leadership needs it to be.  The council’s votes are becoming mere recommendations unless approved by the president.

Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) talk about that and more on Episode 9 of the Tiverton on Track podcast.

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Catch Up with the Monthly State of the State

If you try to keep track of policy and politics in Rhode Island (and if you’re reading this site, you probably do), you should put the State of the State program on your watch list.  The program usually has two half-hour segments, but sometimes sticks with one guest for an hour, and it’s a good way to get a different point of view from the mainstream, from both the guests and the hosts, who often ask questions public figures and others wouldn’t be asked elsewhere.

The latest episode had a segment on Title IX abuse and another on Second Amendment rights.

1-13-20 Recent Title IX Cases from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

1-13-20 Stun Guns, Tasers and the 2nd Amendment from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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A State That Doesn’t Need to Raise Gas Taxes

With the advocates for the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) now revving up for their cause, and with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo remaining intrepid in her desire to push Rhode Islanders out of their cars for the good of the planet, Ocean Staters might wonder where we stand already on the gas tax.  Fortunately, the American Petroleum Institute has compiled information on all states’ gas taxes, and the Tax Foundation provides this useful map:

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Taking note that none of these numbers includes $18.40 added per gallon by the federal government, we can say that Rhode Island is most definitely not in need of new taxes on this basic fuel.  If the TCI tax were to be implemented at the 17-cent high that has been cited, the Ocean State would rocket to 4th highest.

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Living the Governor’s Dream

On a number of topics, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s interview with Kim Kalunian of WPRI was disturbing, with the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) taking the lead.  The segment points directly to her political philosophy and presumption of authority.

In pushing for a new tax on gasoline, she envisions herself as a sort of superhero, pushing forward regional plans for incremental socialism in order “to save our kids and to save us.”  Such is the arrogance and bad-faith-argument of all demagoguery.  Well, look, if you want to save the planet, you have to give me money and power.  You do want to save the planet, don’t you?

Not to worry, though.  The governor also sees a benefit for you right now:  “Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to drive your car to work?”  If your answer to that question is “no,” Raimondo doesn’t seem to have a good answer for you.

Of course, progressives have an answer to every specific point you might make:  Government will take care of you.  Perhaps you dread the idea of being forced into taking public transportation to work because you don’t know how you’d manage to get one child to day care and the other to school and slip out for errands at lunchtime all according to a bus schedule.

Not to worry!  Government will subsidize day care and before-school programs so you can spend less time with your children and deliver them under the wings of the state earlier, so as to catch the bus.  Government will also change zoning to force all workplaces into condensed areas so that all of your errands will be within walking distance of your job.  (And don’t forget that government will help you sterilize yourself so you don’t have to worry about any more children complicating your life.)

All of your needs will be answered, if you just sacrifice your freedoms to the better judgment of the governor.  You do want to save the planet, don’t you?

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Replace the Ethics Commission with Competitive Politics

Former Republican state senator Dawson Hodgson made an interesting point on Twitter recently:

Yes, the RI Ethics Commission is little more than a political score settling arena. No, more secrecy isn’t the answer. New leadership culture would be: replace staff & body, hold both ethics code violators and malicious complaint filers to account.

I’m not sure I’d go as far as Hodgson in minimizing the current role of the commission.  Yes, complaints can be mechanism for political gotcha, but fear of complaints leads many officials to seek advisory opinions, or at least to be sufficiently familiar with the state’s Code of Ethics to have a sense of when they should think of doing so.  There’s some value to that.

My problem with the Ethics Commission is that its decisions often seem to start with whether something feels right and then dig into (often contradictory) precedence for rationalization.  Worse, what “feels right” to commissioners is overly favorable to the enterprise of government.  Take some action that would be obvious corruption if it crossed between the public and private sectors and put it entirely in the public sector, and the corruption is assumed away.  As long as everything is accomplished within the walls of government, it doesn’t matter that the people involved have a personal financial interest.*

So, yes, I agree with Hodgson that the commission needs a new “culture,” but I’m skeptical that changing out every person in the office would make much difference. Empowering an agency to issue official government proclamations about the behavior of people who regularly engage in political contests will always create an opening for political maneuvering.

The culture that needs to change is that of the electorate.  For starters, we need more people willing to run, but more than that, we need voters who actually care about the behavior of their officials.  If that doesn’t exist, no law or regulation will remain free of corruption.

 

* Actually, the commission of the late 1990s began to acknowledge the possibility of intra-government corruption, but by the late ’00s, staff of the commission would actually take shots at their predecessors on this point.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Doubting the People in Charge

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 13, included talk about:

  • A union president accuses race heretics
  • OPEB swamping Providence and Warwick
  • Fear about “red flag” laws
  • The legislative session starts
  • RI losing claim to a Congressional seat,
  • The rolling fundraising party of the State House

Open post for full audio.

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The Political Class Plans To Harm Rhode Island In 2020

The more freedoms we have, the more prosperity we will enjoy. The constitutional government of our great nation was formed to preserve our freedoms. But in the Ocean State, we reduce freedoms … and we suffer the consequences.

As the 2020 General Assembly Session begins, and we are once again looking at even more of status quo (or worse) based on the policy agenda from the political class, when will Rhode Islanders say enough is enough?

Instead of focusing on the real issues harming the business climate of our state… the insiders are looking to restrict the rights of citizens by stopping the use of plastic straws and bags. Give me a break.

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The Hidden Message of the Music Box

Back before many people trusted the Internet as a medium through which to conduct consumer transactions — or even thought to use it for that purpose — I would periodically travel over the bridge from the University of Rhode Island to Newport to hit the Music Box, a record store on Thames Street.  When searching for recordings of the (sometimes relatively obscure) music I was studying for performance or theory, a trip of that distance was often unavoidable.

Now we’ve reached the point that almost any recording you might want to hear is available instantly on a portable device for a relatively inexpensive annual subscription.  It isn’t difficult to understand why the business model of stores like the Music Box has hollowed out.

As Scott Barrett reports, however, Rhode Island’s pitiless government didn’t make it any easier for the store — which just closed after extending its life by changing its product mix — to survive:

Jay added that operating a business in Rhode Island, and Newport specifically, is getting more and more difficult because of the mounting taxes.

Express, a clothing store located directly next to the Helly Hansen store, also had signs in the window Thursday announcing a going-out-of-business sale. An associate at Express told The Daily News the store will close at the end of the month. Across the street, a pair of stores — The Tourist Trap and Nautical & Nice — had signs on the door that read “Sorry, closed.”

Defenders of Rhode Island’s insider status quo sometimes assert things like, “Businesses don’t go under because the tax rate is a couple percentage points higher,” or, “People move south for the weather, not the tax savings.”  Such arguments, while they may be untrue because too simplistic, make valid points, but they miss the critical point.  Our government shouldn’t be laying sticks on the camel; it should be striving to accomplish what it needs to accomplish with the least amount of disruption possible.

Politicians are terrible at predicting and adequately considering the consequences of their policies.  Rhode Island officials frequently prove they can manage to provide targeted incentives so new businesses can overcome the artificial barriers, but they should be making business easier across the board so legacy businesses like the Music Box can better survive the changing landscape.

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Local Podcast Kicks Off Budget Season

For those in and out of Tiverton who have some interest in the politics and budget process of the town, the latest episode of the Tiverton on Track podcast of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) covers that ground:

Track 1: The Gander Hires a Solicitor
Track 2: Passing the Joint… Meeting
Track 3: What’s the Plan?
Track 4: How the Budget Thing Works

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TCI Gas Tax Unnecessary; RI Already Won the War on Carbon

As you probably know, Governor Gina Raimondo is proposing that Rhode Island sign on to TCI (Transportation and Climate Initiative), a regional carbon cap-and-tax program on transportation that would involve, among other things, Rhode Islanders paying an additional tax on gas and diesel of seventeen – twenty four cents+ per gallon. A couple of Justin Katz’ excellent posts about TCI are here and here

Let’s discuss the stated purpose of TCI. According to the governor, it is to save the planet by getting Rhode Islanders to give up their cars. This is not an exaggeration; below is what the governor says about TCI in this December interview with WPRI’s Kim Kalunian (starting at minute 03:15).

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Don’t Let Silence Seem Like TCI Gas Tax Support

Around Thanksgiving, I spent some time trying to understand what the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) was, what it would do, and where it was in the process.  While poking around, I discovered the public feedback form and table of the feedback so far.  At the time, there were around three comments from Rhode Island, all supportive.

Now that tide has turned in a big way, with dozens of comments from Rhode Islanders, almost all opposed.  Here’s John Cullen from Lincoln:

Stop burdening tax paying citizen with more taxes that do little or nothing to better the lives of ordinary taxpaying citizens.

Do not create more taxes for others to parasite off those who drive gas powered vehicles.

Start your low carbon initiative with China and India before you attack myself and other Rhode Island Taxpayers.

The big contrast in RI results over the past month and a half points to an important lesson I’ve been learning over the years.  It’s understandable just to shake one’s head and not get involved, coming to the reasonable conclusion that your one voice won’t make a difference because things have either been decided by insiders or the public opinion will overwhelm the decision with or without you.

Even if one of those two possibilities is true, however, it’s important for the people in power to know that there is opposition.  Where no opposition is expressed, decisions can be presented simply as the public desire.

This is especially notable when it comes to things like municipalities’ comprehensive plans.  Such documents are often developed by a handful of people on an unelected committee, working with professional consultants (who are often thinly disguised advocates), with “public input” from a very limited number of people who were willing to spend a boring night or two at a public meeting without being on the committee.

Yet, when the report is released and the plan adopted, the government moves forward under the pretense that it is the people’s vision for their community.  That’s often true only inasmuch nobody cared enough to keep track of it and make time to object, which is a very weak form of support, indeed.

Conversely, when a public forum like the TCI feedback table shows overwhelming opposition to the project, it at the very least removes the value of a propaganda tool and might even become the basis for elected officials to listen to their constituents.

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Opioid Solutions When the Government Refuses to Address Problems

In his recent essay on this site, Dr. Stephen Skoly described the consequences of legislation seeking to regulate prescription opioids, but he stopped short of broad conclusions about the politics involved.  As it happens, one such conclusion fit in well with the other topics that John DePetro and I discussed on December 30.

We can, of course, debate whether a new $5 million fee for opioid manufacturers and wholesalers is actually about solving a social problem, rather than finding a new source of revenue.  But taking the politicians at their word for their motivation, one can at least say that such policies infantilize the people, as if our legislators and governor are the only adults in the state and therefore must protect patients from their irresponsible selves and from greedy doctors.

Something milder and, in its way, worse is probably going on, as well.  The theme that John and I happened upon in our segment was that government officials in Rhode Island shy away from addressing actual problems.  They look for all sorts of ways to get at them without actually naming and attacking the root causes.

When it comes to a failing education system, they seek work-arounds and small tweaks like, like shifting authority toward principals, rather than draw attention to the labor-union structure that makes the system all about the remuneration of adults rather than the education of children.  When it comes to teenage fights at a mall, the focus goes to things like community programs to give kids something to do, rather than unraveling the progressive assumptions that lead to gang-friendly policing and suspension-unfriendly school regulations (not to mention identity-group entitlement).

Just so, going after fentanyl and heroin on the criminal market would manifest in urban areas and among minorities.  Many people in those communities would be grateful for the improved environment, but the enforcement and incarceration statistics would look bad and draw the attention of groups like the ACLU.  So instead, government tries to find a solution from the other side, making things more difficult (literally more painful) for law-abiding citizens, in the hopes that they can limit the market for the drugs and make the dealers go away for lack of profit.

If that approach also produces a $5 million fee for government, so much the better.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Bad Positions for Political Actors

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 6, included talk about:

  • RI Congressmen’s bad alignment with the enemy
  • Projo points to key issues for the legislature
  • Linc finds another party to run with
  • RI pols try to get out of the way of the Census

Open post for full audio.

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Local Podcast Year in Review and Look Forward

The Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) is keeping its New Year’s resolution of maintaining its podcast, Tiverton on Track, throughout 2020.  The latest episode reviews 2019 and looks ahead to 2020.

Episodes of this podcast are available as they’re released on BuzzsproutiTunesSpotifyStitcherTuneIn, and a variety of other services that can be found via the Buzzsprout page.  Episodes will also be posted on the group’s blog, Tiverton Fact Check.

If you are a Rhode Islander who produces podcasts on your own or with a group from a conservative perspective, let me know about it.  (And “conservative” doesn’t mean “far right.”  At this point, anybody who isn’t a progressive is on the same side in the Ocean State.)

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Of Course Police Like Powerful Tools

For the category of the news media constructing narratives on behalf of government, is there any way this finding could have been otherwise?

Police: R.I.’s red flag law ‘likely averted potential tragedies’

As of Oct. 31, state and local police across Rhode Island had invoked the red flag law on 33 occasions since its adoption in June 2018. The law allows police to petition a court for an “extreme risk protection order” that allows them to confiscate firearms from individuals believed to be at “imminent risk” of killing themselves or others.

Yeah, of course any time you take away somebody’s gun, you can say you might have stopped some tragedy.  But (of course) maybe you didn’t.

The implicit bias of this article is indicative of the entire gun-control impulse.  It’s the same mentality that says if we just take away all guns, we’ll obviously be avoiding tragedies.

Except when we don’t.  In those cases, there’s always an excuse and an explanation of how being even more aggressive about taking away guns would work better.  Contrary evidence is also difficult to connect decisively; while law enforcement can claim that every confiscated gun might have “averted potential tragedies,” we simply don’t know what “potential tragedies” might be caused by confiscation.

There are the immediate scenarios, of course, like the woman who obeyed a gun-free-zone law while the stalker who murdered her husband did not or the Texas church-goers who brought a quick halt to a mass shooting attempt.  And then there are the longer-term consequences of being the sort of people who’ll let government promise us greater security if only we’ll sacrifice a little bit more of our freedom.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Tightening Screws on Freelancers

If you follow national economic or political news, you’ve probably caught wind of California’s new law — which takes effect this Wednesday — making it more likely that companies will have to treat freelancers as employees for the purposes of employment regulations like the minimum wage and benefits.

One reason this California law has generated so much conversation is that it affects freelance writers.  In this regard, the left-wing website Vox has provided the perfect lesson on progressive rhetoric.  A September 11, 2019, essay on that site by Alexia Fernandez Campbell places the issue as a win for labor unions and proclaims the headline, “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere.”  Fast-forward a few months, to December 17, and an article in the Los Angeles Times informs readers, “Vox Media cuts hundreds of freelance journalists as AB 5 changes loom.”  Those 200 people will be replaced by “20 new part-time and full-time staffers.”

A CNBC article puts things a bit more broadly with the headline, “California’s new employment law has boomeranged and is starting to crush freelancers”:

“I don’t believe legislators realized the impact this had,” says Gene Zaino, founder and executive chairman of MBO Partners, which studies the freelance economy and provides back-office services to freelancers. “This was really designed to create a safety net for people that needed it. Legislators didn’t realize at the same time, they impacted millions of people in thousands of businesses that are using freelancers, even though that was not their intent. A lot of businesses are paralyzed, in terms of ‘everyone needs to be on payroll.'”

Oh, the legislators realized it.  They just don’t care.  They’ve got their eyes on other prizes than the likes of Mr. Zaino — powerful labor unions and constituencies who think progressive legislators are going to give them more handouts.  And progressives realized it, too, but those gig jobs don’t fit their vision and therefore shouldn’t exist because they are institutionalized oppression (or something).

Even those of us who don’t rely on the gig economy should take notice… in a “first they came for the freelancers” sort of way.  Progressives are intent on remaking the world according to their erroneous understanding of how the economy ought to work.  That will mean you have a decreasing ability to decide what works for you in your life and just have to settle for the deal that government provides for you.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: RI’s Avoidance of Real Problems

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:

  • Elorza’s interest in being governor
  • Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
  • Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
  • Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism

Open post for full audio.

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