HEADLINES

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Police Union Contract Facilitates Tiverton “Quiet Time” Non-Patrols

This post from yesterday calls the practice among Tiverton police of having a three-hour period in the early morning during which they would sleep “systemic abuse.”  The fact that, as Tim White reports, multiple officers participated in this “quiet time” with the approval of a superior proves the point.  However, the characterization is true for a more institutional reason.

The collective bargaining agreement (PDF) between International Brotherhood of Police Officers local #406 and the Town of Tiverton requires the town to have at least three “regular permanent police officers on duty at all times for patrols.”  During a period of the day when the officers themselves, including the lieutenant on duty, apparently see no need for any patrols — or even wakeful officers — the union’s contract requires the town to pay three of them.

The three hours of “quiet time” therefore equate to nine man hours every day; that’s 63 per week and 3,285 per year.  For comparison, working four eight hour shifts on a six-day cycle, as described in the contract, adds up to 1,947 hours.  According to Tiverton Fact Check’s online payroll application, regular pay for most officers (not including overtime and other pay) ranged from around $45,000 to around $60,000 in fiscal year 2015.

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Conclusions from Evidence in RI Science Scores

Is there anything about the science scores released by the state Dept. of Education yesterday that ought to give Rhode Islanders confidence that state and local governments are capable of improving public education or to give parents confidence that spending money on private school is not a moral obligation if at all feasible?  The state’s primary excuse is more of an admission that its foolish behavior is structural, not incidental:

In 2013, Rhode Island adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, developed by a consortium of 26 states and several science-education groups, which ask students to think like a scientist and call for more hands-on, investigative work. But the NECAP is much more focused on subject matter, so the test no longer reflects what students are learning in the classroom.

Some skepticism is justified, inasmuch as science lessons at that level of education ought to be broadly applicable, not narrowly tailored toward a specific test.  (Ultimately, we don’t pursue education simply to be able to score well on a test.)  But even putting that aside, what could possibly be the rationale for wasting time on tests that students are not expected to be able to pass?

The state’s second excuse edges into a much broader problem that nobody in public education wants to discuss:

[State Education Commissioner Ken] Wagner said there is another reason why students perform worse in high school. Research has shown that it’s much harder to retain good science teachers in high school, particularly in urban districts, because of the challenges posed by urban classrooms and because jobs are much more lucrative in the private sector.

For the benefit of special-interest labor unions, local, state, and federal elected officials and bureaucrats have allowed us to force our education system to handle employees in a way that is wholly inappropriate to an environment requiring teachers of varying skill levels to address the needs of students from early childhood to young adulthood across multiple capabilities and a large variety of subjects.  Some districts do have agreements with their unions to allow some pay difference between, say, a kindergarten teacher and high school teacher in possession of highly valuable scientific knowledge, but the cost to taxpayers isn’t part of that equation.

That is, we’re not permitted to adjust payroll; the system won’t allow, say, a district hiring both a kindergarten teacher and a high school science teacher to reduce the salary for the former in order to increase the offer for the latter.

Wagner claims that these science scores “call for urgency,” but if government agents really believed that, they’d admit that urgency would not allow for another lost decade spent denying that public education as it’s developed simply cannot perform the function that we say we want it to perform.

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Another Indication of Job Stagnation

As I’ve been noting in my monthly employment posts (most recent here), apart from an uptick in recent months, employment growth has been almost non-existent in Rhode Island for the past year, and jobs based in Rhode Island have been increasing at a glacial pace, if at all.  Ted Nesi points to a related indication of an unhealthy job market in the Ocean State:

The Pew Charitable Trusts said the employment rate for Rhode Islanders ages 25 to 54 has fallen from 83% in 2007 to 78% in 2016, a statistically significant drop of 5 percentage points. While that’s an improvement from the low of 75% reached in mid-2012, the positive trend has reversed this year after a period of rising employment.

The strategy that our governor and legislature are pursuing is one of giving direct incentives to selected companies while spending taxpayer resources to change the character and skills of our people to match what an even narrower group of employers say they want in employees.  That strategy may produce some helpful PR hooks with a nice story in the newspaper from time to time (although it may also produce stories of incompetence and scandal).

It’ll be less likely, though, to move the overall numbers significantly, inasmuch as it simply shuffles Rhode Islanders’ efforts and resources from what we’d do with them on our own to what a domineering government prefers.

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Union Dislike for the Ethics Commission’s Independence

Here’s an interesting commentary by National Education Association Rhode Island honcho Robert Walsh on the proposed constitutional amendment in Rhode Island to give the Ethics Commission authority over the General Assembly, as highlighted on Twitter by local progressive Sam Bell:

… ever since the Ethics Commission tried to stop any Union MEMBER for voting on any issue related to unions the potential for mischief was clear.  An unelected 4th branch of government that makes regulations, enforces them, hears violations, and renders judgement? A constitutional abomination.

My gut inclination is to agree with Walsh on the Ethics Commission.  My own disenchantment came when the commission ruled, essentially, that government employment can never be considered a corruptible activity itself.  If a town solicitor, for example, plays both sides of a trial when a business associate or family member is brought up on some sort of violation before the city or town that he or she serves, then that’s corrupt, but if the business associate is another government employee abusing his or her position, then that’s perfectly fine.

But the peculiarity comes in the fact that government of the progressive, union-dominated type that Walsh prefers is practically built upon unelected agencies making regulations, enforcing them, hearing them as judges, and imposing consequences.  The Dept. of Education does this.  The Labor Relations Board does, too, as does the Department of Labor and Training and probably every single agency, in its own capacity.  This isn’t a problem for progressives; it’s the plan.

That leads me to suspect that Walsh’s real problem with the Ethics Commission is that its makeup and structure may allow it to make decisions from time to time in ways that go against the system that RI insiders prefer.  That’s almost enough to make me a modestly enthusiastic, rather than tepid, supporter of the amendment.

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Sheeple Index – 2016 Rhode Island General Assembly

Despite policies that have caused the Ocean State to suffer with the 50th ranked business climate, the 48th rank on the Family Prosperity Index, and the 48th rank on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index, our new 2016 “Sheeple” Index demonstrates that there is scant dissent among Rhode Island lawmakers who vote for such policies. The 2016 “Sheeple” Index is a collaboration between WatchdogRI.org and our Center. In a healthy democracy, there should be a rigorous debate of diverse policies. Sadly, and conversely in Rhode Island, it seems that when leadership authorizes bills to move forward, legislators feel compelled to automatically support them.

An alarming number of lawmakers vote in lock-step with leadership here in the Ocean State.

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Markets Judging Central Plan, Not Economy; Fed Stuck

I wonder if analysts of the future will look to our era and find one of the most telling dynamics to be that the investment markets don’t seem to be reacting positively or negatively to good or bad economic news in the way one would expect.  Instead of making decisions based on the likelihood that the economy will expand, investors seem most intent on watching the Federal Reserve and federal government for signs that the forced inflation of their assets will come to an end.

Even those who aren’t directly tapped into the government-corporate money flow take comfort in the idea that smart people with access to data and power can ensure that the economy hums along… sometimes slowing, sometimes bucking, but going forward as smoothly as reality will allow.  As comforting as it may be, that’s a fool’s belief.  Ultimately, the economy depends on your actions and mine and those of your neighbors and those of people around the world whom you will never even know exist.  People who could accurately predict the course of all of those decisions wouldn’t be government functionaries or even central bankers. They’d be quadrillionaires.

Take a moment to ponder this Washington Post article, as it appeared in the Providence Journal:

Two years ago, top officials at the Federal Reserve mapped out a strategy for withdrawing the central bank’s unprecedented support for the American economy.  

The official communiqué was titled “Policy Normalization Principles and Plans,” and it was supposed to serve as a rough outline for the tenure of newly installed Fed Chair Janet L. Yellen. Essentially, it consisted of two basic parts: Raise interest rates and shrink the central bank’s massive balance sheet.  

But now, both of those steps are being called into question as Fed officials grapple with an economy that appears to be stuck in first gear. Instead of executing its exit strategy, the Fed is confronting the possibility that the dramatic measures it took to safeguard the recovery will remain in place indefinitely.

When your plan consists entirely of backstopping and saturating the fortunes of financially powerful interests, you shouldn’t be surprised when those interests use their leverage to make it extremely difficult to turn off the spigot.  Once such a policy has been implemented, in the absence of a courageous will that central planners inevitably lack, it cannot be stopped, and it will not be stopped until the whole scheme collapses.

That collapse will take a huge amount of the wealth from these powerful interests, but it will most hurt everybody else, living much closer to the margin of survival.  Then, those in government and central banks will have another opportunity to decide whether to allow us to work out the economy’s problems through our individual decisions or to protect their wealthy friends again, as after the last crash.

I know which way I’ll continue to bet until America decides to decrease the power of the federal government and cut the strings that are pulling us toward central plans.

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In Rhode Island, Nothing’s Certain but Death and Taxes

Well, the policies of the State of Rhode Island aren’t getting you to shop, earn, or do business as much as the government expected, but at least you’re dying!

According to an Office of Revenue Analysis report, sales and use taxes came in 0.9% lower than expected, personal income taxes came in 0.6% short, and business corporations taxes missed their estimate by a whopping 12.1%.  That’s $35 million you didn’t produce for your lords in Providence.

The good news is that you’re drinking, dying, and letting the state keep your unclaimed property more than expected, which more than made up the difference ($47 million).  But if that doesn’t sound like a healthy or sustainable way for a government to pay its bills, well, it isn’t.

Comparing the 2016 fiscal year to the year before, of the three sources of tax revenue that would indicate real economic health, only the sales tax went up.  (Patrick Anderson has the income tax wrong in today’s Providence Journal.)  Income taxes were down $10 million (0.8%); business corporation taxes were down $13 million (8.8%); and sales and use taxes were up only $8 million (0.9%).  The net change of all three was a decrease of $15 million.

If it weren’t for dying Rhode Islanders, the state government would have seen its revenue go down from one year to the next, and more than analysts had expected.  That doesn’t bode well for the deficits that the state estimates growing into the future.  The Providence Journal headline, “Rhode Island ends fiscal year with more money than expected,” does us a civic disservice.  We need to acknowledge that the current strategy of our state is not working so that we can change it.

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“Customers” and the Government Business Model

Somehow, it always seems erroneous for articles discussing government services to use the term “customers” for the recipients.  Granted, the line has blurred, so as a purely semantic matter, it’s probably correct when it comes to HealthSource RI, as in Katherine Gregg’s article in today’s Providence Journal.  Subsidized or not, Rhode Islanders use to Web site to exchange money for a product.  Still, if we’re going to talk about government as if it were a business, we have to be very particular in acknowledging its business model.

That need came to mind the other day, when Mark Reynolds wrote in the same paper about the “success” of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s (RIDOT’s) Newport-Providence ferry service.  Consider:

The service’s operating costs were 100-percent federally funded. The service spent $500,000 in transit funds that are earmarked for specific types of projects such as the ferry service.

Thanks to this subsidization, a one-way ticket on the ferry was $10, or $5 for children, seniors, and the disabled.  Contrast that with a $25.50 fee for ferrying from Newport to Block Island, or $13.00 for children.  Granted, the rides are a bit different, but divided up evenly among the 33,221 passenger trips that RIDOT’s ferry made, the federal subsidy of $500,000 counts as $15 per ticket — more than doubling the adult price and quadrupling the lower-priced tickets.

How can we possibly characterize the ferry’s experience as a “success” without noting this fact?  Any given business might have a successful season if it offered every customer a 60-75% discount on every purchase, but it would only be a success to the extent the objective is to give stuff away.  In government’s case, of course, what it’s giving away is other people’s money.

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Whose City? Their City.

Although it would be interesting to know how the unpaid parking tickets of Providence mayoral staffs going back three administrations stack up against similar statistics in other cities, the terrible message is telling even if administrations elsewhere have the same attitude:

City officials were planning to be in Municipal Court Wednesday morning to find out what to do about the $14,575 in unpaid parking fines and penalties that drivers of mayoral staff vehicles have run up since 2003. …

[Director of Communications Emily] Crowell said while on city business, they are supposed to put a placard on the vehicle’s dashboard that indicates that. They are allowed to park in legal parking spaces without paying at a parking meter. They are not allowed to park in tow zones, no parking areas or any places that parking is not already legally allowed, she said. If a city vehicle is in a legal parking space and gets a ticket, the driver is supposed to contact the public safety department, verify that the trip was city business and the ticket is dismissed.

Obviously, if a ticket is work related, it makes no sense for the city to waste money and time in the process of paying itself.  But if employees can’t follow a simple process to keep the books straight or, as seems more likely given that the process was not followed, refuses to follow basic parking laws, something more is going on.

That something is an attitude that, because they currently run the government, they own the city.  Of course, the biggest indications that government insiders understand themselves to be ruling, rather than serving, the public are the heavy burdens, restrictions, and taxes that they impose on us.  Racking up and ignoring parking tickets, though, is certainly emblematic.

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Be Sure to Vote Your Sheeple Back into Office

Year in and year out, we watch bills pass the General Assembly with little or no opposition, raising the unavoidable conclusions that (1) the General Assembly is a corrupt enterprise, and (2) our elected senators and representatives don’t really get the role that they and government generally should be playing in our society.  (That’s a purposefully inflammatory construction; one could say they just have different political philosophies, which is ultimately mere semantic spin.)

A study published yesterday by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in cooperation with WatchDog RI found a shocking lack of divergence from the preferences of the senate and house leaders. As the following charts show, only 5% of senators and 11% of representatives voted with the leaders of their chambers less than 75% of the time.  (The list of legislation reviewed removes resolutions and marriage solemnization bills.)

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Even limiting the bills just to those on which there was at least enough controversy for one legislator to vote against the Senate president or House speaker (or miss the vote), 78% of senators and 68% of representatives voted with leadership on at least three out of every four votes.

Given the condition of our state, there are really only two possibilities, here:  Either our elected legislators waste our time fiddling with legislation that is so benign that it generates no substantial disagreement or opposition, or they aren’t representing the people of Rhode Island, with all of our diverse interests and perspectives, but rather a narrow band of special interests who can be corralled into agreement on bills that help them while harming the rest of us.

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Questions of Who Wants to “Save Tiverton” from a Casino

By way of a preface, I’d note that I believe campaign finance laws to be an unconstitutional infringement on citizens’ rights, and on the matter of a casino in Tiverton, I’m ultimately ambivalent (though my being so upsets some folks, locally).  My opposition to gambling, generally, has mainly to do with the fact that it’s become a means for government to profit from a formerly illegal activity, but if Tiverton gets in on that game, the revenue better go toward tax relief.

The preface notwithstanding, the following snippet from a Jennifer Bogdan article in yesterday’s Providence Journal caught my attention.  The article is about local clergy’s decision to part ways with a group calling itself “Save Tiverton” because of the secrecy of its backers.

Save Tiverton has not filed any campaign expenditure documents with the state Board of Elections, which would be required if the group spent money. Richard Thornton, the board’s campaign finance director, said no complaints about the group have been received. …

To his knowledge, [Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s Rev. John] Higginbotham said, the backers haven’t spent any money or done any fundraising despite promising a funding stream.

What’s eye-catching is that some significant number of Tiverton residents appears to have received two-page mailers promoting a meeting and providing a sheet of “myths” (PDF).  The photocopied sheets came in a nondescript envelope, with no indications of individuals behind Save Tiverton.  Notably, the return address is 1956 Main Rd., which is the address of Rev. Higginbotham’s church.  More notably, perhaps, the bulk-rate stamp permit is provided through Hingham, Massachusetts, up on the bay next to Quincy.

While it’s certainly possible to conduct printing and mailing entirely by Internet and phone, Hingham would be a bit far for local interests to drive if they had to deliver printouts.  It is, however, closer to Taunton and Everette, two pending locations for casinos in Massachusetts that the Save Tiverton myth sheet notes are creating “saturation” in the local gambling market.

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Pitching Pre-K to Take Your Children Away

Not to be harsh, but how would Rhode Island Kids Count’s pitch for more money for public pre-K programs be any different if it were nothing more than a front organization for teachers unions?

“We know that investments in high-quality early learning are among the best investments you can make,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, a state policy and advocacy group committed to children’s well-being. “The question is one of scale. In the past, we have had to patch together a system of programs that don’t serve all of our kids, especially those from low-income communities.”

No, Ms. Burke Bryant “we” don’t “know” that.  Brookings has found that simply giving families money has better effects for their children than putting that money toward early childhood programs.  Meanwhile, Heritage has found that government pre-K and preschool programs have no effect on academic results and may, in fact, harm children academically and behaviorally.

Both results can be explained, in part, by the possibility that subsidized early childhood programs do more harm by drawing children away from healthier arrangements with their families or other close-knit groups than they help by placing children from unhealthy environments under the protective wings of government and its helpers.  One could ask for no better evidence of the soulless flaws in the government-centric mentality than the metrics and solutions Kids Count deploys for its argument:

Research has shown that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial to his or her success. And yet Rhode Island spends much less on early childhood — $9,641 per child in a state-sponsored pre-K class compared to $20,000 per child in a K-12 class. …

Kids Count, in its report, offers several recommendations to improve both access to early-childhood classes and the quality of those classes:

Pay teachers in Rhode Island’s pre-k programs more money. Pre-K teachers, all of whom are state-certified, earn an average of $43,458 in community childcare settings compared to the average elementary school teacher, who makes $66,000. Sixty percent of family childcare workers earn $30,000 or less a year.

Put aside the obvious response that public school teachers in general are overpaid and consider the mindless devotion to giving a special interest group more money.  There is no discussion of what pre-K programs would use the money for if they had twice as much.  There is no comparison of the tasks involved in such programs or the training necessary to conduct them.  What concerns RI Kids Count is that the government isn’t taking twice as much taxpayer money to pour into a school environment of questionable value.

But that’s how it works when we allow government to become the state’s key industry and the locus of all of its economic development plans.

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The 2016 Rhode Island General Assembly Freedom Index

It is a result of the failed status quo of increased government intervention in our personal and business lives that the Ocean State ranks so poorly on so many national indexes. It is not acceptable that we rank 50th with the worst business climate in the nation, 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index, and 47th on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index. It is up to voters to review all the data, and decide whether or not to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records this November. This trend is exemplified by continued deeply negative overall General Assembly scores on our 2016 Freedom Index.

Loaded with information that will be useful to voters this fall, the Freedom Index is part of our larger transparency initiative. The index examines legislators’ votes in terms of their likely effect on the freedom in the Ocean State.

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The Decline of an Immature Society

For an explanation of Western pessimism, give David Solway a read:

“Are we not witnessing,” asks John Agresto in Academic Questions (Vol.29, No.2), “something that looks to be the…purposeful eradication of what it has historically meant to be educated?” The mission of the university is now the inculcation of intellectual conformity, a duplicitous “inclusiveness” that banishes dissenting voices, “social justice,” and discursive closure, coddling students into a condition of protracted puberty as the academy devolves into “separate programs of grievance and outrage.” In this way, students, stunted in their development, become the shock troops of the new world order as they have been taught to see it. And as we know, and as university policies have made glaringly public, children throw tantrums and don’t like to be contradicted. …

Such is the damage the educational institution has wrought in a culture spoiled by affluence and forgetfulness—a culture that has shucked the past and de-realized the future. The falling off from academic integrity and rigor explains why almost everything from political culture to cultural politics smacks increasingly of retardation. And it accounts in large measure for the descent we are observing. For children, who have no knowledge of the history of their civilization and no sense of an empirical future, cannot think rationally, they can only feel and act upon their feelings. They live in a realm defined by the present and the imaginary. They are the low-information voters, partisan pedants, liberal socialists, leftist ideologues, suborned journalists and entitlement parasites of the current day, living in a make-believe world that is running out of time.

Because I’ve always been aware that it existed, yet had never seen it, I’m watching The Paper Chase on Netflix as I work out each day.  After the observation that I don’t particularly like a single character in the movie, what’s most striking is the confidence of the stern Professor Kingsfield and the unquestioned understanding of the students that there is nothing lamentable, and probably something very desirable, about accepting his authority.

The standard was conformity because the mature, developed mind was better.  Indeed, the only way to real independence of mind is by working one’s way along the path as it’s been discovered, adopting habits and principles that bring us to the edge of what is known.  Imagine some giant, interlocking structure in space developing into a purposeful network.  We had a general sense of the plan and fresh young minds were welcomed and brought into it, being told how to interconnect.

Now the better metaphor for the conformity is a black hole.  The unifying principle is that there is no objective way to say what is better, so young minds of mush (as the cliché goes) are sucked in through emotion and social manipulation.  Independence is not permitted.

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2016 Freedom Index Shows Paying Attention Works

The most striking finding of the Freedom Index for the 2016 legislative session — which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released this week — is the difference that it makes when the people pay attention and give their representatives feedback.  In 2012, 14 legislators scored in positive territory on the index.  That first iteration turned out to be a sort of beginners luck, though, as the positives dropped to just two in 2013 and none in 2014 or 2015.

This year was the first that the Center made a point (as much as the legislature makes it possible) of reviewing legislation before it received a floor vote, and here are the results:

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We’re back to 11 positive legislators, and another 10 are separating from the sinking pack in a way that’s different from the results of previous years.  Despite the race to the bottom evidenced by legislative leaders and those who blindly vote with them 21 legislators are pulling away.

Of course, the fact that it’s an election year may have made a difference by itself, but elections can’t be but so effective if people aren’t paying attention and, more importantly, politicians know that tools exist to let voters know how they’re doing.  Step 1 is to make it clear which side a given legislator tends to take.  Step 2 is to bring that information to the voting booth to ensure that the number of legislators who will vote the right way actually increases.

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Tiverton Finds the Source Behind Strange Overtime Numbers

In 2014, Tiverton Fact Check noted that the second-highest-paid employee in town was Police Lieutenant Timothy Panell.  In fact, our transparency application shows that he was the second-highest-paid employee for three of the four years for which we have data (we don’t yet have fiscal year 2016), and third highest for the other year, all of them over $100,000.  Over those four years, overtime averaged about 30% of Officer Panell’s total pay, but it was around 40% for the two most recent years.

It is therefore not surprising, although still disappointing, to see Tim White of WPRI reporting that Panell has been charged with 58 counts of stealing overtime pay.

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

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Assessing and Curing Poverty and Housing in Rhode Island

Here’s another article in today’s Providence Journal that proves nothing so convincingly as the reality of profound differences of perspective.  File this one under “advocacy for $50 million in new debt for affordable housing.”

Rhode Island Housing brought down from Boston Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, who wants us to know that “America is the richest country with the most poverty in the world.”  That accusation contains a number of grammatical loopholes that would merit a closer look, but suffice for the moment to consider Robert Rector’s “15 Facts About US Poverty the Government Hides,” such as “the average poor American lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair and has more living space than the average nonpoor person in France, Germany, or England” and “eighty-five percent of poor households have air conditioning.”

But let’s accept Desmond’s premise that poverty and housing are a dire problem in the United States.  Stating that as a fact does not mean progressives’ preferred solutions are the obvious answer.  Consider:

Desmond noted that while many discussions of low-income housing center on publicly-assisted housing, only 1 in 4 households eligible for housing assistance actually get it, so most poor families are dealing with the private housing market. In Washington, D.C., for instance, there is a 20-year waiting list for public housing, he said. …

“We have the money,” to help struggling families, Desmond said, adding that the housing crisis is a much worse problem today than it was a decade ago. About 40 people are evicted in Milwaukee every day, he said, and most evicted tenants are mothers with children. Many of these mothers pay so much for rent and utilities that their children often go hungry, he said. One mother Desmond met, after enduring several evictions, “was having a nervous breakdown.”

Frankly, it seems obvious to me that the compassionate advocate would suggest that, if it looks likely that you’ll have to spend two decades waiting for housing you can afford in Washington, D.C., then Washington, D.C., is not a place you should be.  Moreover, as Mike Stenhouse recently had cause to explain related to state purchasing of farmland, government interventions in real estate markets tends to have undesirable consequences.  Decreeing that more people be given money to afford housing will increase demand without increasing supply, driving up prices for everybody.  Partitioning housing such that some segment is “affordable” leaves less housing not in the system, reducing the supply and (again) drive up prices for everybody.

As for the second paragraph quoted above, let’s not fail to make the obvious observation that “mothers with children” implies “fathers of children,” and in and out of government, society should work to ensure that affording housing, utilities, and food is the responsibility of two parents working together.  Unfortunately, such talk makes progressives uncomfortable, because it raises questions about their beliefs on social issues.  And let’s be honest: they kinda want the $50 million in bonded revenue whether or not it makes them feel good about loose sex, divorce, and abortion.

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Social Services & Negotiating How Much to Take from Others

Sometimes it’s helpful to put stories in chronological order, rather than news-report order, as with this one, from today’s Providence Journal, concerning panhandling and homelessness in Providence:

Complaints about vagrancy, open drug-dealing and drinking exploded after Mayor Jorge O. Elorza decided months ago to stop enforcing ordinances against aggressive panhandling and loitering.

And now the news is that we’ve got Democrat Joseph Paolino getting the heartless 1% treatment because he’s only looking to get $100,000 from the Downtown Improvement District for social workers, along with jobs for two panhandlers, a free apartment for use of a homeless shelter, and up to $5 million in state taxpayer money, in combination with a whole new ordinance that would be even broader than the ones the mayor isn’t enforcing (stopping all transactions through a car window).  The activists protesting Paolino’s PR event have a more comprehensive list:

Less enforcement of minor criminal offenses against people who are poor; more jobs for panhandlers; funding for 150 housing vouchers; drug and alcohol treatment; and amenities such as a day center, public bathrooms and free food distribution. They want the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority bus terminal to remain.

The core of this proposal is to double down on the policy approach that created the controversy (non-enforcement) and to add into the mix amenities that will draw even more vagrants, dealers, and loiterers to the area.  The protesters chanted, “Whose city? Our city!,” and they sure want it to be evident in the public square each and every day.

In short, the only solutions on the table, apparently, involve a negotiation over how much taxpayers have to pay for how much additional imposition.  Both parts of the plan are sure to exacerbate the underlying problem: namely, a domineering government that strangles the private sector and creates incentives not to work or bring behavior within a tolerable range.

We need another approach that doesn’t treat people as categories or as social-workers’ statistics, but as free individuals (from independent families) who can determine their own destinies in a community of mutual respect and charity.  The longer we deny this necessary change of perspective, the more the government plaque will build up in society’s arteries, making it more and more difficult to clear them.

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And Now on to the General Election and More Debt

With the general election now the next big event (if the primaries in Rhode Island can even be said to be a big event), I took a look at the bonds that will be on the November ballot.  In total, we’ve got $227.5 million (nearly a quarter-billion dollars) in new debt that Rhode Islanders will likely approve, not including the tens of millions more that municipalities are surely seeking.

That’s crazy.  Government bonds are one area of democratic action that make me mildly sympathetic to progressive inclinations to limit the franchise to those with some basic knowledge.  They’re also a reason I wonder if progressives might be incorrect to assume a more-educated electorate would tend in their direction.  What might voters do differently if they understood that debt isn’t just free money to spend on feel-good projects?

Making matters worse, these bonds aren’t just desperate attempts to gain money to build things for which the state should have budgeted with regular revenue; some of them are clearly policy issues.  How many voters, I wonder, would really want to supply the state government with borrowed money to buy up even more property in the state?

Would voters really fall for these schemes if they took the time to consider just how much of it will (or at least can) become subsidies for private businesses — from the URI “innovation campuses” to help private businesses use public-university research to come up with new products and services for a profit to the government purchase and discounted resale of farmland to improvement of ports that benefit a limited number of businesses at public expense?  All of these things benefit narrow groups at the expense of everybody else.

Even more concerning is that, when you add them all together, the picture becomes one not of a few included groups siphoning off public resources, but a comprehensive system that ultimately excludes those who don’t receive some sort of public aid.  If you’re an ordinary Rhode Islander who wants to know who those excluded parties are, take a look at your latest selfie.

Apparently every hyper-informed person in every ideological group believes that the public would agree with his or her beliefs if only people were better educated, but I can’t help but think that my ideological group is correct in that belief.  As the saying goes, everybody’s conservative when it comes to the things he or she knows best.  I simply don’t believe that people who’d been shown the corrupt, incestuous connections building into a web that ensnares our freedom and opportunity would continue to support such things… or the politicians and organizations who work so hard to make them a reality.

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Start the Clock on UHIP Consequences

As Ted Nesi reports, the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) goes live, today.  Much of the focus has been the cost overruns to get the new software system active — nearing a half-billion dollars if the state gets approval from the federal government for some final additions.  But Rhode Islanders should be disconcerted by the vagueness of the talk:

But in an interview last week, EOHHS Deputy Secretary Jennifer Wood was adamant that the next year of UHIP spending will come nowhere near $124 million. She described the amount as an opening bid in months of discussions with federal and state officials over how many additional tools should be added to the system. …

“This is an all-in, integrated system,” [Deputy Secretary of Administration Wayne] Hannon said. “It includes basically one-stop shopping for anybody who could be eligible for these services in the state of Rhode Island. I believe it’s the first … fully integrated system [in the country].”

That’s Rhode Island: first in the nation for cutting-edge government, even though our experience had been that it mainly cuts into the private sector, families’ independence, and our quality of life.  What we should be asking is what kind of “tools” we’re talking about, here, especially since that cost is nearly what the state initially estimated for the entire project.

The bureaucrats are touting an expected reduction of improper payments, as the state is better able to determine actual eligibility, but the effect is likely to be opposite.  There’s a reason they call it “one-stop shopping.”  The idea is to ensure that nobody misses any benefits for which they’re eligible, even if they don’t know they need them.  It’s part of the “company state” push by governments in blue states to make public services the central industry bolstering an area that has lost its ability to compete in the global market, for whatever reason.

Of course, being on the cutting edge of the next step in government domination means Rhode Islanders will have the privilege of providing data for other states in the future.  So, we’ll have to wait and see whether the welfare roles decrease or increase, just as Medicaid enrollment shot up with the implementation of the health benefits exchange (HealthSource RI).  Naturally, the disclaimer is that the state government will have a variety of methods (and a whole lot of incentive) to obscure the reason for any budget-busting increases.

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