HEADLINES

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“Preliminary” – RIDOT’s Newest Transparency & Accountability Dodge

Representative Patricia Morgan had an op-ed in yesterday’s ProJo describing the latest development in the area of tolls and proposed toll-funded projects – the Governor’s toll plan, as it has now become clear, being the biggest bait-and-switch ever pulled on Rhode Island’s residents. (“Danger, danger, Will Robinson! The bridges are unsafe!” “… Psych! Most of the money is going to a 6/10 boondoggle!”)

Honest and straightforward answers are simply impossible to come by. It appears that Director Peter Alviti has discovered the value of labeling everything “preliminary.” By doing so, he can avoid supplying forthright answers.

A reminder: all of this – tolls (if they survive the legal challenge), federal revenue, the bridges, highways, RIDOT – involves public resources and hard earned tax dollars, which means complete openness is mandated. Governor Raimondo will put an end to “preliminary” and all such dodges if she wishes to repair her very poor reputation in the area of transparency and open government.

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Gallison – Now Who’s Out of Order?

Multiple reporters, citing multiple sources, began reporting last night that a major development would take place on Smith Hill today.

House Finance Chairman Ray Gallison is set to resign as a state representative Tuesday as he faces a law enforcement probe, RIPR has learned.

Many of us wouldn’t be experiencing something bordering, frankly, on schadenfreude right now if this didn’t involve a legislator who, in the process of expediting the rushed, non-transparent creation of a highly destructive new revenue source, engaged in the worst kind of closed government conduct by bullying and then shutting down one of his colleagues who was rightfully attempting to get answers on behalf of the taxpayers, residents and businesses of the state.

But he did and we are.

Meanwhile, all eyes on Smith Hill today as these and related events, including a closed Democrat caucus at 3:54 pm, unfold.

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RIDOT, Transparency in Word and Deed

The Providence Journal has presented an interesting juxtaposition, between yesterday’s paper and today’s.  Today, reporter John Hill gives the Rhode Island Department of Transportation the equivalent of free press-release promotion:

Normally, a department of transportation would be expected to boast about a new bridge that spanned a river, or a new highway interchange. But this week the Rhode Island DOT’s proudest accomplishment is a 100-page report.

It is the first edition of the agency’s newly formatted quarterly report, which lists the hundreds of projects that the agency has in various stages of completeness, their cost and timetables for completion. It is available on paper and at the department’s website,dot.ri.gov/news/rhodeworks.php

Department Director Peter Alviti said the report represents the department’s effort to be more transparent and accountable to the public.

There will also be large plywood-sized signs at every job site clearly marked to indicate whether the project is on schedule and on budget, and we can absolutely trust RIDOT to ensure that the information on the signs is accurate and updated.

Hill’s article allows Alviti to take credit for reforming a dysfunctional department, although two omissions are significant in that regard.  First, the findings and solutions that Alviti promotes as if they were his own work largely derive from a report that the department commissioned under Governor Lincoln Chafee (D).  In other words, the process of assessing and resolving management troubles in the department was already underway.  Alviti and Governor Gina Raimondo (D) are just trying to reap the good PR.

Second, the article offers no context of RIDOT’s current challenges with transparency.  For that, turn to yesterday’s op-ed from Republican Representative Patricia Morgan (Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick):

Although the administration of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo worked to obscure the issue, we now know that the 6-10 Connector makeover was the reason the toll law had to be fast-tracked. Truth is, a plan was in place to fix all our deficient bridges and return maintenance to satisfactory levels. That’s the same 10-year plan that the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is using now. …

The scope and price of that project, which would involve creating a tunnel and a boulevard, is impossible to determine. Not that we haven’t asked. The weaving and dodging are evident. Honest and straightforward answers are simply impossible to come by. It appears that Director Peter Alviti has discovered the value of labeling everything “preliminary.” By doing so, he can avoid supplying forthright answers.

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Correcting the Treasurer

While dropping off a child’s forgotten lunch box, this morning, I heard John DePetro replaying a segment of this weekend’s Newsmakers program interviewing Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.  Responding to observations that the state pension fund’s investments are treading water or even losing money, Magaziner repeatedly insisted that the proper time frame over which to consider investments of this sort is the “long term,” and in that regard, the fund is on the right track.

This is not true, and journalists shouldn’t let him get away with the lie anymore.  As I’ve written before, if you define “long term” as any time longer than five years and shorter than 30 (which is far back as I’ve seen data), the fund is not on the right track.  The reality is that Magaziner, like Gina Raimondo before him, has a small window during which a “long term” view of about five years makes it look like the pension fund is viable.

Starting the measurement at the bottom of the housing bubble crash and carrying it through a few years during which the federal government and Federal Reserve were inflating stock values makes it look like the pension fund could actually earn 7.5% returns every year, on average.  The idea that such returns could be maintained for decades is so inconceivable that politicians like Magaziner must be relying entirely on the reluctance of people to investigate their claims.

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Line Item Veto Coming Up at the G.A.?

Former RI Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders had an excellent op-ed in yesterday’s ProJo in support of bringing the line item veto to Rhode Island. No need to fear that we would be breaking any new ground; it’s been well tested in forty four other states.

Governors in most states have employed the line–item veto as an effective tool in balancing state budgets and in checking ill-conceived spending measures. In these states, the line-item veto has not siphoned off any substantial power from the legislature to the governor, but rather it has served as an important, if not essential, tool to manage budgets that may tend in part to ignore the future adverse consequences of certain proposed expenditures in favor of more immediate spending pressures.

Referencing it on his Facebook page, Ken Block says

I anticipate a hearing either this week or next. We will need you to show up at the state house when the bill is heard.

Meanwhile, feel free to lobby our elected officials here about bringing this good-government measure to Rhode Island.

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For Formation as Adults, Avoid Connecticut Higher Ed

My entire life, the mainstream message has been that conservative Republicans, particularly the Christians among them, are so uptight and scared of sex that they want to “put the government in our bedrooms.”  I don’t know if that was always and everywhere baloney, or if the sorts of people who used to gravitate toward that political position because it empowered them to be busybodies are simply now gravitating to the progressive Democrat side.  Or maybe the loose family policies and social aesthetics that progressives have preferred since the ’60s have created so much cultural insecurity that progressives now feel they must patch the holes they’ve put in Western civilization’s zeppelin.

Whatever the case, legislation that passed the Connecticut House last week is wrong in a variety ways and, if it makes its way into law, should signal to parents and students the world ’round that Connecticut colleges are not the place to go in order to find formation as a young adult:

“It clarifies that a yes-means-yes policy will be the policy for the state of Connecticut for all public and private colleges,” said Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, who serves on the legislature’s Higher Education Committee and who introduced the bill. “The presence of ‘yes’ is required rather than just the lack of ‘no’ ” in determining consensual sexual activity.

Apparently in keeping with the politicians’ rhetoric, the article goes on to cite bogus sexual assault statistics.  Using false information and propaganda is hardly a new development among those who want to control our lives for us.

But to the manifest wrongness of the legislation:  The state government of Connecticut is presuming to dictate policy for the operation of every college and university, whether public or private.  I’d be interested to know what the progressives think is the difference between the two types of organization, because they don’t tend to respect distinctions.  Indeed, it’s beginning to seem that progressives think of private organizations, including businesses, as slightly less heavily controlled charter schools.

That attitude makes sense, of course, from people who insist that young adults are still “children” for health care purposes well into their 20s and who believe it’s the duty of the government to protect those grown children from uncomfortable incidents of intimacy.  Those of us who are actually grown up, however, should reject this assertion of authority.

Laws against actual criminal behavior are appropriate, to be sure, with standards of evidence and adjudication, but this new assault from the would-be nannies goes well beyond that, into a realm that is best handled at the level of the individual, the social group, and (where consumers desire it) the individual institution.  Given their power as consumers, then, young adults who believe that they can and should make their own way in the world — and parents hoping to foster that sense — should apparently look elsewhere than Connecticut for higher education.

Who knows how much the creepy overseers will slip into your bedroom and your life?

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Shouldn’t a Business Editor Be Pro-Business?

When it comes to mainstream newspaper editors and columnists with targeted subject assignments, like the business section of a newspaper, one can often detect a point of view that isn’t necessarily in perfect accord with the subject’s primary consumers, but Providence Journal business editor John Kostrzewa’s column in today’s paper — titled “Minimum wage hike is only the start” — is really stunning.

Writing about the annual meeting of Rhode Island’s far-left pro-redistribution think tank, the Economic Progress Institute (formerly the Poverty Institute), Kostrzewa approvingly moves through some of the additional burdens that progressive activists wish to place on our already-struggling economy, such as this:

Many of those proposals come with a cost, to either employers or taxpayers, and a conference attendee asked where the revenue would come from to pay for the benefits or services.

Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national organization, answered that it would take partnerships and creative ideas to raise revenue. She pointed to a proposal being studied in Connecticut to fine employers with 500 or more workers in the state $1 for each hour of work by an employee who earns less than $15 an hour. By some estimates, the proposal could raise from $189 million to $305 million a year.

How could a newspaper’s business guy convey that horrible, business-killing, big-government idea as simply, “Hey, here’s a thought”?  It boggles the mind almost as much as his tone-deaf chiding of business owners for not attending an event geared toward those who want to take their money and tell them how to operate:

But Raimondo and Paiva Weed were among only a few public officials in the crowd. There were not many business owners there, either.

That’s a missed opportunity, because the election showed it’s time for a wider discussion among public and private leaders about the anxieties of working people, and the government’s role in providing relief.

If anybody needs more indication of why Rhode Island is struggling as it is, Kostrzewa provides a doozy.  The one brief nod toward the damage that these policies could do to businesses and the economy reads as if some copyeditor questioned publishing a business column without some mention of policies’ possible effects on businesses.

With the business pages now a collection of outside content and standard reports, one wonders why the Projo bothers to publish another left-wing redistributionist columnist in that space.  It’s certainly not to provide any ideological balance to the paper’s overwhelmingly progressive bias.

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Tom Ward Calls Out Potentially Costly P.C. Bullying by State Treasurer

Echoing (presumably inadvertently) Justin Katz’ similar reservations about the General Treasurer’s “foolish politically correct showboating” with the state pension fund, Valley Breeze Publisher Tom Ward offers an excellent critique of the GT’s recently announced, very foolish new criteria for the choosing of investments for the state pension fund.

By choosing investments based on feelings and a political agenda, isn’t it possible that the fund won’t do as well as those which focus specifically on making as much money as possible for retirees? Or are we saddled with investment managers whose PC agenda is more important to them because taxpayers have to make up for their poor performance anyway?

Great point. It’s so easy to make yourself look good and claim the (highly dubious) mantle of political correctness when someone else will be forced to make up the difference financially. But it may not just be taxpayers who would have to do so. Presumably, Mr. Magaziner will make himself widely available to state retirees facing a potential haircut to explain to them how being p.c. was more important than the intactness of their pension check.

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Losing JOI (Read: “Joy”) in Rhode Island

None of the research-type projects that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity puts together are designed with an outcome in mind.  Sure, when we set out to score legislation as a means of rating legislators or to develop an index to present a better gauge for state’s economic progress, we have some expectation of the general range of the likely results, but we don’t reverse-engineer the design to hit targets.

What we’re really after are a quantification and a definition of principles that we sense to be true, because getting such things on the table allows conversation beyond conflicting assertions.  Still, sometimes even I’m surprised at (in my view) how well these things confirm my impressions, even in contravention of the received wisdom.

On our new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), for example, the first monthly brief compares the narrative of the official unemployment rate — which is that the state has been improving and catching up with the rest of the country for years — with the narrative of the JOI findings — which is that Rhode Island has barely stopped losing ground, let alone recovering.  Indeed, the following table/chart, which isn’t published elsewhere, illustrates precisely the trend that I would have argued occurred over the last decade.

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That’s a state-level ranking of states on JOI since 2005, and Rhode Island is the pink “line.”  What it shows is that Rhode Island was hovering at the better end of the bottom 10 states until the recession, which knocked us down a few steps.  We then held that relative position until around 2011, when the election and policies of Governor Chafee stood as a marker that the state wasn’t intending to make better decisions anytime soon, at which point we slipped to 48th.  We’ve been stuck there ever since.  (The simultaneous halt of the state’s education improvement is another telling point.)

Time will tell if the approach of Governor Raimondo and House Speaker Mattiello to the economy makes any difference, but I don’t expect to see much improvement.  Trying to pick winners in the economy while reeducating the population to fit the mold that connected employers want and emphasizing the health of the government and its clients isn’t a formula for broad success.

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Token Tax Cuts are Meaningless Without Spending Cuts

WPRI’s Dan McGowan offers a very good breakdown of Providence Mayor Elorza’s proposed budget.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza proposed a budget Wednesday that slightly reduces residential and commercial property tax rates but still results in an overall increase in actual taxes for most city residents thanks to a large spike in property values. …

Elorza’s $716.8-million tax-and-spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 also increases the car tax exemption to $2,000, which will result in about 6,500 low-value vehicles coming off the tax roll. All told, the mayor’s budget anticipates an additional $13.1 million in new revenue through taxes.

But because Mayor Elorza hasn’t reduced spending in his proposed budget, he has simply adjusted the tax burden slightly so he can say he (modestly) reduced the very unpopular car tax. Providence taxpayers would still pay more in taxes overall.

In a Kathy Gregg ProJo article today, Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello are similarly making noises about cutting this or that tax, presumably in part on the basis of an unexpected rise in gaming revenue. But any tax cut would not be permanent, or would need to be replaced with a tax increase someplace else, if they don’t reduce spending the budget and gaming revenues fall, as everyone agrees they inevitably will.

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A Lesson of Venezuela and the U.S. Primary Race

For a good, long while, I’ve offered the optimistic view about Rhode Island: that at some point of collapse prior to the adjective, “utter,” the people would awaken and insist that the corrupt games have to stop, aided by those in leadership positions whose consciences would no longer allow them to look the other way.  Any level of collapse is painful, of course, but reality and solutions are close enough to the surface, throughout the United States, that a reparable slash or broken bone should be a sufficient lesson to change behavior.

News out of Venezuela and reflections on the presidential primary are leading me to question my optimism.  On the former, Kevin Williamson gives a concise summary of the condition:

If you truly believe that Venezuela is suffering from electricity shortages because its economy is so successful, you should ask yourself why it is suffering from a toilet-paper shortage, too. And a shortage of rice, milk, cooking oil, and other basic foods. And water.

To which I’d add this from Richard Fernandez:

The lights didn’t go out in Caracas all at once.  The wiring was stolen bit by bit; the turbines had been neglected year by year; the engineers had departed plane by plane until Earth Day came down like a shroud and without apparent end.  Rioting and looting is now reported to be spreading as only 15 days of food are said to remain.

Read both essays and ponder that blithe assertion that “it can’t happen here.”  We’re watching it happen here.  Fernandez suggests Venezuela fell prey to the “curse of plenty,” wherein “easy money attracts the wrong kind of leaders and incentivizes the wrong kind of public behavior.”  A region can have easy money by sitting on a cornucopia of natural resources, or it can be a small state in a wealthy region of an economically dynamic country.

The reality is that most people just want things to continue as they are and perhaps improve incrementally, which makes them susceptible to herding in bad directions that serve special interests.  Head this way, and a loud, scary noise urges us back to the herd; meanwhile, the corral and slaughterhouse aren’t quite visible up ahead.

As the wrong leaders and wrong behavior make things more difficult, fewer people are willing to step forward in opposition, and fewer good people want the role of leadership even if they can get it.  Potential heroes are vilified, and the public’s confusion is exploited.

In this mix of diminished choice and distortion, politicians have no competition or too much, leading to uncontested seats or split votes that allow victory with relatively small pluralities of support.  Both special interests and cults of personality can therefore amass winning numbers.  Rhode Island elects a Chafee and then a Raimondo, while backing a Bernie and a Trump for president.

The outcomes are always predictable, and yet it seems impossible to correct course.  Small improvements require so much personal sacrifice of effort, while the status quo rumbles on effortlessly.

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Whose Diploma and What Accountability?

Watching the center-ring clowns of Rhode Island’s education establishment blow reform bubbles at each other provides numerous opportunities for incredulity from the watching public, but this statement deserves to be on the big-top’s central screen:

[RI Education Commissioner Ken] Wagner says he is trying to maintain rigorous standards without sacrificing students. To do that, he wants to offer two commendations beyond the traditional diploma: one for high academic achievement, the other to recognize individual expertise, say, a concentration in the arts.

“Students told us, ‘This is my diploma. Let me show you what I’m good at,'” he said.

If the state’s top education bureaucrat echoes that particular student inanity, I’d recommend anybody with the means should flee the public education system in this state.  (Rather, I’d re-up my recommendation to do that.)  A high school diploma is worthless if it’s little more than a marker that a child has occupied space for a minimum amount of time and proven that he or she is capable of finding something at which he or she doesn’t fail.

In a crucial way, it isn’t a particular student’s diploma.  It’s the system’s diploma.  It is a signal that the student has fulfilled the requirements of the education system, and those requirements define the value of receiving their final approval.  Moreover, inventing new levels of higher achievement (because we lack the guts to devalue participation awards) will be a Rhode Island quirk that most individuals, colleges, and employers will glance right over.

And then there’s this (likely) meaningless talking point:

Wagner wants to eliminate the state’s latest standardized test as a high school graduation requirement. The state would continue to test students but the districts would be held accountable, not the students.

How exactly is the state going to hold districts accountable?  Take away money?  Contractual pressure and economic reality make that little different than placing the consequences on students.  Do something that ensures that administrators and teachers receive some sort of professional or financial penalty?  The unions and their elected puppets would never let that go through.  Let parents take their kids out of the district and send them to private school using the money set aside for them?  That move would have to come straight from brave, determined elected officials (who don’t currently exist in sufficient numbers).

These are all smoky promises and hollow threats, and Rhode Island’s children deserve better.

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What’s Really in Your Best Interest? Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI)

This week on “What’s Really in Your Best Interest?”, we examine the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI.) (RIFreedom.org/JOI)

My guest this week is Justin Katz, the Research Director for the Center and Managing Editor of the Ocean State Current. Justin is the creator of the JOI measure, a new tool designed to give lawmakers a broader view of Rhode Island’s economy than the traditional unemployment rate.

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

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

Please watch the video now and see this months post on JOI here.

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Cote & Reilly Call for G.A., Not RIDOT, to Set Tolls & Gantry Locations

Senator Marc Cote and Representative Daniel Reilly make a sound separation-of powers case for this in Monday’s GoLocalProv.

One of the most important checks involves the legislative branch’s ability to keep the executive branch from spending too much money. …

Essentially, DOT is being allowed to set a tax rate, collect the taxes and spend the proceeds, all without any input from any other branch of government. We see this provision as a violation of the principles of checks and balances and an infringement upon the principle of separation of powers.

The assignment to RIDOT of toll rate authority is clearly in violation of the separation of powers section of the Rhode Island Constitution. Members of the General Assembly must stand up and be counted. Do they stand with and for the state Constitution and the residents of the state? Or do they side with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats against the people?

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If Progressives Had Perspective on the “Living Wage”

Maybe it’s an act, but sometimes it’s almost comical how little progressives understand economics and how unable they are to think of other people as, well, people trying to make the best decisions they can under the circumstances.  Oh, they say they have empathy for this group or that, but anybody who responds to actual incentives in the real world slips immediately into the bad-guy-who-gets-no-empathy column if they conflict with progressive fantasy.  Consider:

States and cities whose lawmakers proudly passed “living wage” laws are finding it difficult to make sure employers actually pay their workers accordingly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe the employers are finding it difficult to pay their employees at the level “lawmakers” decide suits their own ignorant vanity.

And many workers — especially those in precarious situations — fear they’ll be fired if they speak up.

And maybe those “firings” wouldn’t be retaliation so much as the simple calculation that government has forced on the employers.  See, wages before the increase were the rate that employers’ ability to pay matched employees willingness to work.  Progressives dehumanize workers by insisting that they can’t actually be making rational decisions to work for what they accept, and they devalue work by assuming it gives those who do it well no leverage — that they’re at the mercy of their employers.

If one imagines these interactions from a more empathetic point of view, the scenario can be one in which employers tell their employees the honest truth that meeting the arbitrary demands of government officials will put them out of business or at least force them to lay off employees’ coworkers and insist on more work from those who remain, leading the workers to voluntarily stick to the pay that they were already willing to accept.

How instances of that positive scenario balance out against instances of the evil-people scenario that progressives prefer is almost immaterial.  Politicians who pass these dumb laws are forbidding adults from making such decisions.

So, progressives double down on stupid:

“It’s pretty shocking how common the violations are,” said Donna Levitt, director of the labor enforcement office in San Francisco, which began ramping up to $15 an hour last year. …

The new laws are meaningless without proactive enforcement, labor advocates say, citing research that shows roughly one in four businesses nationwide already cheat their workers out of minimum wages.

What comes to mind is the IRS practice of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants who are committing fraud with Social Security numbers because, “It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”  So, why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for?

The government would rather make it more difficult for people to come to voluntary agreements that ensure that they have some income.  That way, the taxes of those who actually keep their jobs can be used to make politicians and bureaucrats feel good about themselves, again, when they hand out welfare benefits.

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Voters Should Demand a Gift Basket of Freedom

Partly so readers can feel my pain, as it were, from reading through all of the legislation passing through the General Assembly, I’d like to direct your attention to H8068, which my Freedom Index description characterizes as follows:

to allow wine producers and distributors and gift-basket retailers to ship a limited amount of wine to residential consumers in Rhode Island, with licensing and other requirements

Mainly out of a sense of relief that any legislation would expand what businesses can do, I marked the bill as a positive, but it’s instructive, nonetheless, for a negative reason.  Consider that the bill creates a new $200 “gift basket license” that allows the sale of gift baskets that “may include”:

(1) A maximum of four (4) bottles of wine per basket;
(2) Food items;
(3) Non-alcoholic beverages;
(4) Concentrates used in the preparation of mixed alcoholic beverages;
(5) Wine-making kits and products related to wine-making kits;
(6) Ice in any form;
(7) Articles of clothing imprinted with advertising related to the alcoholic liquor industry or the permittee’s gift basket business;
(8) Flowers, plants and garden-related items;
(9) Drinking glasses, bottle opening devices and literature related to wine; or
(10) Gift certificates.

Those aren’t the only regulations, naturally.  There are other rules for who can sell, who can buy, and where the sale can be done, as well as reporting requirements.

One would hope that even people who lean toward including government in most of what people do within the society would start to get a little squeamish when we get to the point of regulating what legal products go in a gift basket.

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No RI City or Town Should Take HUD Money

… not if elected officials and property owners value property rights and local control of zoning and planning. That was my distinct take-away from the talk by Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, at a standing-room only fundraiser held by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity on Sunday.

From a post-event statement issued by the Center.

“Once HUD gets into your city or town, they will not go away. They want never-ending settlements and mandates, designed by Washington, D.C. central-planners and ideologues, who will try to dictate who can live where,” commented Astorino. Echoing the Center’s concerns over the past two years, Astorino also warned that localities can be deemed by HUD to be “discriminatory” if certain income and racial housing “quotas” are not met … a method he ridiculed as “guilt by statistics, rather than by intent”.

(Full disclosure: I work for the Center as their Communications Manager.)

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Governor Raimondo’s Education Commissioner Wants to Further Erode Student Achievement

… that can be the only conclusion from his stated intent, as reported in today’s Providence Journal.

State education Commissioner Ken Wagner wants to remove a controversial new standardized test as a high school graduation requirement for students.

For the most part, Governor Raimondo has only paid lip service – lots and lots of robotic lip service – to her campaign promise to create jobs and improve the state’s economy. Will she permit Commissioner Wagner to do the same with regard to improving K-12 education in Rhode Island?

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RI Trumpublicans Triumphant

Say what you will: as demonstrated last night, there can be no doubt that Donald Trump’s brand of Republicanism – Trumpublicanism? – appeals to a large majority of RI GOP members and a significant portion of RI “Independent” men and women.

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Shock Result on the Democrat Side of Rhode Island’s Primary

Whoa, looks like Rhode Island is no longer Clinton Country. From the Valley Breeze last night.

On the Democrat side, Bernie Sanders soundly defeated Hillary Clinton, taking home 54.7 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting. After being ahead in many polls, Clinton got just 43.1 percent of the vote.

A heartfelt thank you to all Democrat primary voters in Rhode Island who refused to obey the instructions of The Machine and instead, pulled the lever (… er, made the mark) for Bernie Sanders.

Let the speculation, started on Twitter and elsewhere, freely continue about the impact of this yuge, unexpected outcome on the (widely rumored but not confirmed) political plans of various Democrat politicians in Rhode Island, especially those of you-know-who.

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Is Artist’s Departure or Arrival the Real Story?

Not knowing details of the story of Pawtucket sculptor Donald Gerola, I won’t make any grand pronouncements about his bitter decision to give up on Rhode Island, but I found this paragraph of Mark Reynolds’s Providence Journal story significant:

Gerola says the sculptures that he brought to Rhode Island after moving to the state — “like an idiot” — in 2004 drew praise from various political leaders. But that encouragement never led to the kind of displays and success he wanted, on the scale he aspired to. Exposure from the public exhibits that he did participate in, losing money, did not foster any private sales of his sculpture, he says, and loaning out the pieces for display at sites in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England “was the dumbest thing I ever did … “

Our “political leaders” like to fancy themselves as important people and patrons of the arts, and they spend a good amount of our money on that particular self image, but art can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a responsibility of taxpayers.  And unless government is able to fully support an artist’s work, both the government and the artist would be foolish to take action based on limited transactions with each other.  This is true not the least because politicians have no proven taste.

The warning about taste, of course, expands to Rhode Island government’s broader economic development strategy, which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has amplified to ontological importance.  One can picture Rhode Island politicians finding Gerola’s work to be the cutting-edge future of art, yet that incorrect assessment has apparently led to a loss for the artist and, therefore, a waste of whatever public money has gone to him over the decade he’s been here (if any).  The same goes for less artsy businesses.

The best way to ensure that a particular investment has legs is to let people make the decisions with their own money.  Of course, that doesn’t give politicians the ability to skim off the top or to feel like they’re the key movers of the art world or the economy.

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How Do People React When They Reach the Progressive End?

Richard Fernandez asks and answers an interesting question on which Rhode Islanders’ opinions should be valued across the country:

How might people react if the land promised by modern cultural Pied Pipers turned out to be a hell?  We now know the answer is: surprised. The significance of Peggy Noonan’s 2016 moment is not only that it so perfectly coincides with the end point of seven years of progress towards Hope and Change, but it marks the moment when the penny finally dropped for the American upper middle class.  After a long and arduous march through the institutions, the progressive bus has finally arrived at its long promised paradise hotel and found it desolate, dangerous and full of roaches.

Fernandez limits himself too much by allowing for only one answer.  The reality is that one gets the full negative rainbow of reactions.  The other day, one of my local friends touched base with a reliable local ally with regard to the budget petition I put in for Tiverton.  Gone.  Rhode Island wasn’t palatable anymore, so he skipped to Florida.  This happens constantly.

One might say that our friend reacted by getting on a departing bus for elsewhere.  Some portion of people who do the same probably never have his awareness of what the problem is; they just know Rhode Island isn’t doing it for them, so they leave.

Others respond with anger.  This emotion cuts across the political spectrum, but I have in mind particularly, today, the large number of Trump enthusiasts in Rhode Island.  Such folks have gotten so used to having their views not matter that they almost don’t care what kind of a president he would be.  The idea is to tear down the system.

And then there are those who imagine away the problems.  For them, the progressive bus never reaches its destination, as evidenced by the fact that the world is not perfect, yet.  The answer is always more of what ails us.  Drive deeper… or walk on, if the bus won’t move.

Others just do their best to ignore the problems, mostly because they’ve got some special deal built into the status quo.

And others (a certain editorial board comes to mind) insist on trying to operate the bus even though it’s stopped and out of gas.  Inasmuch as the battery isn’t dead yet, the vehicle seems like it might respond.  The civic system kinda-sorta does the things civic systems are supposed to do, so (they insist) the safest plan is to stay in our seats and keep pushing on the gas pedal and the brakes, putting on the turn signals, and playing with the climate controls.

Standing in Rhode Island, I’d suggest that the important question isn’t what happens upon arrival.  Rather, it’s what those of us who recognize our location do to help those who haven’t yet done so.

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Solutions Offered for Providence’s Financial Problems are Too Revenue Heavy

Well, one thing’s for certain: it’s getting pretty serious in Providence financially judging by the study commissioned by Mayor Elorza and the solutions it contains.

Providence should consider implementing new taxes, selling assets and closing fire stations as part of its effort to reduce a projected structural deficit that could balloon to $37 million over the next decade, according to a study released Monday by the Elorza administration.

The problem, unless WPRI’s Dan McGowan left significant chunks of the study out of his report (quite unlikely), is that the study offers way more suggestions for raising revenue – sell assets, raise PILOT payments, create new taxes and fees – than for reducing spending. The proposal to “transfer city janitorial services to a prisoner reentry program” is welcome – but only seven FTE’s would be affected. Where is the proposal to look at compensation levels across the entire city payroll? Yes, the study suggests broadening the suspension of the pension COLA – but doesn’t mention the pensions themselves. This would clearly be inadequate as the city’s pension fund is at best 30% funded.

Tax rates in Providence, residential and commercial, are already among the highest in the country. When are Providence officials going to start taking steps to live within a budget that TAXPAYERS can afford rather than continuing to take the easy steps of only nibbling around the edges of expenses and continuing the inexorable increase of taxes and fees?

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O’Neill Independent No Longer … ?

Here’s a notable primary day observation.  According to the Secretary of State’s online search, independent state Senator Edward O’Neill hasn’t been independent for a couple of months and, like Rep. Karen MacBeth, has joined the ranks of Rhode Island Republicans.

To some extent, that’s not all that surprising, considering that he’s on the District 1 Republican primary ballot, today, as a delegate for Donald Trump.  On the other hand, his legislative Web page still lists him as an Independent.

Time will tell whether his move to the Republican Party is purely a Trump-related move or if he shares enough of MacBeth’s dissatisfaction with the dominant Democrats in the General Assembly to make the less dramatic leap from Republican-leaning independent.  Sen. O’Neill did not respond to an email request for comment.

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Polls and Tolls and How Many Gantries?

After a stage delay, Brown University finally released its poll on Sunday. (I don’t know what the real situation was was but I’m not buying their “voter fatigue” reason for this delay.) And – oh, dear – Governor Raimondo’s approval rating has dropped to 31%. It is impossible not to tie this directly to her push to implement destructive, burdensome tolls in Rhode Island.

On that front, by the way, during her interview with WPRO’s Anita Baffoni, Governor Raimondo references thirty toll gantries.

before putting up 30 gantries

It’s not clear whether this is a feint to try to make us all relieved if/when they eventual “only” roll out fifteen (or pick a number) gantries, like the Governor did when she introduced the new vacation rental tax, or whether she and RIDOT really are planning to proceed with thirty gantries. If the former, it won’t work. We all know that toll gantries are like cockroaches: in light of their propensity to multiply, there is only one safe number and that is zero.

What is clear from this poll is that zero gantries was also the only safe number when it comes to the Governor’s approval rating.

UPDATE

Kathy Gregg reports the prior poll number that I was looking for:

In her earlier, high-profile role as the state treasurer, Raimondo, at one point, enjoyed a 56 percent job-approval rating.

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When Insurance Isn’t Insurance

Jeff Jacoby has it right on our health care system: “The purpose of insurance is to protect policyholders from unforeseen or catastrophic expenses.”  What’s more:

When Americans rely on a third party — private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid — to pay most of their medical bills, they forfeit their power as consumers. Our ill-conceived system of subsidized health plans provided by employers and taxpayer-funded “free” treatment through the government ends up stripping patients of their economic clout. Doctors and hospitals have little incentive to compete by lowering prices, because patients rarely bother to ask about prices. By and large, health care providers in the United States do most of their negotiating with insurers or the government. After all, they’re the ones paying the piper.

Money is just a measure of value, and prices are just the balancing point between the seller’s requirements and the consumer’s willingness.  The only reason to hide any of these numbers is to pull something over on somebody.  Prices should be high for things that people greatly value and that aren’t particularly easy to supply.  The decision between, say, a life-saving operation and an indulgent vacation should be clear.  An effort hide the prices is apt to wind up costing somebody less powerful than the vacationer something more important than the vacation.

This principle obtains even with the legitimate concern that the price that our society as a whole sets for medical procedures will be beyond the means of some people even if they sacrifice everything they have.  But hiding the prices — whether in the name of the “dignity” of the poor or because politicians are using the transaction to buy votes — only disguises the real problems:  that people wrongly value a great many things over each other’s health and that the economy isn’t allowing people to increase their own resources.

Filtering everything through government does great damage on both counts.

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Charter School Demand Isn’t Surprising; Narrow Vision Is

It just isn’t surprising that demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats in Rhode Island, but I’m not sure the Providence Journal editorial board draws the right lessons.  After all, charter schools are — or at least people’s perception of them is that they are — tantamount to free-to-the-family private schools, and parents don’t have to be but so motivated as advocates for their children to seek free private schooling for their children.

The peculiarity is that the Projo editors won’t consider the possibility of modestly helping families afford actual private schools, even just a little.  Given the editors’ advocacy for charter schools, they can’t really turn around and argue that real school choice would take money away from schools, because charter schools do that even more.

One plausible argument, I guess, would be that the public maintains some level of control over charter schools, because they’re still public schools, but then it isn’t obvious why the editors would see legislation giving local taxpayers some leverage when it comes to charter schools as an unjust attack on them.

Now throw this into the mix:

The combined hit [of budget and leverage reforms] “would force the majority of Rhode Island’s highly successful independent and district charter schools to shut their doors in a matter of years,” [Timothy Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools,] warned.

So, these free-to-the-parents, private-like public schools can’t survive without total subsidization arguably beyond the very-high level of public schools.

One wonders what the demand for charters would be if parents were required to pay some nominal fee to make up the difference.  The Projo complains about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to reduce district funding of charters by about $700 per student, but $700 per year would be a very low tuition for parents, compared with existing private options.

Frankly, the underlying logic spins the head.  We need “public school choice” so the public has some control, but we can’t let the public make decisions about the schools.  We’re impressed by the demand, but we can’t let parents pay some small tuition.

One gets the impression that, proclamations aside, the advocacy places more emphasis on whatever it is that makes the word “public” magic rather than on whatever it is that makes school choice beneficial for children.  Either that, or it’s more of a statement of “we like these schools and the people who run them, and we think everybody should have to pay for them without much by way of accountability.”

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A Quiet End to This Legislative Session Following Passage of the Highly Destructive Toll Plan?

Interesting article in GoLocalProv today by Russell Moore about the balance of the current legislative session. He spoke to some legislators, including Senator Ed O’Neill, who see a quiet end.

“They’re going to want to get the session over with and get out and on the campaign trail. They want to get out there and press the flesh because they’re concerned about RhodeWorks.”

Rhodeworks; a.k.a., the Governor’s highly destructive plan to bring tolls to Rhode Island. Indeed, many of us are very concerned about it, though, unlike the legislators referenced by Senator O’Neill (who wisely voted against tolls), our concern arises from the future of the state and not at all for the political futures of lawmakers who shoved the state over an economic cliff by voting for an open-ended, multi-billion dollar new tax burden in the form of tolls.

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Socialism Can Only Make Us All Poorer

As he usually does, Jonah Goldberg makes several worthy points in his most recent breezy G-File column, including some thoughts on socialism:

… “socialism” was an answer to what 19th-century intellectuals and religious leaders called “the social question.” As traditional societies succumbed to the creative destruction of the market, people started asking, “How shall we live now?” Socialism was one such answer (National Socialism, another, very similar answer), but it was only partly and not even mostly, an economic answer. It was a cultural one.

That is, “socialism” isn’t an economic system.  It’s more like a godless religion whose rituals are economic in nature.  What that means is that its entire way of thinking is unnatural.  It’s divorced from necessary concessions to human nature, from acceptance of physical reality, and from any roots in supernatural truth.  Instead, socialism is a purely man-made intellectual construct that finds its power in corrupting human tendencies, both unhealthy (envy) and healthy (charity).

Consequently, a society that takes socialism too seriously for too long winds up depriving its people of fulfillment and advancement, for reasons that branch off from this subsequent paragraph from Goldberg:

Gracchus Babeuf, arguably the first “socialist” to earn the label, wanted a “conspiracy of equals,” which would “remove from every individual the hope of ever becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by his intelligence.” In his Manifesto of the Equals, he called for the “disappearance of boundary-marks, hedges, walls, door locks, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all crimes . . . courts, prisons, gallows, penalties . . . envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deception, duplicity, in short, all vices.” To fill that void, “the great principle of equality, or universal fraternity, would become the sole religion of the peoples.”

Disallowing individuals from “becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by [their] intelligence” is utter ignorant nonsense that winds up harming everybody.  Take the specifics in reverse order:

  • Preventing people who are especially intelligent from realizing their potential leaves us all less benefit from their unique abilities.
  • Artificially depriving people of power — understood broadly as the ability to have others follow one’s instructions — leaves us all less benefit from strong leadership.
  • And yes, confiscating wealth from people simply because they have more of it leaves us all poorer by the prevention of whatever their talents would have had them do with that money… or whatever talents others would have developed in order to collect it in the first place.

Playing the envy card, a socialist might insist that if we stray from a hard, unnatural, tyrannical conformity that leaves us indistinguishable from each other opens the problems of vanity, pride, and abuse, but so does the imposition of the socialistic worldview in the first place.

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