HEADLINES

Assumptions of Political Theory in Climate Change

Participants in the climate change debate tend to stand at opposite ends of a string of questions and push “yes” and “no” against each other along the scale. We should break the question down to the political theory underlying the tug-of-war.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 27 (Central Coventry Fire District)

On NBC 10 Wingmen, Bob Plain and I discussed the General Assembly’s entry into the Central Coventry Fire District controversy; in this post, I add some points that I should have inserted into the segment.

March 2014 Employment: Another Boom That Nobody Feels

Rhode Island (with the rest of the states) is apparently experiencing an employment boom, although the evidence is difficult to see outside of the statistics.

Fish on Fridays


Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

No Tax Increase in Tiverton, and the Mysterious Influence of Wall Street

Assertions by tax-increase advocates that Tiverton needs a large reserve fund for debt reasons don’t match the numbers for other RI cities and towns and, anyway, have priorities out of whack.

Contributions to an Ideological Common Wisdom

Over the weekend, I had a Twitter tiff with Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick over a comment in his Sunday column, which was about the negativity between the two Republicans vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.  Noting that they both have liberal or Democrat backgrounds, Fitzpatrick wrote, “In Ted Cruz’s Texas, they’d give you the electric chair for less than that.”

It’s obviously a joke, but this sort of humor requires some sense of underlying truth.  To mainstream New England liberals, the two bits of common wisdom on which Fitzpatrick is playing are that conservatives brook no dissent and that we are casual about human life.

But humor doesn’t only rely on underlying truth, it also reinforces it.  If that smart and reasonable political columnist in the state’s major newspaper can casually reference conservatives’ willingness to put people to death for disagreeing with them, then (while of course everybody knows they aren’t that bad… at least not all of them) it’s smart and reasonable of others to trust in the sentiment.  This is how the Obama administration can actively abuse Americans during the government shutdown in full expectation that the news media will blame conservative Republicans (e.g., Ted Cruz).  This is how local activists (backed by the teachers’ union, naturally) can get away with declaring that their neighbors want to hurt children and destroy the community for seeking to slow the rate of growth of taxes.

It wasn’t that long ago that mainstream journalists (including Fitzpatrick, as I recall) were assuring me that they understood that it’s possible to oppose same-sex marriage without being a bigot, and now look where we are.  In part we’re here based on the casual dismissing of opponents’ views, such as performed by Fitzpatrick’s fellow Providence Journal columnist, Bob Kerr.  Many were the jokes about traditionalists’ ignorance and bigotry.

This is a lot of weight to put on a throw-away line in an ephemeral bit of political literature, to be sure.  I elaborate on the 140 characters of my tweet only because Fitzpatrick and others objected to my objection.  Comedians are comedians, and ideologues are ideologues.  Even those who agree with them can see the role they fill and take their words in that spirit.  At some level in the development of a smart and reasonable columnist, though, an awareness should develop that even jokes can have consequences.

What Rhode Islanders Need To Know About the Crisis in Central Coventry, Part 2


What is important to keep in mind here is that, unlike the mayors and city councils of cities like Central Falls and Woonsocket, fire districts do not start out from a position, under the general laws of Rhode Island, of being able to tax without direct voter approval. Fire-district levies still have to go to the voters, and it should not be assumed that empaneling a budget commission automatically negates this. A budget commission should have to submit a budget it formulates to the same voters who recently rejected the others, and re-modifying the fiscal stability act to say in effect that the union is permanent while the voters can be relegated to an advisory role (at best) is not a satisfactory solution here.

This means that the final stage built into the fiscal stability act, receivership aimed at an official bankruptcy proceeding, where everything is put on the table including the entirety of existing contracts, will be a real possibility once the state steps in. And rightly or wrongly, the realities of political pressures and “financial market forces” are that it will be much easier to send a fire district into full-blown bankruptcy than sending municipal governments has been.

The Gasping of the Golden Goose

Ted Nesi tweets that state tax revenue data for March was down 26% from the expected $52.6 million, at $39 million, which Director of the Revenue Rosemarie Booth Gallogly calls “sobering.”  That’s actually not the whole story.

The numbers Ted cites are actually just income tax.  Looking at the monthly estimate to actual report from the office of Revenue Analysis shows that the $13,556,296 shortfall in income tax is only part of the $23,761,918 shortfall in all taxes, the $25,002,703 shortfall in total taxes and departmental receipts, and the total general revenue shortfall of $27,586,944.  Almost every major tax was down, except the sales tax, by a little.

That’s more than the controversial annual cost of the HealthSource RI health benefits exchange.  It’s more than twice the controversial 38 Studios bond payments.  And it’s on top of projected deficits, expected loss of gambling revenue, and the budget-busting decision to lure more Rhode Islanders into Medicaid.

It’s important to note that the previous table, which shows year-to-date revenue isn’t quite as discouraging, yet.  Total general revenue is only down $1.877,918 (-0.1%) for the year.  Still, all of the data points accord with the shrinking workforce and an anecdotal sense that Rhode Islanders are just demoralized and giving up, as personified by a governor who seems most focused on starting his retirement speaking tour early.

I’d suggest that these holes can’t be patched, and that trying to do so will only accelerate the decline.  The state needs a radical readjustment of its priorities, emphasizing the free economic activity of its residents.  Rhode Islanders need a bold shot in the arm to give them a sense that things can turn around

More tightening of the leash and moving of the needle in the wrong direction can only hurt.

What Rhode Islanders Need To Know About the Crisis in Central Coventry, Part 1


Superior Court Judge Brian Stern’s order liquidating the Central Coventry Fire District describes the crisis the district is in very succinctly…

The yearly operating expenses of the fire district were far in excess of the amount of funds that was being generated by taxes and other fees. The board had created what can only be described as an elaborate Ponzi scheme to hide this from the taxpayers, which resulted in a multimillion dollar structural deficit. A twenty, thirty, or even a fifty percent increase in taxes would not even resolve the entire structural deficit the board had created at the time.
Full detail on how the district got into this position, is in the main post.

Coming up in Committee: Thirty Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 15 – April 17


1A. S2511: Mandates that all Rhode Islanders “obtain and maintain creditable coverage pursuant to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act enacted by the Congress of the United States”. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 15) There doesn’t appear to be an exemption for (Federal) executive-branch waivers in this bill.

1B. S2533: Creates a panel operated under the leadership of the healthcare commissioner (“referred to herein this chapter as ‘the authority’”) charged with creating a plan for making “HealthSourceRI the sole hub for securing insurance or health services coverage for all Rhode Island residents”, aggregating all medical funding for health insurance and/or health care services through HealthSourceRI, establishing “global spending targets” for the provision of healthcare, and developing a plan to pay for it all that includes a payroll tax. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 15)

2. H7285: Repeals the section of the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans, i.e. “pay-day” loans, also repealing the provisions in the law that allow check-cashing businesses to automatically operate as pay-day lenders. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 16) According to the official description, this is a complete repeal of pay-day lending.

3. H7944: Adds fire districts to the “fiscal stabilization law”, the law that allows the state to displace the elected local governments of financially distressed communities and supersede them with budget commissions and receivers. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 15) The Senate version will be heard on the floor on the same day; it looks like a budget commission, at least, for Central Coventry is coming soon.

4. H7067: Prohibits building schools anywhere in Rhode Island on the sites of former mines, but really intended to prevent construction of the new Blackstone Prep elementary school. This bill is listed under the “scheduled for consideration” portion of the agenda, which means it is very likely to be voted on, though it’s possible that an amended version will be introduced. (H Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 16)

5. On Tuesday, April 15 the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear this year’s raft of gun-control bills. Here’s a link to the entire agenda, plus there are two gun-related bills from an earlier hearing that day, S2719 and S2720. The two most important bills in this set are:

  • S2814: Reduces the right-bear arms in Rhode Island, to a government-granted privilege, by changing the “shall issue” process by which municipalities grant concealed carry firearms permits to a “may issue” criteria.
  • S2774: Provides for information related to mental-health related involuntarily commitments to be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) database used for conducting firearms purchase background checks.

Tech Collective Defends the Governor’s Workforce Board… and Most of Its Own Revenue

Another organization speaking out against the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Spotlight on Spending report appears to have a business model that charges dues for access to taxpayer-funded services.

The Book of Wisdom on the Cosmos and Maybe Even “Cosmos”


My Lenten readings this weekend took me to the Old Testament Book of Wisdom. I wasn’t looking for anything related to the philosophy of science; I was actually following some cross-references related to the mention of political authority in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, which led back to Wisdom 6.

Then, reading ahead to the 7th Chapter brought me to the following passage, beginning at verse 15…

Now God grant I speak suitably
and value these endowments at their worth

For he is the guide of Wisdom
and the director of the wise

For both we and our words are in his hand,
as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.

For he gave me sound knowledge of what exists,
that I might know the structure of the universe and the force of its elements,

The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,
the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons,

Cycles of years, positions of stars,
natures of living things, tempers of beasts,

Powers of the winds and thoughts of human beings,
uses of plants and virtues of roots—

Whatever is hidden or plain I learned,
for Wisdom, the artisan of all, taught me.

Once again, despite what you may have been told, examining fundamental sources reveals that there’s no problem between science and religion — unless people want there to be one.

Catholic School Parents Demand Banning of Disliked Worldview: Catholicism

The secular and radical movement of separatists and censors has spread even to the point of demanding banishment of Catholic priests from Catholic schools, if they fail to conform to the demands of popular culture.

$5,000 – or .000022 – Worth of Sunday Morning Grins & Giggles Courtesy PolitiFact RI

On a personal note, I’d like to sincerely thank PolitiFact RI for starting my day with a big smile this morning, though perhaps they would not be altogether pleased at the reason.

In today’s Providence Journal, they’ve rated a statement by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (hereinafter “the Center”) pertaining to the $224.5 million in wasteful spending identified by the Center in the governor’s proposed 2015 budget. PolitiFact is not questioning that the state gave away the $5,000 example offered by the Center of an expenditure item in the Governor’s Workforce Board from a prior year. PolitiFact is only saying that the Center did not fully explain what the $5,000 in hard earned taxpayer dollars was spent on.

38 Studios Bonds and Default

The 38 Studios bond buyers got an extremely high interest rate on the bonds because of the risk they took, and the state purchased insurance against the chance of default. But should we still repay the full amount of the bonds?

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 26 (Pay by Gender)

Justin and Bob Plain talk about the pay differential between men and women.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates on Newsmakers

Both GOP candidates, Ken Block and Allan Fung have appeared on WPRI’s Newsmakers. Here’s both videos. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Joy of Overtime, Part Three of Three: 3 State Employees Tripled Their Pay With O.T.

RIOpenGov data finds three state employees who managed to triple their income, or more, with overtime.

Consolation Prizes for East Bay Legislators?

The rise of East Bay representatives with the ascension to Speaker of the House of Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is an interesting development to watch. John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) is now House Majority Whip.  Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth) is now chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Some folks have suggested that it’s an indication that the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge may be removed, despite Mattiello’s having been the main proponent for the tolls the night they passed the House two years ago.  In Rhode Island politics, however, explanations that work from the top down tend to be more predictive than those that work from the bottom up.  Assume that leadership’s objectives are being maneuvered, not regular members’.

Another possibility is that leadership positions are consolation prizes for the East Bay representatives.  I’ve been suggesting that the legislative fight against the tolls has been little more than a distraction dance.  For all intents and purposes, the only legislators who must fear the displeasure of the East Bay are our own, and if they are boosters of the Democrat leaders, then it makes sense for them to contrive some cover.

How many times has Buddy Cianci said that Edwards has done the “yeoman’s work” trying to stop the tolls?  And yet, the delays remain only delays.  Some firey speeches on the House floor (though Edwards never withdrew as deputy majority leader under Gordon Fox), some commission hearings, some unlikely legislation (requiring other reps to impose new taxes on their own constituents), and voila the people of the East Bay think their reps did everything they could. And now those reps are in “leadership” positions… why rock the boat?  Maybe they’ll be able to help in other ways, moving forward.

Out of ceaseless hope and optimism, I haven’t wanted to pick between these two possibilities in the past couple of weeks.  I must say, though, that news that first-time, mostly quiet Representative Dennis Canario (D, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) has become deputy majority leader begins to sway me back toward the distraction-dance thesis.

It just feels like preparation for the election-season line that “the East Bay shouldn’t give up its big role in leadership.”

Superman Building Bill Submitted


The “Superman Building” bill was submitted in the Rhode Island Senate today. It is clearly a private appropriations bill…

This chapter shall establish the 111 Westminster historic redevelopment program and revolving fund. The program shall be for an amount not to exceed thirty-nine million dollars ($39,000,000), provided that the projects total QRE’s equal or exceed one hundred million five hundred thousand dollars ($100,500,000). The amount of the direct allocation to the owner shall be allocated over four (4) consecutive fiscal years in equal amounts of nine million seven hundred fifty dollars ($9,750,000), commencing with fiscal year 2015, and administered by the Rhode Island department of administration. No funds from the program shall be released until the project is placed in service.
…which should mean that it needs 2/3 of both chambers to pass, according to Article VI section 11 of the state constitution…
Section 11. Vote required to pass local or private appropriations. — The assent of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the general assembly shall be required to every bill appropriating the public money or property for local or private purposes.