HEADLINES

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When the Elite’s Political Equation Breaks Down

Donald Devine makes some interesting points about Donald Trump and political science, following Aaron Wildavsky in his theory about “four fundamental political types”: egalitarians, individualists, social conservatives, and fatalists.  That last group, he says, don’t often vote, partly because they see the world as a chaotic mess, so what’s the point?  They will vote, though, for an autocratic hero whom they believe will be able to grab the reins.

The key paragraph in Devine’s essay, though, is this one:

Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.

I wonder if this is the fatal flaw of elite technocrats who think they’ve got everything all figured out and locked up.  If so, it can apply to much more than just politics (such as the economic gear spinning of the Fed).  At a certain level of analysis, people stop being people and become data points.  Actions stop being taken because of their effect on people, and people’s responses to them, but because the formulas and the analysis suggest that they will bring advantage at a particular time.

Making a statement of a particular sort will produce a desirable reaction from group X and an undesirable reaction from group Y.  At this political moment, the value of the positive reaction is (a) and the detriment of the negative reaction is (b), so if (a)X > (b)Y, you make the statement.  Considerations such as the etiquette of the political system and the truth of the statement don’t get any more value than what the equation suggests that they should.

The problem is that people aren’t automatons; we have emotions as part of a nature that helps us learn and adapt, and we exist along a spectrum.  At some point, when tossing aside the etiquette of the system and a culture that prioritizes truth, the elite reaches a point at which somebody who is even more shameless than they are steps in, and the folks along the spectrum who would normally be able to sniff out the falsehood have learned that truth can’t be expected, anyway.

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An Unformed Philosophy in Discrimination Against Private School Choice

Julie Negri called it “discrimination” in a Providence Journal op-ed, referring to her experience as a home-school mother when she learned that her daughter would not be eligible for funding through a state-run program, called Prepare Rhode Island. The program allows high school students to take courses at public institutions of higher education.

The legality of the state Department of Education’s policy is a matter of debate. The law creating the program specifically refers to “private day or residential schools,” andthe statute concerning the approval of private schools includes “at-home instruction.”  Negri might have a strong case if there were anybody to take up the issue on her behalf.  As a matter of public opinion, however, her daughter’s situation may be in a gray area, and it’s an area to which school choice advocates should seek to provide some color.

Across the country, Americans support the concept that parents should be able to choose their children’s schools, but the support depends on the type of school and the way the question is asked.  According to a poll recently released by Phi Beta Kappa and Gallup, 64 percent of Americans “favor the idea of charter schools,” and the same percentage of respondents “favor allowing students and their parents to choose which public schools in the community the students attend.”

When it comes to “allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense,” however, favorability drops to 31 percent, with 57 percent opposed.  The poll authors conclude that “the public does not support vouchers.”  Another recent poll conducted by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has different findings.

Actually, the findings aren’t different so much as they are more telling.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

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Increased Pollution Means More Opportunities to Abate Pollution

For the “perverse incentives of environmental regulations” file, we learn that Russia and Ukraine may have been increasing their polluting activities so that they could abate the problem and sell the carbon offset credits to other countries to help them meet their anti-pollution goals:

According to a study released in the journal Nature Climate Change, plants in Russia “increased waste gas generation to unprecedented levels once they could generate credits from producing more waste gas,” resulting in an increase in emissions as large as 600 million tons of carbon dioxide—roughly half the amount the EU’s ETS intends to reduce from 2013 to 2030.

As Glenn Reynolds suggests, “It’s like the whole thing is just one big scam.”  Environmentalism is just about perfect, from the progressive point of view.  It provides an excuse to grab power for the government; it creates channels for corruption to make friends and allies filthy rich (and launder money back to politicians); and it all comes wrapped in the motivational package of a pseudo religion.

And here’s a bonus lesson on Iran:

The UN seemingly left it up to national governments to oversee these projects, and now it has a full-blown crisis on its hands.

Although contested, there have been reports that, under the deal promoted by President Obama, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send unqualified inspectors to keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear program and may rely on Iran, itself, to participate in the inspections.  Budding internationalism and the push for a global government that is not democratic, but is bureaucratic, come with the gigantic, existential question over whether we can or should trust such a system.

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Privacy No Longer a Side Benefit of Tall Structures Like Wind Turbines

A California man vacationing on Aquidneck Island thought he’d send up his personal drone to get some footage of a coastal wind turbine in Portsmouth.  Here’s the video:

Providence Journal reporter Patrick Anderson initially thought it was the non-functional turbine owned by the town of Portsmouth, but it’s not.  It’s the nearby turbine on the property of the Portsmouth Abbey school.  If I’m not mistaken, the man on top is one of the monks (see here). The likelihood is, then, that he isn’t, as the Daily Mail suggested, a “sun worshipper.”

One would think that such a remote height would be a safe place to relax and take in the warmth of God’s bounty, and it would be in a world without a proliferating number of flying video cameras.

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Are Children a Lifestyle Choice or a Social Necessity?

In a conversation about government-run schools’ use of taxpayer dollars to out-compete private schools, Mike678 asks:

Are not children these days a choice and a lifestyle? Why do taxpayers w/o children have to pay for other peoples choices?

Those questions rely on a pretty progressive premise that people are burdens to manage, not ends in themselves.  The implied point of view also skips over the fact that having children is pretty much the social and biological default for human beings (yes, still).  That is, for most couples, not having children is the more deliberate choice.

And it’s a choice with severe ramifications for the rest of us.  Very directly, for example, one might ask why somebody else’s children, as taxpayers, should have to carry a heavier burden to pay the Social Security of a childless senior’s choices.  Even without entitlement programs, though, the fact is that a society needs children.  Look to Japan:

… in the long run the fortunes of nations are determined by population trends. Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy (already every fourth person is older than 65, and by 2050 that share will be nearly 40 percent), its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050, and forecasts show shortages of the young labor force needed in construction and health care. Who will maintain Japan’s extensive and admirably efficient transportation infrastructures? Who will take care of millions of old people? By 2050 people above the age of 80 will outnumber the children.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest new child tax credits or a directly paid government child allowance, as some do.  Social engineering is, after all, social engineering, and the government tends to plod along in a march of unintended consequences.  (It matters, for one thing, for whom in our society we create incentives to birth more children.)  However, when children are born, it behooves us to ensure that education is a priority, and alleviating that burden becomes quite a different thing than subsidizing the procreation.

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Rhode Islanders Need to Run the Bases Around 38 Stadium

The other night, I attended the forum on the PawSox Stadium deal hosted by Leadership Rhode Island that Ted Nesi moderated. I walked away with two observations: The 38 Studios affair is still very much on the minds of Rhode Islanders, and the people of our state are reaching their breaking point.

The best part of my job is talking to Rhode Islanders. We’re a plainspoken people, never afraid to tell you the way things are in our state. However, it is frustrating when it does not amount to more than talk.

I want to see the people of our state take action, and change the way things are for the better. At the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, we often say that the status quo is the enemy of our future, and that is the truth. Our people need another path forward to building a Rhode Island that has a future that can be truly free and prosperous.

At the forum, I was chatting with a retired woman who said she only had one piece advice for the young people of our state, “buy a plane ticket.” Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but I don’t think things are that hopeless. It is still worth it to fight for Rhode Island. She told me that the stadium deal is sure to be another 38 Studios — that our state had just tried this experiment and it failed. Based on the boos and jeers from the crowd toward the two pro-stadium spokespeople, this woman’s sentiments were shared by all but the smallest margin of the attendees.

The 38 Stadium deal is well on its way to becoming more of the same failed status quo thinking that has brought Rhode Island to the brink. I love baseball and everything it stands for, and I love the PawSox. But I don’t want to see my state held hostage to another special interest. With the opposition to the stadium deal mounting, the lack of investigation into the 38 studios disaster, and our state’s tax and spend ethos, it is easy to see why people are angry.

It doesn’t have to be this way in the Ocean State. I like to remind people that they have all the power. Our elected leaders will listen when you force them to do so. When we don’t take action, there is no one to blame for the way things are but ourselves. Sitting in the dugout on this issue is not an option.

You have the right to demand a Rhode Island that is based on the principles of limited, transparent government, free-market policies, and an open playing field for everyone, not just the chosen few.  We all deserve to go around the bases, not sit in the stands while insiders swing for the fence.

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Reading Between the Tracks in Wickford

More than a few Rhode Islanders, no doubt, have wondered why anybody thought putting the end of a rail line in Wickford was a good idea.  North Kingstown’s a decent size for a suburb, but it’s dispersed and in a part of the state designed more around villages than whole towns.  The site is out of the way for anybody traveling Route 95, and approaching by Route 4 from the south is a pain, with lights and traffic.

Now that the state is taking over management of the station, some of the pieces start to fit together.  Here’s Patrick Anderson in the Providence Journal:

Making current RIDOT employees clean bathrooms, shovel snow, cut grass, make repairs and watch over the Wickford Junction station and parking garage will cost the state $112,200 each year, the agency said, instead of the $488,984 it was paying the owner of the surrounding shopping plaza. …

The Wickford Junction maintenance contract grew out of the public-private partnership with North Kingstown developer and station advocate Robert Cioe that saw it built on a corner of his shopping plaza.

So, the Dept. of Transportation and its contractors got some federal money for a nice big project a few years back, and a developer in North Kingstown got a drop-off point near his shopping plaza and a regular contract for maintenance.  Yup, that sounds like the Rhode Island Way.

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Building Cities for Urban Planners

Aaron Renn makes the point that urban planners should give some thought to the type of area that a particular city should be, given its unique geography, history, and competitive advantages, rather than prioritizing their vision of the ideal city:

Where Ashland Ave. BRT fails is not in its attempt to improve transit service or to accommodate those who choose not to have cars. Rather, the problem is that it is rooted in a vision, propounded mostly by coastal urbanites, that believes car use should be deliberately discouraged and minimized – ideally eliminated entirely – in the city. Thus the project is not just about making transit better, but also about actively making things worse for drivers. That might work in New York, San Francisco, or Boston, where the car is more dubious, but in Chicago this philosophy would erode one of the greatest competitive advantages the city enjoys. In Chicago, the car free strategy only works along the north lakefront and downtown, not the Ashland Ave corridor or most of the rest of the city.

The no-car philosophy as the norm, not just an option, would undermine one of the greatest strategic advantages of Chicago. Why would you want to do that? Particularly when it would also make family life in the city more difficult for many. There is where urbanists need to start putting on their strategic thinking hat. Otherwise they may end up undermining the very places they seek to improve.

Renn seems to think this is a Midwest versus Coast dynamic, but Rhode Islanders should put on their strategic thinking hats, too.  One of the great advantages of the whole state is the ability to move around.  On a whim, when a business associate was staying in Providence, we zipped down to a restaurant near First Beach in Newport for breakfast.  Sports leagues regularly direct my family around the state.  Based on my experiences and positive things that are generally said about Rhode Island, progressives’ war on cars — like just about every progressive policy — would only hurt Rhode Islanders.

This point has a much broader application.  With RhodeMap and every other central-planning project undertaken by the state government, the fatal flaw is the conceit that planners can and should figure out what the state needs and push it in that direction.  The people of Rhode Island have a much better sense of the attractions and advantages of their state than any small group of planners, and they aren’t going to give over their information at public meetings, even if the planners could correctly interpret what they were saying, because only a narrow subset of Rhode Islanders ever knows about such meetings, let alone bothering to attend.

The solution is freedom, with money as the measurement of what people are doing.  With freedom and capitalism, businesses can identify opportunities at a very small, local level, and the people will tend to get more of what they want, and in an improved way.

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A Challenge to School Choice from the Right

Michael McShane points out a challenge coming from the political right that advocates for school choice will have to address:

…when I moved back to America’s heartland and traveled a bit more off the beaten path, I encountered a new argument that might be more threatening to the spread of school choice than anything the AFT’s Randi Weingarten or the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia can throw at it. It is the fear that by accepting government dollars, private schools — particularly private religious schools — are opening themselves to a government takeover. “With shekels come shackles” is how a man in Michigan put it to me. A brilliant op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called it the “Pharaoh Effect.”

This is not an entirely unwarranted concern. For decades, private and religious schools have been able to coexist peaceably with American public schools. But Obamacare’s contraception mandate has increased government’s attempted influence on the inner workings of religious organizations. And if the Little Sisters of the Poor aren’t safe in America, who’s to say a school will be?

Some of the most vocal opposition that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity faced to its Bright Today proposal, last legislative session, came from home schoolers who fear that opening this door will let the government into their homes.  Frankly, I’ve been making a variation of this argument when it comes to charter schools.  My initial suspicions blossomed into concern when I read McShane’s report for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice detailing how some Catholic schools were closing their doors and reopening as non-religious charter schools.

This area definitely merits careful policy decisions as school choice expands (which it will).  That’s life, though.  The enemy is always lurking in the woods along the path.  We can’t just stay home in fear that we’ll lose what we have.  That strategy will only empower the enemy to come and take it.

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The Thing with Regulation

One helpful outcome when particular controversies arise over regulation is that statements of principle and assumption emerge that offer a common-sense check.  So, as taxi companies sue to impose regulations on the ride-sharing service Uber — rather than advocating to have the regulations under which they, themselves, must operate eased (go figure) — we get statements like this:

Echoing a larger global fight over ride-hailing services, the taxis argue that under Rhode Island law any driver or company providing for-hire automobile rides must comply with the stringent regulations enforced by the Public Utilities Division. 

“None of them do, and all of the services provided by Uber and Uber drivers are therefore illegal,” the lawsuit says. “This massive illegal operation puts the public and consumers at risk and erodes the viability of licensed, authorized and legal taxicab operators.”

In what particular ways do ride-sharing services “put the public and consumers at risk”?  The cars could be in bad repair or with some sort of health issue or infestation.  The driver might have mental issues.  Who knows?  The world is an unpredictable place.

But if freelance cars through Uber really offer an inferior or dangerous service, shouldn’t taxi drivers be able to compete?  Couldn’t there be a national certification that they, themselves, could promote through Uber or by setting up a competing app?

Special interests like to talk about their concern for the consumer, but they treat them as if they aren’t really people, as if we’re all just drones who won’t make any decisions but will slide right into a filthy, smoking wreck of a car driven by a guy in a hockey mask just because an unregulated app brought it to the curb.  If consumers aren’t drones, then shouldn’t it be relatively easy for the clean cab with a national certification and a friendly driver to charge a little bit more and put the scary guy out of business?

Of course, that would mean the taxi company would have to compete with drivers and with technology, and the reality is that the ride-sharing service isn’t a nightmare.  That’s why the established companies are scared.

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In Education, Government Wants to Promote Government Services

Be sure to read Julie Negri’s recent op-ed in the Providence Journal.  I suspect it’s one of those topics on which the majority of people giving it a cursory read might side against her, but then reconsider were they to give it more thought:

… Under a program called Prepare RI, high school students are now able to take college credit courses at the state colleges and university with the state picking up the tab for tuition, fees and books. They are able to earn college credits, while at the same time fulfilling high school requirements. …

The initiative “would enable high-performing high school students to take college classes at no cost to them.” Unless you’re home-schooled or privately schooled. Then you’re on your own, kid — good luck with that. Your parents still get to pay the same taxes, though.

Unfortunately, we’ve developed a a mentality that the purpose of public spending on education is not, first and foremost, the education of all of the children who will one day constitute our electorate.  Rather, the purpose of public spending on education is to use government to provide educational services.  So, things like taking college courses at a completely separate institution is just a perk that the public schools provide.  (Attempts to charge charter and private school students for sports falls in a similar line of thinking.)

Such a view serves the government much more than it serves the people.  Using money confiscated from the people, the government provides services with which the private sector cannot compete — at least at a price that most people would be able to pay, while still paying taxes.  A large majority of children are therefore educated in a government-approved setting, now with subject-matter standards making their way down from the federal government.  (This extreme lopsidedness of the education marketplace, by the way, also makes it impossible for competitors to arise in other areas that influence content, notably the College Board and its advanced placement offerings.)

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Planned Parenthood’s Music to Kill By

Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Providence Journal coverage of the large anti-Planned Parenthood protest held on Saturday morning:

There was no counter-protest Saturday from those who support abortion rights.

But about 10 Planned Parenthood volunteers wearing pink T-shirts that said, “We’re here to stand for Planned Parenthood,” tried to clear a pathway from the parking lot to the clinic. They also played a radio in an unsuccessful attempt to drown out the amplified voices of the antiabortion protesters.

Apparently, Rhode Island satanists couldn’t pull together the counter-protest that their Michigan coreligionists managed, pretending to waterboard bound women with breast milk.  But the playing of loud music might be a Planned Parenthood thing.  In Illinois, the clinic blasted ghoulish horror-movie music at the pro-lifers.

A source tells me the music deployed in Rhode Island was Blind Melon, which means it was very probably the song “No Rain.”  Recalling the cover of the album on which that song appeared, the official video begins with a young girl being laughed off a stage for tap dancing in a bumblebee costume.  Toward the end of the video she finds her bliss with a troupe of bee-costumed dancers in a field.

Somehow that message doesn’t seem in accord with Planned Parenthood’s defining occupation.  Of course, it must be difficult to pick a soundtrack to rebut public testimony that your organization facilitates cutting open the faces of unborn fetuses (with beating hearts) to harvest their brains.

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PolitiFact RI Bends Reality to Protect the Bureaucracy

A Rhode Island conservative can only be grateful, I suppose, that PolitiFact RI — the long-standing shame of the Providence Journal — managed to get the word “true” somewhere in its rating of the following statement from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity:

Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.

The brief summary under the “Truth-o-meter” reading “Half True” on PolitiFact RI’s main page emphasizes: “Pretty flexible for a despot.”  That’s a reference to the most weaselly part of Mark Reynolds’s quote-unquote analysis, which reads as follows:

[CEO Mike] Stenhouse labels the policies in Virginia and Rhode Island as mandates. But Jason L. Schwartz, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Public Health, says you can’t call policies with such liberal exemptions mandates.

At best, this is an example of the frequent PolitiFact tactic of finding somebody whose opinion the writer prefers and treating that as the authoritative fact.  One wonders, though, what rating PolitiFact RI would give its own newspaper.  On July 29, the day before the Center released its press release with the challenged statement, the Providence Journal ran this headline at the very top of its front page:  “Rhode Island to mandate HPV vaccine for 7th graders.” (Note: The online version adds the word “all” before “7th.”)  The article itself uses the word “mandatory” five times.

Lesson learned, I guess: Never trust the headlines or reporting of the Providence Journal.

As for the PolitiFact rating, there are three relevant premises:

  1. Rhode Island is only the second state to require the HPV vaccine for students. Even PolitiFact admits this is true.
  2. The requirement is a mandate. This is so true that the supposedly objective journalists at PolitiFact RI’s home paper ran it in the most prominent spot on the paper.
  3. The mandate was implemented without public debate.  PolitiFact’s evidence of “public debate”  is that the professional activists at the ACLU managed to send in a written objection and post about it on Facebook.  Well, then.

The fact that PolitiFact considers the awareness of the ACLU to be “public debate” — as opposed to hearings and a floor debate by the public’s elected representatives — is one of two highly disturbing aspects of Reynolds’s essay.  The other is the latitude that it gives to government officials to adjust the truth to suit their needs.  Days after the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity helped drum up actual public debate and concern about the HPV mandate, the Dept. of Health came forward to assert that the exemptions are so broad that its mandates should really be considered something more like suggestions.

The Providence Journal should end this fraudulent, government-propaganda feature.  It distorts public awareness and undermines the political process.

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Park Avenue Bridge: Did the Wood Even Need to be Replaced? Was the Correct Part of the Bridge Repaired? “Lieutenant Colonel” Columbo Has a Few Questions

With the completely unacceptable, lose-lose for Rhode Island prospect of across-the-board vehicle tolling suddenly on the table, let’s take a closer look at a high-profile toll-related incident from a couple of months ago: the closure by RIDOT of the Park Avenue Bridge.

You may recall the WPRI investigation last month by Ted Nesi on the timing of the Park Avenue Bridge inspection. RIDOT had ordered an inspection – it turned into three inspections – of the Park Avenue Bridge in Cranston, a bridge just down the road from Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s office. The inspections resulted in the abrupt closing of the bridge at the height of Governor Raimondo’s attempt to get her tolling program passed by the General Assembly.

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Updated – Terrible Tolls Would be a Win-Win for Governor Raimondo and a Lose-Lose for Rhode Island

From the wow-that-didn’t-take-long department, the Providence Journal’s Kathy Gregg, in a piece of kick-butt journalism yesterday, reports that the tolling of all vehicles is now on the table as an option. It seems that, at Speaker Mattiello’s suggestion, Governor Gina Raimondo is carrying out an “economic analysis”.

In recent months, the administration also commissioned an “economic analysis” of Raimondo’s truck-toll plan and a variety of other possible revenue-raising options that could, potentially, include: other new “user-fees,” gas taxes and a revived effort to toll all vehicles — not just big trucks — on Route 95 near the Connecticut border.

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Commerce RI as Raimondo PAC

How is this even remotely appropriate, from the news page of the Web site for the state’s quasi-public economic development agency, Commerce RI?

Raimondo Poised to Fix Rhode Island

In just eight months as the first female governor of Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo passed an economic development and jobs focused budget through the General Assembly in record time, giving the state an unprecedented toolkit to reboot the economy.

Contrary to what Rhode Island insiders may believe, it is not the role of government agencies to promote the particular politicians who happen to be in charge at the time.  It would be questionable enough for elected officials to use their own government offices to promote their activities in a nakedly political way, but when other offices do so, it’s way out of bounds.

For one thing, it implies that interaction with that agency is related to approval of the politician’s agenda.  Suppose a business is considering a move to Rhode Island and initiates contact with Commerce RI.  The executives might justifiably get the impression that fealty to the governor is a must, if they expect help from the quasi-public (let alone fully government agencies).

For another thing, this sort of behavior gives incumbents access to a multi-billion dollar organization’s exception for unregistered and unregulated in-kind contributions for their political races, to the point of electioneering.

I’ve already been tracing the way in which the rule of law is falling apart in Rhode Island and the country, creating arbitrary rules based on who has power rather than who has rights.  If government agencies are becoming unabashed promoters of elected officials (and attackers of their political opponents), we’re crossing into a new type of government altogether.

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Cranston City Council Planning Coup with Help of State Police?

This report from NBC 10 reporter Parker Gavigan suggests that one of the bigger worries expressed in my analysis of the state police report about the Cranston Police Department might actually have been understated:

City Council President John Lanni told the NBC 10 I-Team that he expects the council will introduce two resolutions at next Monday’s meeting that deal directly with the scathing state police report on Mayor Allan Fung’s leadership over the police department.

Lanni said the council will vote on a resolution of no confidence against Fung. …

Lanni also said he expects the council to “right a wrong” in the case of Patrolman Matthew Josefson.

As I mentioned in my analysis, Lanni appears to have become a political friend of Police Chief Michael Winquist, as well as the new prime beneficiary of donations from the the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 301.  The core criticism of the state police report about Cranston is that there was too much alignment between the union, the chief, and the mayor.  With their extremely biased report, the state police officers appear to have facilitated a switch to an equally unhealthy (or worse) alignment between the union, the chief, and the city council, which may be preparing to overstep its own bounds, to boot.

A quick look at the city’s charter suggests that a “no confidence” resolution would be purely political and that the council has no authority to dip into the minute details of city employment.  They are well situated, however, to undermine the mayor and disrupt the operation of the city until the next election, at which point, they can complete their coup.

Depending how this goes, I may have to upgrade my criticism of the report from “extremely biased” to “recklessly and dangerously political.”  If Chief Winquist and State Police Superintendent Steven O’Donnell don’t do what they can to stop the train that their report started rolling, they risk long-term damage to the credibility of the state police.

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A Look at the Child Care Provider Contract

Yesterday, I noted that Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg had apparently acquired a copy of the agreement between the state and the SEIU Local 1199 regarding independent child-care providers whose clients receive state subsidies.  Upon my request, at that point, the state finally sent me the contract, too.  The following are my notes while reading the contract.

It’s important to note that it isn’t clear which provisions are actually new.  For example, the provision of vacation time isn’t new; it’s been in the state’s regulations for the program for years.  I haven’t gone through to compare the contract with all pre-existing rules.

Another important note is that it is explicitly left to the legislature to provide the funding for all of these programs, although cuts would require “good faith” negotiations with the executive branch to figure out how to deal with reductions

Pay and raises:

  • A 3% increase in base pay
  • Another $10 per week per infant
  • Another 1% increase in “step pay” for all providers
  • Up to another 3% increase depending on education level
  • $500 bonus for becoming licensed
  • $50 per child per year “registration fee” (provided that families without subsidies have to pay the fee, too)
  • $100 bonus for enrolling in direct deposit
  • Two weeks of paid “vacation” (This is really an existing benefit that allows the provider to be paid for up to two weeks for children who do not attend during those weeks. However, if parents use the funds for an alternate provider, the “vacation” pay doesn’t apply.)
  • Pay for holidays and professional development days

Benefits

  • Efforts to ensure professional development, including college courses (see my prior post for information on the millions of dollars available through the Dept. of Education)
  • $250,000 fund (jointly administered with the union) to supply “training and support”
  • $250,000 “quality incentive pool”
  • One-time gift of a free computer that becomes the “sole property of the provider”
  • Free courses on the computers and software they’ll be using as part of their job
  • Agreement to initiate a “bulk purchasing” program for providers to acquire furniture and playground equipment; books, toys, and puzzles; disability insurance; tax services; home inspection and maintenance services; Internet connectivity; and other items they may think of
  • Agreement to explore enrollment of providers in the same federal program for low-or-no-cost Internet that public schools and libraries receive
  • Agreement to seek to sign up providers for a federal food program (which likely includes an administrative fee for the provider to implement and maintain)

Unionization perks

  • Binding arbitration
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The Deal for Child Care Providers

Katherine Gregg has more details on the agreement that Governor Gina Raimondo has agreed to give independent child-care providers whose clients receive government subsidies and who have organized under the SEIU:

In the current budget year, which began on July 1, the agreement promises 3-percent reimbursement rate increases, with an additional $10 per week for each infant. 

In the second year of the contract, the rates rise at least 1 percent, with additional rate increases of 1 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent pegged to education-levels. 

Those working on a GED   — or high-school equivalency diploma — would get 2 percent. Those with three college credits or more would get 3 percent. The 4 percent would go to those with a college-level “associate degree,’’ which very few of those in this mostly female workforce have now. 

The majority (61 percent) had a GED, but 14 percent did not even have that and only 4 percent of the childcare providers surveyed by SEIU 1199 in January had a college education. 

The new contract anticipates expanded “access to college-credit bearing courses in English and Spanish.’’

They also all get free computers for online billing and training purposes.  (Whether that means the state will pay for their Internet service, I’ll have to check the contract, which I’ve requested regularly from the state for months.)

Readers may recall recent news about a related program to pay for child care workers to receive college degrees in early childhood education (to add even more unneeded early-grade teachers to the Rhode Island marketplace).  That program is not limited to the SEIU members, but they’re included.  The Rhode Island Department of Education tells The Current that the total grant is projected to be over $3 million, with $1.8 million passing through T.E.A.C.H. RI, $1.1 million going through the Community College of Rhode Island, and $38,000 going through Rhode Island College.

According to Kathy Gregg, the SEIU members receive a $500 bonus for becoming licensed.  Once they’re licensed, providers working out of their homes are eligible for the T.E.A.C.H. scholarships, which (in addition to paying for almost all of the tuition) give participants $585 in “bonus pay,” $50-per-semester travel stipends, and up to around $300 per semester in weekly “paid release time” (that is, approximately another $1,000 in additional cash).  As reported above, once they’ve earned college credits, and then a degree, they get more money from the state in pay.

With this package of giveaways handed over by the governor and the General Assembly (which had to approve the budget), it’s not surprising that the SEIU local 1199 is able to demand one of the highest dues rates in the country.  According to Gregg, the rate is 2%, capped at $65 per month (or $780 per year).  Of all of the similar contracts listed on ChildCareUnionInfo.com that have a set payment or a cap, only Illinois is higher (2.1% capped at $75 per month).

If all 526 members hit the cap, state taxpayers would be sending the SEIU $410,280.

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Where Are the Providence Children Coming From?

Via the RI Taxpayers daily newsletter, I see that Providence is defying the statewide trend of fewer students’ enrolling in public school.  Here’s Anni Shalvey, from WPRI:

In 2011, the Providence School District closed five schools in response to dwindling enrollment. Since then, an unexpected bump in students is bringing the classrooms to capacity.

“We’re looking at a shortage of seats in middle schools that was unanticipated,” said Christina O’Reilly of the Providence School District.

It’s not a huge bump – about a 1.7-percent increase in enrollment since the schools were closed, according to data from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

But this increase is contrary to the overall downward trend happening in Rhode Island – making Providence stand out.

So who’s coming and going in Providence schools?  According to October enrollment data, starting with the 2010-2011 school year, the cumulative increases (meaning each school year’s increase from 2010-11) by racial category was as shown in the following chart.

providence-enrollment-2010-2015-race

 

Providence schools have actually seen a decrease in students identifying as black, white, and Asian.  In just four years, the black population of Providence schools fell almost 10%.  That means the small bump in total enrollment was the result of an even larger increase in mixed-race, native American, and especially Hispanic students.

The next chart looks at the data by categories of services that the students receive. The acronyms stand for:

  • IEP = individualized education plan (i.e., some sort of specialized education or behavioral services)
  • FRL = free or reduced-price lunch eligibility
  • LEP = limited English proficiency

 

providence-enrollment-2010-2015-services

The biggest story, with this chart, is the increase in students requiring some accommodations for a lack of proficiency with English.  Such students increased from 14.3% of the student population to 21.8%.

Summed up, then, the small increase in Providence enrollment resulted from a rather large increase in Hispanic students who need help with English.  That is, the student body is likely to be transitioning toward immigrants from Central and South America.

It’s a little surprising, therefore, that the FRL numbers went down, because they are an indication of income, and one would expect  urban immigrants to skew toward lower-income groups.  However, more than 80% of students are eligible for the program, which means we’re mainly talking displacement.  There are also gradations of the program; poorer students get free lunch, while families with a little bit more income qualify only for reduced-price lunches, and this data doesn’t show whether there’s been a shift between those groups.

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Public higher education spending a stunner even at the back of the pack

According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts, higher education is typically the third largest item in state general fund budgets. While this is one area of public spending Rhode Island does not top national charts, public higher education accounts for $1 billion of the state’s $8.7 billion budget– nearly matching elementary and secondary education and more than doubling transportation spending.

That figure includes tuition and other revenue sources, so when budget season comes around, leaders of public higher ed annually assert that Rhode Island lags the nation in taxpayer “investment” in their organizations.  One of Pew’s charts puts Rhode Island eighth from the bottom in per student funding, and the state portion of the columns appears small relative to other states.

The bill is still massive, though.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

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What RI Ought to Be Paying for Pensions

Although I can’t find a report that Goldman Sachs seems to have released at the end of last week, it’s worth highlighting this post from ZeroHedge, which highlights the analysts’ findings on state pensions.  Take a look at the chart:

It’s good to see that Rhode Island is not one of the states failing even to make its required contribution, but note that the contribution that Rhode Island ought to be making, according to Goldman, is twice what it is now.  That is, rather than taking about three-quarters of a percent of its GSP out of the economy the state of Rhode Island should be setting aside about 1.5%.  (That’s somewhere on the order of $825 million.)

The reason (as I’ve written again and again) is that the state assumes it will get 7.5% on its investments every year, forever.  In the most recent year, it made 2.22%.  Even with the policies of the Federal Reserve and the Obama Administration wildly inflating the stock market, Rhode Island’s ten-year average was 6% when I checked a few months ago and 4.8% looking back to 2000.

The clock is ticking.

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Catching Up on Coventry

Kevin Mooney summarizes the saga of the Central Coventry Fire District for The Daily Signal:

In a battle of political wills in Rhode Island, local voters so far have held their ground against efforts by union leaders and state officials to make them pay more for fire and rescue services.

State lawmakers and local activists who side with the voters, however, see the situation as an ongoing threat to self-government.

“The people have rejected higher taxes over and over again because they want a new way of doing business,” state Rep. Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, says.

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Progressives’ Old Fashioned View of the World

The mobility of human beings has advanced to the point that technology allows us to accomplish many of the things we used to have to move around to do without leaving our homes.  Meetings.  Research.  Shopping.  Collaboration.

With the growing trend of a dispersed workforce, what’s the progressive solution for saving Providence government financials? Well, if Sam Bell, leader of the state branch of the Progressive Democrats of America, is representative:

“If Providence were able to tax the income of wealthy commuters who live in the suburbs, we could eliminate or drastically reduce property taxes and solve Providence’s fiscal nightmare overnight. This is the policy solution many other states take to this challenge, but the General Assembly will not allow Providence to implement it. And so our central city crumbles—plagued by poverty, a shrunken police and fire force, struggling schools, brutally high taxes, and fundamentally impossible math,” Bell added.

The first thing to note is that Bell should really be required to substantiate his “many other states” assertion.  A quick online search mainly brings up articles about cities that are seeking this particular golden goose, but their success seems limited mainly to Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Scranton… stop laughing).  New York City let its commuter tax expire with the last century.

More important, though, is the sheer economic illiteracy, matched with historical anachronism.  Cities’ main problem is that people no longer have to interact with them.  When transportation was limited to feet and horses, it made life a lot easier to live close to work and to the services that other people provided.  Those days are gone.  Not only can we drive and telecommute, but individuals and businesses alike can order products from around the world and have them shipped quickly and cheaply.  Increasingly, we can order products and services that can be delivered instantly via the Internet.

Now that necessity is moving out of the picture, the challenge for cities is that people have to want to go there — for work, convenience, or entertainment.  Taxing them to work there while living somewhere else makes working there less desirable.  (It’s a complicated equation, I know.)

At bottom, the progressive view on such policies winds around two poles: being able to tell people how to live and distributing government services (while collecting votes in exchange).  That’s a very old-fashioned model, and it’s the one that cities still serve best, as proven by the strength of Democrats in cities even within Republican-dominated states like Texas.

This simple truth is easily forgotten, but our society shouldn’t be structured entirely around government services.  That’s not what life is supposed to be about, and people should be suspicious of anybody who seems to believe otherwise.

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