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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.

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.

$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.

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.

Another Massive Database: Getting Healthcare Backwards

The federal government’s release of Medicare data mainly raises the question of whether the system should work the way it does.

The Joys of Overtime, Part Two of Three: 102 State Employees Doubled or Better (100-199%) Their Salary with O.T.

The RIOpenGov Web site shows 102 state employees who doubled their salaries or more with overtime and other pay.

The Joys of Murky Data, Part One of Three: 500 State Employees Boosted Their Pay in 2013 by 50-99% of salary with O.T.

New transparency releases and updates from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity help fill out the picture as Rhode Island follows the pension settlement ping pong.

How Senate Judiciary Distorted the Rules on the Master Lever

John Marion (and others) are correct that yesterday’s Senate Judiciary hearing on the master lever was an example of how rules don’t matter in the General Assembly, but I think they’re missing the larger problem (which includes elected officials’ not understanding the rules of order).

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Four Sets of Bills Plus One Ceremonial Resolution Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 8 – April 10

1. S2091: Repeal of the master-lever, i.e. the option of using a single mark to vote for all of the candidates from one party (while ignoring non-partisan races, and creating general confusion in elect more-than-one races), from RI General election ballots (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8)

2A. H7944/S2778: 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 8 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 8) This is pretty obviously directed at the Central Coventry Fire district. It’s a single-sponsor bill — but the single sponsor is Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, though it had submitted by then-Rep Mattiello before all heck broke loose at the statehouse. Also worth noting is the simultaneous-hearing fast-track the bill appears to be on.

2B. H7943: Replaces the town/city council president on a budget commission of a town/city that’s under one, with a member chosen by a vote of the town/city council. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 10) This bill could also be described as “replaces Albert Brien on the Woonsocket Budget Commission with someone yet to be determined (at least as far as the public knows)”. People have a better case for taking to the streets shouting “It’s a coup! It’s a coup!” in response to this bill (though it would still be a stretch) than they do in response to Gordon Fox’s resignation.

3A. H7939: 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. The records sent to database will be from cases where there has been a demonstration of “clear and convincing evidence that the subject of the hearing is in need of care and treatment in a facility, and…continued unsupervised presence in the community would, by reason of mental disability, create a likelihood of serious harm”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8)

3B. H7587: Changes firearms permitting by local law enforcement agencies from a “shall issue” process, to a “may issue” process requiring an applicant to show a “good reason to fear an injury to his or her person or property” or another “proper showing of need”. (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 8) As noted previously on this blog, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that issuing permits allowing the carrying of firearms off of private private on an exclusively “may issue” basis is violates the Constitutional right to bear arms.

The Difference the Tax Cut Makes, Corporate versus Sales

Comparison of a theoretical corporate income tax rate with a comparable sales tax cut illustrates the way in which cutting different taxes benefits different groups and shapes the economy differently.

“Spotlight on Spending” Report: Where Have You Been All of My (Political, Taxpaying) Life?

Fine, tell me I need to get a life. But it is not an exaggeration to say that the “Spotlight On Spending” report compiled by the R.I. Center for Freedom & Prosperity and released Tuesday made my year.

Rhode Island currently has the eight highest local and state tax burden. While this is up from sixth highest, it is clear that we continue to spend beyond our means and our ability. Yet we’ve been told repeatedly – sometimes explicitly (thank you, Rep Tanzi); usually more subtly by the substance of the budget itself that emerges from the end of the legislative session – that there is nothing left in the state budget to cut. The “Spotlight On Spending” report resoundingly contradicts this.

HealthSource RI Numbers in Perspective

Coverage of HealthSource RI results is setting Rhode Islanders up to be blindsided by budgetary reality, as a massive fraud and failure is presented as a success.

Picking Nits in Outrageous Underwear Spending

It appears that members of the Rhode Island media are digging into a report that found $225 million in cuts to the next state budget and focusing on two passing examples of past spending that aren’t even included in that total.

Stepping Out of the Government-Focused Lala Land on ObamaCare

Politicians and members of the media who spin ObamaCare (and HealthSource RI) enrollment as a positive aren’t equipping the public to assess their investment or preparing them for what’s to come.

Coming up in the Relevant House and Senate Education Committees: Banning Standardized Testing as a Graduation Requirement Forever*

Other 1. H7672/S2185: Prevents a standardized assessment, and possibly any statewide assessment, from ever* being used as a graduation requirement. (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 2 & S Education; Thu, Apr 3)

S2185 was heard in the Senate Education Committee last week, as one of three possible alternatives for postponing/prohibiting standardized testing as a graduation requirement. It’s definitely the prohibit-not-postpone bill, and is the only bill of the three that’s been called back. It’s listed on the Education committee agenda as “scheduled for consideration”, which means there is a very strong likelihood it will be voted on.

If it is eventually passed by the entire Senate, the question will of course become what will the new House leadership (including new House Majority Leader and old Providence Teachers’ Union legal counsel John DeSimone) do with it.

Coming Up in the House Municipal Government Committee on Thursday, April 3: Replacing the Central Coventry Fire District

1. H7906: Establishes a new fire district (the Main Fire District) to replace the Central Coventry Fire District, subject to approval by the voters of the former CCFD. (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 3)

The Central Coventry Fire District was ordered liquidated by Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Brian Stern on February 24. The firefighters union had originally planned a lawsuit to try to prevent this, but on Friday, Erica Ponte of WPRI-TV (CBS 12) reported…

Firefighter’s Union president Dave Gorman says the union has agreed to hold off on pursuing its lawsuit, pending legislation proposals which may allow the state to appoint a budget commission to oversee fire district finances.

The legislation sought by the union is needed becasue Rhode Island’s fiscal stabilization law enabling the state to take over cities and towns (in stages) via a budget commission and receiver, currently does not extend to fire districts. S2778, not yet scheduled for a hearing, is the bill that would change this.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Six Sets of Bills Being Heard by the Rhode Island General Assembly, April 1 – April 3

3. On Wednesday, April 2, the House Finance Committee will hear a raft of bills on state income tax changes:

  • H7207: Subtracts “amounts deemed taxable income to the taxpayer due to payment or provision of social security benefits” from adjusted gross income for calculating state income tax.
  • H7418: Exempts from the Rhode Island income tax “any individual who has reached full retirement age as defined by the Social Security Administration” .
  • H7423: Exempts from the Rhode Island income tax the first “$15,000 per year of income paid to an individual by a retirement plan qualified as such under federal law” .
  • H7471: Adds a 8% tax-bracket for incomes over $250,000
  • H7552: Adds a 10% tax-bracket for individual incomes over $200,000/married couple (filing jointly) incomes over $250,000.
  • H7424: Allows teachers to claim a $250 tax-credit on their Rhode Island income tax “for any amount spent purchasing supplies and equipment, for use in the performance of their teaching duties”.

3B. H7429: Phases back in the former $6,000 car-tax exemption. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 2)

4. H7623 requires at least 15% of the work done on public works contracts of a million dollars or more to be done by apprentices. H7697 changes a current requirement that contractors working on public works contracts of a million dollars or more employ apprentices to a much milder requirement that “all specifications in any invitations to bid in any public works contract awarded by the state valued at ten million dollars or more shall include a notice that all bidders responding to an invitation to bid on a public works project may employ apprentices for apprenticeable crafts”. H7964 makes clear the Federal rules override state rules regarding apprenticeship requirements on state contracts of a million dollars or more. (H Labor; Tue, Apr 1)

5.S2388: Prohibits law enforcement officers or state/local government officials from inquiring about the immigration status or social-security numbers of complainants and witnesses involved in law enforcement/judicial processes. (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 1)

6. H7818: $75 million bond referendum, to be used “to produce an additional supply of housing units at rents affordable to families working at or near minimum wage”, “to produce additional housing for individuals with disabilities to be coupled with services and case management” and “to provide grants to local communities for renovation, demolition, and homeownership opportunities in neighborhoods designated for revitalization”. (H Finance; Tue, Apr 1)

7. H7066: Bases car-tax assessments on trade-in instead of retail value. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 2)

Making the Worlds Collide

There are practical steps to make the legislature reform itself (with or without rules changes), but Rhode Islanders and their direct representatives will have to prove their interest.

The General Assembly in Multiple Dimensions

People inside and outside of Rhode Island government really do live in alternate universes, and it’s up to the people to make their representatives admit it.

Let’s Slow Down There, Mr. Speaker

I like Speaker Mattiello’s talk about being pro-business and wanting to improve the economy but I think he may already be contradicting himself when he says he wants to give power back to the members of the House while also saying he may not have time to consider certain issues.