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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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The New Toll Plan Will Still Be Challenged in Federal Court


If getting bond investors their interest payments construction underway as quickly as possible is of the utmost importance, Rhode Island’s political leaders will need to consider how much of a risk of a lawsuit they are willing to take in order to get the local carve-out; a case like this would take years to work it’s way through the Federal courts and the whole tolling-plan might possibly be enjoined during the litigation process. Of course, an injunction against the toll-plan would mean no money for bond payments road-repairs right away.

On this issue, Rhode Island’s legislators would be wise to keep in mind the lesson of Gordon Fox: Because Rhode Island’s Democratic leadership can play fast-and-loose with interpretations of rules and laws while inside the statehouse (e.g. nullification, revolving door judgeships) does not mean they can extend that power very far outside and forgetting about this can lead to unfortunate consequences.

The legal analysis that leads to this conclusion is in the main post.

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End of the Sessioner #2: To Bond or Not to Bond, Questions About Priorities in the Governor’s Toll Plan


What Rhode Island’s Governor and legislature decide in the next couple of weeks with regards to highway tolls depends on what their policy priorities are, by which I mean…

1. Despite the fact that a case for funding a decade or more of highway construction with a revenue bond, instead of saving money on interest and spending the savings directly on construction, has not yet been presented to the public,…

2. …a revenue bond financed through tolls seems to be an integral part of Governor Gina Raimondo’s transportation infrastructure plan.

3. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello is concerned about the impact highway tolls would have on the local economy, which is a reasonable concern, and has signaled he’d like to see some kind of local-relief plan implemented.

4. However, Federal case law based on the U.S. Constitution’s interstate commerce clause clearly looks askance upon local carve-outs when it comes to highway tolls/user-fees/whatever you want to call them, meaning that…

5. …if a tolling plan did include a local “discount” in its structure, there is a risk it would be immediately enjoined (with the help of ground-transportation trade organizations which appear to have some pretty good lawyers).

6. And, of course, if a tolling program were enjoined right away, a bond sale probably couldn’t proceed until the case was resolved, which would probably take several years, at least.

What to watch for is this: if the priority is issuing the bond, something without anything resembling a local exemption that could bring the court-system into the process needs to be passed soon, and a special session in the later half of the fall might be too late to get bonds issued for this tax-year. If, on the other hand, the bond itself is less of a priority, the timeline is not quite so immediate, and some explanation to the public of why interest payments associated with a bond make sense is in order.

But bond or no-bond, it’s going to be difficult to construct a local preference for vehicle tolls that survives Federal court scrutiny. Based on the proposal already submitted, we know this won’t prevent the Governor from supporting tolls. Will the Speaker eventually come to share to the same attitude?

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Coming up in Committee: Thirty-One Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, June 1 (Today) – June 4


1. S0876/H6181: Legislative implementation of the pension “settlement” created outside of the legislature. (S Finance; Mon, Jun 1 & H Finance; Wed, Jun 3)

2. Late-entry budget article: Tolling of mid and large size commercial vehicle on Rhode Island highways budget article. (H Finance; Tue, Jun 2)

3. S0952: Sets a 20-year schedule of property tax exemptions in the I195 redevelopment district. (S Finance; Thu, Jun 4)

4. S0384: Bans “any candidate for state or local office who has outstanding campaign finance reports or fines due the board of elections” from running for office “until all such reports are filed and/or all fines are paid”. (S Judiciary; Tue, Jun 2) Likely unconstitutional, on the grounds that qualifications for office are established at the constitutional level and cannot be altered by statute.

5. S0458: Removes a fiscal stability act budget commission’s authority over a school superintendent and over basic educational matters . (S Education; Tue, Jun 2) According to knowledgeable sources, likely related to protecting a school superintendent favored by the Mayor of Woonsocket but not in favor with the city’s budget commission.

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Coming up in Committee: Tax Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, May 28


1. Proposed retirement-income tax exemptions:

  • (H Finance; Thu, May 28)
  • H5000: Exempts “all income received from federal, state and local governments’ retirement plans, social security retirement and disability benefits, military pensions, railroad retirement benefits, private pension plans, and deferred-compensation plans in the public and private sector” from the RI income tax, restricted to people 65 years of age or older.
  • H5055: Exempts “all income received from federal, state and local governments’ retirement plans, private pension plans, and deferred-compensation plans in the public and private sector” from the RI income tax.
  • H5056: Exempts the same income sources as H5055 plus “social security retirement and disability benefits” from the RI income tax.

Below the fold are…

  • Even more income tax exemptions,
  • Proposed changes to the Rhode Island estate tax,
  • Proposed changes to the minimum business tax,
  • Proposed tax-incentive plans for promoting economic activity,
  • Proposed new upper-income tax brackets, and
  • A few other tax odds-and-ends.

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Coming up in Committee: Non-Taxation Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, May 28


1. S0598: Establishes a legal regime for physician assisted suicide in Rhode Island. (S Judiciary; Thu, May 28)

2. H5074: Minimum wage increase; likely to be amended at the committee session. (H Labor; Thu, May 28)

3. S0318: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates from varying based on gender (excluding policies for “hospital confinement indemnity”, “disability income”, “accident only”, “long-term care”, “medicare supplement”, “limited benefit health”, “specified diseased indemnity”, “sickness of bodily injury or death by accident or both” and “other limited benefit policies”. (S Health and Human Services; Thu, May 28)

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Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, May 27


1. H5790: From the official description: “This act would provide parents of K-12 students in Rhode Island with an opportunity to enroll their child in an educational program of their choosing, either via open enrollment in a traditional public school in their own district or any other public school district, or by receiving a scholarship, with designated public monies to follow the student to a participating private school or private curriculum program selected by the parent”. Scholarships can be up to $6000 and are income adjusted. (H Finance; Wed, May 27)

2A. H5795: Permanent moratorium on establishing or expanding charter schools in Rhode Island. (H Finance; Wed, May 27)

2B. H5794: From the official description: “This act would remove a city or town’s financial obligation to contribute to their resident students who enroll in charter schools, William M. Davies, Jr. Career and Technical High School or the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center”. (H Finance; Wed, May 27)

2C. H5834: Change in the formula for capital aid for charter public school building construction, in particular, capping aid at the same percentage of the municipality where the school is located, even if the average based on all sending communities would result in a higher amount. (H Finance; Wed, May 27)

3. S0194: A minimum wage bill is scheduled to get a vote today. The bill officially in committee raises it to $10.10 per hour starting in 2016, though Jennifer Bogdan of the Projo is reporting a deal has been agreed to by leadership for $9.60 per hour. (S Labor; Wed, May 27)

4. H5083: Relief for municipalities from unfunded mandates, i.e. “If during any fiscal year the state reimbursement to cities and towns and school districts is insufficient to cover the costs of state mandates as reported by the department of revenue, the affected cities, towns and school districts may cease implementation of the state mandates at their discretion up to 50% of the value of the reimbursement shortfall, provided that: (1) Existing personnel contracts are honored in their entirety or renegotiated to the 1 satisfaction of both parties; and (2) Implementation of state mandates is restored upon the full restoration of state reimbursements”. (H Finance; Wed, May 27)

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Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, Today, May 26


1. H6174 “The division of motor vehicles is authorized to issue driving privilege licenses and driving privilege permits to any applicant who meets the licensure requirements of this chapter but is unable to establish legal presence in the United States”. The bill then lists an extensive set of documents, two of which must be provided to establish eligibility for a “driving privilege license”. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 26)  Issue 1: If “undocumented immigrants” are expected to have documents before they get their driving privilege license, then add said license as an additional document to the documents they already have, does it seem honest at any time to refer to a status of “undocumented”?  Issue 2: The archaic, one-off legal concept that being able to drive is a privilege and not a right — indeed, that there is any broad class of human activities that fall into a category of government-granted “privileges” — should be should be resisted and ultimately rejected whenever it appears.

2. H5387: Government takeover of healthcare, creating a state-run insurance plan, and prohibiting providers who accept the state insurance from billing “any patient for any covered benefit” while also subjecting the providers to comprehensive price controls. (H Finance; Tue, May 26)

3A. H5104: Requires that a photo ID be presented when a person between the ages of 18 and 60 who is not blind, disabled or a victim of domestic violence uses an EBT card. (H Finance; Tue, May 26)

3B. H5347: Requires school-aged children of families receiving welfare benefits through the Rhode Island Works program to have an 80% attendance rate at school. (H Finance; Tue, May 26)

4. S0610: Allows a municipal economic development zone (where qualifying businesses are “exempt from the requirement to charge and collect fifty percent (50%) of the current sales and use tax…for a period of ten years”) to be established “in a municipally designated and state-approved ‘growth center’ in accordance with the Land-Use 2025 element of the state guide plan”. (S Finance; Tue, May 26)

5. S0348: Prohibits condominium associations from making up rules that “shall prohibit any reasonable accommodation for religious practices, including the attachment of religiously mandated objects to the front door of a condominium unit”. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 26) Recent events in Cranston, where the school committee took it upon itself to decree that people aren’t required to go to church during school hours on Good Friday, raise a question about this bill: Is the reference to “religiously mandated objects” something narrower than “religious objects”, i.e. does this bill put condominium associations in the position of being able to decide that yes that’s a religious object on your door, but you still have to take it down because we don’t think your religion requires you to put it there.

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Late Additions to the Week’s General Assembly Committee Calendars


A number of major bills in the policy areas of education, state “planning”, and illegal immigration were added to this week’s General Assembly committee calendars at the start of the week…

S0607: From the official description: “This act would provide parents of K-12 students in Rhode Island with an opportunity to enroll their child in an educational program of their choosing, either via open enrollment in a traditional public school in their own district or any other public school district, or by receiving a scholarship, with designated public monies to follow the student to a participating private school or private curriculum program selected by the parent”. Scholarships can be up to $6000 and are income adjusted. (S Education; Wed, May 20)

H5644/H6041/H6042: Allows cities and towns to decline to “comply with any provision” related to local planning laws or with “the state guide plan relating to affordable housing programs” by filing a notice with the chief state planner. (H Finance; Thu, May 21)

Other bills on state “planning” below the fold

S0391: “The division of motor vehicles is authorized to issue driving privilege licenses and driving privilege permits to any applicant who meets the licensure requirements of this chapter but is unable to establish legal presence in the United States”. The bill then lists an extensive set of documents, two of which must be provided to establish eligibility for a “driving privilege license”. (S Judiciary; Thu, May 21)

Other bills on illegal immigration below the fold

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Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 19 – May 21


1. H5553/H5793: Repeals the sections of the law allowing “deferred deposit” loans to be made. (H Finance; Wed, May 20) According to the official description, this bill disallows pay-day lenders in Rhode Island.

2. S0574: Allows anyone who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced “to file a petition with the superior court requesting the forensic DNA testing of any evidence that is in the possession or control of the prosecution, law enforcement, laboratory, or court”; currently this law only applies to individuals who are imprisoned. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 19)

3. On Tuesday, May 19, the House Finance Committee will hear the department budget for the single largest major division in the state budget, $2.4B for the Executive Office Of Health and Human Services. (H Finance; Tue, May 19)

4. S0044: Provides a $13.97-per-hour subsidy (to be adjusted for inflation going forward) to “direct support professionals employed by private development disability organizations”. (S Finance; Tue, May 19) 1) It’s not clear from the bill whether this is an entirely new subsidy, or directly legislating something that’s annually done by the department of behavioral healthcare, developmental disabilities and hospitals. 2) As written, this seems to make state government partially responsible for paying the wages/salaries of every direct support professional employed by a private development disability organization in the state of Rhode Island; 3) Under some interpretations of current RI law, doesn’t this potentially become a “contract” that can never be changed?

5. Bud. Art. 14 sec.1: Blocks the legally mandated transfer of excess general revenue to the pension system, if the director of the office of management and budget determines there is a projected deficit for the current fiscal year. (S Finance; Tue, May 19)

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The House Finance Agenda for Wednesday, May 13, Posted with Minimum Notice


Some important bills for a Wednesday House Finance Committee meeting were posted on Monday afternoon, i.e. with about as little notice as is legally required:

The most important of the bills concern moral obligation bonds:

  • H5443: Restrictions on the issuing of moral obligation bonds, requiring them to be put to the voters for approval, unless 1) they will be entirely funded by the Federal government, 2) they are issued after the General Assembly has adjourned, and “the governor certifies that action is necessary, because of events occurring after the general assembly has adjourned, to protect the physical integrity of an essential public facility, to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services, or to maintain the credit worthiness of the state in the financial markets” or 3) they fall under the “borrowing in anticipation of receipts” process described in Article VI section 17 of the state constitution.
  • H5566: An almost total ban on the issuing of moral obligation bonds, unless they will be entirely funded by the federal government, or fall under the “borrowing in anticipation of receipts” process described in Article VI section 17 of the state constitution. This bill also repeals the bonding and long-term debt issuing authority not requiring specific General Assembly action that has been granted to a large number of Rhode Island quasi-public agencies; that authority is formally, at least, left in place in H5443.

A few more bills are described, below the fold.

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Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Two Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 12 – May 14


1. S0132: Establishes minimum amounts of time served, before a prisoner is eligible for parole; 50% of a non-life sentence for 1st or 2nd degree murder, 25 years for a life-sentence for 1st or 2nd degree murder, and 20 years for a life sentence for any crime other than 1st or 2nd degree murder. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 12)

2. S0624: Creates a Joint Committee of the Repealer within the legislature, composed of six members from both houses, to “compile suggestions for repeal of statutes, regulations, and executive orders received from citizens, businesses, and government agencies”. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 12)

3A. H6145: Requires that redevelopment agencies in Providence and only Providence (i.e. in “any city or town with more than one hundred thousand residents”) “be permitted to construct new buildings for commercial or industrial uses contemplated by its redevelopment plan”. (H Municipal Government; Thu, May 14) It’s not immediately clear from the language in the bill whether “be permitted” means “be allowed” or “be automatically given permits”.

3B. Bud. Art. 29: Gives the Commerce Corporation power to issue tax-credits for large construction projects, with special provisions allowing projects in Providence — oh, excuse me; in communities with 150,000 or more in population — to be fast-tracked, allowing them to bypass local building and inspection requirements. (S Finance; Thu, May 14)

4. On Wednesday, May 13, the House Finance Committee will hear the department budget for the single largest major division in the state budget, $2.4B for the Executive Office Of Health and Human Services.

5. H6026: Removes the requirement that someone overdue on their court fines be given 30 days notice before their name is published. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 12)

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Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Eight Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 5 – May 7


1. H5819: 1) Outlaws stop-and-frisk police procedures by extending the current requirement that motor vehicle stops be predicated on “reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity” to pedestrians, 2) requires that, whenever possible, motor vehicle stops be recorded (but not making the recordings part of the public record), and 3) mandates that the department of transportation gather data on whether “racial disparities in traffic stops exist”. (H Judiciary; Tue, May 5)

2A. S0739: 1) Requires that the local share of funding for school districts and charter schools (i.e. the non-state aid share) of be provided by the “the local district from local resources”, 2) freezes the number of students used for the state education “funding formula” calculation for public charter schools at their 2015 values and 3) requires the town/city council or school committee of every community to be served by a mayoral academy to give its approval before a charter school can increase its enrollment. (S Education; Wed, May 6) This looks to be the major anti-education-reform bill for this session, but also pay attention to some of the “smaller” ones in section 2B of the main post.

3. S0210: Exempts “any income from social security benefits” and “up to twenty-five thousand dollars of income received from public and private pensions, interest income, 401K plans and individual retirement accounts” from the state income tax. (S Finance; Tue, May 5)

4A. S0541: Authorizes the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to issue $65M in bonds, without voter approval, resulting in $152M in debt to paid out over 30 years, “for the purpose of providing funds to finance the renovation, renewal, repair, rehabilitation, retrofitting, upgrading and improvement of the Pell Bridge, the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge, the Sakonnet River Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge, and other projects authorized under the Act, replacement of the components thereof, working capital, capitalized interest, a debt service reserve and the costs of issuing and insuring the Bonds”. The bonds don’t need voter approval, because the resolution says “that the Bonds will not constitute indebtedness of the State or any of its subdivisions or a debt for which the full faith and credit of the State or any of its subdivisions is pledged”. (S Finance; Tue, May 5)

5. S0433: Prohibits non-compete agreements for licensed physicians. (S Judiciary; Tue, May 5)

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Coming up in Committee: Twenty-Four Sets of Bills Being Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 28 – April 30


1. S0795: Resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments to the Federal Constitution (requiring 2/3 of state legislatures to agree), with an initial scope of narrowing First Amendment protections for political speech. (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 29) Half of convention would be drawn exclusively from individuals “currently elected to state and local office” — so this would basically be a convention skewed towards political incumbents, for the purpose of restricting political speech. What could possibly go wrong?

2A. S0382: Government takeover of the siting and management of health provider networks in Rhode Island, giving the state health commissioner authority in such areas as hours of operation, staffing placement, criteria for evaluating doctor performance, approval of contract terms between health insurers and providers, etc. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

2B. S0619: Charges the state health commissioner with “monitoring a transition away” from the use of private health insurance for primary care medicine and replacing it with a single-payer system. (S Health and Human Services; Tue, Apr 28)

2C. Bud. Art. 5: Some seemingly rigid medicaid price controls, e.g. “for the twelve (12) month period beginning July 1, 2015, Medicaid fee-for-service outpatient rates shall not exceed ninety-five percent (95.0%) of the rates in effect as of July 1, 2014. Also, amongst other items, Bud. Art. 4 sets a limit of $136.8 million to be paid out in “disproportionate share hospital payments” under the “uncompensated care” section of the law. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 30)

2D and 3A. Bud. Art. 28: Allows the secretary of Health and Human Services to directly impose taxes on the sale of small employer and individual health plans without General Assembly approval, with revenues earmarked for the Rhode Island health benefits exchange. (H Finance; Wed, Apr 29)

3B. H6095: Establishes a “Sustainable packaging advisory council…as a public body corporate and politic, constituting an instrument of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and exercising essential governmental functions”, and grants the council power to assess taxes on the owners of businesses with gross sales of more than $1M that sell products or materials in RI that result in waste packaging — “whether or not the producer is located in the state”(!). (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 30)

4. H6080: Creates a statewide individual retirement account program, that RI workers will be automatically enrolled into (and have at least 3% of their paychecks put into) unless they specifically opt-out. (H Labor; Thu, Apr 30)

5. S0816: Prohibits the “state guide plan” from establishing any affordable housing provisions beyond those already set in state law, and removes federal government officials from eligibility to serve on the state planning council. S0818 exempts municipal plans from having to comply with the state guide plan. S0819 requires that the state guide plan be approved by the General Assembly. S0820 allows cities and towns to opt-out of the affordable housing programs contained in the state guide plan. (S Housing and Municipal Government; Wed, Apr 29)