Conservatives in Rhode Island used to talk about how government should “run like a business,” but what they tended to mean by that was that it ought to follow “best practices” for administrative tasks and to manage itself as if it could go out of business if managed poorly. Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s variation on the theme is “government at the speed of business,” which is another thing altogether.
There are good reasons government can’t operate that way, including (among 0ther things) the need for transparency, the civil and legal rights of the people, and the need for broad consensus prior to acting. Raimondo’s governing style is much more in line with the part of business that’s about finding experts and then issuing decrees.
A few bits of information related to personnel and their activities from yesterday illustrate the point:
First, from Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg’s Twitter feed, we learn that the governor is planning to hire three new executives to fill out her Office of Commerce, with total potential salaries reaching almost a half-million dollars. On paper, the Office of Commerce is different from the quasi-public Commerce Corporation, but for purposes of Twitter, Gregg uses the latter’s CommerceRI brand. That’s not unreasonable. As I’ve suggested before, it’s very, very difficult to tell the difference between the fully government Office and the quasi-public Corporation. Indeed, the governor and General Assembly have been giving “tools” to CommerceRI entirely for the use of Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor.
Those tools show how insidious — and, I’d argue, illegal — the prefix “quasi” can be. For example, new “Rebuild RI” tax credits are available purely at the discretion of the Commerce Corporation, yet they allow the quasi-public to give out an unlimited amount of tax credits for which taxpayers must ultimately pay. That’s just one example of the way in which there’s no real distinction for the quasi-public, except that government officials to use it to do things that government officials aren’t otherwise allowed to do.
It’s like the historic tax credits. If I’m recalling correctly, the Commerce Corp., which was then called the Economic Development Corp., issued $150 million revenue bonds that were “only” a moral obligation for the state, which the state acknowledges “are prohibited” for regular government agencies. But the “revenue” on which the bonds were premised was simply money that the state pledged to give to the EDC. It was always clear, but now that the state has proven unwilling to default on moral obligation bonds, it’s undeniable that the quasi-public route is nothing but a way around the law.
Second, NBC 10 reporter Patricia Resende reports that Governor Raimondo has hired a new high-level executive for the Department of Education. Far from there being a public discussion about the need for the position, the title, salary, and even duties of the new hire are apparently not even worked out. That’s the speed of business.
Third, Jacqueline Tempera reported in the Providence Journal about the governor’s Children’s Cabinet adoption of a plan “with concrete steps for improving the lives of children across the state,” including:
Physical health and safety; behavior and emotional security; academic empowerment and career readiness; social, cultural, and civic engagement; and family and community stability.
How’s that for an open-ended, presumptuous mandate? According to the governor, the government is going to link together all of its agencies, along with federal funds, private non-profits, and private companies to take it upon themselves to stop children from “feeling sad.” This is the stuff of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. We used to chuckle about these make-work political initiatives because we knew we were protected by the limited powers of government, but we can’t chuckle anymore because it’s undeniable that people in and around government really mean it.
Here’s where we’re going, Rhode Island: broad, unlimited, and invasive goals pursued through organizations beyond the reach of the democratic process undertaken with too much urgency to allow for public discussion and transparency. If you’re inclined toward big government, you can scoff at the significance of each step along the path, but when the boot finally steps on you, don’t claim you weren’t warned.