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“Regular Order” in the U.S. Congress and Rhode Island

Angelo Codevilla summarizes the history of how the U.S. Congress undermined our system of government as the end of “regular order.”  By this, he means the process by which laws were supposed to be reviewed in committee and then passed on the floor, all in full view and deliberation, with each legislator ultimately accountable for votes.  But…

… For over a century, congressmen and senators’ procrastination had pressed legislative business into the last weeks before the end of congressional sessions. Members had noted that they could slip items into bills in frenzied times, which would not have survived regular order’s scrutiny. In the 1970s, some committees started to procrastinate on purpose, so that the end of the government’s fiscal year would come without an appropriation for one or more department of government. The Appropriations Committee would then prepare a “continuing resolution” to substitute for the uncompleted appropriations. These were supposed to just “keep thing going next year as in the previous year,” thus avoiding all issues. At the very least, they obviated whatever major changes anyone might want to make. But it was never that simple: from the beginning, these CRs always had riders. The more influence you had, the more you could slip into the CR.

This gave leadership more power, because they had more leeway to determine what could and couldn’t be “slipped into” continuing resolutions.  In the last decade, according to Codevilla, Harry Reid pushed Congress to the final step, essentially making continuing resolutions the rule for the whole budget and, therefore, the whole government.

If this sounds familiar to local ears, it’s because this is exactly the way in which the Rhode Island legislature operates.  The entire session is warm-up and theatrics for a final push during which the action is frenzied, the rules are suspended, and legislative leaders have all of the say.

The solution is the same, too:  Voters have to insist on regular order, not a few oligarchs who leverage a weak version of representative democracy for their own benefit.  Unfortunately, the corrupt system works well for special interests, too, who corrupt our electoral system.

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Acceptance of Life’s Disappointments, U.S. and U.K. Attitudes

Here’s some interesting philosophizing on a rainy summer day.  Building on the observation that folks in England are too content to accept drying machines that don’t dry, Corinne Purtill draws broad conclusions about the difference between Brits and their American peers.

Purtill herself is an American just returning to her native country after five years across the Pond, and although she flirts with complimenting her fellow Americans, she can’t quite bring herself to side with us.  Indeed, in backing away from that conclusion, she may capture modern progressives’ true sense of trade offs:

This American bias toward change—newer, better, different—has fueled countless innovations. It has also fueled a culture of thoughtless consumerism.

Like progressives, one gets the sense that Purtill’s final analysis is that “thoughtless consumerism” outweighs “countless innovations” on the scale of human values:

Under the proper circumstances, [the British have] is a mature and useful perspective. Suffering—large and small—is an unavoidable feature of human existence. In the face of illness, loss, or heartbreak, the American insistence on looking on the bright side and fixing the problem can feel heartlessly clueless. Some things cannot be fixed.

Here’s what Purtill misses: Seeing a “bright side” shows that there is acceptance of suffering.  We accept what is and seek to improve what can be changed.  Why compound the loss of a loved one with the frustrations of a dryer that doesn’t work?

For that matter, why not work to reduce the amount of human suffering?  Let’s turn our lens in the other direction and witness Charlie Gard, whose parents the British government told they could not try to save his life, even though they had the money and a doctor willing to attempt new methods for helping him.  Where did the parents want to take the child for help? The United States.

Maybe it’s because I’m so thoroughly American that I can’t achieve an adequately “mature and useful” perspective, but I can’t quite see how innovating to fix problems while maintaining a fundamentally positive outlook on life is the “heartlessly clueless” attitude, here.

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What the Governor Thinks of the People

This clip from today’s Providence Journal “Political Scene” seems telling to me:

Asked by a TV reporter if she believed there was anything she “could learn from″ Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, with his 71 percent highest-in-the-nation approval rating, the 5-foot-3-inch Raimondo quipped:

“Maybe be taller? No.”

Doesn’t that response seem perfectly indicative of what she thinks of us, Rhode Island voters.  Her lack of introspection suggests that she really doesn’t feel the approval of the people whom she’s supposed to be representing is all that important.  After all, what do we know?  The impression is that she simultaneously holds the “smaht people know best” view of governance and has her eye on a different voter pool — national voters.

Even the nature of her quip is insulting, insinuating that, for Rhode Island voters, the difference between the most popular governor in the country and one of the least popular is physical height.  Yeah, “hey, guv,” you’re thwarted by the cruel fate of governing a shallow people.

Incidentally, just by way of a small correction, reporter Katherine Gregg writes that Raimondo has “43 percent approval and 47 disapproval, among those with an opinion.”  That is incorrect.  Those are the governor’s overall numbers, but 10% of survey respondents were unsure, so the percentages “among those with an opinion” are 48% approval and 52% disapproval.

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Email Leaks Aren’t Just for National Politics

Americans are still receiving daily updates about Russia’s interference in our elections, last year, beginning with the still-unattributed hacking and publication of Democrats’ emails.  Followers of Tiverton politics, however, don’t have to go that far for their intrigue.  As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:

The day before our Charter Review Commission (CRC) election, Deborah Scanlon Janick published on her Facebook page a string of private emails sent among some members of the town’s Budget Committee, not including her.  Her explanation, as secretary of the committee, is that I “erroneously left [them] in [her] pile of attachments.” …

Her next move was to show them to Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto to ask whether the email chain violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA).  Under state law, a quorum (usually a majority of a board) can’t communicate privately about official business because that would essentially be a secret meeting. …

In this case, there were five of us on the email chain out of 11 Budget Committee members, so Mr. DeSisto concluded we’d done nothing wrong.  Nonetheless, Janick held on to the emails for five months and attempted to throw them like a grenade the day before an election, hoping to affect the outcome.

So, acting in her official capacity, the elected secretary of the Budget Committee took private emails that she knew weren’t meant to be shared and released them on her own Facebook page for political advantage.  There’s nothing to the emails, but the folks in town who aren’t happy that taxes haven’t continued to climb faster than inflation are trying to compensate for the lack of controversy with dark insinuations that elected officials’ communicating is somehow overly secretive.

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Trump Administration Gives Hope to Property Rights Advocates

Paul Mirengoff, of PowerLine, notes that Secretary Ben Carson’s Housing and Urban Development department (HUD) is moving in a direction that should please anybody who was concerned about the implications of RhodeMap RI:

Here’s a reminder of why [even Trump critics on the Right should be happy that he beat Hillary Clinton]. Yesterday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced that his agency will “reinterpret” the ultra-instrusive Obama housing rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). The rule was designed by the Obama administration to seize federal control over local zoning for the purpose of creating neighborhoods that comply with the left’s race-based vision of where people should live. We discussed it here, among other places.

Secretary Carson didn’t say exactly how he plans to “reinterpret” AFFH. However, he told the Washington Examiner that he doesn’t believe in the “manipulation” associated with the rule or with the burdens it imposes on local communities. As a candidate for president, he called it “a doomed-to-fail attempt to “legislate racial equality.”

Mirengoff is right to subsequently warn that “reinterpreting” a rule is a softer protection than simply canceling it, but a step in the right direction is clearly better than a jump in the wrong one, which a different administration might have brought about.

That point, however, brings us back to an inexhaustible theme that conservatives must wake up reminding ourselves:  Our real work is cultural and in education.  As long as we continue to allow the Left to pervert the minds of younger generations as if they are invading aliens, the assaults on our liberty will return like a plague every decade or so, when the politic mood shifts.

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As Parenting Moves from Right to Privilege

If the government can take a couple’s children away from them based on an undefined sense that they’re more likely than average to make mistakes, we’ve reached a state of totalitarianism that handles parenting as a privilege, not a right.  Continuing one’s ancestral line must be at least as fundamental a right as working to persuade others to share one’s ideas and striving to perpetuate one’s belief system.

But Oregon appears to be pushing the boundaries:

For nearly four years, the Redmond couple has been fighting to prove to the state of Oregon that they are intellectually capable of raising their children. The Department of Human Services has removed both of their boys, saying the parents are too mentally limited to be good parents.

Fabbrini, 31, and Ziegler, 38, lost custody of their older son, Christopher, shortly after he was born. Five months ago, the state took their second child, newborn Hunter, directly from the hospital. Both are now in foster care.

One has to read a little between the lines, but it appears that the problem began with a bitter grandfather who didn’t like his daughter and had just lost his wife.  In the outcome, however, this story may not be all that unusual:

Across the country, a national study estimates that somewhere between 40 percent and 80 percent of parents with intellectual disabilities lose their parental rights.

The topic certainly isn’t an easy one to discuss broadly, because few folks would want to insist on an absolute right to parent, even in cases of clear and immediate danger to children.  However, if the standard is, as Samantha Swindler’s Oregonian article seems to imply, that a parent might fall asleep while lying next to a baby and periodically forgets to feed his dog, broad swaths of our society will be at risk of having children confiscated.

On this path, we can’t be far from government’s asserting a right to take children away from parents whose children might be at risk of learning undesired values.

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The Union Shoe Drops on Evergreens

Well, here’s perhaps the key political consequence for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo upon her veto of legislation that would ensure that teachers and municipal employees are exempt from the state law limiting all government employment contracts to three years:

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,”’ Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Thursday.

Much of my analysis of likely outcomes has been premised on Walsh’s previous statement that the 2014 election season had convinced his union that unity with Raimondo was important.  The truce has expired, apparently, an result that I expected Raimondo to seek to avoid.

It’s pretty rich, though, for Walsh to break faith with Raimondo and divulge that she mentioned her donors during a private meeting that the two had.  The NEA-RI’s PAC alone hands out $15,000 or more per year to state-level politicians, and that doesn’t count the combined total of every union local giving out money across the state, let alone individual members.

Hopefully Walsh was right a few months ago about the importance to progressives that they stick together.  That way he and Raimondo can both lose.

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“Converting” Our Form of Government

If we want to live under a government with the power to forbid children and their parents from seeing what therapeutic options might be available for unwanted feelings, I guess that’s a conversation that we can have, although I find myself on the side of the ACLU in worrying about giving legislators “wide latitude to ban unpopular medical treatments.”  But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should do so with accurate information about what the bans cover, and Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on Rhode Island’s new ban of “conversion therapy” fails on that count:

The bill makes it illegal in Rhode Island for licensed health care professionals to advertise or engage in conversion therapy for anyone under 18. It does not affect religious counselors or leaders — or adults who choose such a program.

That “does not affect” sentence is just not correct.  Read this section of the law:

23-94-4. Prohibition on state funding for conversion therapy. No state funds, nor any funds belonging to a municipality, agency, or political subdivision of this state, shall be expended for the purpose of conducting conversion therapy, referring a person for conversion therapy, health benefits coverage for conversation therapy, or a grant or contract with any entity that conducts conversion therapy or refers individuals for conversion therapy.

This is separate from the section that bans “licensed professionals” from offering such therapy to minors, and it goes much farther.  It covers “any entity that conducts… or refers individuals for conversion therapy.”  So, while a licensed professional would only lose his or her Rhode Island license if he or she provides the therapy to minors, that professional would lose access to any state or local funds that somebody might complain subsides the therapy for for adults, as well as any “grant or contract” whatsoever, whether related to conversion therapy or not.

This would apply, as well, to any person, group, or organization that refers an adult to such a therapist.  An aggressive judiciary could find within this language justification for removing tax exemption from any church that even suggests trying therapy to any church member.

This bill is your supposed representatives using your government to tell you what you must believe about the universe and your very self.

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Vetoes and Non Vetoes

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed the eternal contracts bill:

In a veto message that echoed the strenuous arguments raised by city and town leaders, Raimondo wrote: “Current Rhode Island law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.

“The proposed legislation before me extinguishes this existing protection, hurting the public’s position in contract negotiations, and placing taxpayers at risk of being forever locked into contractual provisions they can no longer afford.”

Raimondo has seemed to me to make decisions on political grounds, and she’s in a precarious enough position that she can’t really afford to push away the teachers’ unions, which have been explicit about not intending to target her next time around.  This action could change that.

It’ll be telling to watch the political play.  If, for example, the General Assembly overrides the veto and the teachers’ unions (especially the National Education Association – Rhode Island) do nothing more than issue a strongly worded press release against the governor (which is already done), then it would indicate that there’s a political dance going on, meant to give the governor cover with taxpayer advocates and municipal leaders while not harming the unions.

As part of this picture, note that Raimondo “allowed a disability-pension bill that was also championed by organized labor to become law without her signature,” according to Kathy Gregg.  Here the calculation is slightly different.  She didn’t sign it, thereby providing herself a little cover with taxpayer advocates (being able to say she didn’t “support” it), but she didn’t veto it, saying it was simply a legal codification of existing practice.  I think she’ll be proven wrong on that, inasmuch as the law now explicitly allows for work-related physical and mental illnesses to be grounds for a disability pension, but one could see how her calculation would be different.

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Montanaro Investigation… Well, That Was Quick

I mentioned, yesterday, that John DePetro had different expectations for the likely outcome of the State Police investigation of state employee and labor-union prince Frank Montanaro, Jr., and his receipt of a college-tuition benefit to which he was dubiously entitled.  Existence of the investigation came to light early this week, with the subject having been interviewed on Friday.

Well, Tim White and Ted Nesi published this yesterday afternoon:

Just a day after confirming the investigation, the Rhode Island State Police said Tuesday they have completed their examination of a top State House staffer who got about $50,000 in free tuition, and forwarded their findings to the attorney general.

What might a quick resolution of the investigation mean?  It would seem that a law was either obviously broken or the State Police have passed along the nothing-to-see-here conclusion that I predicted.

We’ll see.

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UPDATED: Taxpayer Group Sweeps Tiverton Charter Review Commission

In the balance of elections, Tiverton’s charter review commission is relatively obscure, but its importance this year is evidenced by the facts that 24 candidates ran for the nine available seats and the election brought around 150 more people to the polls than voted in Newport’s simultaneous Democrat primary for the state Senate seat vacated by former Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed.

The conclusion of Tiverton’s campaign, yesterday, saw the candidates endorsed by the Tiverton Taxpayers Association PAC sweep all nine available offices.  The commission will spend a year reviewing the town’s Home Rule Charter (essentially the local constitution) and gathering feedback from residents and town officials, ultimately recommending changes that the Town Council should (and typically will) put on the November 2018 ballot.  The election outcome has huge significance on the policy side and the political side.

On the policy side, the TTA candidates ran with a promise not to substantially modify the financial town referendum (FTR) method of setting a budget, which has produced tax increases under 1% for the last four years.  The candidates also pledged to ensure that millions of dollars in revenue expected from the new Twin River casino currently under construction in town will be put through the regular budgeting process, rather than sectioned off beyond the reach of taxpayers’ annual vote.

On the politics side, the election marks a translation of TTA’s budget-election success into a more-traditional campaign for office, with an outcome more decisive than the group’s partial victory securing a large minority of Budget Committee seats in November (including one currently occupied by this writer).

The next challenge for the taxpayer group will be similar achievements during the regular election cycle, rather than special elections and spring referenda.  The prospects are brightened by the fact that five of the nine winning candidates have not held public office in Tiverton before, and at least two of the five have shown an interest in political activity beyond the commission, with Richard Rom and Justin LaCroix having run for state senate and representative seats last year, ultimately unsuccessfully.  In yesterday’s election, LaCroix was the highest vote-getter, with nearly 50% of the vote in the 24-person race.

Addendum (2:42 p.m., 7/19/17):

RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist makes the reasonable point that this post should mention my involvement with the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, with which I hold and have held various “official” positions, although the simpler truth of the matter is that I’m one of a handful of “core” members.  The omission was in no way intended to mislead, but was premised on the expectation that most readers would know of my deep involvement with the group or, at the very least, that I’m sympathetic with it, whatever my involvement.

In that regard, such a “disclosure” would be similar to requiring Providence Journal reporters to mention their union affiliation any time they report on related labor unions.  Of course, I’ve faulted them from time to time for not doing so, so given the specific nature of this post, I should have mentioned the affiliation.

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State Police and Other Mechanisms for Responsive Government

During my weekly call today to the John DePetro Show on 1540 AM WADK, John and I disagreed, a little, on the news that, at Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s request, the State Police are investigating the process by which Frank Montanaro, Jr., got around $50,000 in free public-higher-education tuition as a benefit for a job that he no longer held with Rhode Island College.

The disagreement, minor as it was, involved John’s expectation that there’s legal fire behind the smoke of this issue and my skepticism that the State Police will find and pursue anything that’s actually a legal problem for Montanaro.  John mentioned other legislators who’ve been nailed on legal challenges, but with some of the more-notable cases (Fox & Gallison), federal officials were involved, not just the state.

I guess I’ve just reduced my expectations for the State Police in recent years, based on various seemingly political decisions they’ve made.  Maybe that’s fair, or maybe it’s not, but it’s my feeling.

A key point that I didn’t manage to make adequately on the radio is that Rhode Island has a dire need to start enforcing rules that aren’t quite laws.  The moment Montanaro was found to have filed false reports in pursuit of his benefit, he ought to have been gone, whether or not it proved to be illegal.  And to ensure that reform, we need something other than the State Police.

If the State Police come out and say that they found no evidence of criminal activity — however bad the whole thing might stink — that counts as absolution for crooked behavior.  What we need is some other authority, like an inspector general or something, who can bridge that gap, both recommending legal prosecution and providing credible analysis that a particular deal did not seem to jibe with the spirit of a personnel policy.

A lot of corruption can go on between completely legit government activities and clearly illegal behavior.  Our government officials have proven unwilling to enforce that gray area on the side of justice, so we need something more.

In the meantime, I’ll remain skeptical.

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Raimondo Transparency: Ain’t Your Business

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) asked the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo for some information about a public relations firm’s activities placing stories about Rhode Island in out-of-town publications at taxpayer expense.  Here’s the response:

Our office completed a review of the requested materials. There is one document responsive to your request but is being withheld, as it is not deemed public. This document is an internal e-mail thread reflecting work product of the Governor’s staff.

The next paragraph laughably invites the person requesting the information to appeal the decision to Raimondo Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, a left-wing activist.

Given the notable, noteworthy, and much-noted appearances of our governor in out-of-state publications that were explicitly promoting her, not Rhode Island, one would think her administration would be eager to prove that it isn’t buying that coverage with taxpayer dollars.  The lack of transparency will inevitably make Rhode Islanders suspicious that this may be exactly what the governor is doing.

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Maine Tourism: Jobs Americans Will Do When Immigrants Aren’t Available

A few days ago, I noted that Maine’s waiters and waitresses had actually organized to fight against a minimum wage increase.  Now Jazz Shaw has spotted a story out of Maine that messes with another mainstream narrative.  Apparently, when the number of available immigrants for low-end work hits a ceiling, employers will find ways to make the positions into jobs that Americans will do:

The article describes some of the “creative ways to attract local labor” and they include things such as offering flexible hours and even… (gasp) higher wages. If your business is booming all summer to the degree that you can’t hire enough workers to meet the demand, then in a normal capitalist system the demand for labor would drive up the cost. Higher wages attract more and better workers… it’s really that simple. And if that enhanced compensation package is attracting more employees locally, why are you relying on the H-2B program to begin with?

The economic questions with immigration are not simplistic.  Fluid immigration is arguably a subsidy to employers; rigid immigration is arguably a subsidy to workers.  (Although, of course, a sense of fairness does seem to make the former argument more natural than the latter.)

As we work through these policies, though, deceptive rhetoric is kind of like a subsidy to those who dominate the media.  Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a “job Americans won’t do.”  There are just jobs that Americans won’t do for the compensation that employers want to pay.  Immigration policy, in this regard, should balance the needs of employers who can add to the economy if they have lower labor prices with an appropriate aversion to allowing global poverty to drive down salaries in the United States.

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Insult to Injury When Town Government “Settles”

Tiverton goes through this every few years, but it never gets easier to take.

This latest time around, a local police lieutenant, Timothy Panell, was (let’s limit it to) “accused” of leading his shift in a regular “quiet time,” during which, “allegedly,” his car could often be found at his house.  The many charges brought against him, as described in the latest Newport Daily News article on the matter, were “obtaining money under false pretenses and filing false overtime slips.”

As I pointed out on Tiverton Fact Check back in 2014, before the investigation, overtime regularly made Panell the second-highest-paid employee in town, “earning” well over $100,000.  So, here’s the insult to injury from the Newport Daily News:

Because [the 47-year-old has been permitted simply to retire], he is also eligible for payment for unused vacation time, unused sick time and unused personal days. The unused vacation time totals $5,266, unused sick time totals $15,784 and unused personal days total $752, according to Town Administrator Paul McGreevy.

The town will continue to pay for his Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthmate Coast to Coast health insurance at a monthly cost of $1,908, McGreevy said [until he is 65]. The contract states that should a retiree get a job that has equal or better health coverage, they must inform the town so it can stop the coverage.

I think local elected officials need to take a look at the definition of “settled.”  Maybe the health insurance would have been a step too far for the accused, but could the Town Council really not insist that it would not settle if it meant a cop accused of fraudulently filing for overtime and taking money under false pretenses walked away with a parting check for $21,802 based on “unused” time off?  Seriously, how in the world does our electoral system stick us with “leaders” like this?

In case anybody familiar with the area wants to know, the Town Council members who voted to “settle” — defined, apparently, as “abuse taxpayers in order to make an uncomfortable issue go away” — were:

  • Council President Joan Chabot
  • John Edwards the Fifth (son of Democrat Representative John Edwards the Fourth)
  • Randy Lebeau
  • Christine Ryan
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Raimondo Ushers in Her Own Nightmare

Alright, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the sun has made an appearance, and I spent the day moving furniture, and I have to spend the evening helping out with a Bingo night, so cut me a little slack, here.  I couldn’t help but chuckle (Chortle?  Guffaw?) at this Ted Nesi tweet:

@GinaRaimondo said after Musk talk she’s less concerned on AI as civilizational threat + more on how many more jobs will soon be automated.

Well, gee, governor, you’d better get right on ushering in minimum wage increases and progressives’ mandatory paid time off legislation!  That’ll hold back the tide of automation for sure!

N.B.: If you didn’t catch the sarcasm in the previous paragraph, watch this:

And that’s before we get to the fact that one of Governor Raimondo’s corporate-crony taxpayer giveaways was to GE Digital, which forces Rhode Islanders to subsidize efforts to automate their jobs.

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Maine Waitstaff Reject Minimum Wage Increase

Caitlin Dewey recently reported in the Washington Post on an interesting turn of events in Maine.  A referendum increased the minimum wage for waitstaff, but then waiters and waitresses rallied to undo it:

James Dill, a college professor and the Democratic state senator from Maine’s 5th District, received hundreds of emails and phone calls from unhappy servers, he said. He initially voted for the ballot referendum because he supports a higher minimum wage. After the outcry, he signed onto a Republican measure to lower the tipped wage down again.

That measure passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 12 on June 7, and the House on June 13. Governor LePage signed the bill into law last week, a spokesman for his office said, though the signing was not publicly announced for several days. It’s expected to go into effect in January 2018.

“I realize not everyone is in the same boat,” said Dill. “But the ones who called me were saying, ‘I make $20 to $25 per hour, I’ve bought a house with that income, I support my kids — it’s really important that you don’t mess with my tips.’”

Even with a subject as apparently narrow as the minimum wage for tipped restaurant worker, legislators can’t possibly know all of the consequences of changing policy.  Maybe the law works well for some and not for others; who ultimately has the right to decide between them?

The problem, I think, is that people too often rely on general impressions and anecdotes or, at best, broad statistical averages that don’t give a real sense of the lives people lead.  This is one area in which the market sets prices better than the government can, and in which legislators should accept reality and seek other ways to resolve circumstances they see as problems.

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UPDATED: Raimondo’s Got Nothing to Say About Mercy

Ethan Shorey of The Valley Breeze is having a hard time getting an answer from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo about a charitable dental effort that the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) shut down this year:

On June 28, Gov. Gina Raimondo sent out a mass email denouncing Trumpcare, calling it “immoral” and saying it would bring “disastrous ramifications” for “Rhode Island residents at risk of losing health care coverage.” The use of the word immoral got me to wondering about Raimondo’s thoughts on the Community College of Rhode Island’s decision to end the Mission of Mercy, an annual volunteer event giving some of Rhode Island’s poorest residents access to free dental care. …

It’s now July 12 and I still haven’t heard back from [spokeswoman Catherine] Rolfe. Perhaps my email was lost again?

Shorey’s background article gives the details.  CCRI didn’t technically kill the program.  The college just kicked the volunteers out of the campus’s dental facility and told them they’d have to set up in a field house, promising to kick in $10,000 toward the estimated $70,000 cost of setting up a mobile clinic each year.

CCRI may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the decision, but it’s difficult to imagine one, and it’s impossible if government officials won’t even attempt to explain.  Shorey’s right, too, to wonder how rhetoric about reform of broad national health policy can be called “immoral” for removing mandates for insurance coverage and seeking to reform a welfare program when Raimondo’s extended administration directly removed access to actual health care.

ADDENDUM (4:01 p.m. 7/13/17):

I’m struggling to understand Ethan Shorey’s complaint about this post, but he seems to want some clarification to be made in this space.

His apparent insinuation in the text quoted above is that if one considers Trumpcare “immoral,” then the term could reasonably be seen as applying to CCRI’s treatment of Mission of Mercy.  This observation, of itself, does not tell the reader anything about Shorey’s own moral view, although one might infer from his attempts to get a comment from the governor that he finds the Mission of Mercy issue less ambiguous, if anything.

In paraphrasing Shorey’s sentiment at the end of my post, I kept the same structure, only adding more details about what partisans like Raimondo assert is “immoral” about Trumpcare.

Perhaps Shorey is worried that people might think he agrees with my broader views, which aren’t part of this post.  That would explain the “we both know” language in our tweeted exchange.  If that’s the case, I apologize for any detrimental effect that my approving citation of his work has on his social standing.

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Taxing the Rich Across the Country

Reading an Oklahoma editorial that cites public policy in Maine while I sit here in Rhode Island can’t help but make me wonder how it is we fail to learn with the entire nation — the entire world — as a real-time generator of examples and case studies:

Last year, voters in Maine approved a ballot measure that increased by 3 percentage points the income tax rate for those earning more than $200,000. This set Maine’s top income tax rate at 10.15 percent, second-highest in the country.

The tax increase, promoted by teachers unions, was a classic “soak the rich” proposal. The 41 percent rate increase was expected to impact only around 7,000 filers in Maine, and was expected to generate $157 million per year, which would be earmarked for schools.

Pause and think about a pair of aspects, here.  First, you’ve got the teachers unions using government literally to confiscate money from a targeted group of people and give it to themselves.  (The one step of separation that sends the money to the school districts makes no difference.)  To progressives, that’s called “representative democracy.”  If one side can manipulate political processes, their “representatives” will give it things taken from another side.

Second, following on that idea of taking from others, do a little quick math.  Taking $157 million from 7,000 people means taking $22,429 from each.  How is that not plain plunder?  Sure, maybe wealthy people can afford that hit, but robbing from rich people is still theft.  And what would make people think families wouldn’t seek some way to adjust their finances in order to prevent the taking of so much money?

It isn’t at all surprising that the Maine Revenue Services office reported no evidence of increased revenue a month ago.

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What It Means to Be 45th

In all the years I’ve been following Rhode Island’s standing on various national rankings, about the only substantive comeback from the forces of the status quo has been that we do okay when it comes to “quality of life.”  As I’ve pointed out, “quality of life” is only much use to those who can afford to enjoy it, and Rhode Island fails by that standard.  Great restaurants may impress an organization ranking states, but they’re utterly irrelevant to the family that can barely put food on the table.

So, now the buzz is that Rhode Island finally moved from dead last on CNBC’s “Top States for Business” ranking.  Here’s Ted Nesi on WPRI:

“Just one year ago the Ocean State finished dead last,” Cohn wrote. “The improvement is no accident. Every time we rank Rhode Island at or near the bottom, state officials take it to heart.”

The CNBC list and its methodology have plenty of critics, particularly on the left. But Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made clear over the years that they care a great deal about the state’s perennially poor showings on this list and other national business-climate rankings.

Exactly.  It’s been clear for years that state officials in Rhode Island are very concerned about the ranking, but not so much about what the ranking is actually telling us.  Consequently, they’ve sought policies to game the methodology, not to address the underlying problems — policies such as income and corporate income tax “reforms” that lowered rates on paper but wound up increasing the amount of tax collected.  Folks, you’re missing the point.

This is how Rhode Island produces an unemployment rate drop, but only because it’s driving people out of the labor force.

It’s also how we get a change that nobody’s talking about.  Our “quality of life,” according to CNBC, fell from 24th best in the country to 31st.  And observe that our state experienced this drop despite the fact that it includes such measures as health insurance coverage, at which we supposedly excel.

Our politicians may be improving our statistics, but they’re making our lives worse.

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A Fundamental Vision for Society

When it seems that members of our society are actually living in different dimensions, the world seems chaotic, but if we dig into the differences, we’ll often find them clarified.  I’ve been coming to a more-broadly-applicable point of clarity in the campaign for a charter review commission:

Here’s my “vision”: Local government’s role isn’t to plan what everybody can and must do with their property. The diversity of neighborhoods that I love in Tiverton and Rhode Island didn’t happen because people sat around on committees and decided to put this here and that there.   It happened because people made the best decisions for themselves with their own property.

Where there are stores, they grew because customers wanted what was being sold. Where there are activities, they persist because people want to do them. Of course I’d love to see more or less of certain things in town, but my preferences shouldn’t be the law.

As the “Declaration of Independence” puts it, “Governments are Instituted” to “secure” our rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Town government provides guidelines and maintains boundaries so we can work out our differences like neighbors.

Twelve candidates for the Charter Review Commission, including the nine endorsed by the TTA, share this understanding and will review the Charter accordingly.

The other 12 think the role of government is to plan our future. A handful of people on various boards and committees decide what Tiverton should look like and go about making sure that their vision is the one that wins. To them, the Charter’s primary function is to give the boards and committees power over us and to make sure that we can’t easily disrupt their plans.

Do we want a rule book that protects us individually and helps us to resolve our differences with our neighbors, or do we want a contract that locks in somebody else’s vision?  That seems to be the basic question at which political differences arrive, recently, if we strive to break them down enough.

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When Teachers Choose Their Children’s Schools

Count it among the saving graces of Twitter that one periodically overhears a snippet of conversation that opens an intriguing topic.  Such was the case for me this morning when OSTPA retweeted Citizen Stewart’s assertion that public school teachers use private schools for their own children at a higher rate than the general public.  The thread provides no source for the assertion, though somebody did ask.

So is it true?  Yes, and it appears over many years and multiple sources.  The most recent to come up quickly through an online search comes from EducationNext:

School teachers are much more likely to use a private school than are other parents. No less than 20% of teachers with school age children, but only 13% of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school. Teachers are also just as likely to make use of a charter school or to homeschool their child as other parents.

A 2004 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found almost the exact same results: 20% for public school teachers versus 13% for the general public.  Of course, public school teachers tend to be very well paid, so they’re significantly more likely to be able to afford private school.  Indeed, the Fordham study found that teachers with household income between $42,000 per year and $84,000 per year were almost exactly as likely as their economic peers to utilize private schools.

This caveat only goes so far to mitigate the lesson, though.  At the least, they’re still signaling that inside knowledge doesn’t undermine the general sense that private schools are preferable.  Moreover, teachers with household income under $42,000 are about 50% more likely than their own peers to use private schools, suggesting that they do indeed know something everybody else doesn’t.

The Fordham study also looks regionally, at 50 urban areas.  In the Providence-Fall River-Pawtucket region, 31.3% of public school teachers utilize private schools versus 16.5% of all families.  That differential is the sixth biggest that Fordham found.

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Penn Station and the CCRI Observatory: Where the Money Goes

Boy, taxes and the cost of government must have really fallen for this to be the case:

Penn Station is just one symptom of a larger illness. With an aging subway system subject to a recent state-of-emergency order by Cuomo, and a 67-year-old bus terminal called “appalling” and “functionally obsolete” by officials of the agency that runs it, the New York area’s transportation systems embody America’s inability, or unwillingness, to address its aging infrastructure.

Of course, far from shrinking, the cost of government has exploded over the lives of Penn Station and the bus station, so where is the money going?  In brief, our tax dollars are being redirected to pet projects, progressive redistribution, and (I would say) special deals that amount to outright theft.  A core tenet of blue-state spending is that the people will always accept more debt and higher costs if the last things they get to pay for are the things they find most critical.

We don’t have to go to the Big Apple or major infrastructure for the lesson.  Take a look at this somewhat-cryptic Providence Journal article by Alex Kuffner:

The Community College of Rhode Island organized an open house on Saturday at its Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory to celebrate the completion of a $45,000 renovation that included a new control desk, new seating and repairs to the roof-opening mechanism. …

But the event was clouded by a demonstration outside the observatory’s doors by faculty members and students who protested what they allege is mistreatment of the astronomy professor who has overseen operation of the observatory for the past decade. …

Britton was hired in 2007 to teach astronomy to students and to operate the observatory for his classes and on nights when it’s open to the public. Last month, when the administration changed the way he would be compensated for the public nights, resulting in less pay, he balked.

Kuffner never details the change, but the context suggests that the college may now be paying only a non-faculty rate for the public night.  That is, a special deal has gone away.

One needn’t look far at all to find other examples.

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Local Taxes, All About Perspective

On Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve taken a look at comparative taxes across the state.  Because the local Tiverton Taxpayers Association has been successfully controlling tax increases for the past four years by informing people about our regionally high tax rate, proponents of higher taxes have taken to insisting that we really don’t pay that much.  Why, our tax rate is in the middle of the Rhode Island pack, they say.

That may be true, but it has no context.  This chart shows every Rhode Island municipality’s tax levy per capita, and as you can see, Tiverton is 12th highest.

RI-munis-propertytaxlevypercap-fy17

Above Tiverton, for the most part, are notably wealthy towns and those that are relatively sparse in population.  This is the chart that Tiverton should be in the middle of, and it would require a relatively low tax rate.

Even this, though, concedes too much.  The main difference in perspective is that the taxpayer group takes the point of view of the family and how much it has to pay for an asset.  Progressives and other high-tax constituencies take the approach of asking how much government can get away with taking from those families.  In that regard, all of Rhode Island is way too high.

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Don’t Let the Pubescence Choose Its Name

David Gelernter made an important point — with broader application than his example — in an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal (bold emphasis added):

“Resistance” is unacceptable in referring to the Trump opposition because, obviously, it suggests the Resistance—against the Nazis in occupied France. Many young people are too ignorant to recognize the term, but that hardly matters. The press uses it constantly. So when a young innocent finally does encounter the genuine French Resistance, he will think, “Aha, just like the resistance to Trump!” And that’s all the left wants: a mild but continuous cultural breeze murmuring in every American ear that opposing Trump is noble and glorious. Vive la Résistance!

This has been a decades’ long practice.  Very often, in mainstream entertainment, one can guess the bad guy by the degree to which he teaches that those whom the Left dislikes should be distrusted.  In 2015, I wrote about one of the more-striking examples that I’ve come across recently, concerning the movie version of The Maze Runner.  Of the characters, the hero group is thoroughly multicultural while the foolish, cowardly group is all white and male, except for one actor whom the director had kneel out of sight in a group shot as if he’d been assigned to his group by accident.

The movie, in other words, maintains that “mild but continuous cultural breeze” that white men who emphasize rules and/or talk in religious terms are either directly the villains or at least a dangerous influence attempting to restrain advancement toward survival and purpose.

Happily, if we look, we are starting to see signs that artists’ boredom with this cliché is outweighing their ideological preference to perpetuate it.  But our civilization can’t afford to wait for that natural process of artists’ pretensions of counter-culturalism.  We have to be more active in refusing to let the Left define itself and the rest of us.

So, here’s a my offering in the case at hand:

ThePubescence

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At Least the Laborers Union Has Representation in the General Assembly

Don’t let the drama of a political fight over legislation distract you from this nugget in Kathryn Gregg’s Providence Journal article suggesting that differences over a new paid-leave mandate may have helped bring about the General Assembly’s surprise session ending:

In response to a Journal inquiry, House spokesman Larry Berman said this is what happened:

“The [paid leave] bill that was passed by the House did not include the Laborers’ because we believed they wanted to be exempt. Mike Sabitoni did not talk to the Speaker or anyone in the House until the bill was recommended for passage by the House Labor Committee on Thursday and the House was getting ready to vote on the bill.”

“When we were notified that the Laborers’ wanted to be included in the bill, the appropriate amendment was drafted on Friday morning and given to the Senate to amend the House bill.″

So, basically, the Laborers Union gets whatever it wants in the General Assembly.  They want exemption?  Why, it’s simply obvious that the legislation should be amended.  If they don’t, hey that’s no problem either.

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Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

Part of the cynical wisdom, up here in the Northeast, is that the Catholic Church has to support pro-immigration policy because it needs immigrants to keep its parishes going.  To the extent that this demographic pressure has any effect on what the Church actually does, a Catholic News Agency article about the Church’s growth in the South should suggest other policy positions that the Northern Church could promote:

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

I’ve half-joked that I’ve remained in Rhode Island out of missionary motivation, and only the jest part is political.  A region that is driving families apart and separating people from their homes presents real moral challenges.  In that regard, the Catholic Church — all churches — should acknowledge what the government plantation policies of Rhode Island are doing and impress upon believers their moral obligation to stay and to change things.

Working against poverty and injustice can’t be limited to standing up for those who are clearly oppressed, or else good works risk falling into vanity.  Vanishingly few people in contemporary America question the righteousness of helping those who immediately need help, but if we’re serious about helping those whom we can’t so easily see, whether because their problems are not so obvious or because their problems haven’t yet manifested, we have to take a broader view.

That means a society that draws people toward fulfilling lives of familial stability and self-motivated work.  And while the constituencies who see a Democrat vote as part of their cultural inheritance won’t like it, the policies on which we’re currently focused are clearly not serving that end.  The moral corruption of the government plantation is that ignoring the structural justice that brings stability and prosperity, but that requires a resilient and sometimes unpopular maturity, produces ample opportunities to display visible righteousness on behalf of those whom our ignorance has harmed.

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Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.

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Campaigning on Your Dime; Dud of a Press Conference

In case anybody missed it, I’d like to highlight the following item from this week’s Political Scene in the Providence Journal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo has a new $61,751 staffer: RISD grad Jon Gourlay. His newly created job title: “Creative Manager — Governor’s Communications Office.” His actual role: producing web videos for Governor Raimondo, who is expected to run for reelection next year.

To some extent, her spokesman, Mike Raia, has a point when he says, “The way people get their information has changed, and elected leaders need to generate creative content to break through on social media and other digital and curated platforms.”  The content of the videos will be the decisive tell, though.

If Rhode Islanders get short instructional videos about interacting with government or more-catchy-than-usual public service announcements, the governor’s office will have an argument.  However, if we get more self-promotional trash like this, then the “21st century constituency” stuff will have proven to be just spin.

I know which way I’d bet, especially given what appears to have been a dud of a press conference from the governor, yesterday.  Is Raimondo so thoroughly without political chips that she’s got nothing but words to salvage a budget containing her single biggest emphasis of the past year?  She just doesn’t seem to get how to govern or use leverage and communications to bring about real action, so why would her new employee’s videos be dedicated to that purpose?*

* Before she actually became governor, Raimondo’s success with pension reform would have seemed to suggest otherwise, based on the “Truth in Numbers” campaign.  As time goes on, though, that issue is looking more like a one-hit-wonder achievement, perhaps founded more on the promise that her mild reform would make the mammoth problem of pension funding go away.  The clock is ticking toward the date at which the fallacy will be proven.

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Budgeting Woes in the Northeast

A State House News Service story by Katie Lannan appearing in The Herald News of Fall River answers a question that I’d been wondering:

After Maine and New Jersey reached deals to end their government shutdowns, just six states remain in budgetary limbo: Massachusetts, Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island and Connecticut, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Interesting, isn’t it, that half of the states are from New England — specifically Southern New England.  Five of the laggard eight are Northeastern states.

Looking at the list, one’s tempted to muse about general similarities of the policies that these states have pursued over the past half-century.  Maybe the can has met the end of the road.

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