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Bruce and the Incentives of the Central Planner

Here’s a telling note from Ted Nesi’s Nesi’s Notes on WPRI.com:

The CNBC list drew a lot of attention on social media, including from economic-development expert Bruce Katz, who tweeted: “I find this ranking difficult to understand given large drop in RI unemployment, investments in infrastructure, off-shore wind, innovation vouchers + innovation campuses, attraction of Infosys and other significant companies and many other smart moves.” Turns out Katz had good reason to have Rhode Island on the mind: on Wednesday night I ran into him in Providence, and discovered he was in town to interview with Commerce RI about writing its new economic development study. Katz, of course, helped put together the 2015 Brookings Institution report that provided the blueprint for the Raimondo administration on economic development. Katz has since left Brookings, and now runs a consultancy called New Localism Advisers. The other three contenders are Camoin Associates, TIP Strategies, and The Research Associates. Commerce spokesperson Matt Sheaff says there’s no timeline yet for making a pick.

How perfect is this.  A guy who was at the center of RI’s failed economic development strategy is publicly praising the state’s economy four or five years later while also secretly in the running for a big contract from the state government.

The archetypal central planner would no doubt disagree with this assessment, but a skeptical observer might see in the above blockquote a reason to doubt central planning.  Even by their own philosophies central planners aren’t demigods who should be expected to get every decision right from the start, which means they have to be able and willing to review their results with a cold, clinical eye.  The political incentives and human nature, however, make that practice virtually impossible.

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MA and Fall River Should Help with Their Drug Dealers’ Disruptions

The only recreation marijuana store in Fall River is experiencing booming business, and it’s disrupting the neighborhood, not to mention one of the major traffic areas into Tiverton:

“We totally understand their frustration as far as last week because it was mayhem,” said Kyle Bishop, the dispensary’s chief operating officer. “The Fourth of July was insane.”

Bishop estimated that business at the dispensary was up 30% over the holiday weekend and that as many as 1,800 customer transactions were taking place daily.

To help remedy the problem, Northeast Alternatives is considering making some changes. Bishop said the business will request an increased police presence to help direct traffic at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue, to which the dispensary’s parking lot is connected. Police will also create a new traffic lane at the intersection using traffic cones on weekends, Bishop said.

The dispensary will also post signs discouraging customers from parking on the nearby residential streets of Commonwealth Avenue and Heritage Court and have private security patrols of the neighborhood.

That’s all well and good, but a piece of the puzzle is missing.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts collects a 10.75% excise tax on top of the 6.25% sales tax on marijuana, and the city is allowed to pile on another 3%, for a total of 20% of every sale.  If there’s any legitimate use of all that extra money, it’s dealing with the challenges that the state’s entry into recreational drugs might create.

In short, modifying that stretch of road to accommodate the cash cow should be a top priority.

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CNBC Sends RI to the Back of the Business Class… Again

Unless you’ve been getting your news mainly from the governor’s official press release feed, you may have heard that Rhode Island has dropped back down to last place on CNBC’s top states for business:

In the previous 10 years, Rhode Island has been ranked 50th four times, 49th twice and 48th twice. For each of the last two years, the state was ranked 45th.

“Having our rating drop even lower is disappointing but not surprising,” House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “In recent months, I have repeatedly called attention to the fact that our economy is losing ground compared to other states, despite years of major investment to reverse that. Government needs to do a better job of letting new and established companies conduct their business here in a timely manner.” …

Mattiello said Rhode Island needs “fundamental changes in the way state departments and agencies interact with businesses.” He cited the Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Environmental Management and said businesses need “real regulatory relief … not more fines and bigger hassles.”

The most disappointing aspect is that Mattiello’s talk doesn’t match his actions.  You just finished a legislative session.  That was your opportunity to have an effect.

The subindexes of CNBC’s ranking give some indication of the state government’s flawed approach to economic development, comparing 2019 to 2018.  In particular, if you’re trying to kick-start the economy in a top-down way, one of the levers you can control is access to capital, and indeed, Rhode Island improved for this iteration of the ranking, from 43rd to 39th.  Nonetheless, the Ocean sank from 28th to 48th when it comes to the economy.

At the end of the article, one of the governor’s many PR flacks (Matt Sheaff, who works for the Commerce secretary) offers a list of carefully chosen economic statistics to suggest the opposite — delusional and sunny — conclusion.  Sheaff’s list is suspiciously similar to one that Bryant University Economics Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi offered in a recent essay for GoLocalProv.  I’ve got a response forthcoming on that site, so I won’t go into detail, here, but suffice it to say that every point is either fleeting, misleading, or not as significant as it seems.

Our state is languishing and, over the long term, losing ground within the United States, and that needs to change.  The sad thing is that Rhode Island really does have so much potential, if it would just throw off the excess baggage that our elected officials continually layer on us.

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A Better Way to Cover Americans

With the State of Rhode Island writing ObamaCare into state law with this year’s budget, it’s worth noting a proposal floating around in conservative circles and the Trump Administration, as Avik Roy articulates here:

Last week, the White House finalized a new rule that allows employers to fund health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that can be used by workers to buy their own coverage on the individual market. This subtle, technical tweak has the potential to revolutionize the private health insurance market. …

The administration estimates that as many as 800,000 employers — mostly smaller businesses — will choose this option, expanding health care choices for 11 million workers in the next decade. These employers will benefit from having fiscal certainty over their health expenditures. And workers will benefit from being able to choose their coverage and take it from job to job.

This is the health-care-market fix for which I’ve been advocating for years.  Everybody would get accounts, and employers could put money into them for their employees.  So could the government, as welfare benefits, and so could charities.  So could parents or even concerned members of a community after some surprise accident or illness for a neighbor.

At the same time, eliminate most mandatory coverages for health insurance so people for whom it makes sense can buy catastrophic coverage inexpensively.  That way everybody is covered for emergencies and nobody ever has a preexisting condition, because everybody has always had some sort of coverage.  At the same time, Americans would be better able to make health care decisions because they’d more often be paying directly for the services they receive and doing the cost-benefit analyses that people several steps removed from their situations can’t possibly do.

Of course, under such a system politicians attempting to buy votes would have to be more direct about it.  They’d be limited to transparently depositing taxpayer money into accounts instead of implicitly driving up costs in our opaque system by requiring insurers to cover certain benefits.  But in a fair analysis, a better, more-sustainable health care system that doesn’t distort the employment market is probably a little bit preferable to enabling corruption in politics.

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The Poster Boy for Progressive Privilege

Providence Journal headline: “Providence Mayor Elorza stands by staffer Regunberg after protest arrest.”  Of course he does:

Among the 18 people arrested for civil disobedience Tuesday night during a protest at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls over the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown was Aaron Regunberg, a policy advisor to Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Regunberg, a former state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, and the others were taking part in a demonstration organized by the national Jewish youth protest movement Never Again. They were arrested for blocking vehicle access to the facility.

As far as anybody can tell, being a left-wing activist is Regunberg’s job.

By way of a review, Regunberg graduated from Brown University, an Ivy League school.  So far in his adult life, he’s been an activist, a state legislator, and a candidate for lieutenant governor (a six-figure, no-responsibility job).  During his hiatus between the campaign and attendance at Harvard Law School (more Ivy), the taxpayers of Providence and, implicitly, Rhode Island are paying the twentysomething Regunberg at a rate of $80,000 per year to be a policy advisor.

He is the poster boy for progressive privilege in Rhode Island.

That privilege includes not only the guarantee of a high salary no matter what he does, but also immunity from a semblance of representation.  The brazenness proves that Mayor Jorge Elorza has no concern about compromise or maintaining government that plausibly represents people of different views, otherwise it would matter that this employee was arrested for an ideological purpose.

If governing were the top priority, the mayor might also be concerned that one of his employees is attempting to terrify residents with the false specter of an American holocaust.

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A Strange Disagreement Over No-Bid Slot Deal

It’s strange to see the company with which the State of Rhode Island contracts to operate its state-run casinos objecting via a public-opinion campaign to the proposed contract for its electronic gambling machines:

If passed by lawmakers as proposed by Raimondo, the Lottery would be required to get 85 percent of its 5,000-plus electronic gambling machines from IGT, even though state law currently caps the number at 50 percent. The company would potentially get a bigger slice of the revenue pie.

And, as Twin River sees it, Rhode Island would lose the opportunity that other states — including Massachusetts — had to extract better deals from IGT by putting their contracts out to bid.

“We think R.I. taxpayers should be terrified by this deal,” Marc Crisafulli, the executive vice president of Twin River Worldwide Holdings — and president of the company’s Rhode Island casino operations — told The Journal on Friday as the opposition campaign was about to launch.

His argument: There’s a potential $10 billion in state gambling revenue riding “on the belief that the governor’s office did this 20-year secret deal entirely correctly. That’s a pretty big leap of faith when you consider the lack of process, the absence of any competition, the rushed nature of the deal … and the fact that the deal doesn’t seem to make any business sense. There’s no reason to do it now. The terms are very bad. … It undermines competition.”

A key point explained later in the article is that IGT’s machines are apparently the worst performers in terms of which games actually attract customers.   IGT machines average $258 per day, while machines by Everi average $303 and those by Scientific Games average $401.

I expect that there are considerations that don’t come across in the article, but from a distance, this looks like a classic example of RI’s way of doing business.  Why not seek maximum flexibility?  Why not give the people actually operating the casino more of a say in what it provides to customers?

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The Obviousness of Brazen Subversion

Whenever the subject comes up, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg jokes that he feels a bit like he’s picking up opposition communications when he listens to NPR.  Every now and then on his podcast, Bill Bartholomew gives me the same feeling.

Most of the time, the difference of Bartholomewtown resides in the sorts of guests who appear on the show or the general thrust of the questions.  Sometimes, however, the conversation takes place so many ideological assumptions deep that a conservative can only listen as if to a surrealist novel or coded dispatches from foreign spies.

Not surprisingly, one such episode was the one featuring drag queen activist Naomi Chomsky.  From the beginning, Bartholomew and his guest proceed on the assumption that drag queen story hour is wholesome.  What’s surreal and disconcerting is that the two of them seem unable to comprehend why others might disagree.  It’s simply posed, “What could be more wholesome than that?”  (I think that’s a direct quote, but I haven’t gone back and checked.)

Frankly, one gets the impression that such principles must be asserted as if they are obvious because they aren’t obvious at all, but pretty clearly a subversive opposite.  I’m reminded of Andrew Sullivan’s insistence in the early days of the same-sex marriage debate that we all had to get past the “circular fiat” of a definition.  Brushing aside the fact that activists were seeking to change a definition was intrinsic to the argument that there was no reason not to change it.  When asked directly, mainstream journalists would acknowledge that one could oppose same-sex marriage for reasons other than bigotry, but they never presented the issue as if that were true.

A particularly educational aspect of the Chomsky Bartholomewtown episode is how much is smuggled in with the initial assumption.  Even if one were to accept for argument’s sake the proposition that drag queen story hour could be wholesome, this particular drag queen chose a stage name to be explicitly ideological.

Over the course of the interview, Chomsky celebrates the Russian Revolution and looks forward to something similar in the United States, talks about hanging Confederates, and calls minority and homosexual police officers “traitors to their communities.”  And somehow a wig, a dress, and a bunch of makeup makes it obviously wholesome for this radical to read to children.  Contrast that with the experience of Karen Siegemund, who lost her job teaching math in California explicitly because she’d said something positive about Western Civilization in a speech outside of the school.

One needn’t agree with me that the subversiveness of drag is entirely reinforcing of the subversiveness of Chomsky’s entire ideological program to acknowledge a crucial point:  All of the important arguments are simply brushed aside because — consciously or not — the people having the conversation refuse to entertain them.  Pair that with activists’ having created an environment in which other people don’t want to raise the obvious objections and you can see what dangerous times we’re living in.

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What If Nobody Noticed the Governor’s Absence?

John DePetro points something out that one would think would be more widely mentioned:

Governor Raimondo made a loud statement by becoming the first Rhode Island Governor to blow off the Bristol July 4, Parade. Sources say the state congressional delegation were shocked Raimondo chose to skip the country’s longest running parade …

Parade organizers usually have to police the number of politicians that want to be part of the parade, and were upset Raimondo skipped it. Raimondo marched last year along with her son while gearing up for her November reelection. One parade source mentioned that even Gov. Linc Chafee always marched in Bristol despite his low poll numbers.

I’m not sure how John verified that no governor has ever missed the parade, but nonetheless, it seems notable that this one did.  It also seems notable how little remarked the absence was.  Even the state’s leading weekend political wrap-ups don’t take note.

Ordinarily, Ted Nesi’s “Nesi’s Notes” and Ian Donnis’s “TGIF” columns pick up small details of political relevance that might not have fit or been justified for full columns, and neither mentions this.  I’ve searched the local sites and, while I may have missed something, I don’t see the missing governor story anywhere.  Perhaps the Providence Journal’s “Political Scene” will cover it on Monday.

During the election, last year, the governor released a slick campaign video promoting her presence.

It’s fascinating what gets covered and what doesn’t.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to assert bias — Who knows what goes into any particular writer’s coverage decisions on a holiday weekend? — the topic is a good reminder of the leverage of the news media to shape people’s understanding of what’s going on and what’s important.

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Rhode Island: An OK Place to Live

Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings.  That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.

Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings.  OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map.  WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3.  Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.

Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody.  The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey.  But here’s the thing:  No New England states are very affordable.  Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.

So what makes the difference?  Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else:  economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety.  New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5).  The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.

Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important.  Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests.  The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.

But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued.  Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.

MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear.  However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes.  For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.

This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing:  lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations.  We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.

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The State’s Casino Monopoly and a Wall Street Gamble

For practical purposes, the Twin River casinos are government run, with the state contracting its monopoly of the gambling market to the private company.  However, it’s worth remember from time to time that isn’t how the market sees the business:

In just over three months as a public company, the owner of the Tiverton Casino Hotel in Rhode Island has rapidly gained a following in the hedge fund community. Currently, 10 hedge funds own shares of Twin River, a massive amount for a $1.22 billion company that does not have two full quarters of trading under its belt. …

Twin River owns the only two casinos in the Ocean State, giving it a competitive advantage there. While a new regional threat is emerging in the form of Wynn’s recently opened Encore Boston Harbor, TRWH has some avenues for stemming the rivalry, including a different target demographic and legalized sports betting.

The entire arrangement has long cried for a thorough public discussion of this unique business model, so as to understand Rhode Islanders’ perspective on having a government that has essentially displaced the mob.  The interface with the investment markets adds another dimension.  Because, as the linked article highlights, the monopoly standing of Twin River is a marketable financial asset, should state and local taxpayers continue to benefit only by our percentage of the gambling profits?

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The Question of Cashlessness and Dictatorship

Since we’ve recently had some discussion about cashless business and the way it connects with freedom, which is particularly appropriate this week, developments in Hong Kong deserve a timely mention:

In Hong Kong, most people use a contactless smart card called an “Octopus card” to pay for everything from transit, to parking, and even retail purchases. It’s pretty handy: Just wave your tentacular card over the sensor and make your way to the platform.

But no one used their Octopus card to get around Hong Kong during the protests. The risk was that a government could view the central database of Octopus transactions to unmask these democratic ne’er-do-wells. Traveling downtown during the height of the protests? You could get put on a list, even if you just happened to be in the area.

So the savvy subversives turned to cash instead. Normally, the lines for the single-ticket machines that accept cash are populated only by a few confused tourists, while locals whiz through the turnstiles with their fintech wizardry.

How do I reconcile my agreement with the concerns of Reason’s Andrea O’Sullivan, who wrote the above, and my aversion to the Rhode Island government’s ban on cashless retail?  Well, I ask myself an important question:  Did the General Assembly pass and the governor sign that legislation in order to preserve the rights and anonymity of the people of Rhode Island?

No.  By all appearances, somebody complained to a legislator or two about running into difficulty making a purchase at some point.  The politicians thought the legislation would buy them some good will from desired constituencies (like young voters), and they don’t give much thought to the rights of business owners to define their own business models.  That doesn’t mean that the legislators’ conclusions were wrong or right, but it does suggest that they weren’t crafted carefully in such a way as to balance the interests of various groups and all of our interest in preserving our freedom.

Yes, Hong Kong does give us preview of a dystopian future.  Everybody’s accustomed to life without cash, and they’re on the dangerous edge of a communist dictatorship.  In evaluating legislation in the Ocean State, we shouldn’t start by imagining how it would play if transported into a dictatorship, but rather by asking whether it brings us closer to being one.

To avoid the dystopia, we need the freedom to innovate.  A society in which the government does not feel it has the authority to impose business requirements is one in which people will develop new technologies and value their freedom, competing against large conglomerates that, themselves, would one day be subject to takeover by a central government.

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Another Complaint Against Tiverton Council Dismissed

The Facebook spin after the Ethics Commission complaints against three Tiverton Town Council members (including me) were dismissed without investigation was that we only got away with it because we have friends on the commission.  (If you’ve watched state-level politics for a while, you may need to pause for a moment to finish laughing about that allegation before reading on.)

It will be interesting to see whether the same spin is tried against the Attorney General now that his office has joined the conspiracy:

On January 17, three members of the Tiverton Town Council – Patricia Hilton, Denise DeMedeiros, and Joseph Perry – filed an Open Meetings Act (OMA) complaint with the Rhode Island Attorney General against the other four councilors: Robert Coulter, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and me, all of us members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA). The complaint included three separate accusations, and after five months, more than $1,500 in expenses to the town, and many hours of lost time, all three counts have been dismissed. As the Attorney General’s ruling states, “we find that the Town Council did not violate the OMA.”

As I note at the second link above, this is all part of an ongoing effort to keep a disruptive Gotcha game going to color public perception.  If the people of Tiverton follow the example of the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General, review the facts, and talk to us, they’ll probably join the conspiracy, too.

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Hair Braider Freedom and Keeping the Rules Small Positives in a Dark Session

Let’s take a moment to celebrate something positive out of the General Assembly: the passage of legislation that would free natural hair braiders of the need to become licensed as full beauticians:

“For centuries, natural hair braiding has been a common practice for African and African American women and men. Hair braiding skills and techniques are passed down from generation to generation and do not require formal training. Forcing natural hair braiders to meet the same licensing requirements as cosmetologists is a clear injustice. This bill rights a wrong and allows entrepreneurs — including a lot of women from low-income neighborhoods — to make a living,” said Representative Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence). “Natural hair braiding is an art form, limited only by the braider’s creativity. The state does not require licenses to produce art, yet, that is in effect what is occurring now with natural hair braiders. Finally lifting this senseless requirement is a triumph for our community, not only freeing braiders from onerous regulations but also bringing about a bit of sorely needed cultural sensitivity.”

The bill (2019-H 5677A, 2019-S 0260A) defines natural hair braiding as “a service of twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking, or braiding hair by hand or with mechanical devices.” The bill allows braiders to use natural or synthetic hair extensions, decorative beads and other hair accessories; to perform minor trimming of natural hair or hair extensions incidental to twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending, locking or braiding hair; and to use topical agents such as conditioners, gels, moisturizers, oils, pomades, and shampoos in conjunction with hair braiding as well as clips, combs, crochet hooks, curlers, curling irons, hairpins, rollers, scissors, blunt-tipped needles, thread, and hair binders. They may also make wigs from natural hair, natural fibers, synthetic fibers and hair extensions.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has been pushing for this legislation for years, now, so it’s good to see those efforts bear some fruit.  That said, it’s difficult not to see a dark lining to this silver cloud:  all that effort for this minor concession to freedom.  Observers must also wonder what the sponsors of this legislation had to vote for as the trade-off.

Similarly, it’s a positive development that House Minority Leader Blake Filippi (R, Block Island, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown) forced the legislature to finish up without suspending its rules, but as we move on from the 2019 session, we should ponder whether “not as bad as it could have been” is good enough.

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Cashless Businesses and a Boundaryless Legislature

As the budget rolls its way through the General Assembly, it’s useful to look for reminders about the political philosophy of our legislators.  In that vein, consider the legislation to ban cashless retail:

The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would protect the rights of customers to pay for things in cash.

“More and more retailers are shifting to cashless transactions in other parts of the country for various reasons,” said Representative Ackerman. “From a consumer perspective, this could have a negative impact on working class customers, senior citizens and college students who don’t have credit cards.”

The legislation (2019-H 5116A, 2019-S 0889) would make it unlawful for any retail establishment offering goods or services for sale to discriminate against a prospective customer by requiring the use of credit for purchase of goods or services.

Once again, we see legislators — led, in this case, by a real estate title examiner and a lawyer — who presume to set minute policy for every business in Rhode Island.  Even if one buys their argument that, all things being equal, it would be more just for businesses to accept cash, imposing that view as a blanket matter across the state makes it that much harder for people to find innovative ways to offer goods and services to each other.

Suppose, for example, there is a particular area prone to robbery.  Being able to advertise that there is never any cash on the premises might make the difference between whether a particular business finds it worthwhile to set up shop at all.  This problem is easier to understand if you think of a store that sells more-expensive products.

Or think of online sales, which the legislation exempts from the rule.  In essence, this bill would make it more difficult for somebody to compete with an online business by providing some person-to-person interaction.  That innovator couldn’t set up shop unless he or she is willing to go so far as to create processes for accepting and handling cash, which also includes having change to return to the customer.

One could say not only that this legislation is dumb, but also that it is dangerous and economically destructive to have a legislature that believes it’s even within the appropriate scope of its authority.

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Straight Up Taxpayer Dollars for Promise of a New Treatment

After Steve Ahlquist firstbrought attention to the million dollar handout that the Rhode Island House wishes to give to Dr. Victor Pedro for his Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), a WPRI report covered the history of Pedro’s taxpayer funding.  One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story:

  • Legislative leaders have long gone to bat for the doctor.
  • The executive branch has apparently made extra efforts to secure Medicaid funding for his treatments.
  • And even mild-mannered Lieutenant Governor Daniel McGee has spoken well of Pedro, including his activities in Cumberland schools back when McKee was mainly known as a mayor for that town.

Amazingly, though, nobody has yet mentioned the connection of pop star Paula Abdul, which takes an only-in-Rhode-Island turn.  Says Abdul:

I wish I’d had Cortical Integrative Therapy when I first discovered I had RSD, and I wish Dr. Pedro had been a part of my support system then like he is now.  The treatment replaces the old tapes in your head that have held onto the tapes of pain.  It helps your brain to allow for new experiences and new memories that don’t involve pain.  Think of it in terms of a computer — you’re deleting old files so you can free up more space.  I didn’t find out about Cortical Integrative Therapy until recently, and it has proved to be a life-changing treatment for my RSD.

The strange Rhode Island turn is that Abdul has another connection to Rhode Island as the long-time girlfriend of John Caprio, son of Caught in Providence star judge Frank Caprio and brother of the former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate of the same name as well as former representative David Caprio.  Various online sources also seem to indicate that Abdul has set up various businesses at 2220 Plainfield Pike in Cranston in the past.

This topic could certainly take a serious turn into political theory as an example of why government shouldn’t be in the investment and research business, why Rhode Island should end legislative grants, and why the governor should have the line-item veto.  If Pedro is an innovative practitioner of alternative medicine for the stars, he shouldn’t need government subsidies.

For this post, though, let’s just close with a sincere hope that Rhode Island’s press is sufficiently interested to unravel this entire peculiar tale.

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Discrimination at the University of Rhode Island

Mark Perry, of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), notes that the University of Rhode Island has made the list of American institutions of higher education under investigation by the federal Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for possible violations of Title IX:

The University just accepted $1 million from Karen L. Adams for single-sex, female-only scholarships that will discriminate based on sex (no male students are allowed to apply and that scholarship funding openly excludes male students from participation based on sex, and that scholarship funding openly denies male students from the benefits of that funding in violation of Title IX.

This isn’t the only discriminatory program at URI.  In 2017, I became aware of a chemistry camp at the university available for free to Rhode Island middle school students, as long as they are female.  The 2019 camp was in April.  In fact, the week-long camp is so popular that it’s full, and participation is limited to those who have not gone in the past:

A weeklong chemistry camp for Rhode Island girls in grades 6-8. Girls will come to URI every day (transportation not included) from 9 am to 4 pm April 15-19, and take part in a full day of interactive science education. Each day has a THEME, will include lunch and snack, and will allow girls to participate in hands-on science experiments. No experience is necessary, just an interest in science and a sense of fun! We will talk with female scientists in interesting professions, travel to Mystic Aquarium, and visit the Narragansett Bay Commission. THE CAMP IS FREE; students are expected to figure out their own transportation to and from URI daily.

When I first noticed the program, I contacted the professor who runs it, Mindy Levine.  She acknowledged that “research that [she had] read on boys’ education indicates clearly that current educational models are designed for girls and the way girls learn, and that all children (but especially boys) would benefit from more extensive hands-on, experiential learning.”  Professor Levine said she would be willing to work with somebody on a program for boys, but I’m not able to find any that have been developed.

This is the seventh year of the girls program, funded by Pfizer, and it accommodates 40 girls (or boys who identify as girls).

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Center Hosts Fourth Annual Shotguns & Cigars Fundraiser At Addieville

On Friday, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity hosted one of our signature events— our fourth annual Shotguns & Cigars fundraiser was a huge success. The day features outdoor fun, camaraderie, cigars, bourbon and wine, and a juicy steak all at Addieville East Farm. Teams of four enjoyed practicing our shotgun skills with sporting clays. We, once again, proved that our Second Amendment rights can be used responsibly.

Here are some images from this incredible day. Please e-mail Info@RIFreedom.org to inquire about joining us next year.

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Like Plaque, Education Bureaucracies Are Cumulative

It was to be expected that even inadequate, sound-good education reforms from Rhode Island’s General Assembly would come at a cost, as reported by the Providence Journal’s Linda Borg:

The Senate Finance Committee last month asked Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green what she would need to take on the new responsibilities included in this package of legislation, which, among other things, calls for instituting high-quality civics instruction, expanding world languages statewide, improving instruction for students with dyslexia and giving principals more authority.

“To fully support the requirements of these legislative priorities and to transform the department to focus more on supporting educators, students, and the community, RIDE needs additional expertise and capacity across a wide range of areas, such as implementing high-quality curriculum and supporting school leaders,” said Rhode Island Department of Education spokesman Pete Janhunen. “The request contains a list of proposed positions that align with the priorities of both the commissioner and the General Assembly.”

The ask is for $1.9 million, mostly to hire new personnel.  One question remains unasked, however.  If this is a “shift” in the nature of the department, are there no roles that no longer need to be filled?

This is another $1.9 million for the state’s education bureaucracy, so it can edge in on the territory of local decision makers.  Actually, it’s fig-leaf spending and reorganizing in order to avoid addressing the actual problem:  Our public schools have insufficient accountability and are structured for the benefit of the adults who work in them, rather than the children who attend them.

Until Rhode Islanders have had enough and are willing to force elected officials to address that problem, every proposed solution will amount to merely more or less wasted money and time.

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Relentless Perpetuation of the “Equal Pay” Myth via Legislation

Helpful headlines notwithstanding, the Rhode Island Senate once again passed legislation to address the mythical “wage gap”:

A plan to close the gender wage gap in Rhode Island by adding new, sharper teeth to the state’s fair pay law and banning employers from asking job candidates their salary history sailed through the state Senate again Thursday.

“Rhode Island first passed an equal pay law in the 1950s, and I am sure it was revolutionary at the time, but we have not gone back and updated it unlike many other states,” said Sen. Gayle Goldin, lead sponsor of the pay equity legislation. “Passing this bill is not going to resolve the wage gap on its own, rather, this bill in combination with so many things we have worked on… is the way we will address the gender wage gap.”

And so it goes.  As long as progressives want to foster division and grievance, this legislation will keep appearing.  Maybe some year the gears of political necessity will get it over the finish line.  As that process plays on from year to year, opponents will tire of saying the same thing over and over again.  That’s the advantage of the left-wing approach to public “debate”:  When you refuse to acknowledge the other side’s arguments and just keep repeating the talking points, the other side moves to other topics, and the public just becomes used to the deception.

By way of a preventative measure, here’s my op-ed on the topic, from the Providence Journal last year around this time, which I published in more casual, expansive form in this space the month before:

Plainly put, this gives the government power to investigate just about any business and dictate changes to its pay policies, because the only pay differentials that wouldn’t have legal risks would be those between people of the same race, religion, sex, orientation, gender identity, disability, age, and nationality.  That is, for any two employees who aren’t more or less demographically identical, the lower-paid one could initiate a complaint with the state with the same treatment as complaints that the employer withheld pay, and the burden is on the employer to explain it and to prove that no other business practice could erase it.

Think about how much of an encroachment on private activity and interactions that is, as well as the presumption that government is some sort of neutral judge that can accurately assess every business decision.

If this legislation ever passes, I expect it will have some degree of the same effect as the ill-advised paid leave legislation which progressives did manage to pass last yearl.

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How the Issues Blend in the General Assembly

Maybe I’m being a little too cynical, but a serendipitous press release from the Rhode Island Senate at least provides an opportunity to contemplate how things operate at the State House.

As readers probably have heard by now, the Democrat leadership of the Senate engaged in an unprecedented last minute political stunt by pulling an abortion bill that decriminalizes fetal homicide from the Judiciary Committee and sends it to the Health and Human Services Committee, which everybody expects to pass it.  The reason for this unusual move was that Senate Republicans looked like they were going to leverage their rights as a minority under the chamber’s rules to add two votes to the “nay” side and stop the radical, unnecessary, and deceptive legislation.

The odd thing about it is that Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D, Warwick) and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence, North Providence) could have done the same thing.  Instead, the Senate president managed to ensure that the bill passes committee without admitting that he voted for it.

Now the press release posted on the Web the same day as the committee maneuver:

The Senate today passed legislation (2019-S-803Aaa) sponsored by President of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) that takes a new approach to economic development on large tracts of state land. Spurred by delays and impediments imposed upon the Hope Point Tower proposal for the I-195 Redevelopment District, the bill intends to create a more streamlined process for approvals on these state-owned parcels moving forward.

“We have a rare opportunity for development at the former I-195 land and some other areas across the state,” said Senator Ruggerio. “In the I-195 District, a developer is hoping to invest more than a quarter of a billion dollars to create an iconic structure that redefines the skyline. We should have welcomed this investment with open arms. Instead, we did everything we could to chase the developer away. Thankfully, he’s still here. This process has sent a terrible message to anyone looking to invest in Rhode Island.”

This is a big-money deal of particular interest to labor unions, for which Ruggerio worked until he retired after becoming Senate president.  The only reason I hesitate to link this with the abortion bill is that the vote wasn’t really that close: 28 to 8.  On the other hand, eight “nay” votes is pretty substantial in our one-sided legislature.  Had 10 votes flipped, the bill would have failed.  When the bill was in Senate Judiciary, four flipped votes would have stopped it.

So, the lesson:  When considering the up-and-down votes on any particular bill, you can’t assume legislators are judging the merits alone.  The lives of unborn children, in this case, can perhaps be sacrificed for the sake of a crony development deal.  Or perhaps some other backroom deal has been struck so that the House will stop the legislation in exchange for a return favor from the Senate.

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Analogizing Over Constitutional Rights

Elsewhere in the Boston Globe, Ed Fitzpatrick takes up the topic of requiring a license to purchase ammunition.  This part is especially telling about the gun-control lobby’s point of view:

The study noted a gun without ammunition is no more dangerous than any other blunt object. But “unlike the public health view on drug policy, which recognizes the importance of limiting access to both the agent of harm (the narcotic) and the instrument of delivery (for example, syringe), gun policy has focused primarily on limiting access to the instrument of delivery, firearms,” it noted.

The study said guns and ammunition are more likely to be used in violent crimes when they’re in the hands of felons (such as Charlie Vick) and others prohibited from owning weapons

Frankly, I take this to be evidence of an intention to infringe, when it comes to gun regulation.  Drugs are not explicitly protected on the Constitution, guns are.  To equate the two plows right through the Bill of Rights and steals the base of asserting that both drugs and weapons are inherently harmful.

As for the likelihood of crimes, that’s pretty much a tautology.  It would be a pretty useless regulation that didn’t forbid ownership of an item to people who were more likely to abuse that right.  Even so, the fact that people who tend toward crime will be more likely to use an item for illicit purposes doesn’t justify making it a crime for other people to buy it without a license.

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The Many Ways to Shuffle Around Money and Influence

Dan McGowan’s recent Boston Globe article about Democrat Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s curious fundraising relationship with a local nonprofit is a excellent representation of the way things increasingly work in politics:

Because there is no state law prohibiting politicians from raising money for nonprofits, the operation appears to be legal. But it has created a “back door way” for companies to “ingratiate themselves with public officials,” said John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a good-government advocacy group. …

Elorza, who was first elected in 2014 and won another four-year term last year, has raised more than $500,000 for the tourism fund, using a portion of the money to travel to places including China and New Orleans.

That’s not all.  In keeping with the practices of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, the nonprofit is also part of a larger job network for Elorza’s political allies.  When he makes calls to solicit money for the nonprofit, Elorza goes to Campaign Finance Officers, “the consulting firm that has overseen his political fund-raising operation for five years.”  Those dots connect much more closely:

When Elorza took office, he installed three of his supporters as the sole members of the fund’s board of directors.

One of those three is Meg Clurman, who is a partner at the aforementioned Campaign Finance Officers.  One of the organization’s employees is Andrew Moore, who is also Elorza’s campaign finance director and has been paid by the Providence Tourism Fund in the past.

An important lesson from this revelation is that the very idea of campaign finance reform is wrongheaded.  Once a politician hits a certain level of money and power, the opportunities to find workarounds are too extensive.  Giving him travel money, helping to keep his allies employed, and even providing him money to spend on feel-good things through a nonprofit are all tangible benefits that donors are providing to the mayor.

Thus, laws that target more straightforward transactions disproportionately trip up only those who are trying to build momentum in order to make provide accountability through competition at the ballot box, which is where corruption ultimately has to be called to account.

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Public-Sector Labor Legislation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

While we must be wary of giving credit-rating agencies the power to dictate the legislation of our elected representatives, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the significance of this development, which Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:

A warning from one of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, has revived the debate over the union-backed continuing-contract legislation that Gov. Gina Raimondo signed last month over the objections of city and town leaders.

The new continuing-contract law indefinitely locks in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The teacher union lobbyists who took the lead in pushing the bill said it was aimed at preventing cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay or making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

“The law has the potential to provide collective bargaining units with advantages in negotiations,’’ Moody’s public-finance division wrote in a special report out Thursday that echoed one of the biggest concerns raised by Rhode Island mayors and town administrators.

Moody’s worries that the law may be “a significant impediment to local governments’ ability to negotiate labor contracts,” and as a local elected official participating in negotiations, I can confirm that to be the case.  It isn’t just a matter of unions’ refusing to make concessions that help government agencies balance their budgets.

The legislation — and even just the fact of its passage, along with the firefighter overtime bill — is already shutting off areas of discussion.  A municipality and union trying to balance current expenses with employees’ long-term interests can’t trust that the state won’t change the rules out from under them.  Even in a situation when the current members of a particular union have long demonstrated a desire to work cooperatively with management, decision-makers can’t consider only that relationship, but must worry about the unknowns of what future union members might do and how union-friendly legislators might change the rules on their behalf.

As with so much in Rhode Island government, the legislature and governor have demonstrated that they don’t take the broad, long-term effects of their actions into consideration.  One imagines that if they were ever to acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, they’d move swiftly to pass legislation repealing it.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Minimum Wage Cuts Close to Home for Far-Left Congresswoman

Is it too much to hope that a direct negative effect of progressive laws that hits very close to home for one particular progressive superstar would change some minds?

… the very [minimum wage] policies Ocasio-Cortez is set to draw attention to ultimately led to one of her former employers shuttering its own operations.

Charles Milite, co-founder of the Coffee Shop, where Ocasio-Cortez previously worked, said that the increased minimum wage to $15 per hour for businesses with more than 11 employees led him and his partners to reevaluate their business and shut it down.

“I know it doesn’t sound like much—$2 an hour,” Milite told Crains New York Business in April. “But when you multiply it by 40 hours, by 130 people, it becomes a big number. It was going to increase our monthly payroll $46,000.”

Ocasio-Cortez mourned the loss of the Coffee Shop and stopped in before it closed its doors. “The restaurant I used to work at is closing its doors,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last August. “I swung by today to say hi one last time, and kid around with friends like old times.” The freshman congresswoman, however, never acknowledged the policies that led to its demise.

At the level of Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps her investment in a particular ideology is just too big a bus to turn around on the ideological street, but could those who are not so far along perhaps give the matter some thought?

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Picking the Monopoly Among Government Schools

Linda Borg reports in the Providence Journal that the Chariho regional school district has been permitted to continue in its suit against the State of Rhode Island for allowing additional career and technical centers in the region, allegedly in breach of their agreement:

… Chariho filed suit in Superior Court alleging that the education department had breached its contract by approving similar vocational programs at Westerly and Narragansett High Schools. Chariho also sought a permanent injunction to prohibit the state from authorizing other career and tech centers in the region.

Chariho has long complained that Wagner’s efforts to expand school choice have hurt preexisting vocational programs. Wagner, in an effort to promote Gov. Gina Raimondo’s support for career and technical education, has encouraged traditional high schools to open their own career and tech programs.

The outcome of the lawsuit is probably going to hinge on whether a program opened at an existing high school counts as a “center.”  Chariho cares, as Superintendent Barri Ricci makes clear in the article, because the district must pay another district if students within its boundaries choose to cross those boundaries for a particular program.  Though more difficult to track,  the district also loses revenue to the extent students from other districts decide to stay within their own boundaries for similar programs.

Contract provisions aside, the case illustrates a broader point about government services.  Chariho is claiming a contractual right to a monopoly on career and technical training within the public school system in that area.  If families want to pay extra to send children to private academies, the district has little say.  It is only because we’ve set up this system of schools for which we insist students’ families can’t be expected to pay that this is an issue.

Most within-government school choice — notably charter schools — takes the form of the public sector competing with the private sector.  Taxpayers are simply forced to pay for the education services for which families would otherwise have had to pay, giving government schools a massive advantage in attracting customers.

When the competition is between government schools, however, choices become subject to the political process.  The state government gets to decide what choices families have and what government agencies get the monopoly advantages.

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Dealing with RI’s Endangered Place

Something seems odd about declaring the Providence Superman Building as “endangered,” making one wonder whether the designation is the result of lobbying by interested parties:

Rhode Island’s tallest — and vacant — landmark, the former Industrial Trust Building in downtown Providence, otherwise known as the Superman Building, is on this year’s list of the nation’s most endangered historic places.

For more than 30 years the National Trust for Historic Preservation has produced a list of the 11 most endangered places in the country to call attention to what it considers “one-of-a-kind treasurers.”

The 91-year-old art deco Superman tower, which earned its nickname for its resemblance to the Daily Planet building from Superman comics, joins Nashville’s Music Row and the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, among others, as this year’s threatened places.

On the topic, Matt Allen expresses the extremity of the opposing point of view:  “This is not an ‘iconic’ building. It’s an eyesore and a terrible investment. Tear it down.”  My views are somewhere in the middle, still bogged down in questions I haven’t answered completely.

How do we measure the value of some publicly accessible (or at least publicly visible) thing, like a building or geological feature that has contributed to an area’s character?  Who gets to determine what can, can’t, should, and shouldn’t be done?

The simplest answer that conforms with my philosophy is that people who want to preserve it should find a way to buy it with private money, and then to maintain it at least to a baseline standard for health and safety.   One complication arises in my belief that local areas can answer the relevant questions differently, so if the people of Providence want to use some measure of public resources to preserve the building, then to the extent the city is acting independently from the rest of the state, I’m not going to tell them they can’t.

This only raises the next question: On the state level, do we want to be the kind of place that preserves its landmarks?

My answer on this one is “no.”  Our state isn’t so thoroughly thriving that we can afford nostalgia.  Just like protectionism with dying industries, if we manipulate the market value of a building like this, we don’t allow the best use of that property.

Let the skyline change.  Let the city’s character change.  That’s the sign of human adjustment, and we should embrace it.  Anybody who disagrees should use their own money and sweat to find some use for the antiquated hulk.

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Stefan Cox: In Favor of Electronic Data Privacy Act

House Bill 5893 is the Electronic Data Privacy Act and is crucial for the Rhode Island General Assembly to pass into law. If passed, the bill, sponsored by Minority Leader Blake Filippi, would prohibit any government entity from accessing electronic devices without search warrants. If the state does not pass this bill, it will have violated spirit of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees our right as citizens from unlawful searches.

This is a technology filled era, and our Fourth Amendment protections should not be exempt when it comes to computers, phones, tablets and any other technological devices which have personal information within them.

If Rhode Island does not pass this common sense legislation, we will not only have a failed economy, we will be one step closer to failing and uphold the principles of the United States Constitution.

Absolutely no one should be searched, or have property seized without probable cause. The Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights is arguably our most important. We all want privacy, and we all hope that any law enforcement treats us as we feel we should be treated.

The Fourth Amendment, I would argue, is a even more fundamental than the First or Second Amendment, because if we lose our right to be protected from unlawful searches, we will lose our privacy. Then it is only a matter of time before we lose our rights to speech and firearms.

This bill to protect electronic privacy is crucial to our children’s and their children’s future. We have watches that can make phone calls now; imagine the technology they will possess. Personal property is personal property even when it is in digital form.

If we are going to search, seize, arrest, and convict someone, we must always go through proper due process. If we lose the Fourth Amendment, therefore, we might as well abandon the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, too.

This bill must be passed and be signed.

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Transformers in Providence

Of all the myths, urban legends, and X-Files-like conspiracies of which I’ve pondered the reality, I have to admit that the Transformers were never one.  But there it is in the Providence Journal, under the headline, “Witnesses say car, truck exchanged gunfire in Providence“:

Officers responded around 10:30 p.m. to a report of shots fired into a house at 49 Gallatin St. after a residents noticed an apparent bullet hole in her bathroom wall. According to police, a witness flagged the officer down to say he saw a maroon Acura chasing a white pickup truck at the intersection Sumter and Emerson streets and that they were exchanging gunfire.

Judging from the search tool on TransFormerLand (the existence of which is amazing enough), and counting on some unreliability in eyewitness accounts, it appears that the incident might have involved the Autobot Longarm and the Decepticon Dead End.  No doubt, the police are already on this trail.

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