The Never-Learn-from-Your-Mistakes State?


Is it a central theme of Rhode Island’s civic culture that the state does not learn from its mistakes?  That’s a question of perspective.  Perhaps what most perceive as mistakes are not mistakes, but rather the entire corrupt purpose of state government.

Two articles might give some clues as to which perspective is more accurate.  The first is another historically driven column in the Providence Journal by Steven Frias:

In 1974, Rhode Island’s first moral obligation bond to promote economic development was issued by the Rhode Island Port Authority. This bond helped provide financing to Fairmount Foundry to purchase and keep open the ITT Grinnell Foundry in Cranston. In 1976, the foundry went bankrupt.

… after the General Assembly paid off the moral obligation bond, at a cost of approximately $4 million, Speaker Edward Manning created a new committee, the House Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Rep. Raymond Gallogly, to investigate the Fairmount Foundry fiasco. …

After the hearings concluded, Gordon Bryd, the acting director of the Port Authority, stated: “I don’t think there will ever be another moral obligation bond issued by the Port Authority.” For about 15 years, Mr. Bryd was correct, because Rhode Island wisely avoided issuing another moral obligation bond for an economic development project.

Director Bryd seemed accurately to have predicted a lesson learned, but I wonder.  Maybe 15 years was just the interval for those who don’t think spending money by any means is a mistake to work the politics back toward allowing this particular mechanism again.  Here’s Brian Bishop, on GoLocalProv, taking up a different topic:

It is a perennial saw that Rhode Island’s bridges are bad and getting worse. But the stimulus friendly DOT under our new governor has caused the present consternation by proposing not to buckle down and prioritize its spending to climb out of this hole. Rather DOT wants to borrow $700 million just as the state’s road debt is finally improving. For a decade RIDOT has been struggling to adopt a pay-as-you-go approach to road work, thus putting the moneys previously consigned to interest and bonding expenses to work on the roads.

Whether this is paid for by tolls on trucks is a side show compared to the lunacy of undertaking such an effort without contemplating how it is that Rhode Island is in the top five states for spending per mile on its roads but has the highest percent of deficient bridges in the country?! Giving $700 million dollars to the combine of bureaucrats, contractors and labor that have produced that record is indefensible.

There are two lessons not being learned, there.  First, that we shouldn’t borrow our way to better infrastructure, and second, that giving the state’s bureaucracy more money is foolish.

Come to think of it, both perspectives come back to the same thing. After all, Rhode Islanders keep sending the same people back into public office, so even if they are repeating “mistakes” on purpose, the rest of us never seem to learn.

  • Warrington Faust

    Justin, I think your last sentence is the most prescient. The political class does learn form the past and from former mistakes. What they learn is “What works, works”. So, why not do it again?

  • ShannonEntropy

    “Mistakes” are not always what they seem … in all of these State fiascoes there are winners and losers. It is just that there are only a handful of “winners” but the whole of the State’s taxpayer citizens are the losers

    Let’s just take the case of 38 Studios … how much of that money ended up in Schilling’s pocket ?? A lot of it was spent on everything from work on his house to vehicle purchases and even exterminator fees

    And how about Micheal Corso ?? He got paid $300K to bring the deal to fruition — with three other contracts that would have made him $millions$ … but when he got caught “lobbying without registering” he only got fined $2K.

    Heck, give ME $300K and I’ll give you back $2K, as many times as you want !!

    Rhode Island Harbors The Best ??? Our State tourism slogan oughtta be Kick Back In Li’l Rhody !!

  • Warrington Faust

    I think that politicians have figured out that although a “mistake” close enough to election time may cost an occasional politician his job, the spirit of revolt is gone. Besides, that unemployed politician can always be attached to the state college program. If he is a national politician, he can be sent to the Harvard School of Communist Government.

    I was just listening to Howie Carr on Boston radio. He mentioned the Mass state tax rate being boosted from 5% to 6.25% after Dukakis beeped the bed as Governor. That increase was to last through the “temporary fiscal crisis”. Here things are 26 years later and no roll back. Who lost their job? Now Mass wants a surtax on the income of “high earners”, currently those earning over a million. The definition of “high earner” is subject to change. That is how the Federal Income Tax was initiated. How’d that work out for ya? Who’s going to lose their job?

    • ShannonEntropy

      I give up …. who is going to lose their job ??

      BTW … how is your female “room-mate” problem going ??

      You must be counting down those days to eviction I would bet

      I feel for you, Warrington. I got 99 Problems but Mrs ShannonEntropy ain’t One !!