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Complaints and Interference

The pervasive theme throughout Tiverton on Track Episode 11 (stream below) is that a lack of transparency and a lack of respect for confidentiality when it is justified mix to create tension in a community.  That’s the case whether somebody elsewhere in the state tweets a detail out of supposedly confidential contract negotiations or the leadership of the Town Council attempts to resolve a community disagreement the way they want it resolved by keeping the details out of public view.

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Lincoln Chafee is Running for President… Again

The former Rhode Island politician seeks the presidency with a new party and a change of heart towards the Second Amendment.

On January 5th, 2020, Lincoln Chafee filed to run for president as a Libertarian after switching his political designation for the fourth time in the past 35 years last summer.

A former independent governor and Republican senator of Rhode Island, Chafee sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. A consistently anti-war candidate, Chafee had hoped to capture the anti-war vote by promoting his role as the lone Republican senator to vote NAY on the Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for Iraq in 2002. According to The Des Moines Register, Chafee made the following statement concerning his vote while campaigning in Iowa in 2015:

I did my homework and I went down to CIA and I found there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. It was all a hoax.

The final report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States of America Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, released in March of 2005, that found no evidence of Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction validated Chafee’s NAY vote, earning him credibility within the anti-war community. As Reason’s Scott Shackford put it, “[Chafee was] really, really hoping that [his] one vote on Iraq [was] going to differentiate himself from Clinton” and her more bellicose foreign policy in the 2016 nomination process. While his vote may have differentiated Chafee from Clinton, it ultimately didn’t win him the Democratic nomination.

Chafee’s opposition to the Iraq War will surely play well within the Libertarian Party’s voter base, but his past (and fairly recent) advocacy for gun control most certainly will not. For example, in 2013 when he was governor of Rhode Island, Chafee backed multiple gun control bills, some of which would have banned the pseudo category of guns known as “assault weapons” and imposed a 10-round limit on magazines in the state. Similarly, during a Democratic debate in 2016 when he was asked to explain his “F” rating from the National Rifle Association, Chafee defended his record of voting for what he called “common-sense” gun safety legislation. He also criticized the gun lobby for perpetuating the narrative that gun control leads to gun confiscation.

Notably, that narrative wasn’t as unwarranted as Chafee had believed, since in the current election cycle a former Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke, openly acknowledged his desire to disarm law-abiding citizens.

In fact, the chairman of the Rhode Island Libertarian Party, Pat Ford, told The Providence Journal earlier this month that although Libertarians typically agree with Chafee about the Iraq War and his stance on the 38 Studios debacle which cost Rhode Island taxpayers approximately $53.9 million, “[Chafee] will need to demonstrate some evolution on [the Second Amendment], because that is a right [Libertarians] take very seriously.”

Despite his past of promoting gun control, a January 15th post on Chafee’s official Facebook page suggests that Chafee has turned over a new leaf. The post reads:

The Second Amendment was written to ensure that the people would always have more power than the government. I will not do anything that gives our already too powerful government more power over its people, or weakens the people in their ability to defend themselves against tyrants or other threats.

When a commenter on the post noted the conflict between the above statement and Chafee’s past stance on guns, Chafee replied with a lengthy response citing the government’s untruthfulness to its citizens as the primary driver for his 180 on his interpretation of the Second Amendment. In particular, he cited the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the National Security Agency’s surveillance of American citizens, and the Afghanistan Papers as revelations that “the Second Amendment should be adhered to the fullest extent.”

Although Chafee was no ally of the Second Amendment for the majority of his political career, his current answer to the question “Do Americans have the right to own AR-15s?” is a firm “Yes.” The only question left is will Chafee’s change of heart on the right to keep and bear arms convince Libertarians to choose him as their nominee?

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Iowa Caucuses and UHIP

The campaign manager for President Donald Trump, Brad Parscale, offered a take on the Democrats’ Iowa caucus troubles that probably occurred simultaneously to just about every conservative in the country:

And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?

A point often gets lost in all the jockeying for control of the American narrative.  When we object to this program or that one, conservatives aren’t typically opposing government-driven solutions regardless of whether they’ll work.  On the flip side, we also aren’t typically saying that the certainty of a fix can always overcome principled objections based on a philosophy of how government should function.

Rather, the conservative position tends to be that, for any given issue, the trade offs are not sufficiently clear, the benefits are not sufficiently certain, and side effects are so excessively probable that humility should be the underlying principle.

The debacle of the 2020 Iowa caucus should be more proof than anybody needs of this principle.  It’s not as if this was the first time Iowa Democrats have caucused, but now (regardless of the reason) there will be lingering doubts about the process, including discord between factions that suspect some sort of political scheme.

To be sure, government and political parties will naturally handle elections-related activities, but they don’t have to handle things like healthcare.  Look at experience with the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  When bureaucrats committed Rhode Island to the scheme during the Chafee administration, they had wide eyes about “one-stop shopping” for government services.  When they rushed ahead with a system that they’d been warned was not ready, no doubt the Raimondo administration was hoping for some sort of PR win.  And we got… a debacle.

This isn’t a claim that Democrats are especially incompetent, but that our political system creates incentives and risks that should advise a strong preference for handling society’s challenges through other institutions than government.

 

Featured image: Original illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland caucus race (1865).

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Chris Maxwell on the Truck Toll Shortfall

1-27-20 Truck Toll Shortfall from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

Guest: Chris Maxwell, RI Trucking Association, www.ritrucking.org
Host: Richard August Time: 30 minutes
In a recently completed study the state of RI learned that truck toll revenues have not yielded what had been expected or predicted by the RI Department of Transportation. This shortfall is consistent with what the local trucking industry has been predicting since the state announced its plans to toll trucks. The RI Trucking Association has filed a court case challenging the plan and more. Maxwell discusses various consequences of the tolling and the court case his Association has filed.

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Sasse’s Open Door for Socialism

By Rhode Island standards, Gary Sasse has been a conservative figure, culminating in his 2008 appointment to direct the departments of administration and revenue under conservative Republican governor Donald Carcieri.  As GoLocalProv noted while naming him one of 20 to watch in 2020, “Sasse has morphed into the conscious of Rhode Island government.”  (Note: They mean “conscience.”)

If that has an ominous sound in conservative ears, it should.  Most prominently, Sasse is a Twitter-vocal Never Trumper, who indicates that he’d gladly throw the United States into the arms of socialist Bernie Sanders in order to wrench it away from Donald Trump.  The erstwhile weekly guest of Buddy Cianci’s radio show just can’t take the ego and perceived corruption of the president.

Perhaps to help justify his attitude, Sasse’s policy ideas seem to be drifting to the left, as well, as indicated by this recent tweet:

Yes preschool is an example of where the private market has not been responsive to needs of families and kids.

In fairness, this socialist-seeming Tweet was more like the moderate splitting the baby after somebody had challenged a more-free-market tweet alluding to the “exploding” cost of college and healthcare compared with “market driven commodities.”  But by such accommodations do progressives incrementally open the door to socialism.

After all, Sasse blithely brushes away the central question:  When it comes to preschool, “the private market has not been responsive to the needs of families and kids” by whose definition of need?

If the private market has not been “responsive” to preschool, it is because families do not want it at the price that providers are willing to supply it.  Because their goal is to make everybody dependent on government while giving their bureaucratic friends as much control of children as possible, progressives only ever look at one side of that equation:  lowering the cost for parents (preferably to zero) so that even the slightest whim will be enough to hand over their children.  When that victory proves incomplete, they’ll likely attempt to make it mandatory.

The other side of the equation, however, is that families rightly find value in other options, regardless of the cost of preschool.  That could be a parent staying home or structuring his or her employment to accommodate child rearing, or it could be grandparents or neighbors.  These options are arguably better for the children, which is why studies are generally finding worse results for universal pre-K.

Maybe I didn’t understand him as well as I thought I did, but it seems to me that Gary Sasse would have appreciated this point back before the 2016 election.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: The Corrupt RI Filter

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 3, included talk about:

  • Raimondo’s anti-Trump special-interest PAC.
  • Will the new Providence superintendent earn his pay?
  • Everybody could be right, but is wrong, on the Convention Center.
  • RI gambling giants’ form a super-crony organization.

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, February 10, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Q & A On TCI, The Transportation & Climate Initiative

Q. What is TCI?

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace. Click here to give now to fight against the TCI Gas Tax.

Q. Why do TCI backers and climate alarmists want to drive up the price of motor fuel?

Because they are convinced that “climate change poses a clear, present, and increasingly dangerous threat to the communities and economic security” in Rhode Island and other regional states. The MOU says that the participating states will “need to implement bold initiatives to mitigate the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector,” which produce 40% of human-caused emissions.

Center TCI Red Car

Q. This sounds familiar. Isn’t this TCI attack on transportation just an extension of “RhodeMapRI”?

Yes. While much of our Center’s years-ago battle against RhodeMapRI focused on property rights, it has always been the goal of the left’s larger “sustainability” objectives to restrict and reduce the use of personal autos and business vehicles.

Q. What can citizens do to help fight back against the TCI Gas Tax?

Our Center needs your support. Can I count on you to contribute to stopping the TCI Gas tax today?

Your private gift to our Center means we can fight even harder against the environmental radicals. As the state’s leading free market advocacy and research organization, it is our mission to advance family and business friendly values… and stop Progressive schemes like the TCI Gas Tax.

Please click on the link here now to make your gift today.

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State of the State: Terrence Gray on TCI

Guest: Terrence Gray, Deputy Director, RI Dept. Environment Management, dem.ri.gov
Host: John Carlevale Time: 30 minutes
TCI is a multi-state effort of transportation, energy and environmental agencies to work collaboratively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fees. The model is a “cap and invest” approach which Gray explains will generate revenue which will be invested in more environmentally friendly systems to cut greenhouse gasses. The challenging question is: Will these fees levied at the petroleum produces increase the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel?

1- 27-20 Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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Tolls: What Happened to Gina Raimondo’s Promise to Hold off on Gantries Until After Lawsuit?

As you may have noticed, Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOT have been constructing toll gantries on the state’s highways – oh, excuse me, on or near “bridges” (*hearty chuckle*) – at top speed, including even night construction and presumably, the attendant overtime costs (hat tip Mike Collins for noticing that).

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against Raimondo’s truck-only tolls filed a year and a half ago filed by the American Trucking Associations has not yet gotten to any arguments of substance or merit but is still bogged down in the jurisdiction phase due to delays on the part of the defendant.  Gina Raimondo and RIDOT have been affirming their supreme confidence in the soundness of their defense and the legality of their targeted toll scheme by paradoxically fighting like mad to move the case from federal to state court; i.e., from a reasonably objective legal venue to a friendly one  – friendly to Gina and her awful policies and, more importantly, friendly to the state’s status quo.  Their latest delay maneuver was to ask the full First Circuit Appeals Court to review the ruling last month keeping the case in federal court. (The legal consensus seems to be that this is a hail mary play inasmuch as the full court does not usually hear such appeals, which means the decision by the three judges stands.)

So — yet another empty legal delay tactic while the gantries go up at a frantic pace. How far Gina’s actions have come from her statements on the Dan Yorke State of Mind of January 23, 2018 (and, apparently, elsewhere) when she promised to wait until the legality of truck-only tolls was threshed out in the then-imminent lawsuit before ordering the construction of the full gantry system (minute 06:00).

Dan Yorke:  You said, “If we lose the litigation, we don’t put the tolls up”.

Governor Raimondo:  Correct.  … We’re going to start with one in February [2018].  We assume there will be litigation which we will then have to defend and then we’ll see.  …  We gotta do one, we gotta see how it goes and then we’ll move to the next one.

This is a stark, egregious backtrack by Gina Raimondo.  With it, she knowingly, deliberately put the residents of the state, whose best interest she has an absolute obligation to put first, into heavy financial peril on two fronts.  Firstly, if the court, federal or state, rules against truck only tolls and the state wisely makes the decision to abandon tolls altogether, the taxpayers will have to pay tens of millions of dollars for the cost of a gantry system whose construction the governor recklessly ordered before it was clear that it could be used.  Secondly, if the state decides to comply with an adverse ruling in the case by irresponsibly and selfishly removing the discriminatory nature of the tolling scheme and spread the cancer to all vehicles, a lovely gantry system will already be in place to toll cars.

As public attention has naturally turned to legal developments in the toll case and the very visible erection of the gantries, it is important to pause and note how the governor explicitly and irresponsibly broke her word on a very significant matter and highlight the heavy consequences to which she has needlessly exposed Rhode Island residents with this completely unprincipled volte-face.

Monique has worked for the Rhode Island Trucking Association since September, 2017; for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity since March, 2016; was spokesperson for StopTollsRI.com; and has been a contributor to Anchor Rising/Ocean State Current for over ten years.

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When Every Conversation Is a Labor Fight in Warwick

A familiar subject floated through Rhode Island’s news cycle again last week when Warwick schools Superintendent Philip Thornton reported to his city’s school committee that the district should do something about teacher absenteeism:

Two schools — Wyman Elementary and E.G. Robertson Elementary — have chronic absenteeism rates of 24.4 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively. Chronic teacher absenteeism is defined as missing 18 days or more of school out of a typical 180-day school year.

Two more schools — Oakland Beach Elementary and Sherman Elementary — have rates above 20 percent.

In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 11 percent of all Warwick teachers — 100 teachers — were chronically absent, Thornton said, using data from the Rhode Island Department of Education. That said, more than a third of all teachers — 312 — missed less than five percent of school.

This isn’t just some hobby horse on which the superintendent wanted to beat for some reason.  He raised the issue because teacher attendance is part of the formula that the RI Department of Education (RIDE) uses to grade the Ocean State’s schools.  Looking for some means of holding our education system accountable (without actually changing anything), the state has developed metrics, and the chief executive of an organization has strong incentive to have his metrics look good.

We’re used to these spats, around here, but it’s worth stepping back a moment and plainly noting what is going on.  The superintendent has identified a metric on which he believes the district can make improvements, and the relevant labor union, the Warwick Teachers’ Union, led by Darlene Netcoh, called out the troops and ramped up the objections, staking out ground for the fight.  Some teachers have to work until 67, she says, which drives up the sick time, as if Rhode Islanders in the private sector have anywhere near the days off that government-school teachers get.  Netcoh also attacked the numbers themselves.

Big picture, our elected and appointed officials have to be able to discuss ideas big and small, and they won’t feel as free to do that if every comment or proposal might begin the gears of the labor-unrest machine.  In the private sector, management can discuss things and make plans before a possible dispute is placed in the open.  In the public sector, only the unions have that privilege.

If we want open, transparent government, then we need some social (or legal) pressure on the labor unions to back off.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

David Aucoin: Planned Parenthood Wants Their Hands On RI Kids

In psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud’s best-seller, Boundaries, he says boundaries are essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle because boundaries define who we are and who we are not.

When it comes to sex education in our schools, it would seem that parents must set healthy boundaries concerning what is taught — because school boards, teachers, and legislators may not. This week, a sex-ed bill deceptively titled “An Act Relative to Healthy Youth” passed the Massachusetts Senate. Hopefully it won’t see the light of day when it gets to the House.

This bill (S 2399) would require that every public school in the state use curriculum put out by Planned Parenthood that actually encourages students to engage in sex — and the type of sex that would make most parents cringe (no exaggeration!). The curriculum is called “Get Real,” and you can check it out here (WARNING – GRAPHIC). We don’t want this in Rhode Island, but Planned Parenthood does!

Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement certainly applies here: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

There are many arenas where the church needs to exercise the role of conscience, and public schools is definitely one. If we want our children to experience an education that includes moral values, parents had better pay attention and be engaged.

Abby Johnson knows both sides of this issue. She was a rising star in Planned Parenthood, but all of that changed when she was asked to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion. She watched in horror as a preborn baby (at 13 weeks in the womb) fought for, and ultimately lost, its life at the hand of the abortionist.

I heard Abby speak in Providence and never forgot what she said: “Planned Parenthood’s objective is to lower your child’s sense of modesty so they will engage in sex.” And the “Get Real” curriculum will do just that. As someone has said, it’s “the perfect business plan for lifelong customers.”

Thank God there are Rhode Island legislators who do want to set boundaries to protect public school students, and Family Policy Alliance is helping in that effort. The Apostle Paul encourages us to pray for those in authority that we might live in peace. The days we are living in demand it. It’s the only way that God will be glorified, religious freedom will flourish, families will thrive and life will be cherished in Rhode Island.

 

David Aucoin is the Chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Advisors for the Family Policy Alliance.

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The Starting Foot of the New Superintendent

There’s been something odd about the introduction of the new superintendent for the now-state-run Providence Schools.  The absence of Mayor Jorge Elorza from the public introduction of Harrison Peters was inexplicable.  The first Providence Journal article following that introduction, by union-friend Linda Borg as well as Madeleine List, starts with technical details about the district and the hire and then jumps to: “In Hillsborough County, where he is currently chief of schools, Peters has critics and his admirers.”  The following details are much heavier from the “critics.”

And then there’s general emphasis on the fact that Providence appears to have been his second choice, after having not been chosen for a promotion to Hillsborough County superintendent, while he was “at least” the second choice of Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green, after her first offer fell through.

Talk about starting a new leader off on a negative footing!

Of course, nobody should simply be rah-rah, but the whole thing seems a bit like a typical Rhode Island self-fulfilling prophesy.  From reformers’ perspective there is certainly reason for hope.  After all, Peters touts “that he played an important part in lowering the number of ‘F’ schools in the district by 60 percent, decreasing the student suspension rate by 35 points, adding 10 ‘A’ schools and helping 15 schools improve from ‘D’ to ‘C.'”

Being from a state with some of the strongest school-choice programs in the country, he’ll bring with him knowledge of the tools Florida provides to administrators and families.

One does wonder whether some of the indifference and negativity that appears to surround his hiring indicates that Rhode Island insiders are setting the battleground to get their way knowing what he might conclude and advise.

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Larry Fitzmorris: Regionalization with Newport

The Portsmouth Council recently demonstrated how easy it is to get the Town involved in risky initiatives that can quickly get out of control.  They tried to finesse their response to a proposal on school unification from the City of Newport, and in the process sent the wrong message and risked the imposition of a regional planning board by the Commissioner of Education.

At a June 24, 2019 Council meeting Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain proposed that the Portsmouth and Newport school districts be combined into a regional high school district, and potentially a fully integrated school system.  In response to the presentation, Council member Len Katzman made a motion to begin discussions.  That motion was modified to add collaboration to the discussions and then passed unanimously.  This was a stunning decision and in spite of the Council intent, the Newport Government and apparently the Rhode Island Department of Education, believed this was a declaration of interest in a regional district.  There is a complex process in Rhode Island law that governs the unification or regionalization process, and the Council appeared to those involved to take the first step down that road to a formal decision.

At a subsequent meeting of government leaders on October 3 in Newport, it was clear that the Newport representatives believed the Portsmouth Council had responded positively to their proposal.  It required detailed statements from Keith Hamilton, attending for the Portsmouth Council, and Dr. Emily Copeland, speaking for the school committee, to make clear that regionalization was not open for discussion.

The question is – why make such a move?  The Portsmouth Council risked the quality of our school system for no apparent gain.  Merging our relatively high performing school district with one with a broad spectrum of financial and quality problems is the last thing anyone would want to do.  It would certainly cause a serious decline in Portsmouth’s performance and a significant increase in cost to the Town’s taxpayers.

This decision has not yet been made.  The Council’s unanimous vote still stands and negotiations continue.  While there is no obvious advantage in this regionalization proposal, there are a large number of risks.

A loss of effective governance by the citizens of Portsmouth would inevitably result in any regionalization of our school district with one or more other systems.  Under Rhode Island law, a regionalized system is governed by a school committee representing the component municipalities.  That governing body would have bonding authority but no taxing authority.  The regional school committee would therefore issue bonds, with Assembly authorization, and deliver the bill to the respective Councils for payment.  It appears that the Councils would not have authority to reduce or reject the bond service funding.  In addition, the regional school district would have the added authority to exercise eminent domain.  Citizens of Portsmouth would have a diluted representation in a type of system often dominated by its administration and unions.

In the operation of the four regional school districts in Rhode Island, all of which are now mature systems with stable budgets, the Portsmouth district has a cost per pupil that is significantly below all regionalized districts.  The actual financial budget data provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education does not support the assumption that regionalized districts will offer cost savings to Portsmouth taxpayers.  In the differential between the Portsmouth district and the lowest cost regional district, Bristol-Warren, the per pupil expenditure is approximately $2,500 lower in Portsmouth.   The data is summarized in the table below.

District and Regional District Cost Comparison
FY 2018
Districts Average Daily
Membership
Cost Per Pupil
1 Chariho Regional 3,159 $22,453
2 Foster-Glocester Regional 1,255 $22,258
3 Newport 2,194 $20,752
4 Exeter-West Greenwich Reg. 1,634 $20,473
5 Bristol-Warren Regional 3,195 $19,186
6 Middletown 2,169 $18,973
7 Portsmouth 2,407 $16,672
Source: RIDE

The Portsmouth SAT scores, the principal measure of performance of the entire system, are superior to the Newport system.  In the 2018 SAT results Portsmouth is ranked 5th among Rhode Island Public High Schools and Newport is ranked 38th.  A unification of the two districts is likely to result in a significant decline of Portsmouth scores.

Costs per student for Portsmouth is $16,672.  For Newport it is $20,752.  The difference is $4,080 for each student.  In a unified system the inefficiencies in the Newport system would be absorbed into the new district.  Costs for Portsmouth taxpayers will rise at least by $2,000 for each student, and could rise to those of Newport.

The Newport district has an immediate need to construct a new high school.  Costs estimates vary wildly, but are currently estimated at $101 million, and that amount will be passed on to the involved municipalities with unification.  The PCC believes it is nearly impossible to separate Portsmouth taxpayers from Newport debt in a unified district budget.

Portsmouth has a stable school budget process and a $1 million reserve.  The Newport Schools have a poor budget management history with repeated deficits and have recently reached a point where they could not account for $750,000.  The current estimate for the last fiscal year is a $100,000 deficit.  In addition, the Portsmouth District reserve would be absorbed into a unified district.

Portsmouth has four school buildings, all in serviceable condition.  With the exception of the new Pell School, the Newport schools are in generally poor condition.  Future replacement and maintenance costs will be much higher in the Newport schools.

The proposed financial support by the State for construction of a regional high school is questionable when the State’s past funding promises to Portsmouth are considered.  In the proposal for construction of a regional high school, Newport may receive 80.5% reimbursement but Portsmouth will not.  These reimbursement rates are subject to the political power of the Providence, Pawtucket and Warrick legislators.  The current crises in the Providence School System will likely drain most, if not all of the 2018 School Construction Bond funds.  In addition, the Portsmouth Aid to Education has been reduced by $2.5 million with the adoption by the Assembly of a Student Aid Formula that reduces our aid by about quarter million a year over the last ten years.  That is a 38% reduction in the Town’s primary education funding line from the State.

 

Featured image: A student mural of Portsmouth High School from the school’s website.

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Convention Center Controversy: Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

If you’ve been around government and politics in Rhode Island for a while, you probably know people who’ve been audited at conspicuous times… like after having spoken up publicly about some issue.  This may be part of the reason ripples of excitement have followed indications that Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello of Cranston might be caught red-handed flipping the switch on the familiar weapon.

Particularly intriguing is the way those ripples have caused turmoil among people and entities that tend to unite around good-government issues.  Thus, as Mattiello claims to be targeting the Convention Center Authority with an audit to fix what former Republican House Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan calls “a poorly run, incompetently managed building [that] works as a favor factory,” we get current House Minority Leader Blake Filippi filing a lawsuit claiming that Mattiello abused his influence over the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS) to order the audit, followed by the Providence Journal editorial board, led by Ed Achorn, belittling the Republican’s suit as “partisan animosity.”

If the good guys are tripping over each other, the bad guys have wind at their backs.  The Convention Center has rejected the audit and called for an investigation of Mattiello by the State Police, which has lost some of its objective luster in recent years for seeming to align too eagerly with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, who has (1) given indications that she sees Mattiello as an obstacle and (2) proven her intent to use political means to advance her agenda through the legislature (including, for example, raising campaign funds to go after legislators at the ballot box).

Interested observers face that old puzzle about whether the enemy of your enemy is your friend.  Do good government forces benefit by helping a progressive governor knock out the more-conservative speaker, or by turning a blind eye to what might be raw corruption on his part?

Why everybody can’t be right?  Yes, the Convention Center should be audited.  Yes, the whole JCLS should meet and take action in a transparent fashion.  Yes, it’s worth having some agency look into whether use of the legislature’s auditing power is being abused. Yes, we should be suspicious that a politicized State Police might serve the governor’s political interest.

This is how divided government is supposed to work, making it in everybody’s interest to seek leverage against the others.  The problem is that state government in RI is so one-sided that it’s always “heads they win, tails you lose.”

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Rhode Island Brakes on the American Dream

In today’s Providence Journal, I contrast the difference between national economic policies and what we put up with in the Ocean State:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Making America great, making Rhode Island worse. Facing the real world, living in a pretend world.

The contrast could not be more striking. Recently in Davos, Switzerland, despite impeachment distractions, President Trump systematically laid out America’s successful roadmap to unprecedented freedom and prosperity, with trillions in investment dollars and a flood of companies choosing to repatriate to America.

Conversely, Rhode Island’s political class follows a government-centric command-and-control approach, resulting in the worst business climate in the nation as well as economic and educational stagnation that is forcing families and businesses to choose to flee our state.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Why Can’t Everybody Be Right?

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 27, included talk about:

  • The Convention Center, the Speaker, the Republicans, and the Projo
  • Sickness in the Warwick teacher contract
  • Making the yellow shirts count
  • (Slim) hope as a new face enters the Providence school scene

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, February 3, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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We’re Backing The TCI Gas Tax Proponents Into a Corner

It is not by accident that the proposed Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is losing support among many of the states it has targeted… to the point where some proponents are considering a Plan-B.

Last week, I traveled to Boston to meet with other organizations from east coast states who oppose TCI, a regional compact targeting 12 states and Washington DC that seeks to impose a 5 to 17 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, with the intent of forcing Rhode Island to drive less often and into more costly and less convenient electric vehicles and public transportation options.
Sten at TCI press conf Jan 2020
Because of the work of the >#NoTCItax coalition to raise awareness in their respective states, New Hampshire has already withdrawn from the compact, while the governors of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont have also expressed opposition to new carbon taxes. In Rhode Island, the Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, has publicly stated that he is opposed to the TCI Gas Tax. In Massachusetts, lawmakers are reported as considering less intrusive alternatives.

Last week at the the Center, we published a TCI Question & Answer document the proposed TCI gas tax. The TCI Q&A, the TCI Open Letter, the TCI Gas Tax policy brief, and other related information can be found at RIFreedom.org/NoTCITax.

Your voice is making the difference in this fight, but we can’t let up now. The far-left Progressive radicals won’t give up, so neither can we. Stay tuned, there is more to come on this important fight to keep more money in the pockets of Rhode Island families just like yours.

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Trying to Keep Perspective on Local Politics

In President Trump’s economic speech in Davos, he attributes the recent economic strength of the United States to policies that put “the American worker” at their center.  Agree or disagree with the president (from any of the angles at which it would be possible to do so), he raises an important point.  We tend to get caught up in our preferred solutions or our own interests, to the detriment of our causes and our communities.

Listening to episode 10 of the Tiverton on Track podcast from the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, titled “Living in (And Budgeting for) a Community,” one hears that theme sneak in repeatedly.

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Noah Shepardson: Serpa “Ghost Gun” Bill Makes Hobbyists Criminals

Tuesday evening, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new gun control bill, H7102, sponsored by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick).  The proposed bill would effectively criminalize the possession and manufacturing of both homemade guns (guns made from traditional gun parts such as 80% receivers) as well as 3D-printed guns in the state.

Referred to as “ghost guns” in the legislation due to their typical lack of a serial number, homemade guns are perfectly legal to own under federal law; the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 only prohibits those lacking a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from selling or distributing homemade guns, not from making them for personal use, something that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has also confirmed.

The other caveat to the ownership of these weapons is that they must be in compliance with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. This act mandates that a homemade gun must contain enough metal so as to be detectable in a metal detector, and its major components, such as the slide, frame, and receiver, must be identifiable by x-ray machines, like those found in airports. 3D-printed guns, which can be made entirely of plastic, are required to have a piece of metal inserted into the firearm to comply with the law.

Likewise, homemade guns must also be in compliance with the provisions outlined in the National Firearms Act of 1934 and, as is the case with all gun ownership in the United States, the owner of the homemade gun cannot be a convicted felon. In other words, homemade guns are already quite highly regulated.

While a press release declares the intention of the bill is to “prohibit the manufacturing, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, or transfer of any ghost gun or firearm that is undetectable by metal detectors commonly used at airports and public buildings, including 3D printed firearms,” the bill would actually go much farther than the statement suggests. Serpa’s legislation would ban the manufacturing and possession of homemade guns outright, even if they are in compliance with the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which, again, already prohibits ownership of undetectable weapons.

The bill states:

No person shall manufacture, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, possess, or have under his or her control a ghost gun or an undetectable firearm or any firearm produced by a 3D printing process. Any person convicted of violating this subsection shall be punished by imprisonment of not more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and except for a first conviction under this section shall not be afforded the provisions of suspension or deferment of sentence, nor probation.

As is clearly stated, the mere ownership of any gun manufactured at home, including those created by a 3D printing process, would be punishable by a large fine and even jail time. Criminalizing a hobby enjoyed by many law-abiding gun owners and stripping Rhode Islanders of their long-recognized right to create their own firearms for personal use and protection is not an appropriate way to address gun violence.

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Tyranny Out of Partisan Gripes

Read around social media for even a short time, particularly in Rhode Island, and you’ll come across a Never Trumper making some sort of claim that he must be impeached so future presidents don’t get the impression that they can do whatever they want.  Put aside that President Trump is, if anything, an improvement in this regard from his predecessor.

If folks are truly concerned about tyranny as the child of our political moment, statements like this ought to set off alarm sirens:

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The translation is that these things cannot be decided at the ballot box “for we cannot be sure that the vote will be won by us.”  With even Never Trump Republicans (or former Republicans) saying they don’t care who the Democrats nominate so long as they get rid of President Trump, the mission is clear.  Nothing matters to them but making sure the outcome they want is the outcome the United States gets.

If Mr. Schiff is concerned about the integrity of our elections, then that’s where his attention should be focused.  As it is, he’s being either recklessly ignorant or horrifically welcoming of an obvious consequence of his self-proclaimed mandate:  Namely, if differences like this are not decided at the ballot box, sooner or later, they will be decided in the streets, with blood.

Avoiding that outcome is the basic underlying principle of our republic.

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The Miracle of Good-Government Policy in RI

In intellectual discussion at the intersection of religion and science, participants sometimes propose to define miracles as extremely improbable events that happen at a significant time, such that the significance itself appears to have influenced the outcome.  If, for example, there is some infinitesimal chance that an incurable disease will just go away and does after the patient prays at some holy shrine, then that might meet the definition of “miracle.”

In a somewhat crass way, this definition came to mind while reading about the state legislature’s audit of the RI Convention Center following the center’s investigation of the speaker’s friend:

“The JCLS has an obligation to meet and determine exactly why an audit was ordered of the Convention Center after Mr. Demers got in trouble at his job,” [RIGOP Chairwoman Susan] Cienki said. “The public deserves to know if government resources are being used by Speaker Mattiello to satisfy a petty personal grudge. If the JCLS won’t meet and explain what is going on, then perhaps the attorney general should investigate.”

Mattiello’s spokesperson, Larry Berman, pushed back at Cienki by pointing out that House Republicans, notably former Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, have been calling for better oversight of the Convention Center’s finances for years. He sent Target 12 multiple press releases and news reports in which Morgan laid out her criticisms.

One gets the sense that this has become the way that Republican, conservative, or just good-government policies find their way miraculously into state law and activity.  It is improbable that a Republican’s call to audit a government agency will be heeded in Rhode Island… except at that significant moment when it serves the interest of some powerful interest for ulterior reasons.

Makes one wonder if there’s a list of policy proposals out there awaiting some direct pay-off before they are implemented, with the fact that somebody (or some party) suggested them used as cover.

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Anti-TCI Gas Tax Coalition Meets

The first observation that a conservative might make upon reading Chris Lisinski’s State House News Service article on a press conference of groups opposing the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) gas tax is the skewed perspective.  According to Lisinski, conservatives’ expressing their view on an issue “deepened tensions between the think tanks who hosted it and environmental groups.”  When environmental groups hold similar events, are they ever described as “deepening tensions” with people who disagree with them?

Still, hearing from folks on the other side is always valuable:

One of those individuals, Environmental League of Massachusetts President Elizabeth Henry, told the News Service that she did not intend to ask any questions but hoped to hear a clear alternative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from TCI opponents. She said that hope went unfulfilled.

“We have a statutory obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050,” she said, referring to the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008 that sets an emissions reduction target. “Climate change mitigation is statutorily mandated, and if not TCI, then what? I’m open to hearing it, but I feel like we have a really great solution in TCI.”

As Rhode Island’s governor attempts to impose the absurd goal of 100% renewable energy supply in her state by 2030, we should consider what Henry is making of this “statutory obligation.”  If it can’t be met without imposing overly restrictive burdens on the people of the state, then remove it.  Presumably, one is supposed to bow in the face of “statutory obligations,” but the reality is that the obligations are only statutory.  They can be changed easily with another statute.

Thus does the Left like to box a democracy in, to make it seem as if the people have no choice.  In this case, TCI is an attempt to hide the choices that have been made, as one of the TCI-opponents explains:

“Why are they doing this through this interstate compact? Why don’t you just raise the gas tax by 17 cents? The infrastructure is already in place to collect the tax, you wouldn’t have to hire any more bureaucrats to do it,” said Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute in Vermont. “The reason they’re doing it through this convoluted, expensive means is because it’s a CYA program for politicians who don’t want to be seen as raising a tax.”

Supporters of this sort of environmental policy take intricate steps to make it seem as if the public has no choice and then to make it difficult to find accountability when they don’t like the choices that have been made.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Budgets and Politics

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 20, included talk about:

  • The governor’s budget (and popularity)
  • The speaker’s interest in the Convention Center
  • The women’s march
  • Big money state jobs, especially corrections

Please consider a voluntary, tax-deductible subscription to keep the Current growing and free.

I’ll be on again Monday, January 27, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Executive Order of Priorities

Of course, an executive order like the one that Rhode Island Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo just released, saying that Rhode Island will be 100% reliant on “renewable energy” by 2030, is subject to all the usual political caveats.  Most notably, she’ll be long out of office by the time that date rolls around, and even by the time any imposed restrictions start to really bite.

Reading the press release, however, something else jumps out:

Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an executive order committing Rhode Island to be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by the end of the decade. Her executive order directs the state’s Office of Energy Resources to conduct an economic and energy market analysis and develop actionable policies and programs to reach this bold, but achievable goal.

“When we meet this goal, Rhode Island will be the first state in America to be powered by 100% renewable electricity,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “We’re already leading the fight against climate change, but we have to take increasingly aggressive action if we want to avoid catastrophe. As governor of a coastal state and mom to two teenagers, I’m fully committed to protecting the beauty of our state and our way of life for future generations.”

Where’s the executive order that 100% of Rhode Island students will graduate from high school… and with performance at grade level?  Where’s the executive order that everybody who wants a job will have one?

Now, I’m not actually asking for executive orders on these issues, because I think they’d be a foolish approach to policy, but the governor’s global-warming order is foolish for the same reasons.  It does, however, show her priorities, and one suspects her perpetually bad approval ratings are evidence that Rhode Islanders don’t share them.

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Free School Choice Movie and Event

Rhode Island Families for School Choice is offering an opportunity to spend some time on Martin Luther King Day learning about and celebrating a policy fight that would be a blessing for disadvantaged and minority families:

On behalf of National School Choice Week, please join us for a special screening of Miss Virginia. Hailed as a “must-see” movie by USA Today, the film follows a struggling inner-city mother who sacrifices everything to give her son a good education. Unwilling to allow him to stay in a dangerous school, she launches a movement that could save his future—and that of thousands like him.

After the movie, meet and talk with legendary school choice advocate Virginia Walden Ford (the real-life Miss Virginia!), who will join us in Cranston for this special event. She will also sign copies of her new book, School Choice: A Legacy to Keep.

Note that the event is free and requires RSVP.

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Rolling Effects of Housing Wealth Redistribution

As hints had suggested Rhode Islanders should expect, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 (beginning July 1, 2020) includes a new program with new dedicated funding to build affordable housing.  (Naturally, Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, of Providence and North Providence, a Laborers Union careerist, loves the idea.)

WPRI’s Eli Sherman summarizes the plan:

The budget, which will now be vetted by lawmakers during the coming months, suggests creating a two-tiered tax system that doubles the so-called “conveyance tax” to 0.92% on all property sales – both residential and commercial – totaling more than $500,000. The current rate — 0.46% — would apply to the first $500,000 of any transaction. …

State officials estimate the new tax would generate about $3.6 million in state revenue next fiscal year, and $8 million in each budget year afterward. The money would create a dedicated funding stream that would go into a restricted receipt fund at Rhode Island Housing, a quasi-public agency, and be controlled by the Housing Resources Commission.

This scheme brings to mind some analysis I did of tax rates in Tiverton back in 2018.  My conclusion was that the exorbitant tax rate was suppressing home values at the high end of the market.  At the same time, broader market forces were increasing house values at the low end.  Because the tax rate is uniform across the town, and because the tax rate is set in order to match the town’s budget (not the other way around), this had the effect of moving the tax burden toward the working class neighborhoods.  Their houses were worth more, while the expensive houses were worth less, so the taxes followed the value.

Of course, adding a couple thousand dollars at the point of sale will have much less effect than a tax rate that charges that amount every year, but the principle is the same.  Taxing high-end houses more will make them less valuable, shifting the real estate tax burden down the scale.

At the same time, the state projects that it will be building an additional 250 “affordable houses” every year.  Increasing supply at the low end of the market will tend to reduce prices there, too.  So, while the increased stock will expand the low-end’s share of total value, taxpayers’ bills will decrease with the value.  Whether this helps spread municipal tax bills to more homeowners will depend on whether the affordable houses are distributed evenly across the state.

This leaves the middle of the market, which will see upward pressure on its annual tax bill, while also being nudged toward the $500,000 line, where it will be more-expensive to sell.

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For and Against a TCI Gas Tax

The Gaspee Business Network — an alternative business group to chambers of commerce — has published an interactive table showing the opposition or support of the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI).

Such lists have long been a tool of professional lobbyists.  The movie, The American President, comes to mind, in which the president (Michael Douglas) begins to date an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening).  The Internet has increasingly broadened its utility to the general public.  If our elected representatives are going to be representative, the people need to know where they stand.

You might be surprised, however, how difficult it is to find out where they stand.  Send out emails asking where the various legislators who represent your town stand, and you’ll find some don’t bother to respond.  And some of those who do will give answers that evade and/or must be interpreted.  Asked if they support TCI, they might ask if there’s specific legislation.  Asked about the concept in principle, they might stop responding.

As of this writing, only 19 of 113 legislators (17%) have provided an answer, or something close enough to interpret as one.  The only one deemed by Gaspee Biz to support the initiative is Senator James Seveney (D, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton).  Notably, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) opposes it.

Imagine if tables like this were available for every hot-button issue the legislature was facing!  That might cut back on some of the late-night votes and horse trading.  And then imagine an electorate that actually paid attention… that would make all the difference.

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Municipal Government Moves to the Back Room

With the old establishment players back in power in Tiverton, we’ve seen a quick return to the practices that have done so much damage to local government over the decades.  Decisions are being made by a few, unidentified people in back rooms and private communications.  New hoops are being erected for community groups to jump through.  The law is being rewritten by the minute depending on what the Town Council leadership needs it to be.  The council’s votes are becoming mere recommendations unless approved by the president.

Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) talk about that and more on Episode 9 of the Tiverton on Track podcast.

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Catch Up with the Monthly State of the State

If you try to keep track of policy and politics in Rhode Island (and if you’re reading this site, you probably do), you should put the State of the State program on your watch list.  The program usually has two half-hour segments, but sometimes sticks with one guest for an hour, and it’s a good way to get a different point of view from the mainstream, from both the guests and the hosts, who often ask questions public figures and others wouldn’t be asked elsewhere.

The latest episode had a segment on Title IX abuse and another on Second Amendment rights.

1-13-20 Recent Title IX Cases from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

1-13-20 Stun Guns, Tasers and the 2nd Amendment from John Carlevale on Vimeo.