City/Town Government RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Left and Right Need to Acknowledge Decisions Based on Policy

Hugh Hewitt makes a great point that conservatives like me sometimes need to hear:

It would be fair to announce the end of the mortgage-interest deduction in 30 years. It would be fair to phrase out the deductibility of state taxes by, say, 2050. But not overnight. Not unless you want to give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi.

Purists have great arguments against “market distortions” in the tax code—in theory. But Americans don’t live in theory. They live in homes they bought at a value based on the existing deduction, in states whose taxes were partly offset through the federal code. Change those rules and what’s left of the GOP in high-tax states will be gone.

While those on the Left would like to treat this sort of consideration as justification for keeping government programs going forever, those on the Right do have to acknowledge that people make decisions based on bad government policy, and it can be overly harsh to the point of injustice to drop onto their heads the roofs that they’ve built over the policy framework.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, we can expect that reasonable concessions from conservatives will not be reciprocated.  For example, with the beginning of this century, special interests pushing bonds and Tiverton’s Town Council doubled the tax levy in Tiverton in less than a decade, to the point that house buyers who shop based on the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage payment would have to pay around 15% less for a house in Tiverton than in Westport, Massachusetts, next door.

Those who bought in Tiverton before this punishment was dished out have been unfairly penalized, and many have been responding by cutting their losses and leaving town, not just because of the cost, but also because of the injustice.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Public-Options-Only School Choice Relies on Irrational Prejudice

Notice anything about the recent op-ed from RI Education Commissioner Ken Wagner?

Some claim that charters take money that is owed to district schools. In my view, the money is not “owed” to district schools or any other education provider. Local, state and national taxpayers raised this money for a specific purpose: to educate the youth of a community. We have an obligation to ensure the money serves the children rather than simply maintains the current system.

This is the core of the argument that I’ve been proffering for total school choice.  Public dollars aren’t collected and expended for the maintenance of a government-branded school system, but for the cause of educating the public.  Whatever structure or method will accomplish that goal most effectively and economically is the proper one.

Indeed, just about every argument in Wagner’s essay would apply to education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, or any other school choice vehicle and could be added to the Bright Today list of myths.

It is only through the devotion of insiders to the status quo and their control of public information that this point remains sufficiently obscure that Wagner doesn’t feel he has to address it.  The people are starting to figure it out, though, and it is yet another area in which those of us who really wish to move Rhode Island forward for the benefit of its people need only guide their natural conclusions.

Consider Dan McGowan’s WPRI article on public testimony regarding the Achievement First charter school expansion proposal before the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.  The article is 17 paragraphs long.  Here’s the 13th:

But the majority of individuals who testified about Achievement First Tuesday encouraged the council to back the expansion.

That is, after 12 paragraphs — three-quarters of the article — conveying the points of view of insiders, who are in the minority, McGowan finally gets to what should arguably have been the headline of the article: that people want school choice.  When all is said, the only argument to prevent the people from using public funds for their preferred public policy is maintenance of the government plantation.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Hidden Agenda of Progressive Roadway Innovations

Shawn Cohen, in the New York Post, provides a policy blacklight that may reveal unseen motivations of progressives’ favored innovations on urban roadways (via Instapundit):

“The traffic is being engineered,” a former top NYPD official told The Post, explaining a long-term plan that began under Mayor Mike Bloomberg and hasn’t slowed with Mayor de Blasio.

“The city streets are being engineered to create traffic congestion, to slow traffic down, to favor bikers and pedestrians,” the former official said. …

“They’re not coming out and saying it, but they’re doing other things to cut down on traffic coming into city, things such as taking streets that had four lanes and making them three by creating bike lanes, or putting a plaza in, creating pedestrian islands,” the source said.

Those who follow transportation issues even casually may have seen people argue against them for such reasons, and we certainly shouldn’t assume that our roadways are perfect as they are, but as progressives attempt to move people into urban areas and make them more reliant on city services to get around, each proposal deserves scrutiny.

After all, when everybody else is on foot or in government-controlled transportation, the mobile elite will have yet another advantage.  The source in the article says Mayor Bill DeBlasio “doesn’t care about traffic,” meaning that he can blame others (like resident Donald Trump), but one can’t help but wonder what effect police escorts and helicopters have on his perspective.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Left’s Intimidation Game

As usual, the content on this Prager University video — featuring Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel — won’t be new to readers of the Ocean State Current, but it’s well done and worth the reminder:

Progressives are in the intimidation game for the long haul; indeed, Strassel points out that Southern Democrats used the tactics progressives now focus on conservatives (or any non-progressives) to suppress blacks.  The strategies are:

  1. Harass, as with the IRS targeting Tea Party groups
  2. Investigate & prosecute, as with Wisconsin prosecutors raiding the homes of conservatives, or our own U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s attempts to criminalize opposing views and activities
  3. Blackmail, for which Strassel provides the example of threats made against corporate sponsors of ALEC
  4. Expose, by which progressive seek access to lists of donors and other supporters in order to apply the first three techniques

On the last count, Democrat Tiverton/Portsmouth Representative John “Jay” Edwards had a coup this latest legislative session with his legislation to harass with regulations any citizen who attempts to have a public say on any local ballot question and to open such local activists and their supporters to harassment by vicious groups like Tiverton 1st, which not only succeeded in making public office seem like a costly volunteerism, but also in driving some of its opponents clear out of the town and the state.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Drama at RIC: Another Way to Steal from Taxpayers?

The Providence Journal’s Jacqueline Tempera reported, the other day, on another way in which state employees of Rhode Island can potentially steal from taxpayers:

The managing director of the theater at Rhode Island College has been arrested after he allegedly stole more than $60,000 from the college over three years, state police said Friday. 

An investigation by the state police’s Financial Crimes Unit determined that James L. Taylor, 46, of Johnston, had been requesting checks from the accounting department “under false pretenses” and depositing them into his personal bank account.

Hot on the heals of the reported conspiracy to defraud the unemployment insurance office, this latest arrest isn’t making state employees look so hot.  Mix in the recent “quiet time” shifts in the Tiverton police department, and the entire Rhode Island public sector comes into question.

I do have to say I feel a bit for these workaday employees.  I mean, the really connected folks just get bonds, tax credits, and other means of handing out taxpayer dollars in sums way above what ordinary folks can steal, and it’s all completely legal.  When it isn’t legal, they get friendly officials in the attorney general’s office and even the state police to slow-roll and cover up.

Of course, I should note that Tiverton’s last employee caught up in a scandal of stealing from local taxpayers got away with a graceful retirement — and even the accrued sick-time he didn’t use because, it appears, he was just doing his side work on the clock.  Elected officials don’t want the expensive and embarrassing lawsuits, so it’s not like the workaday employees always get their comeuppance.

monique-chartier-avatar

Take-Aways from the Blockbuster Curt Schilling Interview?

Rhode Islanders for the first time this morning started getting some straight answers about the 38 Studios debacle that put us all on the hook for $89,000,000 as 38 Studios founder and CEO Curt Schilling broke his silence for three riveting hours on the John Depetro Show on WPRO.

So many interesting items came out of the interview. Two of the bigger ones – but by no means the only big ones – for me are:

1.) Gordon Fox crony Michael Corso played a huge role in putting the deal together and acted as traffic cop for the lucrative contracts that arose from the company coming to Rhode Island. Were all of his actions legal? And were the Rhode Island State Police permitted to conduct an adequate investigation of this question? Or was it … um, shepherded by the Attorney General so as to narrow its scope?

2.) Rhode Island and Providence have some of the most onerous building and fire code requirements in the country. Yet the newly built-out 38 Studios headquarters NEVER OBTAINED A CERTIFICATE OF OCCUPANCY because at least in part, Schilling said, he signed autographs for people. (Editorial comment: We pass highly intrusive laws and they don’t get enforced??? ARGH!!!)

Ahem. What were your take-aways?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Police Union Contract Facilitates Tiverton “Quiet Time” Non-Patrols

This post from yesterday calls the practice among Tiverton police of having a three-hour period in the early morning during which they would sleep “systemic abuse.”  The fact that, as Tim White reports, multiple officers participated in this “quiet time” with the approval of a superior proves the point.  However, the characterization is true for a more institutional reason.

The collective bargaining agreement (PDF) between International Brotherhood of Police Officers local #406 and the Town of Tiverton requires the town to have at least three “regular permanent police officers on duty at all times for patrols.”  During a period of the day when the officers themselves, including the lieutenant on duty, apparently see no need for any patrols — or even wakeful officers — the union’s contract requires the town to pay three of them.

The three hours of “quiet time” therefore equate to nine man hours every day; that’s 63 per week and 3,285 per year.  For comparison, working four eight hour shifts on a six-day cycle, as described in the contract, adds up to 1,947 hours.  According to Tiverton Fact Check’s online payroll application, regular pay for most officers (not including overtime and other pay) ranged from around $45,000 to around $60,000 in fiscal year 2015.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Whose City? Their City.

Although it would be interesting to know how the unpaid parking tickets of Providence mayoral staffs going back three administrations stack up against similar statistics in other cities, the terrible message is telling even if administrations elsewhere have the same attitude:

City officials were planning to be in Municipal Court Wednesday morning to find out what to do about the $14,575 in unpaid parking fines and penalties that drivers of mayoral staff vehicles have run up since 2003. …

[Director of Communications Emily] Crowell said while on city business, they are supposed to put a placard on the vehicle’s dashboard that indicates that. They are allowed to park in legal parking spaces without paying at a parking meter. They are not allowed to park in tow zones, no parking areas or any places that parking is not already legally allowed, she said. If a city vehicle is in a legal parking space and gets a ticket, the driver is supposed to contact the public safety department, verify that the trip was city business and the ticket is dismissed.

Obviously, if a ticket is work related, it makes no sense for the city to waste money and time in the process of paying itself.  But if employees can’t follow a simple process to keep the books straight or, as seems more likely given that the process was not followed, refuses to follow basic parking laws, something more is going on.

That something is an attitude that, because they currently run the government, they own the city.  Of course, the biggest indications that government insiders understand themselves to be ruling, rather than serving, the public are the heavy burdens, restrictions, and taxes that they impose on us.  Racking up and ignoring parking tickets, though, is certainly emblematic.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Tiverton Finds the Source Behind Strange Overtime Numbers

In 2014, Tiverton Fact Check noted that the second-highest-paid employee in town was Police Lieutenant Timothy Panell.  In fact, our transparency application shows that he was the second-highest-paid employee for three of the four years for which we have data (we don’t yet have fiscal year 2016), and third highest for the other year, all of them over $100,000.  Over those four years, overtime averaged about 30% of Officer Panell’s total pay, but it was around 40% for the two most recent years.

It is therefore not surprising, although still disappointing, to see Tim White of WPRI reporting that Panell has been charged with 58 counts of stealing overtime pay.

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Social Services & Negotiating How Much to Take from Others

Sometimes it’s helpful to put stories in chronological order, rather than news-report order, as with this one, from today’s Providence Journal, concerning panhandling and homelessness in Providence:

Complaints about vagrancy, open drug-dealing and drinking exploded after Mayor Jorge O. Elorza decided months ago to stop enforcing ordinances against aggressive panhandling and loitering.

And now the news is that we’ve got Democrat Joseph Paolino getting the heartless 1% treatment because he’s only looking to get $100,000 from the Downtown Improvement District for social workers, along with jobs for two panhandlers, a free apartment for use of a homeless shelter, and up to $5 million in state taxpayer money, in combination with a whole new ordinance that would be even broader than the ones the mayor isn’t enforcing (stopping all transactions through a car window).  The activists protesting Paolino’s PR event have a more comprehensive list:

Less enforcement of minor criminal offenses against people who are poor; more jobs for panhandlers; funding for 150 housing vouchers; drug and alcohol treatment; and amenities such as a day center, public bathrooms and free food distribution. They want the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority bus terminal to remain.

The core of this proposal is to double down on the policy approach that created the controversy (non-enforcement) and to add into the mix amenities that will draw even more vagrants, dealers, and loiterers to the area.  The protesters chanted, “Whose city? Our city!,” and they sure want it to be evident in the public square each and every day.

In short, the only solutions on the table, apparently, involve a negotiation over how much taxpayers have to pay for how much additional imposition.  Both parts of the plan are sure to exacerbate the underlying problem: namely, a domineering government that strangles the private sector and creates incentives not to work or bring behavior within a tolerable range.

We need another approach that doesn’t treat people as categories or as social-workers’ statistics, but as free individuals (from independent families) who can determine their own destinies in a community of mutual respect and charity.  The longer we deny this necessary change of perspective, the more the government plaque will build up in society’s arteries, making it more and more difficult to clear them.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Warwick and RI Can’t Be Generous While Shrinking

The Warwick school department is considering closing up to three schools, and predictably, people aren’t happy about it:

So far, the city has fielded complaints of traffic jams, unfinished construction projects and overcrowding at Warwick’s high schools.

And in an excellent civics lesson, democracy is producing candidates implying they’ll make all the problems go away if elected:

School committee candidate Dean Johnson said he lives nearby and sees the problems every day.

“Nothing but traffic,” he said. “It was 15 minutes from Benny’s to Pilgrim – it was absolutely ridiculous.”

Fellow school committee candidate Nathan Cornell is just 18 years old and said he still has friends in high school.

“At the first day, I called them and say, ‘how was school for you,’” he said. “And they told me it was crowded, especially the lunchrooms.”

Rhode Islanders want to run things as if the state is economically healthy and growing.  It’s not.  When I looked at Warwick’s population in 2012, it had dropped nearly 4% from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census.  This May, I wondered how the school department could be considering any raises at all (let alone the 10% per year the teachers union reportedly wanted) with a smaller, less-working population with shrunken house values, and what justification there could be when the under-performing district had seen its enrollment drop 34% since the 2000-2001 school year.

Look, if you want neighborhood schools, you need the population and the enrollment to support them.  If you want small class sizes, you need to control the costs of teachers.  Rhode Islanders can’t keep up the economy-strangling approach to government and the union-gorging approach to employees and expect to maintain the quality of life they’ve enjoyed.  It is not paradoxical to observe that when you let government take more money from you and your neighbors and to limit your freedoms, you wind up getting less from government.

What will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this?  Or more precisely, what will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this and then change things rather than simply move away?

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Compassion of the Progressive State

Here’s one of those stories that might just provide what we writer types call “foreshadowing”:

A mother who pleaded guilty to fraudulently enrolling her six-year-old son in the wrong school district has been sentenced to five years in prison….

McDowell told police she was living in a van and occasionally slept at a Norwalk shelter or a friend’s Bridgeport apartment when she enrolled her son Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School.

Police said McDowell stole $15,686 worth of ‘free’ educational services from Norwalk.

Of course, this story may not include the sorts of details that lead conservatives to suggest that laws and judgments ought to be made and enforced at the most local level possible.  Although McDowell’s drug prosecution appears to have produced an entirely separate sentence, prosecutors, juries, and judges rightly take the individual into consideration when assessing penalties.  Racial tensions during the Obama Era provide ample evidence of the danger inherent in elevating local stories to the national level in the service of a narrative.

Still, with all of the lip service New England progressives give to helping the disadvantaged and all of the millions of dollars they spend developing ways to ensure an easy on ramp to the easy street of government dependency, we’re in need of reminders that the mission is all about control, not charity.  We can be sure that the government of Connecticut is happy to give McDowell much more than $16,000 in taxpayer-funded benefits and free services, provided she doesn’t try to exercise the parental prerogative of school choice.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Familiar Rhode Island Disability Pension Story

Ethan Shorey reports on an investigation that the town of North Providence conducted of a retired firefighter who appears to be very active in his disabled retirement:

A months-long investigation by the North Providence Police Department shows a former firefighter who won a disability pension three years ago doing manual labor “without restrictions,” according to a police report.

The investigation by Special Investigations Unit Det. Robert Difilippo ran from November of last year to March of this year. It shows disabled firefighter Stephen Campbell shoveling snow in a storm, putting up and taking down Christmas decorations, carrying luggage, and dragging trash barrels, among other activities at his 100 Cleveland St. home.

The chronology of Campbell’s career has a very familiar feel to Rhode Islanders, which makes the whole affair seem (sadly) unsurprising.  Here are some facts from Shorey’s article put in chronological order:

  • Campbell was a one-time volunteer firefighter.
  • At age 48, he put himself on the North Providence waiting list for a job.
  • Former Mayor Ralph Mollis hired Campbell when the applicant was 52, saying it would be “age discrimination” to pass him over.
  • During his first 10 years on the job, Campbell was out of work on injured on duty leave for almost half of his working time.
  • After that decade, a lieutenant took the day off, leaving Campbell to fill his role, and midway through the day, Campbell re-injured his hand (“picking up a small bag,” according to the town’s labor attorney), thus boosting his potential pension $4,000 per year.
  • The state Retirement Board granted Campbell’s disability pension, providing two-thirds of the higher salary, tax free, along with continued benefits.

Now, maybe Campbell’s recent behavior proves he isn’t sufficiently disabled, under the law, or maybe it doesn’t.  Rhode Islanders are also used to discovering that state law is written in a way that legitimizes behavior that seems like it ought to be illegal, especially when it comes to labor unions and government employees.  Whatever the technicalities, though, his story is an unequivocal example of why it’s very difficult not to feel taken advantage of in the Ocean State.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Central Falls Schools Literally Hiring SJWs

Anybody who’s glanced around the rightward side of the Internet and social media will have come across the pejorative acronym, “SJW.”  That stands for “social justice warrior,” and it’s pejorative because it connotes excessive and superficial self-righteousness, combined with a lack of self awareness that would be comical if the SJWs weren’t able to hurt people.

Unfortunately, in a world with an entire generation stewed in political correctness (an abyss into which college campuses appear to have fallen almost completely), SJWs are not as powerless as they would be in a sane world.  Still, it’s jarring to see a public school district in Rhode Island openly advertising jobs for them, although somehow that fact didn’t find its way into Linda Borg’s glowing article on the plan in today’s Providence Journal:

This year, a pool of 15 substitute teachers will be hired to serve the full 180-day school year. They will be offered a week of training this month and repeated professional development during the school year. They will also be mentored by certified teachers. And they will be offered a sweetener — either health-care benefits or $130 per day (typical pay is $100 per day).

The “teaching fellows” would also have an opportunity to lead after-school activities, although permanent teachers would have the first crack at these positions.

In exchange, they will be asked to learn about the school’s mission and values, to become part of a team of valued educators committed to high standards.

That such a plan seems like radical innovation may be a testament to just how rigid and averse to innovation the public school system is, but another layer becomes visible if one looks at the job ad for these positions.  Note, first, that the actual title the district has given these positions isn’t “teaching fellows,” but “Warrior Fellows” (Warriors being the school mascot).  Now consider some language from the ad:

The Warrior Fellowship will require passionate leaders to serve as education and social justice advocates and mentors in all six Central Falls schools while at the same time helping to bridge the gap between the academic and social-emotional support our students and families need in their schools and community.

Fellows are expected to “go through a rigorous training program” and “weekly and monthly workshops and seminars” that will help them develop “the courage and passion to inspire change in our schools, influence the lives of our students, and become advocates for the city of Central Falls.”  Among the areas on which they can focus is “Cultural Pride,” and we can infer that “Western Culture” is not what’s meant.  Among the job requirements (third on the list and the second mandatory one) is “commitment to social justice and urban education.”

In short, the school department in Central Falls, which is largely funded with state-taxpayer money, is literally looking to hire and train “social justice Warriors.”  Thus does Rhode Island endeavor to see just how far into the abyss it can dive.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When the High-Tax Advocates Feel Free to Speak Their Minds

If the Town Council follows through with the Budget Committee’s threat to end trash pickup in Tiverton (or charge extra for it), it will be because elected officials and their supporters want to teach taxpayers not to attempt to control their taxes.  But the real lesson will be that we must be more careful about whom we elect to office.

At the May 21 financial town referendum (FTR), 1,224 voters out of 2,210 approved Budget #2, for a 0.9% tax increase, resulting in zero increase in the property tax rate.  That made supporters of a much-bigger tax increase angry; here are some examples of things that they wrote on the Facebook page of the local activist group Tiverton 1st:

  • May 21. Budget Committee member Deborah Scanlon Janick: “Make sure you all personally thank Justin Katz when you lose the services you are used to.” (Somebody even printed up business cards at this time, telling people to call my cell phone and complain.)
  • May 22. Former Town Council Vice President Joanne Arruda: “First thing… snow plowing… I know this is awful, but those people who put in this budget out there and had their minions vote for it will have to be affected.”
  • May 22. Tiverton 1st organizer Mike Silvia: “… in this town, the uninformed and greedy followers who outnumber the community-minded aren’t smart enough to know they’re being played.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st activist, school department employee, and school committee candidate Linda Larsen: “Unfortunately, [voters] won’t care until they feel pain. … It won’t make a difference unless it becomes personal.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st organizer Kelly Anne Levesque: “I would like to see trash pickup removed which will require you to schlep your maroon bags to the dump or hire a private company.”
  • June 7: Deborah Scanlon Janick: “The residents of Tiverton will pay the price for voting for Budget 2 or for not voting at all.”

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Pension Disaster Will Be Addressed

Springboarding from the woes of California’s public-sector pension problems, The American Interest suggests that it might be too late to avoid some sort of crisis with such pensions across the country:

This long-running failure of governance may be irreversible. All that’s left for state governments to do now is reform pension systems for new employees, phasing out defined-benefit systems for 401(k)-style plans, and, where possible, trim benefits or raise contribution requirements for current workers. In the meantime, federal policymakers should start thinking about a reform-for-relief framework that will enable states and localities to honor their obligations to retirees while getting their finances back under control for the long haul.

We should consider it evidence of the extent of the problem that the generally wise American Interest falls back to the irresponsible cop-out that the federal government ought to step in and make the problem go away — as if the feds aren’t already headed toward dozens of trillions of dollars in debt absorbing every other bad policy decision made throughout the country over the past century.  That is, pensioners relying on the writer’s solution would have to hope that none of the other myriad problems and looming crises comes to a head and absorbs the nation’s very last tolerance for debt before the pension problem.  (My wager is that the multiple crises will cascade into one uber crisis.)

If the idea of the government takething away the pensions that it gavethed is inconceivable, peruse the ruling issued this week by Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter (internal citations removed):

It was clear that to avert disaster the City had to act. (p. 11)…

Notwithstanding a finding of substantial impairment, a contract modification remains constitutionally valid if the City produces sufficient credible evidence that the modification was done to further a significant and legitimate public purpose and if doing so was reasonable and necessary. (p. 30)…

… the Court is satisfied that the City has produced sufficient credible evidence through the testimony of Mayor Fung, Mr. Strom, and Mr. Sherman that the Great Recession, the decline in state aid, and RIRSA’s requirements created an unprecedented fiscal emergency neither created nor anticipated by the City. (p. 34)

Taft-Carter affirmed that cities cannot be expected to raise taxes indefinitely, and unless I missed it, she didn’t so much as speculate that the state could be forced to intervene.  The same will prove true up the scale, all the way to our giant national blob of debt.  At the state level, one could imagine a judge considering something like my argument about the flight of the “productive class” as evidence that higher taxes would accelerate a death spiral already underway.

For those who think the same couldn’t happen at the federal level, one can only suggest that they not take the risk of finding out.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

National Popular Vote and the Company State

Yesterday, Dan Yorke had Providence College Political Science Professor Joseph Cammarano on his 630AM/99.7FM WPRO show, discussing a variety of topics.  When I first tuned in, a caller was growing angry that the professor wouldn’t say for whom he intended to vote, and over the next hour or so of sporadic listening, I came to see how Cammarano might have inspired that response.  His bias came through, most notably in his drive for equivalence with Republicans whenever a caller brought up Democrats’ malfeasance.

One question that came out of nowhere was the professor’s opinion of the electoral college, and he clearly supports the efforts of states, including Rhode Island, to work around the Constitution with the national-popular vote movement.  In not so many words, he that it makes no sense — given our increasingly national culture — to have a system in which we think of states as states, regardless of their population.  That is, he thinks it’s obvious that states don’t have an equal standing of themselves, as political entities, necessitating that the votes of people in low-population states are weighted to give them greater balance against the national votes of people in high-population states.

When this topic came up a few years ago, I mainly thought of it in terms of politics and the calculation for Rhode Island.  After all, Democrats tend to do better in urban areas, so the General Assembly’s signing on to the national popular vote compact was a partisan act, not a representative one (as in advocating for the people whom one actually represents).  The reason Rhode Island gets no attention in national politics isn’t that we’re small; it’s that we’re one-sided.  Republicans have no chance, and Democrats don’t have to work for our electoral votes.  But the reality is that the national popular vote scheme would cut Rhode Islanders’ electoral sway in half.  Why would our representatives agree to do that?

Cammarano’s short statement was the first time I’ve considered this question since stumbling upon the idea of the “company state.”  I’ve been noting that certain cities and the whole state of Rhode Island are moving toward a civic business model in which government becomes the major industry, with incentive to import or create new clients for its services as justification for taking money away from other people in order to finance them.  As Rhode Island has long been learning, the flaw in this model is that the payers can simply leave, and the state is under constant risk that, due to recession or otherwise, people in other states will push back on the federal government’s subsidization of the scheme.

The electoral college, in other words, is one protection against having this “company state” model become truly national, such that municipal and state governments that rely on the compulsory transfer of wealth will be able to reach any wealth from sea to shining sea.

piano-featured

Katz’s Kitchen Sink: But Bountiful Parody Song

As the fiscal year comes to a close for the State of Rhode Island and most municipalities in June, it’s ever more clear that civic life in Rhode Island revolves around government budgets.  For insiders, town, city, and state budgets represent their hopes and dreams — often their livelihoods.  For everybody else, though, they can be a time of dread, as the impossibility of real change is affirmed, cherished programs are threatened (if you’re on that side of the ledger), or more money is confiscated from your bank account (if you’re on the other side of the ledger).

Herewith, a parody song to the tune of “But Beautiful,” inaugurating a somewhat regular new video series, “Katz’s Kitchen Sink,” which will feature whatever sort of content I think might be useful to throw at the problems of the Ocean State — songs, short skits, commentary, or whatever.

Download an mp3 file of this song.

But Bountiful

A budget’s taxes, or it’s pay
Handouts are credits or giveaways
We’re investing, or we save
But bountiful

Bountiful, our industry’s bureaucracies we run
It’s a budget you have no choice but to fund

A budget appropriates, or it steals
Votes are traded in backroom deals
Nobody’s sure just what’s real
But bountiful

And I’m thinking if I had chips, I’d cash them in for gold
And take them to a more bountiful abode

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Fed Money Locks in the Local Bill for Later, Helps Senator’s Brother

How is this, from the Providence Journal, a good idea?

The City of Providence will receive a $15,011,440 federal grant to hire 80 firefighters and stanch the bleeding from a mass loss of Fire Department personnel over the past 18 months.

And the City of Cranston will receive a $2,765,310 federal grant to hire 15 firefighters, increasing the possibility that the Fire Department will hire its first female firefighter. …

A SAFER grant carries the full cost of firefighters with fringe benefits for two fiscal years, after which the municipality must pick up the cost.

What’s supposed to happen between now and two budgets from now to make these positions more affordable for the cities?  Without that piece to the puzzle, this is just the federal government using some additional deficit spending to lock the taxpayers of Providence, Cranston, and Rhode Island into a larger bill in a couple of years. (Don’t forget pensions and other post-employment benefits [OPEB], too.)

Without a specific plan to supplant the federal grant when the time comes, the local governments are acting recklessly.  In offering the grants, though, the federal government is acting immorally, and not just because Senator Jack Reed’s brother Paul is a major figure in Rhode Island labor unions for firefighters who has recently been under fire over financial challenges within his union.

Rhode Islanders don’t have the flexibility for government to play these games.  As very specific evidence, turn to an article out today, on GoLocalProv:

In a letter sent to the Providence City Council this week, Dulgarian informed elected officials that after talking with business owners, he learned:

* Paragon Restaurant had averaged 6200 customers a month before [parking] meters and now averages 4000 a month

* Antonio’s Restaurant had 25 employees before meters and now has 7

* Silvia Disposal hauled away 2.5 truckloads of rubbish a week from Thayer Street before meters and now has 1.5 truckloads

“Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing to have to review things of this nature,” said Dulgarian on Thursday. “Even to be off 5% on sales is devastating. These businesses are on oxygen support.”

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

On the Razor’s Edge Between Citizen and Subject

I’m actually surprised, sometimes, how directly lessons from local politics apply even at the national level.

A few years ago, a friend of mine submitted a charter complaint, as allowed by Tiverton’s Home Rule Charter, against a school employee for disseminating political material in a school.  In contravention of the clear process for such complaints, the Town Clerk conducted an investigation, including being party to the discarding of evidence, and dismissed the complaint.

Now, I happen to like the Town Clerk, but thinking it vital that the process for complaints be clear, strictly followed, and universal in their application, I filed a complaint against her for this activity.  Ultimately, the Town Council let her off by finding that she didn’t “knowingly” violate the charter.  The ruling was ridiculous.  In general, “knowing” action means the person knows he or she took the action, not that he or she knows it was illegal, and the clerk didn’t accidentally conduct an investigation.  Making matters even clearer, section 1211(d)(2) provides for distinct additional penalties when a town employee knows his or her action is a violation.  There is simply no ambiguity, here.

But the council members liked the clerk, and most of them had a political interest in protecting the school employee and the political group whose material she promoted (Tiverton 1st).  So, they simply declared the law to be something different than what it clearly was for this one case.

Now, at the national level, despite what could accurately be described as “gross negligence”… a week after her husband met with the nation’s top law-enforcement agent in a clearly inappropriate, nearly clandestine meeting… the same day the President of the United States takes to the campaign trail with her, Hillary Clinton has dodged prosecution for sending classified information using a private email server because, in the words of FBI Director James Comey, the investigators did not find “some combination of clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information or vast quantities of information exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct or indications of disloyalty to the United States or efforts to obstruct justice.”  She didn’t know, despite having been warned against the server, so that’s that.

As in Tiverton, the reality is that the people whom we have entrusted to enforce our laws simply don’t want to do it, in this case, so we’re stuck.  And that means the only thing keeping us as citizens, rather than subjects of a ruling oligarchy, is our behavior.  If we accept this new reality, we’re serfs.  On that count, I’m with Kurt Schlichter:

They don’t realize that by rejecting the rule of law, they have set us free. We are independent. We owe them nothing – not respect, not loyalty, not obedience. But with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we will still mutually pledge those who have earned our loyalty with their adherence to the rule of law, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Local Politics in Poetry

You know an election season is bound to be odd when it’s scarcely begun and already poetic letters to the editor are hitting the local papers.  Tiverton entered this phase this week when one activist associated with the local big-government, high-tax political action committee Tiverton 1st sent a poem in to the Fall River Herald attacking me.

By way of background, I proposed a budget to voters (who approved it) that held taxes down to a 0.9% increase for the upcoming budget, leaving the line items up to the Budget Committee.  After achieving around 84% of the adjustments needed, the committee backtracked and instead eliminated most of the budget for curbside trash pickup, expecting people either to bring their trash to the dump or for the Town Council to set up some sort of new fee to force people to pay the money that the town initially wanted in taxes, but that the voters refused to pay.  (The move is legally questionable, particularly because the very same activists have long argued that the Budget Committee has no authority to set policy, while now the Town Council president is insisting that her council has no authority to refuse the committee’s decision.)

 

You’re Welcome, Dear Susan

Responding to a personal attack masquerading as a poem by Susan Scanlon, whose sister, Deborah Scanlon Janick, is a member of the Tiverton Budget Committee.

Hi, Susan! Your poem in these pages
thanked me for the referendum results.
As when your sister, Deb Janick, rages,
your real goal seems to be your sharp insults.

Could it be your sister didn’t tell you,
when she wrapped up work with the budget board,
ending trash was what she wanted to do?
So many non-trash options were ignored!

On June 7, here’s what Deb had to say,
writing on Tiverton 1st’s Facebook page:
“The residents of Tiverton will pay
the price for voting for Budget 2.” Rage!

Now it’s the Town Council’s turn to decide
on the administrator’s Option E,
which moves cash around to keep trash alive,
or a sneaked in tax or fee, then blame me.

So, my dear Susan, you are most welcome.
My goal, as always, is one of service.
Now our neighbors can see from the outcome
what sort of people we have in office.

Quantcast