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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.

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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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.

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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

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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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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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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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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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Political Monday with John DePetro: Doubting the People in Charge

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 13, included talk about:

  • A union president accuses race heretics
  • OPEB swamping Providence and Warwick
  • Fear about “red flag” laws
  • The legislative session starts
  • RI losing claim to a Congressional seat,
  • The rolling fundraising party of the State House

Open post for full audio.

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Local Podcast Kicks Off Budget Season

For those in and out of Tiverton who have some interest in the politics and budget process of the town, the latest episode of the Tiverton on Track podcast of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) covers that ground:

Track 1: The Gander Hires a Solicitor
Track 2: Passing the Joint… Meeting
Track 3: What’s the Plan?
Track 4: How the Budget Thing Works

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Local Podcast Year in Review and Look Forward

The Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) is keeping its New Year’s resolution of maintaining its podcast, Tiverton on Track, throughout 2020.  The latest episode reviews 2019 and looks ahead to 2020.

Episodes of this podcast are available as they’re released on BuzzsproutiTunesSpotifyStitcherTuneIn, and a variety of other services that can be found via the Buzzsprout page.  Episodes will also be posted on the group’s blog, Tiverton Fact Check.

If you are a Rhode Islander who produces podcasts on your own or with a group from a conservative perspective, let me know about it.  (And “conservative” doesn’t mean “far right.”  At this point, anybody who isn’t a progressive is on the same side in the Ocean State.)

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Political Monday with John DePetro: RI’s Avoidance of Real Problems

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:

  • Elorza’s interest in being governor
  • Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
  • Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
  • Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism

Open post for full audio.

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A Far-Reaching Conversation on State of the State

State of the State co-host Richard August invited me on for a full hour of the show to cover a broad range of topics, from Tiverton’s recall election to broad political philosophy.

12-9-19 A Different View of Matters from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

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How Local Government Controls the Message

The Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) posted another episode of its podcast, Tiverton on Track, earlier this week, with me giving the opening monologue.  While the content is obviously local, some of the points probably have resonance across the state.  We talk about ways town government manipulates meeting rules and use the advice of its legal representation to limit the involvement of the public.

Track 1: The Silence the Public Scheme
Track 2: Heard Out on the Landfill?
Track 3: Mac’s Two Voices on Free Speech
Track 4: Fabisch Fabricates New Rules

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Hyperlocal Podcasting to Hold the Power-Hungry Accountable in Tiverton

People who are politically active locally in Rhode Island — especially those who aren’t plugged in to the state’s special interest, insider machine — may have noticed that technology and the general direction of our culture are making it increasingly difficult to get information to rise above the noise of social media and its amplification of the old-school rumor mill.

One way in which the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) is working to address that problem is through its new weekly podcast, Tiverton on Track.  Episodes will be available as they’re released on BuzzsproutiTunesSpotifyStitcherTuneIn, and a variety of other services that can be found via the Buzzsprout page.  Episodes will also be posted on the group’s blog, Tiverton Fact Check.

For the most recent episode, special guest Richard Rom joined me and Town Council members Donna Cook and Nancy Driggs.  Rom is the chairman of the Tiverton Republican Town Committee, a member of the Tiverton Library Board of Trustees, and the initiator of recall petitions to remove council President Patricia Hilton, Vice President Denise deMedeiros, and member John Edwards the Fifth.  Rom’s goal is to return the council to the TTA control that voters chose before the political stunt of an unjustified recall election in October that removed me and the council president.  (Note that I’m not involved in the second recall, thinking there are more effective ways to spend time holding the power-hungry of Tiverton accountable.)

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It’s Okay to Think Selfish Is Too Much

Retired Providence firefighter/EMT Michael Morse has a brief post on Rescuing Providence making the reasonable claim that “it’s okay to get paid”:

Without decent pay and great benefits I would have been forced to take my ability and passion for helping people elsewhere.

Morse’s argument is a bit of a strawman, however, and it’s one that labor unions tend to expand into a false dichotomy.  Nobody seriously argues that firefighters in communities that need or want something more extensive than a volunteer department should not be well compensated.  The tricky question is how much that should be.

Yes, in a more or less free market, it would be reasonable for employees to argue, as Morse does, that “it is okay to be selfless for selfish reasons.”  And if a community isn’t providing pay and benefits that attract workers, it will have to increase the pay.

The problem is that unions are designed to push beyond this dynamic.  We saw evidence earlier this year when legislation from Tiverton Democrat Representative John “Jay” Edwards the Fourth interfered with local negotiations to forbid firefighter union locals from continuing to negotiate contracts that the state and national unions don’t like.  (Edwards was very clear about who holds the power.)  This makes the compensation artificially high.  It takes whatever level of pay would not force Michael Morse and his peers to take their abilities elsewhere and then keeps going.

In those circumstances, one might reasonably suggest that it is not okay to be selfless for selfish reasons selfishly.  The unions would have us believe that workers who are not grabbing everything they can possibly get, by whatever means they can possibly get it, will inevitably be underpaid.  That perspective causes Morse’s reasonable point to evaporate and creates a society in which neither side can ever be content.

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The Tragedy of a Halted Development in Providence

There may be no better illustration of Rhode Island’s central problem than the foolish people celebrating the halt of a redevelopment project in Providence:

[Jim] Abdo’s request for a tax stabilization agreement, or TSA, was met with opposition from labor unions and progressive groups. Members of the groups applauded when the plan was tabled Tuesday night.

“I know Mr. Abdo is going to make out tremendously from his investment, with or without the TSA,” Nancy Iadeluca, the Rhode Island director for UniteHERE Local 26, said at a hearing about the TSA earlier this month. “What are we getting back?”

Mr. Abdo is looking to develop the former Providence Journal building and another next door, but he says he can’t secure financing for the project, pegged at $39 million, unless there’s a $2.7 million tax break.  According to the developer (who has reason to present his case in the best light, of course), property taxes resulting from the project would have been $5.7 million, anyway, in addition to more than $20 million in various state taxes.  All that comes with jobs and economic activity.

The article does not say, but one wonders, given labor’s involvement, if Mr. Abdo declined to promise to use union shops for his project.  Be that as it may, he says he’s going to hold on to the asset, undeveloped, whether or not it takes 20 years for him to do something with it.

Many Rhode Islanders oppose these special deals that make an inhospitable economic climate tolerable for hand-picked investors, but even we might see this outcome as tragic — if only as an indicator of things we don’t see.  Imagine how many deals are not being done in the Ocean State because of the environment progressive policies have created!

This is more than just tragic, though; it’s frightening, because under the progressives’ glee is the expectation that this is a step toward their “progress,” not an obstacle.  Note this comment from the Providence Preservation Society’s director, who supported the deal:  “These two buildings are eyesores in the core of downtown. They drive down the sense of positivity.”

Abdo says he’s patient, but his patience might be misplaced.  What the progressives may understand is that an “eyesore” is “blight,” and our society has given the government authority to confiscate properties on which they can pin that tag.  As Providence’s economy gets worse and worse, it may be that progressives are counting on being able to take Abdo’s property away from him, using public dollars to redevelop it into some delusional hipster dream (with expensive union labor), and taking the money to do it from the rest of us suckers who haven’t fled the state.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: A Creature of Their Own Making

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 25, included talk about:

  • Insider Alves and the radical caucus
  • The union view of employer responsibility
  • Gaspee versus campaign finance laws
  • Paint on the statute becoming blood on government’s hands
  • Blood on the police officer’s hand gets a slap on the wrist

Open post for full audio.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Hints of a Constitutional Crisis

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 18, included talk about:

  • Raimondo fundraising as governance
  • The governor sues the General Assembly
  • Municipalities sue the state government
  • Protestors’ liberal-meeting interruptions
  • Cranston seeks investigation of another department

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Connecting Political Dots

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 11, included talk about:

  • The problem of public sector pensions
  • The value of the Fung brand for the Mrs.
  • Mayor Pete’s no-media, no-controversy event
  • Nanny Bloomberg and Gina’s RFP
  • No warning on the homeless transplants

Open post for full audio.

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NYC Exports the Problems of Progressivism

What is a progressive mayor to do when his city’s policies produce the inevitable problems, including homelessness?  Well, in an area of the country where the average temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees, the government can let tent cities emerge for a while.  In a place like Bill de Blasio’s New York City, where January’s average is 40 degrees (which any winter visitor knows can feel like it’s in Kelvin, not Fahrenheit, when the wind cascades between the buildings), that isn’t an option.

So, the city has come up with a novel solution:

From the tropical shores of Honolulu and Puerto Rico, to the badlands of Utah and backwaters of Louisiana, the Big Apple has sent local homeless families to 373 cities across the country with a full year of rent in their pockets as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Special One-Time Assistance Program.” Usually, the receiving city knows nothing about it.

City taxpayers have spent $89 million on rent alone since the program’s August 2017 inception to export 5,074 homeless families — 12,482 individuals — to places as close as Newark and as far as the South Pacific, according to Department of Homeless Services data obtained by The Post. Families who once lived in city shelters decamped to 32 states and Puerto Rico.

As Shaun Towne reports, using the interactive map provided in Sara Dorn New York Post article on the program, a handful of beneficiary families found their way to Rhode Island — one each in North Kingstown, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket and three in Providence.  The mayors of the northern three of those communities are reportedly not happy about the situation:

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien and Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt released a joint statement Thursday calling the program “an outrageous example of bad public policy.” They said it’s “irresponsible” for New York to spring needy families on other communities without warning, especially those already “working with limited resources to improve [their] residents’ quality of life.”

A cynic might quip that these mayors are only upset that they were not notified so as to ensure that their new constituents are registered to vote.  This thought leads to a more intellectually interesting problem.  The Big Apple’s program suggests a system that creates pressure for the exportation of bad ideas, including both the policies that created the unpleasant situation and the paternalism of using taxpayer dollars to compensate their victims.

Would it be possible to design a system that sends people from localities where good ideas dominate to such benighted states as New York and Rhode Island?

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Cracks in the Wall of Corruption

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for October 21, included talk about a political operative’s indictment, other political operatives’ hemp biz, Block’s complaint against government operatives, Wyatt protesters, and an unpopular governor.

Open post for full audio.

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Block Calls for Investigation of Warwick

Ken Block has been one of the most visible reformers looking for change in the State of Rhode Island, and last year, he directed some of his attention toward the City of Warwick, its financial problems, and the questionable way it was handling some of its operations.  That’s when his Warwick-based office received a visit from the fire marshal, conducting a surprise inspection based on an “anonymous, non-specific complaint.”

After waiting a year for Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon to deliver on his promise of a review of that inspection, Block has filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office:

I write today to file a formal complaint with your office regarding the City of Warwick. I believe that I have been the victim of abuse of power and an unfair and possibly illegal search. …

The visits to my office by first the fire department, then the Mayor and lastly the tax office conspired to send me a crystal-clear message: stop causing trouble or we will make your life hard.

Public servants should never abuse the power that is only made possible by the voters and taxpayers that support them. I look to your office as an important check on this sort of abuse.

Reformers are always at a disadvantage when pushing back against government abuse, particularly in a state like Rhode Island, which is incredibly lopsided, politically, and becoming more so, not less.  If the legal system and judiciary won’t act as a check on abuse, then all truly is lost. The same is true if people, like Ken Block, stop pushing back.

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Making a Tinderbox Out of a City

In response to an ideologically driven attack on a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence on Columbus Day, this is a terrible idea, as reported by the Associated Press:

Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza told WPRO he’d entertain the idea of moving the statue from the city’s Elmwood neighborhood to the Federal Hill neighborhood, which is known for its Italian American community and Italian restaurants. His spokeswoman later said that any move would require input from the community.

If it isn’t immediately clear why moving the statue to an ethnic enclave would be the wrong response, consider this commentary from Italo-American Club of Rhode Island President Anthony Napolitano, appearing in a WPRI article by Nancy Krause:

While moving the statue may not guarantee it won’t be vandalized, Napolitano said the plan would include putting security cameras in place.

“We’ll watch the statue,” he said.

Because the city apparently can’t, the Italians will defend their statue from the assault of others.

Dividing the city into fortified neighborhoods based on demographic identity would be a disaster waiting to happen.  It would declare a retrogression of our community toward a less-enlightened time.  It would be an acknowledgement that, as a society, we are incapable of the maturity necessary to take a balanced view of history and handle each other as individuals and as peers in the modern world.

We face a lot of work undoing the deterioration of our shared culture, but the easy accommodation of moving statues would be a marker of a step too far.

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The Essence of Educational Freedom… for Providence Pols

Ian Donnis’s article looking into the educational choices of government officials who live in Providence has received much-deserved attention.  I don’t think anybody has adequately noted how telling it really is.

The upshot is that, out of 38 officials he reviewed, Donnis found only eight with school-aged children, of whom there were 13 between them.  Of these:

  • Four go to private schools (religious or otherwise)
  • Three go to charter schools
  • Six go to regular district schools

That’s not the whole story, though.  One of the children in district schools went to charters before entering high school.  He and one other politician’s child go to Classical, which has been ranked #1 in the state.  Two more go to a particular elementary school, which Erika Sanzi implies is “on the fancy side of town,” with a lottery even for children in the neighborhood.

This scenario illustrates the essence of educational freedom that wealthier families enjoy.  If they are interested in utilizing public schools, they’ll move to specific zip codes for that purpose.  If that isn’t an option, or if the schools change, they apply for charter schools.  If they don’t win that gamble, or if a particular school has an entrance exam and their children don’t succeed on the test, then they’ll turn to private schools.  (I’ve long suggested that charter schools’ introduction was in some respects an attempt to capture those families that were escaping to private schools.)

If we consider education to be as critical as politicians like to claim, then it shouldn’t only be families of means who can make these decisions.

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Societal-Corruption Of “Political-Correctness” Reaches into Providence School Reading List

Right from the start, the Rhode Island media got it wrong when they criticized interim-superintendent, Fran Gallo, for making a ‘costly’ mistake in ordering motivational books for dispirited students in the beleaguered Providence school system. How dare she corrupt the minds of city youth with an otherwise uplifting book that happened to include passive “religious overtones?

The media was all over the story. But, the issue should not have been that Gallo wasted almost two-hundred thousand dollars in inappropriate books that she was forced to recall, but, rather, the critical moral question should have been ‘why’ were the books deemed unacceptable in the first place? What could possibly be so offensive about famous athletes providing motivational messages to youth about overcoming adversity, even if some of them cited their wholesome faith in God as a major factor?

But, it gets even better.