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Pryor’s Boss Too Obviously the Governor, Not the People

One expects appointed department heads in government to support the policies of the elected officials who hired them and even, to some extent, their political interests. But Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Secretary of Commerce, Stefan Pryor, seems to go beyond reasonable boundaries to the point of being a pitch man for her individually.  Here he is appearing on a recent Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) Political Roundtable:

Ian Donnis: Maureen, how would you evaluate how things are unfolding in the I-195 district?

Maureen Moakley: Well, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is public property. It’s very different from an existing structure that’s privately owned, so we have to make this kind of investment. Having said that, when you talk about the pedestrian bridge, that’s been in the works for a long time, and I think the problem is…

Stefan Pryor [interrupting]: But it didn’t get done. Now it’s getting done.

Moakley: But the plan was there.  I think the problem is, we’ve got to start seeing some action.  There’s a political question, here, in the sense that, while the governor has wisely invested in the long-term kind of things, she’s up for reelection. We’ve got to see some results.

Pryor: Well, absolutely, and we’re seeing it. Now, there’s plenty more work to do, but this is the administration that gets things done.  There may have been plans… ideas… figments of people’s imagination regarding a bridge.  Now, it’s actually entering construction, fully financed, rolling.  That doesn’t get done by itself.

The tone of voice is important, so listen to the whole show (which is only 9 minutes).  There’s something about the way that Pryor dismisses all who came before his queen and the work that they did as he layers in the political marketing slogans (e.g., The Administration That Gets Things Done™).  One gets the sense that Rhode Islanders can have no confidence that he’ll do anything for the state that isn’t in the direct, immediate, and planned interests of the governor as a politician rather than an office.

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About That “Investment per Job”

I recently came across this Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) Bottom Line segment from August, in which Dave Fallon discusses with Providence Business News Editor Mark Murphy the value of business incentives financed at taxpayer expense.  At one point, Murphy mentions an Attleboro company that the state promised $500,000 of incentives over five years to move 20 employees over the border and to hire eight more.  He insists that the deal works out to less than $4,000 per job, which he clearly implies was a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars.

This sort of thinking reveals a systemic desperation that has worked its way into the psyche of Rhode Island opinion-makers.  So what if Rhode Island technically has a few more jobs on paper?  The likelihood that the 20 existing employees will move based on a corporate hop over the border is low, and the likelihood that any movers would choose high-tax Rhode Island is even lower.  As for the eight new jobs, they’re scarcely more available to Rhode Islanders than they already would have been.

Putting that aside and looking more generally, to believe that this $4,000 per job is worth the expense, you have to believe that (1) the jobs wouldn’t have happened anyway and (2) the money given to the company wouldn’t have been used for something better if left in Rhode Islanders’ own accounts.  After all, if we believe that a relatively small subsidy is creating new jobs, there’s no reason to believe that the market wouldn’t have found an even better use than moving an existing company a few miles.  Somebody, somewhere — or maybe multiple people in multiple places across Rhode Island — was not able to do something that might have been more valuable, in the long run, because politicians claimed the authority to pick a company for giveaways.

What taxpayers actually bought with this half-million dollars was a quick talking point for the state’s Secretary of Commerce, Stefan Pryor, allowing him to proclaim the success of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s policies on the grounds that people are willing to take free money that she claims the right to dole out.

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Students Trapped By Their Zip Code In Failed Schools

How many Rhode Island families have moved away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home… because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity? The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families; those who oppose choice are all about preserving the status quo system. With aggressive education reform ideas to come from the White House beginning next year, and only one side will prevail.

In announcing his intent to nominate philanthropist, entrepreneur, and education reform leader, Betsy DeVos, to serve as his administration’s Secretary of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has selected a talented woman who will place the interests of students and families above the interests of the state controlled school system model. A proven innovator, Betsy DeVos will ostensibly work with states and with Congress to implement the new president’s bold national school choice initiative

I have had the pleasure of personally meeting Ms. DeVos in attending multiple education reform conferences sponsored by the American Federation for Children (AFC), of which Ms. DeVos has been chairman, and I have chatted with her over dinner. I know that she will support reform of America’s broken educational system by removing barriers to change. It is the mission of educational leaders like Betsy DeVos to provide students, trapped by their zip code in a failed school, with the opportunity to attend a school of their family’s choice. Such choices include expansion of charter school seats, educational scholarships that can be used to attend private schools, and private mentoring programs.

Our Center has similarly advocated for Bright Today Educational Scholarships, which would empower parents in our state with the freedom and financial capacity to choose the best educational path for their children. Our Center produced reams of research that clearly demonstrated that such a program would not cause harm to students who remain in public schools. In fact, a detailed financial model showed that by funding such scholarships with state money only, and leaving 100% of local education dollars for exclusive use in local public schools, there would actually be more money available per public school student. You can read more about the model here.

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Another Indication of the Private-Sector Solution for RI

Here’s another interesting tidbit from Ted Nesi’s “Notes” today:

Like many, [Newport-and-Cambridge start-up Dockwa CEO Mike Melillo] wishes Rhode Island could take better advantage of its proximity to thriving Boston. “The distance between Palo Alto and San Francisco is the same time as it is between Boston and Providence,” Melillo said. “Yet none of the companies that ship their employees from Palo Alto to San Francisco do that from Boston to Providence. … I think there’s an incredible opportunity.” Nokes, too, thinks Rhode Island isn’t tapping its full potential. “There’s really no reason why a state as small as we are, with the potential efficiencies that we could have, that we have such high overhead and such low rankings on ease of doing business,” he said.

Cut red tape, reduce regulations, eliminate mandates, and lower taxes.  I’ve recently heard a complaint that I don’t offer detailed policy suggestions to counter all of the junk that elected officials in Rhode Island pile on us every year, but the details are irrelevant until we’ve decided to turn the corner.  The basic policies aren’t difficult.  This isn’t rocket science… or even slip mooring rental, which is the apparently complicated problem that Dockwa seeks to resolve.

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Immigration and the Choices Your Government Makes

Writing in the Washington Examiner, Paul Bedard lists some programs for American citizens that are seeing their funding drained in order to pay for services for illegal immigrants making their way over the border:

The Department of Health and Human Services is raiding several of its accounts, including money for Medicare, the Ryan White AIDS/HIV program and those for cancer and flu research to cover a shortfall in housing illegal youths pouring over the border at a rate of 255 a day.

HHS is trying to come up with $167 million to fund the Office of Refugee Resettlement that is accepting the youths, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. …

The money, [Policy Director Jessica Vaughan] said, pays for “shelters, health care, schooling, recreation, and other services for the new illegal arrivals, who typically were brought to the border by smugglers paid by their parents, who often are living in the United States illegally.”

I’m most definitely not one to assume that the eight specific transfers mentioned will not come from waste, and I’d rather use money that’s already been confiscated from taxpayers (or put on our massive debt tab) to provide basic necessities for poor children anywhere in the world than to fund the adult-entertainment habits of employees of the federal government (for example).

But the article is useful in framing a basic policy reality.  As a point of fact, money spent on welfare and other services for illegal immigrants necessarily comes from some other expenditure, whether reducing government services for citizens or leading to more taxes.

For that matter, it’s worth reminding people that money collected through taxes, fees, and fines doesn’t just appear out of people’s bank accounts.  It necessarily means the money isn’t spent on something else, especially in an era in which vanishingly few people truly keep cash lying around unused.

Even those who are willing to simply brush aside questions about the government’s right to take people’s money away to pay for things that powerful people value still have to ask whether the thing to be purchased is worth sacrificing the things not purchased.  Too often, we allow government officials and their satellites to spend money as if there is no downside to doing so.

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JOI in the PBN

Providence Business News Web editor Lori Stabile notes Rhode Island’s continuing poor performance on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI):

Rhode Island’s score fell to 17.5 in October from September’s 17.9 on the index, which ranks states on a scale from 0-100 on factors including job outlook, which measures optimism that adequate work is available; freedom factor, which measures the level of work against reliance on welfare programs; and prosperity factor, which measures the financial motivation of income versus taxes.

Of all the factors, arguably the clearest cut is the prosperity factor, which is literally a ratio of personal income (including investments and rental income) to state, local, and federal taxes.  The data shows that RI’s ratio puts personal income at 2.4 times total taxes collected, which is the fourth-smallest ratio in the country.

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Empowering Our Families!

Did you have empty chairs at your Thanksgiving dinner table? We all know people who have left Rhode Island for greener economic pastures. The Ocean State’s poor business climate is forcing our people out. For too long, there has only been one voice in the policy discussion in Rhode Island. What if Rhode Island’s political leaders were to realize that policies that focus only on the material needs of individuals were actually harming our state’s families? It is time for Rhode Island to adopt the family friendly policy reforms that can transform our state into a place where people can achieve their hopes and dreams.

We need to empower families, businesses, and all of the people of the Ocean State to make the calls, instead of a small group of insiders. Our state ranks 48th on both the Family Prosperity Index of the American Conservative Union, and the Jobs & Opportunity Index created by our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. We have virtually no population growth, and have suffered the embarrassment of many other near-bottom rankings. Despite all this, our Rhode Island political class appears happy not to make the significant changes that are needed to turn our state around.

The Ocean State needs to dare to disrupt the status quo and boldly evolve itself into a regional outlier so that we can become a magnet – on our own – for businesses, jobs, and families. Will the elitists in Rhode Island learn the biggest lesson of the election? It is time to remember forgotten families. Both President-elect Donald Trump, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have said for a very long time that the system is rigged against regular people. While other states are decisively moved in a new direction, Rhode Island is doubling down on a failed agenda.

Rhode Islanders have had enough of the insider machine. It is time to make a complete turnaround. We must adopt the family friendly reforms that can make our state a place where our families can be prosperous. You are powerful. You do not have to tolerate the cronyism and elitist attitude any longer. Don’t be on the sidelines. The rigged system in the Ocean State has kept too many people out of the process. Now is the time for you to speak out and demand that the status quo changes.

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The Story of Rhode Island in the Trump-Clinton Divide

The other day, the Providence Journal published an interesting map showing that, much like the country as a whole, Rhode Island’s presidential votes were split by region, with the coastal municipalities’ going to Hillary Clinton and the interior going to Donald Trump.  The image oversimplifies, of course; several cities and towns in the northeast of the state don’t touch the coast, and Charlestown and Tiverton went to Clinton without her winning even half of the vote.

Reporter Paul Edward Parker touch on some of the nuance in the numbers:

Four of the five communities with the highest median household incomes voted for Clinton, as did seven of the eight communities with the lowest incomes.

Essentially, Clinton drew her support from the wealthiest and poorest places, while Trump drew his from the middle.

Laying this out in more detail arguably tells the story of Rhode Island’s current condition in a single chart:

RImuni-clintonvotevsincome

In that red U, we see both the story of the “productive class” and the workings of the “company state.”

Refer back to this 2009 post on Anchor Rising, and you’ll see that the bottom of the U is almost exactly in line with the population that has been leaving Rhode Island throughout this millennium.  As those Rhode Islanders flee the state, those who remain are increasingly part of the “company state” or “government plantations” model, wherein highly paid service providers in and around government have incentive to increase the number of clients requiring subsidized services as a pretense for taking money away from those above the line for subsidies.

This model harms the economy and drives people away because it reduces the incentive and opportunity to work.  The “productive class” is characterized by the economic role of the people who tend to be within it.  It’s the broad class of people whose main function in the economy is to turn their effort and ingenuity into money that they can use to support and advance their families.

This trend is terrible for a state for a multitude of reasons, but two stand out as particularly profound and overarching.  The first is that the “productive class” is the group whose activities are the foundation of a thriving and advancing society.  They are the dynamism and hope for the future.

The second is that the erosion of this tier of the economy as a source of balance eliminates political competition. A loss of political competition will inevitably lead to a political monolith that is not only incapable of correcting itself, but also susceptible to simple, wasteful, and demoralizing corruption.

Those who sympathize with the high points of the U really need to reevaluate the long-term good of their policies.  The rest of us need to redouble our efforts to turn the tide.

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Forgotten Families

Will the political class in Rhode Island learn the lesson of the election? It is time to remember forgotten families. As President -elect Donald Trump, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have been claiming for a long time, the system is rigged. While other states are decisively moving forward, Rhode Island is falling in the wrong direction. The Ocean State needs to dare to disrupt the status quo and boldly evolve itself into a regional outlier so that we can become a magnet – on our own – for businesses, jobs and families.

The biggest election impact in the Ocean State is status quo politicians may no longer have their government-centric schemes funded by the federal government! We want a government that works for all of us, not just the chosen few. We understand that if the Ocean State is to become a better home destination, we must offer a better life for American families by creating an environment that will organically produce more and better businesses so as to create more and better jobs.

Rhode Island has the worst business climate in the nation. It ranks 48th on both the Family Prosperity Index of the American Conservative Union and the Jobs and Opportunity Index of our Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. It has virtually zero population growth, and it has suffered the ignominy of dozens of other near-bottom rankings. Despite all this, our Rhode Island political class appears content not to rock the boat. We need to empower entrepreneurs, families and all of the people of Rhode Island to make the decisions for our state.

Unless we want our home state to continue with failed rankings, we must switch tracks and focus on policies that broadly help families and small businesses. Haven’t you had enough? Rhode Island has been crippled by a rigged system for far too long. Big spending, high taxes, and insider handouts have led us to where we are now. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, there are empty chairs at our holiday dinner tables. We all know people forced to leave Rhode Island. Your voice is powerful. Continue to speak out and the wave of change will come to the Ocean State.

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Letting It All Sink In

Most of the links I’ve collected over the last couple of days for further consideration and possible posting have had to do with national politics, and I’m not much in the mood to join the chorus, right now.  I will say, though, that the implications of the election are encouraging, irrespective of the president elect (that is, if he stays out of their way).

A pivotal moment came for me the other evening when I heard Rudy Giuliani discussing possible appointments that might fill out the Trump administration.  For most of them, it was a reminder that, before they backed Trump in the first place, I liked how most of these people approach policy issues.  This positive reminder has been reinforced by talk from the other side.  Here one clip from several local environmentalists’ press releases, which Alex Kuffner cut up and reprinted as a Providence Journal article:

“With an uncertain future and a federal government now determined to stop us at every turn, the innovative environmental work happening on the local and regional level is more important than ever,” said Josh Block, press secretary of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Sure, it’s a call to keep local funding going for crony projects and activism for economic deterioration, but if it’s not being pushed and largely funded from Washington, D.C., maybe Rhode Island can have an actual discussion of the policies.  Similarly for education:

Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents, worries that Republicans, who now control the House and Senate, will make good on their threats to cut federal spending on education, and possibly move to abolish the Department of Education in its entirety. …

Another area of uncertainty is school choice. Trump has proposed $20 billion to expand school choice for low-income children. Students could use the money to attend private, charter and traditional public schools of their choice.

Even the possibility that the federal government might put families first by skipping over the corrupt and inefficient educational bureaucracy to give federal education resources directly to families who need them is tantalizing.  As is this, via email, from Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:

These results, and the current state of our nation, present a new opportunity and responsibility for cities to play a much larger role in shaping our democracy. As the mayor of Providence, I commit to doubling down on my efforts to advance a society that is inclusive, compassionate, and forward-thinking.

Yes, yes, he’s talking about “doubling down” on a worldview that is destructive and inimical to freedom and self actualization, but maybe without the federal government imposing progressivism from above and funding activists with tax dollars, we can actually make key decisions at the local level, where they ought to be made.

Nobody should be surprised when our dishonest president-elect looks for ways to back out of difficult promises, but even if his administration only partially reins in the corrosion and abuse of our civic system, we’ll be entering a new era.

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CVS and the Governor as Feudal Lord

This raises questions of political philosophy:

The governor said she’s committed to helping displaced CVS employees find new jobs through the state’s job-training and job-placement programs. She said they’ll all be employed or paid through the end of the year. …

“CVS is a large, growing, strong company,” Raimondo said in an interview. And although CVS is eliminating some jobs as part of its annual strategic planning, Raimondo said the company is adding in other areas: “They’re still hiring.”

Why do we expect our governor to provide us information about the corporate decisions of CVS and to have a “commitment” to individual employees’ job searches?  That is, why does the governor have any role in this story at all, let alone a headline?  Why do we need her intercession and reports on matters that we, private citizens and journalists, can approach the leaders of our fellow private citizens and business leaders to discuss?

The questions become deeper with other news in the same article, after a few paragraphs about the governor’s quest to bring PayPal offices to the state:

Raimondo said she doesn’t know when GE Digital may sign a lease for permanent space in Providence for its promised information technology center. GE Digital spokeswoman Amy Sarosiek said Friday the company hasn’t yet signed a lease.

But, Raimondo said, she dined with GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt earlier this week at the New England Council’s award dinner in Boston, when Raimondo and Immelt were among three winners of the business organization’s “New Englander of the Year” awards.

Why is it the governor’s responsibility to be targeting specific companies for special attention (and special breaks)?

Unfortunately, all of these activities have become only natural, because these rich insiders have built a system in which they’re interconnected as a ruling class and in which the important deals and decisions happen not in our communities, with each advance and innovation of a Rhode Island business owner or worker, but while our elite feudal lord”dines” at bogus insider award ceremonies with other elites.

This is the progressive vision, and it’s only going to become more pronounced as we give government more control over our lives and more responsibility for making sure we never have any difficulty.

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Stumbling into Better Policy with Tolls?

I tend to believe the assessment of Robert Pitcher, VP of the American Trucking Association, that Rhode Island legislators intended for a fee reduction on truck registrations to be an insider gimme to in-state truckers, not “to apply to vehicles based outside the state.”  As the Trucking Association describes the problem:

“The new section 31-6-1.1 lowers the fees for trucks and tractors registered in RI,” said Pitcher.  “This includes trucks and tractors registered under [the International Registration Plan (IRP)] and based in [] states other than RI, all of which are under the Plan registered in RI to which they pay fees for all travel in RI.  And of course, this means a reduction in registration fees for a whole lot of trucks — including tractor trailers running through Rhode Island on the interstate.”

Everybody’s been focusing on the incompetence of this poor drafting of the law (if it proves to have the warned-of consequence).  The effort to bring in new revenue from tolls may have the effect of removing existing revenue from registrations.

On reflection, though, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Any money not collected for more-general purposes and dedicated to maintaining infrastructure is a good thing, and if the trade is entirely within the tax-and-fees structure for commercial trucks, so much the better.

Of course, the trick would be to prevent the state from making up for the lost revenue from registrations by increasing registration fees on others or just increasing taxes on everybody.  That would just make the whole tolling fiasco ultimately an increase of general taxes.

I wish I could be confident that Rhode Islanders could prevent the state government from ratcheting up revenue in this way, but given that we don’t have a legitimate representative democracy, we’ll just have to continue watching the blundering as insiders move to fix the holes the poked in their graft boat.

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CVS Layoffs – Political Policy AGAIN Comes Home to Roost in RI

[The Gaspee Business Network just issued the following statement/exhortation.]

We are incredibly sad to announce that amid the long standing depressed job market in Rhode Island as well as the worst business climate in the nation, hundreds of moms and dads, struggling young adults, and professionals were laid off today at the CVS corporate office in Woonsocket. The members of the GBN family wish to extend our deepest condolences to those who must now find some means of making ends meet right before the holidays amid one of the worst economies in the country.

The people to blame for these layoffs are the politicians that have run Rhode Island into the ground for decades.

Nothing will change until each and every career politician is removed from office on Smith Hill.

These government bureaucrats have made the cost to employ the hard working men and women in Rhode Island so expensive, companies have no choice but to outsource their labor to other countries.

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Influencing Elections for Personal Gain and Power

The Rhode Island Democrat Party and other left-wingers have been trying to make a big deal out of the fact that conservatives aren’t entirely sitting on their hands during this election cycle:

On Thursday, former Democratic party chairman William Lynch, now senior adviser, issued a news release calling on voters to “reject special interest money” from “outside right-wing organizations” trying to influence the election.

He pointed to $90,294 in combined independent expenditures from the Roosevelt Society, led by former Republican Providence mayoral candidate Daniel Harrop, and the Gaspee Project, founded by activist Mike Stenhouse, and suggested they were being secretly funded by the trucking industry.

That’s two organizations spending on a range of candidates and issues.  A GoLocalProv article out today actually puts the groups’ combined spending at $60,850, but either way, the idea that this represents some invasion of voter sanctity by self-interested parties is absurd.  Just look through the bigger spenders on GoLocal’s list:

  • $335,000 from the URI Foundation and URI Alumni Association to push voters to put taxpayers in $72,937,126 of debt (principal and interest) for spending on URI programs
  • $175,000 from two individuals directly involved in ProvPort to push voters to put taxpayers in $112,210,962 of debt to expand their port and do work at the one in Quonset
  • $100,000 from United Way, as mentioned on this site yesterday, to push voters to put taxpayers in $80,150,687 of debt to fund the local affordable housing industry
  • $1,700,000 from Twin River to promote state and local ballot questions to allow a new casino in Tiverton
  • $146,500 from Alan Hassenfeld, partly to push for passage of ethics reform, but more to back candidates who’ll work to infringe on Rhode Islanders’s Second Amendment rights
  • And rounding out GoLocal’s top 10 list is Planned Parenthood, with $25,712 to promote politicians who’ll fight to continue allowing the killing of babies before every inch of them is clear of their mothers’ bodies

Anybody who’s concerned about the use of government to take away people’s property and rights should be much more concerned about money for debt and left-wing policies.  Voters should also be concerned about a party and ideology that tries to make it seem scandalous that those who disagree with them have the audacity to participate in the political process.  They’d rather be able to take your property and your rights without any opposition.

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Empty Chairs At Our Holiday Dinner Tables

The Providence Journal’s endorsements of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, spending bond questions, and incumbent congressman are, in essence, support of the status quo. Such endorsements should be made with a broad, external-looking, national perspective, not with a narrow, inward-looking local lens – as we see so many in our political and media elite continually do.

This perspective is vital for voters. The political class believe that large corporate handouts and small, targeted tax cuts are good for economic development. As compared with other states, these measures are insignificant and ill-directed.

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Putting Government in Charge of Everything, Consumer Financial Division

We hear complaints when government is slow and inefficient, with Congress receiving the greatest volume of such complaints, but that’s a key point.  When an organization is empowered to confiscate people’s property, change the rules of the economy and society, put people in jail, and even kill them, we should want it to be structured such that it is difficult to abuse and that it doesn’t make sense to use it to undertake too many activities within our society.

This morning’s post on HealthSource fits into this category, as does Iain Murray’s observations of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB):

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in the case, PHH Corp. v. CFPB, that the Bureau’s structure was unconstitutional and ordered that Cordray should report to the President. Under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which created the CFPB, the President has no power to remove the CFPB Director except for malfeasance, and Congress has no power to restrict the Bureau’s operations through the appropriations process, as the Bureau draws its budget from the Federal Reserve, itself an independent agency. The Court deems the CFPB’s unaccountable structure unconstitutional, saying that it posed a “risk of arbitrary decisionmaking [sic] and abuse of power” and “a threat to individual liberty.”

Sounds momentous. But you will find no mention of the judgment on the CFPB’s website, and so far the Bureau’s only action has been to file a brief in an unrelated case saying that the ruling “has no basis in the text of the Constitution or in Supreme Court case law,” and that, “The panel decision was wrongly decided and is not likely to withstand further review.”

Read the rest if you haven’t been following the antics of the CFPB.  The lawless agency has been imposing fees retroactively in what can only be described as extortion.

Next, move such boards — including all quasi-publics, government-aligned non-profits, and corporation-like entities like HealthSource — up on your list of things about which to be concerned and by which to judge the people whom you elect.

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You Mean People Make Money by Selling Drugs?

Sometimes following the news makes one feel as if everybody else is willfully living in some sort of fantasy.  Today’s Providence Journal article on the profits of medical marijuana in the state, by Jennifer Bogdan and Tom Mooney, gives me that sensation:

Medical marijuana is big business in Rhode Island. It wasn’t intended to be.

Advocates wanted dispensaries to provide a safe, ample supply of medicine for those who needed it. But the program has proliferated virtually unchecked, offering yes, relief for the ill, but also opportunity for investors who can operate behind the opaque screen surrounding Rhode Island’s three dispensaries. …

There were so many questions that they couldn’t answer at the time [legislation was crafted]. “I mean who knew?” How should the dispensaries operate? How much marijuana should they be allowed to grow? Would the legislature be more receptive if dispensaries weren’t influenced by shareholders?

“We said they were supposed to be nonprofits. Why? Well, first of all, we didn’t want them to be in it for the money.”

Oh, come on.  Are people really that unable to break down issues to their core components and categorize them properly in order to predict outcomes?  With medical marijuana, our (famously corrupt) state gave oligopoly authorization to three entities to sell an otherwise illegal product.  As I put it in 2011, the state was estimating that each dispensary would be “an instant $20 million business facilitated by the Department of Health.”  According to today’s article, the profits appear to be smaller and not quite so instant, and yet, the article presents 78% growth over a year, to $17 million for all three dispensaries, as if it’s unexpected and suspicious.

To the extent that the organizations aren’t making big returns on their investments, the article expresses suspicion about other ways in which participants are trying to make money.  It never fails to surprise that people really believe that those who work for non-profits can’t be “in it for the money” and that government power tends to breed corruption.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with making a profit.  Money is just an indication of value, and our economic system is supposed to determine what people value and provide it — whether that means innovating to create new products or building new capacity to produce and supply existing products.  People value drugs, but it takes an investment to get the industry over a start-up hump, and then it takes the flow of money to prove the consumer interest.  (As a society, we love to harvest the fruits of investment, but we never want to pay the reward.)

The way in which Rhode Island legalized marijuana was almost expressly designed to ensure that the government maintained pent-up demand in order to drive up prices and increase the tax take.  That’s been obvious along; people who are surprised really need to go back and review the assumptions that they have about the way things work and reevaluate how they believe government should behave.

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Enough Of The Insider Machine

It is a result of the failed status quo of increased government intervention in our personal and business lives that the Ocean State ranks so poorly on so many national indexes. It is not acceptable that we rank 50th with the worst business climate in the nation, 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index, and 48th on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index. It is up to voters to review all the data, and decide whether or not to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records this November.

This week, the Center released a new voter guide for the upcoming ballot questions. In heaping over $321,000,000 of additional debt burden on Rhode Island families, as well as on future generations, we are recommending to voters that they “reject” bond Questions #4-7. Just like families who must tighten their credit card debt and avoid luxuries they cannot afford, voters should reject the exorbitant spending proposed by the state, much of which is earmarked to benefit special interest insiders. Only Question #2 – to amend the state constitution restore Ethics Commission authority – received an “Approve” recommendation from the Center.

Haven’t you had enough of the broken status quo here in the Ocean State? We have seen over and over again that the special interest thinking is failing the people of Rhode Island, while enriching the elites. You and your family deserve more. The headlines are full of examples of regular people being kept out of the process and silenced. It is time to stand up to the same old way of doing things here in our state. It will be up to voters to decide this November if they want to continue down the path our state is on or to change things here in Rhode Island.

I think Rhode Islanders have had enough of the insider machine. It is time to make a complete turnaround from the poor scores and last place rankings. We must adopt the free market reforms that can make our state a place where our families can be prosperous. You are powerful. You do not have to tolerate the cronyism and elitist attitude any longer. Don’t be on the sidelines. The rigged system in the Ocean State has kept too many people out of the process. Now is the time for you to speak out and make sure your legislator does more to make Rhode Island a place where our families can achieve their hopes and dreams.

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Funding Cronies in the Company State

Aw, well, isn’t this a nice “things we choose to do together” government report?

Gov. Gina Raimondo and other state officials unveiled Skills for Rhode Island’s Future at a Bank of America call center in East Providence, which is hiring some new workers through the program.

That’s what people will take away, but what they should focus on is the background story that’s somewhat visible in the details:

  • The federal government gave Rhode Island $1.25 million to hire the private non-profit Skills for America’s Future.
  • This is the corporation’s second location, expanding from Skills for Chicagoland’s Future.
  • The founder of the organization, Penny Pritzker, went on to become Obama’s secretary of commerce.

The group’s IRS filings fill in the picture a bit. Between 2012 and 2014, its total revenue ranged from $3,316,498 to $3,943,121, with the better part coming from government.  If the linked article above is correct that it has “found jobs for more than 3,100 people in Chicago,” the per-job cost is over $4,000.

I’ve written frequently about the idea of a “company state” model under which government becomes the central industry for an area (like the State of Rhode Island) and strives to expand the services that it can provide in order to justify confiscating money from disfavored groups in the area or in other states.  Skills for Rhode Island’s Future is a great example.

With the federal government as its anchor client, the organization is expanding across the country like a franchise, spending copious amounts of money to make people feel dependent on government, acting as a recruiting contractor for connected companies and acting as an entry point for people’s reliance on government.

According to the office of Governor Raimondo, Skills for Rhode Island’s Future will not be interacting with state welfare offices or be plugged into the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) system, which would direct clients to any and all other government services for which they might qualify.  That would be a relatively short step, though, once the organization is established.

As this system becomes entrenched and integrated, companies will have increasing incentive to play ball and get in on the scheme, while workers will have incentive to become the sorts of people whom the government and the corporations want them to be. Thus will more people be drawn through the dependency portal, leaving fewer who aren’t under the direct influence of and subject to reliance on government.

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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?

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Anti-Tolling Rally Tomorrow!

At the truck stop in West Greenwich off Route 95: 849 Victory Highway, West Greenwich, RI 02817. Tuesday, October 18, at 11:00 am. (No question, a bit of a tough time of day for a lot of us working folks.)

The Rhode Island Trucking Association and NATSO, the national association representing travel plazas and truckstops, announced today that they will host an informational rally and press conference Oct. 18 to discuss the devastating effects that “RhodeWorks” — the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s truck-only tolling plan — will have on local businesses and commercial truck drivers that operate within the state of Rhode Island.

The small group of state officials advocating for truck tolls say that they are necessary because the money to repair our bridges cannot be found within the budget. Like most of the data and talking points that accompanied the passage of truck-only tolls, this is a flat-out lie. This money can be found in the budget. Remember also that, under Governor Gina Raimondo’s highly destructive RhodeWorks toll plan, shepherded through the General Assembly by a flip-flopping Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, hundreds of millions of dollars would be completely squandered on items other than bridge repairs: gantries, toll fees, interest – meaning that hundreds of millions of dollars would be coming out of the pockets of truckers and all Rhode Islanders and going down a rat hole rather than into infrastructure repair.

Adding urgency and danger to the situation, a recent federal court ruling in New York has brought tolls on cars in Rhode Island one giant step closer. As WPRO’s John Loughlin correctly pointed out on air Saturday morning, this is almost certainly why the start of work on the 6/10 Connector was rushed. Governor Raimondo and her organized labor supporters want to be sure to sink their toll claws into the state as quickly as possible by getting projects hooked on this destructive new revenue source ahead of a court ruling. (“Oh darn. The courts ruled that we can’t toll just trucks. We have no choice but to toll cars because look at all of the borrowing and construction that we rushed through … er, that is now underway.”)

In addition to the big red flag of the federal court ruling in New York, it is important to note that no other state tolls only trucks. From the beginning, this posed an enormous constitutional flaw in the RhodeWorks toll law. (For more on this, check out Rep Blake Filippi’s excellent op-ed in Thursday’s Providence Journal.) Accordingly, any state leader or legislator who voted for truck tolls in February took the unnecessary and very dangerous step of inviting the toll vampire into all of our homes. If state leaders don’t wise up and rescind truck tolls, it is now just about impossible to envision a scenario by which the toll vampire doesn’t turn to feast on the blood … er, wallets of car owners. It is critical, therefore, that state legislators who voted for tolls be held accountable. Please go here to see how General Assembly incumbents voted on tolls, where their challengers stand on the matter and vote for the candidate who did NOT invite the toll vampire to Rhode Island.

And if you’re able to get away from work for an hour tomorrow, please also stop by this rally. Garlic is optional. But your presence at the rally and, especially, your anti-toll vote on November 8, would send an important message against the toll vampire.

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The Real Cure for “Climate Change”: Technological Advancement

Here’s the sort of news (via Instapundit) that keeps a lot of us skeptical of efforts to use warnings about “global warming,” “global cooling,” or “climate change” as justification for radical changes to our economy and society:

In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Their finding, which involves nanofabrication and catalysis science, was serendipitous.

Sure, this is a long way from techniques for capturing atmospheric carbon; the only application mentioned in the article is the conversion of excess energy from periodic energy sources (like solar and wind) for storage.  But in a world in which alarmists declare that it’s already too late to avoid the harmful effects of human activity in the past, any action taken that slows the economy in the name of the environment will inevitably restrict research and development that may — serendipitously — solve the very problems about which we’re being warned.

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Raimondo and Corporate Cronyism

Leave aside the paperwork of campaign finance. This, from GoLocalProv, seems like an important, telling detail:

A GoLocal investigation has found that Governor Gina Raimondo’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014 failed to properly report at least one campaign gift from California developer Lance Robbins.

Raimondo held a major campaign event at Robbins’ property — her gubernatorial campaign kick-off event — and did not report the in-kind donation. When first asked, her campaign claimed that the amount of the gift did not require reporting.

Robbins’s organization, Urban Smart Growth, has recently been awarded $3.6 million from the quasi-public Commerce Corp., an organization that has long been a political arm for Raimondo, with questionable due diligence.

Rhode Islanders should take the lesson to heart. With Raimondo’s brand of progressive, government-driven economic development, not only do politicians and bureaucrats get to play Monopoly with other people’s money, but they manage to flip the public’s perspective. Raimondo has been promoting the fact that she’s using her contacts to bring companies to Rhode Island for special deals.

A prerequisite for selling that as a positive action, rather than a possible indication of corruption, is making Rhode Islanders feel as if they don’t have anything to offer without the lure. Of course the governor has to use government to pay her friends and associates off, in this view, because her friends and associates have more to offer Rhode Island than the state has to offer them.

The first step of this turnabout was progressives’ making the state a less attractive place to live and do business, owing to regulations, taxes, and other factors, like abysmal public education. But that still doesn’t mean Rhode Islanders don’t have value or rights to self determination, for that matter. If this process sounds familiar, it may be because labor unions and progressives have accomplished something similar with workers, making government involvement a necessity because, we’re led to believe, employees have no inherent value that they bring to the negotiating table. It benefits those offering worker-strengthening services when workers see themselves as weak.

In Raimondo’s case, the strategy may not be deliberate, but it’s certainly predictable and convenient for the powerful. If companies were battling each other to establish in Rhode Island, rather than to escape, government wouldn’t have an excuse to hand out millions of dollars to political friends. As a simple matter of incentives, which economic condition better serves the Gina Raimondos?

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