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Line Item Veto Coming Up at the G.A.?

Former RI Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders had an excellent op-ed in yesterday’s ProJo in support of bringing the line item veto to Rhode Island. No need to fear that we would be breaking any new ground; it’s been well tested in forty four other states.

Governors in most states have employed the line–item veto as an effective tool in balancing state budgets and in checking ill-conceived spending measures. In these states, the line-item veto has not siphoned off any substantial power from the legislature to the governor, but rather it has served as an important, if not essential, tool to manage budgets that may tend in part to ignore the future adverse consequences of certain proposed expenditures in favor of more immediate spending pressures.

Referencing it on his Facebook page, Ken Block says

I anticipate a hearing either this week or next. We will need you to show up at the state house when the bill is heard.

Meanwhile, feel free to lobby our elected officials here about bringing this good-government measure to Rhode Island.

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Shouldn’t a Business Editor Be Pro-Business?

When it comes to mainstream newspaper editors and columnists with targeted subject assignments, like the business section of a newspaper, one can often detect a point of view that isn’t necessarily in perfect accord with the subject’s primary consumers, but Providence Journal business editor John Kostrzewa’s column in today’s paper — titled “Minimum wage hike is only the start” — is really stunning.

Writing about the annual meeting of Rhode Island’s far-left pro-redistribution think tank, the Economic Progress Institute (formerly the Poverty Institute), Kostrzewa approvingly moves through some of the additional burdens that progressive activists wish to place on our already-struggling economy, such as this:

Many of those proposals come with a cost, to either employers or taxpayers, and a conference attendee asked where the revenue would come from to pay for the benefits or services.

Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national organization, answered that it would take partnerships and creative ideas to raise revenue. She pointed to a proposal being studied in Connecticut to fine employers with 500 or more workers in the state $1 for each hour of work by an employee who earns less than $15 an hour. By some estimates, the proposal could raise from $189 million to $305 million a year.

How could a newspaper’s business guy convey that horrible, business-killing, big-government idea as simply, “Hey, here’s a thought”?  It boggles the mind almost as much as his tone-deaf chiding of business owners for not attending an event geared toward those who want to take their money and tell them how to operate:

But Raimondo and Paiva Weed were among only a few public officials in the crowd. There were not many business owners there, either.

That’s a missed opportunity, because the election showed it’s time for a wider discussion among public and private leaders about the anxieties of working people, and the government’s role in providing relief.

If anybody needs more indication of why Rhode Island is struggling as it is, Kostrzewa provides a doozy.  The one brief nod toward the damage that these policies could do to businesses and the economy reads as if some copyeditor questioned publishing a business column without some mention of policies’ possible effects on businesses.

With the business pages now a collection of outside content and standard reports, one wonders why the Projo bothers to publish another left-wing redistributionist columnist in that space.  It’s certainly not to provide any ideological balance to the paper’s overwhelmingly progressive bias.

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Losing JOI (Read: “Joy”) in Rhode Island

None of the research-type projects that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity puts together are designed with an outcome in mind.  Sure, when we set out to score legislation as a means of rating legislators or to develop an index to present a better gauge for state’s economic progress, we have some expectation of the general range of the likely results, but we don’t reverse-engineer the design to hit targets.

What we’re really after are a quantification and a definition of principles that we sense to be true, because getting such things on the table allows conversation beyond conflicting assertions.  Still, sometimes even I’m surprised at (in my view) how well these things confirm my impressions, even in contravention of the received wisdom.

On our new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), for example, the first monthly brief compares the narrative of the official unemployment rate — which is that the state has been improving and catching up with the rest of the country for years — with the narrative of the JOI findings — which is that Rhode Island has barely stopped losing ground, let alone recovering.  Indeed, the following table/chart, which isn’t published elsewhere, illustrates precisely the trend that I would have argued occurred over the last decade.

RICFP-JOI-ranksovertime-tablechart

That’s a state-level ranking of states on JOI since 2005, and Rhode Island is the pink “line.”  What it shows is that Rhode Island was hovering at the better end of the bottom 10 states until the recession, which knocked us down a few steps.  We then held that relative position until around 2011, when the election and policies of Governor Chafee stood as a marker that the state wasn’t intending to make better decisions anytime soon, at which point we slipped to 48th.  We’ve been stuck there ever since.  (The simultaneous halt of the state’s education improvement is another telling point.)

Time will tell if the approach of Governor Raimondo and House Speaker Mattiello to the economy makes any difference, but I don’t expect to see much improvement.  Trying to pick winners in the economy while reeducating the population to fit the mold that connected employers want and emphasizing the health of the government and its clients isn’t a formula for broad success.

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Token Tax Cuts are Meaningless Without Spending Cuts

WPRI’s Dan McGowan offers a very good breakdown of Providence Mayor Elorza’s proposed budget.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza proposed a budget Wednesday that slightly reduces residential and commercial property tax rates but still results in an overall increase in actual taxes for most city residents thanks to a large spike in property values. …

Elorza’s $716.8-million tax-and-spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 also increases the car tax exemption to $2,000, which will result in about 6,500 low-value vehicles coming off the tax roll. All told, the mayor’s budget anticipates an additional $13.1 million in new revenue through taxes.

But because Mayor Elorza hasn’t reduced spending in his proposed budget, he has simply adjusted the tax burden slightly so he can say he (modestly) reduced the very unpopular car tax. Providence taxpayers would still pay more in taxes overall.

In a Kathy Gregg ProJo article today, Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello are similarly making noises about cutting this or that tax, presumably in part on the basis of an unexpected rise in gaming revenue. But any tax cut would not be permanent, or would need to be replaced with a tax increase someplace else, if they don’t reduce spending the budget and gaming revenues fall, as everyone agrees they inevitably will.

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A Lesson of Venezuela and the U.S. Primary Race

For a good, long while, I’ve offered the optimistic view about Rhode Island: that at some point of collapse prior to the adjective, “utter,” the people would awaken and insist that the corrupt games have to stop, aided by those in leadership positions whose consciences would no longer allow them to look the other way.  Any level of collapse is painful, of course, but reality and solutions are close enough to the surface, throughout the United States, that a reparable slash or broken bone should be a sufficient lesson to change behavior.

News out of Venezuela and reflections on the presidential primary are leading me to question my optimism.  On the former, Kevin Williamson gives a concise summary of the condition:

If you truly believe that Venezuela is suffering from electricity shortages because its economy is so successful, you should ask yourself why it is suffering from a toilet-paper shortage, too. And a shortage of rice, milk, cooking oil, and other basic foods. And water.

To which I’d add this from Richard Fernandez:

The lights didn’t go out in Caracas all at once.  The wiring was stolen bit by bit; the turbines had been neglected year by year; the engineers had departed plane by plane until Earth Day came down like a shroud and without apparent end.  Rioting and looting is now reported to be spreading as only 15 days of food are said to remain.

Read both essays and ponder that blithe assertion that “it can’t happen here.”  We’re watching it happen here.  Fernandez suggests Venezuela fell prey to the “curse of plenty,” wherein “easy money attracts the wrong kind of leaders and incentivizes the wrong kind of public behavior.”  A region can have easy money by sitting on a cornucopia of natural resources, or it can be a small state in a wealthy region of an economically dynamic country.

The reality is that most people just want things to continue as they are and perhaps improve incrementally, which makes them susceptible to herding in bad directions that serve special interests.  Head this way, and a loud, scary noise urges us back to the herd; meanwhile, the corral and slaughterhouse aren’t quite visible up ahead.

As the wrong leaders and wrong behavior make things more difficult, fewer people are willing to step forward in opposition, and fewer good people want the role of leadership even if they can get it.  Potential heroes are vilified, and the public’s confusion is exploited.

In this mix of diminished choice and distortion, politicians have no competition or too much, leading to uncontested seats or split votes that allow victory with relatively small pluralities of support.  Both special interests and cults of personality can therefore amass winning numbers.  Rhode Island elects a Chafee and then a Raimondo, while backing a Bernie and a Trump for president.

The outcomes are always predictable, and yet it seems impossible to correct course.  Small improvements require so much personal sacrifice of effort, while the status quo rumbles on effortlessly.

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What’s Really in Your Best Interest? Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI)

This week on “What’s Really in Your Best Interest?”, we examine the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI.) (RIFreedom.org/JOI)

My guest this week is Justin Katz, the Research Director for the Center and Managing Editor of the Ocean State Current. Justin is the creator of the JOI measure, a new tool designed to give lawmakers a broader view of Rhode Island’s economy than the traditional unemployment rate.

JOI is a national index of states that incorporates three major factors, comprised of over a dozen variables derived from government reported data:

1) A proper measure of employment as it relates to labor force,
2) A measure of job/employment levels as compared with public assistance rolls, and;
3) A measure of personal income as compared with government tax receipts collected

Please watch the video now and see this months post on JOI here.

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Cote & Reilly Call for G.A., Not RIDOT, to Set Tolls & Gantry Locations

Senator Marc Cote and Representative Daniel Reilly make a sound separation-of powers case for this in Monday’s GoLocalProv.

One of the most important checks involves the legislative branch’s ability to keep the executive branch from spending too much money. …

Essentially, DOT is being allowed to set a tax rate, collect the taxes and spend the proceeds, all without any input from any other branch of government. We see this provision as a violation of the principles of checks and balances and an infringement upon the principle of separation of powers.

The assignment to RIDOT of toll rate authority is clearly in violation of the separation of powers section of the Rhode Island Constitution. Members of the General Assembly must stand up and be counted. Do they stand with and for the state Constitution and the residents of the state? Or do they side with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats against the people?

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If Progressives Had Perspective on the “Living Wage”

Maybe it’s an act, but sometimes it’s almost comical how little progressives understand economics and how unable they are to think of other people as, well, people trying to make the best decisions they can under the circumstances.  Oh, they say they have empathy for this group or that, but anybody who responds to actual incentives in the real world slips immediately into the bad-guy-who-gets-no-empathy column if they conflict with progressive fantasy.  Consider:

States and cities whose lawmakers proudly passed “living wage” laws are finding it difficult to make sure employers actually pay their workers accordingly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe the employers are finding it difficult to pay their employees at the level “lawmakers” decide suits their own ignorant vanity.

And many workers — especially those in precarious situations — fear they’ll be fired if they speak up.

And maybe those “firings” wouldn’t be retaliation so much as the simple calculation that government has forced on the employers.  See, wages before the increase were the rate that employers’ ability to pay matched employees willingness to work.  Progressives dehumanize workers by insisting that they can’t actually be making rational decisions to work for what they accept, and they devalue work by assuming it gives those who do it well no leverage — that they’re at the mercy of their employers.

If one imagines these interactions from a more empathetic point of view, the scenario can be one in which employers tell their employees the honest truth that meeting the arbitrary demands of government officials will put them out of business or at least force them to lay off employees’ coworkers and insist on more work from those who remain, leading the workers to voluntarily stick to the pay that they were already willing to accept.

How instances of that positive scenario balance out against instances of the evil-people scenario that progressives prefer is almost immaterial.  Politicians who pass these dumb laws are forbidding adults from making such decisions.

So, progressives double down on stupid:

“It’s pretty shocking how common the violations are,” said Donna Levitt, director of the labor enforcement office in San Francisco, which began ramping up to $15 an hour last year. …

The new laws are meaningless without proactive enforcement, labor advocates say, citing research that shows roughly one in four businesses nationwide already cheat their workers out of minimum wages.

What comes to mind is the IRS practice of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants who are committing fraud with Social Security numbers because, “It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”  So, why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for?

The government would rather make it more difficult for people to come to voluntary agreements that ensure that they have some income.  That way, the taxes of those who actually keep their jobs can be used to make politicians and bureaucrats feel good about themselves, again, when they hand out welfare benefits.

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Voters Should Demand a Gift Basket of Freedom

Partly so readers can feel my pain, as it were, from reading through all of the legislation passing through the General Assembly, I’d like to direct your attention to H8068, which my Freedom Index description characterizes as follows:

to allow wine producers and distributors and gift-basket retailers to ship a limited amount of wine to residential consumers in Rhode Island, with licensing and other requirements

Mainly out of a sense of relief that any legislation would expand what businesses can do, I marked the bill as a positive, but it’s instructive, nonetheless, for a negative reason.  Consider that the bill creates a new $200 “gift basket license” that allows the sale of gift baskets that “may include”:

(1) A maximum of four (4) bottles of wine per basket;
(2) Food items;
(3) Non-alcoholic beverages;
(4) Concentrates used in the preparation of mixed alcoholic beverages;
(5) Wine-making kits and products related to wine-making kits;
(6) Ice in any form;
(7) Articles of clothing imprinted with advertising related to the alcoholic liquor industry or the permittee’s gift basket business;
(8) Flowers, plants and garden-related items;
(9) Drinking glasses, bottle opening devices and literature related to wine; or
(10) Gift certificates.

Those aren’t the only regulations, naturally.  There are other rules for who can sell, who can buy, and where the sale can be done, as well as reporting requirements.

One would hope that even people who lean toward including government in most of what people do within the society would start to get a little squeamish when we get to the point of regulating what legal products go in a gift basket.

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No RI City or Town Should Take HUD Money

… not if elected officials and property owners value property rights and local control of zoning and planning. That was my distinct take-away from the talk by Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, at a standing-room only fundraiser held by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity on Sunday.

From a post-event statement issued by the Center.

“Once HUD gets into your city or town, they will not go away. They want never-ending settlements and mandates, designed by Washington, D.C. central-planners and ideologues, who will try to dictate who can live where,” commented Astorino. Echoing the Center’s concerns over the past two years, Astorino also warned that localities can be deemed by HUD to be “discriminatory” if certain income and racial housing “quotas” are not met … a method he ridiculed as “guilt by statistics, rather than by intent”.

(Full disclosure: I work for the Center as their Communications Manager.)

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Is Artist’s Departure or Arrival the Real Story?

Not knowing details of the story of Pawtucket sculptor Donald Gerola, I won’t make any grand pronouncements about his bitter decision to give up on Rhode Island, but I found this paragraph of Mark Reynolds’s Providence Journal story significant:

Gerola says the sculptures that he brought to Rhode Island after moving to the state — “like an idiot” — in 2004 drew praise from various political leaders. But that encouragement never led to the kind of displays and success he wanted, on the scale he aspired to. Exposure from the public exhibits that he did participate in, losing money, did not foster any private sales of his sculpture, he says, and loaning out the pieces for display at sites in Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England “was the dumbest thing I ever did … “

Our “political leaders” like to fancy themselves as important people and patrons of the arts, and they spend a good amount of our money on that particular self image, but art can’t be, and shouldn’t be, a responsibility of taxpayers.  And unless government is able to fully support an artist’s work, both the government and the artist would be foolish to take action based on limited transactions with each other.  This is true not the least because politicians have no proven taste.

The warning about taste, of course, expands to Rhode Island government’s broader economic development strategy, which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has amplified to ontological importance.  One can picture Rhode Island politicians finding Gerola’s work to be the cutting-edge future of art, yet that incorrect assessment has apparently led to a loss for the artist and, therefore, a waste of whatever public money has gone to him over the decade he’s been here (if any).  The same goes for less artsy businesses.

The best way to ensure that a particular investment has legs is to let people make the decisions with their own money.  Of course, that doesn’t give politicians the ability to skim off the top or to feel like they’re the key movers of the art world or the economy.

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Polls and Tolls and How Many Gantries?

After a stage delay, Brown University finally released its poll on Sunday. (I don’t know what the real situation was was but I’m not buying their “voter fatigue” reason for this delay.) And – oh, dear – Governor Raimondo’s approval rating has dropped to 31%. It is impossible not to tie this directly to her push to implement destructive, burdensome tolls in Rhode Island.

On that front, by the way, during her interview with WPRO’s Anita Baffoni, Governor Raimondo references thirty toll gantries.

before putting up 30 gantries

It’s not clear whether this is a feint to try to make us all relieved if/when they eventual “only” roll out fifteen (or pick a number) gantries, like the Governor did when she introduced the new vacation rental tax, or whether she and RIDOT really are planning to proceed with thirty gantries. If the former, it won’t work. We all know that toll gantries are like cockroaches: in light of their propensity to multiply, there is only one safe number and that is zero.

What is clear from this poll is that zero gantries was also the only safe number when it comes to the Governor’s approval rating.

UPDATE

Kathy Gregg reports the prior poll number that I was looking for:

In her earlier, high-profile role as the state treasurer, Raimondo, at one point, enjoyed a 56 percent job-approval rating.

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When Insurance Isn’t Insurance

Jeff Jacoby has it right on our health care system: “The purpose of insurance is to protect policyholders from unforeseen or catastrophic expenses.”  What’s more:

When Americans rely on a third party — private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid — to pay most of their medical bills, they forfeit their power as consumers. Our ill-conceived system of subsidized health plans provided by employers and taxpayer-funded “free” treatment through the government ends up stripping patients of their economic clout. Doctors and hospitals have little incentive to compete by lowering prices, because patients rarely bother to ask about prices. By and large, health care providers in the United States do most of their negotiating with insurers or the government. After all, they’re the ones paying the piper.

Money is just a measure of value, and prices are just the balancing point between the seller’s requirements and the consumer’s willingness.  The only reason to hide any of these numbers is to pull something over on somebody.  Prices should be high for things that people greatly value and that aren’t particularly easy to supply.  The decision between, say, a life-saving operation and an indulgent vacation should be clear.  An effort hide the prices is apt to wind up costing somebody less powerful than the vacationer something more important than the vacation.

This principle obtains even with the legitimate concern that the price that our society as a whole sets for medical procedures will be beyond the means of some people even if they sacrifice everything they have.  But hiding the prices — whether in the name of the “dignity” of the poor or because politicians are using the transaction to buy votes — only disguises the real problems:  that people wrongly value a great many things over each other’s health and that the economy isn’t allowing people to increase their own resources.

Filtering everything through government does great damage on both counts.

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A Quiet End to This Legislative Session Following Passage of the Highly Destructive Toll Plan?

Interesting article in GoLocalProv today by Russell Moore about the balance of the current legislative session. He spoke to some legislators, including Senator Ed O’Neill, who see a quiet end.

“They’re going to want to get the session over with and get out and on the campaign trail. They want to get out there and press the flesh because they’re concerned about RhodeWorks.”

Rhodeworks; a.k.a., the Governor’s highly destructive plan to bring tolls to Rhode Island. Indeed, many of us are very concerned about it, though, unlike the legislators referenced by Senator O’Neill (who wisely voted against tolls), our concern arises from the future of the state and not at all for the political futures of lawmakers who shoved the state over an economic cliff by voting for an open-ended, multi-billion dollar new tax burden in the form of tolls.

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Socialism Can Only Make Us All Poorer

As he usually does, Jonah Goldberg makes several worthy points in his most recent breezy G-File column, including some thoughts on socialism:

… “socialism” was an answer to what 19th-century intellectuals and religious leaders called “the social question.” As traditional societies succumbed to the creative destruction of the market, people started asking, “How shall we live now?” Socialism was one such answer (National Socialism, another, very similar answer), but it was only partly and not even mostly, an economic answer. It was a cultural one.

That is, “socialism” isn’t an economic system.  It’s more like a godless religion whose rituals are economic in nature.  What that means is that its entire way of thinking is unnatural.  It’s divorced from necessary concessions to human nature, from acceptance of physical reality, and from any roots in supernatural truth.  Instead, socialism is a purely man-made intellectual construct that finds its power in corrupting human tendencies, both unhealthy (envy) and healthy (charity).

Consequently, a society that takes socialism too seriously for too long winds up depriving its people of fulfillment and advancement, for reasons that branch off from this subsequent paragraph from Goldberg:

Gracchus Babeuf, arguably the first “socialist” to earn the label, wanted a “conspiracy of equals,” which would “remove from every individual the hope of ever becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by his intelligence.” In his Manifesto of the Equals, he called for the “disappearance of boundary-marks, hedges, walls, door locks, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all crimes . . . courts, prisons, gallows, penalties . . . envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deception, duplicity, in short, all vices.” To fill that void, “the great principle of equality, or universal fraternity, would become the sole religion of the peoples.”

Disallowing individuals from “becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by [their] intelligence” is utter ignorant nonsense that winds up harming everybody.  Take the specifics in reverse order:

  • Preventing people who are especially intelligent from realizing their potential leaves us all less benefit from their unique abilities.
  • Artificially depriving people of power — understood broadly as the ability to have others follow one’s instructions — leaves us all less benefit from strong leadership.
  • And yes, confiscating wealth from people simply because they have more of it leaves us all poorer by the prevention of whatever their talents would have had them do with that money… or whatever talents others would have developed in order to collect it in the first place.

Playing the envy card, a socialist might insist that if we stray from a hard, unnatural, tyrannical conformity that leaves us indistinguishable from each other opens the problems of vanity, pride, and abuse, but so does the imposition of the socialistic worldview in the first place.

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Suicide Rate Shows America Needs to Revive Its Culture

The data charted in this New York Times article about “surging” suicide rates in America contrasts 1999 with 2014, leaving no political argument to be made, and indeed, the more important points must be cultural.  Still, cultural shifts often align with political ones, especially during the reign of a president who operates unilaterally and siphons billions of dollars of taxpayer debt to his political allies, who often have cultural motivation.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study on which the article is based shows that the real upswing began in 2007.  Indeed, among men (who kill themselves four times more often than do women), there was essentially no change in the suicide rate from 1999 to 2006.

One key finding that the Times highlights is the much greater increase among those in the 45 to 64 age range.  Of course, being in the New York Times, the article emphasizes the greater percentage increase for women in this group, but the suicide rate for women 45-64 went up from only around six per 100,000 to around 10, while the rate for men of this age increased from around 21 per 100,000 to 30.

Furthermore, there would seem to be something telling in the fact that 45-64-year-old men crossed over two other age groups.  In 1999, men 25-44, 65-74, and 75+ all committed suicide at greater rates than 45-64 year olds.  Now, the mid-to-late-career group is second only to the oldest group (which actually saw a decrease).

A CDC chart on suicide methods also seems relevant.  For both sexes, incidents involving firearms decreased significantly, as a percentage; use of poison also decreased.  Suffocation absorbed the difference.  This may be a subjective assessment, but suffocation seems much less a dramatic statement and more an indicator of deep, considered despair.

Be that as it may, our fellow Americans are increasingly killing themselves during that period of life when they should be reaping the harvests of their hard work, both professionally and with respect to their families.  The numbers remain small, to be sure; 30 out of every 100,000 is still only 0.03%.  Still, for every suicide, there must be many others who persist quietly in despair (or not so quietly).

We should therefore take the data point as a warning sign to pause and take stock.  What is it that’s driving our neighbors — particularly late-middle-aged men — to this horrible act?  The answer is economic, yes, but it’s mostly cultural, and it’s nigh upon inconceivable that the solution is to be found in barreling forward with progressives’ radical redefinition of our society.

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RIDOT Now Denies They Will Provoke Early Legal Challenge of Tolls

What is going on at RIDOT? Late last week, Director Peter Alviti confirmed to NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye that RIDOT would be putting up a toll gantry on Route 95 within a year so as to provoke a legal challenge to the state’s truck-only tolls. But now, the Providence Journal reports that

State transportation officials deny reports that they plan to test the legality of tolling big rig trucks by opening a single, lawsuit-enabling toll location before building out the full toll network approved by lawmakers this winter.

“Denying reports”? Like they came from some third party, unconfirmed source? Dude, the head of YOUR DEPARTMENT confirmed that this was the plan.

This flip-flop (if they don’t flip again) will do absolutely nothing to instill confidence in the competency and good intentions of a department (or a Governor) already in charge of half a billion tax dollars annually and which is on course to eventually command the spending of billions more, if/when tolls are implemented. (Sure, tolls are not technically taxes. But de facto, they definitely are.)

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Lally & Raimondo Throw in the Towel

With the Ethics Commission hard on his heels, Kathy Gregg at the Providence Journal reports that

Former state Rep. Donald Lally has resigned his controversial job as the “small business liaison” in the Raimondo administration, in advance of an Ethics Commission ruling on whether his hiring violated the state’s revolving door law.

The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s 2014 Freedom Index places then-Rep Lally 73 out of 113 legislators. This dubious voting record clearly made him a poor match for this position, underscoring the consensus that the main driving force behind his appointment was not considerations like track record and aptitude (and, dare we add, what would best serve the state) but the more base one of politics – i.e., a bargaining chip in horsetrading between Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello.

If so, it will be interesting to see what “chip” replaces the one that had to be taken off the table.

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RI Elite Approaches Jobs and Education from the Wrong Angle

I agree with the Providence Journal editorial board that:

Rhode Island needs a dramatic, game-changing, long-term plan to raise the bar in its public schools if the state is going to be in a position to supply the talent that 21st century businesses are looking for.

I’d say that means full school choice through education savings accounts (ESAs), while the editors likely mean another attempt at “fix the system” reforms, which have proven to be mildly effective and to have a political ceiling.  But let’s put that difference of opinion aside for a more relevant, and probably deeper, one.  The editorial is most useful in the direct way in which it approaches the idea of economic development from exactly the wrong angle:

There was a time when businesses chose locations for their proximity to raw materials such as lumber or copper. But “today, people are the natural resources,” Meredith Amdur, an analytics expert at the advisory firm CEB, told the newspaper. Indeed, finding the right labor pool can be the most important factor in choosing a location. Not surprisingly, regions “with fewer degree holders could struggle to attract big corporations,” the report warned.

The Projo’s approach is one in which human beings are a stationary resource akin to the natural qualities of an area and, worse, one in which it is appropriate for state government to use public schools and other programs to reshape the population to fit the interests of corporate executives.

As is usually the case, inaccurate and immoral conceptualization leads to practical difficulties.  To wit, even if we train young Rhode Islanders to fit the bill of the aforesaid executives,  employees remain more mobile than companies, especially young employees.  For the company to move, the cost of moving to or starting up in Rhode Island would have to be less than the premium necessary to draw an expert Rhode Island workforce away.

And that’s assuming technology doesn’t shift ever so slightly in a way that makes all of that taxpayer-funded technical instruction obsolete.  In other words, the assumption must be that the state’s public education system can be nimble enough and the state’s leaders sufficiently prognosticative to predict the future of the marketplace.

The basic problem is that Rhode Island’s elite, which includes the Providence Journal editorial board, doesn’t want to give up the heavy hand it has in determining what the state and its people should be like.  If we’d just lower the cost and difficulty of doing business here, and if we’d just give our neighbors maximum flexibility to make decisions for themselves, including in education, then businesses for which Rhode Island makes sense for other reasons will set up shop within our borders, and those of our neighbors attracted to those industries will rush for the opportunity.

Freedom and economic health go hand in hand, and the opposing option is aristocracy and stagnation.  One can only conclude that those who insist on aristocracy are actually just fine with the stagnation.

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Looking for Another Year of Lower Tax Increase in Tiverton

For the third year, I’m working on a lower-tax-increase option for Tiverton’s budget for the next fiscal year.  In the past two years, budgets for a 0.0% increase and a 0.9% increase that I’ve submitted have won overwhelmingly.  This year, the goal is another 0.9%.

As is the case everywhere, most likely, the budget battles in town really do come down to two perspectives on local government.  The majority of those who pay very close attention to the activities of local government seem to see little distinction between the Town of Tiverton and the agencies that perform its government functions.  Sadly, evidence from the local to the national levels suggests that this is a natural human tendency.

The alternative perspective is that a town (or state or country) is not chiefly defined by its government, but by the people who live there.  Moreover, the priority is broader social and economic health, not the comfortable operation of the government.

I say this because the map at the above link shows Tiverton with by far the highest tax rate of surrounding cities and towns, with the exception of Warren, and the 3.5% increase in the tax levy that the town government wants would bring that gap down to $0.30.  At the same time, the town’s property values are barely growing, and revenue is dropping from all of those sources that indicate growth and improvement: licenses, permits, and inspections.

Meanwhile, if the town’s taxes had increased at a healthy 2.5% annual rate since the start of the century, rather than twice that, total taxes would be 30% lower.  Now, if the town government has its way, the total increase in property value that residents managed, last year, will be eaten up by this one tax increase in fewer than seven years.

That just isn’t sustainable.  A town government can’t build multiple buildings each decade (on debt), keep hiring new positions, despite little growth and declining activity, and habitually give out raises beyond the private sector’s capability without hurting the people who actually are the town.

In terms of a budget, that means starting with an assessment of what the people can afford, not what their neighbors would like government to take from them.

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6% and Flawed Models: Why We’re Skeptical of AGW

A second day, a second applause-worthy editorial by the Providence Journal yesterday. They politely call out Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who

… asked [US] Attorney General Loretta Lynch whether the Justice Department had considered pursuing fraud charges against those who have, in his view, misled people about climate change. ….

This is troubling: a U.S. senator and attorney general, both sworn to uphold the Constitution, mulling legal action against American citizens and companies for the “crime” of challenging a scientific theory.

The ProJo correctly points out that

… it is vitally important that America not discard its essential values of freedom.

With Earth Day coming up this Friday, it’s important to note the two simple facts that make so many of us skeptical of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. 1.) Man only generates 6% of all greenhouse gases. 2.) The heart of the case for AGW, the climate models, are flawed (see here and here, and lots of other places).

Accordingly, the proposal by Senator Whitehouse and others to silence by prosecutorial bullying those who question AGW not only violates, as the ProJo points out, free speech, one of America’s essential values, but also comes across as someone who … well, doesn’t want to hear why he may be wrong about something he believes in. It’s fine to disregard facts and evidence that contradict your belief in something. It crosses the line to narrow-minded despotism, however, to propose the use of the considerable powers of government to punish people or companies attempting to present such facts and evidence.

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The Effort Expended to Resist the Common Sense of Capitalism

I’ve been meaning to direct readers to a breezy essay by Robert Tracinski, who pivots off a hippyish homemade poster to reinvent capitalism:

But let’s not pick this apart. Let’s take the idea seriously. Hey, what if we all became small farmers and traded with each other? As they say on the Internet: you’ll never guess what happened next.

Maybe instead of everybody growing the same things, we could all produce what we’re best at and trade with others for what we need. We could come up with a catchy name for this, like “division of labor.” And we would need somewhere to exchange these goods with each other, which we could call a “market.”

Maybe we could get even more specialized. Some people could devote themselves just to growing young plants in greenhouses in the spring for others to plant when the weather gets warmer. Or they could provide seeds for other people to use, or breed hybrids with better yields or other desirable characteristics.

And on the thought experiment goes, through the process of regionalizing products and introducing an external medium of trade, money, that allows both trade over long distances and easy distribution across multiple goods (allowing the trade of one cow, for example, to be used for corn, cider, and construction materials, for example), as well as the saving and storage of wealth for “trades” across time.

You know, it really is a marvel of brainwashing and propaganda that progressives have managed to keep so much common sense at bay for so long.  On the other hand, it’s not difficult to understand how consolidating wealth and power under the control of a political elite leads to inequity even as it’s sold as a route to fairness.

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The 6/10 Green Gateway: Yet Another Bait-And-Switch

The Governor sold us a toll plan that was to repair Rhode Island’s decrepit bridges and roads. We were not sold a green vision, especially one that hands-out hundreds of millions of dollars to the special interests. The Green Gateway is yet another example of a big government boondoggle in the Ocean State. Taxpayers were purposely deceived via this bait-and-switch charade that was always about cronyism and advancing a federally-planned sustainablist vision, that will likely cost you far more than anticipated.

Once again the state government rammed through their agenda, without due process and without considering credible alternatives. Where was the public discussion of the massive tunnel, the green-space theme, and the ‘bus-lane-to-nowhere’ components of the DOT plan during the toll debate? Each of these formerly hidden components would result in massive construction and union related spending that would detract from spending on other unsafe bridges and roads.

Like the toll bill itself, the Green Gateway is an obvious hand out to special interests, and fails to consider alternatives. In the past year, the Center, along with other groups, have proposed various viable alternatives to the Governor’s proposal, including P3 partnerships and pay as you go funding, all of which have been summarily rejected. Now, likely the 6-10 “boulevard” concept as well as other calls to simply repair the existing 6-10 infrastructure will be rejected by the insiders. Your family deserves better than the closed public policy culture in Rhode Island.

Lawmakers should be furious that they voted to fix Rhode Island’s infrastructure, and now the focus is on such a small percentage of the deficient bridges. The tolls revenue should not be used to advance a radical federal sustainable development agenda. We cannot ignore the issues with this plan. Do we really trust the RI DOT to come in on time and on budget with this project? It is time for the status quo thinking on Smith Hill to change; we cannot afford to continue to lock the people out of the process though the elite’s schemes.

[Mike Stenhouse is CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.]

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Why Is RIDOT Inducing the Truck Toll Legal Challenge?

You may recall that the toll gantry on the Sakonnet River Bridge was removed a couple of months ago, oddly, on Super Bowl Sunday night. NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye has learned, exclusively, it appears, that

The State of Rhode Island intends to install a truck toll by this time next year, using the old Sakonnett River Bridge tolls, DOT director Peter Alviti told NBC 10 News.

“I think the basic logic of it is we can get a couple of them up right away because we’ve already got the gantries,” Alviti said. “If that causes a legal challenge, then so be it.”

Throwing the floor open here to speculation, rumor, gossip, innuendo and, if necessary, hard facts. The smart, if reprehensible, thing for the Raimondo administration and RIDOT to do would be to lock the state into tolls by proceeding full blast to rack up all kinds of expenses – the big ones being the purchase and installation of gantries and the issuance of bonds – that could only be repaid via toll revenue. Why would they veer away from this apparently surefire course?

ADDENDUM

In his conversation last night with WPRO’s Matt Allen, NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye said he is hearing that the gantry will go on Route 95, either in Exeter or near Exit 4 (on a “bridge”, presumably). So if tolls are green-lighted, they will benefit Providence and the 6/10 Greenway “Big Dig” yet will come, initially, from toll revenue collected far down the highway.

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Time to Return R.I. Tourism Marketing Back to Regional Boards

Governor Raimondo reduced the budgets of tourism boards around the state with the explicit goal of coming up with a unified marketing campaign for Rhode Island as a whole. And now her administration is giving up on a key component of it???

The tagline is ‘Rhode Island,’” the state’s commerce secretary said Wednesday, announcing that Rhode Island will not look for a new slogan to replace the maligned and abandoned catch phrase “Cooler & Warmer” as it moves ahead with a $5-million marketing campaign.

So why are we here? Put everything back the way it was. Leave tourism promotion where it has clearly belonged all along: in the hands of regional boards who know best how to promote their area of Rhode Island.

In a closely related matter, the Raimondo administration has clearly not made their case for an additional $5 million in tax dollars for tourism promotion. The track record here is a strong warning that these dollars would simply be squandered.

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The Lesson of Cooler & Warmer

The administration of Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo was in for a shock on Thursday, March 28, when it unveiled a new logo and slogan for the Ocean State. The state’s quasi-public Commerce Corporation had been planning the release for months; the ridicule began on social media within minutes of the unveiling.

Mockery of the ambiguous “Cooler and Warmer” tagline and Photoshopped satire with the logo were still sweeping across the local internet when other components of the campaign hit the ground with a thud. Similar mockery of a promotional video scarcely had time to begin before somebody noticed that one clip actually showed a skateboarder in front of a landmark in Iceland. A related website was riddled with errors, including promotion of restaurants across the border in Massachusetts and a well-known chef who had died some time ago.

The administration’s response compounded the marketing failure. The governor initially defended the campaign, chastising Rhode Islanders for being so negative, but the next day she changed her tone to be more receptive to the criticism.

The shift may have been too little too late, because the incident — relatively minor of itself — too well reflected both Raimondo’s style of leadership and the broader political philosophy that sees government as a sort of corporate board for the region. Put simply, hiring outsiders on the strength of their connections and Ivy League credentials, maneuvering around rules to avoid or subvert local political opposition, and following guidance from supposed experts in New York City and Washington, D.C., might seem to be a savvy strategy for economic development and public policy, generally, but only to the extent that it works … or continues to seem as if it might work.

Continue reading on NewBostonPost.

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What If Progressives’ Cure Is the Disease for the Working Class?

Bouncing off a Washington Post series on the current plight of the white working class, David French suggests that America’s problem isn’t primarily one of lost jobs and inadequate safety nets, but of spiritual destitution:

Life has always been hard for the poor, but it has not always been quite so lonely. Part of this is the legacy of the welfare state, which allows and even encourages lives of quiet desperation, cut off from the communities that used to sustain the less fortunate in their struggles. Part of this is the legacy of the sexual revolution, which devalued marriage and irreversibly cast off the “shackles” of self-denial. And, yes, part of it is economics. Losing a job is among the most stressful of all human experiences.

The complex nature of the crisis should not be a license to avoid facing its ultimate truth head on: America’s working class is in the grips of a malady far more spiritual than material. We can spend trillions more, but safety nets won’t save the human soul.

Happiness, not a government metric for “poverty” or “well being,” should be the guide and goal for public policy, and improving it will mainly entail forcing government to withdraw its heavy hand and allow Americans to do what humans being do:  interact, develop relationships, and help each other.

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Unions Seek Exemption from Their Own Advocacy

Here’s an interesting story (via Instapundit), that brings to mind the practice of progressives’ giving insiders exemptions from the onerous rules that they impose on everybody else.  A California labor union that has been advocating for a $15 minimum wage wants labor unions to be exempt:

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor buried the exemption on the eighth page of its 12-page proposal for the Santa Monica City Council to review Tuesday while deciding whether to follow Los Angeles and increase the minimum wage.

The loophole would allow employers with collective bargaining agreements to sidestep the wage hike and pay their union members below the proposed $15-per-hour minimum wage.

Labor-watchers suggest that the motivation is to make labor unions more competitive.  As James Sherk of Heritage explains, “any worker in Santa Monica whose labor is worth less than $15 an hour [would have] to purchase union representation in order to hold a job.”

At least as fascinating, though, is the rationale offered by union organizer Rusty Hicks:

“This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing,” Hicks said.

Why shouldn’t individual workers also have “the option” and “the freedom”?  Well, because then there’s no room for union reps to skim off the top and there’s no simplistic talking point for politicians.