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Legislators Get That Old Elementary School Thrill Over Motion Picture Filming

I still remember the excitement around the elementary school when a house in the neighborhood was used to film some part of a movie or TV show.  (Obviously, my memory isn’t that clear, although I don’t know whether any of us ever actually knew what it was that was being filmed.)  It’s almost like finding a door to another dimension when a place in this world is used in the creation of some fictional world on the screen.

As with everything else, however, the excitement sours when politics enter the mix:

A major TV show is expected to start filming in Rhode Island soon and may have helped persuade lawmakers to sweeten the state’s motion picture incentive program. …

We aren’t allowed to know what the show is or who is in it before our elected representatives commit to giving it more money — much less whether it is the kind of content we would want to subsidize — but:

… they say it is big, with $34 million in estimated production costs, which would make it the most expensive Rhode Island motion picture since the $41.5-million canine superhero flick “Underdog” in 2006.

… those credits could swell to $10.2 million thanks to an amendment inserted into the state budget passed by the House on Friday night, which would allow productions to get 30 percent of their costs back instead of 25 percent.

So why are we doing this?  As Patrick Anderson reports in his Providence Journal article, the state’s own office of Revenue Analysis finds that these tax credits don’t come anywhere close to returning their investment for the State of Rhode Island (by which I understand the report to mean the state government).

Perhaps that old elementary school excitement about local movie making doesn’t ever sour for those who get to spend other people’s money to make it happen.

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Summing Up the Budget (And RI’s Problem) in One Sentence

The Providence Journal article on the Rhode Island House’s budget vote last night captures in one quotation the problem our state is struggling to overcome:

“I expect the budget to rise every year,” said House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello after the final vote, a few minutes before 10 p.m., in response to Republican complaints about overspending. “To not expect it to rise every year is not realistic.”

First, let’s go along with the premise that the state budget should rise every year.  Does it have to go up 3.9% every year, regardless of the health of the economy or changes in taxpayers’ ability to pay?  That’s the important next question.  From Mattiello’s explanation, it doesn’t seem that there is any limiting principle.  From his comments to WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

“I always look at the specifics,” he said. “The level of spending in this case was appropriate to the needs of our society.” He noted that the cost of social services continues to rise faster than other areas.

But there is no reason a budget this big has to climb every year.  If it’s possible that annual growth of 3.9% is too much, then it’s possible for it to be too high, right now.  Sadly, state leaders exhibit is no underlying philosophy.  There is only a balance of various interest groups’ power.  Raises for state employees.  Increases in welfare-related spending.  More crony deals (as foreshadowed by the increased generosity of tax credits for movie productions).

Taxpayers will only become a consideration when they do one of two things:

  1. Change their voting habits in a way that threatens entrenched politicians.
  2. Leave the state in sufficient numbers that the politicians have no choice but to reduce spending or squeeze those who remain painfully enough that they notice (and resort to #1).
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A Relatively Small Sports Gambling Payoff for Host Communities

As I highlighted on Tiverton Fact Check, the budget proposal from the Rhode Island House would change the legislation initiating sports gambling at the two Twin River establishments: 

Now another chunk of cash looks likely. When we mentioned that a Supreme Court ruling had put sports gambling on the table for Twin River, supporters of Budget #1 took to social media to say it was misleading even to hint that the town might receive revenue from this new source. Well, with the introduction of the Rhode Island House’s version of the budget, Friday, a number has been put on that windfall:

The state shall pay the Town of Lincoln an annual flat fee of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) and the Town of Tiverton an annual flat fee of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) in compensation for serving as the host communities for sports wagering.

Of course, while that’s something, it doesn’t seem like much in comparison with the $23 million the state’s expecting for itself.  Why the state wouldn’t simply define sports gambling as either a table game or a video slot for the purposes of calculating host community shares (which would be 1% or 1.45% of revenue, respectively), is not clear.  Local residents of Tiverton and Lincoln should hope their representatives and senators are still pushing for more.

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Asset Forfeiture Reform in Rhode Island

Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property. While many policymakers might assume that such laws are directed at criminals, in reality, simply being accused of a crime or violating a regulation may be sufficient for the state to take your property.

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Thuggish Handling of Senate Hearings

A recent editorial in the Providence Journal comes to the defense of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, after his shoddy treatment during a hearing in the RI Senate:

There are limits on how much time a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization can devote to lobbying, but Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller turned those limits into a virtual ban last month when he interrupted and challenged testimony from one group.

Senator Miller, a progressive Democrat, told Mike Stenhouse of the conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity that the committee was “dismissing” his comments because the center should not be expressing opinions on legislation.

This happens periodically.  Mike and I received similar treatment by disgraced Rhode Island representative Raymond Gallison, who moved a bill in which we had an interest to the end and then cut our presentation and all questions short.  Really, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that thuggishness runs throughout the culture of our legislature.  Giving the thugs leverage only increases their power, which is one of the unhappy effects of tax exemption laws.

It also doesn’t help that everybody knows committee hearings are a total farce in Rhode Island, simply giving a veneer of real legislative representation to an insider game.

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Rhode Island, a Coincidential State

Here’s a telling anecdote (in the “Rhode Island way” sense) in the Political Scene from today’s Providence Journal:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.

Yes, Rhode Island surely is a coincidential state, to coin a term.  If you’re politically helpful, a government job will appear for your or your family completely by coincidence.

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Hair Braiders Should Have the #RIghtToEarn a Living

Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.

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No Surprise on Who Benefits from Legislative Grants

The year is still young, but this headline for a Tim White article on WPRI is an early candidate in the nobody-should-find-this-surprising category: “RI’s top Democratic lawmakers lead list in handing out taxpayer-funded grants.”

More than $500,000 of the taxpayer money handed out through the $2 million legislative grant program goes to organizations hand-picked by the General Assembly’s top Democrats, a Target 12 review has found.

We should go farther, though.  Every dollar goes to legislators hand-picked by leadership to give out these vote-buying grants.

Whether it’s at the state level or the local level, charity shouldn’t be the business of government, and it certainly shouldn’t become an excuse for taxpayer-funded campaign promotion.

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Can We Realize The Destruction Of Families Has Unintended Consequences?

In the Providence Journal this week, Wendy P. Warcholik and J. Scott Moody write, “This growing number of children in Rhode Island without a solid familial foundation should give us all pause. This is not a problem that is going to just go away, and we must find ways to help these children before tragedy strikes, perhaps in your own neighborhood.”

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Rhode Island Wants in on All Immoral Profits

Given the national attention, Rhode Islanders can probably expect their legislators to shy away from implementing Providence/North Providence Democrat Senator Frank Ciccone’s proposal to impose a government fee for viewing online pornography.  Let’s take the lesson, though.

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts her finger a growing attitude that I’ve been pointing out in Rhode Island government, lately (emphasis added):

What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo’s proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state’s general treasury “to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking.” (But… if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn’t that make the state a trafficker?)

With its fingers in alcohol, gambling, and marijuana, Rhode Island government continues on its path toward replacing organized crime.  Government officials will want a cut of anything that has the feel of a vice.  Whereas mobsters built an infrastructure to provide what the law had blocked, government has that infrastructure already in place and capitalizes on it either by making things that are currently legal slightly less so or by letting things that are currently illegal filter through its coffers.

Meanwhile, Ciccone would have the state collect a record of every Rhode Islander who requests access to pornography.  Nobody should be comfortable with gangster government’s having access to a list like that.

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Will RI Push the ACLU into Conservatives’ Ditch?

I’ve been finding the news cycles discouraging lately, even frightening.  We’re fallen creatures, so even a casual familiarity with history will show that the madness isn’t anything new or different.  What’s discouraging at this moment is the acceleration of the movement to undermine the principles of freedom and (at least) aspiration to consider things logically and with mutual respect.

Even things that ought to be encouraging have the feel of futility.  It feels, for example, like a sign of how far things have gone that I’m agreeing so much with the Rhode Island ACLU more often, and not because I’m changing my worldview.  The latest area of agreement comes with the organization’s statement of concern about proposed “red flag” legislation proposing to empower law enforcement personnel and a single judge to predict that a person is likely enough to do harm that he or she loses his Second Amendment rights (emphasis added):

The heart of the legislation’s ERPO process requires speculation – on the part of both the petitioner and judges – about an individual’s risk of possible violence. But, the ACLU analysis notes: “Psychiatry and the medical sciences have not succeeded in this realm, and there is no basis for believing courts will do any better. The result will likely be a significant impact on the rights of many innocent individuals in the hope of preventing a tragedy.”The ACLU’s analysis concludes:“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern.

We’ll see how this plays out.  The RI ACLU was correct, as well, to express concern with the lurching of the Rhode Island Senate to expel an elected member and leave his district without representation on the strength of allegations.  Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle’s resignation saved Senate leaders from having to follow through on their threats — and saved the ACLU from having to judge the process one way or another — but there’s no similar out in this case.

The question for legislators and for the rest of us is whether Rhode Island is now a state in which the ACLU can fall outside of the boundaries of acceptable opinion on the conservative side of the spectrum.

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The Establishment of Religion in the State House

Monday’s Providence Journal Political Scene contains an interesting moment regarding vague legislation (since withdrawn) to give the state government authority to go into all public and private schools in the state and test them against an official measure of tolerance:

Diaz told Political Scene she was stunned by the criticism. She said the bill evolved out of a conversation she had with the Providence school superintendent. She said it reflects her beliefs as a Christian woman about how children should be treated, and it matches legislation she successfully sponsored a few years ago for children in the care of the state’s Department of Children, Youth & Families.

Wait, what?  I thought progressives were opposed to politicians’ legislating their religious beliefs.  What happened to that separation of church and state?

The obvious reality is that “separation” talk is just partisan baloney.  Any particular progressive may simply be a hypocrite, but as a general proposition, its adherents understand that individual people are able to pass through the proverbial wall.  As long as a church hierarchy isn’t actually running the government, there’s nothing wrong with legislating one’s morality.

Progressives actually surpass most conservatives in wanting to impose their beliefs on others through the force of government.  Oh, they’ve got a number of self-deceptive gimmicks that allow them to feel otherwise — the assertion of their beliefs as objective fact, for example — but they see the law as the sine qua non of “who we are as a community,” and that means it must reflect their beliefs. It’s only your beliefs, if you disagree, that simply aren’t allowed… because those are the objective rules.

In a meaningful coincidence (or, as I’d tend to believe, a divine hint), the same Political Scene includes a run-down of the number of times either chamber of the General Assembly has even considered removing members.  Even the Dorr Rebellion — an armed insurrection — was not sufficient for legislators actually to seek expulsion, yet as of this writing, all that recently resigned Senator Nicholas Kettle faces are unproven allegations.

But Kettle is a political minority (a Republican), and even if he’s done nothing criminal, he appears to be an infidel against the #MeToo dogma, so his sacrifice serves as a useful message to everybody else that the progressive god will strike down those who are guilty even when the laws of men do not apply.

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At Least There’s an (Improbable) Correction for Senate Process Abuse

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