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The Little League Lesson on Legislative Grants

Legislative grants have been an issue as long as I have been paying attention to Rhode Island politics.  They are so obviously a vote-buying scheme that legislative leaders use to reward representatives and senators who help to keep the insider game going.  They are therefore an excellent symbol for everything that is wrong with Rhode Island politics.

The Providence Journal Political Scene today emphasizes the increase in grants going to groups in the name of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who had a too-close-for-comfort campaign result last time around and has clearly wanted to avoid a second roll of the dice:

The Cranston Police Department ($65,000), Western Cranston Garden Club ($1,000) and Cranston Western Little League ($15,000) were among the groups on which Mattiello bestowed 32 grants under the General Assembly’s legislative grant program this year.

No state lawmaker sponsored more grants individually than Mattiello or more total cash than the $205,048 in those grants, nearly 30 percent more than the $158,500 Mattiello sponsored the previous year, according to a Political Scene review of legislative grants for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

If legislative grants stand as an archetype of Rhode Island corruption, the Little League grants are especially revealing about the unfairness of the granting system.  Twenty-eight grants totaling $84,000 went to organizations with “Little League” in their names this legislative session.  Mattiello’s gift was the biggest, but that wasn’t it.  Cranston, as a municipality, received by far the most Little League grants in Rhode Island:  $32,500.  The second-place municipality was Warwick, receiving only $11,500.

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Those grants go to 19 Little League organizations in 14 cities and towns (out of 39) and are the work of 25 legislators (out of 113).  Democrat Senator Felag managed to spread his wealth to all three towns that he represents: Bristol, Warren, and Tiverton.  A few more legislators requested Little League donations in their names that don’t appear to have been granted.

There is no justification for a government program that picks and chooses which children’s baseball clubs deserve taxpayer dollars based on the political fidelity of their representatives and senators.  But the clear purpose is to keep our elected officials in line and to send a message to voters that the price of replacing their representation at the State House could be access to millions of dollars in cash for their kids and their pet projects.

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Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them

Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti ratcheted it up a notch by involving his host.

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Conservative Policies Produce Rapid Economic Growth

For eight years, progressive-left politicians have told us that the ‘new normal’ for economic growth would be limited to the 2% range. And for years, our Center and other free-market advocates argued that major tax and regulatory reductions would reverse this course and lead to rapid economic growth, meaning more money and prosperity for families. After this week’s 4.1% GDP growth report, there can no longer be any doubt that we were right.

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Next/Last Round of Toll Gantries: Raimondo Administration Solicits Public Comment on an UNFINISHED Environmental Assessment

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Department of Transportation announced the locations of the balance of ten toll gantries and released an Environmental Assessment [PDF] of them. They also announced that hearings to take questions and comments on the E.A. would occur in three locations on July 27 – tonight, as a matter of fact.

Yes, that’s right, RIDOT is holding public hearings on a very significant project on a summer Friday evening. Quite similar in spirit, as a matter of fact, to the scheduling and location of the hearing for the first Environmental Assessment – in that case, two days before Thanksgiving hard by a cow pasture in South County so remote, the cows themselves need GPS to get there.

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​National Trucking Unloads on Rhode Island’s Truck-Only Tolls

This afternoon, the American Trucking Associations filed suit against Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, stating that it violates the Commerce Clause, citing its discriminatory nature and challenging its constitutionality. (View the lawsuit here.) Tune in now to 630 WPRO now, by the way, to hear the famous Mike Collins talking to John Loughlin (filling in for Dan Yorke) about the lawsuit.

The national truckers are not messing around: they are represented by ​Mayer ​Brown, the fifteenth largest law firm in the United States. Heavy artillery has been cut loose on a highly destructive, unnecessary new revenue program. On a certain, visceral level, that’s a beautiful thing and one wishes that this would happen with far more bad government programs.

Unfortunately, a highly likely outcome of the case will be an order to the State of Rhode Island to either desist tolling trucks or make it non-discriminatory by spreading the cancer to all vehicles including cars. Yet not one but two studies confirmed that tolls of any kind are not needed to repair Rhode Island’s bridges.

There have been many unanswered questions swirling around Gina Raimondo’s highly dubious, highly destructive toll plan.

Why was Governor Raimondo only capable of coming up with a cutting-edge, outside-of-the-box program that is destructive and burdensome rather than positive and propitious?

How did RIDOT get the truck counts and diversion rate, a critical basis for restricting tolls to only certain classes of vehicles, so wrong?

How did RhodeWorks tolls explode from $400M (per Governor Gina Raimondo in August of 2016 at Minute 15:00) to a completely open-ended, multi-billion dollar revenue stream?

Did Gina Raimondo, Nicholas Mattiello and Theresa Paiva-Weed truly believe that tolling trucks only, something that no other state does – a “unique approach” as RIDOT itself admits – was going to pass a legal challenge?

But the biggest question: if the lawsuit goes sideways and RhodeWorks tolls are ruled unconstitutional, will Nicholas Mattiello, Gina Raimondo and all Rhode Island legislators stand by their promise that tolls will never go on cars and scrap the RhodeWorks tolls?

[Monique has been volunteer spokesperson for StopTollsRI.com since tolls were first proposed three+ years ago and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are brining a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

Tolls Force ATA Lawsuit That Could Cost Rhode Island Taxpayers Millions In Legal Fees

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are bringing a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

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In Rhode Island, Everything’s in a Name

The Rhode Island House Republicans’ Twitter account tweeted out a bit of deep insight from Mike O’Reilly of the Federal Communications Commission on C-SPAN:

“I was dealing with Rhode Island. They decided they were not going correct it, withstanding all the promises early in the year. They rename the program for the following year, thinking it’s going to fix the problem.” FCC Commissioner @mikeofcc

He’s talking about the 911 fee that the state government has come under scrutiny for misappropriating, but this is common in Rhode Island.  After 38 Studios, the General Assembly changed the name of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to the Commerce Corporation and, voila, all is right with Rhode Island policy.  In the season of education reform, Rhode Island shifted some names and org charts of state-level education boards around and all of a sudden children began a new educational voyage… I guess.

Once again the reminder:  Elected officials will keep doing this stuff until it stops working for them.

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Wasted Opportunity – 2019 Budget Graded “D-” by the Center

When will Rhode Island’s political leaders remember of the real needs of families? Despite a large and unexpected revenue windfall and clear policy lesson, resulting from the recent federal tax and regulatory cuts, Rhode Island’s General Assembly has wasted an opportunity for reform and, instead, are seeking to maintain the status quo in the FY2019 Budget.

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A Big Lesson from a (Relatively) Small Tax Increase

I’ve got an op-ed in the Valley Breeze today taking the opportunity of a new sales tax on software as a service products to illustrate the harmful thinking of our legislators:

In short, the state government is going to tax an innovation that empowers productive, motivated Rhode Island families who are making the most of technology that levels the economic playing field. Even if it’s “only” $4.8 million, why would the state government do that? …

So, when Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, a Democrat from Cranston, tells reporters that “to not expect (the budget) to rise every year is not realistic,” he’s really saying it is unrealistic to expect state government only to grow at the same speed or more slowly than the household budgets of Rhode Island families. If that’s the expectation, then the governor and the General Assembly must find new ways to take more money from Rhode Islanders.

After all, the politicians have to find some way to pay for election-year raises for unionized state employees. If they’re going to increase the tax credits for producers who film movies here, they’re going to have to start taxing your Netflix account. If they’re going to promise a big chunk of the state’s income, sales, and corporate taxes to the PawSox for a new stadium, they’re going to have to increase those taxes even more to break even.

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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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