General Assembly RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

When the Insider Sounds… Reasonable

If you haven’t listened to Providence Journal commentary page editor Ed Achorn’s inaugural podcast, interviewing Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston), do so.  Because the Projo has decided, for some reason, not to give the podcast a prominent place on its Web site, here it is:

I recommend the episode for a reason that I almost hesitate to admit.  I’ve always found Mattiello’s speaking style to be, let’s say, slow and roundabout, like listening to waves come in… if each one were made to go through some long spiral before crashing.  But listening to him offer a slow-down explanation for his coolness to the PawSox deal and then expressing his (he says) long-standing sense that the state government lacked the internal expertise not only to implement UHIP, but even to consolidate offices into an Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) in the first place, I have to say it was a relief to hear somebody in state government talk  in that way.

Yes, yes, he’s a politician, and staking out ground that is skeptical of government isn’t exactly a risk in his district.  And of course, we should be skeptical, ourselves, when his solution isn’t to suggest unraveling the messes completely, but to figure out a way to make them work.  Moreover, even if his talk were music to a conservative’s ears, we should still advocate for the other 74 legislators to stop handing the speaker so much power.

All that said, however, and even though he clearly has a sense of government’s role with which I differ to a nearly revolutionary degree, in comparison with the likes of Governor Gina Raimondo, let alone the reckless and ideological blindness of the state’s progressives, Mattiello sounds like an insider who will at least say, “no,” to the insiders’ worst tendencies when outsiders object.

That may not be much, but in Rhode Island, it’s something.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Profound Red Flags Around the DMV’s $250 Late-Inspection Fine

Readers have probably caught wind of the looming $250 fee to reinstate car registration after inspection has lapsed.  Apparently, the fee was authorized in 2009, but the Division of Motor Vehicle’s new computer system can only now implement it.  So far, about a half dozen legislators have pledged to halt the money grab.

At bottom, this fee shows how disconnected officials in government are from the people whom they ostensibly serve.  Anybody who has at one point or another been unable to afford replacement cars every few years, or just hasn’t wanted to spend money that way, has probably had the experience of driving a perfectly good car that won’t pass inspection for some reason — usually emissions, or even just broken warning lights.  The repair cost can be so high that it’s not worth it to fix it, but the car can’t be driven legally.

Now, the state is going to hit people who are already struggling financially with a really big fine.  Officials insist that the fee isn’t primarily intended as a revenue generator, but that’s difficult to believe, given that the state is constantly on the hunt for money.  After all, the expected $2.5 million take (implying harm to 10,000 Rhode Islanders) is only a little less than the $3.2 million expected from the overt revenue bump expected from a proposed expansion of the state sales tax.  And don’t forget that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s last budget called for the continuation of the fee meant to fund the computer system, for $11 million.

In other words, state government is either (at best) trying to implement a safety program without consideration of people or (at worst) looking for cash for other purposes.  Either way, Rhode Islanders are not well served.

Moreover, we’re getting a warning sign about the government’s use of technology.  One could easily see the state using a tolling system or stoplight cameras to automatically fine people whose inspections lapse when they’re caught driving.  Never mind Democrat Representative Robert Jacquard’s almost-passed legislation to place cameras around the state to catch people driving without insurance.

Whether it’s the DMV or UHIP, we can expect “unexpected” changes when the government implements powerful new technology sold on the promise of efficiency and lower costs.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Ajello’s Use of Victim Status as a Weapon Against “Those [Innocent] Males”

Providence progressive Democrat Representative Edith Ajello said something to the folks at Rhode Island Public Radio that illustrates how the treatment of all things sexual harassment relies on a sort of superstition.  As Ian Donnis relates in his weekend column:

As far as [Democrat Representative Teresa] Tanzi’s decision to not identify the source of the harassment, and whether that may unfairly tar some members of the legislature, “The victim’s rights should be thought of as primary,” Ajello said. “…. I think we will hear from others, but the importance of protecting victims of sexual harassment, I think, is more important than protecting those males at the Statehouse” who do not engage in harassment.

This is nonsense, ignoring entirely the objective question of who suffers harm.

What is the harassment, in this case, if Tanzi is telling the truth?  A guy said something a single time and in private implying that she should do something she would find objectionable in order to gain advantage.  She has offered no evidence that this inappropriate comment caused her any difficulties in any way whatsoever, personally or legislatively, and the fact that it was a private comment means that it couldn’t even subtly affect how other people would react to her.  In contrast, Tanzi has placed all “those males” in the General Assembly under a cloud of suspicion.

Both cases involve nothing but words, but Tanzi’s words, proclaimed across the country, have a greater effect.  Again, it’s a kind of superstition that raises to a state of inviolable victim status somebody who suffered a bit of personal office awkwardness over people who have been implicated nationally as potential harassers.

One suspects that implicating men as irredeemable harassers is pretty much the point.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

PawSox Hearings Giving Troubling Insight into Officials’ Thinking

The final Senate Finance hearing about the proposal for a new PawSox stadium in Pawtucket, as reported by Kate Bramson of the Providence Journal, has a couple of details that ought to be warning signs to Rhode Islanders with respect to the attitudes of government officials in the state:

[Pawtucket City Commerce Director Jeanne] Boyle said city payments could be made in early years from money set aside in a capitalized-interest account from bond proceeds. She said the city could also assess a fee on property near the stadium so some additional money would flow into the city’s general fund right away.

If this is correctly reported, then it’s new.  Up to now, the hints that we’ve heard have been that the city might expand the tax increment finance (TIF) area around the stadium so that more taxes would go to the stadium.  Ultimately, that’s just a sneaky way to force an increase in taxes without immediately blaming it on the development.

This sounds like a direct tax on businesses and residents around the stadium under the assumption that they’re profiting somehow from the stadium.  That would be a terrible way to go.

On a different matter, consider this evidence that Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton Senator James Seveney isn’t really representing his own constituents:

… Sen. James A. Seveney pinpointed that the legislation says money from a surcharge on premium tickets (in corporate suites, for example) might help the state pay off its $23-million contribution. But as it is written, the legislation doesn’t allow that for the city’s payments.

“Maybe that should be in yours,” Seveney said, to which Grebien responded: “We’d gladly take that. Having said that, it was very difficult negotiations.”

Seveney continued: “I’m not too worried about the state’s position, and I’m not worried about the team’s position. I think they’re going to be fine. I am worried about you guys.”

Why is an East Bay senator more concerned about Pawtucket taxpayers than about the liability of the people who elected him?  Sure, we should care about Pawtucket’s problems, but Seveney is essentially putting forward his constituents as a cash cow.

mike-stenhouse-avatar

Political Elites Are Working Hard To Keep The Average Family Out Of The Process

In the Ocean State, the political elites work hard to keep the average family out of the process. It appears that the Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office have deliberately left the door open for individuals to register to vote and cast a vote, without ever providing personally identifying information as required by state and federal law. As I have said before, the scale of these findings potentially shake the very foundation of our state’s democracy … and must be formally and independently investigated.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

As RI Implements Government-First Economic Strategy, JOI Drops

The Providence Journal has published an op-ed that I wrote about Rhode Island’s slip on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI):

When numbers that indicate economic health for families is up, a state’s score goes up. When the balance shifts toward reliance on and payments for government, a state’s score goes down. Nothing in the score should disadvantage Rhode Island in particular. The center’s goal with the index is to objectively measure states according to the principle that economic health means independence both from want and from government.

From this perspective, the strategies that elected officials advertise as steps forward are shown to be deeply flawed. Gov. Gina Raimondo has focused on bribing companies to move to the state in order to generate photo ops and claim that her administration is creating jobs. Meanwhile, the General Assembly has passed so-called tax reforms that were designed to game national indexes of business friendliness — lowering tax rates, for example, while increasing the amount of tax collected.

We need economic policies that unleash Rhode Islanders’ own potential and attract others who want to build opportunity for themselves and their employees.  Pitching a new Amazon headquarters, subsidizing a minor league baseball stadium, and building hotels aren’t going to do it.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Details on General Assembly Lawyers

In order to follow up my post from yesterday about the political donations of the lawyers who work for the General Assembly, I requested and received from the speaker’s office the data that Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg used for her article directing attention to the group.

  • In total, there are 56 lawyers on the list.
  • Only 14 are listed as full-time employees, working 35 hours per week.
  • The other 42 are listed as working 0.6-time, which is 21 hours — just enough to be eligible for health benefits.
  • All of the employees have a comp-time system, so if they work extra hours during the legislature’s busy season, they can work less during the rest of the year, although they lose any comp-time hours they don’t use by the end of the year.
  • Only six of the 56 lawyers do not take the health benefit.
  • Only two of the 56 lawyers do not take the dental and vision benefits.
  • A majority, 37, appear to have family plans (judged by the listed cost of the benefits).
  • Part-time employees pay 20% of the cost of their health plans, which amounts to $165-$184 for every two-week pay period.

Given that the hours of most of these employees are set just high enough to trigger benefits and that so many of them take them, it’s reasonable to infer that the benefit is a significant reason they take the job.  The allowance of comp time can turn this into a seasonal job, which is very convenient for lawyers who have their own practices.  (A cynic might wonder how closely their hourly activity is tracked.)

From the taxpayer’s point of view, however, it isn’t clear why the state wouldn’t hire more full-time employees for year-round work and then use contractors for seasonal work, or limit the part-timers to 19 hours.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

How RI Government Strangles Opportunity

A Wall Street Journal article in which Jennifer Levitz highlights an interesting corporate trend could almost give hope to Rhode Islanders:

Americans have traditionally moved to find jobs. But with a growing reluctance by workers to relocate, some companies have decided to move closer to potential hires. Firms are expanding to cities with a bounty of underemployed, retrieving men and women from freelance gigs, manual labor and part-time jobs with duties that, one worker said, required only a heartbeat to perform.

With the national jobless rate near a 16-year low, these pockets of underemployment are a wellspring for companies that recognize most new hires already have jobs but can be poached with better pay and room for advancement. That’s preferable to competing for higher-priced workers at home.

These sorts of natural incentives are how the market heals economic wounds and maximizes progress. Unfortunately, if you’re an un-or-under-employed Rhode Islander, your hopes for this sort of rescue are regularly shattered by a General Assembly that year after year after year makes it more difficult and more expensive to do business in your state.  Yesterday brought a doozie, with the passage of the ill-advised and expensive progressive wish fulfillment of a mandatory paid time off benefit for all employees in companies with 18 or more employees.

As I explored in last week’s Last Impressions podcast, transportation and communication technology should be making it easier to relocate businesses and families.  Rhode Island’s natural beauty and location should be a huge advantage in that regard, but our government is determined to eliminate all incentive for businesses to be the ones to do the moving (unless they want to be government-dependents right off the bat with a payoff), so it’ll have to be the workers who move elsewhere, which is exactly what we’ve seen over the last couple of decades.

jamiamcdonaldghost-featured

State House Report with John DePetro, No. 26: Resurrected Legislation and the Ghost of Failures Past

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the likelihood of an evergreen veto override, whether the DCYF would haunt Gina, PawSox, DACA, and Rhode Works transparency.

Open post for full audio.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

A Special Tier of Law for Insiders

Katherine Gregg has devoted another Providence Journal Political Scene to the worthy topic of the political connections of Rhode Island magistrates and judges.  Long before knowing the score, on this count, anybody who takes an interest in Rhode Island governance learns that justice is best sought in federal courts, because Rhode Island’s system is (let’s say) not to be trusted.

With this anecdote, Gregg gives a sense of why:

A former public defender, [now Superior Court Judge Patrick] Burke had been at the center of a controversial court case that evolved from his arrest by the Warwick police in 1993 after they observed his car weaving on Route 2 around 2:30 a.m. The police charged him with refusing to submit to a portion of the breath test. The traffic court suspended his license and scheduled a hearing. Burke’s lawyer — then Speaker Harwood — filed for dismissal in 1996, saying the multiple delays in scheduling the hearing deprived Burke of his right to a speedy trial. A judge dismissed the charge.

This anecdote was 20 years ago, and we certainly have no reason to believe that things have improved.  How can Rhode Islanders have confidence in a judiciary that operates like this?

Quantcast