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An Administration with No Credibility to Chastise

To be fair, this is the sort of thing one expects a governor to say when an institution, particularly a public utility, falls short of expectations at a time during which people are relying on it, as Shaun Towne reports for WPRI:

[Democrat Governor Gina] Raimondo’s office on Wednesday said the governor has directed the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) Administrator Macky McCleary to assess National Grid’s storm preparedness and restoration efforts.

To ensure National Grid’s attention is focused on the ongoing restoration, Raimondo’s office said the review will begin once all homes and businesses are back online.

“Rhode Islanders should expect the lights to come on when the switch is flipped. National Grid owes Rhode Island families and businesses a swift response when power goes out and thoughtful planning to prevent outages when storms are forecasted,” Raimondo said in a statement Wednesday.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for a politician to position herself in opposition to inadequate services when this is also news, as reported by Susan Campbell, also on WPRI:

On the first day of open enrollment for health insurance, a glitch prevented hundreds of customers from reaching HealthSource RI.

About 300 calls were routed incorrectly, due to a change that was made to the agency’s phone menu Tuesday night, according to Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the agency.

Add the following to the list of reasons government should remain small enough that it’s actually possible for politicians to run it well:  It doesn’t help when the people’s elected representatives have less than zero credibility for complaining about the disappointing performance of other organizations.

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The Unspeakable Options to Repair Rhode Island’s Schools

Anybody who’s ever gone through a period of his or her life — or observed one in somebody close — during which he or she made the mistake of finding debt so easy as to avoid a necessary reduction in household spending will recognize what’s going on with the current push for new funding for school repairs.  Your budget seems impossible to manage without the debt, because unforeseeable yet inevitable expenses have a way of coming up.  You can’t know that the fridge is about to go or a health issue is cropping up out of sight or a loss of income is looming, but some of the expenses that can occur will occur over a given time period.

So, you spend money that ought to go into maintenance or savings on other things that seem justified at the time, and you wind up with the sort of thinking that Rhode Island’s young general treasurer, Seth Magaziner, exhibits when he “outlines funding options for school-facilities overhaul” in a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal:

“I’ll argue that K-12 has been underfunded for a long time,” Magaziner said. “We haven’t had a K-12 bond [for school repairs] since 1984.”

One way to pay for these repairs is for the state to float a statewide bond to fund the pay-as-you-go system. He said a recent analysis projected that the state has the capacity to borrow $1.2 billion over 10 years.

When the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity developed its District Impact Model for Educational Scholarships (DIMES) tool for assessing the budgetary and enrollment effects of school policy, we found that school choice would free up hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars in government spending on education, depending how the policy was designed.  At the same time, school choice would draw more investment from parents and others into education in Rhode Island.

Yet, we hear about billions of dollars of new funding that the state, cities, and towns will have to find in order to repair or replace neglected buildings, because public officials don’t want to change how things are done and don’t want to revisit their priorities to find the money in existing revenue.

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ACLU Gets One Right; We Should Take the Warning

If the facts of the case bear out as described in the Rhode Island ACLU’s press release, it looks like the organization is on the right side of a controversy (which happens every now and then):

In January 2017, [Marissa] Lacoste was leaving work [at Twin River] when two RISP detectives approached her car. In response to their demand that she “hand over the weed,” Ms. Lacoste produced a bag with less than one ounce of marijuana. Under RI law, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is not a crime. Despite Lacoste having committed no criminal offense, the detectives suggested that she was in serious trouble and could go to jail, and demanded that she accompany them to the Lincoln Woods Barracks.  She complied, and while there, they told her that if she didn’t assist them with an ongoing investigation at the Casino, they could cause her to lose her job.

In February, after cooperating with RISP for a period of time, Lacoste indicated that she was no longer willing to assist. Weeks later, she was issued a civil summons for her January possession of marijuana, and she further learned that RISP had requested, unsuccessfully, that the Department of Business Regulation revoke her “Service Employee” license, a permit required for those who work in the state’s gaming facilities.

Thereafter, Lacoste and a representative of her union met with her employer who informed her that the civil citation she received would not affect her employment.  However, upon reporting to work for her next scheduled shift, Lacoste was stopped by Twin River security and told that she had been permanently excluded from the Casino by order of the State Police, effectively terminating her from her job.  Since that time, RISP has repeatedly denied her requests for an opportunity to be heard regarding her exclusion from the Casino.

Lacoste’s case provides a helpfully broad example of the reasons we should limit government influence.  When government makes things illegal, we’re all potential criminals.  When government licenses everything, we’re all dependent on its good graces.  And when government regulates businesses, our livelihoods can be threatened.

There’s a balance, of course, but it ought to be struck with awareness of the dangers, not naiveté about good intentions.

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Power Outages as Another Warning Sign

Rhode Islanders should take stories like Mark Reynolds’s in The Providence Journal as yet another warning sign that what can’t go on forever won’t:

As of 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, 83,227 homes and businesses were without power, according to National Grid’s website. Late Tuesday night, 102,432 had been without power.

The effort to restore power will be a “multiday effort,” a spokesman for National Grid said Monday.

The central purpose of government is to ensure baseline security and resilience, and infrastructure is near the top of that list.  When government becomes too big, insiders find it much more profitable to themselves to pursue other things first and to let their boring responsibilities suffer.

We appear to have reached the point, in Rhode Island, that government’s apparent first priority is to promise things, but not necessarily to manage to deliver them well.  Combine all of these power outages from a wind storm with the UHIP debacle and ask yourself:  Do you think the resources we allocate for government will have us properly prepared when something really terrible happens?

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Wariness of Helpful Government in Case the Picture Flips

Many college graduates over the past few decades will have come across live painting performances, in which the artist makes a performance out of the craft.  My recollection is that the guy I saw back in 1993 was a bit of a pioneer (Denny Dent, I think), and part of his set involved pretending to mess up a painting of Jimi Hendrix only to flip it over and reveal the work as a success.  The image of him flipping that painting over comes to mind when I read news like this, in the Providence Journal:

The Cranston Police Department and Cranston Public Schools are working together to implement a program that will help identify homes of children with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities.

The goal is to improve safety for children, and parents have the option to include their children in the registry, according to a news release from the chief of the Cranston Police Department, Col. Michael J. Winquist. Parents who wish to participate may fill out a form on the department’s website. Forms are also being distributed through the city’s public schools.

Yes, it’s well intentioned and voluntary.  But… but… I can’t help but think of CBS’s proclaiming Iceland’s supposed progress in “eliminating Down syndrome” by aborting unborn children who have it and the constant push to implement and expand legalization of euthanasia around the world.

While I wouldn’t criticize the city for implementing the program, or residents for utilizing it, I think it’s important to pause and recognize that the picture being painted in our culture has all the features of a truly terrifying portrait and may only require a flip to reveal where it was going all along.

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Supporters of Big Government Often Work in Big Government

By the way, further to my  post, yesterday, something that Molly Ball writes incidentally in her Atlantic essay about Democrat groups’ touring flyover country to understand the natives is worth a moment of attention (emphasis added):

The report is short, covering only three big takeaways from the seven listening sessions Third Way conducted. The first is the importance of hard work; the second is the need for a strong workforce. The third, described in a section entitled “Just Get the Hell Out of My Way,” is locals’ purported antagonism to big government. “Whether the question is about immigration or banks, taxes or welfare, the people we spoke to generally felt that government policies were irrelevant to their daily lives,” it states. This view is made to sound like one that was broadly expressed, but in fact, we mostly heard it in just one session—the group of curmudgeonly farmers. Almost all of the quotations in this section are drawn from that group. There are no quotations from the people we met who were pro-government, such as the teachers and laborers and activists, who voiced concern that local, state, and federal government ought to be doing more to take care of people.

By “laborers,” Ball is referring specifically to a table of men who were members of Laborers International Union of North America and other construction unions.  So the people she lists as “pro-government” are employees of government, workers whose largest source of employment is government building, and people who are (for pay or otherwise) occupied with pushing government policies.  That is, the people who think “government ought to be doing more to take care of people” are largely employed in… helping government to do so.

That isn’t really surprising.

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Moving the Goal Posts and Dropping the Ball on 195

Old claim that government made to push debt for bonds on the land freed up by moving I-195:

The commission, and ultimately the state, is expected to use proceeds from the sale of individual parcels to pay back the principal and interest on those bonds.

New claim that government is making, as it prepares for the bond payments to escalate with not a single parcel of land having been sold, rather than given away:

[Peter McNally, executive director of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission,] expects the Wexford project to be done sometime in 2019. By that time, he thinks developers will be clamoring for a piece of the land where the highway once stood.

We all know the next step.  The Wexford project sucked up some free land and millions of dollars in concessions to the company with the argument that it would spark additional development.  Instead, every developer who comes to the commission interested in land will want it for free as a bare minimum of the government’s concession in negotiations.  More likely, buyers will want tax gifts, too.

Remember this moment, though, so we’ll have grounds to complain when an “unexpectedly” slow start to the Wexford-driven economic explosion can’t be denied.  At that time, we’ll once again have reason to restate the simple principle that government shouldn’t impose “a very specific vision” for development, as Kim Kalunian puts it in her article (second link above).

Let the land sell as the market values it.  If the government wants to take action to make it more valuable, it should make all land in Rhode Island more valuable by reducing taxes and eliminating regulations.  Instead, we get this toxic mix of crony deals and the vanity of central planners who want to experiment on a statewide scale with our money and our lives.

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The Hidden Government Budget

Clyde Wayne Crews reminds us on Forbes.com that taxes aren’t the only costly burden governments place on the societies that they are supposedly serving:

Congress is moving forward on the 2018 federal Budget Resolution, and maybe the promised tax system overhaul. Of course, the $4 trillion a year the federal government spends — and the realization that fiscal year 2017 ended with a $666 billion deficit — are only part of the story.

Apart from its own spending, Washington directs the private sector to spend and re-purpose vast resources, too. All that red tape and regulatory overreach led to President Trump’s proposals for speeding up project permitting, and for eliminating two regulations for every one enacted.

And we’re not talking small amounts, here:

… we need to slice up the elephant for digestion by employing separate cost allocations for economic, safety, health, social, environmental, transportation, and tech policy categories, and of course paperwork . These days, government paperwork chews up 9.778 billion hours, the annual equivalent of 13,953 full human lifetimes.

As Iain Murray notes on Instapundit, that’s 4.7 million people doing nothing but helping private industry comply with government rules.  Some of that is unavoidable, but we should keep in mind that 4.7 million is a lot of people not growing the economy and not innovating… except, of course, when it comes to finding loopholes for those who can afford the investigation.

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