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A One-Two-Three for Fundamental Corruption of the Rule of Law

One problem with President Donald Trump is that he’s like a flashy object in a pile of stuff.  Other things may be more significant, but he draws attention. On PowerLine, John Hinderaker connects some dots for one of those things:

So it appears that what happened here is that Democratic Party activists in the Department of Homeland Security either created a bogus document or dug up a poorly-researched draft document that had never been issued, and fed it to Democratic Party activists at the Associated Press. The Democratic Party activists at the AP published a story based on the anonymous document, which two Democratic Party activists on the [judiciary] bench used as a pretext for orders enjoining the president’s travel order.

This is how an ideological and partisan group constructs narratives, with a one-two-three from insider bureaucrats to judges who overstep their offices to undermine the elected president.  This stuff is inimical to a free society and the rule of law no matter which political side does it.

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For the Benefit of Art, Get Government Out of It

In a pair of dueling essays in the current Motif magazine, I take up the side of those arguing for the cessation of government funding for the arts:

When government creates funding streams that must go to art, the skills that procure money for an artist move away from the communication of love and toward the soulless description of benefits to bureaucrats and politicians. The people skilled at jumping through the hoops of the grant process and willing to produce the material that the government has defined as “art” — with a message that accords with the interests of government agencies and of politicians — will be the ones who have the opportunity to produce something that they’re able to package as “art.”

Continue reading in Motif.

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How Might Education Be Doing If Government Hadn’t Made It So Backwards and Bureaucratic

Well, this is a curious finding, articulated by Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit:

The takeaway here is that people who didn’t go to school at all did as well as or better than people who did. Considering the huge amounts of money, and other social resources, that we invest in K-12 education, that’s kind of a big deal. Of course, you’d want to do a bigger study before taking this too seriously on a policy level, but it ought to spark at least a bit of rethinking.

Of course, an important caveat is that “unschoolers,” as they’re called, are bound to be a self-selecting group, the last paragraph of Reynolds’s source article puts well:

In sum: “The findings of our survey suggest that unschooling can work beautifully if the whole family, including the children, buy into it, if the parents are psychologically healthy and happy, and if the parents are socially connected to the broader world and facilitate their children’s involvement with that world. It can even work well when some of these criteria are not fully met.”

Education is so dependent on individual circumstances that a changing world will inevitably require freedom to adapt.  Unfortunately, we’ve built a massive, self-interested education establishment that may be among the most resistant-to-change institutions in our society.

One wonders how we’d be doing, right now, if the progressive sentiments of the last century didn’t put education into such a backwards, bureaucratic model.  Parents would have sought the best opportunities for their children — because, if you haven’t noticed, parents tend to love their children and want what’s best for them more reliably than anybody else in the world — and communities would have figured out ways to guide families along, helping where needed — because that’s what communities tend to do.

Sadly, there are always those who think they know better and care more (conspicuously benefiting themselves through the process of dictating to others).

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Raimondo Seeks to Tighten Screws on Grassroots Opposition

So, while progressive activists make sure anybody who might disagree with them has incentive not to run for public office, progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo attempts to create more dissincentive through the law:

Raimondo’s proposal would bar any candidate with an overdue campaign-finance fine of any amount from running for election. The rule would apply only to new fines; any fines under appeal or on a Board of Elections-approved payment plan would not prevent a candidate from running.

The proposal would also increase the fine for late campaign-finance reports from $25 to $100 while raising the maximum Board of Election violation from $100 to $500.

Rhode Island already as a palpable lack of people running for public office to challenge incumbents.  The governor’s proposals — by design, one imagines — would make matters worse, entrenching a powerful elite even more and further reducing the democratic functioning of our state.

We’re reaching the point of crisis on this stuff, and even “good government” people who ought to know better are asking government to take our rights away.

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The Dead End of Rhode Island’s Government Plantation Model

The entitlement mentality in this state will be palpable as the federal government rolls back the Obama Administration’s give-aways. Lynn Arditi writes about the potential cost to Rhode Island if it refuses to change its Medicaid program to reflect federal spending under the Republican health care plan:

Predicting how much it might cost the state to cover the roughly 70,000 adults in the Medicaid expansion population under the Republican plan is especially difficult, health experts say, because people move on and off the rolls. If, for example, the job market weakened and people who had left the Medicaid rolls return, the lower federal cost-sharing rate means they’d be much more expensive to re-enroll.

“While certainly we’d support the state continuing to fund the Medicaid expansion population,” [Linda] Katz [of the Economic Progress Institute (no relation)] said, “the reality is … it would be very difficult to replace with state dollars the federal dollars and keep people insured.”

Rhode Island never should have signed on to the Medicaid expansion if this was possible, and the likes of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity were ignored when we warned that it was most definitely possible.  What everybody can see clearly now is that insiders and bureaucrats padded their budgets at great cost and risk to others.

And it’s not just Medicaid.  Dan McGowan reports from Providence for WPRI:

President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program would be a “devastating” blow to Rhode Island’s capital city, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Friday.

Trump’s proposed budget would do away with the 42-year-old CDBG program, which provides local governments across the country with funding for community centers, housing programs and neighborhood improvements.

None of these programs should ever be built into state government budgets or the local economy.  They should be treated as gravy on a healthy, independent economy.  Instead, we’ve allowed our elected officials to suffocate real industry and substitute a government plantation model premised on being able to bill the federal government and local taxpayers for government services for others.

Eventually, when you turn toward an obvious dead end, you reach it.

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Paying for the Entitlement That Never Should Have Been Extended

This is a great idea that Rhode Island should pursue, as reported by Michelle Hackman in the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Verma, a health policy consultant, made a name for herself as the architect of Indiana’s Medicaid expansion program under then-Gov. Mike Pence, which that state administered through a federal waiver. Ms. Verma struck a deal with  the Obama administration allowing Indiana to charge enrollees under the expansion monthly premiums.

There is no reason childless, able-bodied adults relying on a government welfare-insurance program can’t pay something to give them a stake in their coverage.  From the beginning, we’ve seen examples of people who were willing to pay for private insurance, but who discovered their eligibility for a free plan through Medicaid.

Moreover, the state of Rhode Island never should have leaped into the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion with so little thought. Some of us warned at the time that the state shouldn’t count on the federal government holding the share it would pay at 90%, particularly as part of an unpopular and entirely partisan bill.  Since the state government conducted absolutely zero public debate over whether to accept the expansion, we can only surmise that elected officials and bureaucrats in Rhode Island either didn’t care to look that far ahead or counted on their ability to do what they’re trying to do now: get political mileage out of the federal government’s predictable move and attempt to transfer the burden to state-level taxpayers.

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Making an Honest Broker Out of Public Radio

Its being Monday morning, I couldn’t quite manage the double entendre with the title to this post, but Ian Donnis’s weekly TGIF column for Rhode Island Public Radio had another point worth highlighting:

Rhode Island Public Radio gets 93 percent of its funding from people and organizations in Rhode Island. So you don’t need to worry about us going anywhere if President Trump is successful in eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Here’s part of a comment on the subject by our esteemed general manager, Torey Malatia: “Were it to suddenly disappear, the $200,000 CPB grant to RIPR would need to be replaced.  We would do this by encouraging our community to help support us. We would hope that more listeners would become donors and sustainers, or would increase their gifts. We have a broad base of community support, and if every listener helped a little more, we could offset the grant. It will be work, but it can be done. In our view, though, the loss of CPB funding hurts our culture overall. Many local radio stations in very small markets rely of the annual CPB grant heavily, representing in some cases 25%-35% of their annual budgets. Losing this funding may severely damage these smaller stations. And since local public television stations receive three-quarters of the targeted congressional funds, small public television stations may become insolvent.”

So, to emphasize, RIPR doesn’t need the government money, and Rhode Island can afford to let the left-wing radio audience pay for left-wing radio.  There’s no reason whatsoever that all Rhode Islanders should be forced to contribute, and certainly no reason a more-conservative-than-Rhode-Island country ought to pay for it.

That reasoning applies, as well, to the smaller stations that Malatia cites as justification for keeping the grant alive.*  If there’s no market for left-wing radio in a particular area, the federal government shouldn’t be the mechanism for ensuring that it gets its space on the dial nonetheless, anymore than the federal government should ensure that there’s a right-wing station in markets where there’s no audience for conservatives.

* The initial version of this post erroneously attributed the citation to Donnis rather than Malatia.

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Venezuela Continues Down the Predictable Path of Socialism

In June, I noted how familiar and predictable Venezuela’s deterioration has been, citing Manzoni’s classic novel The Betrothed.  Seventeenth Century government meddling in the Italian economy created starvation-level problems, and naturally, the government looked for scapegoats.

Venezuela has continued along this predictable path.  As Jim Wyss reports in the Miami Herald:

Facing a bread shortage that is spawning massive lines and souring the national mood, the Venezuelan government is responding this week by detaining bakers and seizing establishments.

In a press release, the National Superintendent for the Defense of Socioeconomic Rights said it had charged four people and temporarily seized two bakeries as the socialist administration accused bakers of being part of a broad “economic war” aimed at destabilizing the country.

Yeah… detain bakers and seize their establishments.  That’ll fix the bread shortage!

Watch this short Ami Horowitz report from Venezuela for more Manzoni parallel’s, particularly the part about how the powerful insiders continue to do just fine.  Please, please, folks, could we start learning from history and ignoring those whose main purpose is to deceive us into giving them more money?

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Approval of the Cognoscente Versus Approval of the People

It seems to me that politicians (particularly those on the right) should take data points like this, from Austin Yack on NRO, as justification for further experimentation going against the common wisdom of their Washington–New York social set:

The Republican-majority Congress also polled well. Americans trust Republicans to legislate on issues pertaining to the economy, jobs, immigration, energy, and health care — and, astonishingly, these responses were recorded during the days in which the Congressional Budget Office found that 24 million people will be uninsured by 2026 under the Republican-majority Congress’s health-care plan. Forty-six percent of registered voters approved of the health-care plan; 35 percent disapproved, and 19 percent had no opinion.

Perhaps people are learning that the news media hypes stories from a point of view benefiting a particular political party, not the country, and perhaps people understand that when a country (like a person) has let itself go, getting back on track involves some discomfort.

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Don’t Want “Devastating” Cuts? Don’t Rely on Federal Government.

It seems that the special interests who rely on federal money for their income in Rhode Island (in and out of state and local government) have been working to keep stories like this in the news every week:

Potential cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put forward by the Trump administration could have devastating effects in Rhode Island.

The Coastal Resources Management Council, the state agency that oversees development along the state’s 400 miles of coastline, would lose nearly 60 percent of its funding.

This is the problem with the government plantation/company state model.  When you’ve built your economy around the government’s ability to make other people pay for services that the government insists on providing, local taxpayers will move away and people in other states may decide to cut funding.  It’s a risky dead end of an economic development approach.

Our goal as a state (similar to our goal in our cities and towns) should be to react to news of changes at the federal level by expressing relief that we don’t rely on the federal government for much of anything.  That would be a state of both freedom and stability.

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In the Dystopia, Turn to the Other Listener

For your Saturday-afternoon unsettling reading, turn to the thoughts of Instapundit reader, security expert Eric Cowperthwaite, regarding the WikiLeaks release of CIA files:

The CIA has built a capability to hack pretty much anything, anywhere. It turns out that they, potentially, have more ability to intrude into servers, computers, smartphones and electronic communications than even the NSA. This capability is now in the hands of people other than the CIA. All the things you’ve read, that seem like science fiction movie plots, are really true. Other people can listen to you via your smart TV, can read your email, turn on the webcam on your laptop, without you ever knowing.

On the same topic, Roger Simon of PJMedia takes up some of the media and political ramifications.  This paragraph in particularly caught my eye:

Whatever the case, we all have to do some serious thinking — way beyond the general superficiality and contrived drama of congressional hearings or indeed the quick in-and-out of an op-ed.  What is being revealed here is a sea change in the human condition that is almost evolutionary in its implications. What are our lives like without the presumption of privacy?  What kind of creatures will we become in this brave new world that appears already to have arrived?   It’s not fun to contemplate. Even the medieval peasantry had moments of escape from their feudal lords.

Rather than “evolutionary,” I think I’d go straight to “existential.”  As a Christian, the notion of never being entirely alone is not exactly a new one (and not inherently a frightening one).  The key question becomes who is listening and why.

There is nothing an omnipotent God needs to sneak from us and no worldly advantage for Him to gain by knowing our secrets.  Whatever you’ve thought or done, worse has been thought and done by millions of others.  That is not true when the listeners are other people, with their own schemes and selfish interests.

Whatever new technological twists we put on the old plot, the central struggle remains the same for the individual: It’s them versus Him.

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Labor Unions, Less About Workers and More About Government

The American Interest offers what might be termed a labor thought for today if it hadn’t been sitting in my bookmarks for a week:

It’s significant that ground zero for public sector union reform is the upper-Midwest, once the capital of organized labor. Democrats try to cast such reforms as a betrayal of workers, but in a post-industrial age when half of union members are public employees whose demands for fatter benefits packages come at direct expense of the taxpayers, many voters don’t see it that way. As James Sherk noted in our pages last year, “A movement formed to defend blue-collar laborers now fights primarily to help white-collar workers expand government.”

That point cannot be sufficiently emphasized:  labor unions, overall, are now dominated by the public-sector subsegment, which has a very different model.

In the private sector, the union negotiates with management for the share of profits from sales to customers that goes to the workers.  In the public sector, the union helps elect management with whom it can conspire to take more money from taxpayers, who must either leave the area or pay up once the unions achieve political dominance, as they have in Rhode Island.  That is, in the public sector, it’s a process more resembling theft than negotiation.

Of course, one should note that the strength of unions in the private sector, such as it is, often comes with their ability to manipulate the law to force clients — mainly governments — to use union labor or to box competitors out of big markets — like government projects.  In that regard, even more of organized labor should properly be seen as existing in the public sector.

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Another Way Activists Manipulate Government

Here’s a key part of a recent article by Kimberley Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal, profiling President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, Scott Pruit:

Speaking of lawsuits, Mr. Pruitt says he plans to end the practice known as “sue and settle.” That’s when a federal agency invites a lawsuit from an ideologically sympathetic group, with the intent to immediately settle. The goal is to hand the litigators a policy victory through the courts—thereby avoiding the rule-making process, transparency and public criticism. The Obama administration used lawsuits over carbon emissions as its pretext to create climate regulations.

“There is a time and place to sometimes resolve litigation,” Mr. Pruitt allows. “But don’t use the judicial process to bypass accountability.” Some conservatives have suggested the same tactic might be useful now that Republicans are in charge. “That’s not going to happen,” he insists. “Regulation through litigation is simply wrong.” Instead, Mr. Pruitt says, the EPA will return to a rule-making by the book. “We need to end this practice of issuing guidance, to get around the rule-making procedure. Or rushing things through, playing games on the timing.”

There are way too many ways for activists to slip changes into the law without the awareness of a voting public that can’t possibly keep track of it all or, even if we could track it, select candidates to correct specific problems on the vast field of government activity.  That’s why it’s entirely appropriate to elect executives who see themselves in opposition to the bureaucracy itself.

Don’t forget, by the way, that the activists moving policy through “sue and settle” also tend to take home a decent paycheck courtesy of the government, like the ACLU lawyers who sued Rhode Island over the UHIP debacle.

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The Key Paragraph of the ACLU UHIP Settlement

You may have read that the state government settled the lawsuit that the ACLU filed over the debacle of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP; aka RI Bridges, if it ever works).  As I’ve asked before, was this necessary?  Even assuming the state wouldn’t have taken the same steps that it has promised in the settlement once negative attention forced action, couldn’t a push from a few activist groups have produced the same result?

Well, mostly.  This part of the settlement probably wouldn’t have been in the outcome of a simple petition:

Plaintiffs shall be entitled to recover their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Within sixty (60) days of the Court’s entry of this Order as an order of the Court, Plaintiffs shall file a bill of costs and motion for attorneys’ fees and costs with the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, unless such time is extended by agreement of the Parties or order of the Court or unless such motion is rendered unnecessary by agreement of the Parties. Prior to filing such motion, 13 Plaintiffs shall present a bill of costs and fees to Defendant and within fifteen (15) business days thereafter, or at such time as the Parties mutually agree upon, the Parties shall confer by telephone or in-person in a good faith effort to agree to an amount in settlement of fees and costs. If the Parties are unable to agree to a fee amount, Plaintiffs may file a motion for attorneys’ fees and costs with the Court.

Indeed, if a petition-driven resolution had included language promising money to the activists, it would have seemed shady.  But in this case, to recap, the state is having trouble providing money and services to needy people, and some activist lawyers managed to make a payday of it while appearing to be warriors of charity.  That’s government under a progressive regime, I guess.

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Yes, Let’s Keep the Rule of Law

Andrew McCarthy has been taking the lead in noting the basic principle behind some of President Trump’s immigration policy:

On Tuesday, John Kelly, President Trump’s secretary of Homeland Security, published a six-page, single-spaced memorandum detailing new guidance on immigration enforcement. Thereupon, I spent about 1,500 words summarizing the guidance in a column at National Review. Brevity being the soul of wit, both the memo and my description of it could have been reduced to a single, easy-to-remember sentence:

Henceforth, the United States shall be governed by the laws of the United States.

That it was necessary for Secretary Kelly to say more than this — and, sadly, that such alarm has greeted a memo that merely announces the return of the rule of law in immigration enforcement — owes to the Obama administration abuses of three legal doctrines: prosecutorial discretion, preemption, and separation of powers (specifically, the executive usurpation of legislative power).

The erosion of the rule of law in the United States (and, of course, in Rhode Island) is a topic on which I’ve written a great deal in recent years.  Note the political dynamic, though:  The Left (encompassing the mainstream media, universities, various supposed good-government groups, and others) is willing to look the other way when the rule of law erodes in ways they like under progressive government, but then they’ll howl if the Right reaffirms the rules and scream if they can so much as insinuate that conservatives are promoting some similar erosion that doesn’t serve the progressive ideology.

Let’s hope the eternal record of the Internet (1) stays free and (2) gives the people an edge against the ideologues by helping us remember what has been said and done in the past.

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Psst… Lack of Mandate Is Not Lack of Choice

The Trump administration’s change of course on the issue of transgender bathrooms (and similar facilities) — sending the question back to state governments — was excellent for illustrating the narrative-driven bias in the news.  The best expression that I’ve seen came from the Newport Daily News, which ran a front-page headline last Thursday proclaiming that “Transgender students lose bathroom choice.”

The McClatchy news service article beneath the headline, however, immediately tells a different story:

The Trump administration Wednesday told public school districts across the nation that they no longer have to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

In the progressive lexicon, when the federal government doesn’t force a position that progressives support, it is automatically forcing the opposite position.  In the terms of the headline, transgender students didn’t lose anything by this decision; rather, states gained a choice.

And what happened?  At least in Rhode Island (which should be the central concern of the Newport Daily News), Education Commissioner Ken Wagner immediately issued a statement to say:

The rescinding of this federal guidance does not change our policy – there is no room for discrimination in our schools, and we will continue to protect all students, including transgender and gender nonconforming students, from any type of bias.

Of course, what he says isn’t exactly true.  Students who aren’t comfortable sharing bathrooms with those of a different sex are “all students,” but the system is explicitly biased against accommodating them.  If they should be so bold as to express their discomfort, the state government suggests, “administrators and counseling staff” should get involved to change their beliefs.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the state of Rhode Island is perfectly able to continue setting its policy, and several school districts have made a point of proclaiming their agreement.

For some, though, that’s never sufficient.  They are incensed by the notion that people hundreds or thousands of miles away might be able to agree among themselves to disagree with the progressives of Rhode Island.  Our freedom is only ever to agree with the Left.

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Corporate Personhood and Three Steps to No Rights

Brad Smith recently took up an important point in the Providence Journal, responding to Democrat U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is seeking to “strip rights from corporate entities,” in Smith’s words.  He cites the 1819 Supreme Court case, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward:

A corporation, the court noted, “is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” But that didn’t mean that people gave up their rights when they formed a corporation. Rather, the decision emphasized that when people join together to accomplish things, they usually need some form of organization, and shouldn’t have to sacrifice their rights just because they organize.

This is one of those recurring discussions that are frustrating because they’re mainly semantic, and one feels as if normal people sitting down to fairly explain to each other what they mean will agree and move on.  The danger is that the semantics could allow radicals like Whitehouse to push the law a few steps to totalitarian control.

Step 1 is to force people to organize for any sort of public activity by offering either competitive enticements (from tax benefits to liability protections) or regulations restricting activities if people do not organize.  We’re already pretty far along this path.

Step 2 is declare that those organizations that people have formed don’t have rights.  Another way of putting that, as Smith explains, is to say that people lose their individual rights when they organize as corporations… which they were more or less forced to do in order to accomplish their goals.

Step 3 will be to force people to do what government insiders want by imposing requirements on the rights-less corporations.

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Government Coercion by Another Means

Here’s the article I mentioned in this week’s podcast, about tax deals for corporate charity:

A bipartisan group of congressmen recently introduced a new bill intended to reinvigorate America’s poorest communities. The Investing in Opportunity Act (IOA) will allow investors to temporarily delay paying capital-gains taxes on their investments if they choose to reinvest the money into “opportunity zones” or distressed communities across the country.

The legislation was cosponsored in the Senate by Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, and in the House by Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Ron Kind (D-Wisc.).  These congressmen report that their bill has garnered bipartisan support in both chambers, and they believe that its provisions will allow for tremendous economic growth in some of the country’s most underserved communities.

I might have misspoken in the podcast and attributed the article to the legislator.  The legislator is Tim Scott; the writer is Alexandra Desanctis. Whatever the case, this isn’t a direction in which we should go.

There’s a push among conservatives, recently, to rephrase policies in terms more amenable to the themes in which the Left has caught up the public conversation.  On one end, this is an obvious thing to do — to explain why conservative policies are the ones that will actually help individuals and families come to their full fruition.

Less obvious are policies that accomplish some of the Left’s goals (like making government central to charity), but that have potential to start to reshape thinking.  In that way, for example, taking the step suggested by Representative Scott could lead, in the future, to the additional step of questioning why government’s picking charitable causes at all.

I think this proposal goes a little too far over that line.

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Keeping Up with the Pros in the Bureaucracy

The odds are pretty obvious and challenging, if you think about it:  Government at all levels employs millions of people; many of them have access to information the public does not; many of them make decisions that affect their own compensation and that of their peers; and (at least for now) their continued wealth and opportunity depends on getting people to allow government to take their money away.

Since the years of Obama stimulus spending — let’s say Rhode Island’s fiscal years 2009 through 2011 — I’ve been convinced that the administration’s goal was to ensure that government agencies were insulated from the recession.  (Another goal was to launder money to left-wing activists, but that’s not my subject with this post.)  As time moves along and data becomes more available, it’ll just take some work to trace the dollars.

But it is a lot of work.  The general public, occupied during working hours in their own private-sector occupations, can’t hope to keep up.  This fund blends into that fund from the other source through technical accounting categories, with repositories here and there that must remain shielded from public view for privacy or other reasons.  The opportunity to mislead is structural.

In a small way, though, I think I’ve got a handle on how the Tiverton School Department transformed temporary stimulus money into a permanent increase in local funding and have written about it on Tiverton Fact Check:

In summary, when the state money shifted from regular aid to “restricted,” the school department built the excess into its budget.  But when the funds shifted back, the increase was buried in this “restatement,” so local taxpayers would remain forever responsible for the supposedly temporary increase.  As a matter of fact, the “restricted” aid didn’t actually decrease much; the accounts just changed.

Thus, the Tiverton schools maintained healthy budget growth even as the Great Recession wore on and housing values plummeted.

I’d be surprised if something similar wasn’t accomplished by school districts throughout Rhode Island and across the United States.  Actual stimulus would have been a government reduction in taxes, but that wasn’t Obama’s goal.

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