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A Mysterious Trick of Government’s Population Management

Marc Monroe Dion articulates a truth of government, particularly municipal government:

“Oops!” Government says. “That money you gave us before? We spent that. Now, we need more money.”

“More money?” you say, talking around a mouthful of that macaroni and cheese that comes in the blue box. “I don’t have any more money.”

“Oh yeah?” Government says. “Well, we’re going to lay off all the cops AND all the firefighters, so when your house catches fire, there won’t be anyone to shoot the looters.”

Well, that scares the hell out of you, so you say maybe a little tax or fee increase would be fine, and the next thing you know you’re paying $1 for every rain drop that falls on your property, and you’re buying the macaroni and cheese knock-off that doesn’t even come in a blue box.

My one quibble is that, to my experience in Tiverton, the threats start with the schools.  Dion’s writing from Fall River, so that might be a Massachusetts vs. Rhode Island thing given differences in school funding.  Or maybe it’s a city vs. suburb thing.  Safety is less of a day-to-day issue for suburbanites, and suburban parents might be more conscious of comparisons between school districts and between public schools and private schools.

Quibbles and speculation aside, though, it is discouraging how quickly government can push people past questions about where all the money went and on to fears about what services might be eliminated.


The Problem with a PawSox Plan B

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien is looking for any way to keep the PawSox in his city, to which end he has proposed a “plan B,” if the skeptically scrutinized original proposal doesn’t make it through the General Assembly:

Let Pawtucket get all the state income and sales taxes now generated at McCoy Stadium and let the city finance the entire public portion of the deal, Grebien said at a news conference in City Hall chambers. He told reporters he hadn’t yet shared that message Tuesday with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello or Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, but he has talked with them on prior occasions about such an option.

Here’s the inescapable problem with any public financing deal:  Nobody believes that it won’t end up on the backs of statewide taxpayers if things go wrong.  Nobody believes that the General Assembly and governor will sit back and watch as Pawtucket whittles away education spending and tightens screws on labor unions because it can’t raise the money to pay for its end of the deal.

Call that cynicism, if you want, but it seems like a pretty straightforward application of the lessons of recent history.  The Rhode Island establishment’s progressive approach to government leaves no room for municipalities to really make their own beds.  If circumstances and policies lead them to thrive, the state will find ways to spread the wealth; if they choose poorly and falter, the state will step in.

The only acceptable barrier that remains, therefore, is between government and the private sector.  It isn’t a sure thing that politicians won’t step in to save some iconic private-sector brand that blows it, but at least taxpayers have a fighting chance to say, “no.”


General Assembly and Projo Editors Show Nurses Who Owns Them

Don’t miss Jennifer Bogdan’s article in the Providence Journal, about the hassles that the State of Rhode Island created for nurses in the state by failing to pass legislation to remain in the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact, which allowed nurses in any of the 25 participating states to carry use licenses across borders.

…  a bill was never even introduced in last year’s General Assembly thanks in part to strong resistance from nurses unions that argue the compact has deprived Rhode Island nurses from opportunities to work here.

The situation has left local nurses who pick up out-of-state work scrambling to quickly acquire other state’s licenses. Meanwhile, out-of-state nurses currently working in Rhode Island under the compact are flocking to the Department of Health with their $139 applications for Rhode Island licenses in tow.

Donna Policastro, executive director of the Rhode Island State Nurses Association, which supports the compact, said she’s been fielding calls from concerned nurses who’ve learned about the change. In one case, a nurse is working from home advising for a national company in 16 states. The woman now needs 16 additional licenses.

The Projo’s editors did Bogdan a huge disservice by recasting her article — completely inverting both the angle of the story and the significance of recent events — with the headline, “Unions: Compact deprives R.I. nurses of work.”  The bias of the headline writer is apparently so deep that he or she created the false impression that there is currently a compact in effect in the state.  The headline should have been something like, “Nurses scramble for licenses after state quits compact.”

More important, though, is the lesson on our relationship with our government.  Think of it:  These folks, mainly women, have to beg the General Assembly to keep their jobs possible every year, and this year, the unions managed to brush them aside to ensure more-total ownership of our lives in the Ocean State.

None of this should be acceptable, across the board.


The Missing How with Food Stamp Backlog Clearance

One crucial thing is missing from an AP article on the judicially appointed special master’s elimination of Rhode Island’s UHIP-driven backlog of people waiting for food stamps:

The attorney appointed by a federal judge to deal with failures in Rhode Island’s food stamp system says the state has eliminated a backlog of thousands of applications. The state has been grappling with problems since it introduced a new computer system last year.

Deming Sherman also said in a report filed in U.S. District Court in Providence last week that the state is almost current on processing new applications.

If we take this self-reporting at face value, the key question is:  How did he do that so quickly?  It is critical that Rhode Islanders know why an appointed Mr. Fix-It was able to accomplish in weeks what the professionals in state government could do in months (going on years).  Something really must be going wrong if the state’s endemic problems are so easily fixed by somebody slightly outside of the system.


The Calming Truth on Net Neutrality

Last night, my high school daughter got in the car after an athletic event and, in a scene that I’ve seen other parents mention on social media, asked about net neutrality and the end of the Internet.  One imagines some big-money force is targeting young Americans to rile up activism and establish a political base.

Such an explanation seems necessary given the out-sized scare tactics.  For a quick palliative, turn to a Wall Street Journal editorial titled, “The Internet Is Free Again“:

Bans on throttling content may poll well, but the regulations have created uncertainty about what the FCC would or wouldn’t allow. This has throttled investment. Price discrimination and paid prioritization are used by many businesses. Netflix charges higher prices to subscribers who stream content on multiple devices. Has this made the internet less free?

Mr. Pai’s rules would require that broadband providers disclose discriminatory practices. Thus cable companies would have to be transparent if they throttle content when users reach a data cap or if they speed up live sports programming. Consumers can choose broadband providers and plans accordingly. The Federal Trade Commission will have authority to police predatory and monopolistic practices, as it had prior to Mr. Wheeler’s power grab.

Returning to the Internet rules from three years ago may seem like a slide to the benighted past to children, but those propagandizing them should be embarrassed.


The Mystery of the UK Health System’s Urge to Kill Children

Once we hand the power over life and death to bureaucrats, their standards will evolve, especially when that power is paired with inherently limited budgets.  On National Review Online, Wesley Smith observes the socialized health system of the United Kingdom progressing its logic after the Charlie Gard case, in which the government forbade parents from giving an American specialist a shot at saving their terminally ill infant’s life (emphasis in original):

Well, it is happening again–except in this case the baby isn’t terminally ill but has been unconscious for a year. Moreover, as  I wrote here previously, there isn’t even a diagnosis as to the cause.

An Italian children’ hospital has offered to take the child as a patient for further inquiries and treatment. But the UK hospital administration and doctors are not only saying NO, but as in the Charlie Gard case, also seeking a court order allowing them to withdraw life-sustaining treatment.

As horrific as such stories may be, one could sort of understand the logic of declining treatment, beginning with different principles and assumptions.  The component that’s inexplicable is the refusal to allow transfers.

Smith thinks these are examples of the exercise of raw power, and perhaps there’s some of that.  I wonder, though, if the more human answer isn’t something more like insecurity.  After all, if a child dies, then the experts can insist that they were right and that nothing could have been done, except to cost the government money and perhaps the child discomfort.  If, however, any of these parents succeed in transferring their children out from under the government’s thumb and the child thrives, the doctors will have the discomfort of having been proven wrong on a matter of life and death and trust in the entire system could collapse.


The Poor-Management Theme

This sort of talk is getting to be something of a theme during the Raimondo:

House Finance Committee members and budget crunchers said they worried Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is showing a lack of urgency to right the state’s listing fiscal position.

“The urgency is not as apparent as you would expect,” said House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland about the administration’s efforts to stem the red ink. “The current year deficit is time-sensitive. It needs to be emphasized.”

Join the legislature’s concerns with the various criticisms and fines from the federal government, plus the various misfires (allegorized by “Cooler & Warmer”), and the story of the Raimondo administration can’t help but write itself.  If only Rhode Island could have a normal election in which the electorate gets a binary choice between two alternatives by which to make a clear statement.


Money-Grabbing State Officials Seek To Tax Everything That Moves

Yet again, Rhode Island has been saddled with a bottom-10 ranking: This time for its heavy-handed occupational licensing regulatory regime, which effectively denies many people the right to earn a living. In Washington, the Trump administration is returning to a “light-touch” regulatory strategy, a strategy that our state would be wise to follow.


Contrasting Benny’s with State Bennies

While sympathetic to the plight of Benny’s employees whose jobs are disappearing out from under them, I can’t help but wonder how many people actually enter retail expecting benefits like severance pay.  Kim Kalunian and Ted Nesi’s WPRI article on the impending closure of all Benny’s stores makes it seem as that must be a thing, but even with a good bit of retail experience, I’ve never heard of it.

Presumably, workers were satisfied with the terms of their employment while it was ongoing.  It would be generous of the company’s owners to offer employees who happen to be working for the stores now that they’re closing an additional, unexpected bonus, but it would be above and beyond what tends to happen in the private sector.

Now contrast that situation with Kathy Gregg’s Providence Journal follow-up article on Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s incentive offer to near-retirees on the state’s payroll:

The retirement plan hinges on the one-time payment of an amount twice the “longevity” bonus that each worker, already eligible for retirement, is receiving. Until this bonus-pay program was frozen in 2011, the state automatically gave state workers 5-percent, 10-percent, 15-percent, 17.5-percent and 20-percent pay increases at milestones in their career, such as the 5-year, 10-year or 20-year mark. The cap on Raimondo’s offer: $40,000. …

More assumptions: the departing workers would leave with $8.94 million in retirement-incentive payments and $4.57 million in “severance payments” for all of the unused vacation days and sick time they were allowed to bank over the course of their careers. Assuming the administration replaced 252 of these workers by the end of this budget year — at substantially lower salaries — the Budget Office projected $2,608,406 in state-dollar savings this year.

We really do have two classes in Rhode Island, whose lived experiences and expectations about the world are entirely separate, and politicians (rather than workers’ talents) are the ultimate gatekeepers to the more-desirable one.  In one class, we work by mutual agreement, and all parties are tasked with assessing their own financial needs and adjusting accordingly, seeking the best deals we can as we go.  The other class collects what it needs from taxpayers and makes decisions based on the political clout of special interests (notably labor unions) before considering financial viability.

As Kalunian and Nesi report, the financial reality of defined-benefit retirement plans forced an end to the benefit at Benny’s in 2007.  The state’s, on the other hand, still stands available as another bucket of money and liability into and out of which officials can slop cash so as to create the appearance of fiscal viability in any given year.


More Smoke Around Voter Fraud

Basically, two things make it difficult to dismiss concerns about the potential for voter fraud.  First, given the size of government, the incentive to cheat is high, which combines in a dangerous way with the low likelihood of getting caught and (at least in Rhode Island) even lower likelihood of facing real consequences.

Second, powerful interests sure do seem motivated to amplify the first thing.  Christian Adams explains, for The Hill, that the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck is coming under attack with dishonest arguments about its accuracy:

This year, more than five million potential duplicate voters were identified throughout the Crosscheck membership. Those research leads were turned over to local officials for further study and cleanup procedures where necessary. Like many systems built on common sense, Crosscheck is under emerging attack. A social media conspiracy turned Harvard studyseeks to cast doubts on the reliability of the compact and trigger its dissolution. The academic researchers fret that if states are limiting the factors by which a voter can be considered a duplicate, such as only looking at matching names and birthdates, they risk misidentifying voters 99 percent of the time. The actual Crosscheck program doesn’t operate by such simplistic methods.

Rhode Island isn’t one of the 30 states signed on to Crosscheck, although no state closer than Pennsylvania is, so the usefulness of the program mightn’t be what it is in states that are closer together.  However, Rhode Island does participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which at least incorporates Connecticut.

Rhode Islanders should want these programs to expand, not contract, and we should look suspiciously at those who insist that voter fraud simply can’t happen and, indeed, ought to be tolerated in order to maximize the number of votes cast.


Government’s Interest in Promoting Itself

Tom Ward of the Valley Breeze offers an important warning for anybody hoping to keep an eye on their government and its successes and failures:

There’s a shift coming in local and state news coverage, and it’s not a good one. You’ll need to train yourself to spot real news done by independent journalists at newspapers and TV stations, from public relations – propaganda, really – done by the growing legions of writers employed by political officials or state agencies. What’s more annoying? Taxpayers are paying for the one-sided press, whose writers tow “the company line,” whether that company is a school department, mayor’s office, or state agency.

My question? Why are taxpayers forced to pay for this? Readers should ask themselves, “Who benefits?”

For some politicians in office, it becomes impossible to tell where their taxpayer-funded “communications” staffs end and their campaign machines begin.  Perhaps even more insidious, though, is the use of taxpayer funds to promote the use of government as a solution for all problems versus other alternatives.

Researching school choice a few years ago, I was struck by the degree to which government schools’ advantages extended beyond the no-direct-cost funding model to the point of having promotional apparatus.  The state, especially, has professionals dedicated to the promotion of the public system, from announcements of innovations to promotion of individual teachers.

With some variation in form and emphasis, this applies across government.  Police and fire departments promote their community services; welfare agencies (including HealthSource RI) advertise their offerings; and on and on.

To some extent, this is natural and good.  Communities should want broad comfort with the local police department, for example.  When government becomes as big and all-encompassing as it has, however, its self-promotion can flip an emphasis on using its coercive power only when necessary to presenting it as the ideal solution in all cases.


Progressive Vision Simple Enough for a Game

Now here’s a fantastic use of public dollars:

Your dose of Brussels insanity arrives in a rare form today: an online game teaching children “to collect more taxes”. ‘Taxlandia’, a simulation game released by the EU Commission’s Department for Taxation and the Customs Union, bears the motto “tax builds my future”. And they wonder why Britain left…

Playing around with the game a little, it occurred to me that it’s a near-perfect distillation of the social vision that our Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is attempting to enact in Rhode Island.

Every public expenditure is an “investment” and is counter-balanced entirely and only by people’s not being happy with the tax burden.  Whether they’re happy with government services seems to be a given, except that more money might need to be spent.

Moreover, there’s no variable for the negatives of government activity.  A government “investment” never comes at anybody’s expense except taxpayers, which is to say that the government never affects the market in a negative way.  There also doesn’t appear to be a point at which those “investments” create a classes of dependents and union workforces that change the nature of government and drive it into bankruptcy.