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Center Blasts Newest Truck Toll Tyranny; RIDOT’s Laughable Denial

It has come to light that, on August 11, RIDOT *corrected* requested a hearing, scheduled for today, to issue commercial truck route restrictions within the state. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (for whom I am Communications Manager) has just issued a statement strongly condemning this. It says, in part,

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About the Legislators’ Conditions on “Free Tuition”

This morning, I expressed some reservations about free community college as a program that meddles with young adults’ decision-making process.  A wonkier concern is what Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article says about legislating in Rhode Island.  Here’s the red flag:

Once they enroll, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA. There is no longer a requirement that CCRI graduates remain in Rhode Island, although college officials said about 90 percent of their students wind up staying here after leaving CCRI.

The sentence about remaining in Rhode Island is not correct.  According to the language of the legislation that passed with the state budget, “to be considered for the scholarship, a student”:

Must commit to live, work, or continue their education in Rhode Island after graduation. The Community College of Rhode Island shall develop a policy that will secure this commitment from recipient-students.

Via email, Borg states that CCRI’s Vice President of Student Affairs/Chief Outcomes Officer, Sara Enright, told her that the requirement had been removed.  If Enright is expressing actual policy, then CCRI and, by extension, the Raimondo Administration intend to simply ignore language that our elected representatives had insisted be in the bill.  This point is underlined by the fact that the governor’s initial version of the legislation did not include this provision.  In other words, this is a condition that the legislature decided was necessary in order to put the program into law.

It would be one thing for CCRI to implement “a policy that will secure this commitment” that tacitly has no enforcement mechanism, but the administration apparently doesn’t even intend to pretend that students have a moral obligation to honor a commitment.  That’s not how the rule of law is supposed to work in Rhode Island, and the legislature should take steps to enforce its prerogative on the administration.

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Incumbents Comply with Incumbent-Protection Regulation

Is anybody really surprised that only 7% of Rhode Island politicians (neutrally meant) with open campaign finance accounts failed to comply with a new law requiring them to submit their bank accounts to the state, as Political Scene reports?

The law, which went into effect in 2016, requires all candidates and officeholders to submit bank statements to the Board of Elections following fourth-quarter campaign finance reports. This year marked the first time the statements had to be filed. While copies of the bank statements are not public documents under the law, the Board of Elections provided Political Scene with the names of those who have not yet complied.

As of this week, 49 of 668 individuals with active campaign-finance accounts had failed to file their bank statements. Another 24 of 199 political action committees also failed to file the statements in the required time frame.

The most significant effect of such legislation is to dissuade people from running for public office.  So I have to file a campaign finance report regularly with the state?  OK, I guess I can do that.  And an Ethics Commission report, too?  Well, that’s a lot of forms.  What’s that?  Open a new, separate bank account and give copies of statements to the state government?  Gee, this local volunteer office is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.

Here’s a noteworthy indication of how carefully legislators review the laws that they pass:

Reached last week, [Democrat Representative from Cranston Arthur] Handy said… he initially misunderstood the new law and thought he was exempt because he didn’t meet a spending threshold. (Another campaign-finance bill passed in 2015 requires that candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a year retain a treasurer or deputy treasurer other than themselves.)

From my conversations with the folks at the Board of Elections, all candidates are supposed to have separate bank accounts for campaign purposes, even if they raise no money, but realizing how ridiculous that is, the board isn’t enforcing it against those who don’t have to file campaign reports.  Of course, the way to avoid it all is to not volunteer in the first place.

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A Progressive with Reason to Smiley

Progressives want big government that’s involved in our every transaction and life decision because they want to help, right?  Sure, maybe they’re woefully misdirected, but that’s their objective, isn’t it?

Yeah, about that… GoLocalProv has been tracking the financial dealings of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, who ran as a progressive for mayor of Providence last time around:

Brett Smiley, the failed 2014 candidate for Mayor of Providence, is today Governor Gina Raimondo’s Chief of Staff. He also owns a political consulting business that represents clients including Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and he has hired his consulting firm’s former staffers to work in the Governor’s office. Smiley earns more than $170,000 per year in his role for Raimondo.

This month, Providence City records show that he and his husband Jim DeRentis sold their house to Brown University for $1.1 million — 30% more than the assessed value of the house at $843,600.

The story has multiple angles.  According to GoLocal, Smiley was a high-up officer with the City of Providence when it assessed his house 6% below what he’d paid for it two years earlier, during which time houses in his area had gone up 20% in value.  That implies a 21% discount in the assessment of his house, implying something like a $4,400 discount on his property taxes each year.

Now he’s collecting money from the mayor of Providence through his consultancy at the same time that he’s a higher-up with the governor of the state, who implicitly negotiates deals with the mayor.  At the same time, he’s sold his house to a university that is also involved with deal making with the governor.  (Even if Brown is paying Smiley what his house is worth, it simply proves the point of the too-low assessment.)

Big, intrusive government, in short, creates a giant funnel, at the point of which already-wealthy progressives can position themselves for enrichment.  This is the inevitable chemical reaction when one mixes human nature with a lack of freedom, whether it comes in the form of dictatorship, communism, socialism, or progressivism.

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What the Governor Thinks of the People

This clip from today’s Providence Journal “Political Scene” seems telling to me:

Asked by a TV reporter if she believed there was anything she “could learn from″ Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, with his 71 percent highest-in-the-nation approval rating, the 5-foot-3-inch Raimondo quipped:

“Maybe be taller? No.”

Doesn’t that response seem perfectly indicative of what she thinks of us, Rhode Island voters.  Her lack of introspection suggests that she really doesn’t feel the approval of the people whom she’s supposed to be representing is all that important.  After all, what do we know?  The impression is that she simultaneously holds the “smaht people know best” view of governance and has her eye on a different voter pool — national voters.

Even the nature of her quip is insulting, insinuating that, for Rhode Island voters, the difference between the most popular governor in the country and one of the least popular is physical height.  Yeah, “hey, guv,” you’re thwarted by the cruel fate of governing a shallow people.

Incidentally, just by way of a small correction, reporter Katherine Gregg writes that Raimondo has “43 percent approval and 47 disapproval, among those with an opinion.”  That is incorrect.  Those are the governor’s overall numbers, but 10% of survey respondents were unsure, so the percentages “among those with an opinion” are 48% approval and 52% disapproval.

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The Union Shoe Drops on Evergreens

Well, here’s perhaps the key political consequence for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo upon her veto of legislation that would ensure that teachers and municipal employees are exempt from the state law limiting all government employment contracts to three years:

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,”’ Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Thursday.

Much of my analysis of likely outcomes has been premised on Walsh’s previous statement that the 2014 election season had convinced his union that unity with Raimondo was important.  The truce has expired, apparently, an result that I expected Raimondo to seek to avoid.

It’s pretty rich, though, for Walsh to break faith with Raimondo and divulge that she mentioned her donors during a private meeting that the two had.  The NEA-RI’s PAC alone hands out $15,000 or more per year to state-level politicians, and that doesn’t count the combined total of every union local giving out money across the state, let alone individual members.

Hopefully Walsh was right a few months ago about the importance to progressives that they stick together.  That way he and Raimondo can both lose.

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Vetoes and Non Vetoes

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed the eternal contracts bill:

In a veto message that echoed the strenuous arguments raised by city and town leaders, Raimondo wrote: “Current Rhode Island law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.

“The proposed legislation before me extinguishes this existing protection, hurting the public’s position in contract negotiations, and placing taxpayers at risk of being forever locked into contractual provisions they can no longer afford.”

Raimondo has seemed to me to make decisions on political grounds, and she’s in a precarious enough position that she can’t really afford to push away the teachers’ unions, which have been explicit about not intending to target her next time around.  This action could change that.

It’ll be telling to watch the political play.  If, for example, the General Assembly overrides the veto and the teachers’ unions (especially the National Education Association – Rhode Island) do nothing more than issue a strongly worded press release against the governor (which is already done), then it would indicate that there’s a political dance going on, meant to give the governor cover with taxpayer advocates and municipal leaders while not harming the unions.

As part of this picture, note that Raimondo “allowed a disability-pension bill that was also championed by organized labor to become law without her signature,” according to Kathy Gregg.  Here the calculation is slightly different.  She didn’t sign it, thereby providing herself a little cover with taxpayer advocates (being able to say she didn’t “support” it), but she didn’t veto it, saying it was simply a legal codification of existing practice.  I think she’ll be proven wrong on that, inasmuch as the law now explicitly allows for work-related physical and mental illnesses to be grounds for a disability pension, but one could see how her calculation would be different.

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Raimondo Transparency: Ain’t Your Business

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) asked the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo for some information about a public relations firm’s activities placing stories about Rhode Island in out-of-town publications at taxpayer expense.  Here’s the response:

Our office completed a review of the requested materials. There is one document responsive to your request but is being withheld, as it is not deemed public. This document is an internal e-mail thread reflecting work product of the Governor’s staff.

The next paragraph laughably invites the person requesting the information to appeal the decision to Raimondo Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, a left-wing activist.

Given the notable, noteworthy, and much-noted appearances of our governor in out-of-state publications that were explicitly promoting her, not Rhode Island, one would think her administration would be eager to prove that it isn’t buying that coverage with taxpayer dollars.  The lack of transparency will inevitably make Rhode Islanders suspicious that this may be exactly what the governor is doing.

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UPDATED: Raimondo’s Got Nothing to Say About Mercy

Ethan Shorey of The Valley Breeze is having a hard time getting an answer from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo about a charitable dental effort that the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) shut down this year:

On June 28, Gov. Gina Raimondo sent out a mass email denouncing Trumpcare, calling it “immoral” and saying it would bring “disastrous ramifications” for “Rhode Island residents at risk of losing health care coverage.” The use of the word immoral got me to wondering about Raimondo’s thoughts on the Community College of Rhode Island’s decision to end the Mission of Mercy, an annual volunteer event giving some of Rhode Island’s poorest residents access to free dental care. …

It’s now July 12 and I still haven’t heard back from [spokeswoman Catherine] Rolfe. Perhaps my email was lost again?

Shorey’s background article gives the details.  CCRI didn’t technically kill the program.  The college just kicked the volunteers out of the campus’s dental facility and told them they’d have to set up in a field house, promising to kick in $10,000 toward the estimated $70,000 cost of setting up a mobile clinic each year.

CCRI may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for the decision, but it’s difficult to imagine one, and it’s impossible if government officials won’t even attempt to explain.  Shorey’s right, too, to wonder how rhetoric about reform of broad national health policy can be called “immoral” for removing mandates for insurance coverage and seeking to reform a welfare program when Raimondo’s extended administration directly removed access to actual health care.

ADDENDUM (4:01 p.m. 7/13/17):

I’m struggling to understand Ethan Shorey’s complaint about this post, but he seems to want some clarification to be made in this space.

His apparent insinuation in the text quoted above is that if one considers Trumpcare “immoral,” then the term could reasonably be seen as applying to CCRI’s treatment of Mission of Mercy.  This observation, of itself, does not tell the reader anything about Shorey’s own moral view, although one might infer from his attempts to get a comment from the governor that he finds the Mission of Mercy issue less ambiguous, if anything.

In paraphrasing Shorey’s sentiment at the end of my post, I kept the same structure, only adding more details about what partisans like Raimondo assert is “immoral” about Trumpcare.

Perhaps Shorey is worried that people might think he agrees with my broader views, which aren’t part of this post.  That would explain the “we both know” language in our tweeted exchange.  If that’s the case, I apologize for any detrimental effect that my approving citation of his work has on his social standing.

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Hey, Who Needs a Legislature?

As far as I can tell, the one interesting thing that Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo said of interest at her press conference yesterday was that she intends to find the money to fund her “free tuition” policy at CCRI:

Raimondo told a press conference she is not exactly sure where she will find the $2.75 million-plus needed, at minimum, to launch the free-tuition pilot program, but she voiced confidence that she would be able to do so within the $8.9-billion year-old budget cap in which the state is currently operating.

One hopes some lawyer or other on the governor’s staff is aware that money is only part of the question.   Our state’s constitution still vests the General Assembly with the authority to make law, not her, and if nothing else, her campaigning has made clear that this is a new policy.

Governors are not without authority, of course; readers may recall that Lincoln Chafee signed us on to ObamaCare and health benefits exchanges via executive order.  So, Raimondo may be able to get away with this, if only because the politics of actively stopping her would be much stickier than the politics of not creating a new program in the first place.

That said, the rule of law is already a problem in Rhode Island, so causing further damage to it should do the governor political harm, if she goes in that direction.

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Campaigning on Your Dime; Dud of a Press Conference

In case anybody missed it, I’d like to highlight the following item from this week’s Political Scene in the Providence Journal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo has a new $61,751 staffer: RISD grad Jon Gourlay. His newly created job title: “Creative Manager — Governor’s Communications Office.” His actual role: producing web videos for Governor Raimondo, who is expected to run for reelection next year.

To some extent, her spokesman, Mike Raia, has a point when he says, “The way people get their information has changed, and elected leaders need to generate creative content to break through on social media and other digital and curated platforms.”  The content of the videos will be the decisive tell, though.

If Rhode Islanders get short instructional videos about interacting with government or more-catchy-than-usual public service announcements, the governor’s office will have an argument.  However, if we get more self-promotional trash like this, then the “21st century constituency” stuff will have proven to be just spin.

I know which way I’d bet, especially given what appears to have been a dud of a press conference from the governor, yesterday.  Is Raimondo so thoroughly without political chips that she’s got nothing but words to salvage a budget containing her single biggest emphasis of the past year?  She just doesn’t seem to get how to govern or use leverage and communications to bring about real action, so why would her new employee’s videos be dedicated to that purpose?*

* Before she actually became governor, Raimondo’s success with pension reform would have seemed to suggest otherwise, based on the “Truth in Numbers” campaign.  As time goes on, though, that issue is looking more like a one-hit-wonder achievement, perhaps founded more on the promise that her mild reform would make the mammoth problem of pension funding go away.  The clock is ticking toward the date at which the fallacy will be proven.

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An Image of Rhode Island

Isn’t that just so Rhode Island… the minute you finish building something, the blue sign with political promotion appears.

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I guess I have to put up with it out of gratitude that the town and state governments still allow me to build small structures on my own property.

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Huge Generator: RIDOT Recommended The Engineering Firm That Missed Five Bridges

You may have seen the huge, yellow tarp-covered generator that has been parked on the side of Route 95 north just past Route 4. It’s been the cause of lots of rubber-necking. Then came the news a couple of days ago that it had been pulled over by RIDOT while traveling and ordered not to advance because it is very heavy – 560,000 pounds.

John Tassoni, speaking for the company that is moving the generator, was on the WPRO Morning News with Gene Valicenti this morning. And he shared some eye-opening information about how the generator came to be side-lined.

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Rhode Islanders Are Voting With Their Feet

Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”

At the Center, we know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed in the ever-growing state budget is the main culprit in causing Rhode Island’s stagnant performance.

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Don’t Forget Benefits When Considering the Cost of New Employees

Catching up on my podcast file on the way home from dropping children off at school, I listened to RI House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan talking to Tara Granahan on WPRO last Wednesday.  Among various topics, they discussed my estimate of net new hires under the Raimondo Administration, emphasizing the $30 million cost in salaries.

Combining that with Monique’s post earlier about the the possibility of 100 new hires in the Raimondo budget for next year makes clear the importance of a reminder:  Employees don’t just get salaries; they get benefits, too.

For an ongoing project, I’ve estimated that state workers’ benefits are, on average, 72% of their salaries.  So, if we want to know the cost to the state of new hires in Governor Raimondo’s first two budget years, we would have to add to the $30,639,475 in new salaries another $21,953,184 in benefits.

If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s a total of $52,592,659.

For some perspective, according to WPRI’s Ted Nesi, the final cost to taxpayers of the 38 Studios debacle was a one-time tab of $38.64 million.  That’s much less than the $52.59 million in annual employee costs from the state government’s expansion of its workforce over the past two years alone.

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