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Meeting the Challenge of Education Reform

The Providence Journal editorial board is (let’s just say) very forceful on the subject of Rhode Island students’ test results:

The weak and timid reforms he and Gov. Gina Raimondo have advanced, while soothing to special interests, have been plainly insufficient. It is time for a shakeup at the Rhode Island Department of Education and the state Board of Education. Will anyone have the decency to resign for having failed our young people?

Robert Walsh of the National Education Association and Francis Flynn of the American Federation of Teachers have, similarly, served Rhode Island students abysmally. Union leaders in civic-minded Massachusetts understand that an education system is about more than providing salaries and benefits for adults. We know there are many teachers who yearn for a sound, long-term plan to improve standards.

It is a shame Rhode Island cannot simply shutter its Department of Education and hire Massachusetts to run the Ocean State’s public schools as a subset of its own. It at least knows how to do the job.

I saw editorial page editor Ed Achorn pushing back on Facebook against those who respond to these sentiments by pointing out that the Providence Journal endorsed Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo. Part of the editor’s response was that the paper has also implored her to improve her record on education, which I’m not sure quite meets the challenge.

Some of the entities that should be a check on government, like the state’s major newspaper, have this problem: They formulate their solutions as if we had a properly functioning state. Under such circumstances, a governor who had received the endorsement might change out of concern that she would lose it. In Rhode Island, she knows that she has nothing to fear.

Nobody who has secured a role of significance wants to throw down a gauntlet to make any bold changes to the way decisions are made in the state.

It isn’t sufficient to suggest, in passing, that somebody should resign over abysmal test scores. That outcome has to be important enough that advocates will ensure that insiders cannot achieve their other goals unless they address education.

That, incidentally, is win-win, because the insiders’ other goals are, on the whole, corrupt and oughtn’t be achieved, anyway. They need to be made to understand, however, that their only hope of keeping any of their ill-gotten gains is by making improvements in this area.

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What to Expect from the PARCC Scores

The other day, I put a spotlight on the suspicious delay in the state’s release of results from public schools’ standardized PARCC tests.  In the days since, the two challengers facing incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo have picked up that theme and drawn a response from the state Department of Education (RIDE).  If anything, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s explanation only reinforces the suspicion:

“This is the first year of the new test,” Wagner said. “We’ve never released them before. People don’t know what it is.”

“Colloquially, it’s a harder test,” he said of the RICAS. “Massachusetts has a more rigorous standard. We have to figure out how to explain [to Rhode Island parents] the comparison with Massachusetts. We have to figure out how we help parents to understand the change in their child’s test scores.”

Wagner said that with the new tests, Rhode Island students, in order to reach proficiency, have to get more questions right than they did on the previous tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Wagner also said that student scores typically drop with any new test, which was the case when Rhode Island adopted PARCC several years ago.

In short, the state expects there to be score-shock from parents and the public because the harder test is producing results even worse than the earlier version, which was already producing shockingly poor results by some lights.  The only question, now, is the motivation for the delay:  Is it to figure out how to explain the setback in a way that will tamp down outrage, or is it to keep that outrage from affecting the election?

To formulate an answer, readers should ask themselves a somewhat different question:  If the results came in surprisingly fantastic, would RIDE have held back the good news until after the election?  Of course not.

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Fung’s WPRI Poll Results Show the Trillo Effect

Polls can be proven wrong, of course, but WPRI is reporting that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has a 45/34% lead over Republican challenger Allan Fung.  Independent candidate Joe Trillo’s take is 9% would put the race within the margin of error if we assume that Allan Fung would pick most of that up in his absence.

The bigger effect of Trillo in the race, however, may be seen in the favorability ratings.  Until this poll, Rhode Islanders have had a strongly favorable impression of Fung, but this latest poll sees his unfavorable rating up from 35% to 45%.  To be sure, Raimondo’s team has been spending its millions in part on relentlessly negative ads, but attacking Fung has been Trillo’s primary strategy.  The public expects to hear attacks from the candidate from the other party; having them reinforced by a third candidate formerly of the target’s own party gives them added force.

The presence of Trillo in the race probably also played a role in the decision of the Republican Governor’s Association to cancel advertising on Fung’s behalf.  This left him with fewer defenses against attacks.

So, without an unexpected outcome next Tuesday, Raimondo’s millions in out-of-state campaign funds and the presence of the spoiling kamikaze Trillo will ensure she spends another four years pushing progressive policies, discriminating against school boys, and flubbing the management of the state while she travels the country replenishing her political war chest and preparing for her own personal advancement to the national stage and a lifetime political sinecure.

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A Rubber-Stamp Commerce Board and Political Give-Aways

In my more-innocent days, I used to think the advantage of incumbency had mostly to do with things like name recognition and people’s general aversion to change.  Whether I’m just less innocent, these days, or our elected officials are becoming more brazen, I don’t know.

Take, for example, a new press release from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s office:

At North Providence Town Hall this morning, Governor Gina M. Raimondo and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation announced that nine cities and towns throughout the state have been awarded Main Street RI Streetscape Improvement Fund grants.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and they often find their home in Main Streets across Rhode Island,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “By investing in our Main Streets and making them more attractive places to spend time and money, we’re supporting our local economies. We’ve seen great success in cities and towns that have received previous rounds of funding through this program, and I can’t wait to see the improvements from these new projects.”

So, about a week before an election, the governor announced just over $1 million in taxpayer funding for nine municipalities.  Here’s the kicker:

The projects will go before the Commerce Corporation Board of Directors for a final vote at their next meeting.

The press release doesn’t mention this, but the board’s next meeting is November 19.  Even just to keep up the illusion that the Commerce Board has some sort of independent authority, shouldn’t the governor have waited until then to announce the awards?  Or shouldn’t her press release at least say that these communities “may be awarded” the money?  I guess there’s less to be gained, politically, from prudent governance.

To our civic shame, we’ve allowed legislators to enact various rules restricting our political speech, especially around election time.  Maybe what we really need are laws preventing government officials from announcing grants and other giveaways within 60 days of an election… especially those that haven’t yet been officially approved.

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Who Profits from Deepwater Cronyism

Is a Danish company’s purchase of Rhode Island–based Deepwater Wind relevant to a discussion about corporate cronyism in our government?

Providence-based Deepwater Wind announced Monday that Orsted has entered into an agreement to buy it. Orsted says it’s paying $510 million. …

Deepwater Wind says it’ll expand in the coming years, making Providence and Boston the two major hubs of the company’s U.S. offshore wind activities.

The time line goes like this:  To his shame, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri guaranteed long-term profits for a green energy company run by his former chief of staff.  Earlier this year, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo surprised Rhode Island by announcing a secret deal to guarantee the company more profits (and then immediately began fundraising off it).

Now the company’s owners have sold it off to ∅rsted, no doubt at tremendous personal profit.  There’s a reason CEO Jeffrey Grybowski hands out about $4,000 per year to key decision-makers in government, with Gina Raimondo taking the lead since 2010, at $6,300 total.  So far this year, Grybowski has given the max to Raimondo, Democrat Aaron Regunberg, Republican Allan Fung, and Republican Patricia Morgan — hedging his bets, it would seem.

Rhode Islanders should push back against these gambles.  If companies from anywhere in the world can make make a profit in Rhode Island while offering its people something for which they are willing to pay, then we should welcome them for that mutually beneficial exchange.  But when our political overlords force us to guarantee profits, the benefits are always imbalanced toward connected insiders.

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Raimondo Effort to Buy Votes Could Hurt Children

Imagine a journalistic universe in which the Providence Journal, rather than simply passing along Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s day-before-the-primary pledge to hand out more free pre-K, had done a little bit of research into the subject matter:

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that if reelected she will guarantee that every 4-year-old in the state has a spot in a pre-kindergarten classroom.

“I don’t think that you should have to be wealthy in order to have a chance to have a good, high-quality pre-K,” Raimondo said, sitting in front of a classroom of preschoolers at the Heritage Park YMCA.

As regularly followed in this space, the value of universal pre-K is, at best, questionable.  The policy may even be a net harm to children and (although not yet researched) to their families.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people who report on the government’s activities stopped doing so from the premise that more government involvement in our lives is most likely to be a good thing?

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Center To Spread the Word About Public Employees’ Restored Rights under Janus

I have big news. We’ve launched a major new campaign designed to inform public servants of their recently restored First Amendment rights, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark Janus v AFSCME case. You can see our new website at MyPayMySayRI.com. As a consistent champion of constitutional rights for all citizens, we believe that public employees deserve to know that they now have full freedom when it comes to deciding whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues.

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Fairness on Roads and Bridges

How about we end the day with some conspicuous fairness?

So… that 24/7 Wall Street index showing Rhode Island with the worst roads and bridges in the country.  The bottom line is that this result can’t really be pinned on our current governor, Democrat Gina Raimondo.  Yes, one could point out that the data appears to be from 2015 and 2016, during which time she was in office, but that was early in her term, and she was working on RhodeWorks.  Yes, one could suggest that her program’s emphasis on increasing revenue means that RhodeWorks goes in the wrong direction and that the introduction of tolls makes it a net negative, or even a potential disaster, but that’s outside the scope of this index.

More importantly, that very view of RhodeWorks illustrates the long-term predicament into which our state has allowed itself to sink, beginning well before Gina Raimondo was a public figure.  The money we pay into government for things like maintaining infrastructure doesn’t actually go to those things, and nobody currently in office (who is able to do much) challenges the insider game that draws the funds away.

Earlier today, Gary Sasse tweeted the observation that it’s “hard to improve road conditions regardless of money if road builder, RIDOT, union axis is not addressed.”  One can only reply (as I did) that this axis is the one thing in Rhode Island that can never be challenged, because it is the essence of the state.

It shouldn’t be the essence, though, and it should be challenged.  That’s where criticism of Raimondo would be fair, especially to the extent that people supported her based on the promise that pension reform was only the beginning of her reform of the insider system (as insufficient as it was).  Roads and bridges are a long-running problem, in our state, but placing ambition over real reform is Raimondo’s own betrayal.

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Fun-Sized Observations on UHIP and Out-of-State Donations

Rhode Island tourism appears to be having some success with its “fun-sized” series of ads, and the branding idea also provides opportunity for political commentary — as with Mike Riley’s quip about “fun-sized taxes.”

Surprisingly, though, I haven’t yet seen the adjective applied to the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  As has been widely reported, the state government is planning to spend another $156 million on the project, bringing the total up to $648 million:

In a request to the U.S. government for federal money to pay the bulk of finishing the computer system, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services this week said its new Unified Health Infrastructure Project budget “reflects the necessary personnel and contracted staff to support enterprise-wide efforts to move the system towards compliance and to address mission-critical operational concerns.”

In other words, despite two years of emergency troubleshooting since the biggest piece of the project went live, the technology still isn’t working as designed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is planning for another year of development work, plus ongoing maintenance and operations.

So what is “fun-sized,” here — the budget or the lines of people that we’ve seen waiting for government services?  One could envision videos for both possibilities:  In one, the camera starts zoomed in on a pile of money and then zooms out to the entire cost for this non-functional software; in the other, it zooms in on a couple of people talking and then zooms out to the entire line of people wasting their day trying to correct problems with payments from the government.

Neither of those videos will be produced, though.  In contrast, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has a big, big campaign budget and is producing lots of targeted videosOut-of-state donations have long donated the governor’s funding stream, with non-Rhode Island donors contributing 66% of the money she raised during the second quarter of this year.

We’ll see if out-of-state interest in our governor is enough to buy her another term despite her presiding over this massive debacle (among others).

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Truck Tolls: *Sigh* No, Peter and Gene, We Cannot Conclude that Truck Drivers Support Them

Every Thursday morning, as you probably know, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti hosts RIDOT Director Peter Alviti on the WPRO Morning News for a half hour plus segment. (Yeah, I know, I find it annoying, too.) Alviti takes questions from callers and spends a significant amount of air time promoting Governor Gina Raimondo’s wasteful, unnecessary, highly damaging RhodeWorks toll scheme.

On July 19, Alviti ratcheted it up a notch by involving his host.

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Conservative Policies Produce Rapid Economic Growth

For eight years, progressive-left politicians have told us that the ‘new normal’ for economic growth would be limited to the 2% range. And for years, our Center and other free-market advocates argued that major tax and regulatory reductions would reverse this course and lead to rapid economic growth, meaning more money and prosperity for families. After this week’s 4.1% GDP growth report, there can no longer be any doubt that we were right.

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Next/Last Round of Toll Gantries: Raimondo Administration Solicits Public Comment on an UNFINISHED Environmental Assessment

A couple of weeks ago, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Department of Transportation announced the locations of the balance of ten toll gantries and released an Environmental Assessment [PDF] of them. They also announced that hearings to take questions and comments on the E.A. would occur in three locations on July 27 – tonight, as a matter of fact.

Yes, that’s right, RIDOT is holding public hearings on a very significant project on a summer Friday evening. Quite similar in spirit, as a matter of fact, to the scheduling and location of the hearing for the first Environmental Assessment – in that case, two days before Thanksgiving hard by a cow pasture in South County so remote, the cows themselves need GPS to get there.

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No Space Between Governing and Campaigning

Brian Gallogly is right to lament on Twitter the politicization of the Community College of Rhode Island under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

CCRI President Hughes setting a new precedent by standing in front of a campaign banner & essentially endorsing Gov. Raimondo for reelection. Prior Rhode Island college presidents stayed neutral so they could work well with whoever won.

However, the fault is not all hers.  Gallogly’s response is to a tweet from Raimondo announcing her “second term universal job training and education plan.”  The governor includes a video of her announcement and speech (bookended with words from CCRI President Meghan Hughes) at CCRI.

The problem is the ambiguity between an official policy announcement and a campaign event.  Under this governor, there is no space between the two.  Governing is campaigning, and campaigning is governance. At some point, that practice transitions from simply poor taste to corruption, and a governor becomes something more like a potentate.

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Super Governor Promotes Basic Services (with Big Bucks)

What’s one advantage of having an unprecedented war chest to fund the re-election campaign of an unpopular governor?  Well, as Spencer Rickert points out from Smithfield, the candidate can buy town-specific videos naming specific road repair projects that were “fixed by” the candidate:

Gina Raimondo fixed Capron Road Bridge in Smithfield to make Rhode Islanders safer and put our construction crews back to work. Under Gina’s leadership, we have already fixed more than 75 bridges and roads, in every community in Rhode Island, as part of a 10-year, $4.7 billion investment in the state’s infrastructure.

No, the video does not provide any evidence that Rhode Island’s Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, was at any point out in the field repairing Capron Bridge Road, but the online video does bookend her initial use of the RhodeWork signs to promote her own name.  Just so, the video claims:

In Smithfield Gina Raimondo is investing $8 million in roads and bridges

If that means the Raimondo family has taking $8 million of its own money and generously donated it to the cause, this might really be breaking news.  As Alan Gianfrancesco comments to Rickert’s post:

She did not fix anything. We did. With our high sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax, nookie tax, toothpick tax and animal waste picking up tax.

Tell the truth.

Over the months that John DePetro and I have been discussing the election, I’ve wondered how effective standard political materials could be (even when inflated with millions in campaign funds) after four years of scandalous failure on the part of state government.  Will people forget UHIP, “Cooler & Warmer,” and all the rest because the governor is claiming credit for fixing roads, or will they bristle at the notion that spending more of our money (including with tolls) to do what should be the normal operation of government is some sort of act of altruism on her part?

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​National Trucking Unloads on Rhode Island’s Truck-Only Tolls

This afternoon, the American Trucking Associations filed suit against Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, stating that it violates the Commerce Clause, citing its discriminatory nature and challenging its constitutionality. (View the lawsuit here.) Tune in now to 630 WPRO now, by the way, to hear the famous Mike Collins talking to John Loughlin (filling in for Dan Yorke) about the lawsuit.

The national truckers are not messing around: they are represented by ​Mayer ​Brown, the fifteenth largest law firm in the United States. Heavy artillery has been cut loose on a highly destructive, unnecessary new revenue program. On a certain, visceral level, that’s a beautiful thing and one wishes that this would happen with far more bad government programs.

Unfortunately, a highly likely outcome of the case will be an order to the State of Rhode Island to either desist tolling trucks or make it non-discriminatory by spreading the cancer to all vehicles including cars. Yet not one but two studies confirmed that tolls of any kind are not needed to repair Rhode Island’s bridges.

There have been many unanswered questions swirling around Gina Raimondo’s highly dubious, highly destructive toll plan.

Why was Governor Raimondo only capable of coming up with a cutting-edge, outside-of-the-box program that is destructive and burdensome rather than positive and propitious?

How did RIDOT get the truck counts and diversion rate, a critical basis for restricting tolls to only certain classes of vehicles, so wrong?

How did RhodeWorks tolls explode from $400M (per Governor Gina Raimondo in August of 2016 at Minute 15:00) to a completely open-ended, multi-billion dollar revenue stream?

Did Gina Raimondo, Nicholas Mattiello and Theresa Paiva-Weed truly believe that tolling trucks only, something that no other state does – a “unique approach” as RIDOT itself admits – was going to pass a legal challenge?

But the biggest question: if the lawsuit goes sideways and RhodeWorks tolls are ruled unconstitutional, will Nicholas Mattiello, Gina Raimondo and all Rhode Island legislators stand by their promise that tolls will never go on cars and scrap the RhodeWorks tolls?

[Monique has been volunteer spokesperson for StopTollsRI.com since tolls were first proposed three+ years ago and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are brining a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

Tolls Force ATA Lawsuit That Could Cost Rhode Island Taxpayers Millions In Legal Fees

After years of citizen outrage against truck-tolls in the Ocean State, the American Trucking Associations and three motor carriers representing the industry are bringing a federal lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island on constitutional grounds likely to cost taxpayers millions.

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