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Political Monday with John DePetro: Cracks in the Wall of Corruption

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for September 23, included talk a political operative’s indictment, other political operatives’ hemp biz, Block’s complaint against government operatives, Wyatt protesters, and an unpopular governor.

Open post for full audio.

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The Familiar Names When Money’s on the Table

The lottery company seeking a 20-year, no-bid contract from the state of Rhode Island has acknowledged its failure to report $776,000 in lobbying expenditures over the course of three months, according to Katherine Gregg in the Providence Journal.  Some of the names involved are very interesting — which may explain some of the reluctance to report them:

In an updated lobbyist-disclosure report filed Wednesday in response to Journal inquiries, IGT disclosed a total of $776,000 in payments to its media strategist and spokesman Bill Fischer’s company, True North Communications; the Providence public relations and media placement company (NAIL), where Gov. Gina Raimondo’s former communications director, Mike Raia, now works; Signature Printing; Big Tony’s Pizza. The total includes $15,000 a month in both August and September to the only named news outlet in IGT’s report, GoLocal 24 LLC.

Raia, remember, was a Raimondo staffer who left her administration-campaign network earlier this year in order to take the small step into a private company that has been working with her office.  Now we find that company involved in the giant financial transaction for which Raia’s former boss has been inappropriately advocating.  Add this to the connection with former IGT Chairman Donald Sweitzer, who has been working with Raimondo in the Democratic Governor’s Association.

Whatever the specifics of the deal, Rhode Islanders can’t have confidence that the governor is acting entirely without self-interest.  It should go out to bid in a conspicuously transparent process.

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Annette Lloyd: Crushed Freedom Inspires Another Escape Plan

Rhode Island’s ban on flavored vaping shows a mentality that Rhode Islanders increasingly want to escape.

I’m constantly confused by politicians who think that their election also comes with honorary degrees in medicine, education, commerce, and the like… that upon their election, they have a right to appoint themselves as doctor, teacher, etc., to their constituents. Most of our elected officials are purely bought and sold tools of one lobby or another. They know no more than you or me.

Informed adults don’t need this kind of micro-supervision. Vaping has allowed me to get away from cigarettes, and I imagine the hundreds of thousands or millions of vapers in New England resent having their legal sources of vaping suddenly cut off with no compelling research into the public health effects of the habit.

This ban is a terrible trend by our governor. What she isn’t considering are the local small businesses she is destroying. There are plenty of online sources (for now) which will take more money out of RI. And, even more crucially, those who use vaping as a safer alternative to smoking will be forced to return to tobacco products. Maybe Governor Raimondo has missed the tax dollars from each pack of cigarettes purchased in RI.

The messages she is sending, of government overreach and a total lack of consideration of the ramifications of her edict, are yet another nail in this beautiful state’s casket. The R and I are, increasingly, standing for Really Idiotic.

Once our son is done with high school and Boy Scouts, we are fleeing. In search of freedom and some self-respect.

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Is Government Over-Reacting With Vape Bans?

Are the decisions by the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts to halt the sale of vaping products (which will destroy jobs and small businesses) fueled by solid research or inspired by politically-correct activism?

While we recognize that this may be a sensitive topic to some people, there are many pro-liberty arguments that can be made on why these vape bans are wrong. It is deeply concerning that Governor Raimondo used her office to unilaterally ban a class of products.

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Ocean State Exodus: We Are Losing Productive People

No single indicator should be of more importance to lawmakers and civic leaders than whether or not our state is retaining and attracting talented and productive people.

The opportunity for prosperity is a primary factor in the migration of families from state to state. In this regard, our Ocean State is more than just losing the race. Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.

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Governor Signs Executive Order to Increase Smoking

The appropriate response to Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive order banning certain forms of vaping in the state is to challenge her authority to do so.  If we accept the principle that the governor can simply ban products she doesn’t like, we’ll soon find our governors believing they can simply ban anything.

What makes the governor’s action doubly objectionable, however, is its complete reliance on fact-free emotion:

In response to the growing public health crisis of e-cigarette use among young people in Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo today signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Health to establish emergency regulations prohibiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. The Executive Order also puts in place a number of other measures designed to the curb the initiation of e-cigarette use by young people.

As far as I can tell (and the press release doesn’t provide anything additional), the only “crisis” is that people are doing the thing that the governor wants to ban.  Indeed, the governor is banning “flavored e-cigarettes,” while the only actual “crisis” has been illness nationwide, mostly having to do with people vaping THC (the marijuana chemical).

For vaping generally, it isn’t even clear that it has had a net negative effect.  The governor’s press release may insist that decreases in teen smoking are “thanks to decades of public health education and advocacy,” but the numbers for smoking and vaping suggest that there’s more to the question.  This is from a post in this space in January 2018:

… According to the federal Department of Health & Human Services, “from 2011 to 2015, the percentage of 12th-grade students who had ever used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 16 percent.” But over that same period of time, the percentage of seniors who said the same about actual cigarettes decreased from 10.3% to 5.5%. Smokeless tobacco (like snuff and chewing tobacco) is down from 8.3% to 6.1%. (These groups aren’t exclusive, meaning that there’s some overlap between them.)

As of 2014, more students had used an e-cigarette than an actual cigarette. The question that the advocates and (in turn) the journalists miss is this: If the alternative to e-cigarettes is not nothing, but smoking or chewing tobacco, isn’t this outcome positive?

If, as looks plausible, the availability of vaping has reduced smoking, one foreseeable consequence of banning vaping will be an increase in teen smoking.  The fact that this possibility doesn’t come up in government statements or coverage thereof suggests that the whole thing is just a moral panic stoked for political reasons.

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Education Freedom: Our Children Need Opportunity Today

Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation, and a vital basis for renewed economic growth.

Yet, very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly. Look at the broken Providence School system. Parents need answers for their children today, not reforms that may help students five or even ten years down the road. Educational freedom is the answer.

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School Choice = Expanding Educational Freedom

Educational Freedom changes lives. How many Rhode Island families have been forced to move away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home? Rhode Island students and families suffer, because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity. The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families.

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Bright Today Educational Freedom Scholarships To Counter Collective Bargaining Inequities

At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism.

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A Strange Disagreement Over No-Bid Slot Deal

It’s strange to see the company with which the State of Rhode Island contracts to operate its state-run casinos objecting via a public-opinion campaign to the proposed contract for its electronic gambling machines:

If passed by lawmakers as proposed by Raimondo, the Lottery would be required to get 85 percent of its 5,000-plus electronic gambling machines from IGT, even though state law currently caps the number at 50 percent. The company would potentially get a bigger slice of the revenue pie.

And, as Twin River sees it, Rhode Island would lose the opportunity that other states — including Massachusetts — had to extract better deals from IGT by putting their contracts out to bid.

“We think R.I. taxpayers should be terrified by this deal,” Marc Crisafulli, the executive vice president of Twin River Worldwide Holdings — and president of the company’s Rhode Island casino operations — told The Journal on Friday as the opposition campaign was about to launch.

His argument: There’s a potential $10 billion in state gambling revenue riding “on the belief that the governor’s office did this 20-year secret deal entirely correctly. That’s a pretty big leap of faith when you consider the lack of process, the absence of any competition, the rushed nature of the deal … and the fact that the deal doesn’t seem to make any business sense. There’s no reason to do it now. The terms are very bad. … It undermines competition.”

A key point explained later in the article is that IGT’s machines are apparently the worst performers in terms of which games actually attract customers.   IGT machines average $258 per day, while machines by Everi average $303 and those by Scientific Games average $401.

I expect that there are considerations that don’t come across in the article, but from a distance, this looks like a classic example of RI’s way of doing business.  Why not seek maximum flexibility?  Why not give the people actually operating the casino more of a say in what it provides to customers?

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Rhode Island’s Politicians Are Failing

For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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What If Nobody Noticed the Governor’s Absence?

John DePetro points something out that one would think would be more widely mentioned:

Governor Raimondo made a loud statement by becoming the first Rhode Island Governor to blow off the Bristol July 4, Parade. Sources say the state congressional delegation were shocked Raimondo chose to skip the country’s longest running parade …

Parade organizers usually have to police the number of politicians that want to be part of the parade, and were upset Raimondo skipped it. Raimondo marched last year along with her son while gearing up for her November reelection. One parade source mentioned that even Gov. Linc Chafee always marched in Bristol despite his low poll numbers.

I’m not sure how John verified that no governor has ever missed the parade, but nonetheless, it seems notable that this one did.  It also seems notable how little remarked the absence was.  Even the state’s leading weekend political wrap-ups don’t take note.

Ordinarily, Ted Nesi’s “Nesi’s Notes” and Ian Donnis’s “TGIF” columns pick up small details of political relevance that might not have fit or been justified for full columns, and neither mentions this.  I’ve searched the local sites and, while I may have missed something, I don’t see the missing governor story anywhere.  Perhaps the Providence Journal’s “Political Scene” will cover it on Monday.

During the election, last year, the governor released a slick campaign video promoting her presence.

It’s fascinating what gets covered and what doesn’t.  While I wouldn’t go so far as to assert bias — Who knows what goes into any particular writer’s coverage decisions on a holiday weekend? — the topic is a good reminder of the leverage of the news media to shape people’s understanding of what’s going on and what’s important.

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Public-Sector Labor Legislation and the Law of Unintended Consequences

While we must be wary of giving credit-rating agencies the power to dictate the legislation of our elected representatives, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the significance of this development, which Katherine Gregg reports in the Providence Journal:

A warning from one of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, has revived the debate over the union-backed continuing-contract legislation that Gov. Gina Raimondo signed last month over the objections of city and town leaders.

The new continuing-contract law indefinitely locks in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The teacher union lobbyists who took the lead in pushing the bill said it was aimed at preventing cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay or making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

“The law has the potential to provide collective bargaining units with advantages in negotiations,’’ Moody’s public-finance division wrote in a special report out Thursday that echoed one of the biggest concerns raised by Rhode Island mayors and town administrators.

Moody’s worries that the law may be “a significant impediment to local governments’ ability to negotiate labor contracts,” and as a local elected official participating in negotiations, I can confirm that to be the case.  It isn’t just a matter of unions’ refusing to make concessions that help government agencies balance their budgets.

The legislation — and even just the fact of its passage, along with the firefighter overtime bill — is already shutting off areas of discussion.  A municipality and union trying to balance current expenses with employees’ long-term interests can’t trust that the state won’t change the rules out from under them.  Even in a situation when the current members of a particular union have long demonstrated a desire to work cooperatively with management, decision-makers can’t consider only that relationship, but must worry about the unknowns of what future union members might do and how union-friendly legislators might change the rules on their behalf.

As with so much in Rhode Island government, the legislature and governor have demonstrated that they don’t take the broad, long-term effects of their actions into consideration.  One imagines that if they were ever to acknowledge the law of unintended consequences, they’d move swiftly to pass legislation repealing it.

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Help Spread the Word About the Cost of Government Unions

Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.

Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Labor and Abortion in Rhode Island

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the likely future of legislation supporting organized labor and promoting abortion, as well as the governor’s chances of spinning her performance for state and national consumption.

Open post for full audio.

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Rhode Island’s Political Leaders Are Failing on Their Promise to Help Average Families

At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s 1 million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.

With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, the report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.

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