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The Employment Situation In Rhode Island Is Getting Worse – Bucking National Trend

Happy Easter from everyone at the Center to you and your family! We hope you had a great holiday weekend.

We wish we had better news to deliver. Unfortunately, the employment situation in Rhode Island is getting worse, bucking the national trend. While state politicians crow each year about not implementing broad new taxes, the unfortunate truth is that by nickle-and-diming residents and by not implementing aggressive reforms Rhode Island will continue to lose ground, nationally.

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Who Is Working For You? New Major Report Coming Soon From The Center

Who does the Rhode Island General Assembly really work for? Too often, the people of our state are left voiceless as special interest dominate the conversation. Recently, the Ocean State Current broke a major story that ignited media coverage across the state. In H5662 and Whom Rhode Island Representatives Represent, Research Director Justin Katz, uncovers a key admission from the political class.

During the March 11th Tiverton Town Council meeting, a member of the General Assembly admitted that he put forward the bill at the request of Speaker of the House, without regard to the cost to the town he represents for the state firefighters union.

Don’t wait, you can catch the video on the Current by clicking the link here. You can also find the followup here.

In the coming weeks, the Center will be releasing a major report on the cost of collective bargaining in the Ocean State. This will be the longest and most in-depth research project the Center has ever undertaken on any topic. We invite you to be on the lookout for this critical report.

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Admissions Scandal Is So Very Rhode Island

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, about Rhode Island’s own connection with the college-entrance bribery scandal:

When Rhode Islanders heard that the women’s tennis coach of the state’s public university had been arrested in connection with the national bribery for admission scandal, many must have said, “Wait, what?” Students can get an excellent education at the University of Rhode Island, and it’s certainly an affordable option, but it isn’t exactly an institution for which the nation’s rich and famous would have to pay the sort of premium that might attract the FBI’s attention.

When they learned the details, locals’ reaction was probably something more like, “How very Rhode Island.”

This paragraph is probably the key takeaway for Rhode Islanders:

Rhode Island’s leaders are like the parents who’ve bribed their children’s way into institutions of higher education that were well beyond their merit. Both cases exhibit an implicit insecurity and a desire for people under their care or authority to be something they’re not. In contrast, the initial questions that political leaders and parents ask should be: Who are you really, and how can you achieve your full potential, being who you are? With that more-human perspective as the starting point, parents might not set their children up for embarrassing failure (or criminal prosecution).

Read the whole thing, as they say.

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Truck Tolls: Plaintiffs Appeal Ruling to Dismiss; Do Not Accede to Moving the Fight to State Court

On March 19, the federal district court in Providence dismissed the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls, heeding the State of Rhode Island’s legal argument that their truck-only tolls are not a federal but a state matter and within the state’s purview to assess because they are actually taxes. (Wait, what?? Since when? From the beginning and all through the toll battle, Governor Gina Raimondo and state leaders repeatedly told us that tolls are a “fee”, a “user fee“, an apple – anything but a tax.)

At that point, the ATA had two choices: file the suit in state court or move to keep the suit at the federal level by appealing the decision. They just issued a statement indicating that they have chosen the latter course, stating, in part

Yesterday, the American Trucking Associations, along with three motor carriers representing the industry, appealed last week’s decision by the federal district court in Rhode Island to dismiss their challenge to Rhode Island’s RhodeWorks truck-only toll scheme, on procedural grounds.

In its challenge, ATA contends that Rhode Island’s truck-only toll scheme is unconstitutional because it discriminates against interstate trucking companies and impedes the flow of interstate commerce. In its March 19, 2019 decision dismissing the case, the district court did not address the merits of that constitutional claim. Instead, it held only that ATA’s challenge could not proceed in federal court.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spear went on to underscore, “…we look forward to establishing the unconstitutionality of Rhode Island’s discriminatory tolls on the merits.”

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current and Anchor Rising for over ten years, was volunteer spokesperson for the citizens advocacy anti-toll group StopTollsRI.com for three+ years and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of 2017.]

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Governor Seeks to Punish Employers Via Proposed Medicaid Tax

Businesses should be applauded for hiring those most in need of work…not punished with more taxes, and certainly not made out to be the bad guy. It is misguided to think that if employees are not covered by their employer’s insurance plan, full or part time, and instead are enrolled in Medicaid, then the business should be punished.

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The 6.5% Sales Tax Promise: Money In Your Pocket

Existing state law (General Law 44-18-18) specifies a “trigger” for a sales tax rate reduction to 6.5% (from its current level of 7.0%!) if certain internet sales tax collection criteria are met. The rationale for this law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the additional burden of imposing a sales tax on a broader range of purchased goods, by easing the tax.

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RI Can Check Out Any Time, with Point Judith Fund, but Can It Leave?

Edward Siedle is wondering, in Forbes, whether the State of Rhode Island will ever be able to stop investing in Point Judith Capital, which our Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo founded, even as it loses money:

The pension was scheduled to exit Raimondo’s fund in 2016 but the firm, supposedly exercising its discretion under a secret agreement the state supposedly signed, unilaterally extended the life of the investment in 2017 and again in 2018.

In late 2018, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner surprised pension stakeholders by announcing a new reason for delaying termination of the investment yet another year. Magaziner disclosed, for the first time, the 2006 secret agreement the pension signed with Point Judith allowed Raimondo’s fund to hold onto state money another year if 80 percent of investors agree.

The very fact that an investment, shrouded in secrecy and foisted on the state pension by the now-Governor, has continued to lose money for the pension and pay money to Raimondo for the past thirteen years—with no end in sight—should demand enhanced disclosure and public scrutiny, in my opinion.

Of course, the line from the Eagles’ “Hotel California” echoed in this post’s title comes to mind.  But the situation seems more broadly representative of the crony, insider system that Raimondo has brought to full flower during her time in government.  A relative handful of people reap rewards while the public loses, and only the people benefiting are able to exit the relationship.

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Siccing the Tax Man on the People

In early December, I pointed to a story about the state taxing authority going after funeral homes to tax urns and prayer cards.  The State of Rhode Island was hitting these small businesses with bills for back taxes on products that had always been handled as tax exempt.

As I looked through the tax changes in Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s budgets for the past few years over the weekend, a connection became clear, with an important lesson:

  • In fiscal year 2017, the governor called for two new revenue agents for field audits and three new revenue officers for collections, with an estimated increase in revenue of $1,793,806.  The General Assembly accepted this proposal, but assumed a net budget impact of $3 million, meaning that the actual revenue collected would be higher in order to pay the five new employees, so actual revenue would be around $3.5 million.
  • In fiscal year 2018, the governor called for two more revenue agents and two new data analysts who were supposed to generate another $750,000. The General Assembly accepted this proposal but assumed a $2 million increase in revenue.
  • In her current budget, the governor wants to add a lawyer and case management system to the collections unit, to generate another $750,000.

Going after small businesses for back taxes nobody ever told them to collect is what this effort looks like.  After the changes in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the state had nine new employees with an implied mandate to find $5.5 million in new tax revenue.

To the extent anybody even notices these new hires, the impression is that they’ll be going after scofflaws for money they are somehow hiding from the state.  There may be some of that, but what the funeral homes are experiencing is the effect of the state hiring people with a monetary target and siccing them on the people of Rhode Island.

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Everything We Thought About 2018 Employment Was Wrong

Every year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revises its numbers for states’ employment statistics.  Those results will be released tomorrow, but Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT) typically releases a limited press release the day before.  As of this writing, the DLT’s Web site does not include the press release that went out to journalists and other interested subscribers.

In a word, the results are not good.  The BLS revised data back to 2014, and the DLT only released round numbers back to December 2017, but in the name of informing people at Internet speed, here’s a preliminary chart comparing the revision to the originally reported numbers.

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Some things to note:

  • 5,300 employed Rhode Islanders disappeared.
  • The workforce dropped by 4,800.
  • That notched unemployment to 4%.
  • The better part of all the gains we’d thought we’d made during 2018 evaporated.

For political context, I’ve marked the month that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s first budget went into effect.  Throughout most of 2018, the reported numbers were sufficiently good to open up the possibility that the governor’s policies simply had a lag in their effectiveness.  Now, that seems to be less plausible.

From the time she took office, employment in the state has grown at a slower pace than it had been previously — by half.  From December 2014 through December 2018, Rhode Island employment increased 0.77% per year.  From the time the state hit bottom, around December 2011, through December 2014, the growth rate was 1.42% per year.

Perhaps relying on incorrect numbers, Rhode Islanders didn’t change direction with the last election.  One test for the governor — and a sign of her intentions — will be whether she makes some adjustments or doubles down on her top-down, progressive, crony-capitalist approach.

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Chris Maxwell: National Academic Board Finds No Data to Support Raimondo & RIDOT’s Claims of Truck Damage to Highways & Bridges

The National Academy of Sciences’ Transportation Research Board (TRB) recently met to assess whether changes to truck size and weight (TS & W) should be implemented. The nation’s scholars, engineers and infrastructure “wonks” came away from the conference with a consensual determination that there was not enough data to support changes and that further studies were needed before any revisions were made to either decrease or increase the allowable dimensions and weight on America’s highways and bridges. In fact, the group spent significant time developing a plan for future research on the TS & Weight issue because there are information gaps and inconsistencies in studies.

So why are DOT leaders around the country yelling “fire in the theater” as they pin the trucking industry with the ills of our infrastructure?

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Loss of US Congressional Seat Underscores Need for Reform Agenda

The state of the State of Rhode Island is not good. Even as the rising national economic tide has lifted ships in all states, when compared with the rest of the nation, our Ocean State is severely lagging, and is in danger of sinking further behind if progressive policies continue to be implemented.

Perhaps no indicator more appropriately demonstrates the failure of the leftist status quo, than does the near-certainty that Rhode Island will lose one of its precious House seats in the U.S. Congress. The persistent jokes of family and friends “moving out of state” have now tragically manifested themselves into the harsh reality that our state is not competitive enough to see population growth on par with the rest of the country.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Fees, Fraud, Fetuses, and Finding a Field of Candidates

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the many new fees and taxes in the governor’s budget, a progressive’s alleged embezzlement, the significance of an abortion poll, and the multiple candidates for RIGOP chair.

Open post for full audio.

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Parks and Beaches: Another Investment We’re Already Making

Along with her budget’s request to increase fees for beaches and Rhode Island parks, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is rolling out the usual message about “investing” in our state:

“Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we’re not doing enough now. It’s critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let’s make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did.”

The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation – ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.

The missing statistic in that summary is anything gauging Rhode Island’s tax burden.  Especially in the messaging of our current governor, everything is an “investment.”  The problem is that we’re already making those investments.  We’re just not getting much for them, whether in terms of infrastructure, economic development, or education.

Another budgetary favorite of Raimondo’s emphasizes the point:  budget scoops.  When the governor’s office makes a regular practice of “scooping up” money from restricted funds, which are often driven by fees of one sort of another, it sends the message that it’s all really about finding new sources of revenue.

In other words, she’s actually looking for investments in more of the same old insider deals that have drained money away from things Rhode Islanders actually value.

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The Governor’s Progressive Priorities

A recent Providence Journal editorial highlights yet another indication that the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo isn’t exactly exhibiting a casual competence when it comes to the basic operations of state government. This time, the problem is the company with which the state has contracted to ensure that people in need are able to make it to their medical appointments, and the House Oversight Committee, led by Representative Patricia Serpa (D, West Warwick), is looking into it:

It has not escaped Ms. Serpa’s attention that there is a pattern of problems in state contracting. For many years, the executive branch has had trouble drafting strong contracts (without requiring an abundance of costly change orders), making sure services are properly implemented, and providing sufficient oversight once services have commenced. At the same time, the Raimondo administration has dramatically increased the number of public-relations people on its payroll.

Public-relations people on the payroll is just the start. Apparently, the governor also has plenty of time for things like this:

Gov. Gina Raimondo is all-in on a statewide bag ban and past opponents of the concept aren’t objecting.

Raimondo gave her support Feb. 14 at the final meeting of the Task Force to Tackle Plastics, an advisory board she created last July with the mission of cutting plastic pollution in the state.

That’s progressives (like socialists) for you: trying to save the world while letting those who rely on their competence for day-to-day operations suffer. The problem, at its bottom, is that people are willing to pay for certain services from government (for themselves and on behalf of others), but not so much for insider excesses and progressive schemes. So, to make way for the excesses and schemes, government has to scrimp on the things for which people are willing to pay so there’s money left over for the things for which they probably wouldn’t.

And at the end of the day, ensuring that the medical transportation vehicles run on time isn’t all that exciting.

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Governor Moves Toward Even More Restrictions On 2nd Amendment; Please Sign Petition

As the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity wrote after the State of the State address, the assault on individual and Second Amendment constitutional rights under the Raimondo administration is worse than expected. Her new scheme is one more example of the Rhode Island political class giving into the far-left Progressive agenda. Rhode Island families deserve to be able to exercise their God given right to self-defense without excessive government interference.

Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves. Now is the time to demand better government, not more restrictions on honest citizens. Click Here to sign a petition demanding exactly that from our elected officials.

This “crystal ball” approach of justifying government infringement because something “might” happen must end!

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Looking for the Political Line on PR Staff

It appears that GoLocalProv asked Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s office for all communications related to Frank Bruni’s glowing profile of her.  The site reports:

The emails that cover three-months — this past November through January — cover 55 pages and include a number of efforts by Raimondo staffers. In most cases, Raimondo’s office responded to emails in minutes and proactively sent materials and powerpoint presentations that were not requested by the New York Times.

So, Rhode Islanders paid the governor’s staff for three months of assistance on an explicitly political and partisan profile in the New York Times?  GoLocal reports that “it was the New York Times photo desk that dictated Raimondo’s photo” (shown, in part, in the featured image of this post).  That would be the image taken in her official office and positioned so as to make reflected lights look like a halo for Saint Gina.

Maybe it’s time we begin to ask where the boundary is beyond which these activities should be campaign expenses.

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The Coincidental Flow of Money and Jobs for Raimondo PR Shop

When Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s lead PR guy, Mike Raia, left government employ recently, many a politics-watcher wondered what giant leap into uncharted territory he might be taking.  Well, now we know:

The governor’s former communications director is joining the Providence-based ad agency NAIL Communications to lead its new public relations-oriented shingle, NAIL[PR].

Mike Raia, who stepped down from Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration as of Feb. 1, announced his new job as NAIL[PR]’s managing partner Wednesday. The firm will do PR work and strategic communications, Raia said.

Looking at the state’s transparency portal reveals quite a coincidence.  It turns out that NAIL Communications has done very well with government contracts under the Raimondo administration, with $39,500 in fiscal year 2016, $121,475 in 2017, and $223,805 in 2018, with the bulk of that last year coming straight from the Department of Administration, with no programs or subprograms listed.

Per state law, Raia will “recuse” from contracts with Rhode Island’s executive branch for a year, which leaves him plenty of time to work alongside his former boss once again before she moves on to whatever’s next.

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Yet More Bad Toll Numbers from Raimondo & RIDOT

Surprise surprise surprise! WPRI’s Ted Nesi reports that

Gov. Gina Raimondo has sharply lowered her forecast of how much money truck tolls will generate this year because they are getting and running more slowly than initially expected.

The budget proposal Raimondo released earlier this month projects that tolls will generate $7 million in the current 2018-19 budget year, which is $34 million less than was expected when the budget passed last June.

If you’ve watched the toll discussion and rollout even casually, you will know that this development is actually not at all a surprise.

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A National Chameleon of Spin

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo certainly has her PR team active.  Within the space of a week, she’s had positive profiles in the major newspapers of the most-major nearby cities.  What’s interesting, though, is how targeted the messaging is.

The New York Times column by Frank Bruni is headlined: “The Loneliness of the Moderate Democrat.”

She can’t tweet worth a damn and the same goes for Instagram. She winces at talk of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent and cringes at the growing use of “corporatist” as a slur against Democratic politicians deemed too cozy with business interests. She thinks that big companies often need to be prodded forcefully to do right by their employees, but that it’s bad policy and bad politics to paint them as the enemy.

She recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

At the New England-regional Boston Globehowever:

In a multicandidate race, [a majority vote is] a mandate, Raimondo says. And now a politician who rose to prominence by pushing pension reforms that enraged public employees is using her mandate to pursue a list of progressive policy goals: expanding a tuition-free college program, universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage, new gun safety laws, pot legalization. She is calling for more money for public schools, after a round of distressingly low student test scores.

Put it all together, and what do you got?  Raimondo is a progressive who wants to appear moderate to a national audience.  Her PR team is (or “teams are”) savvy enough to craft their message for different audiences, and mainstream journalists and columnists are happy to play along.  (Note that the Boston Globe article is by Mark Arsenault, who was at the Providence Journal until 2009.)

Election results notwithstanding, Raimondo still isn’t very popular in her home state.  But she’s smoothly transitioning to status as a fully national Democrat, which means she’ll have plenty of help appearing to different audiences however she wants to appear.

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RI’s Leadership Role in the Climate Shakedown

Ocean State Current alumnus Kevin Mooney has an American Spectator article highlighting Rhode Island’s role in the vanguard of the inside-government attack on the fossil fuel industry:

In 2018, Rhode Island became the first state to file climate change litigation against 21 fossil fuel producers, a move that directly assaults the free speech rights of those who dared to voice a dissenting opinion on climate policy.

Sheldon Whitehouse, the state’s Democratic U.S. senator, joined with Governor Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to announce the suit at a press conference last July. Rhode Island’s litigation closely mirrors lawsuits that have been filed by 14 municipalities across the U.S.

Although climate change litigants have repeatedly failed to successfully make their case in court, state attorneys general persist in reloading the same arguments.

That’s just the beginning of the sordid tale of political showmanship and lawyers’ fees that makes up this abuse of power.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

An Employer’s View of the Governor’s Regressive Budget

Sometimes, a perspective directly from the front lines says it better than we can ever do. Below is a response from one of our Center’s email subscribers, who is a large employer in our state, commenting about my recent “Raimondo’s Rhode to Serfdom” oped in the Providence Journal and about a related email from this past weekend.

The frustration that this government does not seem to understand, or care about, the increasingly onerous plight that it continually and unilaterally imposes on job producers comes through very strongly, as does the critique of how leftist polices have negatively impacted the work ethic of young adults.

From an actual employer in RI:

I am so disappointed that [the governor] is definitely [living] on another planet. She should be in a business and [try to] find employees. Free education and early pre-K does absolutely nothing when we are graduating high school seniors that can barely read. I need employees that can be trained in a blue collar industry, but the current generation doesn’t want to work. They have no communication skills since they are glued to phones. Most can’t pass drug testing, and she wants to legalize pot. We have spent millions on smoking cessation, and now we want to legalize drug that most users smoke. Pot is an entry level to drug abuse but she wants to spend millions on opioid addiction.

She claims she isn’t raising taxes, but her budget shows increases in taxes on almost everything the average working person uses. No cuts in her overpaid staff or in the excessive number of State Workers. Online gambling is another bad idea; gambling is an addiction, and we all know people that have lost everything because of gambling. My question is why the citizens never get to vote on anything?

Mattiello stated the defeat of Pawtucket Red Sox was the will of the people; how would he know if the people never had a say or a vote? Our [Congressional] Rep made a special trip to the border to investigate the death of an illegal child but didn’t make any comment about the death of a Rhode Island child who died in DCYF care.

Help wanted adds everywhere, but we have a generation that doesn’t want to work because they have gotten everything for free and have absolutely no work ethic.

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Governor’s Regressive Budget – The Wrong Direction?

Is the Governor’s budget pointing our state in the right direction? On Monday, I attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast hosted by the RI Ministers’ Alliance. At the breakfast, the Governor said that the country is moving backward, and that she is committed to moving RI ‘forward’ and in the opposite direction. What planet is the Governor living on?

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Governor’s Budget: The “Rhode To Serfdom”

Instead of seeking to shape Rhode Island’s future with the proven ideals of a free-society, Governor Raimondo’s proposed 2019-2020 budget is a stunning departure from America’s core values and, instead, would put our state on a “Rhode to Serfdom.”

The Governor’s regressive budget points us 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where we need to head, and would stifle any opportunity for growth.

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