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Where the Unexpected Windfalls Go

In preparation for my weekly spot with John DePetro, this afternoon, I revisited Katherine Gregg’s Providence Journal article about the 7.5% in raises (actually 7.7%, compounded) state employees under Council 94 are expected to receive as part of a deal with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo.  Raimondo, you may have heard, is facing a tough election this year.

These paragraphs jump out:

… the events at Council 94 union headquarters coincided with the announcement by the Raimondo administration that year-to-date revenue collections are running $46.5 million ahead of the estimates adopted at the state’s official Revenue Estimating Conference last November, on which Governor Raimondo’s $9.3 billion budget proposal was based.

A statement issued by the Department of Revenue said: “The major contributors to this surplus are personal income tax revenues, $43.6 million more than expected; estate and transfer tax revenues, $5.3 million above expectations; departmental receipts revenues, $4.5 million more than expected; and public utilities gross earnings tax revenues, $5.4 million ahead of estimates.” A few smaller sources of revenue fell short of projections, yielding the net surplus of $46.5 million.

Gregg notes that the new raises will be competing with the pleas of other special interest groups in their annual “more money” dance (which, admittedly, sometimes means more than a budgeted reduction).

But have you noticed that an unexpected increase in revenue is never cited as an opportunity to lower tax rates?  To the extent that it comes up, reduced taxes are typically handled in such a way as to make a special interest out of taxpayers, as with the specific elimination of the car tax.

In any event, time will tell whether Raimondo’s bid for the labor vote creates enough of a boost to save her job.  Valley Breeze publisher Tom Ward is skeptical of her chances, generally:

My take on it: There is no amount of money that will save her candidacy. The unfixable UHIP that continues to cost taxpayers more millions, the now-late and already unpopular tolls that create a new budget shortage, the “scooping” of energy conservation monies – and now, grabbing 911 emergency funds for God knows what. She owns all of it! She will lose a two-way race soundly, and needs to keep independents like Joe Trillo in the race to save her.

We’ll see.  The thing with full ballots is that a candidate can win with a small plurality, as Rhode Islanders keep learning… to our detriment.

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Missing the Real Story of UHIP

As a UHIP skeptic from the very first time it was mentioned as a possibility, I continue to think that everybody is following the wrong storyline.  However, increased scrutiny is starting to bring people around to the right questions… the correct angle.  Consider:

As to why so many things went wrong, [Deloitte manager Deborah] Sills said: “Simply put, the system is very complex … the only eligibility system in the country that integrates more than 10 state and federal health and human services programs and a state based health insurance exchange … As the state’s comprehensive analysis last year made clear, Deloitte and the state needed ‘more time, more people and more training.'”

GoLocalProv has posted the entire 40-page, paper-and-pen application that goes along with the half-billion-dollar computer system, and what’s becoming clearer is that the state simply expected too much from software, hoping to avoid the hard work of reconceptualizing how benefits programs are done.  In this light, the fundamental error of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo was her failure to understand the nature of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  It was never really intended to be a cost-savings and efficiency tool, but rather a dependency portal, drawing people into government programs and maximizing the amount of “services” that the state could hire people to provide.

Look at the application.  The complexity comes in because each program requires different information.  That’s not a terrible problem if the applicant knows which one he or she wants, but the entire point of UHIP is to give people things they aren’t applying for, so the application asks for all of the possible information.  Streamlining that would require regulatory and legislative changes, some of it at the federal level.

In order to effectuate those changes, advocates would have to make clearer the underlying objective, and that would run contrary to the plan.  The dependency portal is meant to insinuate itself into reality under the banner of efficiency, which the public would actually support.  Less popular would be a banner proclaiming, “We want to ensure that everybody gets every penny of taxpayer money possible, even without looking for it.”  Even less popular would be, “We want to track everybody’s personal and financial information so that we can adjust their benefits automatically.”

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UHIP Catastrophe: Governor Once Again Blaming Deloitte as “Real” Problem (Also, Chafee)

Yesterday on NBC 10’s Connect to the Capitol, Dan Jaenig asked Governor Gina Raimondo, among other topics, how the state dropped the UHIP ball. The governor started her response by taking a swipe at former Governor Lincoln Chafee, saying he signed a terrible contract with Deloitte. She then continued,

Under my watch, we hit the go button before it was ready. But I will say the real problem here is the company sold us a product that didn’t work.

This is not to defend Deloitte, which apparently has a mixed record with regard to such systems. But let’s be clear. It was you, Governor Raimondo, who gave the catastrophic order, for your own selfish political reasons, to launch an unready system. Accordingly, DO NOT BLAME FORD MOTORS FOR DELIVERING A DEFECTIVE CAR WHEN YOU ORDERED THEM TO REMOVE IT FROM THE ASSEMBLY LINE ONLY HALF WAY DOWN. And similarly for the aspersions you cast at Governor Chafee: the contract, good, bad or indifferent, is completely irrelevant if the manager who takes over the contract inexplicably orders production to be shut down well before the product is finished.

Everyone else – taxpayers and UHIP clients – but you, Madame Governor, is paying the high price for your catastrophic action. Please at least stop casting blame for it in desperate and absurd directions.

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Statistics: Economic and Political

Click on over to my op-ed in today’s Providence Journal:

To be clear, these are massive and sometimes subtle trends, and a particular governor can only be saddled with so much blame or lauded with so much credit. Still, if Rhode Island had kept pace with other states — and with itself before Raimondo took the reins — around 10,000 more of us would be employed.

Anecdotally, that presentation of our economy more closely matches the experience of most Rhode Islanders than does the governor’s self-promotion. Promising four more years of “exactly [that] kind of progress” may therefore not be the pitch that the Raimondo camp believes it to be.

Perhaps that’s why 60 percent of Raimondo’s political donors were out of state in 2017. Opinions may differ as to whether that represents “progress” from her 40 percent out-of-state result in 2014.

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Objection to UHIP on the Surface and Conceptually

The court-appointed “special master” tasked with getting Rhode Island’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) working, Deming Sherman, tells Kate Nagle of GoLocalProv that the system is flawed:

“It (UHIP) was not a bad idea, but bad execution,” said Sherman about UHIP. The good idea of UHIP was to tie five distinct programs together, but the flaws have been that the vendor, Deloitte and the workforce did not work and were not trained, respectively. Just as the UHIP program was being implemented the state laid off key workers. Since then DHS has had a difficult time training and retain workers for the program.

Sherman said the UHIP system has two problems technology and the workforce that operates it.

The surface reaction one has to this is to be incensed that the state government has already spent roughly a half-billion dollars on the system.  Nobody forced state government to undertake a project that it was not competent to oversee.  In fact, the state barely conducted public discussion before jumping in.  Bureaucrats under former Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee simply went forward as if it was the obvious thing to do.

Similarly, nobody forced Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo to manage her personnel under the assumption that flipping the switch on UHIP would instantly bring a new day.  She took a big, big gamble, attempting to make budgetary room for other things, like her crony capitalist approach to economic development, and the state’s vulnerable populations have suffered for it.

More deeply, though, we should challenge Sherman’s statement that the concept was sound.  The goal of UHIP, which was pushed down from activists at the national level (with the encouragement of Democrat Congressman David Cicilline), is to draw people into dependency on government.  The system has the 40-page application about which Sherman complains in part because the designers want it to collect scads of information about people, which would be constantly updated on the pretense of regularly checking eligibility.

If it weren’t for the human suffering and loss of opportunity that it’s causing, we should actually be happy that UHIP isn’t working, which is a sad statement on the condition of our democracy.  Being saved from insidious ideas by managerial incompetence is not a silver lining that ought to inspire confidence or hope.

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Hair Braiders Should Have the #RIghtToEarn a Living

Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.

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The Great Flurry’ster of 2018 and Changed Rhode Islanders

So what happened with the disruptive snow and wind we were supposed to get yesterday?  That’s the question of the morning.  Something seems to have changed in the Rhode Island psyche after the “December Debacle” in 2007.  That year, the timing and handling of a snow storm, particularly in Providence, under Democrat then-mayor-now-congressman David Cicilline caused a nightmare for commuters and children.  Suddenly, hesitation to disrupt our entire community gave way to being “better safe than sorry.”

Once that old New England toughness lost its dominion, the ordinary incentives of government and politics took over.  If the governor or mayor closes down government and implements parking bans, not only do they give some key constituencies a day off, but they mitigate the risk of something going wrong.  Relatively few Rhode Islanders will even think to wonder about considerations like this, as expressed in a GoLocalProv article appearing this morning:

“Let’s go macro,” said [Providence restaurant owner Bob] Burke. “On any given day the state has $150 million in economic activity. What did we produce [on Wednesday] — $10 million?  Are we a state that can afford to give up $100 to $125 million in economic activity without a really tough fight? On Wednesday, they went down in the first round!”

Similar views were expressed by Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity. “The lack of concern for small businesses by bureaucrats and elected officials looking to make themselves look good – when they prematurely issue parking bans, large truck bans, or shutting down government operations – directly leads to a loss of business and productivity in the private sector,” said Stenhouse.

Whatever it is that’s changed in the Rhode Island psyche has freed government officials from the need to actually make decisions.  Either business people have given up trying to assert their influence in an often-hostile government or those who take the needs of businesses lightly have increased.

Perhaps the change has to do with the “government plantation” that effectively replaces Rhode Islanders who are driven to turn their time into money with others who are more likely to seek government services. Those who work for government get paid no matter what, and those who are the recipients of its beneficence are a step removed from caring about where the money comes from.

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Can We Realize The Destruction Of Families Has Unintended Consequences?

In the Providence Journal this week, Wendy P. Warcholik and J. Scott Moody write, “This growing number of children in Rhode Island without a solid familial foundation should give us all pause. This is not a problem that is going to just go away, and we must find ways to help these children before tragedy strikes, perhaps in your own neighborhood.”

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A State by Any Other Measure

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The Gun Controlling Governor Who’s Never Shot One

As people (mostly gun rights advocates) line up to testify on gun control legislation as if they’re low-income people caught up in the UHIP debacle or Providence drivers nabbed by speed cameras, I thought I’d highlight this interesting detail from Ted Nesi’s latest weekend roundup column (emphasis added):

Governor Raimondo, meanwhile, has been devoting a lot of her public appearances to promoting gun control. In an interview with Kim Kalunian on Thursday, she said she supports her daughter’s plans to join an upcoming school walkout – and has never shot a gun herself.

We would err if we cultivated the standard that only people who know about a thing can ever comment on its use, but the fact that the governor has never, ever shot a gun seems unusually relevant in this case.

After all, she’s pushing legislation to forbid people from buying particular guns and accessories and to expand the ability of government to take guns away even though she has no personal experience with how they might handle differently.  She has no basis to say, “You don’t need that gun instead of this gun,” because she doesn’t know what practical difference there might be.

Moreover, she’ll probably never have to consider firing guns for anything other than sport, because she’s followed around by people with taxpayer-funded guns, and she’s wealthy enough to afford various forms of security even after she leaves public office.

So, the fact that the governor of Rhode Island has never pulled a gun’s trigger doesn’t remove her right to opine on gun ownership.  However, it should encourage some humility in somebody seeking to limit access to a constitutionally protected tool when she hasn’t ever used the tool herself and can expect always to be able to rely on hired help to use it when she needs it.

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The Governor’s Priorities on Gun Control

The video following the text on this WPRI story features me arguing that the governor’s executive order making gun confiscation a higher priority for law enforcement doesn’t adequately respect the rights of the gun owner.  One can tell that it was written entirely by gun-control advocates.  The person under investigation, while law enforcement must “follow up” with him or her at least once, has no advocate in the process.  Moreover, the Working Group for Gun Safety has no requirement that any members be supporters of gun rights or even private-sector gun experts.  “Gun violence prevention advocates” and “affected families and youth” get a nod, though.

As a distinct matter separate from the wisdom of the “red flag” policy that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo promoted, however, the process and presentation raise important questions about the governor’s priorities.

First is the fact that the public was told on Friday that the governor would sign some broadly defined “red flag” legislation on Monday, which she did at a staged media event in Warwick.  Then, we all waited around to discover what, specifically, she had done after she had already done it.  No public input; Raimondo formulates a policy behind closed doors and assumes it is perfect.

That was followed by, second, the fact that the language of the executive order was not available anywhere, as far as I could tell, including on the governor’s executive order page, which at the time hadn’t been updated since 2015, and on the page for the related press release.  The executive order page was updated before the close of business, yesterday, after I’d complained about the omission on social media, but as of this writing (the following morning), the tab at the top of the list still says “2015.”

In other words, with all the public relations personnel that Governor Raimondo is infamous for having hired, nobody bothered to make this executive order available upon release — let alone beforehand, available for public comment.  That suggests that the important thing, to the governor, isn’t the policy, but the PR, and that isn’t how law ought to be formulated, especially when restricting Constitutional rights.

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