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The Poor-Management Theme

This sort of talk is getting to be something of a theme during the Raimondo:

House Finance Committee members and budget crunchers said they worried Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is showing a lack of urgency to right the state’s listing fiscal position.

“The urgency is not as apparent as you would expect,” said House Fiscal Adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland about the administration’s efforts to stem the red ink. “The current year deficit is time-sensitive. It needs to be emphasized.”

Join the legislature’s concerns with the various criticisms and fines from the federal government, plus the various misfires (allegorized by “Cooler & Warmer”), and the story of the Raimondo administration can’t help but write itself.  If only Rhode Island could have a normal election in which the electorate gets a binary choice between two alternatives by which to make a clear statement.

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PawSox: Suddenly a Legislative Hot Potato?

Kathy Gregg is reporting in today’s Providence Journal that

[Senate President Dominick] Ruggerio said the Senate Finance Committee will unveil a revised version of the PawSox financing bill next week, and then vote to “hold it for further study,” so the public can see it, discuss it and debate it before the General Assembly convenes for its 2018 session on Jan. 2.

Yesterday on the WPRO airwaves, Dan Yorke, an open supporter of the state’s financial participation in a new stadium for the PawSox, noted that he had been aware since last week that this would happen. More interestingly, he reported that members of the House have been urging their colleagues in the Senate “do not send us this bill”.

Interesting. Are some in the House seeing the folly, financial or political or both, of the state getting involved in a sport when far more important matters have been budgetarily neglected or outright cut? For example – and feel free to add to this list of unwise legislative priorities – of course, excessively generous state pensions had to be cut, though bringing the fund from 49% funded to only 56% funded was in no way worthy of the fawning national media coverage showered on the governor for this “feat”. But bigger picture, should public pensions take a secondary position to a very seasonal “economic development” (please, no snickers) sports project?

And as was demonstrated by both the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and the Republican Policy Group, headed by Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, the money to repair Rhode Island’s as roads and bridges could easily have been found in the budget. But Governor Raimondo pretended otherwise and the legislature unwisely followed her lead in passing a highly destructive and inefficient toll plan (the implementation of which is not going swimmingly). Really? Our roads and bridges are less important than the state participating in the frivolity of a sport?

What does it say about Rhode Island’s priorities if the state participates in the PawSox stadium? That needs to be the point that House members and leaders mull over as they consider the PawSox request and the Senate’s bill. Possibly, it is the basis of the quiet push-back, referenced by Yorke, that the Senate is getting from the House and that has hopefully turned the PawSox stadium into a political hot potato.

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Nursing Education Center and Rhode-Island-Style Innovation

Take a moment to consider the import of this paragraph, from Ted Nesi’s report of the opening of a new combination URI/RIC nursing center and Brown University administrative center in Providence:

“This was a power plant across the street from the vibrant Jewelry District,” [Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo] said. “The economy is changing, and we’re not standing still. We’re changing with it. The New York Times just called this area, quote, ‘a busy hive of invention and collaboration.’ And so we’re changing the narrative of our whole state.”

In the past… the private market made Rhode Island a hub for a particular industry.  Now… the government collects $85 million from productive areas of the state’s economy to renovate a building vacated as the economic tide went out from the Ocean State and use it for bells and whistles at government-run universities and a wealthy tax-exempt non-profit.

Honestly, I don’t want to sound that cynical, but come on.  Now throw this into the mix:

The developer of South Street Landing was CV Properties LLC, a Boston-based firm led by Dick Galvin. Earlier this year, real-estate company Ventas Inc. paid nearly $130 million to buy the facility and a new 750-space parking garage being constructed next door from Blackstone Group LP. Ventas is the parent company of Wexford Science + Technology LLC, the developer building a high-profile innovation campus on the vacant 195 land in the same part of the city.

As I mentioned when I detailed the suspicious interconnections of the bigger Wexford deal, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro and her husband are substantial Raimondo donors, located in the governor’s notable fundraising hot spot of Chicago.

Yeah, for the general public, renovated buildings make for nicer scenery than abandoned ones, but that doesn’t mean we should accept the surface story every time politicians proclaim the advance of public-sector-focused crony deals.  Somebody’s got to lose out, and we can be reasonably certain that it’s us.

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National Grid as Learning Opportunity for the Governor

One begins to get the sense that National Grid energy prices are becoming a bit of a representation of Rhode Island’s business climate generally, which makes this sort of rhetoric from the Raimondo administration a bit hard to take, from Alex Kuffner’s article on rate increase requests for the Providence Journal:

Rhode Island families and small business owners — especially manufacturing businesses — are already challenged by high energy costs,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a statement. “The Public Utilities Commission needs to open up National Grid’s books and stand up for Rhode Island ratepayers.”

Macky McCleary, administrator of the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers — sister agency to the PUC — said Rhode Islanders deserve better value in their utility services.

“What we received today appears to be a proposal that continues business as usual and presumes the willingness of Rhode Islanders to bear an ever‐increasing burden of higher costs,” he said.

Read through the article and what you’ll find is a list of complaints that touch on government mandates on energy and on business in general:

  • Labor costs, including health care
  • New hires to connect green energy sources to the grid
  • Wealth redistribution through a low-income discount
  • Electric vehicle charging stations

How can the governor play defender of the people when it comes to these expenses and then allow things like mandatory paid sick time, new health care mandates, and expanded green energy programs?  Whether these costs filter through the energy company or not, they ultimately all come from the same household incomes.

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Chris Maxwell: RIDOT’s Inadequate Environmental Assessment Intended to Accelerate Toll Bait Lawsuit

[Below are the prepared comments of Chris Maxwell, President of the Rhode Island Trucking Association, for the RIDOT toll gantry workshop Tuesday evening. The video of Chris’ actual comments, abbreviated due to time constraints, can be viewed here. For the sake of the news outlet that erroneously reported that public comment Tuesday night was mostly a re-hash of old objections and omitted all on-topic comments from their story, Ocean State Current has bolded all of Chris’ comments that pertain to the Environmental Assessment that was the subject of Tuesday’s workshop.]

Good evening. My name is Chris Maxwell and I represent the Rhode Island Trucking Association and all local trucking companies adversely affected by truck-only tolls.

Our opposition to this plan from its introduction in the spring of 2015 is well-documented. And despite the justified rancour that still exists, our industry’s willingness to contribute to infrastructure improvement remains steadfast – even beyond our existing contributions which are considerable.

In 2016, the trucking industry in Rhode Island paid roughly $70 million in federal and state roadway taxes.

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The Important Caveat on Rhode Island’s Virginity

As Ted Nesi reports for WPRI, Virgin Pulse, which bought the RI-based start-up ShapeUp not long ago, has provided Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo some much-needed blush for the otherwise sickly cheeks of Rhode Island’s economic news:

“If we want to attract Millennials fresh out of college to come and bring energy to our company, if we want to get the best and brightest, this is the place to find them,” he said. “People are moving to cities. They want to be part of a culture, they want to have access to great entertainment and great food and a city with a great lifestyle, and this is a place where we can find all those things.”

“I believe in the city. I believe in the state,” [ShapeUp founder Rajiv] Kumar added. “We saw at ShapeUp over the years just how supportive the environment, the culture, has been for our business. And I knew that Virgin Pulse would thrive in a place like Rhode Island.”

The notion of a “supportive environment” is important, here, recalling a couple of posts I wrote almost exactly a year ago.  In them, I noted that ShapeUp had relied pretty heavily on the many means of collecting taxpayer dollars from the state.  Even as ShapeUp, under various names, registered as a corporation in Delaware, it collected $100,000 directly from the Commerce Corp. and $18,750 from the Department of Health.  Disgraced former Democrat Speaker of the House Gordon Fox also directed $12,000 in legislative grants the company’s way.

That was all before Raimondo promised the company $5.7 million in tax credits as it started jobs in the state.  So, yeah, maybe some of the glowing assessment of Providence is genuine, but let’s not forget how integral government dough has been for the company.

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All But Admitting That RI Has Not Been In Compliance With Federal Election Law

At its Monday meeting, the Rhode Island Board of Elections directed its lawyer to propose fixes to the loophole created in 2008, which no longer required proper identification for those registering, in person, to vote … as required by 2003 federal law. Despite baseless attacks against Ken Block, it turns out that his research was accurate.

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… By the Way, RIDOT’s New Tolling Study Has Major Problems, Too

At about the same time they issued a not-ready-for-primetime Environmental Assessment of the first two proposed toll gantry locations in southern Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) also issued an “investment grade tolling study” of the entire RhodeWorks toll plan – a study, we should note, which cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island a cool million dollars.

During their show, “Changing Gears”, yesterday on WPRO, Mike Collins and Chris Maxwell broadly hinted at major problems with this tolling study. Maxwell remarked that the state “would have been wise to put it through the shredder because it is very favorable” to the truckers’ anti-toll position.

Stay tuned on this – or drop by RIDOT’s hearing on Tuesday to hear about it first hand. That’s when the Rhode Island Trucking Association (represented by Maxwell) and the American Trucking Association (represented by Collins) will point out chapter and verse how RIDOT’s own toll study apparently torpedoes Governor Raimondo’s highly destructive, wasteful and unnecessary RhodeWorks toll plan.

Remember, Governor Raimondo and the General Assembly are only going to toll trucks! *snort*

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Hearing Tuesday on First Toll Gantries With Acute Case of UHIP-itis

RIDOT has identified the locations of the first two proposed toll gantry locations in southern Rhode Island. This Tuesday, they will be holding a workshop and taking public comment on their newly-released (not to say rushed out the door) Environmental Assessment of the locations. The problem is that the assessment suffers from exactly the same serious flaw as the ill-fated UHIP system: it was released before it was ready. “Continue Reading” to learn why – and for deets about attending the hearing.

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A.T. Cross Out the Incentive Programs

Not long after hitting up the Rhode Island taxpayer for incentives to move from one municipality to another within the state, pen company A.T. Cross has sold itself to a California private-equity company, according to WPRI’s Ted Nesi.  The silver lining:

A.T. Cross was awarded $1.9 million in state subsidies to help pay for the move to Providence, but R.I. Commerce Corporation spokesman Matt Sheaff said Thursday the company has not received any of that money at this point because the incentives are tied to job benchmarks it has not yet achieved.

Not to quibble, but Kate Bramson reported last year in the Providence Journal that the company had already received $200,000, which would presumably be in addition to the thousands of dollars it receives every year through various government programs and directly from the governor’s office.

More to the point, the company now confirms that it will be shedding jobs, rather than adding them, which raises the question of whether it really needed the promise of millions in order move.

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An Administration with No Credibility to Chastise

To be fair, this is the sort of thing one expects a governor to say when an institution, particularly a public utility, falls short of expectations at a time during which people are relying on it, as Shaun Towne reports for WPRI:

[Democrat Governor Gina] Raimondo’s office on Wednesday said the governor has directed the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) Administrator Macky McCleary to assess National Grid’s storm preparedness and restoration efforts.

To ensure National Grid’s attention is focused on the ongoing restoration, Raimondo’s office said the review will begin once all homes and businesses are back online.

“Rhode Islanders should expect the lights to come on when the switch is flipped. National Grid owes Rhode Island families and businesses a swift response when power goes out and thoughtful planning to prevent outages when storms are forecasted,” Raimondo said in a statement Wednesday.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for a politician to position herself in opposition to inadequate services when this is also news, as reported by Susan Campbell, also on WPRI:

On the first day of open enrollment for health insurance, a glitch prevented hundreds of customers from reaching HealthSource RI.

About 300 calls were routed incorrectly, due to a change that was made to the agency’s phone menu Tuesday night, according to Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the agency.

Add the following to the list of reasons government should remain small enough that it’s actually possible for politicians to run it well:  It doesn’t help when the people’s elected representatives have less than zero credibility for complaining about the disappointing performance of other organizations.

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Two Candidates for Governor

Two tweets posted on Twitter today within one minute of each other are telling, as well as related to part of my conversation with John DePetro for my weekly call-in yesterday.  First:

Second:

I don’t juxtapose these to promote Patricia Morgan, or even to advocate against Gina Raimondo.  An impression of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has been building, and it could (and should) be a barrier to her reelection no matter how much money she’s able to dump into Rhode Island’s relatively small media market.

When it comes to actual crises and errors in the executive branch, Raimondo takes an incremental approach.  A new revelation puts UHIP in the news, so she comes up with something that appears to be a response and walks away again.  Meanwhile, her affection for photo ops and staged events is well established.

That isn’t leadership, and people know it isn’t leadership.  Whatever collage of pleasant feelings canned photo ops might generate can be washed away by manifest bad management.  To the extent that her ample professional staff (in and out of the campaign) believes that photo-ops are indispensable, every single one of them should be of a leader fixing problems.

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Political Monday with John DePetro, No. 31: Sick Outs and What It Means to Be a Democrat

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the Warwick sick outs, my ethics complaint, Josh Miller’s view of the Democrats, Raimondo’s remorse for hurting journalists’ feelings.

Open post for full audio.

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Prepare for Another Innovative Way to Take Your Money

Katherine Gregg’s Providence Journal interview with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo contains a number of interesting tidbits, but the most significant section may be the round of questions on school infrastructure funding:

“The question … is how much money is needed to do the school construction properly — over what period of time — and where are we going to get that money … to which I don’t have an answer for you today,″ Raimondo said. …

Raimondo does not favor a surcharge on the sales tax or any other major tax, but says she is considering other ways to create a dedicated revenue stream.

The article cites $628 million as the bare minimum funding we supposedly need, and she mentions (but does not “favor”) the Massachusetts approach of devoting a penny of the sales tax to the matter.  Noteworthy, in that context, is that Rhode Island’s sales tax was implemented in the first place in order to give teachers raises and resolve financial crises in the cities and towns.

Whatever the solution that the governor ultimately proposes, this being Rhode Island, we should expect to see some scheme to increase revenue, not redirect it from some other expenditures are of lower priority.  The incentives of government ensure that low priorities are always the first to be funded.

Note that Raimondo isn’t even floating a comprehensive fix (at least not yet) as she did with pensions or roads and bridges, just “a dedicated revenue stream.”  Rhode Islanders pay enough in taxes to have our school buildings maintained and well staffed.  The problem is that the money is being redirected in ways it shouldn’t be.

Nobody should believe any claim that this new tax, fee, or scheme will be the one that actually accomplishes what government promised decades ago.  The pressures of the unnecessary or extravagant expenditures are now becoming such that the state keeps looking for ways to add new sources of money to pay for the basics.  But the waste, fraud, and abuse will continue to grow and expand, making it inevitable that corrupt insiders will come for this cash, too.

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