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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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The Center’s Statement on Governor Raimondo’s State of the State

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has this to say about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s State of the State address and budget priorities:

Governor’s Policy Ideas Will Make Matters Worse

More of the same progressive-left policies that are hampering our state today

Providence, RI — With the Ocean State doomed to lose a US Congressional seat because of its hostile tax, educational, and business environment, which chases away wealth, families and potential investors, the policies presented in the Governor’s 2019 State of the State address would only make matters worse, according to the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

“The Governor offered nothing but more of the same, failed progressive-left policies,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Instead of seeking to make our state a more free and welcoming place to live and work by easing governmental intrusion in our lives, the Governor is proposing even further attacks on our individual and economic rights. This misguided vision should be alarming to all Rhode Islanders.”

As prior Governors and General Assembly leaders have erred in the recent past, many items from the Governor’s speech would again make Rhode Island an even worse place to raise a family or build a career:

  • With no coherent plan to address our long-time K-12 public-schools problem other than throwing more money at it; and instead of lessening government and union influence over our recently exposed dismal student test scores, the Governor is proposing even more government control over students via her “universal pre-K” and expanded “free college tuition” programs.
  • Instead of easing regulatory burdens on employers in a state with one of the worst business climates in the country, the Governor proposed placing job-producers in further economic peril via more onerous wage mandates.
  • Instead of combating the deadly use of opioids, the Governor’s unspoken tonight push for legalization of marijuana will only create a stepping stone for further drug abuse and will lead to a further fraying of our state’s societal fabric.
  • Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on the rights of the unborn and those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves.
  • Instead of seeking to provide more affordable and higher-quality health insurance for state residents, the Governor continues to push for sub-standard and unaffordable government-mandated insurance.
  • With corporation after corporation pulling out of RI and reneging on their corporate welfare deals, the Governor continues to promote more special-interest incentives that end up producing little more than empty headlines … all paid for by the hard-working taxpayers of our state.

For these reasons and more, Rhode Island suffers from an epidemic of people fleeing our state. “Maybe it’s time to build our own wall to keep people in,” quipped Stenhouse.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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Happy New Year from the Center! How to Start Winning Conservative Victories in 2019.

Happy New Year from everyone at the Center! Do you want to start winning conservative victories in 2019? It is my view that conservatives in our state MUST boldly and relentlessly stand for the core values that have always bonded Americans together, and translate those values into kitchen-table issues that benefit families.

Our vision is based upon the core values of love of country, freedom of religion, self-sufficiency, and preservation of the individual rights granted by God to every American, as defined in our constitution.

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Merry Christmas From The Center!

Merry Christmas! Imagine Rhode Island as a more attractive home and destination of choice for families. We could be a state that offers financial security now and opportunity for prosperity in the future. We could have a policy culture where individuals and business are successful in increasing the overall wealth of our state’s economy, and enhancing the quality of life for every Rhode Islander.

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Balance of Toll Gantries Going Up at Top Speed; Serious Implications of Raimondo Breaking Her Word

As we jump into the latest unsavory development in the state’s shady, deliberately ignorant roll-out of truck tolls, this preamble is the most important take-away: tolls on any vehicles in Rhode Island are completely unnecessary. The spending to repair Rhode Island’s bridges can be found within the annual budget – and without throwing 30% of the revenue away on gantry construction and toll fees.

RIDOT has announced today that they received federal approval for the balance of the gantries and that the contractor has been issued notice to proceed with construction, with the first new gantry expected to go live in May of 2019.

This flies in the face of Governor Gina Raimondo’s repeated statements that any more gantries would wait until the lawsuit and the legality of truck-only tolls is decided. Just one instance was on Dan Yorke State of Mind earlier this year (starting at Minute 06:00):

Yorke: You said, “If we lose the litigation, we don’t put the tolls up”.

Governor: “Correct”.

Governor: “We’re going to start with one in February. We assume there will be litigation which we will then have to defend and then we’ll see.”

Governor: “We gotta do one, we gotta see how it goes and then we’ll move to the next one.”

To not proceed with the construction of the balance of the gantries until their legality had been threshed out was a significant undertaking and also the prudent course on behalf of taxpayers and residents.

The implications for Rhode Island residents of her breaking her word and doing a highly irresponsible one eighty are significant. We have received repeated assurances that these gantries will be used only to toll trucks. But what happens if the court rules truck-only tolls illegal? The most innocuous – and actually not that innocuous – implication of her action in erecting gantries for a use that may be legally vacated is that she has very irresponsibly opened state taxpayers to a significant, unnecessary expense; i.e., putting us all on the hook for the cost of these gantries.

A far more ominous implication is that, by proceeding with the construction of all gantries before a court ruling, she is actively positioning the state for all-vehicle tolling. In a recent interview with WTNH, Governor Ned Lamont said that Governor Raimondo told him she is “highly confident” that the lawsuit will be found in the state’s favor – and “later this spring”, no less. (This attitude strikes me not only as baseless, extreme legal optimism but also quite disrespectful of the judge presiding over the case.).

The governor’s highly quizzical legal prognosticating to one side, it is impossible to predict the lawsuit’s outcome. A ruling against truck-only tolling doesn’t mean that tolls themselves have to go away, only their discriminatory assessment. By going back on her word on gantry construction, Governor Raimondo may be telescoping the time it takes to spread the – remember, completely unnecessary – toll cancer to all vehicles.

[Monique has been a contributor to the Ocean State Current for over ten years, has been a volunteer for StopTollsRI.com, a grassroots citizens group opposed to all tolls, for four years, and began working for the Rhode Island Trucking Association as a staff member in September of last year.]

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Hasbro and the Definition of Cronyism

Following Rhode Island’s mainstream news media gives one the impression that everybody’s falling all over each other to express concern about the possibility that toy company Hasbro might move its headquarters out of the state.  The three most-powerful politicians in the state pledge to work toward a solution.  The mayors of Pawtucket and Central Falls are on the case.  The Providence Journal editorial page is stressing the importance of retention.

I say we’re looking at this all the wrong way.

If Hasbro’s changing business model just doesn’t work in Rhode Island, then the company should move.  To avoid that outcome, the state should eliminate the insider system of its governance and ease the burden of regulations and taxes so that the company’s business model works here — not because state leaders are cutting special deals to help one company overcome the burden, but because the state is more friendly to all economic activity.

Instead, Hasbro may actually affirm the state’s unhealthy political system if it stays.  A quick look at Rhode Island’s campaign finance database shows that Hasbro’s CEO, Brian Goldner and (presumably) his wife have each given Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo the maximum contribution of $1,000 every year since she took office.  This year, another Goldner at the same address threw in an additional thousand, and Brian added $11,000 in donations to the Democratic State Committee.  Additionally, 18 Hasbro employees contributed the maximum to Raimondo over the past year.

This unusual wave of money clouds the direction of the influence, but it is suggestive of the insider nature of the transaction.  Hasbro employees are especially supportive of a particular politician, and that politician is going to strive to keep their company in the state.  At the end of the day, it isn’t clear whether anybody with power has an interest in improving the state if it means reducing the power of a mutually supportive elite.

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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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