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Higher Education Funding for Unaccountable Administrators

The American Interest points to an investigation of California’s state higher education system:

In other words, administrators have been hiring more administrators for make-work positions and giving each other raises without sufficient accountability in a self-perpetuating cycle of bureaucratic decay that is sadly endemic to academia at large.

These findings should give pause to those who think that larger and larger state subsidies are the answer to higher education’s woes. Much of the public money spent on “free college” schemes championed by left-wing populists would end up being pocketed by the ever-expanding bureaucratic class of student services directors, Title IX coordinators, and HR managers, raising costs while steadily diluting quality.

Before Rhode Island embarks on this “free tuition” idea — Curious, isn’t it, how this out-of-nowhere scheme by the governor is being pushed through without any real time to think? — maybe the state should conduct a study of the administrative weight of the organizations under the state’s system.  It’d be difficult to out-do California, but Rhode Islanders have a right to know how much they’re wasting on unaccountable educational bureaucracy.

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The Risk of Premature Marijuana Policy

Mary Rezac, of the Catholic News Agency, reports on a study out of Colorado from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area, which is a government agency tasked with tracking the illegal drug industry in the Rocky Mountain Area.  Here’s a taste, but there’s much more:

Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent in 2013, the first year of legalization of recreational marijuana. About one in five more youth are now reporting having used marijuana in the past month since its legalization. Marijuana-related hospitalizations in the state nearly doubled from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.

This statement, from Dr. E. Christian Brugger, a moral theology professor at a Colorado seminary, should resonate strongly in Rhode Island, as we debate taking the step of legalizing marijuana:

“If there had been any sincere effort on the part of Colorado citizens and legislators to gauge in advance the harms that would arise from legalization, they would have foreseen precisely (these results),” he told CNA in e-mail comments.

Rezac goes on to report that “adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.”  Lead, as we know, is treated as a public health crisis for children in the Northeast, and if I’m remembering my construction history correctly, the government once actually mandated that lead be put into paint.

Advocates on the other side of the issue do what one would expect and argue against the data and the incentives of the source.  Here, for example, is a Forbes article addressing the prior-year report from RMHITA.  At the link, Jacob Sullum makes some compelling points, but he also argues some of the statistics in ways that are, themselves, arguable.

These backs and forths would characterize any healthy debate about public policy, and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of picking our favorite side and believing its data with undue credulity.  The problem is we’re looking at just a couple years of data from a single state, so it’s all difficult to sort through.  All that’s needed is time and dialogue.  There’s no hurry.

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Marijuana and the Inevitable Pin-Hole Burns

The headline for this post derives from the Pink Floyd song, “Nobody Home,” from the concept album turned movie, The Wall.  As our rock star protagonist slips into loneliness and insanity, he’s looking around his hotel room and at himself, and he sees “the inevitable pinhole burns all down the front of my favorite satin shirt.”  The holes are from the embers of his cigarettes, which presumably he’s chain smoking.

Of course, neither smoking nor the indolent burning of holes in your shirt are inevitable.

Anyway, the lyric came to mind when I read the reaction of RI’s leading lobbyist for the legalization of marijuana upon hearing that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo backs a study commission for the related bill, not the actual policy:

… legalization advocates say the commission would only delay the inevitable.

“The public is behind it. Massachusetts is moving forward. We don’t think a study commission is necessary because we already have the data,” Jared Moffat, of Regulate RI, said. …

Massachusetts retail shops will begin selling marijuana in July 2018. Moffat said delaying legalization in the Ocean State will result in sending jobs and revenue to the Bay State.

So speaks the pusher:  “Hey kid, your friends are all doing it.  You’re going to buy some eventually.  You might as well buy it from me, now.  Why be the last?”

Pink Floyd rhymes “inevitable pin-hole burns” with “the obligatory Hendrix perm.”  Hendrix’s death from a drug overdose wasn’t inevitable.  As a carpenter, I worked on a few projects with a painter who railed against anti-drug laws on the grounds that Hendrix died because his girlfriend was afraid to call for help out of fear of being busted for possession.  The first day I worked with that painter, by the way, he mentioned that he wasn’t quite himself because his friend had just died.  Another overdose.

Legalization is not inevitable.  If states that have made the leap find, for example, an explosion of hard-drug use (which is still in the cards), opinions will change quickly.  Haste is the imperative of those who fear a gamble will go sour.

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What Freedom Means When Government Takes Over for Organized Crime

The strongest argument for legalizing marijuana is based on freedom, particularly among the libertarians with whom I’m generally sympathetic.  Reading this article by Jennifer Bogdan and Tom Mooney in the Providence Journal, though, I’m surprised by ways in which this might not be so true:

Birenbaum touted the state’s camera surveillance system, which keeps electric eyes on all the grows, and various other tracking and security measures.

While the attorney general may have legitimate concerns about future recreational use, Birenbaum says, “we want cities and towns to see there’s a difference” with a well-regulated medical marijuana program.

Weeks after the tour, Pawtucket gave local approval for three medical cultivation applicants, noting how impressed they were with the state’s ability to track grows and the pot they produced.

Statewide surveillance of an industry and close government tracking aren’t generally the hallmarks of freedom.

That’s why my view is one of freedom gained through strengthening society.  If in general we’re operating under the civic premise that government has to take care of us all and take invasive measure to do so, then expanding the options for incapacitating ourselves and inviting government intervention aren’t likely to increase our total amount of freedom.

On the other hand, in a society in which individuals have strong character and families and communities are geared toward helping each other without the force of the law, our liberties can expand without infringing on our freedom.

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Rich Senators Target Poor Children’s Scholarships

Yes, of course we should be interested in having government-driven programs be free of waste, fraud, and abuse, but this sure does seem like a political attack on a policy that helps disadvantaged students escape failing government schools and secure real opportunities through private schools.  According to Emma Brown, in the Washington Post, three Democrat Senators are asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate states’ tax-credit scholarships, which allow businesses to donate money for scholarships in exchange for some percentage back as a tax credit.

Naturally, Rhode Island’s upper crust U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is one of the three signatories.  The emphasis of the letter on whether such programs “pose a risk of waste, fraud, abuse, misconduct, or mismanagement” indicates that the objective is to attack the programs, not simply to learn from them.  Note, especially, that the letter doesn’t ask the GAO to look into the positive results of the programs.

One wonders where Whitehouse sent his own children to school.

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, Republican state representative Robert Lancia (Cranston) has submitted legislation that would increase the cap on Rhode Island’s tax credit scholarship program and implement a feature that would allow it to grow according to demand.  His bill (for which I offered feedback based on a review of other such programs) would also make scholarships more predictable, by prioritizing continued funding of scholarships for students already receiving them.

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“Save RI”: The Antidote To The Progressive Agenda

Rhode Island families understand that our quality of life can only be improved if more and better businesses create more and better jobs! Yet, the progressive-left has a very different vision. They are openly promoting job-killing, anti-business, and anti-family policies. Their so-called “fair shot agenda” would transform our Ocean State into a liberal utopia … where businesses face even higher legal and financial risks, and where worker safety, absenteeism, and workplace productivity are compromised.

The Ocean State faces a stark choice.

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Mike Stenhouse on with DePetro on Marijuana’s Effects on Business

Related to a brief that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released this week concerning the complications that legalizing marijuana would create for Rhode Island businesses, RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM radio show. Also: a new baseball stadium and sales tax.

Click full post for audio.

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Pot Luck Employment

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity posted a brief, today, pointing out some of the risks to Rhode Island employers in an environment of legalized recreational marijuana:

One South County firm has already been sued for denying employment to a legal medical marijuana user in compliance with the company’s drug-free policies. Similarly, firms in Massachusetts, California, Montana, and Washington — among others — have been burdened with similar lawsuits.

If recreational use of the drug is legalized, the constitutional crisis created by pitting employer rights against employee rights could explode, crippling companies that would have to pay exorbitant legal fees to defend their rights in court, as well as any damages they might incur from adverse rulings. Similarly, a conflict may also exist if landlords seek to ban marijuana use on their private property by their tenants.

Proponents of legalization present it as an easy matter of rights, and if it were that, the Center would probably agree with their objective.  The problem is that, when once the government has interjected itself into a matter of social concern, the landscape changes.

In this particular case, we have not only the complications of having state law conflict with federal law, but also a skewed balance between employees and employers.  If it were understood that employers could conduct their business and their employee relations as they saw fit, then the legalization of marijuana wouldn’t be as relevant to them.  If an employee behaves in any way that the employer finds objectionable, the relationship terminates.  Ditto if the employer dictates terms that the employee doesn’t like.

But that is manifestly not understood, and our state government is constantly looking for new ways to dictate employment policies to every business in the state.  In that case, businesses have an interest in constraining the activities of everybody who could potentially come within range of their liability, which is everybody.

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Will RI Be Beaten to the Sales Tax Reduction Punch?

Uh-oh, Rhode Island.  Maybe we should get on the ball and move along a big sales tax reduction.  Here’s what’s happening in Massachusetts:

There may be a major tax cut competing with the significant tax increase that’s already being prepared for the 2018 ballot in Massachusetts. …

A poll conducted for the retailers association in November by Princeton Research Associates reminded respondents that the so-called millionaire’s tax may be headed for next year’s ballot. Seventy-nine percent of those respondents said they support reducing the sales tax to about 4 percent or 4.5 percent to make the tax system fairer and to support local retailers. In the poll, 66 percent said they believe the “proper sales tax range” for Massachusetts would between 4 percent and 4.5 percent.

Let’s get down to 3% this year and watch our economy boom.  I’ll even let Governor Raimondo take some of the credit.  (Some.)

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Regulating for Profit

Such stories as this, in the Providence Journal, should read less like celebrations of newfound revenue and more like lamentations of tyranny:

Volkswagen is paying more than $157 million to 10 states to settle environmental lawsuits over the company’s diesel emissions-cheating scandal. …

Volkswagen has admitted to programming its diesel engines to activate pollution controls during government treadmill tests and turning them off for roadway driving.

So some states imposed harsh restrictions on cars, and one company cheated.  (More specifically, one company has been caught cheating.)  As a results those states are getting windfall slush money to splash around.

What huge incentive for states to over-regulate everything!  Environmental policy is especially ripe for this sort of abuse, and one can see why governments want so badly for there to be a looming environmental catastrophe to justify its confiscation of money and assault on rights.

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Consolidating the Pension Problem for Whose Benefit?

Not that long ago, I might have been supportive of Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s initiative to move the remaining municipal pensions into a group under state control.  Among the positives would be getting them all together so that Rhode Island could make a decision about how to resolve the problems once and for all and move forward.

I’ve shed a bit of naiveté since then, and information like this, from Ted Nesi’s WPRI article has disconcerting undertones:

Magaziner emphasized that the proposal does not involve putting state money into the local pension plans, and said allowing them into MERS would not impact the funding of plans that are already in the state-run system. He also suggested joining MERS could force communities to be more responsible about making their annual required pension contributions.

“There are some pretty strong sticks to get communities to be responsible” in MERS, he said, such as withholding state aid or taking legal action if they fail to make their contributions.

This means the state will pressure municipalities to raise taxes as pensions prove to be unfundable through reasonable payments plus investment returns, which is almost certainly going to happen.  The bill will go up, and local governments will turn to voters and say, “We have no choice.  The state is making us pay more toward pensions.”  This will defuse some of the local push back, both on pension payments and the deals being offered to active employees.

Meanwhile, the looming catastrophe at the state level will be that much more threatening, and compromises on the employees/pensioners’ side will come later (meaning the promises will be bigger).  In short, my thinking is increasingly that, as with most budget items, the more local the decisions and the pain can be, the better.  The people paying the bill have a more-fair hand locally (if only slightly), and if one municipality slips into the abyss, the others may have time to work out their problems based on that lesson.

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Legal Pot Doesn’t Mean Law Enforcement Reprieve

Think legalizing marijuana will curtail the black market and police involvement with drug enforcement? Not so fast, according to an article in the Daily Beast by Carol McKinley:

Shayne Heap has been Sheriff of Elbert County, Colorado for 15 years, which is almost as long as long as pot has been legal in the state, starting with medical marijuana in 2000: “I have 45 deputies, but I could use 10-12 more just to work the marijuana cases.” He’s seen his calls go up 180 percent since legalization. “Pot has killed us from the very beginning.” Elbert County is a bedroom community of Denver where many people move to get away from it all. The median income is just over $82,000. …

[Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program,] doesn’t have much faith that the bill [to lower the number of plants individuals can grow] will curb organized crime. And he believes it comes too late for a generation of children who will pay the price for Colorado’s pot experiment. “In five to ten years from now, we’re gonna look back and say, ‘My God, what did we do?’”

Heavily regulating a market implicitly leaves blocks things that people will want to do.  The difference is that government is no longer enforcing a ban, but is enforcing a regulation, with the added incentive that the black market is a competitor to the government market.  (And that’s what the heavily regulated, highly taxed pot industry will be: a government market.)

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Raimondo Seeks to Tighten Screws on Grassroots Opposition

So, while progressive activists make sure anybody who might disagree with them has incentive not to run for public office, progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo attempts to create more dissincentive through the law:

Raimondo’s proposal would bar any candidate with an overdue campaign-finance fine of any amount from running for election. The rule would apply only to new fines; any fines under appeal or on a Board of Elections-approved payment plan would not prevent a candidate from running.

The proposal would also increase the fine for late campaign-finance reports from $25 to $100 while raising the maximum Board of Election violation from $100 to $500.

Rhode Island already as a palpable lack of people running for public office to challenge incumbents.  The governor’s proposals — by design, one imagines — would make matters worse, entrenching a powerful elite even more and further reducing the democratic functioning of our state.

We’re reaching the point of crisis on this stuff, and even “good government” people who ought to know better are asking government to take our rights away.

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Aimee Gardiner: Now is the Time to Take a Stand Against the HPV Mandate

The 2017 General Assembly session is picking up steam, and the movement against the HPV vaccine mandate in RI has not lost momentum. Rhode Islanders Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations has continued to rally support and to speak with legislators. Our efforts are paying off. Three bills have been submitted already for 2017 and a forth may come soon.

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Unfair And Unreasonable Occupational Licensing Restrictions

It is time to change the status quo in Rhode Island. What if lawmakers were to realize the policy culture of considering only material needs has been harmful to our families? Instead, lawmakers should work to empower more families with the soul-fulfilling power of work by removing the obstacles that stand in their way. Rhode Island needs bold, broad-based reform ideas; ideas that will help existing and would-be businesses and families. One big idea is removing the heavy-hand of government occupational licensing restrictions on small businesses.

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Gaming the Intersection Blockage

Do you have the same thought I had when you read this?

Later this year, if you find yourself stuck in the middle of certain traffic-clogged city intersections blocking cross traffic when the light turns red, you may be facing more than the disapproval of your fellow travelers. You could be looking at a fine of $100 or more.

Providence is poised to be the first municipality to take advantage of a new state law dubbed “Don’t block the box.” It allows the city to designate intersections for special enforcement of rules against blocking traffic.

I may put signs in my car windows with left-wing slogans like #BlackLivesMatters and “resistance” messages.  Then, if I get caught in an intersection, I’ll tell the police officer that I’m just using my right to block traffic in protest against fascism… or something.

Of course, if legislation absolving drivers of liability for accidentally hitting protesters who block the street were to pass, things could get really interesting.

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Corporate Personhood and Three Steps to No Rights

Brad Smith recently took up an important point in the Providence Journal, responding to Democrat U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is seeking to “strip rights from corporate entities,” in Smith’s words.  He cites the 1819 Supreme Court case, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward:

A corporation, the court noted, “is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.” But that didn’t mean that people gave up their rights when they formed a corporation. Rather, the decision emphasized that when people join together to accomplish things, they usually need some form of organization, and shouldn’t have to sacrifice their rights just because they organize.

This is one of those recurring discussions that are frustrating because they’re mainly semantic, and one feels as if normal people sitting down to fairly explain to each other what they mean will agree and move on.  The danger is that the semantics could allow radicals like Whitehouse to push the law a few steps to totalitarian control.

Step 1 is to force people to organize for any sort of public activity by offering either competitive enticements (from tax benefits to liability protections) or regulations restricting activities if people do not organize.  We’re already pretty far along this path.

Step 2 is declare that those organizations that people have formed don’t have rights.  Another way of putting that, as Smith explains, is to say that people lose their individual rights when they organize as corporations… which they were more or less forced to do in order to accomplish their goals.

Step 3 will be to force people to do what government insiders want by imposing requirements on the rights-less corporations.

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Government Coercion by Another Means

Here’s the article I mentioned in this week’s podcast, about tax deals for corporate charity:

A bipartisan group of congressmen recently introduced a new bill intended to reinvigorate America’s poorest communities. The Investing in Opportunity Act (IOA) will allow investors to temporarily delay paying capital-gains taxes on their investments if they choose to reinvest the money into “opportunity zones” or distressed communities across the country.

The legislation was cosponsored in the Senate by Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, and in the House by Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Ron Kind (D-Wisc.).  These congressmen report that their bill has garnered bipartisan support in both chambers, and they believe that its provisions will allow for tremendous economic growth in some of the country’s most underserved communities.

I might have misspoken in the podcast and attributed the article to the legislator.  The legislator is Tim Scott; the writer is Alexandra Desanctis. Whatever the case, this isn’t a direction in which we should go.

There’s a push among conservatives, recently, to rephrase policies in terms more amenable to the themes in which the Left has caught up the public conversation.  On one end, this is an obvious thing to do — to explain why conservative policies are the ones that will actually help individuals and families come to their full fruition.

Less obvious are policies that accomplish some of the Left’s goals (like making government central to charity), but that have potential to start to reshape thinking.  In that way, for example, taking the step suggested by Representative Scott could lead, in the future, to the additional step of questioning why government’s picking charitable causes at all.

I think this proposal goes a little too far over that line.

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Clarity When Legislators Decline to Increase Their Own Leverage

Rep. Jared Nunes (D, Coventry, West Warwick) may not have succeeded in passing much-needed reforms to the state House of Representatives’ rules with recent legislation, but he managed something very important, indeed.  Reformers at any level of government in Rhode Island face a long, frustrating slog and must find encouragement wherever they can.

One source of encouragement is that having somebody push against the establishment wall at least forces its supporters to dispense with some pleasant illusions.  In that way, even unsuccessful reform efforts show where doors are merely painted on the wall or where something solid proves to be soft.

Consider this, from a recent Providence Journal Political Scene:

“There are a number of reasons you put a bill in; sometimes you put a bill in to engender discussion,” [Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence)] said about the “held for further study” amendment. “Sometimes people put in bills and tell the chairman or leadership, ‘I don’t want this bill to see the light of day.'”

There you have it.  Many of the bills that give activists hope on one side or headaches on the other are never intended to go anywhere, even by their sponsors.  They’re meant to patronize you and stitch together a constituency that keeps legislators in office to accomplish what they’re really there for — mainly structuring government in ways that benefit their friends and special interests that actually pay for their connections.

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