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Metts, Master Lever, and the RI Merry-Go-Round

Yesterday, Patrick mentioned the statement of Sen. Harold Metts (D, Providence) that he supports the master lever (i.e., straight-party voting on Rhode Island’s ballots) because his constituents know what party is best for them.  As that hearing happened, I saw a number of tweets of astonishment that he would say such a thing.

But this is just the annual tradition.  Here’s a paragraph from my liveblog of the corresponding hearing back in 2012:

Senator Metts commented that his father always knew what party was for poor people and what party were for rich. (His grandparents were Republicans.) People may not know the specifics and all the complicated political things that candidates fight about, but people know which party “is going to put food on the table.”

Add it to the long list of evidence that nothing will change until Rhode Islanders start changing the people making the speeches.

Senator Harold Metts on Master Lever

Two things struck me today about the master lever bill and Senator Harold Metts’ words and actions. I wish I had an exact transcript but he made two comments about it that I will do my best to paraphrase and others are more than welcome to correct me if they have the exact words. He [...]

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 21 (Forcing Businesses to Stay)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss legislation to force utilities to maintain customer service centers within the state, and Bob illustrates that applying economics really isn’t a priority for the Left.

Forcing Business to Stay

Right. A bill is being submitted in the General Assembly to force Cox Communications to keep an RI call center open, and force cable companies to provide service to one RI town.

RI Legislators Try to Cure the Illness with the Disease

Representative Raymond Hull’s legislation to make business decisions for Cox Communications is a fine example of why Rhode Islanders are suffering.

Passing the Brett Smiley Gun Tax Bill Requires Two-Thirds Majorities

The Brett Smiley 10%-tax-on-firearms bill has been introduced at the Rhode Island Senate, with Providence State Senator Gayle Goldin as the lead sponsor. Money collected from the tax will be used as follows:

(b) All sums received by the division of taxation under this section as taxes, penalties or forfeitures, interest, costs of suit and fines shall be distributed at least quarterly, credited and paid by the state treasurer into a special fund designated for allocation to the various police departments throughout the state. If a city or town does not have a municipal police department, disbursements pursuant to this section shall be made to the highest ranking municipal official.

(c) Allocation of the funds to the various police departments or city or town officials pursuant to subsection (b) shall be made yearly and based proportionally on the number of “total offenses” occurring in said city or town as set forth in the prior year’s uniform crime report published by the Rhode Island state police.

(d) Any money distributed to the various police departments or city or town officials shall be used only for grants to nonprofit organizations whose mission includes a commitment to the reduction of crime and violence in the community. The local police chief and/or highest ranking municipal official of each city or town shall have discretion as to the amount of money allocated and the groups who shall receive said funds.

Since funds collected through this tax will be used exclusively to make local appropriations to private organizations, in accordance with Article VI section 11 of the Rhode Island Constitution, this bill cannot become law without the approval of a 2/3 majority of both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly…

Vote required to pass local or private appropriations. — The assent of two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the general assembly shall be required to every bill appropriating the public money or property for local or private purposes.

The Pension Settlement from the Retirees’ Perspective

Straightening out the pension reform settlement agreement is no easy task, but it appears that 21,000 retirees are in a position akin to that of regular Rhode Islanders year in and year out.

When the Jury Takes Over the Column

Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis has posted a much-anticipated weekly TGIF column featuring various Rhode Island notables and semi-notables from whom he requested blurbs, because he’s distracted with jury duty this week. Among the more “semi” folks on the list are me and fellow Current Anchor contributor Andrew Morse. I write on the political drama of the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls; Andrew takes on judicial gag orders.

Giving Local Government the Power to Take Without Permission

Scheduling prevented a Wingmen this week, but Justin did appear on the nightly news Wednesday, talking about allowing municipalities to borrow money without asking voters first.

Another Step in Dismantling Rhode Island Self Governance

It’s becoming a regular theme of Rhode Island government that when the rules don’t produce the outcome that the politically powerful want (even if only not efficiently enough), they change the rules. Another step in that direction is coming in the name of the “Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund”:

Rhode Island cities and towns would not have to seek voter approval for certain projects financed through the state’s newly created “Municipal Road and Bridge Revolving Fund,” under legislation the state House of Representatives is set to vote on next Tuesday. …

[House spokesman Larry] Berman stressed that the measure, if approved, would only affect projects financed through the road and bridge fund and that cities and towns would be limited to borrowing only up to 5 percent of their most recent budgets before they’d have to seek voter approval.

As always, it’s helpful to rephrase the bill in direct, descriptive terms of what it does: It will allow agents inside town and city governments to commit taxpayers to paying up to 5% of their annual budgets, plus interest, in additional debt. This just isn’t right, and it shouldn’t be allowed (and it wouldn’t be allowed if Rhode Islanders were paying any attention).

What’s more, legislators know it. That’s why they’re already planning to amend the bill so that it applies only to loans taken out this fiscal year… for now. This nod to the notion that town and city governments shouldn’t be allowed to take money out of people’s pockets is insufficient; it would be a minor matter — difficult to catch — when the legislature returns in the future to amend the law to include another year, and then another, and then to take the time limit out entirely.

Pension Settlement Game of Chicken

Which way should the General Assembly go on taking up the pension settlement bill? That’s got to be what Speaker Fox and President Paiva-Weed are wondering now. Or maybe not. In a joint message reported by Ian Donnis: “We will await the votes to be taken by both union and non-union members before we weigh [...]

A Quick Broad Stroke on the Proposed Pension Settlement

Most of the many things that can be said about the proposed settlement on the unions’ lawsuit challenging the pension reform law, I’ll leave for later. You can peruse the various related documents, including the legislation that the General Assembly must past without amendment, some summaries, and the actuarial document, here.

The basic analysis is this: As I’ve said too many times to pick a link, the reform wasn’t adequate as it was, and this makes it even less so.

But there’s a more important broad-stroke point to pull from it all. Russell Moore articulated it succinctly on Twitter, but we can be sure that it’s the feeling of many and will be repeated many times in the halls of the State House. Explaining why I shouldn’t be so negative about the deal, he wrote:

because it maintains 94 percent of the savings and you no longer have to worry about some judge throwing the whole thing out .

That’s pretty much the attitude to which Rhode Islanders have been beaten, isn’t it? Shhh… at least we’re getting away with something! Don’t anger the insiders and special interests.

We need to change the attitude in this state. Reality is going to force us to do so. It’s just a matter of how painful it’s going to be.

Reforms have to be implemented and then expanded, not implemented and then we all cross our fingers and hope that a corrupt judiciary doesn’t throw them out because special interests complain, or a corrupt electoral system doesn’t allow the unions to flip enough seats in the General Assembly to undo it all.

This isn’t good enough. We deserve better.

Ninth Circuit Says You Don’t Have to Explain Your Reason for Wanting to Exercise the Right to Bear Arms

The Ninth Circuit says that California’s requirement that “good cause” be shown in order to obtain a concealed carry firearms permit is unconstitutional. Rhode Island law requires “a proper showing of need”, when trying to obtain a concealed carry permit from the Attorney General.

Rejected alternate title: “It’s Not a Right, if it Depends on Some Guy in Sarasota”.

Concern for the Community or Preparation for Submission?

So the local Twitterverse has exploded with commentary on CVS’s decision to stop selling tobacco products, even though it will cost the chain $2 billion of its roughly $125 billion annual revenue.

Ted Nesi puts it in context of the company’s move toward the health-services space, what with the MinuteClinics that it announced an intention to open, in November. In Ted’s telling, it’s a peer-pressure, good-for-the-image thing, perhaps to defuse some of the opposition that had the clinics on the receiving end of Rhode Island’s infamous licensure blockade back in 2005.

Amy Payne, from Heritage, proclaims it as evidence that corporations can do the right thing without government coercion.

Of course, it’s also possible that the company has been given reason to believe that the government is preparing to change the rules of the game. One indication of that possibility is House bill 7166, which would prevent any “health care facility” from having a license for tobacco sales “issued, renewed, or maintained.”

It’s win-win. The government makes a threat, and the company gets to respond to that threat by shooting for some good publicity. The only losers are consumers buying the legal product from their local stores, taxpayers who find the government shifting the tax burden to other collections than cigarettes, and company shareholders whose stocks lose value to the extent that the company can’t continue selling a profitable product while also branching out into new healthcare services.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 16 (Chafee & Tea Party)

Justin and Bob Plain talk Chafee’s State of the State and the influence of the Tea Party in Rhode Island.

The Story of the Budget

The flow of money through the State of Rhode Island’s budget illustrates the perpetual scam that is government budgeting and should inspire Rhode Islanders to realize that they are allowed to make the machine run the other way.

Are the Tolls Really on Their Way Out?

A Fall River Herald article gives the impression that East Bay legislators foresee the disappearance of the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge.

  • Rep. John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton): “If we are successful in the Legislature, which I think we will be, the tolls will go away.”
  • Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton): “We are going to win this with a phased approach. I am cautiously optimistic.”

Rep. Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Sen. Christopher Ottiano (R, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton) were at the progress-proclaiming meeting but were not quoted.

I’m still skeptical, and here’s why:

Increased fees on gas, driver’s licenses, car insurance and car inspections are all on the table, Edwards said. Estimates are as high as $300 million a year for the next decade to completely repair all the state’s roads and bridges.

“We have to come up with an alternative funding source,” Edwards said. “I believe what we need to do is dedicate the money we raise every year on our inspection fees, our license fees and our speeding fees.”

There’s a reason the legislature hasn’t already done the obvious and prioritized infrastructure: The tax base is maxed out and too much money goes to things it shouldn’t, but about which somebody powerful cares enough to defend it. A few hearings from a special legislative commission don’t change that or make it likely that legislators across the state want to announce a major tax/fee increase during an election year at the same time they’re tearing down an expensive tolling system on the SRB.

The most likely explanation is that this remains about political cover for local politicians. If an increased toll is coming, appearing to have been out-manned or even duped helps East Bay reps and senators stay on the us side of us versus them.

Let’s Tax Guns

Last week, Brett Smiley announced his candidacy for Providence’s mayor and came out with a mind-boggling idea. Let’s tax gun owners to pay for non-violence programs. Again, we’re going to punish the law-abiding to pay for the ones causing the problem. The ones causing the violence problems are not the ones who will be paying [...]

If Not Now, When? If Not Nothing, 3%.

Eliminating the sales tax remains the most attractive tax reform on the table, but if government officials find the risk to be too great, then reduction to a 3% rate looks like the way to go.

Analyzing Revenue Analyst’s Objection to Zero.Zero Municipal Windfall

State Director of Revenue Analysis Paul Dion’s objections to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s municipal revenue projections need adjustment for both policy realities and existing law.