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About the Legislators’ Conditions on “Free Tuition”

This morning, I expressed some reservations about free community college as a program that meddles with young adults’ decision-making process.  A wonkier concern is what Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article says about legislating in Rhode Island.  Here’s the red flag:

Once they enroll, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA. There is no longer a requirement that CCRI graduates remain in Rhode Island, although college officials said about 90 percent of their students wind up staying here after leaving CCRI.

The sentence about remaining in Rhode Island is not correct.  According to the language of the legislation that passed with the state budget, “to be considered for the scholarship, a student”:

Must commit to live, work, or continue their education in Rhode Island after graduation. The Community College of Rhode Island shall develop a policy that will secure this commitment from recipient-students.

Via email, Borg states that CCRI’s Vice President of Student Affairs/Chief Outcomes Officer, Sara Enright, told her that the requirement had been removed.  If Enright is expressing actual policy, then CCRI and, by extension, the Raimondo Administration intend to simply ignore language that our elected representatives had insisted be in the bill.  This point is underlined by the fact that the governor’s initial version of the legislation did not include this provision.  In other words, this is a condition that the legislature decided was necessary in order to put the program into law.

It would be one thing for CCRI to implement “a policy that will secure this commitment” that tacitly has no enforcement mechanism, but the administration apparently doesn’t even intend to pretend that students have a moral obligation to honor a commitment.  That’s not how the rule of law is supposed to work in Rhode Island, and the legislature should take steps to enforce its prerogative on the administration.

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Incumbents Comply with Incumbent-Protection Regulation

Is anybody really surprised that only 7% of Rhode Island politicians (neutrally meant) with open campaign finance accounts failed to comply with a new law requiring them to submit their bank accounts to the state, as Political Scene reports?

The law, which went into effect in 2016, requires all candidates and officeholders to submit bank statements to the Board of Elections following fourth-quarter campaign finance reports. This year marked the first time the statements had to be filed. While copies of the bank statements are not public documents under the law, the Board of Elections provided Political Scene with the names of those who have not yet complied.

As of this week, 49 of 668 individuals with active campaign-finance accounts had failed to file their bank statements. Another 24 of 199 political action committees also failed to file the statements in the required time frame.

The most significant effect of such legislation is to dissuade people from running for public office.  So I have to file a campaign finance report regularly with the state?  OK, I guess I can do that.  And an Ethics Commission report, too?  Well, that’s a lot of forms.  What’s that?  Open a new, separate bank account and give copies of statements to the state government?  Gee, this local volunteer office is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.

Here’s a noteworthy indication of how carefully legislators review the laws that they pass:

Reached last week, [Democrat Representative from Cranston Arthur] Handy said… he initially misunderstood the new law and thought he was exempt because he didn’t meet a spending threshold. (Another campaign-finance bill passed in 2015 requires that candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a year retain a treasurer or deputy treasurer other than themselves.)

From my conversations with the folks at the Board of Elections, all candidates are supposed to have separate bank accounts for campaign purposes, even if they raise no money, but realizing how ridiculous that is, the board isn’t enforcing it against those who don’t have to file campaign reports.  Of course, the way to avoid it all is to not volunteer in the first place.

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Cranston’s Disability Pension Funny Factory

This is hilarious… but unfortunately not so hilarious that Rhode Islanders won’t accept it or step up their laughter into a demand for change.  In Cranston, 69% of retired firefighters and 77% of retired police officers in the state municipal pension system have disability pensions, which are meant to provide the additional benefit of a two-thirds-of-salary, tax-free pension in compensation for some disabling injury on the job.

Of course, when the large majority of your employees receive enhanced benefits, they’re no longer “enhanced.”  They’re just the norm.

The funny part comes with Cranston union boss Paul Valletta’s explanation:

What could explain the difference [from other municipalities’ disability percentages]? There are no easy answers, although Cranston fire union chief Paul Valletta suggests that “bad luck” plays a role.

Valetta, readers might recall, was a visible presence in the successful push this legislative session to add “illness,” not just “injury,” to the language allowing a disability pension.  Everybody from the union activists to the Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, when she courageously let the expansion become law without her signature, has insisted this is a mere correction to an oversight in the law.

That’s laughable.  To see why, consider that the law includes mental incapacity, as well as physical.  Allowing disability pensions for mental illness is clearly something broader than for mental injury.

The task of successful comedy writers — think Seinfeld — is to put characters in zany circumstances that seem like they really could happen.  It isn’t funny if it isn’t at least reasonably plausible with just a mild quirk of the character to make the difference.

The task of successful negotiation con artists is to make their special deals seem plausibly reasonable, with just the minor supernatural intervention of “bad luck” to explain what would otherwise be outrageous.  Bad luck, indeed… for Rhode Islanders.

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Chilling: H5069, Single Payer Healthcare (And the Inconsistencies It Poses)

In the course of reviewing certain bills filed during this year’s General Assembly session, I clicked on H5069 — and stared in growing horror at all of the red-lining (i.e., everything to be struck from current law). I turned to the succinct description of this bill written by Justin Katz, Research Director for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, for the Center’s Freedom Index and the horror did not abate:

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Who Can Solve the Mysterious Energy Cost Increases?

Ian Opaluch, of WPRI, provides the latest forum for local politicians to go after National Grid for seeking a 53% increase in its energy rates.  Says Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee: “National Grid’s proposed 53-percent standard offer rate increase is unacceptable. Another rate hike is a step in the wrong direction when it comes to making Rhode Island a better place to live, work and own a business.”  Republican Senator Elaine Morgan calls the request “unconscionable.”  

But there’s a mystery:

… Laws in Rhode Island prohibit National Grid from making a profit on the energy supply itself, and the company said the price hike is necessary to deal with rising energy costs.

In addition, the price increase would not affect delivery fees, so the average bill would go up by about 19% if the rate hike is approved, according to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

In short, National Grid won’t profit from this increase, but rather is just passing increased costs along.  What could be driving the request, then?

Rhode Islanders should wonder how any reporters could cover this issue without noting the culpability of state governments.  Even with fracking holding down the price of energy worldwide, New England politicians are happy to cave to activists on actions like shutting down the Brayton Point energy plant, delaying and maybe stopping a new energy facility in Burrillville, forcing us all pay for expensive renewable energy mandates, imposing additional taxes on fossil fuels, and on and on.

Morgan is right; it is unconscionable for Rhode Islanders to be saddled with skyrocketing energy costs when our country is becoming a world leader in energy production.  But the people taking the unconscionable actions are those who work in the same building as Morgan and McKee.  Every year, they take many steps in the wrong direction, across a variety of issues.

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A Flat Budget? The Horror, the Horror.

In an op-ed today, Gio Cicione observes that carrying over last year’s state budget — and nothing more — wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world:

Elsewhere in our great nation, state legislatures only meet every other year, and some go home after a couple months each year with no ill effect. Is it really so bad if ours goes home after six months of flailing? If anything, Rhode Island has suffered for most of its recent history from an over-abundance of well-intentioned but amazingly harmful legislative activity. (Remember 38 Studios? Of course you do.)

For context, we must keep in mind that carrying forward the old budget still sticks us with almost $9 billion of state spending. Without an increase, we still spend more per person than virtually every other state government in the country. (According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, no New England state spends more per capita and eight states nationally spent less than half of the $9,146 per person that Rhode Island spent in 2016.) We would still be giving $3.3 billion to fund education, $2.7 billion for health and social services, and yes, even that all-important $1.35 million to maintain our own Atomic Energy Commission.

But urgency is how news media sells stories and politicians sell “solutions.”  Moreover, government and its satellites don’t create wealth, so they have to make sure that their take keeps growing, and in a state with a long-stagnant economy, like Rhode Island, they can’t just rely on regular ol’ tolerance for inflation.

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Regulatory Reform Requires Different Elected Officials

Don’t get me wrong.  I like the regulatory suggestion put forward by Republican U.S. Senator Mike Lee of Utah, as Eric Boehm describes on Reason thus:

The Supreme Court in 2014 overturned a North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners ban on non-dentists offering teeth whitening services. The ruling opened the door to lawsuits against state-level licensing boards that behave like private-sector monopolies by enforcing anti-competitive rules against their very own potential competitors. …

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Thursday will introduce a bill that would give states two paths to immunity. The first by bringing state licensing boards under direct supervision by the legislative and executive branches. The second by requiring states to show why a certain licensing requirement is necessary to protect public health and safety.

Lee’s “Restoring Board Immunity Act” creates a limited, conditional exemption shielding licensing boards from federal antitrust lawsuits, but only for states that change how their licensing boards operate and how courts handle disputes between those boards and individuals subjected to their rules.

The problem, in Rhode Island, is that I think the new rules would apply only to licensing bureaucrats, not legislators, and that’s where the problem lies.  For a forthcoming brief from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, I’ve been reviewing the (let’s pretend) deliberative process behind some legislation introduced into the state’s General Assembly with an eye toward pricing some of the proposals, and I found the experience depressing.

Consider the paid-time-off legislation that is on the cusp of passing into law.  From what I can tell, nobody in our government made any effort to estimate how much this mandate would our neighbors’ businesses.  (It’s a lot.)  To them, the cost is beside the point.

As for the supposedly limited authority of government, our elected officials simply don’t believe in the concept.  Any freedoms that you continue to enjoy in Rhode Island, you enjoy entirely by their sufferance.  Your money is theirs to collect.  Your psychiatry is theirs to control.  Your actions are theirs to regulate.

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Single-Payer Healthcare is an Assault on Families’ Rights to Make Personal Medical Decisions

Recently on the world stage, we’ve witnessed the unthinkable results of a government-controlled health care system in Great Britain. The tragic story of Charlie Gard’s death and his parents battle against a socialist health care system has broken the hearts of you, me, and people around the world.

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The Union Shoe Drops on Evergreens

Well, here’s perhaps the key political consequence for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo upon her veto of legislation that would ensure that teachers and municipal employees are exempt from the state law limiting all government employment contracts to three years:

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,”’ Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Thursday.

Much of my analysis of likely outcomes has been premised on Walsh’s previous statement that the 2014 election season had convinced his union that unity with Raimondo was important.  The truce has expired, apparently, an result that I expected Raimondo to seek to avoid.

It’s pretty rich, though, for Walsh to break faith with Raimondo and divulge that she mentioned her donors during a private meeting that the two had.  The NEA-RI’s PAC alone hands out $15,000 or more per year to state-level politicians, and that doesn’t count the combined total of every union local giving out money across the state, let alone individual members.

Hopefully Walsh was right a few months ago about the importance to progressives that they stick together.  That way he and Raimondo can both lose.

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“Converting” Our Form of Government

If we want to live under a government with the power to forbid children and their parents from seeing what therapeutic options might be available for unwanted feelings, I guess that’s a conversation that we can have, although I find myself on the side of the ACLU in worrying about giving legislators “wide latitude to ban unpopular medical treatments.”  But if we’re going to have this conversation, we should do so with accurate information about what the bans cover, and Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on Rhode Island’s new ban of “conversion therapy” fails on that count:

The bill makes it illegal in Rhode Island for licensed health care professionals to advertise or engage in conversion therapy for anyone under 18. It does not affect religious counselors or leaders — or adults who choose such a program.

That “does not affect” sentence is just not correct.  Read this section of the law:

23-94-4. Prohibition on state funding for conversion therapy. No state funds, nor any funds belonging to a municipality, agency, or political subdivision of this state, shall be expended for the purpose of conducting conversion therapy, referring a person for conversion therapy, health benefits coverage for conversation therapy, or a grant or contract with any entity that conducts conversion therapy or refers individuals for conversion therapy.

This is separate from the section that bans “licensed professionals” from offering such therapy to minors, and it goes much farther.  It covers “any entity that conducts… or refers individuals for conversion therapy.”  So, while a licensed professional would only lose his or her Rhode Island license if he or she provides the therapy to minors, that professional would lose access to any state or local funds that somebody might complain subsides the therapy for for adults, as well as any “grant or contract” whatsoever, whether related to conversion therapy or not.

This would apply, as well, to any person, group, or organization that refers an adult to such a therapist.  An aggressive judiciary could find within this language justification for removing tax exemption from any church that even suggests trying therapy to any church member.

This bill is your supposed representatives using your government to tell you what you must believe about the universe and your very self.

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Vetoes and Non Vetoes

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo vetoed the eternal contracts bill:

In a veto message that echoed the strenuous arguments raised by city and town leaders, Raimondo wrote: “Current Rhode Island law protects the taxpayers from being obligated indefinitely for contract provisions that, in the future, may not be affordable.

“The proposed legislation before me extinguishes this existing protection, hurting the public’s position in contract negotiations, and placing taxpayers at risk of being forever locked into contractual provisions they can no longer afford.”

Raimondo has seemed to me to make decisions on political grounds, and she’s in a precarious enough position that she can’t really afford to push away the teachers’ unions, which have been explicit about not intending to target her next time around.  This action could change that.

It’ll be telling to watch the political play.  If, for example, the General Assembly overrides the veto and the teachers’ unions (especially the National Education Association – Rhode Island) do nothing more than issue a strongly worded press release against the governor (which is already done), then it would indicate that there’s a political dance going on, meant to give the governor cover with taxpayer advocates and municipal leaders while not harming the unions.

As part of this picture, note that Raimondo “allowed a disability-pension bill that was also championed by organized labor to become law without her signature,” according to Kathy Gregg.  Here the calculation is slightly different.  She didn’t sign it, thereby providing herself a little cover with taxpayer advocates (being able to say she didn’t “support” it), but she didn’t veto it, saying it was simply a legal codification of existing practice.  I think she’ll be proven wrong on that, inasmuch as the law now explicitly allows for work-related physical and mental illnesses to be grounds for a disability pension, but one could see how her calculation would be different.

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Raimondo Ushers in Her Own Nightmare

Alright, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the sun has made an appearance, and I spent the day moving furniture, and I have to spend the evening helping out with a Bingo night, so cut me a little slack, here.  I couldn’t help but chuckle (Chortle?  Guffaw?) at this Ted Nesi tweet:

@GinaRaimondo said after Musk talk she’s less concerned on AI as civilizational threat + more on how many more jobs will soon be automated.

Well, gee, governor, you’d better get right on ushering in minimum wage increases and progressives’ mandatory paid time off legislation!  That’ll hold back the tide of automation for sure!

N.B.: If you didn’t catch the sarcasm in the previous paragraph, watch this:

And that’s before we get to the fact that one of Governor Raimondo’s corporate-crony taxpayer giveaways was to GE Digital, which forces Rhode Islanders to subsidize efforts to automate their jobs.

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Maine Waitstaff Reject Minimum Wage Increase

Caitlin Dewey recently reported in the Washington Post on an interesting turn of events in Maine.  A referendum increased the minimum wage for waitstaff, but then waiters and waitresses rallied to undo it:

James Dill, a college professor and the Democratic state senator from Maine’s 5th District, received hundreds of emails and phone calls from unhappy servers, he said. He initially voted for the ballot referendum because he supports a higher minimum wage. After the outcry, he signed onto a Republican measure to lower the tipped wage down again.

That measure passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 12 on June 7, and the House on June 13. Governor LePage signed the bill into law last week, a spokesman for his office said, though the signing was not publicly announced for several days. It’s expected to go into effect in January 2018.

“I realize not everyone is in the same boat,” said Dill. “But the ones who called me were saying, ‘I make $20 to $25 per hour, I’ve bought a house with that income, I support my kids — it’s really important that you don’t mess with my tips.’”

Even with a subject as apparently narrow as the minimum wage for tipped restaurant worker, legislators can’t possibly know all of the consequences of changing policy.  Maybe the law works well for some and not for others; who ultimately has the right to decide between them?

The problem, I think, is that people too often rely on general impressions and anecdotes or, at best, broad statistical averages that don’t give a real sense of the lives people lead.  This is one area in which the market sets prices better than the government can, and in which legislators should accept reality and seek other ways to resolve circumstances they see as problems.

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At Least the Laborers Union Has Representation in the General Assembly

Don’t let the drama of a political fight over legislation distract you from this nugget in Kathryn Gregg’s Providence Journal article suggesting that differences over a new paid-leave mandate may have helped bring about the General Assembly’s surprise session ending:

In response to a Journal inquiry, House spokesman Larry Berman said this is what happened:

“The [paid leave] bill that was passed by the House did not include the Laborers’ because we believed they wanted to be exempt. Mike Sabitoni did not talk to the Speaker or anyone in the House until the bill was recommended for passage by the House Labor Committee on Thursday and the House was getting ready to vote on the bill.”

“When we were notified that the Laborers’ wanted to be included in the bill, the appropriate amendment was drafted on Friday morning and given to the Senate to amend the House bill.″

So, basically, the Laborers Union gets whatever it wants in the General Assembly.  They want exemption?  Why, it’s simply obvious that the legislation should be amended.  If they don’t, hey that’s no problem either.

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