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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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Voters Must Be the Adults in the Process or Idiocy Will Reign

In keeping with my post, yesterday, about the government’s impositions on people who dare to work with others’ hair without a license, Jeff Jacoby highlights, in his Boston Globe column, an exchange between Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and hair salon owner LaRonda Hunter during the senator’s debate last week with his Republican peer Senator Ted Cruz.

Ms. Hunter wanted to know how she’s supposed to grow her business when the government imposes thresholds for benefits, like health care, that don’t work within her profit margin.  Jacoby:

The exchange could not have been more enlightening. For entrepreneurs like Hunter, a mandate to supply health insurance triggers inescapable, and unignorable, consequences. For Sanders and other defenders of Obamacare, those consequences are irrelevant. They believe in the employer mandate — a belief impervious to facts on the ground.

Lawmakers so often enact far-reaching rules with worthy intentions, but little awareness of how much harm government burdens can cause.

Jacoby goes on to note this classic anecdote about liberal Democrat Senator George McGovern:

After a long career in Congress, former senator George McGovern tried his hand at running a business — a small hotel in Connecticut. “In retrospect,” McGovern wrote after the inn went bankrupt, “I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business. . . . I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day.”

Think of all the idiotic (yes, idiotic) legislation being submitted by the likes of the General Assembly’s quintessentially inexperienced Ivy League legislator Aaron Regunberg.  Voters must become the adults in the process, because too many of the politicians and their special-interest-or-ideologue supporters are not capable of playing the role.

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What You Are and Aren’t Allowed to Try to Change on the Left

Although some of us on the right find their viewpoints intellectually incoherent, progressives do have consistent guildelines that can help one to predict what their opinions will be on particular issues.  On matters of biology and sexuality, the guideline appears to be that any movement away from the attitudes and lifestyles that facilitated human society’s advancement through to the 1960s is good.  Consider legislation that Steve Ahlquist promotes on RI Future:

House Bill 5277, which if passed would prohibit “conversion therapy” by licensed health care professionals with respect to children under 18 years of age was popularly supported at the House Health Education and Welfare Committee meeting Wednesday evening. Conversion therapy as defined in the bill includes any practice that “seeks or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, practices which attempt or purport to change behavioral expression of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity or attempt or purport to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

So, to review:  Progressive legislators have submitted an extremely broad and radical bill that would prevent just about any government interference when women want to kill their babies in the womb.  The Department of Education has issued regulations authorizing schools to guide students along the path of changing their genders, even if it means deceiving their parents.

And yet, progressives want to forbid people who wish to reduce or eliminate their same-sex attractions from working with professionals who might be able to help them do that.  This is pure ideology, like a fundamentalist dogma with no tolerance for individual choices that stray from the accepted beliefs.

Not to play Internet psychotherapist, but one gets the impression that people who’ve made radical lifestyle choices want to use the law to prevent others from choosing differently if their doing so might imply that the radical choice is wrong.  As for the progressive movement, as a movement, undermining the social structures and freedoms that empower individuals in the context of their families leaves a hurting population ripe for progressive rule.

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Looks Like There’s No Reason to Go After Guns in Rhode Island

Well, well, well.  According to Amanda Milkovits, shootings are down in Providence:

The number of shootings has decreased over the last five years, and with 68 victims last year, is reaching the level of nearly a decade ago. There were 11 homicides in 2016, which is tied with 2006 for the lowest number of homicides in about three decades, according to statistics from the Providence police.

Last year, there were no gang-related homicides – a first in recent memory. That is significant, as one gang killing can often lead to retaliation.

Clearly, therefore, violating Rhode Islanders’ Second Amendment rights with new gun control measures is unnecessary.  That’s especially true given that violent crime is up at the same time, per WPRI’s Dan McGowan.  Looks to me like law-abiding citizens could probably use more guns to protect themselves from thugs.

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Upward Mobility And Prosperity For Ocean State Families

New national research shows that Rhode Island ranked just 48th on the 2016 Family Prosperity Index (FPI). In December 2016, our Center in conjunction with our national partner, the American Conservative Union, issued a 52-page RI Family Prosperity report that highlighted contributing factors to our state’s poor rankings across 57 indexes. Among other discussions, the report suggests that Rhode Island has room to modernize and improve its criminal justice system. Reforms put forth as part of the state’s JRI, and by other organizations can help provide more opportunity for upward mobility and prosperity for Ocean State families.

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A Great Step Toward Regulatory Relief

Until they get tangled up in them, most people probably pay little attention to the metastasizing regulations that governments impose on us.  Spread across society, regulations tend to avoid focusing so much pain as to spark broad, targeted resistance, whereas special interests, including established businesses with incentive to create barriers to entry for competition, have great incentive to keep the ratchet turning.  Moreover, most people don’t see the direct link between regulation and mounting costs in the prices of goods and services and opportunities they personally never realize.  That’s why common sense rules of thumbs like this, described by the Wall Street Journal editorial board, are important:

President Trump signed an executive order Monday that will require federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new one created, fulfilling another signature campaign trail promise.

The president signed the order from the Oval Office minutes after emerging from a roundtable with small business owners, who surrounded the Resolute desk as Trump praised the rule.

The executive order would also forbid estimated costs of regulations from going up.

We need this sort of policy on steroids in Rhode Island.  Maybe a dozen regulations killed for every one introduced.

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Toward an Obvious Education Reform

Rachel McGuire is correct when she writes:

The answer is obvious: We shouldn’t deny any parent – or any child – the benefits of school choice. That’s what National School Choice Week is all about. As we gather this week (through Jan. 28), let us reaffirm the value that comes with opportunity and pledge to continue our work to extend that value to every child in Rhode Island.

Stop by the State House this afternoon to see what school choice is already available in Rhode Island and to hear how more could benefit the state.  This is an issue that should cross ideological and partisan lines.  Indeed, it’s only not obvious because the special interests that benefit from the status quo are so well funded (at taxpayer expense).

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Another Government-Wall-Street Scheme; Of Course, RI Is In

The Wall Street Journal’s Kirsten Grind raises a red flag over another mortgage-related investment scheme:

About $3.4 billion has been lent so far for residential projects, and industry executives predict the total will double within the next year. That would likely rank PACE loans as the fastest-growing type of financing in the U.S.

As the loans spread, so do problems that echo the subprime mortgage crisis. Plumbers and repairmen essentially function as loan brokers but have scant training and oversight. They often pitch PACE loans to help land contracting jobs and earn referral fees from lenders, according to loan documents and more than two dozen borrowers, industry executives and employees.

The referring contractor gets a cut.  The municipality gets a cut.  And taxpayers will wind up on the hook if things go wrong.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Rhode Island has this.  Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the legislation into law in 2013, after Democrat Art Handy (Cranston) passed H6019 and a gang of Democrat state senators led by William Conley (East Providence, Pawtucket) passed S0900.  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity did include this legislation in the 2013 iteration of the Freedom Index.

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Left and Right Need to Acknowledge Decisions Based on Policy

Hugh Hewitt makes a great point that conservatives like me sometimes need to hear:

It would be fair to announce the end of the mortgage-interest deduction in 30 years. It would be fair to phrase out the deductibility of state taxes by, say, 2050. But not overnight. Not unless you want to give the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi.

Purists have great arguments against “market distortions” in the tax code—in theory. But Americans don’t live in theory. They live in homes they bought at a value based on the existing deduction, in states whose taxes were partly offset through the federal code. Change those rules and what’s left of the GOP in high-tax states will be gone.

While those on the Left would like to treat this sort of consideration as justification for keeping government programs going forever, those on the Right do have to acknowledge that people make decisions based on bad government policy, and it can be overly harsh to the point of injustice to drop onto their heads the roofs that they’ve built over the policy framework.

Unfortunately, as with everything else, we can expect that reasonable concessions from conservatives will not be reciprocated.  For example, with the beginning of this century, special interests pushing bonds and Tiverton’s Town Council doubled the tax levy in Tiverton in less than a decade, to the point that house buyers who shop based on the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage payment would have to pay around 15% less for a house in Tiverton than in Westport, Massachusetts, next door.

Those who bought in Tiverton before this punishment was dished out have been unfairly penalized, and many have been responding by cutting their losses and leaving town, not just because of the cost, but also because of the injustice.

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Why Go After the Car Tax?

I’ve been meaning to suggest that this doesn’t look like such a great idea:

[Democrat Speaker of the House from Cranston Nicholas] Mattiello says the state’s recent increase in revenue will help.“Our revenues are on the rise,” he said. “They’re $40 or $50 million ahead of our projections just last year. The first year I was elected our revenues were dropping like a lead ball, hundreds of millions of dollars almost overnight, and now we’re getting that revenue back. So it’s that revenue that we get back that we’re going to dedicate to our taxpayers.”

I get that the car tax is an emotional issue for some people, although it has seemed to come under fire mostly for the unfairness of assessments.  But tax policy should not be determined by emotion.

Other taxes have a more negative effect on jobs and the economy.  That means not only that the state would be better off applying its tax-cutting motivation to other taxes, but also that replacing the car tax with other revenue, as Mattiello suggests above, is by itself a job-killing reform.

Additionally, shifting more decisions about tax revenue and the spending thereof to state government reduces the independence of local government, and to the contrary, that’s something of which we need more.

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