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Limits on Your Health, Not on Government

With Rhode Island’s own Democrat congressional delegation, particularly Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, signing on for Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders’s single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care plan, Betsy McCaughey’s recent New York Post article is worth a read for its turning of the tables.

Details on how Sanders’s plan would actually work, notably with regard to paying for it, are sparse, but McCaughey teases out some implications of concern.  For one thing, according to McCaughey, private health care would be made illegal.  Everything would have to go through the government system.  Consideration of UHIP and DCYF in Rhode Island and the Veterans Health Administration nationally (to pick just three examples) make that prospect terrifying.

Perhaps even more significant, though, is this:

BernieCare guarantees you hospital care, doctors’ visits, dental and vision care, mental health and even long-term care, all courtesy of Uncle Sam. Amazing, right? But read the fine print. You’ll get care only if it’s “medically necessary” and “appropriate.” Government bureaucrats will decide, and they’ll be under pressure to cut spending.

That’s because Sanders’ bill imposes an annual hard-and-fast dollar limit on how much health care the country can consume. He makes it sound simple — Uncle Sam will negotiate lower prices with drug companies. Voilà. But driving a hard bargain with drug makers won’t make a dent in costs. Prescription drugs comprise only 10 percent of the nation’s health expenditures.

Consider this “hard-and-fast dollar limit” in the context of another national controversy over the debt ceiling and debate of the Senate GOP’s latest health care proposal, which would limit the expansion of government spending on health care, a prospect that Democrats and the media elite (not just news, by the way) are endeavoring to tar as inhumane.  How can it be cruel to limit government spending on health care, but just dandy to ration health care generally?

The quick (if specious) answer may be that government spending accrues to the vulnerable and disadvantaged, but that argument dissipates if the wealthy are barred from supplementing their own care.  Single-payer simply becomes the government providing care for services that and to people whom it considers worthy.

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Evergreen Contracts One Positive of Special Session

As Ted Nesi reminds us in his weekend roundup, the legislation making municipal labor contracts, including those for teachers, essentially permanent until renegotiated did not overcome Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s veto at this week’s special session of the General Assembly:

The issue has become a game of chicken between the two chambers, with the Senate saying the House needs to vote first because Raimondo vetoed a House bill, but the House saying the Senate first needs to pass its own version and get that vetoed, too. …  a Senate spokesman reiterated that there will be no override unless the House votes. A House spokesman declined to comment, but there’s little indication Speaker Mattiello is inclined to call a vote.

That’s pretty obviously a pair of thin excuses to do the right thing in the face of labor union pressure, but hey, we’ll take it.  The lingering question — as with so much legislation that works its way into law — is why our representatives and senators would pass such horrible legislation to begin with.

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Stating the Obvious on Economic Incentives

In keeping with frustration that the General Assembly can inspire whenever it meets for the purpose of actually passing legislation, here’s an op-ed titled, “Finding America’s Lost 3% Growth,” which Phil Gramm and Michael Solon recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal:

A tidal wave of new rules and regulations across health care, financial services, energy and manufacturing forced companies to spend billions on new capital and labor that served government and not consumers. Banks hired compliance officers rather than loan officers. Energy companies spent billions on environmental compliance costs, and none of it produced energy more cheaply or abundantly. Health-insurance premiums skyrocketed but with no additional benefit to the vast majority of covered workers.

In a world of higher costs, productivity plummeted. Productivity measures the production of things the market values that flow from the employment of labor and capital.

At the same time the government has made every job in the economy more costly, the authors note, increasing incentives not to work by, for example, “waiving work requirements for welfare,” reduced the incentive of workers to actually work.  This dynamic not only harms us all by reducing opportunity and constraining wealth and social advancement, but it also undermines the availability for many Americans of the dignity of work.

Rhode Island should stop being a case study in this progressive, big-government mentality.

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How RI Government Strangles Opportunity

A Wall Street Journal article in which Jennifer Levitz highlights an interesting corporate trend could almost give hope to Rhode Islanders:

Americans have traditionally moved to find jobs. But with a growing reluctance by workers to relocate, some companies have decided to move closer to potential hires. Firms are expanding to cities with a bounty of underemployed, retrieving men and women from freelance gigs, manual labor and part-time jobs with duties that, one worker said, required only a heartbeat to perform.

With the national jobless rate near a 16-year low, these pockets of underemployment are a wellspring for companies that recognize most new hires already have jobs but can be poached with better pay and room for advancement. That’s preferable to competing for higher-priced workers at home.

These sorts of natural incentives are how the market heals economic wounds and maximizes progress. Unfortunately, if you’re an un-or-under-employed Rhode Islander, your hopes for this sort of rescue are regularly shattered by a General Assembly that year after year after year makes it more difficult and more expensive to do business in your state.  Yesterday brought a doozie, with the passage of the ill-advised and expensive progressive wish fulfillment of a mandatory paid time off benefit for all employees in companies with 18 or more employees.

As I explored in last week’s Last Impressions podcast, transportation and communication technology should be making it easier to relocate businesses and families.  Rhode Island’s natural beauty and location should be a huge advantage in that regard, but our government is determined to eliminate all incentive for businesses to be the ones to do the moving (unless they want to be government-dependents right off the bat with a payoff), so it’ll have to be the workers who move elsewhere, which is exactly what we’ve seen over the last couple of decades.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 26: Resurrected Legislation and the Ghost of Failures Past

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were the likelihood of an evergreen veto override, whether the DCYF would haunt Gina, PawSox, DACA, and Rhode Works transparency.

Open post for full audio.

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“Negotiations” Over Other People’s Money… Without Mentioning the Cost

I continue to be amazed at the use of the word, “negotiations,” in contexts like Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article:

Negotiations between the House and Senate, and labor and business groups, produced a new version of the sick leave bill, which emerged late Friday evening in the House Labor Committee and passed unanimously.

A priority for the General Assembly’s progressive caucus, the bill would guarantee Rhode Island workers up to three paid sick days in 2018, four sick days in 2019 and five days off per year from 2020 onward.

Who’s negotiating with whom over what?  People most of us didn’t elect are “negotiating” with people most of us don’t acknowledge as representing our “community” over costs that will be borne by everybody who operates a business in the state or has any dealings with anybody who operates a business in the state.

The unbelievable mindset — strike that: the all-too-believable mindset — that this is a “negotiation” is put over the top by the fact that nobody involved in the “negotiation” or in reporting on it is putting a cost on the result.  Anderson isn’t alone in this; Steph Machado does the same on WPRI.

If anybody wants a starting point, I looked into the matter (along with other pieces of legislation) last month for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and concluded that the cost of this program will be about $49 million per year.  Others are free to debate that number, but for the sake of our state, shouldn’t we take it as a warning sign that nobody is doing so?

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PawSox Eminent Domain Language Reminds Us What’s Going On

Some welcome focus on the eminent domain aspect of the proposed PawSox stadium deal should awaken Rhode Islanders to what is really happening, here.   The Associated Press reports:

One of the two bills being considered as part of the legislative package would remove the phrase “blighted and substandard” from the definition of a redevelopment agency. It also changes the wording of state law so that, rather than preventing redevelopment agencies from constructing buildings for residential, commercial, or industrial use, it authorizes them to do so.

To be sure “blighted and substandard” is a subjective guide.  One expects that if the government wants a piece of property, it will find a way to call it “substandard” regardless.  Changing the language, however, is a reminder of the expansion of this mechanism for seizing land or, in this case, giving the government the upper hand in negotiations with a property owner that a private organization wouldn’t have.

Most folks who spend time considering public policy can justify the use of eminent domain to advance public infrastructure.  If some road, track, canal, or whatever would be a huge boon to the area, a single property owner could hold his or her entire region hostage over a property value that would not exist if it were not for the public project.

That rationale begins to wear thin when the government is building something isolated, like a school building or public safety complex.  Still, even some strong conservatives can see their way to accepting that sort of use.  (My view is that it cedes too much to the notion that the government is the real owner of all property, and individuals can only own, at best, inheritable development rights.)

At the other end of the question, a great many people object to the notion that government can take property from one private entity and give it to another simply because it proclaims that the receiver has a better use for it.  This PawSox deal is just like that, only with a patina of justification by keeping ownership in government hands, leasing to a single-use tenant.

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Manufacturing Consent to Spend Our Money

The lede of an article by Kathy Gregg, to which the Providence Journal gave the headline, “Emails show rising public support for PawSox stadium subsidies,” ought to discourage all Rhode Islanders who aren’t making a living off of the government:

Roughly two-thirds of the 138 emails sent so far to the Rhode Island Senate expressed support for the proposed $38 million in city and state subsidies to build a new ballpark for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Is this where we are, now?  Eighty-six emails expressing “at least generally supportive” opinions (some from people who would directly benefit) shows “rising support” and gives a green light to making a million people liable for tens of millions of dollars in debt?  I don’t know that one could find a better illustration of the way political gamesmanship and the news media’s inevitably spotlighted focus generate narratives that lead to substantial public policy decisions at odds with the public interest.

For additional detail on how this process actually works, consider this Facebook post, which Lisa D’Agostino mentions in the Projo’s comment section:

News Update: PawSox Rally at the State House,Thursday September 14th from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. All Thursday night apprentices classes are to report at 5:00 p.m. and sign in with respected instructors. Local 51 T-shirts will be handed out to each member. Also, we our encouraging all journeyman and retirees to please attend the rally in support. Let’s work together.

Apprenticeships, incidentally, are required for people who wish to become plumbers, pipefitters, and HVAC technicians, which the UA Local 51 covers.  I haven’t seen a requirement in the law that apprentices be trained in pressuring government to commit taxpayers to debt, but it wouldn’t surprise me to come across one.

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Rhode Island Motto: “Hope for Bribery to Live Here”

Kate Bramson has checked in on Rhode Island government’s “Wavemaker” program, which bribes college graduates to live in the Ocean State:

The state has selected 224 college graduates to receive personal income tax credits under the state’s Wavemaker Fellowship program, which would defray their student loan debts totaling about $868,000 while the recipients work in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design jobs in Rhode Island. …

This year’s average annual tax credit is approximately $3,875 per student, but recipients earn varying amounts based on their education levels. Those with associate’s degrees are eligible for up to $1,000 of credit each year, while those with postgraduate degrees are eligible for up to $6,000.

The working class and underemployed in the state must be very comforted by the knowledge that they’re helping to give a $6,000 bonus to a Ph.D. in a high-paying job.  But that’s the key to living in Rhode Island: do something (or be something) that local elites like.  Otherwise, you’re out of luck.  You’re a nobody loser.

Many of us have watched in disbelief every time some government-employed or otherwise-connected schemer walks away from an impropriety scot-free, but the mystery is solved when once one understands a quirk about Rhode Island culture.  Just as many Americans romanticize mafiosi, Rhode Islanders tend to look up to those who “got theirs.”  The insider crooks are the archetypes around which we build our entire system of government.  The political message is, “Vote for me, and I’ll get you yours just like my pal got his.”

Sure, it is odd that the same folks who implicitly acknowledge that we have to pay people to live here and companies to set up shop here also tend to insist that the tax-and-regulatory burden doesn’t drive people out.  But that seeming contradiction only underscores the principle:  Doing something for insiders means you’re not a mooch, but somebody deserving of support.  If you just want to mind your own business and keep what you earn, then you’re a mooch.

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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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