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Siccing the Tax Man on the People

In early December, I pointed to a story about the state taxing authority going after funeral homes to tax urns and prayer cards.  The State of Rhode Island was hitting these small businesses with bills for back taxes on products that had always been handled as tax exempt.

As I looked through the tax changes in Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s budgets for the past few years over the weekend, a connection became clear, with an important lesson:

  • In fiscal year 2017, the governor called for two new revenue agents for field audits and three new revenue officers for collections, with an estimated increase in revenue of $1,793,806.  The General Assembly accepted this proposal, but assumed a net budget impact of $3 million, meaning that the actual revenue collected would be higher in order to pay the five new employees, so actual revenue would be around $3.5 million.
  • In fiscal year 2018, the governor called for two more revenue agents and two new data analysts who were supposed to generate another $750,000. The General Assembly accepted this proposal but assumed a $2 million increase in revenue.
  • In her current budget, the governor wants to add a lawyer and case management system to the collections unit, to generate another $750,000.

Going after small businesses for back taxes nobody ever told them to collect is what this effort looks like.  After the changes in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the state had nine new employees with an implied mandate to find $5.5 million in new tax revenue.

To the extent anybody even notices these new hires, the impression is that they’ll be going after scofflaws for money they are somehow hiding from the state.  There may be some of that, but what the funeral homes are experiencing is the effect of the state hiring people with a monetary target and siccing them on the people of Rhode Island.

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Loss of US Congressional Seat Underscores Need for Reform Agenda

The state of the State of Rhode Island is not good. Even as the rising national economic tide has lifted ships in all states, when compared with the rest of the nation, our Ocean State is severely lagging, and is in danger of sinking further behind if progressive policies continue to be implemented.

Perhaps no indicator more appropriately demonstrates the failure of the leftist status quo, than does the near-certainty that Rhode Island will lose one of its precious House seats in the U.S. Congress. The persistent jokes of family and friends “moving out of state” have now tragically manifested themselves into the harsh reality that our state is not competitive enough to see population growth on par with the rest of the country.

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Upcoming Pro-Life Day of Action at R.I. State House

Citizens for Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness, a new pro-life group, will be holding a rally on Tuesday, February 26th at the Rhode Island State House from 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM. The rally will feature pro-life speakers in opposition to the legislation removing restrictions on abortion in the Ocean State. Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Fees, Fraud, Fetuses, and Finding a Field of Candidates

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about the many new fees and taxes in the governor’s budget, a progressive’s alleged embezzlement, the significance of an abortion poll, and the multiple candidates for RIGOP chair.

Open post for full audio.

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Parks and Beaches: Another Investment We’re Already Making

Along with her budget’s request to increase fees for beaches and Rhode Island parks, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is rolling out the usual message about “investing” in our state:

“Our beaches and parks are such a special part of who we are as Rhode Islanders, and we need to preserve them for future generations,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “The study DEM commissioned recently makes clear that we’re not doing enough now. It’s critical that we commit to long-term investments in our parks and beaches. Let’s make sure our kids have the same opportunities that we did.”

The study noted that Rhode Island exhibits high park use and low investment compared with the rest of the nation – ranking 1st in visits per park acre but 47th in state spending per visit. The study calls on the State to make a strategic, sustained, long-term investment to increase the self-sufficiency and economic potential of the park system, protect infrastructure, enhance programs, and bolster operations and staffing.

The missing statistic in that summary is anything gauging Rhode Island’s tax burden.  Especially in the messaging of our current governor, everything is an “investment.”  The problem is that we’re already making those investments.  We’re just not getting much for them, whether in terms of infrastructure, economic development, or education.

Another budgetary favorite of Raimondo’s emphasizes the point:  budget scoops.  When the governor’s office makes a regular practice of “scooping up” money from restricted funds, which are often driven by fees of one sort of another, it sends the message that it’s all really about finding new sources of revenue.

In other words, she’s actually looking for investments in more of the same old insider deals that have drained money away from things Rhode Islanders actually value.

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Governor Moves Toward Even More Restrictions On 2nd Amendment; Please Sign Petition

As the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity wrote after the State of the State address, the assault on individual and Second Amendment constitutional rights under the Raimondo administration is worse than expected. Her new scheme is one more example of the Rhode Island political class giving into the far-left Progressive agenda. Rhode Island families deserve to be able to exercise their God given right to self-defense without excessive government interference.

Instead of protecting and preserving our individual freedoms, the Governor is expanding the attacks and infringements on those seeking to exercise their constitutional right to defend themselves. Now is the time to demand better government, not more restrictions on honest citizens. Click Here to sign a petition demanding exactly that from our elected officials.

This “crystal ball” approach of justifying government infringement because something “might” happen must end!

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Early Indications of Legalized Prostitution?

Although I’m pretty sure state Democrat Representative Anastasia Williams, of Providence, has introduced this legislation in the past, with the possible legalization of marijuana this year, it’s worth mentioning.  As Ian Donnis reports for the Public’s Radio:

A Rhode Island lawmaker believes the state’s laws governing sex work are too punitive and she wants to create a 12-member commission to review possible changes. …

According to a bill introduced by Williams, H5354, “Criminalization of prostitution disproportionately impacts women, transgender individuals and people of color.” Her legislation points to findings showing that decriminalizing prostitution can improve public safety and public health.

If Williams’ envisioned legislative commission moves ahead, it would face a February 2020 deadline for reporting its findings.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, there’s a reason Pottersville — the alternate reality in It’s a Wonderful Life in which the movie’s hero had never been born — combines drugs, gambling, and prostitution.  As I’ve also suggested before, it would be one thing to arrive at this state of affairs because our culture and our respect for liberty had become stronger, because then it would have implicit safeguards for individuals and the community as a whole.

As it is, we’re seeing the government move into areas that used to be the province of organized crime, largely for the same reasons: money and power.

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Another Consideration with Binding Arbitration for Teachers

A Providence Journal editorial worries that the teachers unions may have finally bought themselves binding arbitration from the legislature and governor this year.

Such a change would mean that the unions could dig in their heels when a contract is due and try their luck with a three-person arbitration panel that ultimately doesn’t have to worry about where the money will come from or what other priorities might be sacrificed, as elected boards must do.  The editors note the political imbalance:

Labor interests have immense financial resources, politicians in their pockets and batteries of relentless lobbyists to help secure their gains at the State House. Citizens have little more than their own vote and their voice in trying to restrain property taxes and move Rhode Island in a healthier direction. But voices and votes, if used, can frighten enough politicians into doing the right thing.

The leverage of citizens and their elected officials in negotiations is something I’ve learned a bit about since I was elected to the Tiverton Town Council in November.  When it comes to police and fire, the dynamic is very different.  Not only are they dealing with emergencies and public safety, but their 24/7 schedules create challenges that fall squarely within management rights.  That means arbitrators cannot touch them.

What are management rights when it comes to teachers unions?  Maybe I’ve been missing something, but I’ve never gotten the sense that school departments could simply force teachers to stay in their classrooms longer without negotiating that into their contracts, for example.  And any such moves may also impose requirements on students and families, making them less likely.

In other words, binding arbitration not only has less justification for teacher unions than public safety unions, but it also comes with less leverage for management.  That is, it’s simply a flex of political muscle that will create huge imbalance in local budgeting.

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Unnecessary “Fair Housing” Bill is Unfair to Landlords!

House bill 5137, deceptively named the Fair Housing Practices bill, which mirrors leftist-inspired legislation introduced in other states, is completely unfair to landlords.

The legislation claims it seeks to end discriminatory housing practices because in the progressives’ land of social-equity, making a legitimate business decision should be a crime. Under the proposed law, any Section-8 lessee applicant (those whose rents are subsidized by the federal government) who are not accepted as a tenant, must have been discriminated against, and the landlord must be punished.

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The Center’s Perspective on So-Called “Fair Housing” Legislation

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse offers the Center’s view on legislation that would limit landlords’ right to decide whether the way potential tenants’ will pay their rent should be a factor in deciding whether to rent to them, including a mandate to accept Section 8 vouchers:

Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.

Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.

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Race-Obsessed Policy Generates Race-Based Differences

So, here’s a must-read research paper for legislators as they try to conform our world to the vision in their heads:

Mounting empirical research shows that race-preferential admissions policies are doing more harm than good. Instead of increasing the numbers of African Americans entering high-status careers, these policies reduce those numbers relative to what we would have had if colleges and universities had followed race-neutral policies. We have fewer African-American scientists, physicians, and engineers and likely fewer lawyers and college professors. If, as the evidence indicates, the effects of race-preferential admissions policies are exactly the opposite of what was originally intended, it is difficult to understand why anyone would wish to support them.

Basically, the mechanism that brings about this outcome, according to the paper’s author, Gail Heriot, is that giving preference to underrepresented applicants based on their non-academic qualities places students in environments for which they are not adequately prepared and matches them with students with whom they might not be able to compete.

These sort of unintended consequences arise with all sorts of politically correct policies.  One that comes to mind is the “ban the box” push to forbid employers from asking applicants whether they’ve ever been convicted of crimes.  Studies are finding that preventing employers from asking a straightforward question for information they feel they need leads them to use less-direct methods that wind up hurting racial minorities, rather than helping them.

How long until our society decides that the best route to equality is to stop writing racial distinctions into the law and to stop trying to drive racism out of our minds by banning questions that may (or may not) be correlated with it?

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RI House May Expand Abortion, but Criminalize Cat Declawing

As the Rhode Island House of Representatives gives hints that some sort of legislation will pass to lock in or even expand the ability of women to kill their children in the womb, this legislation (H5073) enters the docket:

It is unlawful for any person… to perform or cause to be performed, an onychectomy (declawing) or flexor tendonectomy procedure by any means on a cat or other animal, unless the procedure is deemed necessary for a therapeutic purpose by a licensed veterinarian.

In addition to being able to impose a fine of up to $1,000, the court would gain the totalitarianesque power not only to forbid the person to possess any animals, but also to live “on the same property with someone who owns or possesses animals, perhaps for life.  Naturally, forced “humane education” would be a requirement.

But wait!  There’s more.

If H5113 also were to become law, the person who has his or her cat declawed would also be forced to participate in a new publicly accessible online animal abuser registry.  That way his or her neighbors could readily dig up details of the dastardly deed.

As long as we have our priorities in order.

Somewhere around Twitter, I saw somebody complain that people are spreading "lies" about Virginia Democrats.  The on-point response from somebody else (paraphrasing):  "People are spreading direct quotes."

Pretense Has Fallen Away on Abortion: It’s Infanticide

Somewhere around Twitter, I saw somebody complain that people are spreading “lies” about Virginia Democrats.  The on-point response from somebody else (paraphrasing):  “People are spreading direct quotes.”

Sometimes these things are better seen.  Watch Virginia Democrat Delegate Kathy Tran explain her pro-abortion legislation.  As the Republican chairman of the committee to which she’s presenting digs into what the bill would allow, Tran’s face actually winces, because she knows what she’s about to say:

Gilman: Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth — she has physical signs that she is about to give birth.  Would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was [certified as having a mental health reason]?

[Pause]

Gilman: She’s dilating.

Tran: [Winces.] Mr. Chairman, that would be a decision that the doctor, the physician, and the woman would make at that point.

Gilman: I understand that. I’m asking if your bill allows that.

Tran: My bill would allow that, yeah.

All pretense is now off the table.  This is infanticide, as Democrat Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam subsequently went on the radio to confirm.  The interviewer asked about the exchange quoted above, and Northam answered thus:

If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.  The infant would be delivered.  The infant would be kept comfortable.  The infant would be resuscitated, if that’s what the mother and the family desired.  And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Notice that we’re no longer talking about a fetus, here.  This is an infant.  Apparently, many Democrats have become so intrinsically radical that they are now willing to admit that.  It’s their religion, and human sacrifice is allowed.

By the way, infanticide is evil… just in case that isn’t clear anymore.

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More Regulations During a Housing Shortage Is a Bad Idea

One always has to wonder something after reading an article like the one Madeleine List wrote about legislation to force landlords to take government housing vouchers and to block their ability to find out if potential tenants have appeared in housing court before.  Was the reporter absolutely unable to find anybody to offer a contrary view?

The first argument one hears as an opposing view is that tenants who aren’t paying their own rent might not feel as inclined to keep it up or stay on good terms with their landlords.  Although this might be a reasonable concern, in some cases, it may be more of a strawman, because it isn’t the best of the three most-obvious answers.

The most practical of the other two answers is that Section 8 isn’t simply a source of income.  Accepting Section 8 vouchers requires the landlord to accept regular government inspections and other impositions.  Even if we take as a given that the government will never make inspections more burdensome than the most basic health and safety concerns that all landlords should cover voluntarily, many may simply not want to deal with that extra layer of bureaucracy.

The third obvious answer is that accepting low-income tenants comes with some risk, whether the risk is that they won’t treat the property well, that they’re on the bordeline of being able to afford the rent at all, or that the government might decide that its vouchers give it more authority over your property than was initially the case.  And risk comes with a cost.

This gets to a point about unintended consequences that legislators really should keep in mind at all times.  Imposing risk effectively raises the cost of being a landlord, either by imposing an cost in stress or by forcing them to raise rates or lower profits in order to compensate when the risk goes bad.

Raise the cost of rentals, and we’ll have fewer.  Have fewer rentals, and the natural price of the market will go up.  Raise that price, and we’ll have fewer rentals.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Housing crisis.

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

The Strange Assertions of Abortion Advocates

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women’s ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about “reproductive health care.”  Reproductive of what?

So much of the pro-abortion argument requires distortion of the language and concepts that are involved.  Why that is should be obvious.  The other day, a progressive state senator from Providence, Gayle Goldin, and Providence Journal reporter Katnerine Gregg responded to news that a judge had struck down an Iowa law restricting abortion when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, implying that it’s a concern because it may give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to address the question of abortion.

Think of the underlying issue.

This law that is, at the moment, arguably unconstitutional essentially states that if an unborn child is so provably unique from the mother as to have his or her own heartbeat, a doctor can’t suck out his or her brain, tear him or her limb from limb, or otherwise kill the child (presumably except to save the life of the mother).  When that’s the fact of the act, the only way to maintain support has got to be to misdirect attention some other way.

Activists at the Rhode Island State House, the other day, emphasized minorities’ access to abortion, but starting from a different perspective paints a very different picture.  Something around 8% of Rhode Island’s population is black, but they account for some 16% of abortions.  Abortion kills black babies at about twice the rate that it kills white babies in the Ocean State.

A chart from the Guttmacher Institute shows that minorities, especially black non-Hispanics, have much higher abortion rates than white non-Hispanics, yet the claim of the chart is that “lack of access to health insurance and health care plays a role, as do racism and discrimination,” in abortion rates that vary by race.   Is Guttmacher, which is associated with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that racism leads to the higher rates, or is it suggesting that, but for racism and discrimination, the United States would have even higher rates for killing black babies.

That’s what the Providence activists would seem to be suggesting when they talk about “access.”  Pursuing policies that would keep a significant portion of a minority population alive is a strange kind of bigotry.

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Another Lesson to Learn, Rhode Island: Minimum Wage

Sometimes state government makes bad policy decisions because it is improvising without any example to follow for its actions, and sometimes state government makes bad policy decisions because it ignores the evidence that other states have generated.  Passing progressive Democrat Gina Raimondo’s proposed new Medicaid tax on employers and her proposed minimum wage increase would be in the second category.

Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Jon Miltimore notes one New York City restauranteur who is cutting hours, cutting staff, and increasing prices, all to address a massive increase in the city’s minimum wage:

Bloostein is just one restaurant owner, you might say. But he is not alone. A New York City Hospitality Alliance survey shows that 75 percent of restaurants said they planned to cut employees hours in response to the wage hike. Nearly half (47 percent) said they’d cut jobs.

The outcome is hardly a surprise. These are the signature responses to steep wage hikes forced onto businesses (those that manage to bear the costs and stay open, anyway).

However pure the intentions of New York politicians might be, the minimum wage will have a dire impact on those who can least afford it: young, poor workers who will not be afforded important job experience. It’s a terrible way to fight poverty …

Of course, as Miltimore goes on to suggest, New York politicians’ intentions cannot be assumed to be pure.  Their incentives are different from the people’s needs, and that most definitely applies to Governor Raimondo.

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Governor’s Regressive Budget – The Wrong Direction?

Is the Governor’s budget pointing our state in the right direction? On Monday, I attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast hosted by the RI Ministers’ Alliance. At the breakfast, the Governor said that the country is moving backward, and that she is committed to moving RI ‘forward’ and in the opposite direction. What planet is the Governor living on?

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Governor’s Budget: The “Rhode To Serfdom”

Instead of seeking to shape Rhode Island’s future with the proven ideals of a free-society, Governor Raimondo’s proposed 2019-2020 budget is a stunning departure from America’s core values and, instead, would put our state on a “Rhode to Serfdom.”

The Governor’s regressive budget points us 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where we need to head, and would stifle any opportunity for growth.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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A Modest Rules Change and the Legislative Firewall

Busy with other things, I was excited to look into details about the new rules that appear likely to apply to the House this legislative session.  And this is definitely a good thing:

The rule changes, endorsed 14-3, would require House leaders to post new legislative language — with some exceptions — for public consumption at least 24 hours before it is voted on by lawmakers.

The exceptions: The annual House budget bill customarily printed and immediately approved by the House Finance Committee late at night will not be subject to the 24-hour posting rule.

And neither will bills the chairman of a committee deems “either technical, grammatical, or not substantive or substantial in nature” need a day’s exposure to public scrutiny.

But I can’t help but wonder… is that it?  I thought we were going to shift power away from the speaker and toward our elected representatives.  More time to review legislative language will help, but not much, and only if legislators are sincerely reviewing it.  If (as one needn’t be too cynical to suspect) their votes depend more on politics than policy, more time won’t matter a bit.

I’ll also acknowledge mixed feelings about this reaction from the speaker:

Speaker Mattiello has pooh-poohed the debate over the House rules as being of little interest to voters. “I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello told Dan Yorke on Thursday. “Nobody is asking me about it. Nobody cares about it.” Referring to the Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats, the speaker added, “This is an internal game with this ‘high-tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

He’s undoubtedly right.  Progressive activists may have impressed the local media by getting a few people to testify, but anybody on the inside knows what that amounts to.  These are folks who’ll turn out anyway and won’t be persuaded to vote for people who don’t align with them.  (Raising my hand with some Tea Party been-there-done-that experience.)

Moreover, Mattiello goes right to the key point.  At this time, the rules (which remain terrible, from a perspective of political theory) are what will enable him to be a firewall against a destructive ideology that would actually be worse than the insider system under which we’ve been suffering.  That he is maintaining his promise of being a firewall is at least a bit of a silver lining.

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