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“Collusion” Among Newspapers, Researchers, and “the Resistance”

This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media.  This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal.  The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:

The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.

Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means.  They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”

This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims.  Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented.  It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.

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Bad Legislation in the Light of Day

If Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) follows through with what he tells Ted Nesi, it will be an unambiguously positive development:

“My policy for as long as I’m speaker is going to be, 9 o’clock unless I can get it done by 10, and no later than 10 o’clock. I’ve heard from a lot of citizens, and the way we used to do business when I first got here – and that’s where I learned, when I first got here – the way they’ve always done it in the past is unacceptable today. The citizens don’t want it. So I’ve committed we’re not going to do it, and we won’t do it.” He added: “And we won’t do it as we finish session, either. It’s more important to me to do business at the right time than it is to get it done in a particular day. I’ll come back in the fall if I have to. I want to do business when our citizens can see what they’re doing and can be part of the process through their TV set or coming down to the State House and watching it, participating, rather than the early morning hours. That’s very, very important to me and that’s going to be a priority, and I’m going to maintain that as long as I’m speaker.”

The all-night, punch-drunk sessions of the General Assembly have been a real problem, not the least as part of the system that keeps Rhode Islanders confused and lets bad policy slip undetected into law.

Reviewing the terrible budget that just passed the House, in light of disastrous labor and regulatory legislation that seems to be coming closer to the finish line than it has in prior years, makes me wonder how much concessions like this are really just an acknowledgement that leaders now have a lock on the legislative game and don’t need the worst of the gimmicks.

It isn’t much of an exaggeration to compare Rhode Island political insiders, in this case, to thieves who are slowly discovering that they can just walk out the door with their booty rather than going through the trouble of sneaking.

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Budget Season: Opportunity for Articulating a Vision for Rhode Island

Every year, this time of year, the budget for the State of Rhode Island comes out and, accompanied with surrounding legislation (much of it premised, one can infer, on quid pro quo for budget votes) shows the vision of the insiders who run our state.  Every year, life in Rhode Island becomes more restrictive, business becomes harder, government budgets go up.

Earlier in this legislative season, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity put out a pair of “Hey, Dude!” radio ads illustrating the point from the perspective of somebody who wants more freebies and somebody who sees the opportunities inherent in a society out from under government’s thumb.

For a little fun, here’s a pair that I’ve put together.

Open post for audio.

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Legislation Holds Mobility Over the Heads of the Poor for Municipal Bucks

I’ve been very critical of Mike Araujo and his rhetoric on this site, but he is absolutely correct to object to this bill:

Tuesday night, the House Finance Committee passed a bill (H-6213A) that seeks to expand the denial of vehicle registration to individuals who may have outstanding unpaid interest or penalties on fines owed to a city or town, rather than only revoking it for the amount of the fines themselves owed to the municipality.

Legislation like this, making it easier for people to lose their licenses or registration based on financial debts, has been criticized all over the country for its problematic and counterproductive effects on poor Americans. Driving without a registered vehicle leads to substantial penalties or even a revoked license, which simply worsens the person’s financial issues and hardships. This in itself is challenging since the restrictions would deny the person the ability to drive to work, school, or any other related activity making them less able to meet their monetary obligations.

As an indication of how thoroughly aggressive the legislation is, even in the small details, consider this:  Right now, the legislation requires the city or town to pay the DMV $5 in order to request a registration denial, and that fee “may” be added to the total due from the driver.  This bill waives the up-front payment and says that the $5 “shall” be added to the total.

Where is the public interest in all of this, beyond wanting more money for profligate government?  People need to be mobile to have a shot in the modern world and making it more difficult for them to get right with the regulations for mobility undeniably makes it more likely that they will continue struggling and probably remain dependent on government.

The legislation’s primary sponsor is progressive Democrat Christopher Blazejewski of Providence, who apparently submitted it at the request of the city, but who, in doing so, proved that government always comes first for people in government.  Keeping others dependent on government isn’t exactly contrary to that goal.

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The Bubble Begets Tone-Deafness on Eternal Contracts

So, the teachers unions’ annual attempt to give themselves even more leverage in negotiations by making their contracts eternal is back in the mix.  The lobbying by union employees and donations to politicians are ultimately taxpayer funded, so this bill probably won’t go away until it passes someday.

What’s notable, this time around, is that the bill accompanies a labor dispute in Warwick, leading to this telling point from Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh:

Netcoh said the bill “levels the playing field between employers and employees.”

Referring to [Warwick Schools Supt. Philip] Thornton, she added: “Would he go to work every day if he didn’t have a contract? I don’t think so.”

One wonders how it could have escaped Netcoh’s attention that plenty of Rhode Islanders go to work every day without contracts.  See, it’s called “a mutually beneficial transaction.”  The employer has work that has to be done, and the employee has a need to earn income.  If a contract makes sense in a particular circumstance, then the parties draw one up and abide by it; otherwise, the contract is essentially a casual, even verbal, agreement to do work and to pay for work that’s done.

In government, though, it’s not about that mutually beneficial transaction, in part because nobody’s spending their own money.  Contracts for government employees are fundamentally agreements about how much one party will take from taxpayers and transfer to the other party, and so they’ve become a mechanism for labor unions to get politicians to lock taxpayers into expenses.

This eternal contract legislation is about ensuring that taxpayers are locked in to the promises of elected officials (often elected with the help of the employees) to an even greater degree.

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Expanded Disability Pensions Will Be Boon for Investigative Journalists

The bright side, if the bills that Ted Nesi summarizes for WPRI were to pass into law, would be a boom in gotcha-journalism stories about questionable disability pensions:

The first bill, sponsored by Providence Rep. Joe Almeida, would allow an “injury or illness” sustained on duty – rather than just an “injury,” the current wording – to be cause for the granting of a tax-free accidental disability pension to a police officer or firefighter. It would also increase how long officers have to file a disability claim from 18 months after the incident to 36 months. …

The second bill, sponsored by North Kingstown Democrat Robert Craven, would mandate that any firefighter who suffers from hypertension, stroke or heart disease will be “presumed to have suffered an in-the-line-of-duty disability” and therefore be eligible for a disability pension, unless there was evidence of the condition in his or her entrance exam.

When first published, Nesi’s story noted that the bills had been posted for votes, implying passage, but after his story went live, they were removed:

“They were posted prematurely,” House spokesman Larry Berman said in an email. “Both bills were on a preliminary list for possible posting and then were posted in error. Those two bills are still being reviewed.”

Even if it ends there, this episode is a good reminder that special interests (ultimately funded with taxpayer dollars) are constantly working the system to expand benefits for government union members at the public expense.  They work to elect friendly officials to local office for generous contracts, and they work to elect friendly legislators to write generous benefits into the law.

Something dramatic and structural has to happen to change this, because our system has no countervailing forces short of bankruptcy that will withstand the year after year after year push.  The embarrassment of hidden camera stories about retirees abusing their benefits will only go so far in restraining ever-more-unsustainable benefits from being bestowed.

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Legislation “Mutually Acceptable” to Whom?

I’ve long objected to the Rhode Island General Assembly’s seeing itself as a sort of corporate board for the lives of all Rhode Islanders.  In a related way, I’ve argued that groups like chambers of commerce are no longer acting as advocacy groups for the interests of private people or organizations, but rather are satellites of government that maintain their relevance to the extent that they can act as government’s liaisons to businesses.

Something in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article about legislation to forbid all Rhode Island businesses from automatically reducing employee pay for just about any reason — from in-company fines to compensation for broken merchandise — sets off alarm bells.  The legislation is objectionable enough; it isn’t government’s role to set narrow, specific terms under which people can interact for business purposes.  (Labor unions back the bill, naturally, because it makes it harder for non-union organizations to compete.)

But meddling in Rhode Islanders’ lives is simply par for the course for our politicians.  This is the part that really caught my attention:

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s state Department of Labor and Training supports the bill and worked to find language acceptable to workers, the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, according to a letter from DLT Assistant Director Matthew Weldon.

Weldon said the current bill language, tweaked from prior year versions, was “mutually acceptable and delivers what we believe to be a clear and enforceable amendment.”

“Mutually acceptable” to whom?  Are we now to behave as if the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce are satisfactory stand-ins for every business in the state?  And are we supposed to believe that the fact that nobody showed up to testify for the legislation proves that there’s no opposition?  Think of the implications of that.  

Taxes and regulations already make Rhode Island a difficult place in which to operate a company or make a living (unless you’re tied in with government, somehow).  Does every business owner, of companies large and small, have to devote resources to constant vigilance and influence-buying lest our supposed political representatives “negotiate” their rights away?

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The Pretense of Legislative Knowledge

So, progressive legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly are looking to “compromise” on a policy forcing Rhode Island businesses to give a minimum sick-leave benefit.  The notion of this as “compromise” is a complete perversion of the very notion of compromising, which requires all parties to have some direct investment in the result.  The indirect benefit of being able to collect votes that you’ve bought from one party to the “negotiation” by forcing the other party to do something doesn’t count.

Pay particular attention to this quotation from Katherine Gregg’s “Political Scene” article in the Providence Journal:

Last week, [Progressive Democrat Representative from Providence Aaron] Regunberg and Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin — the sponsor of a matching Senate bill — acknowledged the need for compromise.

In a commentary piece targeted for publication, they wrote: “We feel confident that it’s possible to strike the right balance between employers and employees.”

Psst, folks.  That isn’t your role.  “The right balance” depends on the job, on the employer, and on the employee.  It’s for them to figure out in full, specific consideration of the pay, the nature of the job, the availability of other opportunities, and so on.  It’s their role, their right, and their responsibility as fully autonomous adults.

The arrogance of these politicians to think that they can figure out among themselves what must work for every two Rhode Islanders in an employee-employer relationship throughout all of Rhode Island from now unto forever is astonishing.

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One Hundred New State Jobs Would Only Perpetuate Failures & Failed Approach

Both the proven failure of a budget-centric approach and Governor Raimondo’s dismal public policy track record should give the General Assembly real pause when considering her reported request for one hundred new state hires – and other initiatives, past and prospective.

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A Lesson in the Limits of Employee Costs

Always on the lookout for the practical lessons of economics, I have to highlight an article by Marcia Pobzeznik from Friday’s Newport Daily News even though it’s not online.

The Tiverton Town Council is deciding what to do about trash pickup because the costs are rising, and there are two basic options:

  1. Continue with a system using workers to pick up the trash.
  2. Switch to an automated system that uses machines.

If I’m reading the article correctly, at first, option 2 will be more expensive because the town would buy every household the totes in which the machine requires garbage to be placed, but apart from that initial charge, the price is essentially the same.  The lure of the machines, though, is the expectation for the future of workers:

“I’d like to see us go automated,” said [Director of Public Works Bill] Anderson. That would happen in October if Waste Management wins the bid.

Companies are transitioning to automated pickup because of safety issues for workers and the high cost of Worker’s Compensation insurance, Anderson said.

Like many other rackets in Rhode Island, workers compensation is a private operation but is largely a creature of state law, which is heavily weighted to drive up costs.  On top of every other regulation that lawmakers have decided Rhode Islanders can’t live without, it makes employing people increasingly expensive, which in turn makes automation look increasingly attractive, even with an initial cost for the transition.

That puts people out of work, shifting leverage from all workers in the state to all employers, which suppresses salaries and benefits.  This change in the balance creates incentive for politicians to meddle, which produces new ways in which hiring people becomes more expensive.  And repeat.

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Journalists and RI Politicians to Blame for “Mounting Anxiety” over Medicaid Reform

Earlier today, I noted how willing Rhode Island politicians are to sacrifice the well-being of Rhode Islanders and then attempt to scare us into political activism against their opposition.  In wishing the news media would play a role in bringing them back toward more-reasonable rhetoric, I probably underplayed the degree to which journalists are complicit.  Consider Lynn Arditi’s Providence Journal article whipping up the panic about federal health care reform:

Now, Porreca and others like him could lose their coverage under a Republican plan to roll back that Medicaid expansion and limit future federal financing for the safety-net program. Able-bodied adults also could be required to work in order to qualify for Medicaid.

The first sentence is false, and the second is misleading.  The paragraph is partisan fear-mongering propaganda.  As I’ve already explained, the House Republicans’ AHCA legislation includes no cut to Medicaid.  Anybody claiming otherwise is wrong, and anybody claiming otherwise whose job it is to objectively inform people is either lying or committing professional malfeasance through his or her negligence.  Adding in the work requirement in that context makes frightening something that is arguably a reasonable policy and leaves out the reality that Rhode Island’s state government would have to go along.

If “anxiety” is “mounting,” as the Providence Journal headline suggests, the news media and Rhode Island politicians are to blame.  If only people would begin holding them accountable for the anxiety they cause out of their own selfish interests.

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The Direct Line to the Voting Booth

In case readers didn’t have a chance to click through the link in my post, yesterday, related to voter fraud, I’d like to highlight another key point from the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) report that was the foundation for J. Christian Adams’s essay.

It’s important to break the data down so you understand what we’re talking about, here.  PILF found that, in Virginia, more than 5,500 people who had been registered to vote were removed for citizenship reasons.  Of those 5,500, 1,852 had actually voted, casting an average of four ballots each.  Many of them, according to Adams, had been registered to vote even though they checked the box saying they were non-citizens.

I emphasize this point because the House chamber of the Rhode Island General Assembly has approved legislation that would greatly expand automatic registration of people to vote:

Legislation to automatically put anyone who applies for a Rhode Island driver’s license on the state’s voter rolls, unless they opt out, cleared the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, despite GOP efforts to block the same practice at other state agencies with troubled computer histories. …

But along the way, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, R-West Warwick, sought to strip the bill of language allowing any state agencies — other than the Division of Motor Vehicles — to automatically place applicants for unemployment, public assistance and other state benefits on the voter rolls. Her move failed on a 62-to-10 party-line vote.

Welcome to the world of “one-stop shopping.”  When the Rhode Island insiders are done, anybody who checks in with the state government for any reason will be automatically signed up for any welfare benefits for which they might be eligible and registered to vote.  “Here’s your free stuff and a voter registration card so you can be sure to keep electing the people giving it to you.”

And in all this, we’re supposed to believe that a state government that can’t launch a computer system or accurately determine who should get Medicaid or SNAP benefits, while resisting efforts to use basic means of control, like eVerify for immigration, will keep the voter rolls clean?

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Free Tuition as a Welfare Program

Note the substantive difference between this plan and what Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is proposing:

Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have announced a tuition-free college program.

The Republican governor and the Democratic mayor on Monday launched the new college affordability program for Boston high school graduates, enabling low-income students to complete four-year degrees without paying tuition or mandatory fees.

Students first go to public community college, and then if they finish that degree in a timely manner, they can continue on to finish a four-year degree at a public four-year institution.  At least this program is more or less honest about being a public welfare program, and no doubt some students who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunities will take advantage of the program to good effect.

That said, Governor Baker’s lamentation that the price of college sometimes “serves as a barrier” is poorly considered.  A price should server as a barrier, to ensure that potential students have consciously decided whether it’s worth the effort of surmounting it.

Our problem is that we’ve been hiding the size of the barrier while overstating the value of getting to the other side.  Taxpayer subsidies add bricks to the wall, and easy loans hide the real cost to students.  This has flooded the employment market with people who have degrees, devaluing them to the point of being little more than a cheap method for employers to screen applicants for jobs that don’t require anything like a bachelor’s degree.

We should address that problem, first, before providing related welfare programs.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Know Their Love for Innovation by Their Actions

Rhode Island politicians like to give lip service to making the state a hub for technology companies, but they seem to think that means encouraging interactions between groups that can only survive with government subsidies, mainly because of (and by means of) government’s imposition of high barriers to entry and costs of doing business.  The secret to generating new industries in Rhode Island is to lower costs so all variety of businesses can afford experiment (without government approval, as expressed through the subsidies) and reduce restrictions on what they’re permitted to do.

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse and Taxpayer Protection Alliance Senior Scholar Drew Johnson highlight a great example in today’s Providence Journal:

Fortunately, the free market recently developed a way to bypass the optometrists’ office. New technology — known as “ocular telemedicine” — allows consumers to accurately measure their prescription strength on a smartphone or computer screen from the comfort of their own homes. A board-certified ophthalmologist then emails a vision prescription based on the results.

Patients can then use that e-prescription to purchase lenses or glasses wherever they choose, typically at much lower prices. With this technology, healthy adults only need to visit a brick-and-mortar eye doctor once every two years for a full eye health exam (as recommended by the American Optometric Association) instead of every time a lens refill is needed.

Naturally, entrenched interests have pushed for legislation to halt (or at least slow down) such innovations, and of course, some Rhode Island legislators are answering the call… no doubt with entirely selfless reasons.  It’s funny how protecting people from themselves so often seems to profit somebody else, at least when it comes to regulations.

Can we stop that sort of behavior, please?  Why not just let people figure out how to provide other people what they want?

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Crony Legislation to Cost Parents Time and Aggravation

When I first read the proposed legislation (H5457) to require all parents of young adults seeking their drivers’ licenses to take a course, I wondered why Rhode Island’s politicians presume the authority to behave like parents to every adult in the state.  One could imagine House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (D, Warwick) overhearing some parent giving a child bad driving advice and determining to solve that perceived problem by implementing a blanket mandate for all parents.

This detail in a related AP story, though, makes me wonder if the motivation might be a bit more politically crass than that:

AAA Northeast is backing the bill, which was introduced by Democratic House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi. The legislation describes the organization as a possible course provider.

The legislation requires the course to be free to participants — treating their stolen time as without value — and doesn’t explicitly call for the state to pay providers.  Indeed, it says that if nobody wants to provide the program, it will cease to be required.  So, maybe there’s some payment from the state, or maybe AAA will only provide it to members (effectively forcing people to join), or maybe it’s a little more innocent and just an opportunity for AAA to give a sales pitch to a constant flow of captive audiences.

It’s the fact that AAA is “backing the bill” that raises my eyebrow.  Is this something for which the organization has actively lobbied?  Is it some sort of payback for, say, supporting RhodeWorks?

As I mentioned last year, I was a AAA member from the time I started driving (25 years ago, tomorrow).  The organization’s active support for RhodeWorks led me to quit, and finding it in bed with Rhode Island insiders who take their power over us as a marketable good to trade for cash and favors affirms my decision.

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The Corporate Welfare Strategy Has Failed

The massive budget shortfall is proof that the state government’s corporate welfare strategy has failed. Rhode Island’s current corporate tax-credit economic development strategy is highly inefficient as it creates relatively few jobs at an extremely high cost per job to taxpayers. This targeted ‘advanced industry’ approach does little if anything to improve the overall business climate, which is necessary if organic entrepreneurial growth is to occur on its own. A 3.0% sales tax would disproportionately help low-income families.

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