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Freedom of Religion in Indiana and Rhode Island

At the national level, Americans are being led to ignore any number of critical and pressing issues through a media-and-activist-driven condemnation of a religious freedom statute just passed into law in Indiana.  The hysteria has reached the point that companies that freely do business in communist China are boycotting Indiana, and Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has implemented a travel ban to Indiana, despite the fact that his own state is on the list of those with such laws.

Rhode Island is also on the list, on the strength of Rhode Island law 42-80.1, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993.  Arguably, Rhode Island’s law is stronger than Indiana’s.  Here’s the operative language in Indiana’s statute:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.

(b) A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Here’s Rhode Island’s language, for comparison:

(a) Except as provided for in subsection (b), a governmental authority may not restrict a person’s free exercise of religion.

(b) A governmental authority may restrict a person’s free exercise of religion only if:

(1) The restriction is in the form of a rule of general applicability, and does not intentionally discriminate against religion, or among religions; and

(2) The governmental authority proves that application of the restriction to the person is essential to further a compelling governmental interest, and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

In Indiana, religious people only have protection if the government’s restriction is “substantial,” and the government can impose even “substantial” burdens if it can “demonstrate” that it will “further[] a compelling governmental interest.”  In Rhode Island, the government is not allowed to restrict the “free exercise of religion” at all, substantially or otherwise, unless it can “prove” that the restriction is “essential to further[ing] a compelling governmental interest.”

These may be shades of nuance, but given that the language is similar, with slightly more edge in Rhode Island:  Is anybody aware of any Rhode Island cases in the last 22 years in which (A) this law has been cited and (B) in which it has won a case in a way that could reasonably be seen as permitting discrimination?

Marketplace Fairness or a Tax Trap?

Beware the word “fairness” when elected officials propose new laws.  Be doubly wary of the word when it appears in the name of an act, as it does in the case of the recent second attempt to pass the “Marketplace Fairness Act” through the U.S. Congress, to allow states to collect sales taxes on Internet (“remote”) retail.

The first attempt, in 2013, made it through the Senate, but not the House. All four members of Rhode Island’s federal delegation jumped on the bandwagon ascosponsors, but of the four, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, may have done the most to give the game away.

In his related press release, Whitehouse emphasized that unfairness in retail pricing isn’t really an issue for Rhode Island, because consumers are supposed to pay the state’s 7 percent sales tax–rebranded as a “use tax”–no matter where they buy something.  (Other states’ taxes, if collected, count toward the total.)

To the extent that the pricing difference is unfair, it’s because Whitehouse considers Rhode Islanders to be scofflaws who use online purchases as a means of skirting tax laws.  That, obviously, is unfair to the government officials who would like to have more money to spend.

A series of related Rhode Island statutes reinforces Whitehouse’s emphasis on tax collections.

Continue reading on WatchDog.org.

UPDATED: Governor’ Raimondo’s $13.6 Million Refinance

Give this to our super smaht, financially savvy new governor: She knows how to pack a budget with things that require detailed review and analysis if the public is going to have any real sense of whether it’s a good or bad package, on the whole.

Jennifer Bogdan does the good work of digging into the big refinance part of Governor Raimondo’s proposal in today’s Providence Journal:

Roughly $64.5 million in Raimondo’s 2016 fiscal year budget would come from a refinancing effort. Another $20 million would flow in fiscal year 2017. The bonds in question have an average interest rate of 4.9 percent, but if refinanced the interest rate is expected to be lower than 2.34 percent. She calls the refinancing conservative and says it would be irresponsible not to consider a money-saving measure for the state.

By “money-saving,” what the governor means is that she’s using the restructuring to borrow around $84 million in the first two years.  In the third year, the state will actually have to pay about $10 million more in debt service, and the years will change between costing more and costing less over the refinancing period.  As shown in a table included with Bogdan’s article, when the state reaches the end, in 2032, it will have actually paid $13.6 million more in debt service.

That’s where the governor deploys an accounting trick to make the analysis a bit murkier.  In the words of Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney, “The key here is that we would not enter into this transaction if the state would not ultimately come out ahead.”

He’s referring to the fact that if you look at the present value of the changes in payments up and down over the sixteen years — in other words, adjust them for inflation to what they would be in today’s dollars — the real value of the changes is actually $225,238 less in debt service.

Like so many of the “bold and innovative” moves in the governor’s budget, that’s misleading.  For one thing, the assumed inflation rate is critical.  A rough spreadsheet suggests it’s 2.97%.  In that case, it would erase these so-called savings if inflation turns out to be 2.91%.  Below that, we’ll be well into negative territory.*

For another thing, the state isn’t going to treat the refinance like a restricted fund.  The state will spend the savings in the years that there are savings and will have to come up with the money in years that there are costs.  The money is going to have to come from somewhere to pay the extra debt service, and that somewhere will very probably have been worth more to the economy than simply inflation.  (Hey, maybe the governor should invest the savings along with the state pension fund, which the state assumes makes 7.5% profit every year.)

Simply refinancing from 4.9% to 2.34% interest for the same number of years would have saved a great deal of money that could have been left in the hands of Rhode Islanders.  Whatever the governor’s room full of smaht people do for economic development, they have to do better not only than the cost of the refinance, but also the economic activity of people acting without the government’s meddling.

UPDATE (03/27/15 8:37 p.m.): According to the governor’s office, the estimated rate of inflation is 2.44%, which my math leads me to believe would produce a $2 million cost to the refinancing, in current dollars.  I’ve asked for more insight into the governor’s math, but if anybody has an idea, I’d be interested to hear it.  There also must be something incorrect in the information out of the governor’s office.  They’re saying the refinancing is of $160 million of debt, but the Projo’s numbers have the state paying nearly that amount every year.

* Posting this of a Friday afternoon, I got my signs reversed.  I’ve fixed the relevant text.

Fiddling While the Pension System Burns

The Rhode Island media has its eye closely on the drama of the latest proposed settlement of the pension reform lawsuit — that is, the latest attempt to water down a reform that was nowhere near sufficient in the first place.  In contrast, Mike Riley is continuing to point out that the state, the labor unions, and retirees are arguing over free drinks on a sinking cruise ship:

The Rhode Island Pension fund is roughly  $8 billion dollars invested in stocks, bonds, fixed income securities, Private equity, Hedge Funds, other alternatives and cash. Im keeping the numbers simple here. The state commission, headed by Raimondo, has stated expected return of the portfolio to be 7.5% annually and this is to be achieved compounded over the next 20 to 30 years. A 7.5% return on $8 billion is $600 million for Fiscal 2015. According to the report that Treasurer Magaziner was handed, the return thus far in Fiscal 2015 shows a portfolio (Fiscal ytd )loss of 0.71% and including expenses a loss of 1.03% . This 1.03 % loss translates to a negative $80 million dollars.  The State would need to gain $680 million over the next 5 months to achieve their “expected” return.

Bill Rappleye has picked up that thread on Channel 10, but for the segment, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner spit out a bunch of squid oil to muddy the waters, selectively picking five-year investment returns to make it seem as if the state’s pension fund is doing swimmingly.  I noted the problem with this happy talk last month:

The ten-year average investment return is only 6.0 percent, which should be seen as -1.5 percent.  And the longest term number provided, back to July 2000, is 4.8 percent, which should be seen as -2.7 percent. …

If the average for the last 14 years was 4.8 percent, then the average for the next 14 doesn’t have to be 7.5 percent, but more like 10 percent, to make up the difference.  If we’re already seeing diminishing returns from the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy and President Obama’s binge of trillion-dollar deficits, what are the next 14 years realistically going to look like?

More importantly, I suggested, it should be the state’s general treasurer who is making this case to everybody.  It should be Seth Magaziner out in the news saying, “Hey, these negotiations are all well and good, but we may only have a few more years left until this pension reform thing starts to spring new leaks.”

Former Treasurer, now Governor, Gina Raimondo lucked out that the Obama Administration and the Federal Reserve proved to be such believers in stock-market-trickle-down theory.  Rather than ease the reins on innovators and working people, they’ve hit the loose-money throttle for the investment market.  That’s given the pension fund and the reform a brief period of looking like they might be fine, although as Riley argues, the state managed to do worse than other funds during the bubble’s latest inflation.

Skeffington: Hero or Villain?

Reading this Sunday front page article from the Providence Journal, about consummate Rhode Island insider James Skeffington, one gets the sense of a community-minded figure pulling together beloved public projects:

Friendship, sports, business, government and charity mix together for Skeffington. It’s a recipe that’s served him well through 40-plus years as a corporate lawyer and political adviser.

You won’t find Skeffington’s name on public buildings or laws in Rhode Island, but you’ll see his hand in many high-profile projects.

It could be realigning a Navy base in North Kingstown into a business park, building a convention center and a mall in Providence, attracting a global financial firm to Smithfield, keeping a lottery giant from fleeing to Massachusetts, developing a state airport parking garage or a private retirement home. He’s had a hand in all of these projects.

To bring it back to a Rhode Island cliché, Skeffington doesn’t just know a guy; he’s a guy you wanna know.  Of course, it’s not all friendship and charity.  Scion of a funeral home–operating family, he’s made himself very wealthy fulfilling his role in the Ocean State’s back rooms.  Indeed, the following paragraph could be the pivot point from the pro-government worldview to the government-skeptic worldview:

He joined the Edwards & Angell law firm in Providence after college and made himself an expert bond counsel, later importing to Rhode Island an economic-development tool devised in New York — moral-obligation bonds. Such bonds allow quasi-public agencies to issue debt without voter approval, a provision often criticized by government watchdogs.

The poster child for moral-obligation bonds in Rhode Island is 38 Studios.

It’s an easy principle to forget, as we get caught up in debating one public policy proposal after another, but every time Rhode Island undertakes economic development projects, a small group of people whose names Rhode Islanders don’t know do very well for their personal economies.  Bonds, tax credits, development, and public-private partnerships all require lawyers, brokers, dealers, negotiators, advisers, lobbyists, and on and on.

All they have to do to keep their game going is to keep friends in office and voters falling for one scheme after another.

Some of the Larger, Seriously Ill-Advised Items In the Governor’s (What Kind of) “Jobs Budget”

During the days following its release, reporters, analysts and observers worked to unpack the budget that Governor Raimondo sent to the General Assembly — and found some unpleasant items therein. Here is a bullet list of some of the bigger ones.

Proposed Statewide Property Tax

… aka, the Taylor Swift tax.

Justin got clarification from Governor Raimondo’s office that the INTENT is not to include apartment buildings as properties to be taxed. This conforms to Governor Raimondo’s attempt to sell this tax as having only a narrow list of targeted properties. (So, gosh, don’t worry about it. And, anyways, we only want to tax those icky rich people.)

Intent, however, is completely secondary. If this tax passes into law, the door will be opened wide for future – and current! – governors and General Assemblies to tax apartment buildings (of all classes and sizes); commercial buildings; second homes of less than one million dollars; PRIMARY homes of more than one million dollars; primary homes of $750,000 – $1,000,000; et empty state cetera. The critical issue is not that the initial list of targeted properties is short. It’s that the list comes to exist at all. To subject just one property classification to a new, statewide tax would set the precedent to subject virtually all real estate in Rhode Island to a statewide property tax via an easy tweak of the targeted property list.

In a perfect bit of timing, RIPEC released an analysis right before the governor released her budget of just how much Rhode Islanders are already taxed. By one measure, Rhode Island already has the fourth highest property taxes in the country. The governor is seriously proposing to raise that ranking? In fact, the one thing above all that our elected officials should not do is exacerbate this burden.

Further, there’s the matter of Rhode Island’s already undesirable reputation as a high tax state. On Twitter, Gary Sasse correctly asks,

When Tax Foundation.et. al.rank tax climate will new statewide property tax impact rankings w resulting reputation risks?

Further to “reputation risks”, WPRO’s Gene Valicenti pointed out Friday morning that the governor’s mere proposal has made the national news via the AP’s feed. This is exactly the kind of publicity that Rhode Island needs to avoid, not curry.

Governor Raimondo’s Proposed Statewide Property Tax Redefines Ownership of Real Estate as a Privilege

This one was a great catch by Justin.

The Anti-Capitalist Treasury Adviser

Mike Riley asks a question on which Rhode Island journalists should follow up: What was General Treasurer Seth Magaziner thinking when he hired a far-left policy adviser whose repeated theme on public pensions and other post-employment benefits has long been that the problem is purely an illusion of accounting?

Further quotes from this policy director [Tom Sgouros] can be found in his scary “The Manufactured OPEB Crisis.” Can you imagine a guy who never managed money being elected Treasurer of Rhode Island in the midst of a pension Crisis and selecting an anti-capitalist political supporter who doesn’t believe basic financial concepts as his policy adviser? Sadly, you don’t have to imagine this scenario because you are living it.

I tend to doubt that the local mainstream media will take much interest in this story, though.  It’s “dog bites man.”  Rhode Island Democrats take office and fill their ranks with progressive activists.  It’s not like the job titles mean anything.  Those appointed to the jobs are just there to help build constituencies, to earn a living off of taxpayers while remaining activists, and maybe to lay in waiting for some vacant elective office or other.

Don’t Vote for Them? You Don’t Exist.

Because progressives have a coordinated belief system and playbook, politically active readers may have come across this at the local level: The city or town has a very close election (in which, perhaps, the Democrat Left outspends its opposition by wide margins), with the progressives winning a majority of seats.  After the election, they pick up the habit of declaring that their opposition “failed,” and that election results prove that the voters “rejected” them.

(Naturally, when votes go the other way, and the Left loses, the election was unfair, somehow, or the victors fooled the public, which is the current rhetoric of Tiverton’s progressives about the 0% budget that I submitted for the town last spring and that voters supported by nearly a two to one margin.  Elected officials are literally screaming at public meetings that it was all my doing.  But I digress.)

I’ve got a post up on Tiverton Fact Check addressing this tactic of the local Democrats and progressives.  They’re declaring that my friends’ message didn’t “resonate” with voters even though the Democrat Left spent five times as much money and even though the results would have been reversed if we’d received less than 1% more of the total vote.

Overall, of course, elections are elections, and they won.  But the prize is the privilege of representing one’s neighbors, not the ability to believe that very nearly half of voters just don’t count.

Two Worlds in One on Israeli Election

I’ve noted before how it seems that people on opposing sides of political issues can be said literally to inhabit different worlds.  Here’s a good example.

From an AP story by Josef Federman, with the headline used in the Providence Journal:

Netanyahu emerges with slight edge after tight race

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to have fended off a strong challenge from the country’s opposition leader in parliamentary elections Tuesday, emerging from an acrimonious campaign in a slightly better position to form Israel’s next government.

The article goes on to describe how “an upstart centrist party led by a former Netanyahu ally-turned-rival” could swing the government either way.

Now, here’s John Podhoretz in the New York Post, under the headline, “Netanyahu gambles his career and scores breathtaking victory“:

Although Netanyahu’s Likud Party only won about half the number of seats needed to secure a majority in Israel’s parliament, it did so much better than anyone (including Bibi) expected that he seems to have triumphed in the goal he had set for himself last December when he broke up the government he had formed in 2013 and called new elections.

He did that because he wanted to strengthen his own hand and rid himself of two hostile coalition partners at the same time. This was a risky strategy, and it looked for quite a while like a disastrous one.

In Podhoretz’s view, Netanyahu’s “path to forming a new government is clear and should be relatively easy, especially compared to last time.”  Quite a different understanding of Israeli politics.

Honestly, I don’t know enough to know which is correct, although I trust Podhoretz more than I trust the AP.  The thing that stands out for me, though, is Federman’s line that Netanyahu is “in a slightly better position to form Israel’s next government.”  On first read, it looks like he menas “in a slightly better position” than his opposition, but in light of Podhoretz’s explanation, it looks more like “a slightly better position” than he was in before the election.

That suggests that the two writers aren’t actually living in two different worlds, but the AP guy may very well be trying to enable his readers to do so.

New Local Taxpayer Newsletter for Tiverton

Over on Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve put up a post announcing that the Tiverton Taxpayers Association Web site now has a PDF of the group’s first newsletter.  It’s got a couple of articles, some activity introductions and updates, and a local crossword puzzle.

The puzzle is on local matters, but the answers are printed upside down underneath, if folks get stuck.

Hatred and Treason in the Eyes of the Left

American progressives have been having their two-minute hate against the Republican Senators who published an open letter expressing reservations about President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.  The progressives’ complaint seems mainly that elected legislators are reminding the world that they have a Constitutional role in ratifying treaties.

The New York Daily News went so far as to call the Senators “traitors” on its front page.  This vitriol has trickled down to the rank and file of the Left, as proven by a letter from Vincent Fugere of Cranston, in yesterday’s Providence Journal:

The letter sent by 47 Republicans to Tehran, warning that any deal made by President Obama with Iran could be nullified by Congress, puts in sharp focus how ugly the Republicans really are. …

The Republicans have bordered on treason since Obama took office. It’s high time they were held accountable for their ugly actions that put politics and profits ahead of people and progress.

It’s actually high time that we stopped pretending that the progressive movement actually believes in democracy and freedom if they’re at the point of openly calling for the prosecution of elected officials for free speech.

And it’s so obviously not principled.  John Hinderaker reminds us of a Michael Ledeen article reporting that Obama, while running for president, sent a behind-the-curtain message to Iran, in the midst of its negotiations with the Bush Administration, to “assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies.”  If we’re talking treason, we’ve got an instructive lesson in comparison and contrasts, here.  As Hinderaker suggests:

Unlike Obama’s secret overture to Iran, the GOP senators aren’t discouraging Iran from dealing with Obama so that they can get a better deal later. On the contrary, their letter strengthens Obama’s bargaining position. He can say, “Even if I wanted to, I can’t give in on nuclear enrichment. It would never get through the Senate.” But of course, that isn’t what Obama wants to do. He wants to agree to a weak deal that will allow Iran to become a nuclear power.

Aggressive Policing and Racism

Ian Tuttle gets at a sense of a lot of us who are skeptical about findings of racial profiling and such, in this case talking about ticketing practices and a study of Ferguson, Missouri:

The complex question of the relationship between wealth and race comes into play here, but it might reasonably be said that this practice — of police and prosecutors and courts together — disproportionately affects black communities not because they are black, but because they are poor. They do not have the means to escape the justice apparatus, unlike the comparatively wealthy, who can pay a fine and be done with the matter — or hire an attorney, and inconvenience courts that prefer the ease of collecting fees to the challenge of arbitrating cases. To this effect, Balko quotes Thomas Harvey, an attorney for ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis–based legal-aid group: “These are people who make the same mistakes you or I do — speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, forgetting to get your car inspected on time. The difference is that they don’t have the money to pay the fines. . . . When you can’t pay the fines, you get fined for that, too. And when you can’t get to court, you get an arrest warrant.”

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, lately, how dumb identity politics make us.  I mean that: literally dumb.  Concentrating on race, gender, or whatever other categorization we wish to group people by is almost always a distraction from the underlying issues that are harming people or making them uncomfortable.  Look at the disaster of a president identity politics led us to elect; look at the unbelievably ridiculous candidate lining up to take his place on the same claim.

The difficulty is, frankly, that those underlying issues are mainly being caused by progressive policies, and progressives dominate education, news media, entertainment, and other cultural institutions.  Therefore, they prefer to distract from their flawed, harmful worldview and blame mysterious forces for the consequences.

And they prefer to make us dumb.  How else could they get away with an argument that is essentially, “The system is racist and irredeemably bigoted; we have to give more power to the system”?

Jack Reed and Political Journalism

Maybe it’s a small omission that triggered a personal peeve, or maybe it’s a glimpse of a more profound problem, but something bothered me about this item from Ted Nesi’s weekly Saturday column:

It will be nearly two years before we find out who wins the Maryland U.S. Senate seat being given up by Barbara Mikulski, but we already know one winner: Jack Reed. That’s because the retirements of both Mikulski and California’s Barbara Boxer mean come 2017 Reed will be the 7th most senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate, where seniority is the coin of the realm. It’s possible Reed could ascend even further up the ranks before long, since the terms of 74-year-old Patrick Leahy and 75-year-old Harry Reid both expire in 2016, with 81-year-old Dianne Feinstein close behind in 2018. It’s conceivable Reed, who turned 65 last fall, could someday be the most senior senator of all; if he retires at the same age as the late T.F. Green, Reed will be in the Senate until 2043.

Notice the possibility that isn’t mentioned anywhere in that blurb?

Look, we all know Rhode Island has nearly reached the point that democracy is a game of pretend.  Arguably, it’s already there for the state’s federal seats.  But shouldn’t political journalists be among those pretending?  Behaving as if a politician’s seat is permanent goes a long way toward discouraging competition even to begin.

Ominous “Neutrality” on the Internet

So-called “net neutrality” is an issue that I probably haven’t followed as closely as I should have.  Reading the Associated Press on the issue, it’s difficult to understand why it’s a contentious issue at all:

The 3-2 vote ushered in a new era of government oversight for an industry that has seen relatively little. It represents the biggest regulatory shake-up to telecommunications providers in almost two decades.

The new rules require that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone must act in the “public interest” and refrain from using “unjust or unreasonable” business practices. The goal is to prevent providers from striking deals with content providers like Google, Netflix or Twitter to move their data faster.

Oddly, the article doesn’t mention that this simple-sounding move comes with over 300 pages of regulations, or that nobody except government and technology insiders has seen the actual rules.  Nothing says well-intentioned government involvement in the Internet like a complete lack of transparency!

As John Fund points out, this has been a cause from the well-funded far left, assisted with heavy pushing by the Obama administration, some of whom have the explicit goal of making the Internet a more friendly environment for a particular point of view:

In essence, what McChesney and his followers want is an Unfree Press — a media world that promotes their values. “To cast things in neo-Marxist terms that they could appreciate, they want to take control of the information means of production,” says Adam Therier of the blog TechLiberation.

In a world in which the IRS is a political activist agency creating obstacles for the president’s opponents, it would be foolish not to be suspicious of non-transparent action by a bureaucratic agency effectively enacting legislation with a vote of five unaccountable people.

New Governor and Restricting Transparency

It’s been a repeated complaint of mine that legislation sold as increasing transparency, a few years ago, was actually a restriction of it.  It may have become a little easier for novices to get some standard data, but for anybody actually digging into state and local government, things became more difficult.  Suddenly, going to the subject-matter experts in government was no longer possible without being routed through political officials or (worse) department lawyers practiced in routing people in circles.

With the election of Democrat Gina Raimondo as governor, the process appears to have notched to the next level, as folks who follow local journalists on Twitter may have heard.  In his latest “YouGottaBeKiddingMe” blurb, Edward Fitzpatrick writes:

When PolitiFact R.I. fact-checked a statement that the House speaker made about taxes, Governor Raimondo’s office refused to make state tax expert Paul Dion available. When a second case of meningococcal meningitis arose at Providence College, the state Health Department referred questions to the governor’s office, prompting Journal reporter Paul Grimaldi to tweet: “Why does @GinaRaimondo have a ‘gag’ order on a potential contagion outbreak?” And on Thursday, Journal State House bureau chief Katherine Gregg tweeted: “One after another, knowledgeable/respected people in govt. are telling me they have been ordered to direct all Q to gov’s office #muzzled.”

When Independent Lincoln Chafee was first elected to the governor’s office — ideologue that he was — he barred his administration from appearing on WPRO.  This strikes me as significantly worse.

Government already has too many advantages shaping its message for public consumption, to the point of giving voters a distorted view of what they’re voting on.

Should Rhode Islanders Join In with Insider Optimism

I wish I could be as optimistic as this Ted Nesi article makes it sound like I should be.  Apparently, political leaders and “business leaders” (defined, it appears, as being in attendance at the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce annual legislative luncheon) think this could be the year that the annual promise to focus on the economy actually turns into something, what with a new, more-business-friendly Speaker of the House and Mrs. Big Investment in the governor’s office.

Maybe my cynicism meter just hasn’t gone back down since the commission to study elimination of the sales tax meeting at which a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce representative said it would be “a crime to threaten” a government revenue stream.  To be sure, the high reading on the cynicism meter was reinforced when RI Hospitality stepped forward to defend a government expenditure of which it gets a healthy chunk and a Greater Cranston Chamber of Commerce leader proclaimed himself in favor of a move toward socialized healthcare in Rhode Island.

Something about “business leaders” who speak out against the free market produces a red flag, for me.

Put simply, it would be reasonable to suggest that workaday Rhode Islanders should be highly pessimistic about a political environment that makes the people in that room feel optimistic.  House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) provides the beginnings of the proper attitude when he suggests merely a “note of caution” that we might see “rent seeking” (i.e., insiders manipulating the system to benefit themselves).

As I’ve spent a good part of this week arguing (start reading from here), Rhode Island’s already built to consolidate the economy and preserve the lifestyles of insiders for as long as possible, no matter how many opportunities that solution allows to pass by.

And so, we’ve got the Speaker of the House wanting to give a tax break to people who are on their way out of the workforce (or already out) while the Senate President takes a more directly labor-union-friendly approach of emphasizing apprenticeship programs and shoveling more money to government-run schools, and the governor wants to make it even more explicit that state policy is to make economic decisions from the top down, even if it means giving away land to preferred organizations.

Please tell me there was somebody in that room who felt like screaming, “Oh, come on now!”

 

ADDENDUM:

The apprenticeship and education emphasis is especially telling, given my review of business openings and closings in the state.  If motivated self-starters are finding it difficult to build their dreams in Rhode Island, then most of the government’s investment in training and education either is preparing us to be cogs in somebody else’s machine or will go out out the window when our young go-getters go get it where it actually exists to be gotten — somewhere other than Rhode Island