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What If Rhode Islanders Really Had a Say on Budgets, Like Tiverton?

In this video, I wonder what would happen if the people of the Ocean State had a say in the budgeting process. In Tiverton, electors in town have the ability to submit budgets directly to voters. For the third year in a row, a budget that I submitted for the financial town referendum to set Tiverton’s upcoming budget won a strong majority of votes. That makes three years with tax increases under 1%.

By design, Rhode Island politicians at the state level leave the public no time to digest the budget and express their preferences to their representatives, and most of their representatives have no intention of bucking legislative leaders anyway.

Imagine, though, if Rhode Islanders really did have a say, like we do in Tiverton. What do you suppose the result would be?

Watch this new video to learn more now.

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Great Britain Says No to Centralized Government

Nice – defying the latest poll results, Great Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

The UK has voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum which threw Westminster politics into disarray and sent the pound tumbling on the world markets.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage declared that June 23 should “go down in history as our independence day”, while Vote Leave’s chair, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, said it was “our opportunity to take back control of a whole area of democratic decisions”.

Excerpt below from the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s statement on the implications of the Brexit vote. Read their full statement here.

Symbolic of its fight against regional governance and federal intrusion into state and local affairs, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today applauds the British people for voting to re-establish their national sovereignty and to depart the European Union.

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Rhode Island’s Big Kahuna Acquires an Opponent

Big news yesterday as Steve Frias (R-Cranston) announces that he will run against House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D-Cranston) to represent House District 15.

Republican Steven Frias hopes to ride a wave of dissatisfaction with Rhode Island’s status quo to unseat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, often referred to the most powerful elected official in the state.

Interestingly, GoLocalProv refers to Frias, who resides in Cranston, as a “Boston Lawyer”, the only news outlet to do so.

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Standing Firm Against Political Abuse

With local progressives’ lashing out and attempting an overt Saul Alinsky ploy to tar me as the cause of lost basic services in Tiverton, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to moral culpability.  A couple of days ago, I suggested that groups that are acting in the interest of their communities position themselves so that good policy benefits them politically, while the hurt-the-taxpayers faction currently in power in my town are pushing bad policy with the expectation that it will be good for them politically.  Objectively, one must admit that raises the questions of intention and blame and who is responsible if standing up for good policy nonetheless has adverse effects for political reasons.

At the moment, Tiverton is awaiting the judgment of its Town Council as to whether it will follow the lead of the town’s Budget Committee and attempt to inflict pain on residents by eliminating the curbside trash pickup to which we’re accustomed as a basic service.  Through founding member Robert Coulter, the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) has released a statement that cuts right to the questions I just mentioned:

If the Town Council follows through with the Budget Committee’s threat and breaks its contract with Patriot Disposal, maybe voters will “learn the lesson” that angry insiders want to teach them… or maybe instead we’ll remember this stunt when the officials who are supposed to represent voters are up for reelection in less than five months from now. Maybe, too, we’ll decide to take back the new trash fee through additional tax reductions at next year’s FTR. After all, the Budget Committee left over $2 million in alternatives on the table.

The statement is clear that the TTA would prefer a different outcome — one in which the Town Council continues the job that the Budget Committee started and then abandoned, accommodating voters’ will in the way that causes the least amount of disruption.  Still, when the budget season comes back around next year, if taxpayers are paying a new trash fee, they may very well decide that it ought to be an even exchange taken out of the tax bill of the following year.

No doubt the angry radicals in town will respond by attempting (or at least threatening) to kill another of the services that they hold hostage, but that will be, once again, on them, not on voters who pursue the necessary policy of long-term tax relief.  Standing firm against abuse is one of the most fundamentally good policies.

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Tee-Shirt May Shield Well From Allergens … But Not From a Board of Canvassers Inquiry

In light of the serious questions about the rep’s domicile raised by this Target 12 investigation, the Providence Board of Canvassers yesterday voted

… to take up a case challenging whether state Rep. John Carnevale lives in his legislative district, determining there is “reasonable cause” to suspect he is ineligible to vote there.

It is impossible not to speculate what defense the rep will bring, what steps he may take to defend his assertion that he lives at the Providence address. Is he, for instance, briskly arranging even now for one of the tenants at the two family house to move out so that he can occupy that apartment? (Stipulating for a moment the premise – innocent until proven guilty even in a civil proceeding – that he doesn’t currently live there …)

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The Speech About Which the Governor Cares

All things considered, I’d probably have to side with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo in concluding that the “revenge porn” legislation that she just vetoed is too broad and ought to be much more explicit in protecting free speech.  That said, this line from her veto message contributes to my cynicism:

“The breadth and lack of clarity may have a chilling effect on free speech,” she wrote.

The reason I smirk at that is that other legislation that would most certainly have a chilling effect on free speech has passed both chambers of the General Assembly, and I suspect the governor won’t find it quite so objectionable.  Specifically, I’m referring to H7147, which would subject any individual, or any kind of organization at all, who spends more than $100 advocating on local ballot questions to campaign regulations, including reporting requirements.  (The legislation is championed by Tiverton Democrat John “Jay” Edwards and is obviously aimed at my friends in town.)

There’s no question but that adding such burdens to political activity has a “chilling effect,” and there’s no question that electoral speech ought to be the most sacrosanct when it comes to the law.  Yet, under the current progressive understanding of free speech, it seems publishing naked pictures of people without telling them is a more fundamental right than expressing opinions on local issues without telling your vicious rumor-mongering opposition who your friends are.

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Vengeance of Progressives Scorned

Faced with another budget year during which voters repeated, “Yes, we’re serious; stop raising taxes,” progressives in Tiverton are lashing out to teach us a lesson.  Unfortunately, they dominate the town’s Budget Committee, so they were able to convince themselves that the best path forward, politically, would be to virtually eliminate the town’s budget for trash pickup.

Oh, they’re claiming that the budget that I submitted (which won with 55% of the vote) forced them to eliminate that service, but as I show in a post on Tiverton Fact Check, that simply isn’t the case.  They had $2.3 million of options from which to find $783,000 without touching trash or paving, and in fact, the Budget Committee itself was 84% of the way to covering the necessary amount before deciding to reverse course and hurt the greatest number of people possible.

That’s what it’s really about.  They’re angry, and as tends to happen with angry people, their solution starts with the impulse to inflict pain.  A number of details that are probably too localized to be of interest to a statewide audience support that interpretation, but here are a few examples:

  • They (sadly including the police chief) are handing out business cards telling people to contact me if they aren’t happy about the pain; that is, the goal is to hurt people so that they’ll blame me.
  • The town administrator said ending trash pickup would save $300,000 at most, but the Budget Committee decided to pretend it would save $500,000; the point, obviously, was to eliminate the service, not actually to find areas of real savings.
  • During the budget debate, they argued against the lower budget on the grounds that 80% of town expenses are unchangeable and under contract, yet trash pickup is under contract until next year…. and they changed it.
  • Their actual hope is that the Town Council will implement a new fee — imposing the tax that voters rejected by changing its name — and actually overspend the budget that the voters and Budget Committee approved.
  • The Budget Committee didn’t even bother to balance the budget, just assuming that the Town Council will find some $150,000 in revenue.

Groups that are acting in the interest of their communities behave very differently.  For one thing, they try to position themselves so that good policy benefits them politically.  What we’re seeing in Tiverton is a group of insiders who think that bad policy will benefit them politically, and the politics are their priority, not their community.  Hopefully, their friends on the Town Council — who will actually have to make the decision for real, not pretend — will see the calculation differently.

If we can learn locally, maybe we can take the lesson to the state level, where bad policy for political benefit pretty much defines Rhode Island government.

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A Recess from the Diktats

Sometimes we can discern important principles most easily in relatively inconsequential contexts.  Take, for example, Senate bill 2669, which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity did not consider substantial enough to include on its Freedom Index.

It mandates that “all children attending public schools… shall receive… at least twenty (20) consecutive minutes of supervised, safe, and unstructured free play recess each day.”  When Republican Senator John Pagliarini (Tiverton, Portsmouth, Bristol) initially stood up against the group-think and voted against it, Democrat Senate President Theresa Paiva Weed (Newport, Jamestown) chided him, saying “How can you vote against recess?”

Let’s be specific.  Voting against this bill wasn’t a vote “against recess”; it was a vote against the state government’s assuming that it is swooping in as the hero of recess to save the kids from horrid local committees and administrators bent on depriving children of unstructured play.

Just so, politicians in their vanity layer on mandates that make them feel good about themselves and give them something to brag about to voters with no strong base of information on which to make electoral decisions.  Rather than observing a problem (no recess) and investigating its causes for factors within the proper scope of their role (like eliminating other state mandates), the legislators go straight from intention (encourage recess) to command (thou must).

Sen. Pagliarini was correct in his first instinct.  His narrow-minded peers may fervently believe that children should have time to play in an unstructured way, but they can’t imagine that their neighbors can live without the detailed list of rules and requirements to which the legislature and bureaucracy add year after year after year.

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Ethics (Authority) Poised to Return to General Assembly

The Providence Journal reports on one of the few bright spots out of this General Assembly session: the passage of a resolution that would, as Common Cause Rhode Island phrased it in an e-mail last night with the subject line “Victory!”,

… put a question on the November ballot to allow you, the citizens of Rhode Island, to restore the full jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over legislators.

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Another Welcome Fire-and-Brimstone ProJo Editorial

… yup, the hits keep coming. All of this makes a very good case for candidates this November who have 1.) not participated in this “rot” and 2.) has not voted for the status quo (tolls and the 2017 budget, to name two of the biggest items).

Dubious grants that benefited Mr. Gallison (who is under federal investigation) brought into question the whole system of handouts by legislative leaders without proper vetting or any attempt to weigh the state’s overall interests. …

A poll shows three-quarters of Rhode Island voters support the line item veto, as does the governor. Forty-four other states benefit from it. But legislative leaders in this state still stubbornly refuse to put it on the ballot. …

This week, we learned that Rep. John Carnevale, a former police officer who has a tax-free disability pension and is vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, is evidently living outside of his district. When he discovered WPRI-12 cameras filming him, the station reported, “he walked out of sight and returned with his face wrapped in a T-shirt, seemingly to avoid being seen on tape” — a literal cover-up.

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Budgeting as Usual…

With respect to the RI House’s passage of next year’s state budget, this ought to be a warning flag, not a consolation:

“Really it should have been a unanimous vote, but for politics,” added House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, D-Cranston.

Passage in the Senate – now seen as largely a formality – is expected to happen quickly once the Senate Finance Committee meets Thursday to vote on the House-approved plan. Once approved by the full Senate, it will go to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk for her signature.

I really do wonder about the mindset of those who support our current political class.  Most aren’t paying attention, many because they long ago concluded that the game was rigged and would never change.  But there must be some people who support this approach to government — and not just because they’re bought into the corruption.  Although, the list of the supposedly positive changes in the budget (mainly targeted tax handouts) can just as easily be read as a list of new members of the corrupt special-interest alliance to fleece everybody else.

Sorry, retirees.  If you’re excited that the state government is going to throw you a little tax advantage, I don’t see how that’s much different than some local organization that gets a legislative grant or other handout.  Without spending reductions, the taxes you keep are taxes somebody else has to pay, just as we all now have to pay — just because they can make us do so — $200,000 to the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.

But to return to the central question: Do those who support the status quo really think things are going fine in Rhode Island?  Or do they really think minor tweaks around business as usual will kick in for the better any day now (even as the march of investigative reports about political scandals continues)?

Or maybe we really are a bought-off society.  When you’re getting something from the corruption, it’s easy to ignore the degree to which it’s harming your neighbors and gradually strangling your state.  After all, that little sumpin sumpin you get from the deal feels like a partial repayment of the cost of the system to you and, at the same time, can hardly be said to hurt those who aren’t cut in much more than they’re already being hurt.

(Note, by the way, that Mattiello’s rhetoric about not putting federal programs on the backs of state taxpayers turned out to be just that when it came to the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner.)

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Alarming – Budget Article 17 Could Set Up Stream of 38 Studios-Style Failures

Another problem article in the proposed House budget would, remarkably, put state taxpayers in positions of equity in certain, chosen companies. See the language below on page 9:

(b) Notwithstanding anything in this chapter to the contrary, the commerce corporation may make a loan or equity investment as an alternative incentive in lieu of the provision of tax credits so long as the applicant otherwise qualifies for tax credits under this chapter.

This is a bad idea and poses serious dangers to taxpayers if it passes, as Rep Patricia Morgan (R – Coventry, Warwick & West-Warwick) outlines in the following statement just issued.

Rep. Morgan Questions New Commerce Article Which Puts Taxpayers at Risk

STATE HOUSE — Representative Patricia Morgan (R-District 26 Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) is calling attention to the new provisions in Article 17, which relate to commerce and economic development.

“The new language governing the Commerce Corporation’s program for economic development on the 195 land is troubling. The new law would fundamentally change the original intent of the program and lead the state into areas best left to financial experts. Financial money managers risk private money, the state risks taxpayer money,” stated Representative Morgan.

“Rhode Islanders have made it clear that they do not want tax dollars given to projects that should be left to the private marketplace. In the past, we have granted authority for the Commerce Corporation to issue tax credits which have the goal of growing tax revenue as the company thrives. However, the Commerce Corp. is now asking for the ability to make equity investments. This investment puts taxpayers in the position of being owners of the company.” explained Morgan.

“If the company thrives, the state not only receives the investment, but also a potential profit. However, if it fails, as in 38 Studios, state would lose the entirety of the taxpayer investment. Public money should never supplant private investment in the marketplace. It’s dangerous for taxpayers.”

Other provisions the Article17 also raise a red flag. “In existing statute the Commerce Corporation is authorized to give up to $15 million, capped at 30% of the total cost of the project, to a developer. The new Article allows a developer to split the project into two and accept $15 million for each portion for a total of $30 million. Additionally, the new language allows the Commerce secretary to waive the 30% cap once a year. That takes away taxpayer protections.”

“One major concern is a taxpayer funded subsidy for the Superman building project in Providence. In current law, economic development incentive programs for the 195 land reclamation project, include the Downtown Providence area with the Superman building. The budget article before the General Assembly increases the maximum aggregate tax credits for this program. The program has been increased to $150,000,000. With such a high program cap, the fear is that money will be diverted to fund redevelopment of the Superman building without taxpayer input.” explained Morgan.

“While these changes were presented to the Finance Committee, albeit well after midnight, they have not been thoroughly explained or vetted. The financial impact to Rhode Island must be thoroughly reviewed before any budgetary vote. I, as a House Representative, want to be fully confident this program will not lead taxpayers down another dead-end path of wasted taxpayer money.”

“Ultimately, our state’s leaders need to do more than find creative corporate subsidies. This welfare takes money away from hardworking Rhode Islanders and is funneled to companies of specific choosing. The State should not be in the venture capital business. Instead we need to do the hard work of reforming our economic climate; reducing property taxes, eliminating costly and non-value added regulations, changing a hostile legal system, restoring ethics, and reducing the cost of government instead of tacking on new taxes, fees and tolls each year.”

“Companies should come to Rhode Island because it’s a great place to grow, not because we pay them to come.”

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Residence and Eligibility to Vote and Hold Office

A variety of laws are likely to be implicated when an elected official endeavors to make it appear that he or she lives somewhere that he or she does not live, as appears to have been the case with Democrat Representative John Carnevale (Providence, Johnston), according to a WPRI report.  However, having looked into the law surrounding a person’s status as an elector pretty closely in the context of a local Tiverton controversy, I thought I’d chime in on that particular, narrow matter.

The state constitution requires that elected officials be “qualified elector[s]” for their positions (basically, that they would be eligible to vote for somebody to fill that office), and “elector” isn’t quite the same thing as “resident.”  Indeed, the status of one’s residence can have many different standards depending on whether we’re talking about the right to vote, driver’s licenses, federal taxes, and so on.

My conclusion was that, when it comes to being an elector in a particular town, once one has established an address for the purposes of voting, that address remains the person’s “domicile” until he or she registers to vote elsewhere or affirmatively states that it is not his or her “domicile.”  General Assembly districts are not drawn according to city and town lines, but that does not appear to alter the underlying law.

Although it seems obvious that an elected official should actually live in the area that he or she represents, in a dynamic society, we have good reason to allow some flexibility.  Suppose Representative Q has some reason to sleep more often than not at some location other than his primary residence for a time.  As this state of affairs continues, he chooses to rent his home out for the income, but still considers it his home and intends to return there.

Our right to vote should not be like a game of Twister in which political opponents need only catch the slip of a finger to disenfranchise us.  The standard is:  “If you would choose one place as your home, to shape government there, where is it?”

To be sure, this principle allows for what most of us would consider to be corrupt deception, but I’m describing eligibility.  It would be very reasonable for voters to choose electors for office who actually live in their districts.  Trying to offload that power and responsibility to some underlying law or regulation simply papers over the problem.

In my view, Rep. Carnevale’s details are mostly a sideshow to the most important question:  How did Rhode Island’s political system not produce anybody able to run on the platform of actually living in the district?  For three out of his four elections, Carnevale hasn’t had an opponent in either the primary or the general election.

Something is severely broken, in Rhode Island, when nobody is interested in running, or maybe willing to run, against a guy who is pretending to live at a particular address. We need to figure out what that something is.

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Article 18: Another Insider “Deepwater” Scam in the Making? (Corrected)

Despite disturbing new revelations and renewed public criticism about insider legislative grants, cronyism appears to be alive and well at the Rhode Island State House. And once again, Ocean State families and businesses would be asked to foot the bill.

In the budget that got voted out of the Finance Committee early Wednesday morning, alert observers spotted and brought to the attention of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity as well as the Ocean State Current on Friday an extensive revision to Article 18.

They are correct to loudly ring warning bells about it. If it stays in, state electric ratepayers are in for even higher electric rates than they currently pay.

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A Word of Caution When Reacting to Targeted Legislation

Here’s a hypothetical:  State legislators create an unaccountable bureaucratic board and, over time, invest it with power to make increasingly minute and economically significant decisions affecting private businesses.  After an extended and costly ordeal, one such business resolves to address an abuse that its leaders see as affecting not only its own bottom line, but the future of its entire industry.

Lobbyists and political donations are almost universally despised, but they are the the way the system works, and the business utilizes them.  Legislation it proposes to rein in the power of an insider-tied public utility and the unaccountable board make it nearly to the point of passage by being placed in the House’s revision of the budget.

How should free-market, small-government conservatives react to this sequence of events?  Apparently, if the business in question is a renewable energy company, it’s a story of cronyism on the part of the business.  I’d suggest that conservatives should temper the broad indictments of the system they’re making about the story of Wind Energy Development and House Finance’s Article 18.

Yes, there’s clearly an immediate benefit to Wind Energy if this article passes, but here’s the first provision of the relevant section of the budget article:

The electric distribution company may only charge an interconnecting renewable energy customer for any system modifications to its electric power system specifically necessary for and directly related to its interconnection. Any system modifications benefiting other customers shall be included in rates as determined by the public utilities commission.

I have to admit: that sounds reasonable to me.  Switch the details around a little.  Imagine a manufacturer wants to set up a new energy-intensive factory in the wilds of Southwestern Rhode Island, and the current practice of National Grid and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) would be to force that company to pay 100% for upgrades to any part of the power grid that its increased usage might affect, even if a particular bit of the infrastructure were on track for a scheduled upgrade the following year, anyway.

Would we characterize it as cronyism if the company took its case to the General Assembly through the usual means, asking only to pay for modifications “specifically necessary for and directly related to” its business?

There is, of course, a bit of justice to the PUC’s ruling.  National Grid should be making upgrades anyway (with the urging of the PUC), perhaps with money that it currently funnels to insider green-energy deals.  That would create a healthier business and residential environment for all of us.  One could see the Wind Energy ruling as a sly way of redirecting some of that cronyism to the public good.

But let’s be careful about our generalized proclamations.  When a near-government entity like an electric company conspires with an unaccountable bureaucracy to tilt deals away from private companies, the recourse should be to the legislature.  Maybe we don’t like the players in a particular case, but we shouldn’t attack broad principles for a particular contingency.

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14 Paragraphs to ISIS

Really, what can one say about politicians who rush out of the gate to use a terrorist atrocity to advance their partisan political agenda?  Democrat Congressman David Cicilline and Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo do just that in an article by Ian Donnis, which gets around to mentioning the ISIS connection in the 14th paragraph.

Folks, it’s becoming an existential necessity for us to identify real enemies and real reasons for these events.  Anybody who doubts that should consider this statement from Raimondo:

The governor said she always attends the gay Pride parade and considers it more important to take part this week to let the LGBT community know “we’re with them, to let them know we’re not going to tolerate this. We’re going to stand together. We’re going to fight for their freedom and security.”

Oh?  And what does it mean not “to tolerate this”?  What exactly is the governor proposing to do to “fight for their freedom and security”?  Take guns away from the potential victims and from those among their countrymen and -women who literally would fight for their freedom?

Maybe “fighting” is more like a term of art for remembrance ribbons and rainbow flags at half mast.  More likely, judging by Donnis’s article and Raimondo’s statement on the flag lowering, the actual “fight” is against those among these politicians’ fellow Rhode Islanders and fellow Americans whom they declare to be “intolerant.”  It’s not exactly news that the Islamists who consider themselves at war with our nation hate homosexuals, and yet Cicilline doesn’t skip a beat in insisting that the attack is evidence that homosexuals do not have “full equality in this country.”

In the congressman’s view, is it ISIS that’s withholding that equality in the United States?  No.  It’s people with whom he disagrees on politics and culture.  We’re the target of his fight.

Let’s put our differences aside for one moment.  This was a terrorist attack on Americans.  In its circumstances, it arguably most resembles the recent attack on a rock concert in Paris (France being a nation with about one-third the number of guns per person as the United States).  As we take stock and decide how we should move forward, let’s also consider how we should respond to politicians who are so obviously angling to use this attack as a means of dividing us.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interests? CEO Stenhouse on the 2017 RI Budget

In this episode of “What’s Really In Your Best Interests?”, I talk about the 2017 RI Budget. There are better solutions than big spending in the RI State Budget. It is time to end the insider culture where the little guy is hurt. Only when the total relief package is bigger than new spending can we claim that Rhode Island is heading in the right direction.
The Ocean State must stop supporting special-interest spending policies. Instead, we must demand broad-based tax and regulatory cuts that benefit all. While we recognize the reductions in retiree income taxes, the corporate minimum tax, and trucker registration and beach parking fees, the Center notes that these cuts are themselves narrowly targeted and are more than offset by the increases in corporate welfare, new Uber and marijuana taxes, pre-K funding, and new special-interest bond initiatives.
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Terrorism and Confidence

Over the weekend, I attended a conference at the Portsmouth Institute themed “Christian Courage in a Secular Age.”  For the second session on Saturday afternoon, Knights of Columbus executive Andrew Walther talked about genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  He noted, in particular, the challenge of getting Westerners to acknowledge that it’s possible for Christians to be a minority.  After all, the narrative of the Western Left is that Christians are the oppressive majority.

After his talk, an audience member identifying himself (if I recall correctly) as a civil rights attorney made an accusation, masquerading as a question, that one might charitably characterize as tangential:  Does the Knights of Columbus intend to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to cave to the Palestinians and thereby resolve the problems of the Middle East?

In stark contrast, my co-contributor Andrew Morse followed this question, asking whether the United States should look to the cultural confidence it exhibited in bringing down the communism of the Soviet Union as a model for handling the Middle East.  In subsequent conversation, I suggested that something more would be needed, because Russia’s cultural experience had more shared assumptions with Western Europe and the United States than the predominantly Islamic Middle East has with any of us.

With the Soviet Union, we could largely rely on the confidence to compete.  With the Middle East, there really isn’t a competition, at least inasmuch as there is no agreement about the direction of the race, so to speak.

Waking up Sunday to the horrible news of an apparent terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, it came home to me how tangled and tripping our politics have become.  Much of the initial reaction I saw online associated the attack with internal Western culture wars rather than the accelerating series of terrorist attacks.  If you want an archetype, look to the disgusting cover of the New York Daily News.

In some respects, cultural confidence grows out of a sense of our own strength, as a people and as individuals.  The Left wants to weaken a core aspect of our culture that gave a set of principles about which to be confident — a constitutional republic founded on the assumed assent to the basic Judeo-Christian moral framework — not the least because it made us successful and strong.  The Left also wants to to weaken us as individuals, not the least when it comes to security, making us dependent on government under the Left’s control for our safety and self defense.

Maybe those who sympathize with the Left should start asking what it was about the United States that made us a country in which religious traditionalists could share the land with sexual radicals — that leaves many of us seeing this attack as a reason for unity of purpose and renewal of our shared heritage in opposition to its enemy.  Charging forward with the fundamental transformation of our nation is sure to be fatal.

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Clearly Bogus that a Local Drainage Project is Getting a Grant

Community service grants – but not, notably, legislative grants – have been cut back, with some becoming line items in the budget. Speaker Mattiello has outlined the criteria for an organization or project to receive a community service grant.

“If the service could be duplicated somewhere else or it wasn’t significant enough, we just deleted it,” House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Wednesday afternoon. “We tried to discern which ones were addressing a compelling need, a unique need that was not being addressed anywhere else in state government.”

Accordingly, how to explain this grant when so many worthy causes lost their grant?

One obscure community-service grant was also added to the list: $200,000 for a drainage restoration project on Elliot Avenue in North Providence. It was not immediately clear why this project was funded when so much else wasn’t, but the town has at least one powerful advocate in the General Assembly: Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio represents North Providence.

So this grant does not appear to fit the speaker’s criteria. Perhaps, however, the award of this grant has inadvertently revealed an unstated grant criteria: that of the political pull of the grant requester. Dominick Ruggerio is not only the Senate Majority Leader but is employed by New England Laborers. It appears that politics have largely but not entirely been removed from the doling out of community service grants. (Not to be confused with the legislative grant program, which was left completely intact, both in amount and criteria: 100% politics.)

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Providence Finance Committee Cuts Taxes … Without Identifying Spending Cuts

Wow. This is a pretty irresponsible way to budget.

The council Finance Committee unanimously approved a $363.9-million tax levy Monday night without passing a corresponding spending plan, making marginal reductions to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s proposed tax rates on owner-occupied homes and rental properties.

State officials agree and have sent a letter to Mayor Jorge Elorza and Council President Luis Aponte expressing alarm.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Auditor General Dennis Hoyle and state revenue director Robert Hull said they understand the city’s need to send tax bills to residents as soon as possible, but called the committee’s decision to approve the tax levy separate from the rest of the budget “ill advised.”

“All components of the budget – both planned revenues and expenditures – must be included to demonstrate that the budget is balanced,” the two officials wrote. “We note that the tax levy was decreased without specific expenditure decreases leaving the budget temporarily unbalanced.”

The city is rushing to get tax bills out so as to minimize the interest it has to pay on a deferred payment to the city’s pension fund. This sure is the wrong way to do it, however. It’s difficult not to believe that the Finance Committee’s irresponsible action here is not mainly inspired by this being an election year [see correction below] and a strong desire to be able to tell voters that they marginally reduced the city’s very high taxes.

UPDATE

Scratch that last theory. WPRI’s Dan McGowan has contacted me and advised that this is not an election year for Providence Council members as they serve four year terms.

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RI Dept of Education Transgender Guidelines Continue Disturbing Trend of Government by Political Correctness

[The RI Department of Education has announced “comprehensive guidelines” with regard to transgender students, though the ProJo reports that it is not a mandate. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity this morning issued the following statement.]

While professing to protect students from bullying and to respect all students, the RI Department of Education (RIDE), via its June 2016 Guidance Document on Transgender Students, itself appears to have been bullied by the federal government; seeks to bully local school districts into conformity; and openly flaunts its disrespect of of other students.

In perpetuating a disturbing trend of ‘government by political correctness’, RIDE has succumbed to federal pressure and has adopted a one-size-fits-all position that may not be compatible with the morals held by many public school families. There may never be a more obvious reason to empower parents with additional choices to escape an increasingly politicized government school system that does not respect their personal values.

The repeated emphasis in the document on laws dealing with “discrimination” can only be seen as a heavy-handed threat to local school districts, who may choose not to conform, by elitist bureaucrats who believe they know what’s in our family’s best interests.

The open and blatant disrespect (page-9, paragraph-2) for the comfort level of the majority of students, in favor of the comfort of a tiny minority of students, along with the disdain for the rights of parents and the sanctity of the family (page-7, paragraph-2), is particularly alarming.

The Center maintains that no single statewide or federal dictate can possibly satisfy the varying sentiments among Rhode Island’s diverse array of local communities.

Related: Video commentary by CEO Mike Stenhouse on The Ocean State Current following release of federal “guidance” document in May of 2016.

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Political Scene: Only Four Legislators Attended the Governor’s Rah-Rah Tolls Event Featuring VP Biden

So reports today’s must-read-as-always Political Scene in the Providence Journal

The four Democrats who attended the event under an East Providence highway overpass: Senators Gayle Goldin and Josh Miller, and Representatives Aaron Regunberg and Arthur Handy.

All other legislators, including those who voted for Governor Raimondo’s RhodeWorks toll plan and, notably, the House Speaker and the Senate President, apparently had other plans that precluded them from attending this high profile event.

Oh dear. What happened? Are tolls so politically unpopular with voters that they caused legislators to forego a significant opportunity to get some juicy media attention during an election year? (Don’t be misled by your legislators’ absence. See how your rep voted on tolls here and how your senator voted here.)

Important side note: the attendance of Senator Goldin and Rep Regunberg, who represent Providence, at this event is especially disturbing as, under the preliminary list of gantry locations, five business-strangling gantries would encircle Providence. Respectfully, honorable legislators, how could you attend an event to publicly condone (much less vote for) a new revenue stream that will inevitably heavily damage the residents and businesses in the city that you represent?

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When It’s Crazy to Run for Office, Only Crazies Will Run

Dan McLaughlin gets this right, and at least in my neck of the woods, it applies at the state and local levels, as well as the federal levels:

… tabloid news coverage, yellow journalism and unscrupulous personal attacks were a standard feature of national politics in the early decades of the American Republic. But instant-publishing technology removes even minimal restraints on pernicious gossip or baseless attacks. Anyone with a social media following can start a raging online mob without the slightest bit of reflection.

That’s why people with dignity and a decent respect for their families steer clear of elective office, leaving only people like Trump and the Clintons — people incapable of shame and hermetically removed from the life of ordinary human beings. Trump and Clinton have proved that the best defense against a career-ending scandal, failure or offense is to have too many of them for anyone to count.

Another difference, beyond “instant-publishing technology,” is the huge scope of government roles.  Even at the local level, running for government gives one authority over a wide range of people’s issues, and with government labor unions, anybody who might not negotiate with kid gloves is instantly a target of organized and very hostile groups.

I imagine this dynamic on the small level grows to the big one.  Even if national politics has always been a viper pit, local politics may have been more tolerable.  So, people might have gotten a taste for true public service at the local level, thus fortifying them for moves up the ladder.  Nowadays, that pipeline is drying up.

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Lawmakers Moving to Tighten Up Punishment Procedure of Toll Violators

Isn’t this charming.

A package of toll scofflaw bills sought by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority are moving slowing through the General Assembly and drawing questions about whether they might apply to the state’s planned truck toll network.

The bills, sponsored by Middletown Democrat Louis DiPalma in the Senate and Tiverton Democrat John Edwards in the House, would allow the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, through the Division of Motor Vehicles, to block toll violators from renewing their driver’s licenses or registrations.

Important to note that these toll scofflaw bills are sponsored by East Bay legislators – DiPalma and Edwards – who fought tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge but voted in favor of statewide tolls. Tolls for thee but not for me appears to be their repugnant philosophy.

Now they are going a step further and spearheading the legislative effort to make it easier for the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority to crack down on toll violators. At this point, the RITBA only administers tolls on the Newport Pell Bridge. But the RhodeWorks toll law enables them to administer statewide tolls if RIDOT wants it. Even if RIDOT goes with a private firm to administer tolls, it’s a snap that these tougher measures would quickly apply to statewide tolls – just as it’s a snap that litigation will morph tolls on trucks into tolls on all vehicles INCLUDING CARS.

We know how DiPalma and Edwards voted on Governor Raimondo’s highly destructive statewide toll plan. How did your legislator? Find out here for reps and here for senators, then please keep that in mind in November. Rhode Island DOES NOT need toll revenue to repair its bridges, only legislators who are willing to think for themselves and act in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders rather than blindly accept destructive marching orders from above.

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When True Fascists Show Their Faces, Media Doesn’t Care

First the fun political-media gotcha point:  Can you imagine if even a single video anywhere close to these from anti-Trump “protests” in San Jose had been captured at a Tea Party rally a few years ago?  The news media would have assumed that every conservative and Republican was fully implicated in the “atmosphere of violence” even as they were paraded before the cameras to denounce the entire movement.  When it turns out that the fascist thugs are on the political Left, we get vague descriptions of them as “protesters,” and mealy mouthed attempts to blame the victim:

Another video captured a female Trump supporter taunting protesters before being surrounded and struck in the face with an egg and water balloons.

I haven’t seen any video of the woman “taunting protesters.”  That might just be the journalist’s interpretation from the fact that she kept up a brave front while a mob — almost all young men — surrounded her with Mexican flags, swearing at her and then throwing eggs and other things at her.  It’s disgusting, not a mere altercation.  (One might infer, naturally, that left-wing journalists believe that overt support for Trump is tantamount to a taunt.)

And don’t think for a moment there aren’t organizations behind these “protests.”  Watch the video of the woman being mobbed, and you’ll see an SEIU sign start to make an appearance before quickly disappearing, perhaps because the labor activist holding it (one assumes) spotted the camera scanning the crowd and thought better of being visible at that moment.

In some respects, this isn’t exactly a new development.  After all, powerful people in government, academia, and the media have been excusing violent “idealists” on the Left for decades.  But even if left-wing violence is getting no worse, the possibility becomes greater that it will destroy us as the progressives succeed in wearing away the foundations of our society, especially if we don’t name its practitioners for what they are.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interest? Legislative Grants: Cheers to 10 Lawmakers, Shame on You.

In this episode of our debate series, “What’s Really In Your Best Interests?” I explore the recently publicized and controversial topic of legislative grants. Are lawmakers the only people at fault, or is there a larger, more fundamental problem at play? Legislative grants hand-out your taxpayer dollars to organizations in an arbitrary, yet highly politicized process.

Much of the media attention has focused on lawmakers who have applied for such grants in a corrupt process to gain favor with voters. In looking at the other side of the coin, however, I recognize the ten lawmakers in the General Assembly who have not applied for a single legislative grant this year in this video. Cheers to them!

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Commerce Corp. Continues to Shill for Top Politician

Since early in the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo, I’ve been pointing out the inappropriate way in which the quasi-public agency, the Commerce Corp. (formerly the EDC of 38 Studios infamy), has been acting as a political action committee booster for the governor.  Now, here’s Commerce’s president, Darin Early, in the Valley Breeze:

After less than a year and a half in office, the Raimondo administration has built on the powerful legacy of pension reform and brought even greater stability to our state budget by reforming Medicaid; Rhode Island is on track to save $100 million a year without restricting access or cutting quality of care, but by holding groups accountable for poor service. We’ve eliminated the sales tax on energy for businesses, and this year the Governor is seeking a $30 million cut to the unemployment taxes Rhode Island businesses need to pay. She has scrapped unnecessary, duplicative or burdensome professional licenses that make it hard for Rhode Islanders to start their own businesses and initiated various “lean” activities to streamline government processes.

Not to mince words, this is gross.  Early’s free to stump for the governor all he wants as an individual, but this bit of PR is clearly published in his official capacity.  That means the governor is using our lead economic development agency — and it is ours — to promote herself.

How corrupt our government has become that hardly anybody even sees anything wrong with this sort of behavior.

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Pausing a Moment on “Subjectivity”

One aspect of the Warwick Beacon article on the Freedom Index that Monique didn’t mention earlier deserves the head-shaking reaction: “What?”

“They have an interesting way of ranking legislators. They’re very subjective,” [Representative Joseph Solomon, D, Warwick] accused.

Stenhouse said, “It’s completely objective. We rank the bills before anyone even votes on them.”

However, Chartier, said, “we have created the criteria…but yes, it’s subjective.”

In choosing the bills, they admit that it is what is aligned with their principles, but Chartier stressed that the bias was “not in a partisan or politics way.”

Can we pause a moment and consider how one could possibly grade legislation objectively?  Even if it were possible to chart legislation by its certain effects, one would still have to decide whether those effects are the proper goal of government… or are even desirable.  Even the most fevered central-planning progressive should have to swallow hard before claiming that legislating or assessing legislation can be done objectively.

Exchanges like the above reinforce the feeling that politicians and journalists let themselves get into hopping-from-cloud-to-cloud frames of mind without realizing that they’ve left any solid footing behind.  Here’s the bottom line with the Freedom Index:  The principles that we apply to political philosophy are ultimately subjective (although founded in objective assessment of how the world works).  We apply those principles to legislation as objectively as we can and then collect votes on legislation in an entirely objective manner.

Anybody who tells you that they approach politics and policy with complete objectivity is trying to take something from you.  Of course, if there’s anything we can objectively say about Rhode Island government, it’s that a great many people are trying to take things from you.

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Why Didn’t Then-Treasurer Raimondo Participate in Competitive Bond Auctions?

So I know nothing about this stuff. But Michael Riley does. And, in his GoLocalProv column today (and previously), he says this was a big mistake by then-General Treasurer Gina Raimondo when she was managing the state’s pension fund.

A few weeks back Magaziner touted his recent competitive bond auction as an obvious fix saving RI taxpayers millions of dollars. He said it had not been done in 10 years. OUCH!

That backhanded criticism of Raimondo’s debt management in the years prior to Seth Magaziner had to sting. Didn’t Raimondo understand competitive auctions or did she prefer to direct underwritings to donors or future donors?

Mr. Riley is also very concerned about and recommends that General Treasurer Magaziner rid the state pension fund of

all high fee hedge funds, Private Equity funds and high fee Real Estate investments

Apparently, the first item, at least, was added to the state pension fund by G.T. Raimondo. One thing Governor Raimondo supposedly has is good financial chops. But even that is looking shaky at this point. And this is not good as it is Rhode Island taxpayers who are on the hook for the mistakes and failings of her tenure as General Treasurer.