Three weeks ago, Rhode Island Women for Freedom and Prosperity conducted a survey of its Members and Supporters about COVID-19 and Rhode Island’s response. The fifth and last question of the survey was the option to offer a comment on the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
With a reasoned approach to reducing the state budget and freeing businesses from unnecessary constraints, Rhode Island can recover from our virus-induced economic malady.
The inability of Newport hotel owners to make plans points to a failure of Rhode Island’s political system, especially the General Assembly, to make decisions in the correct way.
The COVID-19 shutdown is financially decimating hospitals. End it now.
WPRI Channel 12’s Eli Sherman and Walt Buteau reported on April 17 that 80% of COVID-19 deaths in Rhode Island have occurred in nursing homes. (All deaths from a pandemic are awful but somehow a nursing home setting is especially horrifying both because of the vulnerability of the residents and the perception, normally correct, that nursing homes are safe places.)
This disturbing pattern continues with the most recent COVID mortalities announced by the state yesterday: 10 of 13 were nursing home residents.
“Non-essential” businesses in Rhode Island remain shut down by order of Governor Gina Raimondo even as unemployment filings shoot up and COVID-19 projections drop markedly. While much of trucking has not been directly impacted by the shutdown order, as an industry that interacts with all businesses in Rhode Island – manufacturing, farms, restaurants, small shops, big box stores – trucking has a unique position and voice as Rhode Island looks to re-open.
The governor has said that she doesn’t know what regulations will be issued to allow businesses to re-open. But this is quickly and easily fulfilled: the state simply need to tell all businesses to follow the manufacturers’ lead and take the same pledge that was exclusively afforded to this sector several weeks ago.
Rhode Island’s hospitals and healthcare systems are disproportionally represented on Fitch’s downgrade list and so disproportionately endangered by the onerous and dangerously archaic COVID-19 lockdown.
In these trying times, with well over fifty thousand Rhode Islanders recently laid-off, common-sense public state-based policy can help mitigate the destructive economic impact of the Rhode Island COVID-19 crisis … and can help restore a sense of normalcy and financial security.
We need your help to tell lawmakers you want them to take action.
Being in the car less, recently, I’ve fallen behind on podcast listening, so the episode of Changing Gears to which I listened while working out last night was a few weeks old. The guys were explaining the various reasons (having to do with materials, labor, and politics) that Rhode Island’s roads don’t last.
Not long afterwards, I was back at the computer and thinking (again) how far Internet technology has come in the past year… when the power went out. All the Zooming, podcasting, on-demand streaming, and other innovations that this viral crisis has made so critical to basic life fell of the table of social organization in an instant. On a clear night, the flow of electricity just stopped.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever losing power when the weather didn’t provide an obvious explanation, and it seems to be becoming more common in recent years. Every time it happens, I can hear a few more generators running, as my neighborhood adapts to this new reality over time.
While the world has been substantially shut down, I’ve also been catching up on reading legislation that managed to receive floor votes. Here’s one to ban disposable plastic shopping bags, and I note the news today that San Francisco has now banned reusable shopping bags to prevent spread of COVID-19. Another bill that didn’t manage to get a vote in the innocent days before the pandemic (House, Senate) would have criminalized the intentional release of balloons into the air.
Yes, while a virus was spreading around the planet bringing death and economic ruin, Rhode Island legislators were pondering a bill titled “Relating to Health and Safety – Balloons.”
Whether we’re talking about the roads or the power grid or the budgetary desperation we’re hearing from our elected officials, the message ought to be clear: Rhode Island has to get back to basics. Stop worrying about balloons. Stop micromanaging the economy. Stop confiscating tax money from people in order to fund superfluous things or pet projects.
This crisis is illustrating the necessity of government for a variety of functions, but it is also proving the need for government to do those critical things well. And that means focusing on them, including a halt to the drain of taxpayer money to things that just shouldn’t be priorities. Both basic government functions and private-sector activity are more important.
The legislative proposal by Warwick/Cranston Democrat state representative Joseph McNamara has made the news rounds, but it deserves a stronger point to be made. The press release says he’s “drafting new legislation that would help businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis by guaranteeing that business interruption insurance would cover their losses regardless of policy language.”
It’s kind of a dishonest move. Insurance companies charge their clients rates based on the risk involved in their policies. These charges go toward a fund to cover the estimated payouts based on the risk for each thing that’s insured. There is competition in insurance just as there is in every other private-sector market, so companies can’t charge fees that are so high they’re disconnected from this relationship to payouts.
If the General Assembly and governor pass a law that requires insurance companies to pay for events that were deliberately left out of the calculation of risk, the insurance companies will have to find that money somewhere. One way or another, that means distributing the cost among other clients. The complications of reinsurance (insurance for unexpected insurance payouts), do not change this fundamental fact; they just mean the spread is broader.
If government officials want to insure Rhode Island businesses against a loss during a crisis, they should do it the more-honest way of using government funds. The legislature and governor should make the statement that this is a worthwhile priority and will therefore either displace lesser priorities or require tax increases.
Of course, cost comes at a political price, which politicians prefer to avoid. Thus, these sorts of mandates that make other people pay for government policies (aka hidden taxes) ensure that the McNamaras of the state can pat themselves on the back for giving away money while hiding the fact that it has to come from somebody.
If we rely on American innovation in the private sector, our state can weather this horrible COVID-19 crisis! Our Center has ten proactive policy ideas that can help Ocean State businesses and families survive the crisis, while also paving the way to recovery. And, we need your help to tell lawmakers you want them to take action.
State lawmakers must find a way to get back in the saddle, demonstrate calm and deliberate leadership, and consider emergency legislation to help our citizens and businesses lead the way back. We’re recommending:
In light of calls for “government distancing” during a crisis, the daily grind of new legislative and regulatory restrictions takes on a new feel.
In 2018, our Center published one of our most comprehensive policy briefs, The Right To Earn, which highlighted Rhode Island’s bottom-10 standing when it comes to over-regulation and the need for across the board occupational licensing reform. The Ocean State has also recently been ranked as having the worst state business climate in all of America.
Since then, we have been encouraged that reforms continue to move forward based on our report on the heavy burdens of “occupation licensing” laws in the state.
Are state lawmakers helping to make Rhode Island a better or worse place to raise a family and build a career?
With Rhode Island already ranking a dismal 47th on the Jobs & Opportunity Index and with the worst business climate in America, the Center tracks critical pieces for legislation making their way through the Rhode Island General Assembly and what they will do to your freedom.
We evaluate bills in terms of their likely effect on the free market, the size and scope of government, the balance of residents’ interests against those of public employees and beneficiaries, and the constitutional structure of a divided government with limited power over the people whom it represents.
It is the core tenet of the Center that with greater freedom comes greater prosperity, or conversely, as is the case in the Ocean State, that a continued loss of freedom leads to the type of economic stagnation that Rhode Islanders have suffered from over the past decade.
We encourage you to follow along with us as we track the 2020 General Assembly session. Click on the link here to see our 2020 Bill Tracker.
Guests: Julie Casimiro, State Representative, H-D 31, rep-Casimiro@rilegislature.gov
Camille Vella-Wilkinson, State Representative, H-D 21, firstname.lastname@example.org
Host: Richard August
Topic: Vaping and other pending legislation
Host: Richard August Time: 60 minutes
Representatives Casimiro and Vella-Wilkinson discuss a broad range of pending legislation and other matters, which have their concern. Topics include vaping legislation; a veteran joint oversight committee; pharmacist having birth control prescription authority; reproductive health; firearm legislation; climate control; out of school time learning; early parole for young rehabilitated offenders; military sexual assault trauma; and more. Other matters include the need for a constitutional convention; line item veto; minimum wage; and candidate endorsements.
Q. What is TCI?
The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace.
The more freedoms we have, the more prosperity we will enjoy. The constitutional government of our great nation was formed to preserve our freedoms. But in the Ocean State, we reduce freedoms … and we suffer the consequences.
As the 2020 General Assembly Session begins, and we are once again looking at even more of status quo (or worse) based on the policy agenda from the political class, when will Rhode Islanders say enough is enough?
Instead of focusing on the real issues harming the business climate of our state… the insiders are looking to restrict the rights of citizens by stopping the use of plastic straws and bags. Give me a break.
As you probably know, Governor Gina Raimondo is proposing that Rhode Island sign on to TCI (Transportation and Climate Initiative), a regional carbon cap-and-tax program on transportation that would involve, among other things, Rhode Islanders paying an additional tax on gas and diesel of seventeen – twenty four cents+ per gallon. A couple of Justin Katz’ excellent posts about TCI are here and here
Let’s discuss the stated purpose of TCI. According to the governor, it is to save the planet by getting Rhode Islanders to give up their cars. This is not an exaggeration; below is what the governor says about TCI in this December interview with WPRI’s Kim Kalunian (starting at minute 03:15).
In his recent essay on this site, Dr. Stephen Skoly described the consequences of legislation seeking to regulate prescription opioids, but he stopped short of broad conclusions about the politics involved. As it happens, one such conclusion fit in well with the other topics that John DePetro and I discussed on December 30.
We can, of course, debate whether a new $5 million fee for opioid manufacturers and wholesalers is actually about solving a social problem, rather than finding a new source of revenue. But taking the politicians at their word for their motivation, one can at least say that such policies infantilize the people, as if our legislators and governor are the only adults in the state and therefore must protect patients from their irresponsible selves and from greedy doctors.
Something milder and, in its way, worse is probably going on, as well. The theme that John and I happened upon in our segment was that government officials in Rhode Island shy away from addressing actual problems. They look for all sorts of ways to get at them without actually naming and attacking the root causes.
When it comes to a failing education system, they seek work-arounds and small tweaks like, like shifting authority toward principals, rather than draw attention to the labor-union structure that makes the system all about the remuneration of adults rather than the education of children. When it comes to teenage fights at a mall, the focus goes to things like community programs to give kids something to do, rather than unraveling the progressive assumptions that lead to gang-friendly policing and suspension-unfriendly school regulations (not to mention identity-group entitlement).
Just so, going after fentanyl and heroin on the criminal market would manifest in urban areas and among minorities. Many people in those communities would be grateful for the improved environment, but the enforcement and incarceration statistics would look bad and draw the attention of groups like the ACLU. So instead, government tries to find a solution from the other side, making things more difficult (literally more painful) for law-abiding citizens, in the hopes that they can limit the market for the drugs and make the dealers go away for lack of profit.
If that approach also produces a $5 million fee for government, so much the better.
If you follow national economic or political news, you’ve probably caught wind of California’s new law — which takes effect this Wednesday — making it more likely that companies will have to treat freelancers as employees for the purposes of employment regulations like the minimum wage and benefits.
One reason this California law has generated so much conversation is that it affects freelance writers. In this regard, the left-wing website Vox has provided the perfect lesson on progressive rhetoric. A September 11, 2019, essay on that site by Alexia Fernandez Campbell places the issue as a win for labor unions and proclaims the headline, “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere.” Fast-forward a few months, to December 17, and an article in the Los Angeles Times informs readers, “Vox Media cuts hundreds of freelance journalists as AB 5 changes loom.” Those 200 people will be replaced by “20 new part-time and full-time staffers.”
A CNBC article puts things a bit more broadly with the headline, “California’s new employment law has boomeranged and is starting to crush freelancers”:
“I don’t believe legislators realized the impact this had,” says Gene Zaino, founder and executive chairman of MBO Partners, which studies the freelance economy and provides back-office services to freelancers. “This was really designed to create a safety net for people that needed it. Legislators didn’t realize at the same time, they impacted millions of people in thousands of businesses that are using freelancers, even though that was not their intent. A lot of businesses are paralyzed, in terms of ‘everyone needs to be on payroll.'”
Oh, the legislators realized it. They just don’t care. They’ve got their eyes on other prizes than the likes of Mr. Zaino — powerful labor unions and constituencies who think progressive legislators are going to give them more handouts. And progressives realized it, too, but those gig jobs don’t fit their vision and therefore shouldn’t exist because they are institutionalized oppression (or something).
Even those of us who don’t rely on the gig economy should take notice… in a “first they came for the freelancers” sort of way. Progressives are intent on remaking the world according to their erroneous understanding of how the economy ought to work. That will mean you have a decreasing ability to decide what works for you in your life and just have to settle for the deal that government provides for you.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 30, included talk about:
- Elorza’s interest in being governor
- Causes and effects of Providence Mall brawls
- Disappointment in Raimondo’s failure to succeed
- Stephen Skoly’s warning about opioid nannyism
The well intentioned but hasty, ill formed Opioid Stewardship Act passed by Rhode Island lawmakers last session is now creating medication shortages and chaos within our healthcare community instead of properly addressing the problem.
Sometimes the explanations that politicians give for their support for a particular policy make you go, “Wait… what?” Such was the case with Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s response in a recent Providence Journal interview:
The setting: a roundtable discussion with students in one of Rhode Island’s poorest cities, a week after she had signed an executive order temporarily banning the sale of flavored vaping products.
“And the kids said vaping is expensive. ‘We use that as a treat for party nights …. Marijuana is the day-to-day thing.’”
“Like, wow,” Raimondo remembered thinking and maybe saying. “How do you obtain that? And they’re like, ‘Attleboro is 10 minutes away, if you haven’t noticed.’ So we are kidding ourselves if we think we don’t [already] have recreational marijuana [in Rhode Island]. Talk to the state police. They see it on the roads.” …
Yes, for the second year in a row, she intends to propose legalizing the adult use of marijuana — and not, she said, just because of the millions of dollars in new revenue it could provide the state (at least $9.4 million a year, the state estimates) but because she sees unregulated access to the drug as a “safety issue.”
Umm… if the point of the story is that the kids are buying marijuana in a state where it’s legal, then it isn’t “unregulated access to the drug.” It might be regulated badly, but legalizing the drug in Rhode Island will only mean that the kids have regulated access that is more convenient.
This isn’t an argument against legalization, but since the governor isn’t making a rights-based argument, and since her rationale for regulation is foolish, that leaves us with “thou dost protest too much” and the conclusion that, yes, she’s after the money. (Whether that money is cash for the state government or donations from vested donors I leave for the reader to decide.)
This time of year, my usual analogy is even more apropos. Our culture has repeatedly warned us about people who make fortunes in the private sector and then take over government to make illicit businesses legal and prominent, as with the alternative Pottersville reality in It’s a Wonderful Life. But that can happen in the other direction, too, with government making previously illegal industries for profit, and we should all be wary of it.
This Christmas season, Gov. Gina Raimondo could be the Grinch who stole affordable gasoline. If the Raimondo administration gets its way and bypasses the General Assembly to sign on to a new regional carbon-tax scheme, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), Rhode Island motorists will find a plan to increase gasoline taxes in their stockings this year.
TCI is a cap-and-trade tax on gasoline proposed by environmental extremists who purposely want gasoline to become so expensive — estimated at an extra 24 cents per gallon — that you will be financially forced to walk or bike to work and around town.
Like all far-left contrivances to reduce carbon emissions, TCI, a green-new-deal-type gas tax, will harm economic growth and will take money out of your pocket. Rhode Island already suffers from an Ocean State Exodus, where far too many of our children and loved ones, business investors, and neighbors are leaving for lower-cost living in other states. The TCI tax would be one more piece of coal that will drive people out of state (pun intended).
Most Rhode Islanders want a balanced approach, where there are multiple choices for abundant and affordable energy. But green-Grinches in government want to limit your options, and will force you to pay expensive new taxes if you make the wrong choice.
Only the General Assembly can raise taxes. Fortunately, the governor cannot unilaterally impose a new tax on gasoline without legislative approval. But the governor has purposely tried to keep this TCI tax under the radar. Her team has been working stealthily with unelected bureaucrats at TCI to advance the imposition of gas taxes among 12 Northeast states.
Did you know that the really high electricity prices we pay, among the highest in the country, are partly because of a different regional cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)? RGGI imposes tax-like fees on electricity power plants, which, of course, get passed on to you. Unfortunately, RGGI has been a complete failure; it has significantly increased the cost of electricity but has resulted in no added emissions reductions!
And now they want to try the same failed idea on gasoline with a TCI gas tax. Like RGGI, TCI is designed to increase the cost of fossil-based fuel so much, that families like yours — and businesses where you work — will be forced to use less of it.
Part of the RGGI and TCI schemes is that the extra money you pay at the gas pumps and on your electric bill is supposed to be spent by participating states on energy projects that are favored by greenie Grinches. Rhode Islanders understand that it is patently unfair for government subsidies to be handed-out to benefit a specific industry or company … at the expense of everyone else.
History has proven that too many government regulations and taxes on energy mean that the beneficial use of America’s rich natural resources might be put out of reach for many. Worse, such government imposed taxes as the RGGI tax and the TCI tax are regressive; they disproportionately harm low-income families who already struggle to pay heating bills and gasoline costs.
Also, many businesses, similarly burdened with higher energy costs, will be forced to reduce employee work hours, cut jobs, or even shut down and move to another state.
The secrecy must end now. The governor should have been more transparent about an issue that will cause economic hardship for many. I call on Ms. Raimondo to reject the TCI tax plan, expected out on Dec. 17; and I call on Senate and House leadership to ensure there is a robust public debate about whether you and I should pay higher gasoline taxes.
RGGI has failed miserably … and TCI is also doomed for failure. Why should any Grinch force any of us to pay unnecessarily higher gasoline taxes if it will not result in any environmental benefit?
Over the coming months, Rhode Islanders will be hearing about the implementation of the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), a cap-and-trade scheme for the northeastern states to impose a new tax on gasoline. A brief that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released last week gives some of the details, including a quick look at TCI’s predecessor scheme, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is directed at energy production, whereas TCI focuses on gasoline:
[Then-Governor Donald Carcieri’s] assurances that his policies would not severely hurt Rhode Islanders have proven unreliable. As he made his announcement, Rhode Island was enjoying the second-lowest cost per kiloWatthour for ultimate customers’ electricity in New England, at $13.08. By January 2019, this average price had increased to $20.12, by far the highest in the region. This 54% increase compares with an 18% increase nationwide over the same period (to just $10.47 per kWh) and 17% in New England overall (to $18.22 per kWh).
Despite enduring an increased cost for energy, RGGI states have experienced “no added emissions reductions or associated health benefits from the RGGI program,” when compared with different states that have otherwise similar energy policies, according to David Stevenson, Director of the Center for Energy Competitiveness at the Caesar Rodney Institute in Delaware.
It looks probable that these programs harm the economy and fail to achieve their stated objectives. Why would the governor charge forward with another one?
The prices for gasoline could soon rise dramatically for your family if the Raimondo administration undercuts the authority of the General Assembly, and moves forward with its plan to sign-on to a new stealth carbon-tax scheme – the TCI Tax… a move that would necessarily increase costs on families and business at the pump, and that also could lead to Constitutional legal challenges.
This tax – a green-new-deal type government mandate – is also a regressive fuel tax that will disproportionately harm low-income families, who will struggle much more than the wealthy to pay the higher gasoline prices.
The story of misplaced breathing tubes by Rhode Island EMTs brings us directly to the deepest problem in the Ocean State.
Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.
If we want to keep our loved ones at home with us and give those who have left a reason to return, we must take bold action to reform our approach to public policy and to civil society.
Here’s a great story out of Rhode Island, oddly first spotted, at least that I’ve seen, by a news station in Minnesota:
A new business in North Smithfield, Rhode Island is spreading awareness of hiring people with disabilities.
Michael Coyne opened his coffee shop, Red, White & Brew, after struggling to find a job, which he believed was due to his disability.
He has autism, and when he couldn’t find anyone who would hire him, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
When a business underpays its staff or discriminates, that is an opportunity for others to compete and take advantage of those destructive decisions. Yet, every time the state of Rhode Island imposes new taxes, licenses, and regulations, it makes it more difficult for people like Mr. Coyne to rise up and do so.
We shouldn’t have the attitude that there are workers and there are owners, or that businesses have a paternalistic duty to take care of their employees. Instead, we should understand that we’re all human beings, equal in the eyes of God, who make agreements to work together. When individuals are taken advantage of, we ought to help them, but not with blanket pronouncements that assume everybody in one class (the evil business owners) is always trying to take advantage of everybody else (the vulnerable employees).
If the proponents of “diversity” and “inclusion” really believed that they helped businesses, they wouldn’t try to regulate them as mandates, because they would expect the marketplace to reward businesses who followed those principles. Instead, they try to be exclusive of people who hold different views, not only within a single business but across the entire economy.
Congratulations to Mr. Coyne for living an important principle that too many of his fellow Rhode Islanders seem unwilling to learn.