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Unfairness in RI Government’s Priorities

Mike Stenhouse’s recent op-ed in the Providence Journal puts the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Public Union Excesses report in a broader context:

Beyond these extreme financial costs, an even more corrosive impact from this political cronyism is at play. People have lost trust in their government and are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater only to special-interest concerns. Lawmakers make it ever-harder for people to take care of their families and reside in Rhode Island.

For these reasons, Rhode Island is not keeping pace with the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs and population growth. After 10 years of perhaps the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are failing on their promises to help the average family.

Instead, by heaping more privileges upon those who help get them elected, politicians continue to lose the trust of the people, who are also losing hope for their state. These tragic circumstances have conspired to make it a virtual certainty that the Ocean State will lose a prized U.S. congressional seat after the 2020 national census because of its stagnant population growth.

Rhode Island strangles its families and businesses with taxes and regulations, but often, the sheer unfairness of the system can be the real poison.  As a member of the Tiverton Town Council, yesterday I participated in a “business walk” hosted by the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which involved stopping in to talk with some business owners around town.

Of course, we heard about the problem of taxes, but the subjects that really animated business owners would better be classified as injustice.  The cost of government labor was seen not only as a cause of high taxes, but also as a budget imbalance preventing infrastructure improvement.  Similarly, the capriciousness of enforcement, with the rules not seeming to apply fairly to every business and changing depending on which government inspector paid a visit, is irksome beyond the cost.

Even after figuring out how to overcome all the regulatory obstacles that the state throws in their way and even after building high taxes, regulation-driven energy costs, and government bungled healthcare expenses into their business models, they still never know when an inspector will find some new rule to enforce or the legislature will come up with some new fee or obstacle to impose.

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Rhode Island Is Losing The Competition Between States – Look for Major Report by Center

Although the state’s rank stayed the same, this month was not a good month for the state on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index. Rhode Island remains last in New England at 47th place in the country. Employment was down another 521 people from the first-reported number for February, and the labor force dropped 1,234.

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The Employment Situation In Rhode Island Is Getting Worse – Bucking National Trend

Happy Easter from everyone at the Center to you and your family! We hope you had a great holiday weekend.

We wish we had better news to deliver. Unfortunately, the employment situation in Rhode Island is getting worse, bucking the national trend. While state politicians crow each year about not implementing broad new taxes, the unfortunate truth is that by nickle-and-diming residents and by not implementing aggressive reforms Rhode Island will continue to lose ground, nationally.

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Rhode Island Needs A Freedom Agenda. (And It’s Coming This Week.)

The Ocean State is doomed to lose a US Congressional seat because of its hostile tax, educational, and business environment. The state’s current thinking chases away the wealth, families, and businesses that are needed for all of us to be truly prosperous. The far-left big government policies that have reigned in our state for far too long will continue to only make matters far worse. Instead, we need a change of direction.

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Loss of US Congressional Seat Underscores Need for Reform Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unnecessary “Fair Housing” Bill is Unfair to Landlords!

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

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

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More Regulations During a Housing Shortage Is a Bad Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Governor’s Regressive Budget – The Wrong Direction?

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

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Governor’s Budget: The “Rhode To Serfdom”

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

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

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“Choice” is Clear in Upcoming Furious Healthcare Debate

A federal judge recently ruled that Obamacare is unconstitutional because the individual mandate, repealed in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is no longer in force. Even though existing federal health-care laws will remain in effect during the appeals process, states should not panic and codify Obamacare into state law, as it is not certain how long federal subsidies will remain intact.

While the courts hear the appeals, and with Democrats winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely on the health-care issue, another furious debate is about to unfold.

Democrats will probably introduce some kind of government-centric plan, while Republicans are poised to introduce their own free-enterprise solution. What we all want are simply more choices at lower net costs.

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“We’re Still Here” After the End of Net Neutrality

Remember that scene in the movie War Games when the military’s top brass (along with our teenage protagonists) are watching monitors that ostensibly show Russian nuclear missiles exploding in major cities across the United States and then some military personnel from around the country check in, proving that the monitors are wrong?  “We’re still here!”

Well, that’s what comes to mind when Glenn Reynolds reminds us that “net neutrality” ended a year ago.  “It’s as if all the Left’s existential crises are just made-up shams,” he writes, quoting Investor’s Business Daily as follows:

So-called experts predicted that removing this cumbersome Obama-era regulatory scheme — which granted the FCC virtually unchecked power over internet providers — would lead to the demise of the internet.

Repealing “net neutrality” regulations “would be the final pillow in (the internet’s) face,” said The New York Times. The ACLU said it “risks erosion of the biggest free-speech platform the world has ever known.” CNET declared that “net neutrality repeal means your internet may never be the same.” CNN labeled repeal the “end of the internet as we know it.” …

A year later, none of the horror stories came true. In fact, average internet speeds climbed by roughly a third last year. The number of homes with access to fiber internet jumped 23% last year, according to the Fiber Broadband Association.

Keeping some perspective as these panics and maniacs work their way through our communities — whether at the national, state, or local levels — is a good practice.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

A Minimum Wage Means Different Things to Different People

There’s something worth noting in a Patch article by Mike Carraggi:

A minimum wage bump will see more than $12.4 million in additional pay for Rhode Island workers in 2019. That’s according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which studied all the minimum wage boosts 20 states are seeing this year.

The article notes that 40-cents per hour is “not exactly monumental,” but what it doesn’t mention is that $12.4 million in additional pay is also $12.4 in new costs for Rhode Island businesses.  That cost isn’t distributed as widely as the benefits and will hit a much smaller number of businesses, many of which are operating with slender margins as it is.

If our society really thinks the best way to provide welfare is by putting a regulator gun to the metaphoric heads of businesses, so be it, but let’s not pretend the money comes out of nowhere.

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Happy New Year from the Center! How to Start Winning Conservative Victories in 2019.

Happy New Year from everyone at the Center! Do you want to start winning conservative victories in 2019? It is my view that conservatives in our state MUST boldly and relentlessly stand for the core values that have always bonded Americans together, and translate those values into kitchen-table issues that benefit families.

Our vision is based upon the core values of love of country, freedom of religion, self-sufficiency, and preservation of the individual rights granted by God to every American, as defined in our constitution.

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Confirming a Conservative Response to Poverty

Writing about public policy day in and day out, one can forget that not everybody follows every argument with close attention.  Broad philosophical points of view and underlying intentions can therefore be lost.

Just so, I almost didn’t bother reading a brief essay in which Michael Tanner promotes and summarizes his forthcoming book offering a broad explanation of a conservative policy response to poverty.  It’s worth reading, though, because he summarizes some conservative policies specifically in terms of their human objectives:

  • Keeping people out of jail can promote work and stable families.
  • Breaking up “the government education monopoly and limit[ing] the power of teachers’ unions” is rightly seen as an “anti-poverty program.”
  • Preventing government from driving up the cost of living, especially housing, will give poorer families a chance to get their feet on the ground.
  • Policies that discourage savings also discourage healthy financial habits.
  • A heavy hand in regulating the economy tends to target economic growth toward the rich and powerful.

As he concludes:

An anti-poverty agenda built on empowering poor people and allowing them to take greater control of their own lives offers the chance for a new bipartisan consensus that rejects the current paternalism of both Left and Right. More important, it is an agenda that will do far more than our current failed welfare state to actually lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

My only objection is that I’m not sure that the “paternalism of the Right” is a view that conservatives actually hold rather than a caricature that the Left spreads about us.  Of course, the fault is arguably ours, if we don’t often enough express our real intentions.

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Opening Up Occupations to Apprentices

This is a problem in Rhode Island, too:

A new report authored by my colleagues from the Foundation for Government Accountability and myself points to one reason for the lack of apprenticeships: Restrictive occupational licensing laws stand in the way.

To follow through on their promises to expand apprenticeships, policymakers should take [recent legislation in Connecticut allowing apprenticeship to substitute for cosmetology school] and bring similar reforms to professions in states across the country. Doing so would promote job competency and hands-on training through apprenticeships, rather than arbitrary time requirements through licensing.

Licensing requirements are very often nothing more than a mix of protectionism and nanny-state meddling.  As Jared Meyer notes in the above link, reforming these policies doesn’t require government subsidies, just a willingness to let people find ways appropriate to their circumstances to learn careers.

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RI Microbreweries Offer a Lesson in Regulatory Reform

Sometimes when one follows the news it seems like the lessons are right in front of us, yet never heeded. Such is the case with Diana Pinzon’s  WPRI article about the explosion of microbreweries in Rhode Island:

In 2016, the General Assembly voted to allow breweries and distilleries to sell limited amounts of their products to plant visitors for sampling and off-site consumption. Prior to that change in law, only wineries were allowed to do that.

Since that change was made, the number of microbreweries nearly quadrupled in the two years, according to the R.I. Department of Business Regulation.

One of the construction companies for which I worked had its shop a few units down from Newport Storm brewery, and when they had their weekly tours (with sampling), there would always be a line.  But expanding the ability to serve customers directly from the brewery wasn’t the only regulatory change, and the state reduced the targeted taxes and fees on brewers, as well:

Earlier this year, two additional beer industry bills were signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo.

The first eliminated the so-called “Keg Tax” that required brewers to pay sales tax on kegs they purchase to fill with beer and then sell to distributors. The second piece of legislation reduced the alcoholic beverage manufacturing and wholesale licensing fee from $3,000 to $500.

What if we took the same hands-off approach across our economy?  Existing businesses would expand, and we can only guess how many innovations might emerge that lawmakers can’t even imagine, let alone be aware that Rhode Island’s regulatory regime is blocking.

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Missouri Leads the Way in Rational Government on Hair Braiding Licensing

By way of touching base on an issue that has been the subject of debate (with help from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity), here is news out of Missouri proving that state governments can make rational decisions:

Relenting in the face of legal arguments by The Rutherford Institute and others that burdensome overregulation violates a person’s right to due process, the State of Missouri has repealed a senseless occupational licensing law that required individuals to secure a costly license in order to braid hair. In asking that the occupational licensing law be struck down, Rutherford Institute attorneys filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Niang v. Tomblinson, arguing that licensing restrictions that require a government license in order to perform work-related tasks that pose no health or safety risks such as braiding hair deprive citizens of their constitutional right to earn a living at their chosen vocation. As a result of Missouri’s repeal of the law, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the case moot and ordered that the lawsuit challenging the law be dismissed.

Unfortunately for the issue (but fortunately, I guess, for representative democracy), the court’s action will require sanity to spread across the country from state to state.  Would it be too much to hope that Rhode Island could be its next victim?

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Lessons and Perspective on Economic Growth

I’ll provide more depth with my usual employment post and Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) write-up after all the data becomes available tomorrow, but at first glance, it looks like the national recovery might be stalling out in Rhode Island:

The number of employed RI residents was 539,800, an increase of 200 from the August figure of 539,600. …

The RI labor force totaled 561,900 in September 2018, down 300 from August 2018 but up 6,000 from September 2017 (555,900).

… In September, the number of Rhode Island-based jobs was unchanged from the August revised employment level of 502,100. Overall, Rhode Island’s job count is up 7,000 from September 2017.

Keep in mind that these numbers are all seasonally adjusted, so one can’t cite the end of our summer season as the reason that RI-based jobs have stagnated, employment growth has slowed, and the trend of fewer people looking for work has resumed.  If this is a slowdown, then maybe Rhode Island is a leading indicator for the rest of the country, or maybe our approach to policy has become so different from that of the federal government and other states that the Ocean State is now unable to capitalize on economic growth, period.

Tangential to this topic, I’ve seen murmurs here and there blaming the Republican tax cuts for current deficit problems at the national level.  Yeah, well, I kind of wonder about that:

The Treasury Department reported this week that individual income tax collections for FY 2018 totaled $1.7 trillion. That’s up $14 billion from fiscal 2017, and an all-time high. And that’s despite the fact that individual income tax rates got a significant cut this year as part of President Donald Trump’s tax reform plan. …

Other major sources of revenue climbed as well, as the overall economy revived. FICA tax collections rose by more than 3%. Excise taxes jumped 13%.

The only category that was down? Corporate income taxes, which dropped by 31%.

Overall, federal revenues came in slightly higher in FY 2018 — up 0.5%.

Spending, on the other hand, was $127 billion higher in fiscal 2018. As a result, deficits for 2018 climbed $113 billion.

See also:

The U.S. economy sits atop of the World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness survey for the first time since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, benefiting from a new ranking methodology this year, the Swiss body said on Tuesday.

We are the economy — you and me.  Our activity is the economy.  The progressive approach to economic development that Rhode Island pursues is to control what we do in a way that powerful people believe is best, which includes taxing us so the government can redistribute the wealth.  Stop doing that, and our economy will soar; government revenue should be secondary.

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The Cost of Barber Licensing

Apparently, Brown University has at least one student, Austin Rose, who is skeptical of occupational licensing:

As dubious as the costs of freedom are, the costs of licensing are pretty staggering. Licensing of barbers reduces the probability of a black individual working as a barber by 17.3 percent, according to a study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Every 100 hours of training required adds $2.15 to the price of beauty salon visits. Licensing, by making it more difficult for job-seekers to enter new lines of business and employment, harms social mobility. And, as an Obama White House report notes, low-income entrepreneurship activity takes a hit as well.

Of course, our institutions of higher education layer on much more economic miseducation than one op-ed can correct.

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No Clear Vision with Government Regulations

Linda Langlois expresses a relatively minor and easily overcome problem that she’s experiencing courtesy of the state’s regulatory regime:

Every few years, I go online to Readers.com to order my reading glasses. For several years now, I have needed the 4.00 strength and have received my eyeglasses within a few days. So imagine my shock when my online order this week elicited this pop-up: We’re sorry, but Rhode Island restricts the sale of the following: Reading glasses with powers over +3.25.I have emailed the governor’s office but have had no reply. I searched online for Rhode Island restrictions, statutes, laws, etc., to find

Wondering what changed, I contacted Reading.com, and the company’s spokesperson directed me to the relevant statute, which forbids the sale of corrective eyeglasses or lenses “unless a licensed optometrist, physician, or optician under the laws of this state is in charge and in personal attendance at the booth, counter, or place where those articles are sold.”  The exception is for “simple reading magnifying glasses,” defined as those with “over plus 3.25 diopters or equivalent magnification.”  However, this statute is not new, so nothing should have changed for Ms. Langlois’s recent order.

I asked Reading.com for further explanation but have received no response.  Perhaps the company only recently discovered the statute.  One might reasonably wonder whether the new requirement to collect sales taxes from Rhode Island residents made the risk of unlawful sales greater than the cost of adding protections against them.

Whatever the case, this is another of the countless ways Rhode Island’s government makes life more difficult and more expensive for residents and those who want to do business with us — reducing the ability for our own businesses to innovate.  It is also a fine example of the frustration that people feel.  Think of the process by which this law might be changed.  Consumers or out-of-state retailers would have to lobby the General Assembly and overcome the entrenched interest of licensed optometrists, physicians, and opticians.  If it became a fight, politicians would have to run on campaigns to change this tiny law and then expend political capital to make it happen.

After a few experiences like this, residents can conclude that the only solution is to leave.  We would all benefit, however, from the election of politicians who operate under the general principle that government oughtn’t meddle so much.

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The Unspoken Solution for 195 Bridge Traffic

This thread jumped out at me from a Providence Journal editorial about the disaster-level traffic resulting from ordinary, planned bridge construction on Route 195 West:

Fortunately, Mr. Alviti, though not answerable to the voters, quickly caught wind of the uproar. He announced last week that he, his planners and traffic engineers will go “back to the drawing board” to see if anything can be done. They were working over the weekend on a new plan, looking at opening an additional lane and otherwise increasing capacity for vehicles. …

In the real world, there is no easy way out, of course. As one of the 235 deficient bridges in the state, Washington Bridge does need to be repaired. In the 20 years since its northern span was reconstructed, it has been rotting away, with rusty reinforcement rods sticking out of the concrete on its underside. …

To speed things up, the RIDOT already plans to work around the clock, toiling through the night, which adds to a project’s cost but makes the work go faster.

For some reason, the most important point for us to discuss as a community in response to these government failings never seems to come up.  If we were to lighten up on the ridiculous labor rules that make the cost of roadwork so high, project managers would gain all kinds of flexibility.  That’s a side effect whenever the price of something goes down.

Drop the cost of construction 25–40% (or more), and the state and municipalities will find it easier to keep roads and bridges well kept so they don’t get to the point of needing major repairs as quickly.  Working around the clock or only when traffic is light would more-often be an option.  If the cost were lower, we might have the slack in maintenance budgets to (in some instances) build entire alternate routes while the main route is entirely shut down.

When insider deals and corruption eat up budgets to the maximum that people will tolerate for the minimum tolerable output, there is no room for spending on strategies that make Rhode Islanders’ lives better in the midst of construction.

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