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Transparency Site Brings Unprecedented Access to Tiverton

A new Web site and open-government application in Tiverton kick off the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s project to provide Rhode Islanders with a nation-leading level of transparency in local government.

RI’s Bad Decisions and Burning Money Instead of Tobacco

My op-ed in today’s Providence Journal places the match of Rhode Island’s experience of the tobacco settlement money (a one-time-fix turned bad debt) on the pile of bad decisions that the state government has made in the past decade or so:

According to a review by ProPublica, Rhode Island has just refinanced some of the resulting debt, with the expectation that “the deal would shave $700 million off a $2.8 billion tab due on the bonds in 2052.” In that regard, it’s a bit like the state’s pension reform, which was marketed as salvation but merely shaved about $3 billion from $9 billion of unfunded liability.

The people who operate Rhode Island’s government are racking up quite a list of these liabilities.

RI’s Bad Decisions and Burning Money Instead of Tobacco

My op-ed in today’s Providence Journal places the match of Rhode Island’s experience of the tobacco settlement money (a one-time-fix turned bad debt) on the pile of bad decisions that the state government has made in the past decade or so:

According to a review by ProPublica, Rhode Island has just refinanced some of the resulting debt, with the expectation that “the deal would shave $700 million off a $2.8 billion tab due on the bonds in 2052.” In that regard, it’s a bit like the state’s pension reform, which was marketed as salvation but merely shaved about $3 billion from $9 billion of unfunded liability.

The people who operate Rhode Island’s government are racking up quite a list of these liabilities.

Don’t Abort a Constitutional Convention Over Scare Tactics

Government insiders want to do to the constitutional convention what they do to any opposition that comes their way — kill it before it can be born.

Illegal Alien Juveniles: And Rhode Island’s Total Rises to 148

Breitbart’s Tony Lee has obtained updated numbers from the United States’ Office of Refugee Resettlement as to the number of illegal alien juveniles released by the federal government for the period of July 7 to July 31 – July 7 being the last date for which we had those figures. The state by state breakdown indicates that Rhode Island’s total has risen from 129 to 148.

Our elected officials – those who support illegal immigration – have been acting as though this has been a completely unforeseen, one time wave of children, such as might be due to an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

These children are being drawn here – are being sent here, more accurately – by the willful actions and inaction of our national leaders: 1.) more generally, the United States has substantially reduced its enforcement of the immigration laws currently on the books and 2.) more specifically, the action of the President of the United States, who has effectively turned on a beacon by making it clear that his administration is extremely reluctant to deport any illegal children who come here. (You don’t suppose word will get out about the data that backs this up, do you? Naw!)

It probably doesn’t hurt that the federal government has rolled out the red carpet for at least some of the illegal alien juveniles.

Accordingly, as things stand, there is no reason for this stream of illegal arrivals, nor the strain on public budgets nor the erosion of our sovereignty, to end.

The question now, closer to home, is, what is Governor Chafee doing to stem the tide of illegal aliens into Rhode Island and the corresponding stream of money out of state and local tax coffers? Has he offered objection to the federal government to the arrival in Rhode Island of these and any additional illegal alien juveniles, an action that would also help to address the larger problem by discouraging illegal immigration? If not, has Governor Chafee identified what he would like to see cut from budgets, both local and state, none of which have much leeway in the expenditure column, to pay for the expenses – minimally, education and Medicaid – associated with these arrivals?

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 39 (A Providence Income Tax)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the notion of a municipal income tax in Providence

The People Are Leaving. Be Angry.

News that productive people seeking to build a life are leaving Rhode Island is not new, but Rhode Islanders have to start being angry about it.

The Education Legacy of the Chafee Era

NAEP scores and comparisons of trends across the country suggest that the stall of education reform during the Chafee era has not been good for Rhode Island’s children.

Rally Tomorrow To Oppose The Disbursing of Illegal Alien Children to Rhode Island

RIILE, Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement released the following alert this afternoon via e-mail.

Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement invites all concerned Rhode Islanders to gather tomorrow from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on the Smith Street side of the Rhode Island Statehouse to protest the Obama administration’s plan to disperse illegal alien minors to Rhode Island.

“Two planeloads of illegal aliens have already landed at Hanscom Air Base in Massachusetts, only 45 miles away, and Massachusetts has declined to accept them,” said Terry Gorman, president of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. “This may be our only chance to express our concerns to Governor Chafee and to discourage him from overwhelming our state with an unknown number of additional people needing government social services.”

Governor Chafee so far denies having been asked by White House administration officials to harbor the illegal alien minors in Rhode Island.

With the ink barely dry on a new state budget, Rhode Island is clearly in a fragile economic condition. Concerning illegal aliens, there exists a thriving underground network of grayscale government policy that combines passive sanctuary, benefit compensation, and lax, selective law enforcement. Accepting an unplanned influx of undocumented, unimmunized, and unsupervised aliens of minor age – all of whom illegally crossed the United States border to gain entry and none of whom can provide for themselves – is not an acceptable course of action for any state government, but especially not Rhode Island’s.

“We are not a people lacking in compassion, but this is a practical matter of survival and the obligation we have to Rhode Island citizens. Suicide is not noble and compassionate – it’s reckless,” Gorman said.

State Taxes and Economic Health

The effect of taxes on a state’s economic health is one of those repeated questions that is never resolved.  The obvious reason (I’d propose) is that it’s one of those areas that depends hugely on specific circumstances, but the ideological intentions of those having the discussion tend to promote specific findings as broad conclusions.

The last sentence of the most recent academic contribution to the debate, by Pavel Yakovlev of the Mercatus Center, probably captures about the broadest statement that can be made:

… not all tax variables exhibit a significant correlation with the selected measures of economic activity, but when they do, the relationship is usually negative.

Yakovlev concludes his summary in a way that’s probably more comprehensible to the average person:

Not all types of tax increases can be expected to significantly harm economic outcomes, but higher taxes are generally correlated with lower standards of living.

In the phrasing of a popular meme: I don’t always affect the economy when I increase taxes, but when I do, it usually hurts.

Another important variable that Yakovlev mentions in the course of presenting his findings is the quality of public services provided.  It is assumed that in some circumstances (or at least to some people) the trade-off of higher taxes for quality government services favors the latter.  Presumably, it is less common for people to want to have high taxes in order to finance poor government services.

Throughout the study, Yakovlev looks at two competing ways of calculating the correlation of variables that can sometimes serve to support different ideological preferences.  On the government-spending side of the ledger, the results find a positive correlation between taxpayer migration and education spending, but negative correlation of migration with infrastructure spending, public health spending, and public welfare spending.

Especially on the infrastructure count, that finding might be counter-intuitive, because we tend to think of better roads and bridges as a contributor to economic health.  One plausible explanation for the results is that the amount of spending on infrastructure doesn’t translate well into results.  In other words, over a basic minimum of spending on roads and bridges, additional dollars are wasted.

Of course, an objective viewer of Rhode Island would have to conclude that this level of discussion is mostly moot in the Ocean State, as the latest competitiveness report card from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity illustrates.

All of our taxes are high.  Most of our services are poor.  People are generally leaving; opportunity remains difficult to find.  And the hope of substantive change is limited.

Illegal Alien Children: Governor Chafee’s Strangely Narrow Statement

The latest regional development in the disbursement of illegal alien children from the southern border, drawn to the United States in part due to a dramatic drop in deportation of other such children over the last five+ years, is that the state of Connecticut has declined a request by the federal government to house children in the Southbury Training School.

This morning, I called Governor Chafee’s office and urged him, via a staff member, not to accept illegal alien children into the state. I was given a response that it turns out had also been given to WPRO and which Bill Haberman and John Depetro had read on the air. It was, simply,

No federal entity has reached out to the State of Rhode Island requesting assistance with housing undocumented immigrants.

My follow up question for the gentleman on Governor Chafee’s staff whom I spoke to, to preclude confusion over terms, was “or refugees” and he agreed that the statement also applied to “refugees”.

But the Governor’s statement, specific and brief as it is, leaves a couple of large loopholes. No “federal” entity has reached out to the state. Have any other entities or individuals done so? If not to request assistance with “housing” undocumented immigrants, how about “temporarily sheltering” them?

It is not pleasant to have to parse the words of one of our elected officials this way but the narrowness of the statement compels us to do so.

Much as we sympathize deeply with the plight of these children, there are huge ramifications, budgetarily and public health-wise, to any state accepting dozens or hundreds, much less thousands, of illegal alien children, even if – especially if! – it is framed as a temporary situation. It is to be hoped that Governor Chafee will act accordingly and not out of a completely misguided sense of compassion.

Illegal Aliens and RI Social Programs: Qualifying Documentation Ranges from Strong to Alarmingly Weak

… In response to an inquiry from Ocean State Current-Anchor Rising, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services sent over several documents. One of those listed all of the documents that an applicant for social services can submit to verify citizenship qualification for those benefits.

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 5 of 6

Part 5 of a response to Aaron Renn: What kills the entrepreneurial spirit in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island Fix a Philosophical Shift; Contra Renn, Part 3 of 6

Countering Aaron Renn’s central planning in Rhode Island. Part 3: What’s unemployment insurance have to do with the price of gasoline in Seekonk?

From 8,143 Deportations to 1,669 – Another Way the President Precipitated This Flood of UAC’s (Unaccompanied Alien Children)

Justin describes the situation on the southern border and how those children have become “political chips”.

Let’s add deportation figures, supplied by the Los Angeles Times.

The number of immigrants under 18 who were deported or turned away at ports of entry fell from 8,143 in 2008, the last year of the George W. Bush administration, to 1,669 last year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data released under a Freedom of Information Act request.

This portrait of alarming (and deliberate?) inaction become even more acute when considered in the context of rapidly rising arrivals.



According to the Border Patrol, unaccompanied children apprehensions increased from 16,067 in fiscal year (FY) 2011 to 24,481 in FY 2012 and 38,833 in FY 2013.

President Obama has used this crisis to call on Congress to

fix our immigration system once and for all

a fix that the President clearly envisions as some variation of amnesty.

But an enormous question is posed by this “fix”. How would it do anything other than exacerbate the problem of illegal immigrants – of all ages – coming here uninvited? Accordingly, how could it possibly be called a fix?

Arthur Norwalk: No Stops for Voter Approval on Providence Streetcar

The proposed Providence Streetcar (a proposal that never seems to go away) is a case study in the problematic funding, planning, and daydreaming that characterizes government projects in Rhode Island.

Speaker Mattiello at the Rhode Island Taxpayers Summer Meeting, Part 1


A retro-liveblog of remarks made by Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Nicholas Mattiello, at this Saturday’s summer meeting of the Rhode Island Taxpayers organization. The areas the Speaker touches on include education, the gas-tax, reducing regulations in RI, and some general ideas about what governing means and how it should be done.

I-195 Developer Feedback… Somehow Not a Reason for Panic Among Elected Officials

This article in yesterday’s Providence Journal, by Kate Bramson, is emblematic of  Rhode Island’s current predicament and enlightening with regard to the reasons and the potential solutions:

Commercial real-estate developer Richard Miller, of The Pegasus Group, visited Rhode Island in 2011 and again this spring; he liked what he saw enough to pick a potential parcel on the western side of the river near Chestnut Street.

But in the end, his team chose not to submit a proposal to the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission, which controls about 40 acres in the heart of the city, 20 of which are available for development.

Miller says Pegasus was put off by the city’s real-estate tax rate, car taxes and the idea that if they seek a lower commercial tax rate on the now-vacant land, they must negotiate with the city and hope for the best. Meanwhile, they’d be spending money on architects, renderings of proposed buildings and other costs, not knowing if it would be worth their while.

Read the whole thing.  In keeping with much of what we write, on this site, Rhode Island is designed as a tell-people-what-to-do, insider-driven state.  Taxes are high; regulations are crushing; but everything can be waived or compensated if you know the right people.  The only way it makes sense to invest in that environment is if you’ve already made the investments of time and money to gain the right kind of influence.

Recent scandals and controversies really bring this fact into public view, whether we’re talking about the 38 Studios debacle, the Superman Building lobbying, or the unique interests of “business community” organizations that take bizarre positions on issues related to their constituencies.  Outside investors are not going to want to invest in a state that puts them at such a disadvantage, and Rhode Island is driving out the non-connected locals who may have made up for some of that deficit in the past.

That’s another — maybe more insidious — way in which Rhode Island simply doesn’t have the size or demographics to continue the approach to policy that has, as Aaron Renn recently argued, defined the state for way too long.  The solution is ever more clearly simply to reduce the burdens and insider deals, not to continue pursuing “economic development” that gives insiders a strong hand in deciding what can be done, when, and where.

Budget Growth and Household Income

Working with the federal government, the state government of Rhode Island has managed to keep its budget growing more quickly than inflation. The people of Rhode Island, however, have not been so lucky.