Legislators’ relentless attack on Rhode Islanders’ rights may leave only recourse to a constitutional convention.
Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):
“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.
“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.
So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone. Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees. You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.
No single indicator should be of more importance to lawmakers and civic leaders than whether or not our state is retaining and attracting talented and productive people.
The opportunity for prosperity is a primary factor in the migration of families from state to state. In this regard, our Ocean State is more than just losing the race. Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.
The prospect of iLottery apps puts in perspective the importance of holding the constitutional line on sports betting, so Rhode Islanders can answer the question: Is this really what we want our government doing?
This article from a few weeks ago shouldn’t pass into memory without comment:
Rhode Island finished the past fiscal year with a $29-million surplus, $25.5 million of which the state is already counting on in its budget for the current year, according to a preliminary accounting of the year that ended June 30.
State spending for the year that ended June 30 came in $12 million lower than the final, revised spending plan lawmakers approved earlier that month; state revenues were $2.1 million higher than expected.
Review the budget documents from the House Fiscal office for the real story. With less than two weeks remaining in the fiscal year, the state increased its final budget for that year by $174 million. This new “surplus” is just the extra wiggle room they gave themselves, and the fact that they are counting on almost all of it for the next year raises the question of how aware they were of the likelihood.
Of course, one could reasonably argue that the state ought to budget with the expectation of a small surplus. In that case, however, the story isn’t really about a surplus, but about the absence of an unforeseen deficit.
To say that the government ended the year with a surplus is like saying your child has money left over when he or she gives you back a quarter from a hundred dollar bill that you gave him or her to buy something for $98. That $1.75 went to buy some unapproved candy, but your kid wants credit for giving you any change at all.
It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer.
A new report from our Center, released this week – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers.
At a cost of approximately $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one-million or so residents, a typical family of four is paying over $3500 annually to support the extravagant compensation programs for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
Beyond these extreme financial costs, there may be an even more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism.
Not surprisingly, the state’s analysis of the affordability of its debt finds that Rhode Island is doing OK. Residents should take a broader, less sunny, view.
Right AGAIN! Did you see Speaker Mattiello on GoLocal Prov Live?
We’re glad that he echoed our Center’s long-time call that the Commerce Corp, and the state overall, must diversify its economic development program beyond just corporate handouts.
Three items in this week’s Nesi’s Notes point to the conclusion that RI’s top-down economic development approach isn’t working and can’t work here.
As is true around the state, the condition of the roads are a constant (and justified) complaint in Tiverton, with a particular focus on those that the state owns and, therefore, is responsible to fix. Oh, they’re on the 10-year plan for repair, but that means at least five more years — five more winters and five more thaws — until the worst of them are addressed.
A local landscaper asks a question that occurs to many Rhode Islanders, in one form or another:
Louis Dupont, said the state “better do something.”
“The state gets all this money from the lottery. Where does it go?” Dupont asked. “That baffles me. All that money. Where does it go?”
Asked his opinion of the eastern stretch of East Road, Dupont says: “The tractor almost jumps off the trailer.”
The state now has a $10 billion budget, and the municipalities collect another $2.5 billion in taxes on top of that. Where does all the money go?
Well, this is the Know a Guy State, and budgets fund special favors, handouts, pet projects, and a substantial pay premium for government employees. Once a chunk of cash is claimed for anything or anyone, it becomes an entitlement that is extremely difficult to take away. When money does go toward infrastructure, cost-growing mandates from the state, such as prevailing wage, drive up the expense to ridiculous heights so taxpayer dollars can’t go as far as they otherwise would.
Big-government politicians everywhere understand that they’re better off siphoning money to things that shouldn’t be priorities so that the public will consent to higher taxes and more fees in order to fund the things that they really care about, and Rhode Island has made that principle a way of life. Until we stop shaking our heads and writing it off simply as the way things are around here, the practice will continue.
But imagine if we insisted on change and our roads were rapidly repaired, perhaps even while we experienced a reduction in taxation. Decline has been a choice, and it is within our power to reverse it and rocket up the national rankings that give Ocean State residents a near-monthly slap.
The only recreation marijuana store in Fall River is experiencing booming business, and it’s disrupting the neighborhood, not to mention one of the major traffic areas into Tiverton:
“We totally understand their frustration as far as last week because it was mayhem,” said Kyle Bishop, the dispensary’s chief operating officer. “The Fourth of July was insane.”
Bishop estimated that business at the dispensary was up 30% over the holiday weekend and that as many as 1,800 customer transactions were taking place daily.
To help remedy the problem, Northeast Alternatives is considering making some changes. Bishop said the business will request an increased police presence to help direct traffic at the intersection of William S. Canning Boulevard and Commonwealth Avenue, to which the dispensary’s parking lot is connected. Police will also create a new traffic lane at the intersection using traffic cones on weekends, Bishop said.
The dispensary will also post signs discouraging customers from parking on the nearby residential streets of Commonwealth Avenue and Heritage Court and have private security patrols of the neighborhood.
That’s all well and good, but a piece of the puzzle is missing. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts collects a 10.75% excise tax on top of the 6.25% sales tax on marijuana, and the city is allowed to pile on another 3%, for a total of 20% of every sale. If there’s any legitimate use of all that extra money, it’s dealing with the challenges that the state’s entry into recreational drugs might create.
In short, modifying that stretch of road to accommodate the cash cow should be a top priority.
In a stunning decision, the Portsmouth Town Council voted 7-0 on June 24 to enter into discussions with Newport for joining the two high schools into a unified system. The proposal by Newport School Superintendent Colleen Burns Jermain had been rejected by the Middletown Council.
We have been down this road before. This decision reverses a May 2011 unanimous vote by the Portsmouth School Committee to end discussions on regionalizing all three of the Island’s districts and reject any regional approach.
For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.
Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings. That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.
Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings. OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map. WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3. Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.
Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody. The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey. But here’s the thing: No New England states are very affordable. Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.
So what makes the difference? Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else: economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety. New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life. Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5). The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.
Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important. Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests. The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.
But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued. Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.
MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear. However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes. For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.
This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing: lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations. We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.
For practical purposes, the Twin River casinos are government run, with the state contracting its monopoly of the gambling market to the private company. However, it’s worth remember from time to time that isn’t how the market sees the business:
In just over three months as a public company, the owner of the Tiverton Casino Hotel in Rhode Island has rapidly gained a following in the hedge fund community. Currently, 10 hedge funds own shares of Twin River, a massive amount for a $1.22 billion company that does not have two full quarters of trading under its belt. …
Twin River owns the only two casinos in the Ocean State, giving it a competitive advantage there. While a new regional threat is emerging in the form of Wynn’s recently opened Encore Boston Harbor, TRWH has some avenues for stemming the rivalry, including a different target demographic and legalized sports betting.
The entire arrangement has long cried for a thorough public discussion of this unique business model, so as to understand Rhode Islanders’ perspective on having a government that has essentially displaced the mob. The interface with the investment markets adds another dimension. Because, as the linked article highlights, the monopoly standing of Twin River is a marketable financial asset, should state and local taxpayers continue to benefit only by our percentage of the gambling profits?
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, last week, was about the General Assembly’s budget, the million-dollar chiropractor, and the problems in Warwick’s schools.
Rhode Island health insurers are saying that the individual mandate will lower rates for individually purchased health plans, but a new tax written into state law may play a role, too, hiding an increase for everybody else.
Imagine how different the state budget would look to Rhode Islanders if it shaved just one-fifth of the increase in order to keep the promise of reducing the sales tax rate.
After Steve Ahlquist firstbrought attention to the million dollar handout that the Rhode Island House wishes to give to Dr. Victor Pedro for his Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), a WPRI report covered the history of Pedro’s taxpayer funding. One can’t help but feel that there must be more to the story:
- Legislative leaders have long gone to bat for the doctor.
- The executive branch has apparently made extra efforts to secure Medicaid funding for his treatments.
- And even mild-mannered Lieutenant Governor Daniel McGee has spoken well of Pedro, including his activities in Cumberland schools back when McKee was mainly known as a mayor for that town.
Amazingly, though, nobody has yet mentioned the connection of pop star Paula Abdul, which takes an only-in-Rhode-Island turn. Says Abdul:
I wish I’d had Cortical Integrative Therapy when I first discovered I had RSD, and I wish Dr. Pedro had been a part of my support system then like he is now. The treatment replaces the old tapes in your head that have held onto the tapes of pain. It helps your brain to allow for new experiences and new memories that don’t involve pain. Think of it in terms of a computer — you’re deleting old files so you can free up more space. I didn’t find out about Cortical Integrative Therapy until recently, and it has proved to be a life-changing treatment for my RSD.
The strange Rhode Island turn is that Abdul has another connection to Rhode Island as the long-time girlfriend of John Caprio, son of Caught in Providence star judge Frank Caprio and brother of the former treasurer and gubernatorial candidate of the same name as well as former representative David Caprio. Various online sources also seem to indicate that Abdul has set up various businesses at 2220 Plainfield Pike in Cranston in the past.
This topic could certainly take a serious turn into political theory as an example of why government shouldn’t be in the investment and research business, why Rhode Island should end legislative grants, and why the governor should have the line-item veto. If Pedro is an innovative practitioner of alternative medicine for the stars, he shouldn’t need government subsidies.
For this post, though, let’s just close with a sincere hope that Rhode Island’s press is sufficiently interested to unravel this entire peculiar tale.
Legislation exempting the first $25,000 of military retirement income for veterans over 60 years old would be a good start toward recognizing their service.
With the General Assembly session nearing the end, we fully expect the new state budget to contain no meaningful remedies to the many problems that plague our state, such as high taxes across the board, high energy and healthcare costs, and onerous regulatory burdens on job-producers. In our Public Union Excesses report, we identified that there are $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%.
One of the most objectionable schemes of government union collective bargaining process, which excessively drives up the cost of government for taxpayers, in ways or at levels that do not exist in the private sector, is being paid for not working.
The grotesque incongruity of some of the highest per-mile infrastructure spending and some of the worst roads and bridges in the country.
The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.
Wow, has our report shaken up the status quo! We have done the research, and we have connected the dots. The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers – the high property taxes we all pay – can now be directly connected to the excessive costs of government, as mandated by government union collective bargaining agreements.
Now, we are asking your support to help us spread the word.
At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s 1 million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, the report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.
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.
With the third highest property taxes in the country, a major encumbrance within an overall anti-taxpayer and anti-business climate that has dropped Rhode Island into bottom-10 rankings in a number of critical national indexes, the excessive costs of collectively bargained government services can be directly linked to this statewide problem.