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Tom Ward Calls Out Potentially Costly P.C. Bullying by State Treasurer

Echoing (presumably inadvertently) Justin Katz’ similar reservations about the General Treasurer’s “foolish politically correct showboating” with the state pension fund, Valley Breeze Publisher Tom Ward offers an excellent critique of the GT’s recently announced, very foolish new criteria for the choosing of investments for the state pension fund.

By choosing investments based on feelings and a political agenda, isn’t it possible that the fund won’t do as well as those which focus specifically on making as much money as possible for retirees? Or are we saddled with investment managers whose PC agenda is more important to them because taxpayers have to make up for their poor performance anyway?

Great point. It’s so easy to make yourself look good and claim the (highly dubious) mantle of political correctness when someone else will be forced to make up the difference financially. But it may not just be taxpayers who would have to do so. Presumably, Mr. Magaziner will make himself widely available to state retirees facing a potential haircut to explain to them how being p.c. was more important than the intactness of their pension check.

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Token Tax Cuts are Meaningless Without Spending Cuts

WPRI’s Dan McGowan offers a very good breakdown of Providence Mayor Elorza’s proposed budget.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza proposed a budget Wednesday that slightly reduces residential and commercial property tax rates but still results in an overall increase in actual taxes for most city residents thanks to a large spike in property values. …

Elorza’s $716.8-million tax-and-spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 also increases the car tax exemption to $2,000, which will result in about 6,500 low-value vehicles coming off the tax roll. All told, the mayor’s budget anticipates an additional $13.1 million in new revenue through taxes.

But because Mayor Elorza hasn’t reduced spending in his proposed budget, he has simply adjusted the tax burden slightly so he can say he (modestly) reduced the very unpopular car tax. Providence taxpayers would still pay more in taxes overall.

In a Kathy Gregg ProJo article today, Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello are similarly making noises about cutting this or that tax, presumably in part on the basis of an unexpected rise in gaming revenue. But any tax cut would not be permanent, or would need to be replaced with a tax increase someplace else, if they don’t reduce spending the budget and gaming revenues fall, as everyone agrees they inevitably will.

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What’s Really in Your Best Interest? Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI)

This week on “What’s Really in Your Best Interest?”, we examine the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI.) (RIFreedom.org/JOI)

My guest this week is Justin Katz, the Research Director for the Center and Managing Editor of the Ocean State Current. Justin is the creator of the JOI measure, a new tool designed to give lawmakers a broader view of Rhode Island’s economy than the traditional unemployment rate.

JOI is a national index of states that incorporates three major factors, comprised of over a dozen variables derived from government reported data:

1) A proper measure of employment as it relates to labor force,
2) A measure of job/employment levels as compared with public assistance rolls, and;
3) A measure of personal income as compared with government tax receipts collected

Please watch the video now and see this months post on JOI here.

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Cote & Reilly Call for G.A., Not RIDOT, to Set Tolls & Gantry Locations

Senator Marc Cote and Representative Daniel Reilly make a sound separation-of powers case for this in Monday’s GoLocalProv.

One of the most important checks involves the legislative branch’s ability to keep the executive branch from spending too much money. …

Essentially, DOT is being allowed to set a tax rate, collect the taxes and spend the proceeds, all without any input from any other branch of government. We see this provision as a violation of the principles of checks and balances and an infringement upon the principle of separation of powers.

The assignment to RIDOT of toll rate authority is clearly in violation of the separation of powers section of the Rhode Island Constitution. Members of the General Assembly must stand up and be counted. Do they stand with and for the state Constitution and the residents of the state? Or do they side with unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats against the people?

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If Progressives Had Perspective on the “Living Wage”

Maybe it’s an act, but sometimes it’s almost comical how little progressives understand economics and how unable they are to think of other people as, well, people trying to make the best decisions they can under the circumstances.  Oh, they say they have empathy for this group or that, but anybody who responds to actual incentives in the real world slips immediately into the bad-guy-who-gets-no-empathy column if they conflict with progressive fantasy.  Consider:

States and cities whose lawmakers proudly passed “living wage” laws are finding it difficult to make sure employers actually pay their workers accordingly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe the employers are finding it difficult to pay their employees at the level “lawmakers” decide suits their own ignorant vanity.

And many workers — especially those in precarious situations — fear they’ll be fired if they speak up.

And maybe those “firings” wouldn’t be retaliation so much as the simple calculation that government has forced on the employers.  See, wages before the increase were the rate that employers’ ability to pay matched employees willingness to work.  Progressives dehumanize workers by insisting that they can’t actually be making rational decisions to work for what they accept, and they devalue work by assuming it gives those who do it well no leverage — that they’re at the mercy of their employers.

If one imagines these interactions from a more empathetic point of view, the scenario can be one in which employers tell their employees the honest truth that meeting the arbitrary demands of government officials will put them out of business or at least force them to lay off employees’ coworkers and insist on more work from those who remain, leading the workers to voluntarily stick to the pay that they were already willing to accept.

How instances of that positive scenario balance out against instances of the evil-people scenario that progressives prefer is almost immaterial.  Politicians who pass these dumb laws are forbidding adults from making such decisions.

So, progressives double down on stupid:

“It’s pretty shocking how common the violations are,” said Donna Levitt, director of the labor enforcement office in San Francisco, which began ramping up to $15 an hour last year. …

The new laws are meaningless without proactive enforcement, labor advocates say, citing research that shows roughly one in four businesses nationwide already cheat their workers out of minimum wages.

What comes to mind is the IRS practice of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants who are committing fraud with Social Security numbers because, “It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”  So, why isn’t it in everybody’s interest to let people work for what they’re willing to work for?

The government would rather make it more difficult for people to come to voluntary agreements that ensure that they have some income.  That way, the taxes of those who actually keep their jobs can be used to make politicians and bureaucrats feel good about themselves, again, when they hand out welfare benefits.

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No RI City or Town Should Take HUD Money

… not if elected officials and property owners value property rights and local control of zoning and planning. That was my distinct take-away from the talk by Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, at a standing-room only fundraiser held by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity on Sunday.

From a post-event statement issued by the Center.

“Once HUD gets into your city or town, they will not go away. They want never-ending settlements and mandates, designed by Washington, D.C. central-planners and ideologues, who will try to dictate who can live where,” commented Astorino. Echoing the Center’s concerns over the past two years, Astorino also warned that localities can be deemed by HUD to be “discriminatory” if certain income and racial housing “quotas” are not met … a method he ridiculed as “guilt by statistics, rather than by intent”.

(Full disclosure: I work for the Center as their Communications Manager.)

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Solutions Offered for Providence’s Financial Problems are Too Revenue Heavy

Well, one thing’s for certain: it’s getting pretty serious in Providence financially judging by the study commissioned by Mayor Elorza and the solutions it contains.

Providence should consider implementing new taxes, selling assets and closing fire stations as part of its effort to reduce a projected structural deficit that could balloon to $37 million over the next decade, according to a study released Monday by the Elorza administration.

The problem, unless WPRI’s Dan McGowan left significant chunks of the study out of his report (quite unlikely), is that the study offers way more suggestions for raising revenue – sell assets, raise PILOT payments, create new taxes and fees – than for reducing spending. The proposal to “transfer city janitorial services to a prisoner reentry program” is welcome – but only seven FTE’s would be affected. Where is the proposal to look at compensation levels across the entire city payroll? Yes, the study suggests broadening the suspension of the pension COLA – but doesn’t mention the pensions themselves. This would clearly be inadequate as the city’s pension fund is at best 30% funded.

Tax rates in Providence, residential and commercial, are already among the highest in the country. When are Providence officials going to start taking steps to live within a budget that TAXPAYERS can afford rather than continuing to take the easy steps of only nibbling around the edges of expenses and continuing the inexorable increase of taxes and fees?

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Polls and Tolls and How Many Gantries?

After a stage delay, Brown University finally released its poll on Sunday. (I don’t know what the real situation was was but I’m not buying their “voter fatigue” reason for this delay.) And – oh, dear – Governor Raimondo’s approval rating has dropped to 31%. It is impossible not to tie this directly to her push to implement destructive, burdensome tolls in Rhode Island.

On that front, by the way, during her interview with WPRO’s Anita Baffoni, Governor Raimondo references thirty toll gantries.

before putting up 30 gantries

It’s not clear whether this is a feint to try to make us all relieved if/when they eventual “only” roll out fifteen (or pick a number) gantries, like the Governor did when she introduced the new vacation rental tax, or whether she and RIDOT really are planning to proceed with thirty gantries. If the former, it won’t work. We all know that toll gantries are like cockroaches: in light of their propensity to multiply, there is only one safe number and that is zero.

What is clear from this poll is that zero gantries was also the only safe number when it comes to the Governor’s approval rating.

UPDATE

Kathy Gregg reports the prior poll number that I was looking for:

In her earlier, high-profile role as the state treasurer, Raimondo, at one point, enjoyed a 56 percent job-approval rating.

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Charter School Demand Isn’t Surprising; Narrow Vision Is

It just isn’t surprising that demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats in Rhode Island, but I’m not sure the Providence Journal editorial board draws the right lessons.  After all, charter schools are — or at least people’s perception of them is that they are — tantamount to free-to-the-family private schools, and parents don’t have to be but so motivated as advocates for their children to seek free private schooling for their children.

The peculiarity is that the Projo editors won’t consider the possibility of modestly helping families afford actual private schools, even just a little.  Given the editors’ advocacy for charter schools, they can’t really turn around and argue that real school choice would take money away from schools, because charter schools do that even more.

One plausible argument, I guess, would be that the public maintains some level of control over charter schools, because they’re still public schools, but then it isn’t obvious why the editors would see legislation giving local taxpayers some leverage when it comes to charter schools as an unjust attack on them.

Now throw this into the mix:

The combined hit [of budget and leverage reforms] “would force the majority of Rhode Island’s highly successful independent and district charter schools to shut their doors in a matter of years,” [Timothy Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools,] warned.

So, these free-to-the-parents, private-like public schools can’t survive without total subsidization arguably beyond the very-high level of public schools.

One wonders what the demand for charters would be if parents were required to pay some nominal fee to make up the difference.  The Projo complains about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to reduce district funding of charters by about $700 per student, but $700 per year would be a very low tuition for parents, compared with existing private options.

Frankly, the underlying logic spins the head.  We need “public school choice” so the public has some control, but we can’t let the public make decisions about the schools.  We’re impressed by the demand, but we can’t let parents pay some small tuition.

One gets the impression that, proclamations aside, the advocacy places more emphasis on whatever it is that makes the word “public” magic rather than on whatever it is that makes school choice beneficial for children.  Either that, or it’s more of a statement of “we like these schools and the people who run them, and we think everybody should have to pay for them without much by way of accountability.”

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How is the State Well Served by All of the Paid Leave Ordered by the Governor?

The Providence Journal reports today that, without explanation, Governor Raimondo has brought yet another state employee back from seven months of paid vacatio … er, leave.

A Department of Children, Youth and Families official who was placed on unexplained paid leave seven months ago was allowed to return to work this month.

This is only the latest in a series. As of July, there were eleven state employees on paid leave. This includes the three now semi-famous staffers at RIDOT who were brought back – again without explanation – in December. However, that total does NOT include this DCYF staffer just returned to work nor a second, also referenced in the ProJo article, who remains on paid leave.

What was the purpose, what has been accomplished, how is Rhode Island better off by Governor Raimondo’s actions in ordering all of these state employees onto months of taxpayer funded paid leave?

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RIDOT Now Denies They Will Provoke Early Legal Challenge of Tolls

What is going on at RIDOT? Late last week, Director Peter Alviti confirmed to NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye that RIDOT would be putting up a toll gantry on Route 95 within a year so as to provoke a legal challenge to the state’s truck-only tolls. But now, the Providence Journal reports that

State transportation officials deny reports that they plan to test the legality of tolling big rig trucks by opening a single, lawsuit-enabling toll location before building out the full toll network approved by lawmakers this winter.

“Denying reports”? Like they came from some third party, unconfirmed source? Dude, the head of YOUR DEPARTMENT confirmed that this was the plan.

This flip-flop (if they don’t flip again) will do absolutely nothing to instill confidence in the competency and good intentions of a department (or a Governor) already in charge of half a billion tax dollars annually and which is on course to eventually command the spending of billions more, if/when tolls are implemented. (Sure, tolls are not technically taxes. But de facto, they definitely are.)

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Lally & Raimondo Throw in the Towel

With the Ethics Commission hard on his heels, Kathy Gregg at the Providence Journal reports that

Former state Rep. Donald Lally has resigned his controversial job as the “small business liaison” in the Raimondo administration, in advance of an Ethics Commission ruling on whether his hiring violated the state’s revolving door law.

The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s 2014 Freedom Index places then-Rep Lally 73 out of 113 legislators. This dubious voting record clearly made him a poor match for this position, underscoring the consensus that the main driving force behind his appointment was not considerations like track record and aptitude (and, dare we add, what would best serve the state) but the more base one of politics – i.e., a bargaining chip in horsetrading between Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello.

If so, it will be interesting to see what “chip” replaces the one that had to be taken off the table.

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Arlene Violet Calls Out Imperiousness of Raimondo & RIDOT

… both at the now infamous “let me tell you something, pal” 6/10 meeting and more generally.

From today’s Valley Breeze.

… it certainly leads the public to wonder about the apparent elitism exhibited by the Raimondo administration where it acts as though it knows everything and the public nothing. A dog and pony show does not alleviate the perception but rather only reinforces that the only hijacker’s in the room are the “public servants.”

Arlene is correct: this is a completely inappropriate attitude on the part of those, both elected and appointed, who have chosen to take on the role of public servant.

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Why Did RI Fail to Detect Food Stamp Fraud at One Store for Six Long Years?

The Valley Breeze reports that

Sami Almuhtaseb, 45, of Smithfield, owner of Oasis Market, a convenience store located in Providence, pleaded guilty in federal court on April 15 to defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, of more than $1.1 million.

Almuhtaseb was able to rack up a cool $1.1 million haul because the fraud took place over six years. Six long, lucrative (for the store owner) years. SNAP, or food stamps, involves both state and federal tax dollars. If the State of Rhode Island (or the feds) had detected this fraud much sooner rather than letting it go on for six years, the tax dollars stolen and squandered would have been far lower. It is unacceptable that our elected officials appear to hold our hard earned tax dollars in such low regard.

This store owner is certainly not the only one to have committed SNAP fraud, nor is SNAP the only social program that is the target of fraud. It is imperative that our elected officials get serious about detecting and preventing this fraud both because it is the right thing to do and because of the impact on government’s image. A continued casual attitude towards the unnecessary squandering of tax dollars will only contribute to the public’s dislike and distrust of everything that government is doing or proposes to do — not to mention (self-preservation consideration) a negative impact at the voting both.

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News Stories Just in the Last 24 Hours Highlight the Excessive Generosity of RI’s Public Sector Compensation

In today’s Providence Journal, we learn that the opt-out retirees brought in an expert to testify in their lawsuit about the change made by the City of Providence to their post-retirement healthcare coverage.

An expert hired by a group of city police and fire retirees testified in Superior Court on Monday that moving members of that group to Medicare from their previously promised city health care for life is exposing them to five-fold increases in health-care costs.

You mean they might be stuck with Medicare at age sixty five (like most people in the D.P.S.)? Oh no!

And the list of exceedingly generous benefits bestowed by contract on the retiring Cranston police captain who instigated Ticketgate is nothing less than obscene. The biggest one is that he is retiring AND STARTING TO COLLECT HIS TAXPAYER-FUNDED PENSION at age forty three. This is an absurdly generous and completely unaffordable benefit. Pensions should be paid to retirees starting at age sixty seven (or whatever the full retirement age for social security is/was at the employee’s start date of employment).

From the report yesterday by NBC 10’s Parker Gavigan.

A review of city and Rhode Island Treasury information shows Antonucci will receive $27,542 in state pension benefits. In addition, the now retired captain is entitled to approximately $15,879 in family healthcare benefits from the city of Cranston. The total package is approximately $43,421 a year, which could increase with the rising cost of healthcare. …

City records show Antonucci will also receive approximately $40,000 in what’s called “bust out pay,” an accumulation of unused sick, vacation and comp time.

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Ken Block & WatchdogRI.org Call on Governor To Challenge Constitutionality of Legislative Grants

[Watchdogri.org issued the following statement late this morning.]

Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI, is calling on Governor Raimondo to ask the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a written opinion on the constitutionality of the corrupt legislative grant program.

Rhode Island’s constitution empowers the governor’s office to ask the RI Supreme Court to create an opinion on a legal question in Article X, Section 3, which states in its entirety:

Advisory opinions by supreme court. — The judges of the supreme court shall give their written opinion upon any question of law whenever requested by the governor or by either house of the general assembly.

For years, many Rhode Islanders have taken exception to the legislative grant program. This program dispenses millions of dollars a year in what many believe to be an unconstitutional scheme. The recipients of these grants are selected by legislative leadership, and the entire program runs without any input from the Executive branch of government.

The grant program likely violates RI’s constitution as it pertains to separation of powers.

Legal challenges to the grant program have been mounted before – notably by former Rep. Nick Gorham. In a surprising move, the RI Supreme Court declined to hear Gorham’s complaint because he was deemed to not have legal standing to bring a lawsuit over the grant program. Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is unclear that anyone would have standing to challenge the grant program legally.

The corruption of the program came vividly to light after media accounts highlighted the fact that Speaker Mattiello granted $126,000 to himself for projects in his hometown.

The time for wink and nod politics must end in Rhode Island if we are to become a competitive state for business and jobs. The reluctance of our General Assembly to do the right thing and eliminate this program necessitates that others step in and force reform on the General Assembly.

Governor Raimondo has the power to issue a legal challenge that could end the corrupt legislative grant program. Will she use this power, or by declining to do so will she be complicit in allowing this corruption to continue?

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6% and Flawed Models: Why We’re Skeptical of AGW

A second day, a second applause-worthy editorial by the Providence Journal yesterday. They politely call out Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who

… asked [US] Attorney General Loretta Lynch whether the Justice Department had considered pursuing fraud charges against those who have, in his view, misled people about climate change. ….

This is troubling: a U.S. senator and attorney general, both sworn to uphold the Constitution, mulling legal action against American citizens and companies for the “crime” of challenging a scientific theory.

The ProJo correctly points out that

… it is vitally important that America not discard its essential values of freedom.

With Earth Day coming up this Friday, it’s important to note the two simple facts that make so many of us skeptical of the theory of anthropogenic global warming. 1.) Man only generates 6% of all greenhouse gases. 2.) The heart of the case for AGW, the climate models, are flawed (see here and here, and lots of other places).

Accordingly, the proposal by Senator Whitehouse and others to silence by prosecutorial bullying those who question AGW not only violates, as the ProJo points out, free speech, one of America’s essential values, but also comes across as someone who … well, doesn’t want to hear why he may be wrong about something he believes in. It’s fine to disregard facts and evidence that contradict your belief in something. It crosses the line to narrow-minded despotism, however, to propose the use of the considerable powers of government to punish people or companies attempting to present such facts and evidence.

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ProJo Editorial Endorses RIPEC Education Findings

Many of us were shocked and bewildered when the Providence Journal’s editorial board inexplicably went all in on Governor Raimondo’s highly damaging tolls. We haven’t either forgiven or forgotten that the board pretended to fall for the patently lame reasons put out by the Governor to get her completely unnecessary, politically selfish toll program passed. The result since then is that some of us look askance and even skeptically at the ProJo’s editorials.

But credit where credit is due. In an editorial yesterday, they echoed the conclusions and brook-no-excuses sentiment of RIPEC’s recent report on education. For that, the ProJo’s editorial board should be applauded.

The data shows Rhode Island public schools generally plod along near the national average, while Massachusetts students consistently outperform those in most other states on national tests, and its schools overall are among the best in America. …

The RIPEC report stands as a useful guide to the differences of Massachusetts and Rhode Island education reform. We hope key policymakers read it, absorb it, and follow its key recommendations to move the Ocean State along.

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RhodeWorks Roll-Out Gives Illustration of Redistribution

Even as the conversation around repairing Rhode Island’s infrastructure shifts from fixing 152 bridges (and overpasses) around the state to re-imagining the 6/10 connector, it appears that the first toll gantry may be in the process of erection… down in the southern part of the state.  As previously noted, the Rhode Island Dept. of Transportation is in the process of moving the gantries that formerly cast their ominous shadow over the Sakonnet River Bridge to some stretch of RhodeWorks-tolled highway.

The most likely spot, according to a source, is the bridge near exit 4 on Rt. 95, which goes over the enticingly named Nooseneck Hill Road (Rt. 3) down in the Exeter-Richmond area.  That location was among those listed as probable targets during the legislative debate, with a projected toll of $3.  That would also help explain, for another thing, the appearance of this electrical box down there:

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We can speculate as to why the state would want to rush forward with a single toll gantry before a more-final tolling-and-borrowing plan has been solidified.  The most compelling suggestion I’ve heard has been that the Raimondo administration is already preparing plans for additional borrowing through a revenue bond, which would be premised on the toll revenue and would not, therefore, require voter approval.  The sooner any potential lawsuits can be provoked and resolved, the sooner the state can issue (arguably unconstitutional) debt without paying a premium to cover the risk associated with possible litigation.

Whatever the case, though, Rhode Islanders shouldn’t miss the opportunity for a lesson, here.  RhodeWorks came into being as a statewide solution.  It looks like the great majority of the money is earmarked for a very specific location with very limited, regional impact in the Providence area.  Meanwhile, the first revenue-grab will be in a more-rural area in the southern part of the state.

Isn’t that just the way it goes?  Click on the House and Senate tabs of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Freedom Index, and you’ll see maps of the districts.  South of the prospective toll location, one has large districts and a total of around six to ten elected representatives and senators.   Meanwhile, the Providence area is a dense cluster of small districts with a great deal of representation.

Not only is RhodeWorks an exercise in redistributing money from taxpayers and drivers to labor unions and Wall Street investors, but the program also redistributes from the less-well-represented suburbs to the heavily-represented urbans.

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Just Like That, Cost of 6/10 Greenway Tunnel Project Rises by $100 Million

The Providence Journal reported Saturday that

Burying a rebuilt Route 6 and 10 interchange beneath an earthen cap will likely cost $100 million more than initial estimates, state transportation officials said in a request for federal grant funding this week. The project is expected to cost $595 million, not counting a potential bus rapid transit line with stations, according to a grant application filed Thursday.

How many other cost revisions – not to mention cost overruns – will occur with this project? Rather than simply repairing what is already there, RIDOT is proposing an unnecessarily over-engineered project that gets mighty close to the description of boondoggle.

Note, by the way, that we’re not supposed to call the underground part of this project (what they would build in place of overpasses) “tunnels”. Apparently, they figured out that’s a scary word evoking Boston’s Big Dig project. No, they’re calling it a “capped highway”. “Capped”. It’s just a cap! Nothing scary about that!

The issue I raised previously still stands. Even stipulating the difficult-to-believe idea that the construction cost of a tunnel or capped highway is the same as that of an overpass, what is the comparative maintenance cost of these structures?

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The 6/10 Green Gateway: Yet Another Bait-And-Switch

The Governor sold us a toll plan that was to repair Rhode Island’s decrepit bridges and roads. We were not sold a green vision, especially one that hands-out hundreds of millions of dollars to the special interests. The Green Gateway is yet another example of a big government boondoggle in the Ocean State. Taxpayers were purposely deceived via this bait-and-switch charade that was always about cronyism and advancing a federally-planned sustainablist vision, that will likely cost you far more than anticipated.

Once again the state government rammed through their agenda, without due process and without considering credible alternatives. Where was the public discussion of the massive tunnel, the green-space theme, and the ‘bus-lane-to-nowhere’ components of the DOT plan during the toll debate? Each of these formerly hidden components would result in massive construction and union related spending that would detract from spending on other unsafe bridges and roads.

Like the toll bill itself, the Green Gateway is an obvious hand out to special interests, and fails to consider alternatives. In the past year, the Center, along with other groups, have proposed various viable alternatives to the Governor’s proposal, including P3 partnerships and pay as you go funding, all of which have been summarily rejected. Now, likely the 6-10 “boulevard” concept as well as other calls to simply repair the existing 6-10 infrastructure will be rejected by the insiders. Your family deserves better than the closed public policy culture in Rhode Island.

Lawmakers should be furious that they voted to fix Rhode Island’s infrastructure, and now the focus is on such a small percentage of the deficient bridges. The tolls revenue should not be used to advance a radical federal sustainable development agenda. We cannot ignore the issues with this plan. Do we really trust the RI DOT to come in on time and on budget with this project? It is time for the status quo thinking on Smith Hill to change; we cannot afford to continue to lock the people out of the process though the elite’s schemes.

[Mike Stenhouse is CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.]

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Why Is RIDOT Inducing the Truck Toll Legal Challenge?

You may recall that the toll gantry on the Sakonnet River Bridge was removed a couple of months ago, oddly, on Super Bowl Sunday night. NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye has learned, exclusively, it appears, that

The State of Rhode Island intends to install a truck toll by this time next year, using the old Sakonnett River Bridge tolls, DOT director Peter Alviti told NBC 10 News.

“I think the basic logic of it is we can get a couple of them up right away because we’ve already got the gantries,” Alviti said. “If that causes a legal challenge, then so be it.”

Throwing the floor open here to speculation, rumor, gossip, innuendo and, if necessary, hard facts. The smart, if reprehensible, thing for the Raimondo administration and RIDOT to do would be to lock the state into tolls by proceeding full blast to rack up all kinds of expenses – the big ones being the purchase and installation of gantries and the issuance of bonds – that could only be repaid via toll revenue. Why would they veer away from this apparently surefire course?

ADDENDUM

In his conversation last night with WPRO’s Matt Allen, NBC 10’s Bill Rappleye said he is hearing that the gantry will go on Route 95, either in Exeter or near Exit 4 (on a “bridge”, presumably). So if tolls are green-lighted, they will benefit Providence and the 6/10 Greenway “Big Dig” yet will come, initially, from toll revenue collected far down the highway.

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Pension Case: Public Retirees Complain About Not Getting Dessert When So Many in D.P.S. Won’t Get Supper

The so-called opt-out case by some Providence retirees continued this week. Testimony yesterday did not include absurdly elitest and damaging references to BMW’s and international travel as it did at the start of the trial. Nevertheless, the lamenting of the loss of a pension COLA

During two hours of testimony in the trial involving the retirees who opted out of a 2013 pension settlement with the city, Stephen T. Day explained that he anticipates his 3% COLA would add about $800 to his pension check by 2019, providing a boost to his finances and allowing him help his family and retire.

is quite simply impossible to relate to by so many of us who don’t have any kind of (or only a woefully inadequate) retirement fund or a (quaintly antiquated) pension, much less a COLA. It’s important to note that so many public retirees in Rhode Island receive a very generous base pension to begin with, often goosed by overtime pay and – perhaps the most expensive component – one that so many retirees began collecting after only twenty or twenty five years of work.

To add to that a legal demand to keep a COLA comes across to most of us in the Dreaded Private Sector (D.P.S.), who are underwriting all of these highly quizzical promises, as someone demanding dessert after a five course meal when so many of us won’t be getting supper.

I cannot speak to the legal merits of this case. But by any measure, both the COLA’s and the bulk of public pensions are plainly inequitable. And from a p.r. perspective, the optics of this trial couldn’t be worse.

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Time to Return R.I. Tourism Marketing Back to Regional Boards

Governor Raimondo reduced the budgets of tourism boards around the state with the explicit goal of coming up with a unified marketing campaign for Rhode Island as a whole. And now her administration is giving up on a key component of it???

The tagline is ‘Rhode Island,’” the state’s commerce secretary said Wednesday, announcing that Rhode Island will not look for a new slogan to replace the maligned and abandoned catch phrase “Cooler & Warmer” as it moves ahead with a $5-million marketing campaign.

So why are we here? Put everything back the way it was. Leave tourism promotion where it has clearly belonged all along: in the hands of regional boards who know best how to promote their area of Rhode Island.

In a closely related matter, the Raimondo administration has clearly not made their case for an additional $5 million in tax dollars for tourism promotion. The track record here is a strong warning that these dollars would simply be squandered.

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Wait, What? Why is Such a Big Chunk of the Toll Money Going to 6/10 Greenway “Big Dig”?

On WPRO’s Morning News this morning, host Gene Valicenti articulated what we are all wondering: we were told that tolls were needed to fix all of the structurally unsafe bridges around the state. Why is so much of that money going only to the 6/10 Connector?

Pam Gencarella & Brian Bishop have a very good op-ed in today’s GoLocalProv, echoing this point and highlighting other serious problems and risks of RIDOT’s proposed, costly 6/10 “Big Dig”, including the issue of cost overruns on such an expensive project

If the federal government is paying for 60% of the 6/10 ‘Big Dig’ and the DOT incurs cost overruns of just 10%, that means an extra $100 million. Will the federal government fork over $60 million more for overruns or will the RI taxpayers pick up that entire additional $100 million?

as well as the ridiculously high price tag to repair such a small number of bridges.

Further, Director Alviti has continually said the billion dollar plan only covers 7 bridges in the 6/10 interchange itself, not the connector to 95! That’s another boondoggle waiting to happen.

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Best/Worst List Highlights Insanity of Bill That Would Jack RI’s Already High Energy Costs

As part of its informative Best and Worst Bills of 2016, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity highlights this especially egregious bill.

Despite Rhode Island having some of the highest energy rates in the nation, a bill that would impose a new fee on carbon-based energy, resulting in even higher energy costs for most families and businesses, ranks among the worst bills yet to be voted on according to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which today updated its list of the BEST and WORST bills of the 2016 General Assembly session.

Most of us, including myself, will greet with champagne and hearty applause the invention/discovery of a cheap, widely available, reliable, sustainable, “green” energy source, if and when this ever happens. Meanwhile, the sole effect of taxing (let’s call it what it is) politically incorrect fuel sources will be to needlessly make it even more expensive for individuals to live in RI and businesses to operate here.

(By the way, check out how your own legislators are doing so far this session on the Center’s 2016 RI Freedom Index.)

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Fall River’s Mayor Privatizes Trash Collection

Simply amazing! There’s actually an elected official someplace who doesn’t believe that the main purpose of government and the provision of public services is the well-compensated employment of public (labor union) employees.

Mayor Jasiel Correia also announced that he’s privatizing the city’s trash services, which will cost some city workers their jobs.

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Latest Red Flag Rating: Rhode Islanders Carry Eighth Highest Tax Burden

Thanks to the Providence Business News’ Lori Stabile for picking up on this.

Rhode Island has the eighth-highest tax burden in the nation at 10.36 percent, according to personal-finance website WalletHub.

With a week to go before Tax Day, WalletHub said it compared the tax burdens of all 50 states by measuring property taxes, individual income taxes and state and gross receipts taxes – three components of state tax burden – as percentages of the total personal income in each state.

Another red flag; another opportunity to ask: what are state leaders doing to mitigate this burden on taxpayers? (Hint: it involves reducing rather than increasing spending.)

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The IRS as the Government’s Leading Criminal Enterprise

So, it turns out that the same Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that suppressed conservative Tea Party groups in order to help a progressive president win reelection is helping illegal immigrants to commit tax fraud:

Asked to explain those practices, [IRS Commissioner John] Koskinen replied, “What happens in these situations is someone is using a Social Security number to get a job, but they’re filing their tax return with their [taxpayer identification number].” What that means, he said, is that “they are undocumented aliens … . They’re paying taxes. It’s in everybody’s interest to have them pay the taxes they owe.”

As long as the information is being used only to fraudulently obtain jobs, Koskinen said, rather than to claim false tax returns, the agency has an interest in helping them. “The question is whether the Social Security number they’re using to get the job has been stolen. It’s not the normal identity theft situation,” he said.

On the immediate issue, one must wonder how much these folks are actually paying in taxes.  More likely than not, they’re having taxes withheld from their paychecks and are filing in order to secure a return.  How many, do you think, wind up getting money back as earned-income tax credit (EITC) handouts?

More important, though, is the lackadaisical handling of the law.  The message to the American people is consistent from the abetting of illegal immigrants Social Security fraud to the handling of Hillary Clinton’s apparent misuse of classified documents as secretary of state:  The law does not apply equally to everybody, and may not apply at all to politically favored groups.

Then there’s the notion that using false Social Security numbers to secure jobs is a victimless crime.  The public should be assured that time worked on a friend’s Social Security account doesn’t wind up giving that friend a boost in benefits down the road, but more to the point, people who take jobs fraudulently prevent other people from taking those jobs and drive down the wages that employers must pay in order to find employees at market rate.

So, if it’s questionable whether these illegal immigrants ultimately pay taxes and if it’s certain that they drive down wages for American workers, why would a government agency whose whole reason for being is supposed to be to serve citizens assist in perpetuating fraud rather than assist in maintaining the rule of law?  I don’t know, but I happened to be reviewing election law, yesterday, in relation to a local controversy in Tiverton, and I was reminded of Rhode Island General Law 17-1-3.1(b)(3), which states that “the address from which [a person] filed his last federal income tax return… shall be considered prima facie evidence of [his] residence for voting purposes.”

Would an IRS that concludes that it’s “in everybody’s interest” to have illegal immigrants working and paying taxes think the same about having them vote?