Taxation RSS feed for this section

Civil Asset Forfeiture: Living in a Criminal Society

Although terrorism, collegiate fascism, and the presidential race have been dominating the headlines, center-right groups have been looking at civil asset forfeiture, recently.  That’s when law enforcement agencies take people’s money and goods away from them out of suspicion that they were gained from illegal activity.  Typically, even if the person is absolved of wrongdoing, he or she must then take the further step of proving that he or she gained the property through lawful means.

FreedomWorks gives Rhode Island an F for its civil forfeiture laws because the government only has to show probable cause in order to take property (that is, it only has to be reasonable for law enforcement personnel to believe the property was gained illegally).  The burden then falls on the property owner to prove that the assumption is not reasonable, and if he or she fails, the agency keeps 90% of the money, sending 10% to fund a state-level drug abuse treatment program.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) gives Rhode Island a D-.  (It’s not immediately clear why the minor difference, but it looks like IJ does a more-in-depth analysis of how the law applies to different crimes and different types of property and might give more weight to the fact that the confiscating agency doesn’t get to keep all of the money.)  However, IJ also looks at state collections from federal asset forfeiture, on which Rhode Island is dead last.  According to IJ, federal “equitable sharing” returns up to 80% of cash and property value taken under suspicion of federal violations to state agencies.

Looking at national numbers, Bonnie Kristian notes that the federal government confiscated $4.5 billion from Americans in 2014, which was more money than burglars managed to steal ($3.9 billion).  Not all of the numbers are available specifically for Rhode Island, but it looks like government might be especially good at taking peoples money and things away, around here:

  • According to IJ, state, local, and other (non-federal) agencies took $1,251,363 from people in Rhode Island in 2014, while averaging $1,384,497 from 2009 on.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) puts Rhode Island’s take under equitable sharing at $17,026,355 in 2014, which is close to the $17,721,060 average that IJ reports for the state from 2000 through 2013.
  • If we multiply the incidents of particular crimes (according to FBI data) with national average values for each crime, we find that the the $18.3 million confiscated by state and local agencies and given to state agencies by the DOJ was much bigger than the estimated dollar value of any one type of crime that year:
    • Burglary: $10.9 million
    • Larceny-theft: $15.3 million
    • Motor vehicle theft: $12.0 million
    • Robbery: $649,083

Of course, civil asset forfeiture is just one of the ways in which government takes money from people.  When taxes, fines, and fees are added into the mix, it’s a safe bet that government manages to take more wealth from Rhode Islanders than just about any category of crime or business.


Armed with Data, Americans Might Question Education Funding and “Equity”

The Rhode Island Department of Education has released the state’s first-ever results from the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests and sent a shudder through everybody who is, or should be, accountable for them.

Two recent bits of local political rhetoric concerning education illustrate how important it is for Americans to understand the math of education, and in Rhode Island, those with financial incentive to divert accountability and push for increased funding will quickly redouble their efforts.

Continue reading on


Again: Money Isn’t the Problem in RI Education

Writing in today’s Providence Journal, Meg O’Leary and Sarah Friedman argue that the state government should increase funding for public schools, especially those in urban areas — including, naturally, those in which the pair are co-directors of a charter school:

Why this gross inequity? Our current funding formula perpetuates a divisive approach to paying for our public schools — based on property taxes — placing an ever-increasing burden on our local budgets. Essentials such as buildings, food and transportation have to be funded from the property tax base of the city or town.

So, a city with a very small tax base must carry the same funding burden as a town whose residents can pay higher property taxes? Yes. In fact, the state average for these basics to operate schools is equal to $4,400 per pupil, but cities can only afford to spend $2,100 per pupil.

But wait, aren’t we overfunding our schools? Actually, “For FY 2012, RI ranked 47th [near the bottom] in state support for public education and seventh [near the top] in local support” (p. 3, House Fiscal Advisory Staff’s Rhode Island Education Aid, 2014). This means that our state could do better in decreasing the burden any one community feels by including all of the essentials in the formula.

As usual, when people who live off tax dollars cite statistics, their work has to be checked.  If we apply the percentages from the House Fiscal report that O’Leary and Friedman cite to the U.S. Census estimates for per pupil funding that I mentioned the other day, we find that the 47th state percentage turns out to be more actual dollars than average.  The average U.S. state had per pupil spending of $10,700 in FY13, with the state government paying $4,869 (by House Fiscal’s 2012 percentages).  According to the Census, Rhode Island spends $14,415, of which the state government provides $5,117.

As for the fairness of how those funds are distributed, the state government puts multiple thumbs on the scale to tilt it toward lower-income urban communities.  The formula adds 40% to the estimated cost of educating a student if they are lower-income.  For the 2016 school year, that meant adding $3,571 to a base of $8,928.  Then the formula also estimates the community’s ability to pay and adjusts again in favor of poorer communities.

As a consequence, when the funding formula is fully phased in, the state will cover 8.7% of estimated necessary funding in Jamestown, 15.9% in East Greenwich, and 16.3% in Portsmouth while covering 93.5% in Central Falls, 87.8% in Providence, and 83.1% in Pawtucket, the three cities that O’Leary and Friedman’s charter school, the Learning Community, serves.

If the formula were fully phased in, state taxpayers would be giving the Learning Community around $10,838 per student, this year, while giving Jamestown $805 and East Greenwich $1,463. The co-directors each make over $94,000 per year in salary, with around $15,000 more in “other compensation” each.  The per-student cost of their compensation is nearly $400, which is about half of the fully implemented state aid for Jamestown.

How much more “equitable” do they think the state’s funding formula ought to be?


RI Small Businesses Nation’s Most Pessimistic

Thumbtack is out with its regular survey of small businesses’ feelings about their prospects and the business friendliness of their states, and as one might expect, Rhode Island doesn’t do very well.  It’s one of four states with an F for business friendliness (the others being Connecticut, Illinois, and California), and it’s one of five states in which small business owners don’t have generally positive feelings (the others being Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Kansas).  Of those five, though, Rhode Island businesses’ “sentiment” was last in the nation.

Where Rhode Island businesses think their state is actually business friendly is the “ease of hiring.”  Although that’s an area in which politicians frequently promise assistance — up to and including transforming the state to make Rhode Islanders become the employees that some businesses want — it makes sense that employees would be readily available in a state that continues with minimal job growth.  Notably, the area in which small businesses have the most negative feelings is that of recent hires, suggesting that they don’t feel they’d have much difficulty hiring, but they haven’t had to do so.

The handful of business-owner comments provided on the Web site are telling.  A Wakefield florist chalks the problem up to the fact “the economy here has not recovered as of yet,” but others have more targeted complaints.  A handyman in Greene says that “there are high taxes on everything and you only get breaks if you hire illegal workers.”  A Providence caterer complains that the state doesn’t pay any attention to very small businesses and that the high taxes don’t cover many services that they actually use (other than roads), while the licensing regime is labyrinthine and “each state department thinks that they have to be notified first, so you get sent in circles.”

Perhaps a Cumberland Web designer hits the target closest to its root cause: “Many of our state legislators are long-time union hacks or government-entrenched cronies, so they don’t have the faintest idea about running a business, and their legislation reflects this.”


Government Means Subsidies for Failing Businesses and Labor Unions

Steven Frias’s brief history of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) provides another illustration in miniature of one of our government’s core problems:

Before RIPTA, most bus service in Rhode Island was provided by United Transit Company. After World War II, personal automobile ownership became more widespread, the suburbs grew, and bus ridership naturally shrank. Consequently, United Transit began to reduce its workforce and scale back its services. In the meantime, the transit workers union sought and obtained more pay and benefits, and United Transit raised bus fares to pay for these increasing operating costs. Eventually, United Transit began to operate at a loss.

In 1964, when United Transit refused the union’s demands for more pay, job security, and much larger pensions, the union initiated a strike that lasted two weeks. In response, Gov. John Chafee and Henry Molloy Jr., a transit union leader, supported creating a public transit authority to take over the United Transit bus system.

Such government activities are nothing other than crony capitalism, vote-buying redistribution schemes, and money transfers to labor unions.  People in all three groups — the business men and women who want to transfer risk to taxpayers, the people receiving government subsidies, and the employees who want to elect the people with whom they’ll be negotiating — elect politicians who promise to take money away from other people and give it to their political supporters.

It’s that simple.


Turning Rhode Island into the Government, LLC, State

Rhode Island is stealing our opportunity to fulfill our potential and be self-sufficient. We’re becoming increasingly dependent on subsidies from government, jobs remain scarce, and the state’s latest programs are designed to make things worse.

Here’s one indicator of increasing dependency: From January 2007 to January 2010, the state added over 60,000 residents to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; “food stamps”). Over the next three years, nearly 50,000 more joined, bringing the total to nearly 181,000.

In those few years, the state added about one-tenth of its population to the welfare program. Since then, during a supposed recovery, the number of participating Rhode Islanders hasn’t even fallen by 10,000.

During the same period, nearly 40,000 jobs disappeared from Rhode Island, and the state hasn’t quite replaced 30,000 of them. Joblessness or low pay subsidized with handouts appears to be the new normal in Rhode Island. As the crawling increase in jobs shows, we’re not achieving our role as a community to provide self-fulfilling, dignified work that allows us to support our own families.

Continue reading in the Providence Journal.


Government and Data: Truck Tolls

Yesterday afternoon, Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg tweeted a table from a new CDM Smith report that the RI Dept. of Transportation (RIDOT) just released as part of its campaign for a huge toll-and-borrow plan.  According to the table, out-of-state truckers account for 55.3% of truck traffic in Rhode Island, and after accounting for a multi-trip discount applied to tolls in the state, they’d account for 60.2% of the tolls collected.

In today’s related article, Gregg quotes Governor Gina Raimondo as saying that her plan shifts the infrastructure burden toward out-of-state truckers, who are “abusing” Rhode Island’s roads.  But a very important detail is completely left out of the CDM Smith report: diversion.  RIDOT’s original projections for the governor’s RhodeWorks project assumed a diversion rate of 25%, meaning that 25% of the expected tolls would not be collected because truckers would find alternate routes.

One needn’t hire an outside analyst like CDM Smith to conclude that the better part of any diversion will come from out-of-state truckers.  Just for illustration of the effects that change could have, if we apply the diversion evenly across all routes and assume the extreme that all diversion would come from out-of-state truckers, then the percentage of traffic more than flips.  In-state trucks would account for 60% of all truck traffic in the state.

Applying rough ratios for a multi-trip discount and assuming the discounts would all go to in-state truckers, they would still be responsible for nearly 57% of all tolls, or $34 million per year, if the goal is $60 million in revenue.  That’s more than $10 million larger than implied by CDM.

Remember, too, that there’s a spiral problem with this sort of data.  The lower the traffic, the higher the tolls, which means more traffic will divert.  (And don’t forget other sources of per-mile revenue that Rhode Island collects from truckers that would be affected by diversion.)


Government, Media, and Data: Rhode Island Higher Ed Funding

It’s becoming increasingly important for the news media to start looking for holes in what government spinmeisters tell them.

Take, for example, a tweet from Providence Journal reporter Lynn Arditi, which WPRI reporter Dan McGowan retweeted and which turned out to be a tease for an article on today’s front page. The spin should be, frankly, offensive to anybody who pays taxes in Rhode Island.  The basic message of the tweet and the article is that the heavily taxed people of Rhode Island are not sufficiently subsidizing college students (whatever they may happen to be studying) and their administration-heavy schools.  Not only are there giant monuments of missing context, but the dollar amounts about which we’re supposed to be concerned are laughable.

The bulk of the information comes from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), which has just released nationwide data on student debt.  The report shows Rhode Island (including private universities and colleges) as the fourth-highest-debt state, at $31,841.  It’s important to note, though, that RI drops to 14th-highest for the percentage of students who have any debt at all.

Arditi focuses on public colleges and universities.  “The average student debt among the state’s four-year public college graduates in the Class of 2014 was $29,076 — the ninth-highest in the country.”  By contrast, the “average debt of Connecticut public college graduates was $24,831 — ranking 32nd nationally and the lowest of New England’s public colleges.”

Playing with TICAS’s more-detailed search tool, one can see that Rhode Island’s high number comes mainly from the University of Rhode Island, with its $30,731 average student debt (versus $25,567 at Rhode Island College).  Well, according to U.S. News & World Report, in 2008, enrollment at URI was exactly half from out-of-state students, which is seventh highest on that list.  Not surprisingly, the core public university of Vermont, the state topping Arditi’s tweeted chart by a large margin, also tops the out-of-state enrollment list, at 74%.

The University of Connecticut? Just 33% out of state.  Rhode Island’s margin for out-of-state students, versus Connecticut, is larger than its margin for student debt.  And let’s be honest: The difference between the ninth-highest debt and the 32nd highest is all of $4,245 on a loan to be paid off potentially over decades.  Rhode Island’s state and local tax burden is the eighth highest in the country, and the people shouldering that burden are supposed to feel guilty that out-of-state kids studying who knows what might have to pay a few hundred dollars more per year on a loan (which we probably subsidized on their behalf, at the federal level)?

Come on.  If Rhode Island’s commissioner of post-secondary education, Jim Purcell, who made $174,471 in fiscal year 2015, really finds this “troubling,” he should push for RI’s public colleges and university to trim their rippling administrative fat.  In the meantime, journalists should stop helping government big-wigs push for more and more money based on well-spun data and, instead, take up the cause of the people who are trying to raise families and build businesses in Rhode Island.

UPDATE (10/30/15 9:49 a.m.):

If you’re interested in more detail, check out CollegeXpress.  The site puts URI’s out-of-state enrollment at 44%, but it puts UConn’s at just 21%.  Meanwhile, URI’s in-state tuition is actually a little lower than UConn’s, while UConn’s out-of-state tuition is a lot higher.


The Demon RI’s Cult of Big Government Would Summon

As Halloween approaches, fear not the masks and movies; fear the quiet promises whispered in press releases and incanted with mystical words like “equity,” “sustainability,” and “diversity.” The Cult of Big Government is working night in and night out to raise from the dark abyss of dangerous philosophies a demon to possess all of society and sap the human will.  Look south of Salem, to Rhode Island, where the scheme is well advanced.

In a society so comfortable that it has become discomfited by the wisdom of its ancestors, our popular myths mislead us now.  The demon will not arrive with a flash of lightning and the smell of sulfur.  It has changed the masks of racial bigotry and overt greed in which it has been spotted in the past.  Its minions have no need of the ritualistic dances of the legislature.  No virgin need be sacrificed (though virginity itself may be).  Surviving until dawn will not save the victims.

Rather, the secular clerics of the soulless cult have chosen three points in the lives of unsuspecting national villagers on which to build their citadels, disguised as places of public service, and when the triangle is fully drawn between them, all hope will be lost.

Continue reading on


When Government Has “Affordability” to Sell

A journalist once asked me what “other side” there could possibly be to the unmitigated blessing of government’s buying up open space.  I responded with the basic point that economist Thomas Sowell makes here:

Housing prices in San Francisco, and in many other communities for miles around, were once no higher than in the rest of the United States.

But, beginning in the 1970s, housing prices in these communities skyrocketed to three or four times the national average.

Why? Because local government laws and policies severely restricted, or banned outright, the building of anything on vast areas of land. This is called preserving “open space,” and “open space” has become almost a cult obsession among self-righteous environmental activists, many of whom are sufficiently affluent that they don’t have to worry about housing prices.

From progressives’ point of view, this is all to the better.  They get to preserve pretty nature for their own enjoyment when they have a moment to pause and look at it or to make their morning commutes more pleasant, and they drive up the price of housing, so they can then turn around and buy votes with subsidies to those who can no longer afford their homes while also increasing their power to tell people how they have to live.

Remember RhodMap RI?  It came before RhodeWorks, which (we’ll no doubt find) precedes RhodeKill.  Well, RhodeMap is an excellent example of the plan in action.

A poor economy, tight regulations and zoning, and a growing portfolio of unavailable land are making it difficult for lower-income Rhode Islanders to find suitable housing.  The solution, according to government planners, is to force social engineering by pushing “affordable housing” into every corner of the state, which has the happy side effect for progressives of pushing people who tend to vote for their preferred candidates and policies into those corners, so no contrary perspective can gain a solid footing.

When implemented, RhodeMap-like plans will drive up the prices (and taxes) in areas that aren’t in the designated subsidy zones.  The subsidized areas will fill up, first, with politically preferred groups.  This combination of circumstances will create many opportunities for strife, among them being an increase in the sense of inequality and unaffordability, which will — surprise! — increase the calls for government to step in and solve the problems with new taxes and diktats.

It’s a fine machine, don’t you think?


Speaker Mattiello, Why Give Gina Raimondo’s Political Career An Enormous Boost Via Tolls?

Dear Speaker Mattiello:

I listened with interest to your interview yesterday morning on WPRO with Gene Valicenti in which you said that you support “a” toll plan.

We won’t linger on the reasons why a toll, of any amount, on any vehicle, would be a really bad idea economically and politically for everyone in the state (except Governor Raimondo). Economically bad: it would drag down the state’s economy by adding to the cost of living, it would exacerbate the state’s business climate and it would be remarkably wasteful as half of the revenue would be completely squandered on interest and gantries. (You should be aware, by the way, that the REMI study produced earlier this month at Governor Raimondo’s order is viewed by everyone with any intelligence as completely skewed and its conclusion as derisively unbelievable.) Politically unwise – Tolls are astonishingly unpopular, as witnessed by the public uproar over the attempt, last year, to toll just one bridge way off in a corner of East Bay. Tolls would be used like a cudgel next year against every legislator who votes for them.

But important as all of that is, it is secondary to the main issue that I would put to you. Tolls would enormously benefit one person and one person only: Governor Gina Raimondo. You have undoubtedly heard the rumors that she will seek higher office rather than re-election in three years. Whatever her plans, whether she seeks the political promotion in three years or seven, if a toll plan of any kind is implemented, her political career – and no one else’s – would receive a gigantic boost, financial and otherwise, as hundreds of millions of dollars in a construction surge would turn the members of certain trades unions into her adoring slaves and contributions – some of them from the tolls themselves in the form of wages! – would flow lavishly into her campaign coffers from those unions and their members. Is there any question that this, in turn, would expand into support from national unions as the governor moves on politically from Rhode Island?

Forgive me for being direct here, Mr. Speaker. Why would you permit this to happen at every other Rhode Islander’s expense? Even stipulating for a moment that one or two other officials may benefit in a mild way from a toll plan, such a benefit would be utterly dwarfed by the out-sized boost to Governor Raimondo and her political career. It is impossible to believe, sir, that you are a supporter of Governor Raimondo’s political career to the point that you would facilitate such an enormous boon to it, to the corresponding detriment of the state.

Thank you for any consideration you might give to this matter.


Monique Chartier


Renewable Energy, Unchangeable Systemic Bias

Last week, it turned out that $200,000 of the $64-100 million total that the Republican Policy Group proposed to reprioritize for road and bridge infrastructure might not be available from a Woonsocket museum.  For those without a calculator near at hand, that’s between 0.2% and 0.3% of the whole proposal, which means it’s pretty much dispensable.

The correction, however, presents a lesson on the degree to which our system is tilted toward ever-greater government spending.  Even taking actual news media bias out of the equation, a systemic bias exists.  Each cut or restraint has people paid (usually by us) to advocate for their positions, and they have all sorts of direct information not readily available to the public. That means:

  1. Every fact will be checked and errors proclaimed.
  2. The likelihood of errors in proposed spending reductions is high, because even such facts — small in the grand scheme — can be time consuming to check thoroughly.
  3. Conversely, surprising excesses that are absolutely true will be downplayed.

One of the more stunning pieces of information in the Republicans’ proposal is also relatively small, although more than double the museum line item.  Using numbers directly from the state Office of Energy Resources, it turns out that the surcharge that the state imposes on energy consumers to fund public support for renewable energy special interests costs taxpayers $526,000 indirectly through the cost of state government, including public higher education.  That’s on top, obviously, of whatever we pay total for our own energy usage, which is probably much more.

With its being accurate, the incentive for Rhode Island insiders is to ignore that little fact, not to defend it, to keep it out of the public consciousness as much as possible.  No green-industry lobbyists will come forward to tell Rhode Islanders what they’re getting for their half-million dollars.  Bringing news media bias back into the equation, PolitiFact will not likely be analyzing the shocking number and finding it “True.”

So, the beat goes on.  People who take our money do so quietly (and lie when they’re caught), while those who seek to stop the theft are constantly in the spotlight for any for any small error.


Question About Work and Culture Funding

On Twitter, Ian Donnis of RIPR has been sort of arbitrating a dispute between Rep. Patricia Morgan and the Woonsocket Museum of Work and Culture Preservation.  With a group of fellow Republicans, Morgan has proposed a PayGo solution for bridge and road repair and maintenance, including a reprioritization of $200,000 from the museum toward infrastructure.

The museum claims total state funding of around $12,000, not $200,000.  Morgan replies that the Rhode Island Historical Society receives the state funding and uses that money for the museum.  Who’s correct?

According to the latest available 990 form from the museum, for 2013, $12,000 of revenue is in the general area.  On the other hand, the Historical Society’s latest available annual report, dated November 2013, shows a $229,629 line item for “Woonsocket museum.”

In sorting out the distinction, it’s interesting that the annual report lists eight staff members at the Museum of Work & Culture, while the 990 form lists not a single dollar on salaries or benefits and does not list any actual employees.

A complicating factor, however, is that, according to the annual report only 54% of the society’s revenue comes via public support, and “public” doesn’t necessarily mean “government.”  According to, the society receives around $150,000 per year from the federal government, with twice that in 2011.  According to RIOpenGov, the Historical Society receives varying amounts from the state government, sometimes none.

There could be still more to this story than I’m spotting, but for the moment it looks a small portion of the millions of dollars in the GOP’s proposal would need to be found again.  In the state’s massive budget, that shouldn’t be an issue at all.


Today’s Bias Technique by the Tommy FlanAAAgan of Journalism, PolitiFactRI: Choose Carefully the Statement to be Rated

PolitiFactRI is so obviously biased and has made so many blatantly wrong ratings that flew in the face of plain truth that, for me, it has achieved the status of a pathological liar. So I wonder sometimes whether it is even worth calling them out. You don’t bother to call out a pathological liar, you simply ignore everything he says because he has no credibility.

But then I remember that they have as a platform the state’s largest newspaper, the Providence Journal, which inexplicably continues to damage its own reputation for accuracy, perpetuate serious misinformation, promote bad government policies and squander valuable journalistic resources by hosting a mini-Pravda.

With that reminder, then, let’s take a look at today’s rating and the bias therein.