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Taxing the Rich Across the Country

Reading an Oklahoma editorial that cites public policy in Maine while I sit here in Rhode Island can’t help but make me wonder how it is we fail to learn with the entire nation — the entire world — as a real-time generator of examples and case studies:

Last year, voters in Maine approved a ballot measure that increased by 3 percentage points the income tax rate for those earning more than $200,000. This set Maine’s top income tax rate at 10.15 percent, second-highest in the country.

The tax increase, promoted by teachers unions, was a classic “soak the rich” proposal. The 41 percent rate increase was expected to impact only around 7,000 filers in Maine, and was expected to generate $157 million per year, which would be earmarked for schools.

Pause and think about a pair of aspects, here.  First, you’ve got the teachers unions using government literally to confiscate money from a targeted group of people and give it to themselves.  (The one step of separation that sends the money to the school districts makes no difference.)  To progressives, that’s called “representative democracy.”  If one side can manipulate political processes, their “representatives” will give it things taken from another side.

Second, following on that idea of taking from others, do a little quick math.  Taking $157 million from 7,000 people means taking $22,429 from each.  How is that not plain plunder?  Sure, maybe wealthy people can afford that hit, but robbing from rich people is still theft.  And what would make people think families wouldn’t seek some way to adjust their finances in order to prevent the taking of so much money?

It isn’t at all surprising that the Maine Revenue Services office reported no evidence of increased revenue a month ago.

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Penn Station and the CCRI Observatory: Where the Money Goes

Boy, taxes and the cost of government must have really fallen for this to be the case:

Penn Station is just one symptom of a larger illness. With an aging subway system subject to a recent state-of-emergency order by Cuomo, and a 67-year-old bus terminal called “appalling” and “functionally obsolete” by officials of the agency that runs it, the New York area’s transportation systems embody America’s inability, or unwillingness, to address its aging infrastructure.

Of course, far from shrinking, the cost of government has exploded over the lives of Penn Station and the bus station, so where is the money going?  In brief, our tax dollars are being redirected to pet projects, progressive redistribution, and (I would say) special deals that amount to outright theft.  A core tenet of blue-state spending is that the people will always accept more debt and higher costs if the last things they get to pay for are the things they find most critical.

We don’t have to go to the Big Apple or major infrastructure for the lesson.  Take a look at this somewhat-cryptic Providence Journal article by Alex Kuffner:

The Community College of Rhode Island organized an open house on Saturday at its Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory to celebrate the completion of a $45,000 renovation that included a new control desk, new seating and repairs to the roof-opening mechanism. …

But the event was clouded by a demonstration outside the observatory’s doors by faculty members and students who protested what they allege is mistreatment of the astronomy professor who has overseen operation of the observatory for the past decade. …

Britton was hired in 2007 to teach astronomy to students and to operate the observatory for his classes and on nights when it’s open to the public. Last month, when the administration changed the way he would be compensated for the public nights, resulting in less pay, he balked.

Kuffner never details the change, but the context suggests that the college may now be paying only a non-faculty rate for the public night.  That is, a special deal has gone away.

One needn’t look far at all to find other examples.

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At Least the Laborers Union Has Representation in the General Assembly

Don’t let the drama of a political fight over legislation distract you from this nugget in Kathryn Gregg’s Providence Journal article suggesting that differences over a new paid-leave mandate may have helped bring about the General Assembly’s surprise session ending:

In response to a Journal inquiry, House spokesman Larry Berman said this is what happened:

“The [paid leave] bill that was passed by the House did not include the Laborers’ because we believed they wanted to be exempt. Mike Sabitoni did not talk to the Speaker or anyone in the House until the bill was recommended for passage by the House Labor Committee on Thursday and the House was getting ready to vote on the bill.”

“When we were notified that the Laborers’ wanted to be included in the bill, the appropriate amendment was drafted on Friday morning and given to the Senate to amend the House bill.″

So, basically, the Laborers Union gets whatever it wants in the General Assembly.  They want exemption?  Why, it’s simply obvious that the legislation should be amended.  If they don’t, hey that’s no problem either.

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Going from Crime to Illness Means Big Growth for the Government Plantation

Marc Munroe Dion picks up on what I’ve been calling “the government plantation” in his latest “Livin’ and Dion” column about the budget consequence of recasting drug use from a crime to an illness.  Noting that a person who comes across a homeless beggar could feed him or her with a $10 sandwich, but:

If you ran a non-profit agency, you’d need an outreach worker to find the homeless guy, an intake worker to make sure the homeless guy was really hungry, a case manager to find out what kind of sandwich he likes, a nutritional expert to make to make sure he got a healthy sandwich, a coordinator to introduce the outreach worker to the case manager, a facilitator to go into the store and buy the sandwich, and a five-member board of directors to approve the $10 sandwich, which would be referred to in all documents as a “nutritional expenditure for indigent substance abuse-affected client.”

At all times, the homeless guy eating the sandwich would be referred to as a “client.” Total cost of the sandwich? $65,000, not including benefits, and pensions.

Rhode Island’s state government is deliberately working to transform our economy into one built on this very model.  Declare some benefit to be a right, find a way to collect money from the rest of the economy and other states (via the federal government), and fill out a massive bureaucracy with government-satellite non-profit agencies with plenty of well-paying jobs whose holders will tend to support the system politically and to fund the necessary political action through their labor union dues.

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Disability Pensions and RI’s Rate of Pilferage

Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin has been making a lot of sense, lately.  Most recently, on “R.I.’s disability-pension gravy train”:

One of the bills, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Robert Craven, a North Kingstown attorney, wants firefighter disability to include not just on-the-job injury, but illness, too — specifically, cardiovascular.

If a firefighter can no longer serve because of hypertension, stroke or heart disease, it would be considered work-related. Automatically.

Bingo — tax-free disability for life.

A second bill, introduced by four reps who are former cops, also makes “illness sustained while in the performance of duty” grounds for disability for police officers.

Companion bills have passed each chamber, meaning that the state House and Senate each has passed an identical version of the bill (H5601 and S0896). If either chamber passes the other chamber’s version, the legislation will go to the governor to be signed.

It’s tempting to say that Rhode Island has crossed some sort of line this year (probably as the jackals put in their conditions for negotiation with Democrat Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, so that he could get the car tax elimination he locked himself into providing), but the reality is that we were already over the line.

As this legislative session has proven, the “reasonable” position in state government isn’t to improve conditions in Rhode Island or to loosen the ropes on residents, but simply to insist on a slower pace for the pilfering of people’s wealth.  That may delay the Puerto Rico or Venezuela endgame, but perhaps not by much.

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Consequence for Employee Theft, Fraud, or Whatever: Cushy Retirement

I’d say this is outrageous, but it’s far too common and doesn’t seem to produce the appropriate outrage in the Ocean State.  Stephen Greenwell reports in the Newport Daily News:

A Tiverton police lieutenant accused of sleeping during overnight shifts will retire June 30, after the Tiverton Town Council voted 4-3 on Wednesday night to accept a plea agreement that was executed Thursday morning in District Court.

Timothy R. Panell, 47, of 50 Shannon Ave., Tiverton, had a not-guilty plea entered for one charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. The charge was filed, meaning it will be removed from court records in one year provided Panell faces no additional charges.

As part of a court-approved plea-bargaining agreement, 48 additional charges of obtaining money under false pretenses and nine counts of falsifying documents were dismissed.

Keep in mind, by the way, that it wasn’t just this officer.  He merely led his entire shift to have “quiet time.”  The others faced no publicly stated consequence.  Also keep in mind that for years, Panell was the second-highest-paid employee in town, after the school superintendent, largely because of huge amounts of overtime.

In little Tiverton alone, we’ve had multiple instances of similar stories throughout town government over a handful of years, and every time the Town Council takes one of these union-friendly pleas, one can only wonder how they don’t see the incentives they’re creating.  Theft, fraud… whatever.  If an employee gets caught taking advantage of the town and its taxpayers, the consequence is that he or she simply eases into retirement, with an agreement that nobody on the town side will say anything bad about them.

How could this do otherwise than make it more likely that employees will make bad decisions?

Voting for the plea were council members John Edwards the Fifth (son of Democrat Representative John Edwards the Fourth), Randy Lebeau, Christine Ryan, and council President Joan Chabot.

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Montanaro Pay-Back Shouldn’t Close the Books

Ted Nesi and Tim White report that General Assembly employee Frank Montanaro, Jr., has decided to reimburse the state for the value of the tuition that his children received through a questionable benefit based on his prior employment with Rhode Island College:

“After consultation with my family and Speaker Mattiello, I believe the best thing to do is return the monetary equivalent of the tuition benefit my children received after I transitioned to my new role at the General Assembly,” Montanaro said. “I will be contacting Rhode Island College tomorrow to make the necessary arrangements.”

The first reaction of workaday Rhode Islanders may be to observe that the state seems to give insider benefits to people who don’t really need them.  If, as Montanaro says a consulting labor attorney told him, everything was on the up-and-up with this benefit, that’s an awful lot of money to give up to end a media “distraction.”  Either he’s even richer than his high salary might suggest or there’s even greater incentive we don’t know about for him to make the issue go away.

In that regard, enough information is already public to suggest that the state should investigate this matter.  Montanaro repeatedly checked a box providing incorrect information to the University of Rhode Island, and the surrounding circumstances make it seem unlikely he did so by accident.  That’s not something that people outside of the political elite in Rhode Island would get away with.

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The Bubble Begets Tone-Deafness on Eternal Contracts

So, the teachers unions’ annual attempt to give themselves even more leverage in negotiations by making their contracts eternal is back in the mix.  The lobbying by union employees and donations to politicians are ultimately taxpayer funded, so this bill probably won’t go away until it passes someday.

What’s notable, this time around, is that the bill accompanies a labor dispute in Warwick, leading to this telling point from Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh:

Netcoh said the bill “levels the playing field between employers and employees.”

Referring to [Warwick Schools Supt. Philip] Thornton, she added: “Would he go to work every day if he didn’t have a contract? I don’t think so.”

One wonders how it could have escaped Netcoh’s attention that plenty of Rhode Islanders go to work every day without contracts.  See, it’s called “a mutually beneficial transaction.”  The employer has work that has to be done, and the employee has a need to earn income.  If a contract makes sense in a particular circumstance, then the parties draw one up and abide by it; otherwise, the contract is essentially a casual, even verbal, agreement to do work and to pay for work that’s done.

In government, though, it’s not about that mutually beneficial transaction, in part because nobody’s spending their own money.  Contracts for government employees are fundamentally agreements about how much one party will take from taxpayers and transfer to the other party, and so they’ve become a mechanism for labor unions to get politicians to lock taxpayers into expenses.

This eternal contract legislation is about ensuring that taxpayers are locked in to the promises of elected officials (often elected with the help of the employees) to an even greater degree.

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About that Tuition Waiver While on Leave…

WPRI’s Ted Nesi and Tim White have kept on the story of Frank Montanaro, Jr.’s three-year job-holding leave from Rhode Island College and the $50,000 benefit of free tuition he claimed through it, and this is starting to look like more than merely an ill-advised contractual benefit for employees.  Apparently, he took up the habit of filling out forms at the University of Rhode Island asserting that he was not on leave:

Asked why he stated he was not on leave during a time when he was in fact on leave, Montanaro said in an email: “As you can see all waivers were reviewed and approved by RIC. If there was a mistake they would have had me correct it before approval.” He also said a RIC staff member assisted him in filling out the forms.

RIC spokeswoman Kristy dosReis refused to say why the college allowed Montanaro to avoid disclosing his leave of absence on the form forwarded to URI, but told Target 12: “In this case, there was an existing agreement that enabled the authorization of a tuition waiver.” (RIC and Montanaro declined to provide a copy of that agreement.)

Seems to me there are three possibilities:

  1. The “benefit” was simply a special crony handout offered to a government insider.
  2. A six-figure employee of the General Assembly made a habit of submitting fraudulent forms to secure a valuable benefit.
  3. That six-figure employee was so inept or careless at filling out forms as to be of disqualifying competence for his high-paying job.

At the end of the article, Republican state senator from Coventry Nick Kettle suggests that Montanaro “should pay [the tuition] back or resign.”  How about both?  And maybe face prosecution, as well, along with anybody at Rhode Island College who facilitated any fraud?

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The Labor Union Takes Credit for High-Performing Schools

While we’re on the topic of public education, a different angle caught my attention in the ongoing matter of East Greenwich budgeting.  Readers may have heard something about the fiscal changes and personnel turnover under a largely Republican town council, actually reducing spending and holding the school side of the budget flat.

What jumped out at me as worthy of commentary (beyond “rah, rah, go Team Reform”) is this reaction from National Education Association of Rhode Island union poobah Bob Walsh:

“They level funded the schools, with Corrigan saying her firm would do administrative functions,” said Walsh. “The Chair stopped taking testimony and approved the budget — and now the school committee has to figure out how to implement some of the cuts. This is after it took us a year to get the contract.”

“I’m really surprised by the whole thing — our best performing communities are Barrington and East Greenwich,” said Walsh. “And East Greenwich has not been as generous in funding, whereas the Barrington parents usually step up.”

That’s a strange statement to make, considering that East Greenwich spends almost $1,000 more per student than Barrington.

More to the point, though, what is this “our best performing communities” stuff?  When it comes to arguments about higher per-student costs and lower performance in other cities or towns, the Bob Walshes will run to the microphone to argue that the biggest contributor to success is demographic, the teachers or districts, thus denying the link between spending and results.  They make the same argument with charter schools.

And yet, when one of those towns with supposedly high-performing demographics reins in its budget growth, suddenly the union organizers want us to believe they deserve the credit for results?

It has never made sense for one part of town government to have the authority to allow the teachers union to “get the contract” while only the other part of town government is authorized to raise the money to pay for it.  Maybe it’s time to start removing some of the layers that confuse the question of who can say “our communities.”

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Expanded Disability Pensions Will Be Boon for Investigative Journalists

The bright side, if the bills that Ted Nesi summarizes for WPRI were to pass into law, would be a boom in gotcha-journalism stories about questionable disability pensions:

The first bill, sponsored by Providence Rep. Joe Almeida, would allow an “injury or illness” sustained on duty – rather than just an “injury,” the current wording – to be cause for the granting of a tax-free accidental disability pension to a police officer or firefighter. It would also increase how long officers have to file a disability claim from 18 months after the incident to 36 months. …

The second bill, sponsored by North Kingstown Democrat Robert Craven, would mandate that any firefighter who suffers from hypertension, stroke or heart disease will be “presumed to have suffered an in-the-line-of-duty disability” and therefore be eligible for a disability pension, unless there was evidence of the condition in his or her entrance exam.

When first published, Nesi’s story noted that the bills had been posted for votes, implying passage, but after his story went live, they were removed:

“They were posted prematurely,” House spokesman Larry Berman said in an email. “Both bills were on a preliminary list for possible posting and then were posted in error. Those two bills are still being reviewed.”

Even if it ends there, this episode is a good reminder that special interests (ultimately funded with taxpayer dollars) are constantly working the system to expand benefits for government union members at the public expense.  They work to elect friendly officials to local office for generous contracts, and they work to elect friendly legislators to write generous benefits into the law.

Something dramatic and structural has to happen to change this, because our system has no countervailing forces short of bankruptcy that will withstand the year after year after year push.  The embarrassment of hidden camera stories about retirees abusing their benefits will only go so far in restraining ever-more-unsustainable benefits from being bestowed.

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Legislation “Mutually Acceptable” to Whom?

I’ve long objected to the Rhode Island General Assembly’s seeing itself as a sort of corporate board for the lives of all Rhode Islanders.  In a related way, I’ve argued that groups like chambers of commerce are no longer acting as advocacy groups for the interests of private people or organizations, but rather are satellites of government that maintain their relevance to the extent that they can act as government’s liaisons to businesses.

Something in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article about legislation to forbid all Rhode Island businesses from automatically reducing employee pay for just about any reason — from in-company fines to compensation for broken merchandise — sets off alarm bells.  The legislation is objectionable enough; it isn’t government’s role to set narrow, specific terms under which people can interact for business purposes.  (Labor unions back the bill, naturally, because it makes it harder for non-union organizations to compete.)

But meddling in Rhode Islanders’ lives is simply par for the course for our politicians.  This is the part that really caught my attention:

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s state Department of Labor and Training supports the bill and worked to find language acceptable to workers, the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, according to a letter from DLT Assistant Director Matthew Weldon.

Weldon said the current bill language, tweaked from prior year versions, was “mutually acceptable and delivers what we believe to be a clear and enforceable amendment.”

“Mutually acceptable” to whom?  Are we now to behave as if the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce are satisfactory stand-ins for every business in the state?  And are we supposed to believe that the fact that nobody showed up to testify for the legislation proves that there’s no opposition?  Think of the implications of that.  

Taxes and regulations already make Rhode Island a difficult place in which to operate a company or make a living (unless you’re tied in with government, somehow).  Does every business owner, of companies large and small, have to devote resources to constant vigilance and influence-buying lest our supposed political representatives “negotiate” their rights away?

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“I Followed the Process Afforded to Me Under My Contract.”

The phrase quoted in the title of this post ought to make Rhode Islanders’ blood boil.  It’s the excuse rolled out for government employees’ abuse of taxpayers on a small scale, and it’s the central complaint of those who fear that the impossibly generous pension system will ultimately not pay out as well as they’d hoped.

As Ted Nesi and Tim White report, in this case, it’s the statement of former Democrat Representative Frank Montanaro Jr. of Cranston, son of labor union poobah Frank Montanaro, Sr., as he addresses questions about his own sweet little deal.  Under the aforementioned contract, he was able to leave his lucrative job with Rhode Island College (RIC) and try out an even more lucrative job working for the General Assembly while RIC held his job open for him for three years — which is long enough perhaps to act as insurance if your political patron loses office in the next election.

As a technical, though not active, employee of RIC, Montanaro kept (under his contract) the benefit of free tuition for his son and somebody else whom he’s calling “a guardian.”  Nesi and White peg the value to the Montanaros of that benefit at just under $50,000.

To some extent, Montanaro’s got a point.  What’s he supposed to be — a saint who refuses this $50,000 gift despite the $73,000 raise he secured by moving from RIC to the Joint Committee on Legislative Services?

On the other hand, as with pensions, Montanaro may be the poster child for how labor unions abuse our government in order to negotiate these deals for themselves, their families, and their cronies.  In that light, it looks more than a little like a racketeering scheme out of Crimetown.

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One Hundred New State Jobs Would Only Perpetuate Failures & Failed Approach

Both the proven failure of a budget-centric approach and Governor Raimondo’s dismal public policy track record should give the General Assembly real pause when considering her reported request for one hundred new state hires – and other initiatives, past and prospective.

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The Network of Left-Wing Activists That Targets Legislators’ Homes

In late March, I highlighted a post on RI Future celebrating a march on the Pawtucket home of Democrat state representative David Coughlin, who sponsored legislation to require more cooperation between Rhode Island law enforcement and federal immigration officials.  At the time, I made a note to look into the group behind the march, and it proved to be just another one of the many, many groups that pop up in Rhode Island, funded largely through the same stream.

According to Steve Ahlquist’s report, the key organizer appears to have been Fuerza Laboral, whose executive director, Heiny Maldonado is, I believe, the one pictured holding the sign reading, “Your constituents put you there. Your constituents can take you ‘OUT’,” as well as a sign reading, ironically, “Stop fascism now.”

As one typically finds, the group’s list of “institutional partners and funders” leans heavily toward organized labor union groups.  Also on the list are a variety of foundations, from the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (Vermont) to the more-overt Left Tilt Fund (California), which gave the group $10,000 per year for a few years.  In 2015, the Fuerza Laboral collected just under $210,000 and spent about 54% on employees.

Investigating the Left’s activities, one discovers a lot of these groups, even in a small state like Rhode Island, covering just about every political issue out there, all of them well funded and with staffs of paid activists.  Measure them against the handful of conservative groups that progressives love to present as some sort of hidden force affecting the state for the benefit of outside donors, and it isn’t even close.

This is the context in which Rhode Islanders should consider supposed “good government” reforms that seek to trip up grassroots candidates and small groups with campaign finance regulations that expose their donors.  The progressives’ funders have a well-established channel (much of it going right from taxpayers, through labor unions as dues, and back into politics and activism).

Exposing every small local donor of non-Leftist groups and politicians just gives the progressive network more homes on which to march and properties to photograph for intimidation purposes.

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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Payroll Counts and Totals Under Governor Raimondo

A couple of days ago, Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) was complaining to Tara Granahan on 630AM/99.7FM that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration was dragging its heels on providing Morgan with information about new hires since the start of her administration.

As Tara and Patricia were saying on air, that should be an easy request for the administration to fulfill.  Filter all employees to the appropriate hire dates, and there you go.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to that tool, but for some overall sense of what the response will look like when it comes, I visited the state’s transparency site and downloaded the payroll for the relevant years.  Note that this data is by fiscal year, and the fiscal year 2017 dollar totals are projected “annual” pay and may vary in actuality, what with overtime and that sort of thing.  Also note that this is the entire state government, so it captures everything from courts to colleges.

My method was to search for full names (including middle initial) that did or didn’t appear in each subsequent year of payroll, which isn’t perfect.  If the state for some reason had a typo on a name (skipping a middle initial) or if somebody got married, or something, these numbers will be a little off, but it does give a rough picture.

Treating fiscal year 2016 as Raimondo’s first (that’d be July 2015 through June 2016), the state government has added 458 more employees than it lost during the two years of budgets that were implemented under this governor.  Those new employees account for an additional $30,639,475 in annual pay.

new-payroll-hires-2015-2017

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Avoiding Unions for Innovation and Prudent Decisions

Wall Street Journal editorialist Allysia Finley conveys the perspective of Braidy Industries CEO Craig Bouchard, who is opening an aluminum mill in right-to-work Kentucky.  Regarding an earlier company, experience with which soured Bouchard on organized labor:

They sold it for $1.2 billion to the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008, shortly before the stock market and steel industry crashed. Thousands of workers subsequently lost their jobs. Mr. Bouchard blames the United Steelworkers. He had first tried to sell a partnership stake in Esmark to the Indian company Essar Steel. But the United Steelworkers sought to force a sale to Severstal, which the union perceived as more labor-friendly. Had the Essar deal been consummated, Mr. Bouchard says, “every one of those people would have their jobs today” because all of the company’s debt would have been paid off.

Obviously, this is one side of that story, but the moral from the CEO’s point of view is that business decisions should be left to business owners.  That includes other pitfalls of unionization, like work rules that constrain activities beyond what the employer and employee would accept if left to their own and other costs, like pensions.

The key part of the op-ed, though, may be the bigger picture.  Bouchard’s new company is built on innovation in the metallurgical sciences.  Our broader tax and regulatory regime slows down that sort of innovation.  Another culprit is an unhealthy aversion (across the ideological spectrum) to allowing “creative destruction” to usher out old technologies and ways of doing things and ushering in the new.

A society should provide leverage for workers as the capitalism charges forward, but labor unions, protectionism, and regulation don’t appear to be sufficiently effective.  What we need is something broader, more cultural — dare I say, more spiritual — that allows us to make individual decisions and negotiations within a framework of mutual respect and support.

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Maybe They Really Just Don’t Get It in the Public Sector

On Channel 10, we learn of the dozens of state employees, some with six-figure salaries, put on paid administrative leave for months on end, even more than a year.  Perhaps among thousands of employees, an organization will sometimes find it to be the most efficient thing to do to pay employees not to work while some issue is resolved, and in the case of government, the glacial pace of action is its own, distinct story.  Even so, when the number of such employees gets to be over fifty at a given time, doesn’t it begin to reveal an employment attitude in government that money is never really an issue and that the system is set up mainly for the benefit of employees?

Channel 12 has another example.  This time, in the evergreen field of government employees’ doing things that shock, it’s a Department of Transportation employee who (allegedly) regularly sleeps in his vehicle during working hours.  Department Director Peter Alviti (formerly a director for the Laborers’ union) displays that attitude again:

Alviti told us the engineering technician’s job was to inspect concrete at a Rhode Island plant, to make sure the mix had the required ratio of water and dry material. Alviti also said this case prompted him to personally address about 90 RIDOT employees who have similar access to state vehicles.

“The public sector is not an easy place to be, I reminded them,” said Alviti. “But it’s the place we chose to be employed. All of us. And with that comes some additional responsibilities, particularly when it comes to public perception.”

Yes, you read that right:  An employee is (allegedly) caught sleeping on the job, and the director’s response is that public sector employees are like martyrs of accountability.  A job that allows for regular midday naps is “not an easy place to be”?

Never mind “public perception.”  I think we ought to be more interested to learn about and understand the perception of those who work in government.

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Mild Nod to Pension Reality Shows the Scam

You have to laugh (lest you cry) at the gimmicks of state government financing.  Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner is preparing to lead the state Retirement Board in reducing the pension fund’s discount rate (that is, the assumed investment return) from 7.5% to 7.0%.  For the record:

The pension’s investments lost 0.27 percent in fiscal 2015-2016 and have gained 5.75 percent over the prior five fiscal years and 4.8 percent over 10 years.

Our investment assumption should be no more than 4.5%, because this assumption is supposed to be what we can reasonably guarantee the investments will yield.  Unfortunately, the pension fund’s assumptions aren’t really meant to help the state plan accurately; they’re meant to hide the real cost of benefits that politicians have promised to unionized employees.  As I’ve gotten Tiverton’s investment advisors to admit, the high investment assumption actually has built into it the willingness of elected officials to increase taxes down the road to cover shortfalls.

Notice, for example, that the treasurer’s plan delays increased payments for a year.  That’s a political concession, not a financial one.  Again, making the pension system work in the way that has been sold to taxpayers and employees is not the primary goal.  Helping politicians get away with bad management and crony deals is.

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Jackson Caught Up in the Suck of Big Government

Reading Dan McGowan’s detailed background of Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson’s travails, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy:

On Tuesday Jackson could become the first councilperson in Providence history to be recalled from office. A group of his constituents in Ward 3 on the city’s East Side launched the campaign to remove him after he was arrested last May on charges that he embezzled from the youth sports organization he co-founded in 1978 and misused his political campaign account.

The guy’s been in city government for twenty-something years.  You can see how, over time, funds get mingled, and liberties get taken.  (I’d actually argue that the campaign finance rules ought to be eliminated, anyway.)

The moral, it seems to me, is the value of term limits.  Spending that long in a position that makes one feel righteous and powerful is corrupting.

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School Buses and Regulatory Truancy

Students in Tiverton and elsewhere are having difficulty getting to school on time and parents are being made late for work because of a bus driver shortage, as Marcia Pobzeznik reports in the Newport Daily News.  Here’s the bus company’s explanation:

The company has tried every way possible to attract potential drivers, [First Student Transportation General Manager Bill Roach] said. It has put up billboards at bus stops and advertised at movie theaters.

“We’ve gone to football games, local markets,” Roach said.

The efforts have succeeded in getting 56 candidates into the state’s 50-hour training program, he said. But it takes 20-30 days to get an appointment for a road test.

“It’s very discouraging. The road testing is the choke point,” Roach said.

There are just one full-time and two part-time road test agents for the entire state. They not only have to certify new drivers, but re-certify existing drivers, he said.

So, the state has set up an arduous regulatory regime for bus drivers.  That is, the state has artificially restricted the number of bus drivers by requiring candidates to be approved (and reapproved and reapproved) by the state.  And then the state doesn’t supply the road test agents (or some other system) to handle the demand for this mandatory service.

The state has to begin choosing its priorities, because from UHIP to the DMV to bus driver certification to infrastructure to everything, it isn’t accomplishing the basic tasks that it has set for itself.  Of course, there’s money for crony capitalist tax breaks, flashy videos promoting the governor, vote-buying schemes by legislators, and disproportionate pay and benefits for union employees.

Given the tax burden throughout the state, money cannot be the issue.  The issue is a government that claims for itself too much power and won’t use the bountiful resources it has to accomplish the tasks that it therefore must undertake.

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