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PawSox: Suddenly a Legislative Hot Potato?

Kathy Gregg is reporting in today’s Providence Journal that

[Senate President Dominick] Ruggerio said the Senate Finance Committee will unveil a revised version of the PawSox financing bill next week, and then vote to “hold it for further study,” so the public can see it, discuss it and debate it before the General Assembly convenes for its 2018 session on Jan. 2.

Yesterday on the WPRO airwaves, Dan Yorke, an open supporter of the state’s financial participation in a new stadium for the PawSox, noted that he had been aware since last week that this would happen. More interestingly, he reported that members of the House have been urging their colleagues in the Senate “do not send us this bill”.

Interesting. Are some in the House seeing the folly, financial or political or both, of the state getting involved in a sport when far more important matters have been budgetarily neglected or outright cut? For example – and feel free to add to this list of unwise legislative priorities – of course, excessively generous state pensions had to be cut, though bringing the fund from 49% funded to only 56% funded was in no way worthy of the fawning national media coverage showered on the governor for this “feat”. But bigger picture, should public pensions take a secondary position to a very seasonal “economic development” (please, no snickers) sports project?

And as was demonstrated by both the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and the Republican Policy Group, headed by Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, the money to repair Rhode Island’s as roads and bridges could easily have been found in the budget. But Governor Raimondo pretended otherwise and the legislature unwisely followed her lead in passing a highly destructive and inefficient toll plan (the implementation of which is not going swimmingly). Really? Our roads and bridges are less important than the state participating in the frivolity of a sport?

What does it say about Rhode Island’s priorities if the state participates in the PawSox stadium? That needs to be the point that House members and leaders mull over as they consider the PawSox request and the Senate’s bill. Possibly, it is the basis of the quiet push-back, referenced by Yorke, that the Senate is getting from the House and that has hopefully turned the PawSox stadium into a political hot potato.

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Rhode Island 49th On The Jobs & Opportunity Index

Rhode Islanders want to prosper in an economic climate that rewards hard work, encourages small-business growth, creates quality jobs, and can lead to a better life for their families. In this regard, the traditionally cited monthly unemployment rate is often used by state lawmakers as a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of state economic policy initiatives. However, this rate represents a very narrow glimpse of the employment health of a state and can often paint an incomplete, or even inaccurate, snapshot of the broader economic picture.

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Government Good Intentions Edge in on the Family

Breakfast in school for lower-income children is not a public policy that many people are inclined to spend time arguing against, this author included.  That said, something in Bob Plain’s RI Future article promoting the program is worth highlighting:

Too many schools in Rhode Island are leaving federal money on the table when it comes to providing free breakfast to their students,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, who recently visited Veazie Street Elementary to draw attention to its breakfast program. “We know students can’t do their best work if they’re hungry.”

We should be careful not to lose the distinction between two things in the governor’s statement:

  1. Students who are well fed do better in school.
  2. Schools are missing out on money.

While I’ve forgotten the details, I recall from local discussions some years ago that districts can make their food programs into a bit of a profit center.  On the money front, the range goes from a well-intentioned effort to secure funding in order to feed children who otherwise wouldn’t be fed to a more-cynical plan to maximize money for the district for whatever purposes districts use money (mainly personnel).

Wherever a particular advocate or school district falls in that range, however, we ought to spare some sensibility to be shocked at something that is never mentioned in this context.  Nobody appears even to think of the possibility that some of the students for whom districts could collect money are adequately fed at home and that, by pushing the program, the government is pulling children away from a potentially family-boosting interaction.  At the very least, they’re transferring some of the child’s sense of who provides for him or her from the parents or guardians to the government.

We see this with government-subsidized child care.  On average, studies suggest that students receiving such care perform worse, particularly in behavior, and one explanation is that they draw children into a classroom setting instead of leaving them with parents, grandparents, or other individuals with direct relationships with the children.

We’re far too cavalier about the potential side effects of using government as a cure.

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To Lift All Boats, the Tide Has to Come In

What’s your first thought upon reading the following, from a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal?

The rising tide of economic recovery has not lifted Rhode Island’s poor, the 2017 Report on Hunger in Rhode Island found.

Rhode Island, at 12.8 percent, has the highest rate of poverty in New England, with 130,000 people living in households with incomes below the poverty line. One-third of the jobs created in Rhode Island last year have an annual wage of $26,529, the study says.

Unless you believe the politicians’ rhetoric that our state’s economy is strong — in which case, you’ll see these 130,000 as inexplicably slipping through the cracks — you’ll probably conclude that Rhode Island’s economy needs to improve so the tide actually is rising.  As the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) shows, it’s not.

But Borg’s article, which is essentially promotion of a Rhode Island Community Food Bank report, never challenges our state’s approach to economic development.  Rather, it advocates against Republican policy proposals in Washington and spares a word to chide the state government for the UHIP debacle.

Charity is an important part of the equation when it comes to helping our fellow human beings, but the higher goal — mentioned whenever the topic comes up — should always be to get folks on their own feet and in a condition to be charitable toward others.  That is how the rising tide works, and too much reliance on government suppresses it.

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Retroactive UHIP Checks Illustrate the Hazards Inherent in the System

The latest UHIP debacle provides a warning about what this system will look like when it’s fully operational:

The update caused the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) system to recheck the eligibility of applicants for the State Supplemental Payment program, and in cases where they were found to have been eligible for payments for a number of previous months, they were retroactively sent an individual check for each month. But no note was attached to explain why the identical checks had arrived.

Move past the scandal of the system’s not working and imagine what this looks like when it’s functional.  People will automatically get checks, and they’ll automatically go up and down with their eligibility.  That will be a very visible incentive for people not to earn money, because they’ll be accustomed to watching their benefit amounts go up and down.

The popularity of lotteries and raffles show that people can be irrational about money in this way.  Just as people will shell out cash for an almost imaginary possibility of winning, they will sometimes give up the potential for more money when they see an existing income source reduced.  Or they can learn the lesson the other way:  After their work-related income goes down, they’ll see an automatic increase in welfare to help make up for it.

One suspects that the number of welfare recipients (or people, for that matter) who keep spreadsheets and line graphs of their total income to be relatively small, especially quantifying benefits that don’t necessarily come with an obvious dollar amount.  Moreover, people will tend to put a thumb on the scale of their feelings when it comes to exchanging assistance for work to the extent that the jobs available to them aren’t the most exciting.

This is one of the many ways that UHIP will enhance the negative effects of a welfare state more than it gains taxpayers in efficiency.

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Two Candidates for Governor

Two tweets posted on Twitter today within one minute of each other are telling, as well as related to part of my conversation with John DePetro for my weekly call-in yesterday.  First:

Second:

I don’t juxtapose these to promote Patricia Morgan, or even to advocate against Gina Raimondo.  An impression of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has been building, and it could (and should) be a barrier to her reelection no matter how much money she’s able to dump into Rhode Island’s relatively small media market.

When it comes to actual crises and errors in the executive branch, Raimondo takes an incremental approach.  A new revelation puts UHIP in the news, so she comes up with something that appears to be a response and walks away again.  Meanwhile, her affection for photo ops and staged events is well established.

That isn’t leadership, and people know it isn’t leadership.  Whatever collage of pleasant feelings canned photo ops might generate can be washed away by manifest bad management.  To the extent that her ample professional staff (in and out of the campaign) believes that photo-ops are indispensable, every single one of them should be of a leader fixing problems.

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An Alternative Rationale to Bigotry

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RI Housing Regulation Serves Minorities Poorly

The opening paragraph of a Wendell Cox article in New Geography could apply to many, many more issues than housing:

America’s most highly regulated housing markets are also reliably the most progressive in their political attitudes. Yet in terms of gaining an opportunity to own a house, the price impacts of the tough regulation mean profound inequality for the most disadvantaged large ethnicities, African-Americans and Hispanics.

When government makes something more expensive to achieve progressive goals, it inevitably puts that thing disproportionately beyond the reach beyond demographic groups that are disproportionately less wealthy.  This is a very simple concept.

Not surprisingly, the Providence metropolitan area does very poorly.  Cox’s metric is the ratio of the median house price to the median annual income — basically, the number of years the household at the exact middle of the area’s income distribution would have to save all of its income in order to buy the house at the exact middle of the area’s real estate market.  He then provides tables showing how many more years black and Hispanic households would have to save than the average.

Black families in the Providence area have to save for an extra 2.12 years (above an average of 4.26 years).  That’s 19th worst out of 52 metro areas reviewed.  For Hispanics, the Ocean State’s ranking is even worse, at 4th worst out of 53.

The obvious thing to do with housing, as with all economic activity, is to ease up government’s thumb so that it can become more affordable.  That strategy works on the other side of the scale, too, loosening government’s stranglehold on the economy so that opportunity can flourish and incomes rise.

The difficulty, here, is that progressives want to impose burdens, in this case on the housing market, based on their ideological preferences.  When those proclamations have adverse consequences, they blame external, often fictitious factors like institutional racism and avaricious landlords.  As a remedy, they then propose to alleviate the consequences in a way that gives them power and makes the subjects of their condescension dependent on their good political graces.

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Achieving Health Care for All

From my wonky perspective, this is the most important part of Mike Stenhouse’s health care–related op-ed in today’s Providence Journal:

I believe that a two-pronged approach to health care can ensure affordable access for every American. First, let patients determine what level of coverage they need by repealing most government mandates. Health services and insurance have become unaffordable because of rapidly expanding government interference in the market. The free market did not create our health-care crisis; over-regulation did. Increased transparency and consumerism, as well as major tort reform, could reduce medical liability risks and further drive down costs.

Second, subsidies or vouchers for low- and middle-income Americans to purchase private insurance is a benefit a wealthy society such as ours should provide. If we pool all of the federal and state dollars currently allocated to health care — and eliminate wasteful government bureaucracies — we can subsidize sustainable, lower-cost, high-quality private health care for those who need assistance.

I’ve been arguing for this for about as long as health care policy has been a visible national topic of conversation.  Allow catastrophic-coverage plans that protect people in the case of… umm… catastrophe, and route everything else through health savings accounts that have some sort of tax favorability for those who contribute to them (whether the plan owner, an employer, or some sort of benefactor), from which Americans pay directly for health care services.

Such a program would cover everybody for the unpredictable worst, and it would preserve the utility of a pricing mechanism.  People would know what they’re paying for services and could decide whether any given procedure was worth the money.  Moreover, as a society, we could better understand what we’re funding when we deposit money into the accounts of our disadvantaged neighbors.  We could look at the cost of providing everybody with catastrophic coverage plus some basic preventative and emergency care, and then we could debate what additional services ought to be covered through the welfare program.

Meanwhile, employers, private charities, and others could make similar decisions for people in whom they take an interest.  Of course, this wouldn’t allow progressives to control our lives or siphon money from our health care.

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Maybe the Question Should Be: Is Rhode Island Still “Crimestate”

The Associated Press reported, yesterday, that Rhode Island became the New England leader in murders per 100,000 residents in 2016, largely because Connecticut (the prior leader) dropped so much.

Looking at the FBI data from which the report derived, however, puts that change of rank in a more disturbing context.  Rhode Island was already — and remains — number 1 in New England for every form of property crime listed in the table except motor vehicle theft, making the Ocean State the worst for property crime in the region.  Here are the rates per 100,000 residents:

  • 359 burglaries
  • 1,389 larcenies-thefts
  • 151 motor vehicle thefts
  • 1,899 property crimes total

That makes our number 2 rank for violent crimes all the more worrisome, with the following rates per 100,000:

  • 3 murders
  • 42 rapes (under a revised definition)
  • 51 robberies
  • 143 aggravated assaults
  • 239 violent crimes total

Only when it comes to robbery is Rhode Island not either first or second.

Any analysis of these numbers would require broader contexts related to demographics and geography.  Population density surely plays a role, for example, particularly when it comes to property crime (although that doesn’t explain why Rhode Island’s property crime rate would be higher than New Jersey’s).

Nonetheless, the Ocean State appears to be losing ground in these rankings and must turn that around.  As with everything, one can’t help but suspect that policies that seek to attract and generate government dependents don’t help, whereas policies bringing about broad private-sector opportunity would improve things across the board.  Perhaps, that is, Rhode Islanders steal because they can’t earn and aren’t satisfied with what they’re given.

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“Pay for Itself”? UHIP Is Designed to Increase Costs.

Ted Nesi and Susan Campbell report on the costly future of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP):

Two years after insisting Rhode Island’s new $445-million benefits system would pay for itself by next June, state officials now admit they have no idea if the problem-plagued computer system will ever save enough to cover its cost.

Folks still aren’t getting the bigger picture when it comes to costs.  UHIP is designed to maximize the use of government services.  Not only will it never cover its “costs,” but it will continue to increase public expenditures.

At some point in the future, some gubernatorial administration may announce that the system has stopped enough proverbial “waste, fraud, and abuse” to cover the expense of implementing the program, but we can be sure such a calculation will brush aside actual increases in spending on the programs.

Rather than simply update our operating systems for welfare programs, Rhode Island government officials chose to make the state an experiment in interweaving all programs for “one stop shopping.”  We’re already paying the price, and it’s a bill that will continue to grow.

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The Coincidence of Medicaid Expansion with Opioid Abuse

The Wall Street Journal recently put a spotlight on a matter that deserves more consideration:

A recent study by Express Scripts Holding found that about a quarter of Medicaid patients were prescribed an opioid in 2015. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson presents intriguing evidence that the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare may be contributing to the rise in opioid abuse. According to a federal Health and Human Services analysis requested by the Senator, overdose deaths per million residents rose twice as fast in the 29 Medicaid expansion states—those that increased eligibility to 138% from 100% of the poverty line—than in the 21 non-expansion states between 2013 and 2015.

There were also marked disparities between neighboring states based on whether they opted into ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion. Deaths increased twice as much in New Hampshire (108%) and Maryland (44%)—expansion states—than in Maine (55%) and Virginia (22%). Drug fatalities shot up by 41% in Ohio while climbing 3% in non-expansion Wisconsin.

A quick look around the Internet didn’t produce Senator Johnson’s evidence, so I’m not able to say how Rhode Island fits into the picture.  Still, data from the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) shows that Rhode Island’s illicit drug use (other than marijuana) as a percentage of population matches that of New Hampshire, with Maine well below.  Recall that Rhode Island’s government jumped right into the Medicaid expansion with scarcely any discussion.

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When Government Pays Us to Be Parents

Zach Maher, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, explains how the government-paid-parental-leave-in-Sweden-is-great scales fell from his eyes:

When the girl’s parents refused to subject her to this unnecessary procedure, the hidden machinery of the Swedish welfare state sprang into motion. My brother-in-law and his wife were required to attend multiple interviews with social workers and to submit friends and neighbors in their small town for questioning. Social workers even inspected their home. Suddenly, decisions as benign as what milk to buy seemed potential evidence of parental deficiency. My in-laws feared their two children might be taken from them.

In Sweden, the state reserves for itself ultimate responsibility for children’s well-being. As a parent my job is to give my kids the trygghet necessary to become productive, tax-paying members of Swedish society. This is why I receive financial support and medical benefits. The state is paying me to be a parent. I am, in effect, an employee—and if I do a poor job, my responsibility as a parent might be taken away from me.

 

When we give government responsibility for things — even good things, like the well-being of children — we also give it authority over those who provide those things, like parents.  Suddenly, government isn’t just filling in gaps, but seeking out gaps by putting parents under the microscope.

The United States is not immune to such thinking, obviously.  Some 20 years ago, on Matt Allen’s Mental Floss radio show with the more-liberal Jennifer Brien, the latter argued that schools have to teach sex education (liberally tinted, naturally) because parents simply aren’t doing the job adequately.  I called in to ask what gives her or the government the right to make that determination, but she wouldn’t be shaken from the assertion of need.  (And then I was cut off.)

Suggesting that he and his wife “insist… on having their own ideas about raising children,” Maher asks, “Does this mean we can’t accept parental support from the state?”  My guess is that he doesn’t really have a choice — that the government doesn’t actually see it as an exchange or contract.

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