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Citizens Financial Group Shows an Inevitable Outcome for RhodeMap Central Planning

Frank Carini makes points in his ecoRI editorial, today, with which conservatives will find it difficult to disagree.

Last December, at a Grow Smart Rhode Island transit conference, Gov. Gina Raimondo talked about the importance of developing around dense, transit-accessible hubs. Less than four months later, the governor is celebrating a project that will do just the opposite.

Last week, the Citizens Financial Group announced plans to build a corporate campus on open space in Johnston, off Greenville Avenue and outside Route 295. The proposed 420,000-square-foot facility is expected to house 3,200 current employees. The campus will reportedly feature an on-site cafeteria, fitness center and walking paths.

Yes, developing Rhode Island’s extensive and intrusive state guide plan was “a waste of time” (and worse than that).  Yes, the amount of taxpayer resources that politicians have promised (and will continue to promise) to Citizens for its new Johnston compound is offensive.

The step that Carini does not appear willing to make, however, is to come to broad conclusions about the very nature of central planning.  Consolidating power in order to prevent people from doing things you don’t want them to do will mean that only people with enhanced leverage will be able to do those things.

Citizens can promise politicians a good talking point and labor unions a bunch of jobs, so manacles like the state guide plan won’t apply to the company.  Meanwhile, smaller, more-localized homeowners and companies will be limited to the restraints that the bank found too restrictive, ultimately giving the finance giant market leverage in addition to all of the exceptions and handouts.  Meanwhile, land that has no value to those who lack the political pull to get around the government plans is less expensive for entities that do have such pull.

This is what happens when planners don’t look at incentives, acknowledge their legitimacy, and seek to accommodate them in a way that works best all around, but rather seek to slip restrictive rules into place below the awareness of most of the people who will be affected.


The Brookings Activity Guide for the RhodeMap

Among those who don’t tend to think that the state government of Rhode Island should be tasked with completely ordering the lives of the people who live within its borders, the conversation about the relationship of the recently announced Brookings Institution study and RhodeMap RI has already begun.  Some think that RhodeMap was the framework to which Brookings will add specifics.  I don’t think that’s quite right.

Consider these two disconcerting paragraphs from Ted Nesi’s WPRI article, yesterday, drawing out some details of the intentions:

“This is an opportunity that you don’t get that often, to take a shot at putting the state on a different trajectory,” [Mark Muro, director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program] added. “It’s been a rough decade.” …

“I think in most parts of the U.S. it’s still, the government does this, the corporations do that, the universities are somewhere else,” [Bruce Katz, the nationally-known head of the Metropolitan Policy Program] said. “In the successful places around the world there’s a seamless interaction between all these different sectors, and if they’re all on the same page – then that’s when you get the bigger returns. So it’s not just the policy … it’s this foundation of collaboration.”

This study will be part of the same ideological program as RhodeMap, but they’re distinct pieces.  RhodeMap is concerned with controlling where people live and how they structure their lives.  Brookings is going to instruct the state government about what professional activities Rhode Islanders should be engaged in while they live here and how to bring the private sector into alignment with the central plan.  (Whether they’ll go into detail about what laws to pass to force compliance, or just make friendly-sounding suggestions about how to create incentives to benefit special interests that are aligned with the program or are willing to adjust, we’ll have to wait and see.)

Consider this carefully, Rhode Island.  Even in a small state of about one million people, you can’t have “seamless interaction.”  Our entire government system is (or was) set up so that we can interact in a way to ensure the maximum freedom while allowing us to work together peacefully.  That’s the central challenge of a free society; progressives can’t just ignore it away.

When they skip over that challenge, what they’re really assuming is that they will be able to pick people in non-government sectors — in business, in academia, and in cultural institutions — who will stand in as if they speak for their whole sector and who will agree to follow the plan.  You may be able to live your life your own way, but it will become progressively more difficult to the extent that you want to do something of which the pointy heads at Brookings and the control fanatics who invited them in disapprove… or even that they don’t quite understand.

If what you want to do conflicts with the powerful people, well then, you’ll have to be banned.


RhodeMap and the Sustainable Elimination of Freedom

With the House Finance Committee scheduled to hold a hearing on several bills related to state planning and RhodeMap RI, this afternoon at the rise of the House, this article with similar themes in the Midwest caught my eye:

Here in the Twin Cities, a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region. According to the urban planners on the city’s Metropolitan Council, far too many people live in single family homes, have neighbors with similar incomes and skin color, and contribute to climate change by driving to work. They intend to change all that with a 30-year master plan called “Thrive MSP 2040.” . . .

Thrive MSP 2040 is part of a nationwide movement called “regionalism.” Regional planning of infrastructure is important, of course. But regionalism, as an ideology, is about shifting power away from local elected officials and re-engineering society on behalf of “equity” and “sustainability.” According to regionalist guru David Rusk, author of the book “Cities Without Suburbs,” federal programs that promote regionalism should strive to produce “racially and economically integrated and environmentally sustainable regions.”

This is a well-planned assault on American freedoms concocted by a global elite and in the ivory towers of the U.S. that has been facilitated and substantially funded — in planning and implementation — with taxpayer dollars by the Obama Administration.  Of all the damaging initiatives that have been undertaken in the process of “fundamentally transforming” the United States of America, as Obama pledged to do, this one may be a sleeper that creeps up on Americans, but it may also be the one that locks the chains around our ankles.


Some 2015 Predictions (HealthSource and RhodeMap)

Filling in for Matt Allen on WPRO, last night, Jay Martins asked me to call in with predictions (and warnings, really) about HealthSource RI and RhodeMap RI.  Here are my notes for the call:


When commentator Avik Roy was looking for the perfect quotation to summarize Vermont’s aborted flirtation with single-payer healthcare in Forbes magazine, he picked Raimondo’s choice to lead HealthSource RI, Anya Rader Wallack. What she said was: “We can move full speed ahead…without knowing where the money’s coming from.”

That pretty much sums up the strategy with HealthSource RI, too. They leapt into this thing expecting the money just to materialize, and it didn’t.

The ironic problem is that Wallack’s primary job this year will be figuring out where the money’s coming from.

Prediction:  There will be some dramatic hearings and political battling with House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston), but ultimately, the government insiders like HealthSource enough — mostly as a stepping stone to our own attempt at giving government all control over healthcare — that they’ll give him something substantial that he wants as a trade. What that’ll be may be the most important answer we’ll get in the next six months.



We can only hope that this will be a big story.  RhodeMap’s going to be more interesting than HealthSource in its way. What we’re going to see are:

  • Local pro-RhodeMap/Smart Growth activists trying to get on local planning boards
  • Stealth legislation and ordinances to give planning boards more authority
  • Other stealth legislation and ordinances to push forward RhodeMap principles, which have a lot of money and insider and activist support behind them.

The big questions are:

  • How strongly cities and towns will push back
  • How insiders in the state and federal government will ultimately thwart those towns and anti-RhodeMap activists that manage to gain local traction — whether regulation, legislation, judicial hearings, or politically undermining them
  • Whether the general public’s interest (and outrage) can be maintained

Eminent domain is definitely a flash point that will grab the public’s attention, and despite assurances, RhodeMap does open the door for it, but there are many lower-grade tools in the central planners’ toolbox.  First, they’ll work on pressuring property owners through taxes, zoning, regulation, and general government harassment, all of which will offer property owners the escape hatch of devices like transfer of development rights.  (That’s when a property owner sells somebody, possibly the government, the rights to develop his or her land, which he or she technically continues to own and the buyer transfers that right in order to develop land somewhere else.)

Only if none of that works will they move forward with property takings, which isn’t likely to happen in 2015.  The targeted property owners will be outraged, but mainstream journalists don’t tend to care about individual property owners when it’s the government that’s harassing them, so the question is whether those with eyes to see will manage to weave together the bigger story and get the public to pay attention to it.


HealthSource, RhodeMap, and the Way Government Plans

You may have seen Ian Donnis’s report that Governor-elect Gina Raimondo intends to replace Christine Ferguson as the head of HealthSource RI, Rhode Island’s ObamaCare health benefits exchange:

The leading candidate to replace Ferguson is Anya Rader Wallack, the president of Arrowhead Health Analytics in Fall River, Massachusetts, and a former policy director and deputy chief of staff for former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Rader Wallack declined comment when contacted by RIPR.

Ms. Rader Wallack may now have the dubious distinction of making an embarrassingly telling comment even before she’s taken office in Rhode Island.  Avik Roy quotes her in Forbes, in an article about the (inevitable) collapse of Vermont progressives’ single-payer-healthcare fantasy:

If there’s one quote that sums up the whole episode, it’s the one from Anya Rader-Wallack, declaring that “we can move full speed ahead…without knowing where the money’s coming from.” Green Mountain Care attempted to offer Vermonters more generous coverage than they currently had, but couldn’t figure out how to convince doctors and hospitals to accept pay cuts, nor workers to accept tax hikes.

That quote sums up HealthSource RI’s story pretty well, too.  As reported on the Current, Ferguson chose not to follow through with a more-detailed projection of its likely effects on the local healthcare market, and the consequences for HealthSource and the state budget could be devastating.

But this is how an organization (in this case, government) plans when everybody making decisions profits simply by being active and bears no real personal risk for failure.  It’s also how people plan when they feel like they can always take other people’s money and pass laws to force people to behave as the plans require.  We see this with RhodeMap RI, too, especially with its Growth Center plans, which have explicitly drawn purposes for land that the government does not own (and whose owners have not been consulted).

The plan for Middletown, for example, makes the particularly chilling suggestion that government operatives should include private commercial property in its planning “because properties on that side of the road may redevelop before the town-owned property does,” and the government needs to “send a message about the desired character of future development.”

Ultimately, that may be the secret to the illusion that we can simply assign ever-greater responsibility in our society to government, and the really smart people who take government jobs will simply figure out the best way to accomplish their goals.  Like novelists, they plan out a plausible reality, and where they write themselves into a corner, they assume that some literary device, some mix of regulatory demands and money confiscation, will solve the problem.

When the author’s power is infinite and the consequences for failure are borne by others, there really isn’t a reason to find evidence that a scheme will actually work.  Full speed ahead!… until the crash, followed by a new six-figure job in another state.


HUD-In-The-News Confirms Critics of Both RhodeMap RI and Today’s PolitiFact RI Rating

… the subject of a column that I just posted to R.I. Taxpayer’s website. Here are the first couple of paragraphs.

A browse through HUD-in-the-news items turns up some interesting and instructive items. First of all, there are several instances of HUD cracking down on municipalities or other public authorities who have taken HUD money but failed to comply with the requirements that accompanied it. Certainly, on the one hand, this is as it should be. Government dollars must be spent as stipulated. On the other, it belies the assurances of advocates of RhodeMap RI that there is nothing to fear about the plan. Significant portions of it would almost certainly have to be implemented with HUD money, at which point, HUD would suddenly have a great deal of power and authority over local land use laws and property rights. Let these HUD crack downs elsewhere be an object lesson, accordingly, to both cities and towns in Rhode Island and to state and local officials who would consider accepting HUD monies, whether under the rubric of RhodeMap RI or not. Be prepared to comply with HUD’s requirements or don’t take the money.

And the latter is exactly what officials in the coincidentally named city of Hudson, OH, did less than two weeks ago, in our next interesting HUD-in-the-news item.

By the way, did anyone else notice that HUD’s letter to Westchester County contains the word “roadmap”??? Towards the bottom of the first page.

… HUD provided the county with a roadmap to coming into compliance …

A HUD “Roadmap”. “RhodeMap RI”. Isn’t that a little too similar to be a coincidence? Or do I need to be talked off the conspiracy ledge?


Legislators as Mere Landmarks on the RhodeMap

The legislative history of the RhodeMap RI, as well as grant-related documents, suggest that Rhode Islanders’ elected representatives aren’t really the ones calling the shots and are following the bait-and-switch path that brought us 38 Studios.


RhodeMap RI: Bipartisan Group of Legislators Calls for Delay; Cite Its “near-total lack of an economic development focus”

The following statement was received via e-mail this afternoon. Attached was a letter addressed to Kevin Flynn, Associate Director of the R.I. Division of Planning.

State Planning Division Faulted For Pursuing “Predetermined Result” With Little Economic Development Focus

Senators, Representatives To File Legislation To Correct Imbalance

State House, Nov 18 – A group of five Republican, Democrat and Independent legislators today called for a delay in approval of the hotly-criticized RhodeMap RI.

The legislators want to correct an imbalance that seems to exclude meaningful action to improve Rhode Island’s poor economic performance, something the State Planning Division has continually tried to characterize as the goal of the effort.


In The Dugout: The Leftist Land Of Make Believe

Today’s show is live at 5pm. Watch it then share it on social media! Topics: – #RhodeMapRI returns worse than ever under Biden – PRO-LIFE update from Barth Bracy – Special Oregon guest: is Providence doomed to the same “death” that Portland now suffers?


Q & A On TCI, The Transportation & Climate Initiative

Q. What is TCI?

The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is a multi-state regional agreement designed to drive up the price of motor fuel (gasoline and on-road diesel). As a regressive tax, the TCI Gas Tax will disproportionately harm low-income families, especially those who live some distance from commercial centers or their workplace.


Maybe Providence Schools Need to Allow Diversity

This isn’t a way of thinking that I tend to encourage, but we’ve all been trained to it, and in this case, it might apply.  Go back and take a look at the photos from Mark Patinkin’s interview with students from Providence schools who say that teachers have taken no interest in them.  Now, click over to Dan McGowan’s interviews with five Providence teachers of the year, in which they suggest fixes.

What do you notice?  The list is missing the teacher of the year from 2017, but your observation that they are all white women still applies.

Now, I believe that hiring and, especially, professional awards, should be done based on objective criteria; whoever wins, wins.  And of course, the teachers of the year aren’t necessarily representative of the entire faculty, demographically.

That said, when black male students are expressing a sense that teachers in a failing school district don’t take an interest in them, and the stars among those teachers are all white women, we might reasonably ask whether we’re missing some important criteria.  Consider that the student who most directly insisted that not a single teacher has taken an interest in him did concede that the dean of students seemed to care, and his mother told Patinkin that the administrators at the school “were the only ones who tried to get students on track.”  At least as currently reported on Gilbert Stuart Middle School’s Web page, the administration is four-fifths male.

Our current approach to education, as well as political correctness, make it difficult to think of a fair solution that could conceivably make it through the public-policy gauntlet.  Here, again, educational freedom might help.  If a school could try to fill an obvious need by emphasizing male teachers, for example, then families who think that environment might help their children could give it a try, and we could all observe the results.

As it is, we’re locked in to making universal decisions within the confines of discrimination policies that have to apply across the board, and that are founded on narrow ideological views of fairness.


Unnecessary “Fair Housing” Bill is Unfair to Landlords!

House bill 5137, deceptively named the Fair Housing Practices bill, which mirrors leftist-inspired legislation introduced in other states, is completely unfair to landlords.

The legislation claims it seeks to end discriminatory housing practices because in the progressives’ land of social-equity, making a legitimate business decision should be a crime. Under the proposed law, any Section-8 lessee applicant (those whose rents are subsidized by the federal government) who are not accepted as a tenant, must have been discriminated against, and the landlord must be punished.


The Center’s Perspective on So-Called “Fair Housing” Legislation

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse offers the Center’s view on legislation that would limit landlords’ right to decide whether the way potential tenants’ will pay their rent should be a factor in deciding whether to rent to them, including a mandate to accept Section 8 vouchers:

Based on conversations with landlords I know, there is a major, legitimate, and non-racial reason why some business prefer not to accept clients subsidized by public money and all the red-tape they would have to go through. In this case, once a landlord accepts a federally subsidized Section-8 tenant, that business is now subject to a whole new array of mandates, red tape, and risks that otherwise, it would not have to worry about.

Under this legislative mandate, landlords would be subject to unfair rules by HUD, which we know from the RhodeMap RI debate years ago, does not care about private property rights. HUD has corrupted its mission of putting low-income people into appropriate housing to the point where it routinely tramples on the rights of other private property owners.


Interview Research and the Prior Conclusion

Evidence that Democrat researchers modified the conclusions of their “safari” into flyover country to fit a prior conclusion is a reminder that interview-based studies are vulnerable to that temptation.


Trump Administration Gives Hope to Property Rights Advocates

Paul Mirengoff, of PowerLine, notes that Secretary Ben Carson’s Housing and Urban Development department (HUD) is moving in a direction that should please anybody who was concerned about the implications of RhodeMap RI:

Here’s a reminder of why [even Trump critics on the Right should be happy that he beat Hillary Clinton]. Yesterday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced that his agency will “reinterpret” the ultra-instrusive Obama housing rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH). The rule was designed by the Obama administration to seize federal control over local zoning for the purpose of creating neighborhoods that comply with the left’s race-based vision of where people should live. We discussed it here, among other places.

Secretary Carson didn’t say exactly how he plans to “reinterpret” AFFH. However, he told the Washington Examiner that he doesn’t believe in the “manipulation” associated with the rule or with the burdens it imposes on local communities. As a candidate for president, he called it “a doomed-to-fail attempt to “legislate racial equality.”

Mirengoff is right to subsequently warn that “reinterpreting” a rule is a softer protection than simply canceling it, but a step in the right direction is clearly better than a jump in the wrong one, which a different administration might have brought about.

That point, however, brings us back to an inexhaustible theme that conservatives must wake up reminding ourselves:  Our real work is cultural and in education.  As long as we continue to allow the Left to pervert the minds of younger generations as if they are invading aliens, the assaults on our liberty will return like a plague every decade or so, when the politic mood shifts.


Eminent Domain as a Stadium Negotiating Tactic

Ethan Shorey presents, in a Valley Breeze article, another wrinkle in the PawSox stadium issue that gives the whole thing a “not at this point, thanks” kind of feel:

There is now increasing likelihood that the city would need to pursue buying the property through the eminent domain process, where officials would have to make a convincing argument that the property is needed for the public’s good. …

Officials are seeking to “reach a fair, negotiated purchase with the owner of the Apex property without the necessity of a taking through eminent domain, but all options will remain on the table in order to ensure that the people of Rhode Island are not denied this important public venue,” said Grebien.

So, the property owner has offered a price that represents the value of the sale to him, and the city government is using its power to simply seize property as a negotiating tactic.  The mayor’s amplifying the idea that placing a stadium on this specific property is an “important public” good should make warning flags go up.

People who own any property that might conceivably be attractive to politicians for their investment ventures are on notice that the government ultimately believes the property to be its own.  Recall that the RhodeMap RI plan included maps that made no distinction between public and private property — simply putting down the planners’ vision with the assumption that the government would end up owning anything they chose.

One misconception that the government is conveniently promoting is that the value of the property is its assessment… by the government.  The value of a property is the point at which the seller’s desire to give up the property meets the buyer’s desire to own it.  If a particular piece of land is critical to a government project, the fact that the owner is negotiating with “the people” does not change this dynamic.

To the extent that eminent domain is sparingly reasonable, it’s to prevent abuse around real necessities.  A person who owns the last acre of land to complete an important roadway, for example, would have unreasonable leverage.  A baseball stadium simply doesn’t reach that level.


There are Better Solutions Than Rhode Island’s Status Quo Public Policy Environment

Does anyone trust that an elite cabal of political cronies should centrally engineer our economy? Or do we place more trust in the great people of Rhode Island to be able to unleash their suppressed capacity in a fair and free-market economy, via major tax and regulatory reductions across the board? The top down ideas being presented in the upcoming election would be harmful to our state. It is up to voters to decide for themselves if Rhode Island will be a place where our families can prosper.

There are many examples. We have proven in our Freedom Index that the status quo is moving our state in the wrong direction. Led by Rep. Patricia Morgan and Sen. Elaine Morgan, only 11 of 113 lawmakers earned positive scores on our 2016 Freedom Index. The Sheeple Index, released in partnership with WatchdogRI, shows that there is a dangerous pattern of lawmakers blindly following the leader.


Testimony: DEM Must Consider Economics Before Buying Farmland

In this video, I speak out against a new scheme by the Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management to acquire farmland at a public comment forum held at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography on September 7, 2016.

With government increasingly influencing and controlling the means of production through myriad tax-credit, loan, and direct-subsidy schemes in a multitude of industries, the DEM farmland acquisition scheme, which will actually acquire and resell private property, is not based on any legitimate economic analysis — or any economic consideration at all.

Despite the fact that the state’s own Commerce Corporation demanded a RhodeMap RI–related mandate be inserted into the DEM plan, no economic justification was provided. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity warned you about the dangers of RhodeMap RI; here is one place where the planners’ vision seems to be marching forward.

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