Is the governor a recklessly spending profligate or a moral puritan looking to punish her subjects for their moral impurities while bringing them to kneel before government?
Is the governor a recklessly spending profligate or a moral puritan looking to punish her subjects for their moral impurities while bringing them to kneel before government?
There’s an “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times” feel to the picture of a long tent leading up to the State House for the momentary comfort of elite party goers. The event was an inaugural ball to celebrate the victory of Gina Raimondo in ensuring that nothing much will change in Rhode Island for the next four years, at least not if it will reduce the status of inside players.
Katherine Gregg lists some of the gratuitous donations:
The largest contribution, $20,000, came from the Laborers International Union of North America.
International Game Technology (IGT) and the corporate owners of the Twin River casinos each gave $15,000 for Saturday’s inaugural events, including the invite-only gala at the Rhode Island State House and a “pre-gala reception” for all the inaugural sponsors and their guests at at Café Nuovo.
The $10,000 donors included Amica, Bank of America, Citizens, CVS, Deepwater Wind, General Dynamics, Electric Boat and Pfizer, according to the governor’s office.
Others giving up to $5,000 each included AAA Northeast, Amgen, AT&T, Centene Corp., Dimeo Construction Co., FedEx, First Bristol Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Locke Lord, Microsoft and Washington Trust.
Gee, what would give corporations and other organizations incentive to give this much money to a politician for a party?
True to the formula for these stories, Gregg interviews John Marion of Common Cause RI, who suggests that the government should impose even more (arguably unconstitutional) restrictions on political donations. But the inaugural donations only illustrate that money will find a way into politics like a rising tide into a structure that’s below sea level. Even public financing won’t stop it.
The only way to end this flow of money is to reduce what’s available to buy.
As a local barber cut my hair, this afternoon, one of the customers awaiting his turn mentioned that he is in the Coast Guard and hasn’t been receiving his pay. They’ll typically get their back pay, but anybody living paycheck to paycheck is going to have a challenging time. With 12 years of experience, he’s gone through this before, but he said this time is different and might last longer.
He sure is right that this time is different. The typical analysis of shutdown politics has been that the side that looks like it is the one holding up agreement is the loser. Of course, that common wisdom is tainted by the fact that the news media always presents the Republicans as the holder-uppers, whether the GOP is trying to get something new or to maintain the status quo on the controversial policy question at the heart of the dispute.
That makes this bit of news, pointed out by Alexandra DeSanctis, a little bit of a head scratcher:
Despite the fact that the funding process has already been held up over political disagreements, in part having to do with contention over building and reinforcing a wall at the southern border, the Democratic representatives now controlling the House added further controversy to the process by slipping a pro-abortion provision into their draft spending bill.
This might make sense as a negotiation tactic (“You remove your controversial proposal, and I’ll review mine.”), but it gives both sides blame as things drag on. It could be that the farther-left Congressional Democrats are more convinced than even conservative commentators have thought that there is secret national popularity for radical progressive policies. It could also be that they know their media allies, amped up on Trump hatred, will apply their good-guy/bad-guy brush even more liberally.
In crass political terms, they may be assessing that President Trump isn’t going to back down on the wall and the Democrats aren’t going to back down on not funding it, so they might as well gain some points with their abortion-supporting core. But again, conceding that they’re not going to back down, to the extent that they’re moving in the opposite direction of compromise, makes it difficult to maintain the narrative that they’re the ones truly concerned with keeping the government operating at full expense.
Merry Christmas! Imagine Rhode Island as a more attractive home and destination of choice for families. We could be a state that offers financial security now and opportunity for prosperity in the future. We could have a policy culture where individuals and business are successful in increasing the overall wealth of our state’s economy, and enhancing the quality of life for every Rhode Islander.
Katherine Gregg is becoming worried about the imbalance between government PR and journalists; maybe she should look to small-government advocates for allies.
Following Rhode Island’s mainstream news media gives one the impression that everybody’s falling all over each other to express concern about the possibility that toy company Hasbro might move its headquarters out of the state. The three most-powerful politicians in the state pledge to work toward a solution. The mayors of Pawtucket and Central Falls are on the case. The Providence Journal editorial page is stressing the importance of retention.
I say we’re looking at this all the wrong way.
If Hasbro’s changing business model just doesn’t work in Rhode Island, then the company should move. To avoid that outcome, the state should eliminate the insider system of its governance and ease the burden of regulations and taxes so that the company’s business model works here — not because state leaders are cutting special deals to help one company overcome the burden, but because the state is more friendly to all economic activity.
Instead, Hasbro may actually affirm the state’s unhealthy political system if it stays. A quick look at Rhode Island’s campaign finance database shows that Hasbro’s CEO, Brian Goldner and (presumably) his wife have each given Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo the maximum contribution of $1,000 every year since she took office. This year, another Goldner at the same address threw in an additional thousand, and Brian added $11,000 in donations to the Democratic State Committee. Additionally, 18 Hasbro employees contributed the maximum to Raimondo over the past year.
This unusual wave of money clouds the direction of the influence, but it is suggestive of the insider nature of the transaction. Hasbro employees are especially supportive of a particular politician, and that politician is going to strive to keep their company in the state. At the end of the day, it isn’t clear whether anybody with power has an interest in improving the state if it means reducing the power of a mutually supportive elite.
Time will tell, but Rhode Islanders should keep a healthy eye, over the next couple of decades, on whether we dodged a bullet when we declined to bear financial risk for the construction of a new minor league baseball stadium. Eric Boehm’s report from New Jersey gives reason to expect that it will prove to be so:
Taxpayers spent more than $18 million to build the stadium that would eventually be named Campbell’s Field, as part of a minor league ballpark-building frenzy across New Jersey that saw similar stadiums erected in Newark, Atlantic City, and Somerset—all part of redevelopment schemes that attracted independent minor league teams (that is, minor league teams not affiliated with the Major League Baseball farm system).
Less than two decades later, taxpayers in New Jersey will pay another $1 million to tear down Campbell’s Field. …
Camden’s not the only city to dump a ton of money into a minor (or major) league ballpark under the guise of economic development, only to see the project become a fiscal black hole. The minor league teams that moved into Newark and Atlantic City around the same time as the Riversharks started playing in Camden have met similar fates. The Atlantic City Surf survived for 11 years before going bankrupt and the Newark Bears folded in 2014. Their riverfront stadium in downtown Newark is also set to be demolished less than 20 years after it was built.
Yes, maybe it looks bad that Rhode Island is losing its icons and blocking new development, but that negative appearance doesn’t justify making risky deals.
Writing about public policy day in and day out, one can forget that not everybody follows every argument with close attention. Broad philosophical points of view and underlying intentions can therefore be lost.
Just so, I almost didn’t bother reading a brief essay in which Michael Tanner promotes and summarizes his forthcoming book offering a broad explanation of a conservative policy response to poverty. It’s worth reading, though, because he summarizes some conservative policies specifically in terms of their human objectives:
As he concludes:
An anti-poverty agenda built on empowering poor people and allowing them to take greater control of their own lives offers the chance for a new bipartisan consensus that rejects the current paternalism of both Left and Right. More important, it is an agenda that will do far more than our current failed welfare state to actually lift millions of Americans out of poverty.
My only objection is that I’m not sure that the “paternalism of the Right” is a view that conservatives actually hold rather than a caricature that the Left spreads about us. Of course, the fault is arguably ours, if we don’t often enough express our real intentions.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about abysmal test scores, unions in elective office, the governor’s out-of-state focus, and a veto from the capital’s mayor.
The legislative sausage-making process in Rhode Island is in dire need of reform. Those reforms that should be codified through a constitutional amendment, so that Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership. Now is the time to demand better government.
Our state needs less control by leadership over what legislation will advance, with more power provided to legislative committees.
This sure looks like an action done with the awareness of Rhode Island’s chief executive, with full knowledge that overspending was part of a long-term budget-management scheme:
House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney publicly vented his “disappointment″ that the directors of Rhode Island’s overspending state agencies did not come to the hearing to answer lawmakers’ questions.
The House’s chief fiscal adviser, Sharon Reynolds Ferland, shared her own frustration at what she described as the lax response of state agencies to direct instructions from the state budget office to lay out specific options for averting a potential $47.2-million deficit this year, and scaling back their budget requests for next year.
She attributed the potential current year deficit “primarily … [to] unmet expenditure savings and unbudgeted policy choices.”
They don’t have plans because they don’t feel like they need them. Everybody in state government is on basically the same page about the primacy of government spending. This will continue until (1) politicians start paying a price for going along with it or (2) bankruptcy.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, was about new and old buildings in Providence and accountability on voter rolls.
Rhode Island has had lengthy debates about who, outside of the legislature, should have authority to judge what our state representatives and senators do in their official capacity, and few questioned whether that sort of protection belonged in the state constitution. Yet, nobody has yet suggested that legislators deserve the same level of protection from the abuses of other legislators, specifically when it comes to the House and Senate rules.
The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is signing on to calls for rules that reduce the power of legislative leaders and give it back to legislators, but with the caveat that it ought to happen where new factions can’t change the rules back if they take control:
In calling for a dual-legislative track, the Center’s primary objective is to ensure that elected Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership.
The first piece of legislation would immediately implement certain reforms for the 2019 General Assembly session, while the second piece would call for a ballot-referendum in 2020, whereby voters could approve codification of those reforms into the Rhode Island constitution.
The political Left, in particular, has exhibited a tendency to back individual rights until such time as Leftists are able to impose their preferred regime, at which point individual dissent suddenly becomes illegitimate. With legislative rules, as with our rights, we should move them as far out of reach as possible while we still have some semblance of representative democracy.
This year was a GREAT year for worker freedom across the country, and here in the Ocean State. Early in the summer, the SCOTUS decision in the historic Janus case determined that state and local governments are forbidden from forcing their employees to join unions as a condition of employment. The ruling means union leaders can no longer automatically plunder the pocketbooks of public employees to fund the unions’ political agendas.
In August, we launched our MyPayMySayRI.com campaign to educate public servants about their restored First Amendment rights.
But the insiders want to keep workers in the dark, and in the unions… at any cost.
Unfortunately, we have to admit that this is nothing new:
Overspending by state agencies has opened up a $42-million hole in this year’s budget, according to new estimates from the state budget office.
The state departments of Children, Youth and Families; Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; Labor and Training; and Revenue were among eight agencies over budget in the first quarter of the fiscal year that started July 1, according to a memo from State Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney on Thursday.
Some doubt is arising, however, whether we can really claim that these agencies are “overspending.” When departments regularly spend more than their budgets and the governor and General Assembly simply add money in a supplemental budget as the books come to a close and then audits come in much lower, it begins to look as if the departments are simply following the ordinary course of operation.
For fiscal years 2012 through 2017, the state government increased its supplemental budget by an average of 2.4% and then actually spent an average of 4.7% less than that. Every year, the state estimates that it is overspending and adds money to the supplemental budget. The local news media for some reason tends to trumpet the increase from the supplemental amount to the next year’s final, which looks more reasonable because the bulk of the increase is in the supplemental. All of this happens with plenty of fluff above the actual spending of the state, with a reliable 2.6% annual increase.
I join others in wondering why it is, exactly, that nobody in Rhode Island government happened to mention that Hasbro was considering a move out of the state until the day after the election. But the election is over, so we return to our regularly scheduled observations about politicians’ flawed mindset. Oddly the most telling sentence on this subject has been removed from Tom Mooney’s Providence Journal article since last night:
Grebien said city officials have been talking to Hasbro for several months but that Grebien remains unclear specifically what Hasbro wants in order to stay in the city.
That is simply the wrong question and the wrong attitude, and it shows how politicians’ desire for every decision to run through their hands has put our communities at risk of extortion. In a healthy political system, Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien would be asking what the city and state governments are doing that makes companies want to leave, because we’re doing something wrong if its directors feel as if they can’t remain in the state of their business’s birth.
If the state isn’t doing anything wrong and some factor beyond our control creates the necessity for the move, then we should admit that Rhode Island may no longer be the best fit for the company, or the company for Rhode Island, and society would be better off with more-efficient use of its resources.
It’s been almost three decades since we have had balance of power in Rhode Island’s representation of U.S. Senators in Washington DC. Senator John Chafee(R) and Claiborne Pell(D), both highly regarded and respected across party lines, made Rhode Islanders proud at home and in Washington DC.
Time has come for Rhode Island to do it again.
By plain logic, we can expect that the Warwick fire fighter sick-time deal is replicated throughout state and local government, which means we have to change the incentives of our public employment system.
At the Center, we believe that public workers deserve to know that they now have full freedom to decide whether or not it is in their best interest to pay union dues. That if they choose not to pay, these employees cannot be recriminated against by corrupt union officials.
Readers know that I’m not a fan of our campaign finance regime. It imposes a complicated, intimidating set of laws for grassroots candidates and groups that creates opportunity not only for prosecution of them, but also political attacks on their donors.
I have a hard time, therefore, getting worked up about the apparent probability that the campaign of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello funded a mailer allowing Republican Shawna Lawton to endorse him in a high-profile way against his Republican challenger, Steven Frias. To the extent the activity is illegal, it is because of this complex, unconstitutional labyrinth we’ve built, with incentive to find workarounds.
That said, the investigation is unearthing an education in the way Rhode Island politics work, and the stunning thing is that the most objectionable things are treated as incidental… and they’re all completely legal. I’ve already highlighted one connection:
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.
Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.
Included in the evidence packet that the board provided to The Journal on Friday, in response to a records request, was an Aug. 14, 2016, text from “Teresa” to [political consultant] “Jeff” [Britt] and his partner, Daniel Calhoun, who is still listed as a $60,891-a-year legislative employee on the state’s transparency portal.
Think of this. Under Mattiello, the legislature has given well-paying legislative jobs (of unknown difficulty) to the son of his “mail-ballot guru” and the man who shares a nice Warwick house with one of his campaign operatives, and the thing we’re supposed to be upset about is a relatively small contribution toward political free speech!
But arguing that the campaign finance investigation is the only reason we know about the rest doesn’t justify burdensome campaign finance laws. When people act in suspicious ways (like endorsing people of other parties or independent spoiler candidates), we should… well… suspect them of having some ulterior motive, unless they can express a persuasive rationale for the odd decision. And if somebody who benefits from that persuasion wants to fund it, their money doesn’t change the validity of the argument.
Ultimately, the answer is just to reduce the size of government and the value of controlling it.
Snippets from the AFL-CIO’s endorsement meeting leave no doubt that Rhode Islanders generally have scant representation when our supposed representatives negotiate with labor unions:
Seeking the blessing of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education Convention this past Wednesday, elected officials came bearing their own visions of a better world for workers.
If reelected, Gov. Gina Raimondo promised to raise the minimum wage “again and again and again.”
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner said he’d help combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision by working on legislation to keep government-employee information out of the hands of union-disaffiliation campaigners.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a high-placed Laborers’ International Union official until last year, vowed to work on bills that would allow public-sector unions to stop representing non-members. (State lawmakers this year passed a bill letting police and fire unions do this, but legislation allowing it across government stalled.)
As Providence Journal reporters Patrick Anderson and Katherine Gregg put it, to the labor unions, “all of Rhode Island is a future job site.” Implied is that this perspective leaves government as the mechanism that is able to take money and land and hand it over. Raimondo would burden our economy. Magaziner — inexplicably, if one believes his role is to steward taxpayer funds — wants to throw obstacles in the path of those who would help employees to be more independent. And Ruggerio is intent on lightening unions’ burden while maintaining their near monopoly on employment with government.
By comparison, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung’s only promise appears to be that he is no longer in favor of right to work laws. That’s bad enough, but it’s a far cry from a pledge to shape the laws of our land in the unions’ favor even more than they already are. Interestingly, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is not mentioned in the article.
Two questions arising from the article:
I suspect this sort of thing (or perhaps more-mild variations) are more common than we know:
“Public records obtained by CEI show a pattern of law enforcement offices turning to off-the-books payments for privately funded lawyers to push a political agenda that was roundly rejected at the ballot box by the American people,” said Horner. “The scheme raises serious questions about special interests setting states’ policy and law enforcement agendas, without accountability to the taxpayers and voters whom these law enforcement officials supposedly serve.”
These public emails and documents reveal the details of an unprecedented, coordinated effort between environmental groups, plaintiffs’ lawyers, and major liberal donors using nonprofit organizations to fund staff, research, public relations, and other services for state attorney general offices. One nonprofit uses a center, established by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to pay for Special Assistant Attorneys General (SAAGs) for the AG offices that agree to advance progressive legal positions. Offices that have taken on board a privately funded prosecutor are Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Senior attorneys from the activist AG offices have even flown in to secretly brief prospective funders of another nonprofit, Union of Concerned Scientists, which has recruited AGs and served as their back-room strategist and advisor on this since at least 2015.
Government has so much power that special interests will inevitably seek innovative ways to leverage it. Yesterday, my Twitter stream was full of investigations into relatively low-dollar campaign finance questions concerning relatively unknown candidates for office, as if the inherent corruption of big government’s every day operation is less scandalous!
However one balances newsworthiness, the solution is the same: shrink the size and authority of government and thereby reduce the incentive to invest in corruption. Unfortunately, people tend to support big government because they want it to do a particular thing. If their fellow citizens disagree and bring about an elected government that is less inclined to do that thing, they’ll seek other means.
The absurdity of Rhode Island’s computerized car-inspection regime points to the desperate need for us to figure out what boundaries government should be allowed to impose on our behavior.
The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective. For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom. Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.
On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom. Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:
The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.
Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here. The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom. If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free. But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.
In assessing the effort to keep the PawSox in Rhode Island, it is important to review the role of General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. The state treasurer was asked to analyze the costs and opine on affordability, as would be expected with a large borrowing like this. Mr. Magaziner opined in October 2017 and in June 2018 as numbers changed along with the terms of the deal and then opined again recently, finally giving a nod to the deal.
But what everyone needs to know is that $350 million dollars in debt for Pawtucket’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for former employees was not used in his analysis. This is more than twice the city’s pension debt! In fact, it was purposely left out by Magaziner. Including OPEB debt would obviously have made the City of Pawtucket’s borrowing look dangerous and ill-conceived. Ignoring OPEB allowed for an outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars by the treasurer.
Think about it. Seth Magaziner violated his own risk recommendations by hiding a liability in his analysis; this is the type of stuff they did with 38 Studios. Mr. Magaziner owes it to taxpayers to lay all the cards on the table and not to fall in line with political winds. Had he actually laid the cards on the table, looked at all the debt, and been transparent and honest, the PawSox deal would appropriately have never seen the light of day.
As can be seen in the comprehensive Debt Affordability Study, Pawtucket already exceeds Magaziner’s limits for debt, along with Woonsocket and Providence, before even considering borrowing for the new stadium or the $350 million in OPEB liability, which the board is to reconsider as a component next year. This $350 million is so significant and overwhelming, it would be irresponsible for any treasurer to think Pawtucket absorbing new debt was a good idea.
The emotions raised by an abuse scandal in another state shouldn’t lead us to discard careful consideration of our values and justice.
Rhode Island politics have been messing things up for Rhode Islanders for decades, but by messing things up for the PawSox, they’ve finally gotten something right.
Here’s something I don’t get: Not that long ago the word went out that retracting net neutrality rules would end the open Internet as we know it, bringing it all the way back to the distant, dark days of January 2015. So one would expect new proposals reportedly leaked from Senate Democrats to rev up the outrage machine again. The plan is extremely broad, but a major plank is requirements for verification of users’ identities (at least for non-hackers), as well as…
Other proposals include more disclosure requirements for online political speech, more spending to counter supposed cybersecurity threats, more funding for the Federal Trade Commission, a requirement that companies’ algorithms can be audited by the feds (and this data shared with universities and others), and a requirement of “interoperability between dominant platforms.”
The paper also suggests making it a rule that tech platforms above a certain size must turn over internal data and processes to “independent public interest researchers” so they can identify potential “public health/addiction effects, anticompetitive behavior, radicalization,” scams, “user propagated misinformation,” and harassment—data that could be used to “inform actions by regulators or Congress.”
Of course, this proposal and net neutrality are only at odds if the people pushing either attempt to use the rhetoric of freedom. If the goal is government control of the Internet, then they’re both perfectly in line, in which case net neutrality supporters were either deceived or have an unjustifiable faith that government overlords will always favor the content they desire.
Residents who think giving the state more influence over local zoning when it comes to solar farms may discover that the bigger muscles of the bigger government pull in a direction they don’t like.
Abraham Glazer shares some collected notes on policies that might do Rhode Island some good.