April 22, 2009

Running Over the Entire Population

Justin Katz

As damaging as his arrest for drunken driving may be to the reputation of RI Deputy Majority Leader Rep. Raymond Sullivan (D., Coventry), more damning, still, is the slate of legislation on which Mr. Sullivan has placed his name. If Rhode Islanders take the opportunity of his appearance in the news to review his latest legislative activities, he ought to face even stiffer problems reclaiming his seat next time around. (I write that "ought to," of course, with full knowledge of the political habits of the state in which I live.)

Begin with this gem, rapidly withdrawn by primary sponsor Thomas Winfield (D., Glocester, Smithfield) (PDF):

No beverage container, plastic garbage bag or garbage can liner may be sold or offered for sale in this state on or after January 1, 2010, unless it is biodegradable, degradable or photodegradable.

Perhaps it was the loss of the proposed $100-per-plastic-bottle fine that spurred Sullivan et al. to eliminate the flat tax (PDF) and increase the capital gains tax (PDF), even though the lowered rates (and promises that they would decrease further) have arguably contributed to the roughly 50% increase in tax dollars collected from households earning over $100,000 per year.

And perhaps it is the dubious expectation that higher income tax rates would yield higher revenue for the state that led Mr. Sullivan, in legislation that he introduced, to suggest redirecting taxes collected from healthcare-related organizations from the perpetually inadequate general fund toward a new "Insurer Premium Tax Fund" that would "be used exclusively by the department of human services to fund expanded coverage for the uninsured through the RIte Care program" (PDF).

If tax dollars are so expendable, however, one would be hard-pressed to explain why Sullivan thought it necessary to introduce legislation that would risk scaring away larger businesses by requiring invasive "combined reporting," even empowering Rhode Island to demand income data for employees and business units that "are not, or would not be if doing business in this state" taxable here.

Also unduly invasive is Sullivan's notion (subsequently withdrawn) that all pharmaceutical and healthcare device companies can be required to submit annual reports detailing all marketing expenses related to advertising and promotion, from employee costs to radio ad costs, as well as the following (PDF:

Any other expense relating to the indirect promotion of prescription drugs, biologics and medical devices including without limitation, support of independent or continuing medical education programs, including payments to medical education companies; design, printing and production costs of patient education materials and disease management materials distributed within the state; consulting fees and expenses, participation in speakers’ bureaus and honoraria or other payments for time while speaking at or attending meetings, lectures or conferences; writing articles or publications; charitable grants, either directly or earmarked, even if unrestricted; product samples if allowed market research surveys or other activities undertaken in support of developing advertising and/or marketing strategies.

All of this, by the way, would explicitly not "constitute confidential information or trade secrets" and would be publicly available.

And while we're detailing new requirements for businesses seeking an RI market, Sullivan also wants to require college textbook companies to produce detailed lists of categorized books, including marketing intentions with respect to each edition's longevity as well as the wholesale price (PDF).

Finally, we'll close this quick review on a hot-button social issue and an eye-catching statement of perspective. On the former count, Sullivan has signed on to legislation (PDF) that would eliminate the current requirement that husbands be notified that their wives intend to kill their unborn children via abortion. On the latter, he felt it necessary to insist (PDF) that new requirements for public education concerning genocide ensure that students "recognize that genocide is a consequence of prejudice, discrimination and racism, which can be found here in Rhode Island." Think about that.

Fortunately, most of the above legislation has been either withdrawn or resigned to the committee limbo of "recommended to be held for further study." Of course, that high frequency of failure may not be a very salable point to the voters of Coventry.