November 18, 2009

Rhode Island Must Solve This Problem

Justin Katz

Here's the Budget Office document showing the always-too-optimistic early revenue estimate for the state of Rhode Island: PDF. As you've likely read, the deficit is projected to be $219.8 million. It wouldn't be surprising to find that number come in hundreds of millions of dollars too low.

The reality is that Rhode Island has to cut a structural billion dollars out of its budget. Over the past few years, we've been chasing a sinking chest deeper under water.

Table 3, on the last page of the PDF, shows the decreases in revenue by source. Wading through the sloppiness of the table (mostly misplaced and missing minus signs and parentheses), the take-away is that raising taxes is not an option. Revenue is shrinking because people are doing less of the things that generate it. What's frightening is that Rhode Islanders don't seem interested in doing anything about it.

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This, and quite a few other things, are exactly what Laffey has been warning us about since 2002!

Yet, the establishment, defenders of the status quo, don't seem to have the same passion to fix it.

The Governor and the GA share complicity in this fraud. Overstating revenue projections when all indicators point to steep declines in income, accompanied by a continuing rises in default and foreclosure, IS FRAUD. It amounts to lying to the people.

By distancing themselves from Laffey, the Republican Party is distancing themselves from the truth.

When Laffey became mayor of Cranston, the truth was revealed for all to see. Perhaps this is what the Governor and his RIGOP cronies fear the most; that Laffey means NONE of this fraud will be covered up.

What else are they hiding? Elect Laffey and find out once and for all!

Again, if people can't see this happening, can't heed the warnings over the years. Why the hell should he run?

Posted by: Daniel at November 18, 2009 10:45 AM

So let's say Laffey runs and wins the Governor's seat. Then what? He starts running around and exposing all the frauds in the Assembly. So they thumb their nose at him and simply override every veto.

If someone really wants to make a difference in this state AND run for Governor, then what they need to do, and what Laffey should have been doing for the last 4-6 years is helping every like-minded Assembly candidate. Stack the deck for himself. Get a veto-proof Assembly in one of the houses, then run for Governor and then you can really make some change. As long as there are 60+ democrats in there, and ones that are going to get quite embarrassed and angry by what a Laffey would say, they'll have no reason to work with him. Laffey will be used as the problem, as the excuse for why there are problems in the state. Hey if 60 people say one thing and one person says another, which one does the average stupid voter believe? Probably the 60. At least that's how the evidence has pointed. Why else would these people elect a conservative, Republican governor, but keep electing left-wing dingbats for all these years? I'm fine with a mix of all opinions in the Assembly, I don't want it to tip too far in the other direction, I'd just like to see more balance.

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 11:08 AM

Patrick, no one, no one has helped Republican candidates and local serious and capable Republican candidates more than Steve Laffey.

And... you're saying hiding the truth is a necessary component of governing?
Whoa, your logic is twisted!

Posted by: George at November 18, 2009 11:18 AM

George, show me a quote where I said hiding truth is a good thing? Show me or retract your statement. If you want to talk about twisting things, it's your ability to twist words.

Laffey might have done more for Republican candidates than everyone else combined, but that's not a very difficult title to achieve. That's like saying I'm the toughest kid in my family. Big deal. What has he done? He shows up to some fundraisers, he donates some money. Great. So if he's done "a lot" for Republican candidates and the numbers of Republicans in the Assembly has dwindled, then how effective is he as a leader? Which is it? He's ineffective or he hasn't done enough? Pick one.

And back to my original point on Daniel's post. If Laffey is elected and starts outing these Reps and Senators for what they really are, what motivation will they have to work with him? None. So how would he get anything done? As Governor, you have a couple choices, go along with it and make the best of it, as it seems Carcieri has done in spots, or fight them tooth and nail and get nothing you want and watch them override every veto, or you can work to put more of "your people" into the Assembly to help get your agenda on through.

I'll wait for that quote or retraction from you George.

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 11:50 AM

There is a "chicken and egg" issue here.

Decent individuals are naturally reluctant to run for General Assembly. First of all if elected they have to rub elbows with the scum that currently inhabit the place, and see their own reputation besmirched by association with that body, which of course has a national reputation for corruption (one well-deserved).

Secondly, they will be reluctant because they are in effect all on their own, both for initiating and running a campaign, and then once in office.

A vibrant Republican Party would provide a solution, but the Rhode Island GOP is very much part of the problem. There appears to be a "shadow leadership" within the RIGOP that actually calls the shots. In turn, this shadow leadership supports the likes of Avedesian, Savage and Bruce Long, who are de facto Democrats and union puppets. Indeed in an Orwellian twist criticism of these de facto Democrats is portrayed as disloyalty to the GOP!

It would not surprise me to learn that this shadow leadership is allied with, or has roots within the Rhode Island Democrat party and/or the unions. In other words, that the RIGOP has been co-opted by those groups and is serving as a fig leaf to make it appear that there is actually a two-party system in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 18, 2009 12:35 PM

1) Get Laffey elected with a veto sustainable minority (a much more likely goal; one doesn't need a veto proof majority).

2) Laffey exposes all of the shenanigans going on in the government and SELLS his ideas of how to get out of this mess relentlessly to the people.

3) Rally the folks who will still be feeling the pinch of recession and joblessness to demand that their GA members go along with Laffey's recommendations to right the ship.

It can be done. It must be done.

Posted by: MadMom at November 18, 2009 12:37 PM

MadMom is right, but it all starts with her first point. The best place to start is probably the Senate since you only need one house to sustain the veto. There are currently 4 Republicans in the Senate and 33 Democrats. To sustain a veto, you need more than 33%, or 13 Senators. That's more than triple what is in there now. Each seat needs to be looked at individually and see where the best options are. There's no need to go after all 38 seats, though that would be nice. Instead, pick about half of them and make gains and get to that 13 number.

But also keep in mind that all 13 of those people will need to be kept happy in order to keep them on the side of 13. When you have the Senate President making promises, it's really easy for one to stray.

Also, the current four Republicans couldn't even agree on who their leader would be back in January. Basically this party is a mess.

The better solution, since the Republican numbers are so small is to go after this with a new label. Maybe Moderate Party candiates, maybe Independents who align themselves with the Tea Party movement. There's not a whole lot of difference between getting to 13 from scratch and getting to 13 with the Republicans we already have there.

I think my original point is that I agree with MadMom and with Daniel, the only difference is Daniel wanted to jump right to MM's second point without doing the first. The first is absolutely mandatory and nothing else can happen without getting an Assembly that can sustain a veto. Without that, any contrarian governor will be powerless and useless.

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 1:28 PM

MadMom is right-on on all points PLUS... Laffey has the track record in Cranston. He was able to get 9 - 0 support on nearly all of his major reforms in Cranston. The city council was 6 Dems to 3 Republicans at best and 8 to 1 (a very questionalble 1) at worst.

He is a true, fearless leader.

I think the threat of exposure alone would make members of the GA, if they even get re-elected in 2010 MORE likely to want to work WITH a strong leader.

You see, the Laffey campaign alone will bring the debate to a higher level and expose more truth to the voters. I think there is a good chance incumbents will suffer in the upcoming elections. But with Laffey leading the charge I think the throw-the-bums-out movement will also find a higher level.

The people who fought his reforms exposed themselves for who they were and lost badly 2004. The people of Cranston saw the scam and beat back a nationally-endorsed union effort to take him out in a primary. He won by nearly 4 to 1.

I encourage you to get to know him better. He is the real deal and I don't see anyone else with the powerful intellect, grasp of the issues, boundless energy, courage to tell the truth, courage to take on powerful special interests, courage to put the people first, who has already thought through the issues and is prepared to save our state.

Posted by: George at November 18, 2009 2:45 PM

"The people who fought his reforms exposed themselves for who they were and lost badly 2004."


Ok, while the topic is Laffey and his "leadership". Should we look at the 2004 election results, the year Laffey was re-elected. He'd already had years on his record to show the people of Cranston what he could do and get everyone on board and start getting like-minded people on board. Let's take a look at the city council results:

At Large:
Garabedian - Democrat 22%
Fung - Republican 20%
Pisaturo - Democrat 16%

Ward 1:
Livingston - Democrat 55%

Ward 2:
Fogarty - Democrat 62%

Ward 3:
McFarland - Democrat 69%

Ward 4:
Bucci - Democrat 50.09%

Ward 5:
Lanni - Democrat 54%

Ward 6:
Barone - Republican 54%

So this great *leader* was able to bring home two out of nine city council seats, as the incumbent and re-elected mayor. Doesn't "leader" basically mean that people follow you? If Laffey is this great politician and great leader, why could he only bring home two out of nine city council seats?

I'm all for whoever can be the Pied Piper in RI and lead us to where we need to be, but I'm not yet convinced that Steve Laffey is the guy. He couldn't dominate the political landscape in his own hometown with regard to the Council, how would he get his agenda through the General Assembly and get his type of people elected?

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 3:19 PM


Despite the challenges of 2004, election year, master lever, weak candidates, Laffey was still able to advance his agenda. He still was able to lead the Dem. majority council to do the right thing for the people of Cranston.

As someone who was there, I can honestly tell you that none of the council candidates who lost, lost due to any lack of support from Steve Laffey. He was out there campaigning on their behalf as much as he was campaiging for his own re-election. At every door he knocked on, he introduced the at-large and ward candidates, if they were there.

In the same election year, Laffey endorsed, supported and campaigned for Jim Davey who overthrough Frank Montanaro Jr of all people. Jim Davey was a very strong candidate, but he said many times in public that he couldn't have done it without Laffey's support.

Instead of digging to find what's wrong with Laffey, why don't you try to open your eyes and see what's right. Unless of course, you're one of those shadow Republicans "Ragin'" is talking about, and you really don't want to change anything.

Posted by: George at November 18, 2009 3:37 PM

Ragin', i've often wondered the same thing about these GOP insiders. This is a wild theory, but judging by their actions, i wouldn't be a bit surprised if they've made a deal with the devil to basically destroy, or at least keep the party weak.

i've also heard that a few people from the Governor's office are already helping Caprio.

Pretty disgusting if you ask me.

Posted by: Daniel at November 18, 2009 3:46 PM

How'd I know you'd bring up Jim Davey. How's that working out? I don't think you want to go through all the Assembly results for Cranston, do you? I'm not going to blame you for the garbage Assemblywoman that you have in Charlene Lima, as I certainly don't want to get blamed for keeping Dan Connors in office.

Shadow Republican? Far from it. I have volunteered for the Bush, Carcieri and Laffey ('04) campaigns as well as three local Senate campaigns. No shadow Republican here, just a realist.

I'm not sure why people have this belief that one person can make a difference right now in RI. It's going to take more than that. Like the analogy I made before, if you want to fill a puddle with salt, you can't do it one grain at a time. You need to dump it all in at once.

Laffey understands this too. It's exactly why he's on the sidelines. His "brand" is damaged by his election loss. He can't afford too many more of those and will pick his spot to run again.

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 3:49 PM

Anyone needing proof of turncoat Republicans within the party need only look at Mike Traficante, the former National Republican Committeeman, and union lackey. In his reign as mayor of Cranston, he gave the city way to the unions, and promptly accepted employment at the Laborers International Union when he left city hall. Now what I call a beacon of Republican values.
Nonetheless, Patrick, I just don't see anybody who has a shot of changing the course RI is on except Laffey. Now, that is not to say he could absolutely do it, given the obvious obstacles. But, he is the only one who would even have a shot at doing it.

It certainly isn't going to be a Democrat. The Democrats right now, and for the last 20 years have had the ability to do WHATEVER they want to fix things in this state. But, like crackheads looking at a giant heaping bowl full of crack, they can't help themselves, and will never do the right thing. If they could, they would be doing it right now.

Anyway, I'd be curious to know, Patrick, given any and all options, who do you think has the best chance to change the course RI is on?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at November 18, 2009 4:41 PM

"Anyway, I'd be curious to know, Patrick, given any and all options, who do you think has the best chance to change the course RI is on?"

Sure, I'll answer that one. Easy. Bob Walsh for Governor. Seriously. He'll drive this state so far down the toilet, Gray Davis in California would look like a Godsend. Walsh would probably get recalled if not arrested and then, only then I believe, would the voters of RI finally wake up and start handing over the reins to more conservative folk.

Again, the problem isn't in the Governor's office. The problem is that everyone HATES the General Assembly, and the BNMG ("but not my guy") mentality. Everyone sees their Rep and Senator in the paper giving money to the seniors, giving money to the Boys Club, handing out food at the summer picnics, all with a big smile on their face. "Oh what a nice guy. I'll vote for that person." But then over coffee and donuts, they gripe about that stupid Governor and their taxes and stupid the Assembly is.

I've walked for candidates opposing Dan Connors, knocked on doors and seriously been told, "I gotta vote for Danny, I've known him my whole life." Great. That's the reason you're going to send Dan Connors back to the State House. Awesome. You're a moron. You know nothing about the guy other than you went to high school with him. That's a good enough qualification.

So as MadMom and others have said before, we really need to focus on the local level. Get the farm team going, get people seasoned from the bottom up. Voters trust names that they know. Right now, it's more Democrats than Republicans who work their way up and get their name out there.

I think the problem is the system for the Republicans is broken at the foundation. Without the foundation, you can't put a roof on the house. The Republican party in this state has no base, so they can't have an effective roof. Not for a while at least. Not until they rebuild the foundation.

And the other shame to this is the NRC. Think how much money it takes to sway an Ohio or Pennsylvania or Michigan to turn from blue to red. Rhode Island would only cost a fraction of that. Give every Republican candidate the maximum allowed and then start running massive advertising for the ideas and principles in general on the main radio stations and the local tv stations. Heck, we only have one tv market, that's cheaper than most states. It's a shame. If RI turned red and NH is already red, we'd have MA surrounded and maybe they don't completely turn red, but maybe they could be swayed to a shade of purple. We just need the money.

Longer answer than you were looking for, Mike?

Posted by: Patrick at November 18, 2009 5:15 PM

Patrick, just as you don't want to give any credit to Laffey for all the support he's given to candidates, even if they won; you can't go blaming him for every Republican loss in, of all places, Cranston.

I'm also NOT saying, Laffey for Gov. = GA Majority.

What I am saying is that he is by far the most honest and most prepared to solve Rhode Island's problems. He will bring the debate, on the important issues, to a much higer level than it stands to reach with Lynch or Caprio, Smith and Chafee. And so, by exposing the truth, he will educate and energize an already riled-up electorate who stand ready to throw the bums out.

Despite what you say about his coattails, he has a strong track-record in leading the opposition to do the right thing!

It seems to me that you and I want the same thing. Why not focus on what he's proven he CAN do, instead of trying to conjure up all that you can to prove what you think he "can't" do.

Posted by: George at November 18, 2009 5:24 PM

Nice to see people all fired up about Laffey. Brings back fond memories.

Check out this op-ed from July. Who else, in the history of our little state, has told us the plain truth like this:

Stephen P. Laffey: R.I. leaders guilty of fraud: Budget puts state on road to collapse
01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, July 9, 2009

THERE ARE MANY states in financial trouble. But while other states are open about their financial woes, elected officials in Rhode Island violate their fiduciary duty, and declare the budget balanced when in fact there is a massive deficit, committing fraud upon the taxpayers.
To quote Prof. William Black of the University of Missouri: "Fraud is deceit. And the essence of fraud is, ‘I create trust in you, and then I betray that trust, and get you to give me something of value.' And as a result, there's no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites, and that's what we have."
Yes, that's what we have. Laughing and joking last year, our leaders signed off on the 2008-09 "balanced" state budget. That "balanced" budget was really a $600 million deficit. It was fraud because they knew it then. And they know it now.
With 11 months of data in for fiscal 2008-09, revenues are running more than $400 million behind the final revised $3! .1 billion estimate for total general revenues. And the last few months are showing even more ominous trends. So an aggressive total revenue budget for fiscal 2009-10 would have been $2.7 billion. Instead, our leaders agreed to forecast $3.1 billion in revenue again, putting us all at least another $400 million in the hole.
Reading the 2009-10 state budget, you see the use of $226.5 million of Obama "stimulus" funny money to repeatedly plug budget holes. This funny money is like putting Scotch Tape on ever bigger cracks in a crumbling dam. Add in the illegal raiding of the state's rainy-day fund this year and the non-funding of the state pension plan for the last five months and you have enough cash flow to take Rhode Island a little farther down the road. A little farther than . . . North Providence.
Oh yes, the state pension system. After three "fixes" in four years, do its assets now match its liabilities? Not even close. Oh, sure, our leaders left the i! mpression that they "fixed" it, but they didn't. Do we believe! that th e same people who didn't fund the pension the last five months of 2009 just "fixed" it?
House Speaker William Murphy's pension committee took two years to get information that should have taken two weeks. The old "delay, delay, and hope the public goes away" trick. After General Treasurer Frank Caprio's disastrous investment decisions cost taxpayers billions, the pension plan is still insolvent and has only one option. But here again, elected officials declare victory and hope they will be out of office before you figure it out.
One of the worst things about public fraud is that it's contagious. When Governor Carcieri raids the rainy day fund and gets away with it, what is to stop cities like Cranston and Warwick from doing the same thing? Nothing, since they did it, too -- and got away with it.
Let's be frank. This fraudulent budget now puts Rhode Island on the road to collapse. Only, unlike ! California, whose comptroller has put out a loud warning, the Rhode Island populace will have to wait to be "surprised" when Rhode Island is about to miss payroll. The similarities between Rhode Island today and Cranston in 2002 before I became mayor are eerie. The lies were plentiful then and near bankruptcy ensued.
So while fraud is being perpetrated against the Rhode Island public, let me tell you the truth: The deficit could be north of $800 million and is leading to insolvency. The pension system is still broke and can only be saved by turning all accounts into 401(k)s. (See my March 5 Commentary piece, "Time grows short for our poor state.")
The elected officials who signed off on the budget have all committed fraud.
After our leaders have sent signals for years that they do not want any real tax base in Rhode Island, guess what? There isn't any. Governor Carcieri's signing of the budget, despite any cockamamie reason he may give, transmits another signal to eve! ryone outside the state that this nonsense is what Rhode Islan! d deems true, and sends another death blow to both economic development and to the state Republican Party.
You can only sign budgets that you believe result in balanced budgets or surpluses. All else is fraud.
Not only is fraud committed, but the level of shenanigans is shocking. Among the many:
* Raising the cigarette tax 40 percent to the highest in the nation and expecting much more revenue.
* Jacking up the capital-gains tax to the level of ordinary income and budgeting $23.6 million more revenue, as if there was a Berlin Wall along the Rhode Island border to hold people in. They will just move to other states before cashing in their investments.
* State representatives' still taking free health insurance for a part-time gig, while the public at large suffers with higher and higher health-insurance costs.
* The round-the-clock attempt to tax Rhode Island citizens for buying stuff on the Internet.
All astoundingly dimwitted.
There was a ti! me in the private sector when a division head handed me his budget for the following year. After a short perusal, I noticed that he had the total number of employees going up, and the cost of health insurance for that department going down 75 percent. That employee was let go that day.
If only we could do that here.
Stephen P. Laffey is the former mayor of Cranston.

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at November 18, 2009 8:13 PM

"... and seriously been told, "I gotta vote for Danny, I've known him my whole life.""


Posted by: Monique at November 18, 2009 9:40 PM

Monique, exactly. I so just wanted to scream through my teeth at them. This is what we're dealing with. I really encourage people to get out there and walk the neighborhoods to get a better feel for what the voters think. Attending rallies doesn't tell you crap. That's preaching to the choir. Go door to door, not with lists of people who have voted Republican, but go to every door of registered voters. It's amazing what you hear. We had to spend 15 minutes with one voter explaining that our state senate candidate was not going to Washington. Even after that, the voter still couldn't quite understand that we weren't running against Patrick Kennedy. (Yes, I'm fully aware that Kennedy isn't even in the Senate, the voter wasn't) And watch how many vacant stares you get from people as you try to explain your candidate. And always ask for a yard sign placement. 90% of the time they'll say yes just to get you off their front steps.

As for George, why should anyone focus on Laffey right now? He said he's not running? Why should I waste my time getting to know him better? If he announces, then I'll listen. Until then, I'll pay attention to the people who are running for office, even if each one will only be a disaster in office.

Posted by: Patrick at November 19, 2009 7:46 AM

Patrick is correct; the typical Rhode Islander is clueless about their government. I've worked on campaigns too and experienced the same frustration. So we have to educate the public. It's almost like missionary work; you've got to convert one person at a time. And the best place to do that is not when campaigning, but during your everyday life. Engaging people in discussion while standing in line at the grocery store, or at your kid's school watching a game. Plant seeds everywhere. If all of the newly energized folks do this over the next year, somethings gotta get through, especially with the reality of the economy here as the backdrop of any discussion. But the folks who want change must have the guts to speak up and initiate discussion. Many conservatives are afraid to say anything because we are outnumbered here, but people have to get outside their comfort zone. Engage, engage, engage. Sounds goofy, but it's free and it's something that everyone can do.

Posted by: MadMom at November 19, 2009 9:24 AM

Patrick, I know he's not running. But, I want him to run. I think the people of this state really NEED him to run. Like Mike Cappellli said, who else can take on the state's problems like he can. Or like Stretch Cunningham said, who else will ever tell us the truth.

The state is in bad enough shape, we don't need to play chicken with our lives and the our children's futures by letting any old hack take over. We need the fixes now, or else our state will cease to exist. It really is that bad! Yet no public person, aside from Laffey, is honest enough to tell the people how bad it really is.

If we really want the state fixed, I think we need to do all we can to recruit the BEST people. There is no one better than Steve Laffey to lead and execute the charge. I don't need to rehash all the reasons Laffey gives us our best chance at recovery and reform. But what really has me rankled and just about finished with the RIGOP is that their leadership would rather see a Democrat elected Governor than support a guy who can really win and really fix the state.

So, along the lines of MadMom's suggestion. I would rather keep talking-up Laffey and encourage people to learn more about the state's problems, about Laffey, and about how he is the right person at the right time to set us back onto the road to greatness.

Posted by: George at November 19, 2009 11:02 AM
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