October 31, 2011
Removing Pension Dollars from the RI Economy
Union reps and pension testifiers have been arguing that reducing pensions will harm the local economy. Using the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity's pension database, though, I've looked at some relevant numbers, including the fact that the state sends $142 million in public pension payouts out of state.
October 29, 2011
Tossing 80% of RI Seniors Overboard: The AARP of RI Has Become A Pyranha in Sheep's Clothing
Even sharpened up, that cliche may not adequately describe the the duplicitious nature and predatory intent of the AARP's testimony this week against pension reform.
... Many have asked why AARP is engaged in this discussion. AARP Rhode Island’s advocacy on this bill fits into AARP’s broader, national campaign to Protect Seniors from fiscal instability caused by cuts in retirement income, Social Security and Medicare. AARP advocates for older Americans nationwide, asserting that we all have a right to be self-reliant and live with dignity in retirement. AARP maintains that modifications to pension plans should have the key objective of holding harmless current beneficiaries and employees, as well as ensuring the retirement security needs of future employees.
So mendacious and misleading. The AARP has 135,000 members in Rhode Island. Yet with this testimony, the AARP is, in fact, advocating only for the 26,000 public retirees who would be affected by the proposed reform. That equates to a maximum of 20% of AARP members in Rhode Island. (Thanks to North Kingstown Rep Larry Ehrhardt for bringing these figures forward on WPRO's Buddy Cianci Show.)
Now for the predatory part. If no pension reform is implemented, taxes will go up even higher than with pension reform. As the AARP is advocating against pension reform, they are pushing for 80% of its members to pay more money for the benefit of 20% of its membership.
How can the AARP claim to be representing its members when it is advocating for something that would clearly be detrimental to 80% of its members?
And that 20% is most likely on the high side. Keep in mind that due to one of the unsustainable terms of state pensions - no minimum age to start collecting - some retirees are too young to qualify for membership in the AARP. So in some cases, the AARP-RI is advocating for non-members against the better interest of its own members!
As of 2000, Rhode Island had the sixth highest population of seniors. Quoting Ms. Connell's testimony, AARP might advocate for "older Americans nationwide". But in Rhode Island, the organization advocates for a special, small group of Rhode Islanders, older and not so much, quite literally at the expense of 80% of the state's older residents.
Jobs, Who Creates Them?
In GoLocalProv.com today, Dan McGowan tells of how Rhode Island has shed more government jobs, as a percentage, than any other state in the country since 2007. He uses some nice numbers and percentages to show the facts.
In total, Rhode Island lost about 4,400 government jobs over four years, ranking 33rd among states in jobs lost. The state now has about 59,900 government employees.Ok, so there's nothing wrong with using percentages and raw data like that. But let's look at it another way. We have 59,900 people employed by the taxpayers. According to the 2009 census, RI had about 1.05M people living here. Doing a little math there shows that one in every 17.5 people living in the state is employed by the state or a municipality. That's not one in every 17.5 working people, that's one in every 17.5 people. That includes babies, students, retirees. If I knew how to figure out how many people are actually of working age, I'd better know just how many people working in the state, work on the taxpayer dime.
The 6.84 percent reduction over four years is the highest in the country
McGowan also goes on to very casually mention that states like New Hampshire and North Dakota actually gained government employees. Why is that not surprising when those states are actually growing their economy? North Dakota is experiencing a bit of a boom as currently the fastest growing state in the country. New Hampshire is a pro-business state. So to compare Rhode Island to those states would be comparing apples to dump trucks.
The article also gets opinions from Kate Brock, the executive director from Ocean State Action who says that cutting state employees is killing the economy. I don't understand how costing the taxpayers less by not having to pay for bloated payroll will harm the economy. It means not as much money will need to come out of taxpayers' pockets, so we will have more money to spend on the economy, to spend on businesses that are still trying to make it in Rhode Island. This is exactly how you grow an economy, not hurt it.
Carcieri was on the right path when he cut the government workforce. In my own random experience, he didn't go far enough. We've all seen the reports of government employee waste, with examples like the guy literally sleeping on the job.
We do have many problems in this state, especially with regard to the government, but cutting too many government jobs definitely is not one of them.
Who Is Stealing from Whom?
Not to edge into Andrew's territory in the Great Pension Debate, but a point that a town resident with whom I often agree on local matters made when the Tiverton Town Council voted to support "meaningful state-wide pension reform" raises a curious distinction of when government action is "theft":
Audience members Roger Bennis and Bob Martin both spoke against the resolution, on the grounds that the pension benefits formed the basis for a contract between the government employer and the employee.
Mr. Bennis said that pension benefits "had been bought and paid for over the working lifetime of the employee," and the reform that takes benefits away is "theft of previously earned pension benefits."
The article doesn't say whether Mr. Bennis made a distinction between the current reform, which attempts not to decrease benefits that have already been earned, and a more realistic reform that might actually address the pension problem, but in either case, I can't help but wonder: I've worked my entire working lifetime, thus far, to buy a house and build a financial foundation on which to raise three children. If property, sales, and income taxation increases to confiscatory levels (rather, to even more confiscatory levels) in order to support public-sector pensions, how is that not at least the very same degree of theft that Bennis decries?
Oh, sure, the government is empowered to tax, provided due process is respected, but it's also able to adjust legislatively determined benefit levels, especially when there's a pressing public purpose. In cases of bankruptcy, the judicial branch of government has even more leeway.
Mr. Bennis cannot have it both ways. That is, it cannot be theft to remove benefits from public employees, but not theft to increase taxes solely to cover those benefits through wealth transfer.
October 28, 2011
Car Tax Evaluation Committee: Typical?
Warwick Car Tax Revolt leader Rob Cote has done a great service to the citizens of Warwick and the state by keeping the heat on our elected officials regarding the car tax. Further to that end, he decided to drop in on the annual Car Tax Evaluation Committee meeting, buried somewhere in the State House Administrative building. What he found was an embarrassment (h/t Dan Yorke Show).
Unfortunately, I suspect this is all-too typical of what goes on with other boards in our state government.
Give the Unions More Control
Some of the union heads are claiming that this pension crisis was fabricated by State Treasurer Gina Raimondo. She is trying to solve a problem that she created. People like Paul Valletta, representing the Rhode Island Association of Firefighters. His claim:
[Raimondo] cooked the books on this issue... She created this pension problem … now she’s riding in on her white horse … to solve this problemOther unions are also making claims that the pension problem is not nearly as bad as Raimondo and Chafee make it out to be, in spite of extensive hearings, research and convening a panel that included union management.
When people disagree so vehemently with a given solution, even to the point of accusing one of lying, my response is often to ask what their solution is. What I would like to see happen is people like Valletta put their own reputation on the line in this solution.
How about this, we separate out the firefighters' portion of the pension system and put that separate. We make no changes. We continue forward with the status quo and send periodic updates to the members of the firefighters' union. In each of those updates, we make sure it is known to each of the members that the steps being followed are those that were advocated by Paul Valletta. So when the pension system does go belly-up and those checks start bouncing, don't call the Treasurer, don't call the Governor, don't even call a lawyer. Call Paul Valletta.
Or, why not let the union take over their portion pension system? Here's one thing I've never understood. Treat the union like a sub-contractor. The state simply hires the union like they hire any other contractor. The state pays a set amount to the contractor and the contractor pays its members how it sees fit. Let the union determine salaries, steps, raises, health care plans and retirement packages. They're claiming now that the Treasurer is being disingenuous, so let's see how they do with it. Maybe they can manage it all better. I wonder if the unions are willing to make this agreement and really take over every aspect of the employment. Unions supply staff, the state supplies one monthly payment to the union. Very clean, very orderly, many fewer details would need to be negotiated.
October 27, 2011
Are Public Employee Pensions Part of or Above the Law?
I attended the final few hours of last night’s House/Senate pension reform public testimony session. While I was there, the great bulk of the testimony was from public union members and officials, repeating variations on the theme of yeah it's a mess, but the young folks have plenty of time to figure out how to pick up the pieces of the mistakes we’ll leave behind and the important thing is that I get mine. Describe the Raimondo/Chafee plan with analogies to theft was common: "picking our pockets", "stealing from union members", etc. In other places, I've seen the Raimondo/Chafee pension reform plan described as "larcenous".
But something can only be stolen from someone if it belongs to them in the first place. So what, exactly, do Rhode Island's public union members think that they own that is being taken from them? Given that the contributions from salary made by RI public employees aren't nearly enough to provide the benefits they currently demand, and their employer raises money mostly through taxation, the only answer is that the state’s public union members have convinced themselves that they own a piece of the future incomes of every citizen of Rhode Island -- even of those yet to be born. This is wrong, on both legal and moral levels.
Limited, democratic governments have no authority to give one group of people permanent and unlimited ownership of the incomes of others. Government has no right to designate "owners", who are free to take as much each year as they say they need from the "owned", with the "owned" being allowed no recourse whatsoever to change the terms of their inferior position. Specifying that relationship in contractual form (or just calling it an “implied unilateral contract”) does not make it a proper use of government power. You could write up something that looks like a contract to sell your neighbor's house to a third-party, but it would mean nothing, because you can't sell, give-away or transfer what you don't own. Likewise, government does not “own” all of society. Government only "owns" the portion of the citizens’ livelihoods and property that representatives accountable to the people decide upon, in an appropriations process that must be renewed and reviewed in a reasonably time-limited budget cycle. This understanding of the limits on what government actually possesses has been a fundamental check on tyranny and absolutism for over 300 years.
This principle is reinforced in Rhode Island law, which explicitly states that no contractual obligation in a municipal public employee contract can extend beyond three years. So how does this get reconciled with claim that past municipal employee contracts bind specific COLA structures 20 years or more into the future? Easily enough! For those willing to assert that union claims on the incomes of others are higher than and untouchable by the law, the first principle of government is that a small group of people are the real owners of the property and livelihoods of everyone else -- but that this is not a cause for worry, because everyone will get a voice in government regarding other matters, after this first order of business is taken care of.
The major problem here, of course, is that such a practice is not consistent with democracy. A democracy cannot accept -- and certainly cannot create -- special classes of people who hold a super-legal position over the rest, entitled to special laws and appropriations all their own, which are unalterable by the people and their representatives.
It remains to be seen if we will have such a class of people in Rhode Island.
Later Retirement Doesn't Harm School Districts' Payroll Costs
The notion that forcing teachers to work an additional five years before retirement will cost districts money came up during my appearance on the Dan Yorke Show, last week, and it apparently has some currency in the General Assembly. Obviously, though, a replacement hired on a five-year delay will cost less than one hired earlier until he or she hits step ten, so to see how the balance works out, I've taken a look at the numbers.
The upshot is that, in the long run, the later retirement saves the district money in salary which doesn't factor in the post-employment benefits, like healthcare, that it would have to pay for five additional years of retirement under the current system. (In some districts, a later retirement date would eliminate their post-employment healthcare costs entirely.)
October 26, 2011
Prez of the RI Federation of Teachers: Pension Reform Plan is a Violation of "Civil and Human Rights"
Leaders of major public unions in Rhode Island used the word “draconian” more than once to describe the changes in pension benefits proposed by Chafee and Raimondo.
They contended that public employees’ will lose too much money in retirement while assuming too much risk by having to enroll in 401(k)-style programs.
Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, said that the state’s pension crisis started out as a “math problem” but is now a “civil and human rights problem.”
It seems lately one of the topics for discussion is that of the heavy burden from college loans. Some are calling for the loans to be completely forgiven. That means the debt is eliminated.
The money was borrowed from a lending institution, where that might be a private bank or the US government, papers were signed agreeing to pay it back, the student received the education, and now they don't want to pay it back. It's too much money. The banks knew they were lending these people more than they could afford to pay back. "Predatory lending."
Interestingly, an NYU professor is actually advocating for students en masse to simply stop paying their college loans
New York University professor Andrew Ross led a discussion about the burden of student loan debt — now estimated to be between $550 billion and $829 billion — and proposed a radical solution: “A Pledge of Refusal.” The idea is that protesters would sign a pledge to stop making payments on their student loans as soon as 1 million had joined in making the pledge.The article goes on to ask about the professor biting the hand that feeds him.
Ross acknowledged the irony of protesting against one of the main sources of his salary but added, “I feel very bad that my salary has actually been financed (by these debts). … To me it is just heartbreaking to see my students carry so much debt. It’s just immoral.”However, the repayment of the loans isn't a source of his salary. He already has his money. He won't be out anything and neither would NYU. It is the banks and the US government who would be out their investment.
Also, the money that is repaid by graduates for their loans goes directly back to current students to pay their college costs. So if Professor Ross is successful, what will happen is the low-income students today won't be able to go to college because the money won't be available. Is that what they want to be responsible for? Some hard-working, low-income student not being able to go to college?
Where is the personal responsibility in this? Where was the plan here? Where was the forethought in signing for five- or six-figure loans for an education that may not have jobs available to pay the bill?
Some people today believe that higher education is a basic human right. I would disagree. People have a right to an education through high school and then the rest becomes a privilege. Especially when today, a college education is not a requirement to get a good paying job in many fields. Yes, there are fields where a college or graduate education is required, but for many other fields, it is not. I would love to have a 6,000 square foot house on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a garage full of fast cars. I can't afford that. College is no different. People need to learn to live within their means. If that means going to CCRI for a couple years to get the general education requirements in first and then transferring to get the bachelor's degree to save money, then that's what they should do. If it means getting a low-level job at a company and using a tuition reimbursement benefit to get a degree, then do that. If it means working your way up in your chosen field and getting experience instead of the education, then do that.
The bottom line for these people is they took on the debt, there's no way to give anything back like you can when your house or car is foreclosed on, so the debt has to be collected on. That's why it is guaranteed. This is explained to people when they sign the note and agree to put themselves in debt. Forgiveness? No. Please pay what you owe so the next person in line can make their decision about whether they want to borrow the money to go to college too.
October 25, 2011
Eating on Only $4.50 a Day
Anti-poverty activists have thrown down the gauntlet to those of us lucky enough to eat regularly and (as obesity statistics show) too much.
Anti-poverty activists are challenging Rhode Island residents to spend just $4.50 a day on food for a week as part of a campaign to draw attention to the importance of funding for food stamp programs.Here are a couple sample shopping lists for those up to the challenge. You can't buy everything from these lists, but you can get a pretty good (and healthy) week's worth of meals out of it. And if you're smart, you'll have some left over to go into stocking the pantry. The first list is comprised of items found in the weekly flier of a "big chain store".
The Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Fight Poverty With Faith is conducting a "Food Stamp Challenge" beginning Thursday in which participants will be asked to spend on food the national average received by food stamp recipients. That translates into $31.50 over a week, or $1.50 a meal.
Cereal - 2/$4
Frozen Vegetables - 10/$10
Fresh Strawberries - 2/$5
Mangoes, Avacadoes, Oranges - 10/$10
Pasta - 10/$10
Spaghetti Sauce - 10/$10
Chicken Breast (5 portions) - $6.99
Tuna - 5 cans/$4
Applesauce (ea. pack=6 servings) - 2/$4
Frozen entrees - 6/$10
Apples - $.88/lb
London Broil - $1.88/lb
Or, if you don't like the big guys, you can go to a local chain:
Hamburger - $2.59/lb
Chicken Breasts - $.99/lb
Cereal - $1.88 box
Fresh-baked loaf Italian bread - $1.99
Rotisserie Chicken - $3.99
Bulkie/Sub Rolls - $1.29 (6-pack)
Cheese Slices (Individ wrapped 12 pack) - buy 1, get 1 free @ $3.99
Deli Bologna or Ham - $2.99/lb
Fresh Marinara Sauce (20 oz.) - 2/$6
Pasta - 4/$5
Tuna - 5 cans/$5
Frozen Vegetables - 4/$5
Grapes - $1.99/lb
Bag of Potatoes (5 lb.) - $2.99
Remember, these are just from the fliers. Who knows what deals you'll find when you actually walk the aisles. I even stayed away from the Top Ramen and frozen burritos! There are plenty of affordable and healthy options if you're willing to take a little time, stay out of the snack aisle, buy what's on sale (even stock up!) and "resign" yourself to buying cheaper store brand items. An enterprising shopper might even "cherry pick" the best from each store and save more. If you do that, you may be able to even splurge for a steak every now and then by, for example, dipping into your pasta reserves (each box of pasta has, what, 4 servings?).
My point isn't to denigrate those who rely upon food stamps to eat (which, as Justin already pointed out, are supposed to be supplemental anyway). It's to show that it's doable. And guess what? These lists are pretty darn close to what my family of four shops for regularly (incidentally, the food supplement would be $126 for all of us). My conclusion? The current level of food stamp subsidization is plenty sufficient.
At Last, The Lightbulb (A Curliecue, Eco-Friendly One, Of Course) Goes On: The New ProJo Website Is A Kamikaze Mission to Save the Dead Tree Edition
... the Providence Journal unveiled its new website — a prelude to its long-promised (or long-threatened) paywall. ...
But this is not a digital strategy — it’s a print strategy, built on the idea of downgrading the Journal’s electronic presence. [WPRI's Ted] Nesi and I talked last December, when the Journal announced the new direction, and what I said then seems to apply now:The Journal is sacrificing its website in order to bolster its print edition, which is where it makes most of its money. I understand why Journal managers are doing this, but it’s a short-term solution that could prove harmful in the long term. I also wonder whether it will even accomplish anything. Newspaper readers are skimmers, and a headline and brief synopsis of a story may be all that they want.
Thank you! That explains the previously inexplicable .
Fervent best wishes to the ProJo on this new approach, for their sake as well as ours. Athens on the Narragansett very much needs a vibrant, inquisitive press if it is ever going to get its house in order.
Hybrid Savings Mean System Failure
By way of presenting an example, I've estimated the effects of an underperforming market on the current pension system for state workers and teachers and on the proposed system, including the hybrid component.
The upshot is that the hybrid isn't less expensive unless the fund returns less than 5%, and if returns are that low, the total pension system will be well above the costs that have us all so concerned for next year.
October 24, 2011
Education Idea: Flipping
I found this interesting:
Students watch short online videos of lessons at home and do homework in class with their teacher's help....The videos are mostly created by the district and led by the best teacher on a topic. And when kids do homework, they're getting help from their teacher, rather than parents at home....Teachers say the method frees up time to make sure students understand.The initial returns are good, but it's a small sample and there are hazards (as always). Regardless, it shows how technology allows us to break old models and try new ones that may work better in today's day and age.
"It's made my job a lot easier," said Chris Carpenter, a social studies teacher. "I do like this model, because what we've done for the last 10 years just wasn't working anymore."
...flipping allows the school to put the best expert in front of students at all times. The best teacher on a topic makes the online videos, so one teacher can reach hundreds of students.
And when kids do homework in class, they're getting help from their teacher rather than parents who might struggle with the material. Teachers say flipping at times quadruples the amount of time they spend working directly with students -- ensuring students have a firm grasp of the lesson.
The Catholic Notion of a Global Authority
It comes around once a year in the missal for the Catholic Mass, and the lector, standing before his or her neighbors to read the holy words very often exudes a palpable discomfort:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.
As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
It's the second line in this passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians that sticks in modern throats. Subordinate? I think not. What's missed is the balance between the calls to each spouse. The subordination requested is to a man who would do as Christ did and die a horrible death for those He loves. The dutiful husband and father is to be a savior to his family after the model of a crucified Christ. It's subordination to a man who is called to be subordinate right back. She realizes that she is part of him, and he realizes that she is him.
Something similar is at play in the typically unnuanced MSM characterization of the Vatican's new document, "Note on financial reform from the Pontifical Council for Justice and peace."
The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a "global public authority" and a "central world bank" to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises. The document from the Vatican's Justice and Peace department should please the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators and similar movements around the world who have protested against the economic downturn. "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority," was at times very specific, calling, for example, for taxation measures on financial transactions. ... It condemned what it called "the idolatry of the market" as well as a "neo-liberal thinking" that it said looked exclusively at technical solutions to economic problems. "In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale," it said, adding that world economics needed an "ethic of solidarity" among rich and poor nations. ... It called for the establishment of "a supranational authority" with worldwide scope and "universal jurisdiction" to guide economic policies and decisions.
The Vatican didn't "call for the establishment" of such an authority in the sense that the world's leaders ought to get to work on it tomorrow. Rather, the document describes a long evolution toward an ideal. And as with St. Paul's characterization of marriage, the document isn't as one-sidedly anti-free-market as Philip Pullella's Reuters summary, above, suggests. It also acknowledges the risks of socialism and technocracy. Consider:
However, to interpret the current new social question lucidly, we must avoid the error itself a product of neo-liberal thinking that would consider all the problems that need tackling to be exclusively of a technical nature. In such a guise, they evade the needed discernment and ethical evaluation. In this context Benedict XVI's encyclical warns about the dangers of the technocracy ideology: that is, of making technology absolute, which "tends to prevent people from recognizing anything that cannot be explained in terms of matter alone" and minimizing the value of the choices made by the concrete human individual who works in the economic-financial system by reducing them to mere technical variables. Being closed to a "beyond" in the sense of something more than technology, not only makes it impossible to find adequate solutions to the problems, but it impoverishes the principal victims of the crisis more and more from the material standpoint.
In the context of the complexity of the phenomena, the importance of the ethical and cultural factors cannot be overlooked or underestimated. In fact, the crisis has revealed behaviours like selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale. No one can be content with seeing man live like "a wolf to his fellow man", according to the concept expounded by Hobbes. No one can in conscience accept the development of some countries to the detriment of others. If no solutions are found to the various forms of injustice, the negative effects that will follow on the social, political and economic level will be destined to create a climate of growing hostility and even violence, and ultimately undermine the very foundations of democratic institutions, even the ones considered most solid.
Recognizing the primacy of being over having and of ethics over the economy, the world's peoples ought to adopt an ethic of solidarity as the animating core of their action. This implies abandoning all forms of petty selfishness and embracing the logic of the global common good which transcends merely contingent, particular interests. In a word, they ought to have a keen sense of belonging to the human family which means sharing the common dignity of all human beings: "Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity."
In 1991, after the failure of Marxist communism, Blessed John Paul II had already warned of the risk of an "idolatry of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities." Today his warning needs to be heeded without delay and a road must be taken that is in greater harmony with the dignity and transcendent vocation of the person and the human family.
I will certainly not be the last to acknowledge that religious people are just as prone as anybody to muddled economic thinking, and those who hew their careers and behavior most closely to the premise that a higher authority has a claim on their lives are no less prone to err in their trust of human authority than those who believe human beings can control everything. But what this particular document is describing is a human development that brings the people of the world together toward common advancement with full respect of individual autonomy.
That objective is, or ought to be, not only consistent with, but inherent to any ethical approach to economic liberty. The libertarian ideal, in other words, shouldn't be "let me do whatever I want," but rather, "let me do good in the way that I think best." And the global authority here described is one that conveys feedback in a deeper manner than achieved by price systems. Otherwise, the Vatican is warning, a prosperous peace cannot continue.
To lash out at suggestions of global cooperation is to miss the opportunity presented by such statements as this, from the Vatican's document (emphasis added):
... It is a matter of an Authority with a global reach that cannot be imposed by force, coercion or violence, but should be the outcome of a free and shared agreement and a reflection of the permanent and historic needs of the world common good. It ought to arise from a process of progressive maturation of consciences and freedoms as well as the awareness of growing responsibilities. Consequently, reciprocal trust, autonomy and participation cannot be overlooked as if they were superfluous elements. ...
As we read in Caritas in Veritate, "The governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity, articulated into several layers and involving different levels that can work together." Only in this way can the danger of a central Authority's bureaucratic isolation be avoided, which would otherwise risk being delegitimized by an excessive distance from the realities on which it is based and easily fall prey to paternalistic, technocratic or hegemonic temptations. ...
These measures ought to be conceived of as some of the first steps in view of a public Authority with universal jurisdiction; as a first stage in a longer effort by the global community to steer its institutions towards achieving the common good. Other stages will have to follow in which the dynamics familiar to us may become more marked, but they may also be accompanied by changes which would be useless to try to predict today.
Clearly, this is not a Cato Institute policy paper, but at the same time, it allows the room to suggest that the "changes" that we cannot predict include the development of social institutions outside of government institutions of mutual consent and understanding, but consistent with free will and personal autonomy that provide the necessary authority for consensual cooperation.
The error in the typical reaction to this sort of application of Catholic theology to the material world is to imagine that the Church has seen the future and it is the EU and UN writ large. Beneath the jargon of social justice writing is actually a call to re-imagine what global authority might look like, and it is a project that free-marketers ought to undertake with as much zeal as those who can think of nothing more original than the repackaged Marxism, which this very document describes as a failure.
A Little Bit of Practical Experience Regarding Food Stamps
Let's state, right up front, that I don't think most people who receive food stamps are living in the lap of luxury. Yes, one often hears of folks who've got the whole system figured out and seem to do pretty well making a job of milking the system, but presenting them as a majority of safety-net recipients would require some evidence, and in any case, I've yet to meet a self-sufficient American who really wants to build that sort of life.
That said, heart-sleave-tugging public service announcements like Edward Fitzpatrick's Sunday column (not available online, except in the Providence Journal's e-edition) don't really advance public discussion about the appropriate balance of public subsidy and individual responsibility.
Fitzpatrick's central premise is that he's going to find it difficult to abide by the Food Stamp Challenge, which calls on participants to live on "the nationwide average monthly food stamp benefit for FY2010," which comes out to $31.50 per week. Knowing my own family's weekly food budget to be $200, most weeks, and the number of people in my family to be 5 (not including the dog, which would rank third in size, if counted, or the bunny, which stays with us on weekends), I can't say I find the challenge but so daunting.
Look, having such a tight food budget really stinks, some weeks. Running out of orange juice on Wednesday and sandwich meat on Thursday can be discouraging, especially when the apple juice is gone and the peanut butter's low. Sometimes the fast food joint beckons on the side of the road, and the smell of the many fine restaurants in Rhode Island can bring a tear to the eye. (Especially when eating Friday's peanut butter sandwich on a downtown-Newport construction site.)
It isn't fun, but it's certainly doable, and in discussing welfare programs, we're talking about handouts from a government that's more in debt than any entity in the history of humankind handouts that ultimately must be paid for with money taken out of the economy. (Not to mention that the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program allotments are calculated under the assumption that recipients will spend 30% of their own income on food.)
Among the lead activists behind the Food Stamp Challenge in Rhode Island is RI State Council of Churches Executive Minister Rev. Don Anderson, who offered Fitzpatrick the following testimony:
The Food Stamp Challenge is also designed to highlight "what a modest supplement this is," Anderson said, noting the $1.50-per-meal supplement is less than the $1.94 he spends each morning for a cup of Dunkin' Donuts decaf.
As I recall, my family only numbered three people last time I had anything resembling a regular Dunkin' Donuts habit. Perhaps Mr. Anderson should consider making his coffee at home, like many people must who are struggling to get by in this declining state, rather than wasting the equivalent of one meal per day.
Walter Russell Mead on Rhode Island as Athens on the Pawtuxet
You could pick almost any combination of paragraphs from today's post by Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest and come up with an insightful excerpt that describes Rhode Island's problems. Here are the 3 1/2 I will choose...
Because Rhode Island listened to timeserving blue politicians too long, and union leaders and public sector workers lost their grip on any mathematical realities beyond the numbers at the ballot box, the pension system grew more and more out of control. State and local governments lurched into a crisis. Vote yourself a raise, vote yourself a pension: why not...Needless to say, read the whole thing.
Let’s be crystal clear about this. To tell a 50 year old pretty lies about the soundness of a pension plan is one of the most wicked and irresponsible things you can do without actually shedding blood; people who believe these phony promises will not make the extra savings, work the extra years or otherwise take steps to protect themselves until it is too late. Telling those pretty lies is exactly what Rhode Island’s establishment has been doing for some time; it is what Ostrich Party legislators, trade unionists, journalists and governors are still doing across much of the country.
Reasonable reforms could have made things much less painful, but the unions typically threaten to destroy the careers of any politician who tampers with the pension system until the truck actually starts falling over the cliff...
Polarizing politics and demonizing state and local government workers is not a good idea. It is unfair for one thing; it is bad politics for another. Toxic blue model legacy costs are the problem: rigidly bureaucratic government structures, unrealistic costs, years of underfunded pension plans, regulations that choke growth and initiative, outdated progressive ideas about how change works — these are the roots of our problems, not the middle school teacher down the street or the retired post office worker living modestly on a pension that may be underfunded but is hardly a bonanza...
Early on the Radio
I'll be going on the Helen Glover Show, WHJJ 920 AM, at 7:45, this morning to talk some more about hybrids and pension reform in general.
October 23, 2011
Pension Reform Takes Hostages (In Addition to Taxpayers) For Ransom: Current Employees Must Continue to Contribute To The Retirement Fund for The Sake of Retirees
On Friday, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo sat down for an interview with WPRI on Rhode Island's Subject Du Jour. The indefatigable Ted Nesi is posting it in three parts on WPRI's blog. This morning, he released Part Two, which brings into focus the burden which current public employees would carry under the pension reform plan proposed by the General Treasurer and the Governor. [Emphasis added.]
Raimondo acknowledged the proposed hybrid plan in her bill still won’t allow younger workers to opt out of participating in the state pension program. “We need younger people to continue to pay into the system,” she said, or it won’t have enough money to cover the unfunded liability for retirees and older workers.
But the treasurer noted the share of an employee’s 8.75% paycheck contribution that currently goes into the pension fund would drop to 3.75% under the bill, with the rest going into an individual retirement account, a bit like a 401k.
On his program Friday, WPRO's John Depetro and I discussed and and then disagreed about the adequacy of the adjustment - solely a suspension of the COLA - that would be made to the pensions of current retirees and vestees under the proposed reform plan. I contended that it was not big (meaning sufficient); he emphatically stated that it was.
I stand by my view. COLA's are dessert to the six course meal that comprises a public pension in this state. Their suspension is a very good first step. But more needs to be done because Rhode Island still cannot afford the meal itself! With $4.3 billion of the $7.3 billion shortfall not addressed, we're still looking at tax hikes EVEN IF the local pension shortfalls and the unfunded retirement health coverage on both the state and local level are wished away.
Now add to that the clarification that current public employees must divert some of their earnings away from their own retirement and towards the state's moribund (okay, 60% moribund if this pension reform is passed) pension system for the benefit of retirees and vestees.
All the more is it clear that, with this pension reform proposal, not enough has been done to adjust the extremely generous pension benefits promised by elected officials who, over the decades, put their cognitive capacity (heh) into gear just long enough to solicit and deposit campaign contributions from the future beneficiaries of those promises but then threw it into neutral and walked away from the vital matter of fulfilling those promises.
October 22, 2011
Wouldn't an All Day Financial Town Referendum Be More Democratic Than A Financial Town Meeting?
Currently, the Town of Tiverton determines its annual budget via the Financial Town Meeting.
On November 8, Tiverton voters will have the opportunity to consider switching from a Financial Town Meeting to a Financial Town Referendum. [Text of the referendum question here.]
Which process is more democratic?
Set aside the facility offered by the FTMeeting to undemocratically manipulate the process and to undemocratically introduce last minute amendments. Set aside that the FTMeeting does not offer the important democratic facility of voting in private or ensuring that all votes have been counted. Set aside the temptation for unscrupulous officials to - most undemocratically of all - simply disregard the law when conducting the FTMeeting so as to secure an outcome that advances their own selfish rather than the town's best interest.
Prior Tiverton FTMeetings have played host to all of these highly undesireable activities. But disregard all of these and just focus on the contrast of the processes of an FTMeeting versus an FTReferendum.
An FTMeeting requires attendance by voters of several hours and possibly again for several hours on a second day. If you're sick or you have to work or you have other obligations during this timeframe, you don't get to participate in the budget process or vote on the final product.
By contrast, the voting window of an FTReferendum is much longer (twelve hours or longer) yet the time commitment required of a voter is much less. He or she need simply show up at the voting booth at some point during the day - exactly like a regular election day - in order to cast a vote, a process that might take on average ten minutes, as opposed to hours and perhaps days.
Isn't it kind of a no-brainer that an FTR is far more democratic than an FTM?
Putting Theory to Test
"Within every city there are people who freeload, who make people’s lives miserable. We just deal with it. We can’t kick them out."Rhode Island politics? Nope. The evolution of order in Occupy Wall Street. Funny things happen when idealistic notions of "democracy" meet with reality. Which way is it evolving, though? Not listening to every voice?
In response to dissatisfaction with the...General Assembly, many...have adopted a new...model, which allows each working group to act independently without securing the will of the collective. “This streamlines it,” argued Zonkers. “The GA is unwieldy, cumbersome, and redundant."
“Someone has to be told what to do...Someone needs to give orders. There’s no sense of order in this f*****g place.”
explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. “And we’ve had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud.” Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. “The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out," said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.Dictating when people can speak?
But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.
“They’re imposing a structure on the natural flow of music," said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. “The GA decided to do it ... they suppressed people’s opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn’t.”
To Shane Engelerdt, a 19-year-old from Jersey City and self-described former “head drummer,” this amounted to a Jacobinic betrayal. “They are becoming the government we’re trying to protest," he said. "They didn’t even give the drummers a say ... Drumming is the heartbeat of this movement. Look around: This is dead, you need a pulse to keep something alive.”
As the communal sleeping bag argument between Lauren Digion and Sage Roberts threatened to get out of hand, a facilitator in a red hat walked by, brow furrowed. “Remember? You’re not allowed to do any more interviews,” he said to Digion. She nodded and went back to work.
October 21, 2011
Food for (Weekend) Thought
From Kevin Williamson writes:
Between the candidates’ debates and my conversations with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, it seems to me that there is a persistent, dangerous disconnect between our political conversation and reality.He lists some points:
And here's some additional support for a couple of the above points:
1. There is no austerity.
5. People who voted for Barack Obama on civil-liberties grounds are fools.
6. If you aren’t for massive entitlement reform, you’re for massive tax hikes.
7. But taxing the rich won’t close the deficit.
8. The housing bubble was largely a political creation.
9. Well-meaning politicians are just as dangerous as self-serving ones.
10. There’s no way out of this jam without big cuts to popular programs.
8. The housing bubble was largely a political creation.
4. Wall Street loves Democrats.
How Long Do They Get To Stay?
How long do the Occupy Providence protesters get to stay in the park with tents up, food kitchens cooking, medical tents operating? How long until the city tells them that it's time to go, they had their time for protesting and now they're done? Of course, whenever that comes, they'll all claim that their constitutional right to assembly has been violated. Was this what the writers of the US Constitution had in mind when they put that into the First Amendment?
At least the city and state has some precedent. Remember Camp Runamuck*? The tent city group who pitched their tents under the I-195 overpass as a way of protesting the homelessness problem in Providence? After a few months, the state told them it was time to go and the city promptly erected fences in the area to keep people out.
I don't think there'll be any fences put up around Burnside Park any time soon, but the Occupiers made their statement, they got their press and now what? When does it just become another tent city? If the protesters want to keep protesting, then why not have a daily or weekly march? They don't all have to live in tents to do that. Simply set a specific time each day or week and then hold the protests.
The protesters in other cities have been going at it for longer than Providence, however that shouldn't keep the authorities here from taking a stand, thanking the protesters for keeping it civil but tell them they're welcomed back any time to protest but now it's time to go.
*link is to a newspaper in New Orleans as many links to old projo.com stories no longer return any content.
The Cost of Re-Amortization
On Wednesday, on WPRO, Governor Lincoln Chafee compared re-amortization to remortgaging a house. "That's no different," he said. Actually, it's quite a bit different, which the governor might be better prepared to understand if he had more in common with the average Rhode Islander.
The cost of remortgaging comes, first, in the loss of interest that the homeowner has already paid and, second, in the added financing if the homeowner extends the period of the loan. If they know what they're doing, most folks refinance in order to lower the total cost of the loan, not just the monthly payments.
The cost of re-amortization, by contrast, comes in the amount that the state will lose in investment interest by not putting money aside. For an example, look at Exhibits S and T of the state actuaries' analysis of the pension reform law. They put the FY13 employer contribution rate for the reformed pensions at 24.38% of payroll without re-amortization and 20.35% with re-amortization. The rates for teachers are 21.18% and 18.11%. With the Retirement Board's assumption of 7.5% investment returns, this one year's change alone will cost the state $132.3 million by the time the system is fully amortized in 2035.
Exhibits S2 and T2 show the employer contribution rates and expected payroll through 2041 with re-reamortization, which allows one to calculate the expected investment return. Not surprisingly, the contribution rates without re-amortization are nowhere to be found; that would allow us to figure out the amount in interest that the state stands to lose.
However, if we take the percentage difference between contribution rates that the actuaries give us for FY13 and extend it out, we find the amount of total lost investment interest due to the six-year re-amortization to be $1.06 billion by 2029 and $1.71 billion by 2035. The loss may in fact be worth the cost, if that money stays in the RI private sector and generates a return for the economy greater than 7.5% (in turn increasing government revenue), but public officials should do a better job of explaining the cost to voters/taxpayers, and they should better understand the implications, themselves.
Some Lunchtime Listening
If you're near a radio from 12 to 1 p.m., today, tune in to 99.7FM/630AM WPRO. I'll be appearing on the Dan Yorke show to talk about pensions and (no doubt) various other topics of interest to Anchor Rising readers.
October 19, 2011
To illustrate my point about Treasurer Raimondo's hybrid pension plan, I've posted some pie charts.
As with Cars, a Hybrid Pension Will Cost More
My second pension post on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity site points out that the anticipated per-employee cost of the hybrid system will actually be higher than the price that taxpayers are currently being given for pensions.
Negotiating Points in the Pension Proposal
Over the remainder of 2011, I'll be contributing content to the Center on a limited range of topics, pension reform being one of them. My Anchor Rising activities will continue, though... hopefully increasing once a seasonal event that I'm planning for my children's school is removed from my plate after this weekend.
Without getting into too much detail, I'd note that anybody who's thought it might do the state some good to have me researching, reporting, and writing full time can help make that a reality simply by following my links over to the rifreedom.org and participating in the conversation.
Defaulting on Democracy Yet Again
It seems that no plan for fiscal reform in Rhode Island is considered complete until it eviscerates democracy in some way. The pension reform plan submitted to the General Assembly yesterday by Governor Lincoln Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is no exception.
The offending section is 36-10.2-7 which creates procedures that both municipalities and the state must follow, if they fall behind on actuarially determined pension funding. Section (2) is an early sign of trouble to come...
36-10.2-7(2) In the event that the state or a local municipality, as the employer of a plan, determines that, based on reasonable actuarial assumptions and upon exhaustion of all reasonable measures, the plan cannot reasonably be expected to meet the guidelines of subdivisions (i) and (ii), then the employer’s legislative governing body shall provide a report to the retirement board...The "employer’s legislative governing body" is a city or town council in the case of a municipality, or the General Assembly in the case of the state. Just by itself, this section is a problem. The General Assembly, supposedly one of the 3 co-equal branches of government, is being required to report to a body outside of the legislative branch, the "retirement board", which is one of those curious Rhode Island combinations of union members, government lobbyists, and executive branch officials...
36-10.2-3(1) “Retirement board” or “board” means the retirement board of the Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island as defined in Chapter 36-8...So under the new law, the representatives of the people will have to report to a board which includes members drawn from various private interests. Not good. Then it gets much, much worse. In particular, pay close attention to what the "Default A" plan is, and how it flows through the next sections of the law...
36-8-4(a) ...The membership of the retirement board shall consist of:
- The general treasurer or his or her designee who shall be a subordinate within the general treasurer's office;
- The director of administration or his or her designee who shall be a subordinate within the department of administration;
- A representative of the budget office or his or her designee from within the budget office, who shall be appointed by the director of administration;
- The president of the league of cities and towns or his or her designee;
- Two (2) active state employee members of the retirement system or officials from state employee unions to be elected by active state employees;
- Two (2) active teacher members of the retirement system or officials from a teachers union to be elected by active teachers;
- One active municipal employee member of the retirement system or an official from a municipal employees union to be elected by active municipal employees;
- Two (2) retired members of the retirement system to be elected by retired members of the system;
- Four (4) public members, all of whom shall be competent by training or experience in the field of finance, accounting or pensions; two (2) of the public members shall be appointed by the governor...and two (2) of the public members shall be appointed by the general treasurer.
36-10.2-7(3) ...the actuary shall provide to the board, and in the case of MERS plan shall also provide to the impacted local municipality’s legislative governing body, at least five (5) funding improvement strategies but no more than ten (10) funding improvement strategies showing revised benefit structures, revised contribution structures, or both...Ponder for a moment the meaning of the phrase "shall be enacted" in the context of section (6). Does "shall be enacted" mean the General Assembly members must vote in favor of enacting Default A, if the other plan hasn't been approved by June 30? Or that Default A can automatically become law, without a majority vote of General Assembly members, if the other plan is not approved by June 30? Neither is acceptable in a democratic system.
36-10.2-7(4) In addition to any funding improvement strategies provided by the board in subparagraph (3), the board shall include a default funding improvement strategy (“Default A”) that shall show increases in employer and employee contributions under the plan necessary to achieve the applicable requirements found in subsection (b), assuming no amendments to reduce future benefit accruals under the plan.
36-10.2-7(5) ...the board shall submit the “Default A” strategy as described in subparagraph (4) and one additional funding improvement strategy, as selected by the board, to the general assembly.
36-10.2-7(6) ...the general assembly shall select and enact into law one of the two (2) submitted funding improvement strategies. If no funding improvement strategy is approved by the general assembly by June 30th, the “Default A” strategy as described in subparagraph (4) shall be enacted into law effective July 1st following the date the plan was certified as being in endangered status under section 36-10.2-6.
But there's still more. A new section of the law created by the current bill would spell out exactly what the responsibilities of the members of the "retirement board" are...
36-8-4.1(a) A member of the board shall discharge duties with respect to the retirement system:Thus, to add final insult to injury, the law expressly instructs members of the retirement board to serve only their private interests and not the interests of the public when they use their new power to write legislation that the legislature must pass.
(l) Solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries...
General Treasurer Raimondo has stated on several occasions that she would prefer that the pension bill be passed as initially submitted without amendments. The General Treasurer should publicly modify her position and make an exception for sections of the pension bill that attempt to (unconstitutionally) strip the law-making power of the state legislature and transfer it to a coalition of politically favored special interests.
And what do Rhode Island's Senators and Representatives think about Governor Chafee's latest attempt to remove their free and independent judgment from lawmaking process and let a board not accountable to the public write new laws that they are commanded to enact?
October 18, 2011
In the President's Own Words
Anyone think the economy is turned around? If not, even Obama thinks he should be a one-term president.
In this one, it seems he left out another, more obvious option:
2010 Campaign Intrigue: John Loughlin (Yes, Loughlin) Was Asked To Step Aside for Frank Caprio
Avid followers of Rhode Island politics are aware that John Robitaille was approached by the Frank Caprio campaign - and, in due course, by a circumspect Frank Caprio himself - about dropping out of the 2010 gubernatorial race so as to avoid the four way race that ultimately got Linc Chafee elected. (Robitaille demurred and wound up finishing second, ahead of Caprio, leading some observers to wonder exactly who should have asked whom to drop out.)
It turns out, however, that the story didn't end there, as Republicans learned at last night's State Central meeting. In March of 2010, Gio Ciccione, then-Chair of the RIGOP, approached John Loughlin, who was running for the First RI Congressional District, and suggested that he step aside so that then-General Treasurer Frank Caprio could have a clear shot at running for the Congressional seat -- running for the seat as an (R), not the (D) that he was.
The guy who got this off his chest - he had hitherto been silent about the incident - was Mike Napolitano, now the manager of John Loughlin's bid for RI-1 next year. (Loughlin will face off against Brendan Doherty in a Republican primary.) Napolitano proffered the incident as an object lesson to close the Republican primary in the state, which was the thoroughly debated subject of last night's meeting.
(While this behind-the-scenes drama was not publicized at the time, its denouement was, naturally, well known: Loughlin declined the suggestion and stayed in the race.)
A Protest the Media Can Love
After a decade of blogging, the hunt for mainstream media bias gives me about the same thrill as finding three-leaf clovers. Even so, the Providence Journal's front page declaration in its Sunday edition took me back a bit:
"The voice of the masses"? Since Sunday, multiple polls have emerged suggesting that it just ain't so. From The Hill:
The movement appears to have struck a chord with progressive voters, but it does not seem to represent the feelings of the wider public.
The Hill poll found that only one in three likely voters blames Wall Street for the country's financial troubles, whereas more than half 56 percent blame Washington.
And again from USA Today/Gallup:
When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy, 64% of Americans name the federal government and 30% say big financial.
78% say Wall Street bears a great deal or a fair amount of blame for the economy; 87% say the same about Washington.
We've been hearing a lot about the supposed ideological overlap between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party, but actual poll results from "the masses" seem to trend more toward the latter than the former when the question moves toward whom to blame and (more importantly) where to focus efforts for change. Indeed, describing his own poll-based research, Douglas Schoen describes the Occupiers as follows:
Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda.
But all of these results were released after the Providence Journal decided what narrative to append to the Occupy Providence event, so perhaps the size of the crowd put the group in the Projo's "masses" category. Of course, recalling that the Projo estimated the initial Tea Party rally at twice the size, one would expect objective news reports to apply the same narrative, right? Well, no:
And of course, in the case of Occupy Providence, the "masses" were assisted by a free front page advertisement in the state's paper of record on the morning of the event:
Surely, to achieve even greater attendance, the Tea Party must have had a similar courtesy. Umm...
The kid in me would like nothing more than to head down to the Providence Journal newsroom to test out the echo.
The New ProJo.com
Yesterday afternoon, the Providence Journal released their long-awaited new web site. Now the projo.com URL will redirect to providencejournal.com.
We've been hearing radio and television commercials about the value of the local media. The commercials explain that Pulitzers don't pay the mortgage. So the folks at the Journal will need to institute a pay wall.
The Providence Journal news organization is moving to the paid eEdition to protect the investment it makes every day in gathering and publishing Rhode Island news.Even the NYTimes realized a while back that they needed to charge for content, though they also realized that requiring payment to see anything more than headlines could be a death knell for the site. The NYT allows users to read their ten most popular stories free of charge every day. I'm not sure if the Journal will do something similar, as they don't indicate that they will.
At first, the eEdition will be free to all web users, to allow them to see how it works. "People can experiment with it," Sutton said. After about a month, a paid subscription will be needed to view the eEdition.As for the new design of the site, I'm certainly not sold. If you want to see a great design of an online newspaper, look at Tom Ward's Breeze Observer newspapers. Their design is clean, easy to find what you're looking for and appealing, while including advertising that is non-intrusive.
The Journal's site on the other hand feels very 1998 to me. The Journal is the main paper for the state of Rhode Island and much of southern New England but when you view the new web site, it's not very inspiring, information is still pretty hard to find and the first things you see are ads. There is an ad banner across the top and ads down both sides around the content.
The actual content on the home page is in a space of 380 pixels wide. Ok, as Dan Yorke often says, that's inside baseball. How big is 380 pixels? Well you can see for yourself, but people are buying bigger monitors with increased resolution. Look at some of the more common sites and how big they chose to make their sites. Data from 2009 shows the White House made their site 1006 pixels wide. Most are in the 900s.
Today, the most common width of a screen resolution is 1280 pixels. Yet the Providence Journal chose to use about 1/3 of that size for the part of their site that people are looking for.
There are other little questions I have about some of the decisions made. For example, what is an "Index", shown in the last navigation button on the right. If you click on it, it is a site map in web terminology. It is an index if you're using print terminology. This makes me to think the print side of the house is making decisions on the web design.
If you're looking for editorials, where are those? Everyone that I asked this to initially went to the Topics menu. However, it's actually under RI Speaks as are their blogs. The ProJo blogs were probably one of their most popular and commonly used parts of their web site. The "7 to 7 News Blog" is where they often posted the latest breaking news and where you could get caught up on the news quickly. It was prominent on the old site, now the blogs section is hidden and the "7 to 7" seems to be gone.
Lastly, look at the Sports menu button. Keeping in mind that this is the Providence Journal, look at the options you have under Sports. No mention of the Providence Bruins or the Pawtucket Red Sox. They have the Bruins and Red Sox. If you click on either of those, it takes you to a page with the headline of Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox. So they can't even make the argument that both Bruins teams or both Red Sox teams are included in that menu.
I understand the issue that the company is up against. The ads model that they thought could support the business just wasn't enough to sustain them, so they're giving away a lot of content for free or after the ad revenue is figured in, at a very discounted price. However as long as we have sites like cnn.com for my national news and the Valley Breeze for my local news, and the Journal's web site isn't very easy to use, I think this redesign was a swing and miss.
Will OWS Have Next Steps?
Michael Morgenstern, a Brown University graduate and blogger sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement, does an excellent job of summing up OWS' political and organizational let's-call-them-challenges-for-now with this short passage...
Anarchy doesn’t work. Income disparity will always exist to some extent. Destroying a system rather than working with it (at least to some extent) is extremely dangerous, and very few people in history has shown themselves to be good at that. Change is difficult, and it requires a vision of an alternate future. If the vision is yet to be formed, we need a roadmap to the vision. And the greatest truth: not everybody can be represented in every element of this movement. Like a clever politician, the movement has allowed each member to see him or herself in it; but like any politician, its true test will come when it is asked to actually make a decision.
October 16, 2011
US Rep James Langevin Visits Occupy Providence
Tonight, US Rep. James Langevin visited the protesters down at Occupy Providence. I wonder if the protesters are aware that he is one of the very people they are protesting against. No, he's not the CEO of Bank of America or Goldman Sachs. I understand they're protesting against corporate greed, especially the greed that is perceived on Wall Street. However, who makes the rules that those banks played by? Congress. The members of the House and Senate. People like Jim Langevin.
Instead, it often seems that the protesters are simply starstruck when the celebrities arrive. Last week, Kanye West and Russell Simmons visited the New York protesters. Russell Simmons, one of the creators of Def Jam Records. I guess that doesn't quite meet the standards of being "corporate". Maybe because he's a music man and not a banker, right? Well, no. He owns a credit card company. But they're all above board and engage in fair trade? Ok, not so much there either.
Subpoenas have been issued to Russell Simmons' Rush Card and four other prepaid card companies by the Florida Attorney General's office who is investigating whether the card companies are forcing their users into paying hidden fees on every purchase.Personally, I'm not against everything the Occupy people stand for. It just seems their message could be a bit stronger if it was more consistent or if they truly knew who they are railing against.
Who Just Said Sovereignty??? Terry G? Joe B? Oh, It Was the Governor!
This is interesting. Sovereignty for certain segments of the state's criminal justice system.
A federal appeals court has upheld Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s right to refuse to turn over accused murderer Jason Pleau for federal prosecution that could result in the death penalty. ...
Chafee issued a written statement late Thursday that said, “I am gratified that the 1st Circuit has recognized our state's right to refuse a federal request to transfer a prisoner for the purpose of exposing him to the death penalty. ... There is no question that Jason Wayne Pleau is a career criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes. .... It is about maintaining and protecting the sovereignty and laws of the state I was elected to govern.
But not for the state's borders;
A state higher education board on Monday approved a measure that would allow students who immigrated to the United States illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island's public colleges and universities after the General Assembly declined to take up the issue.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee Wednesday signed an executive order revoking the controversial Illegal Immigration Control Order issued by former Gov. Donald Carcieri more than two years ago. Carcieri’s order required all state departments and all contractors doing work for the state to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure all newly hired personnel were in the country legally and were eligible to work. It also required that State Police, corrections officials and the Parole Board to work with the federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to assist them in enforcing immigration law.
October 15, 2011
Pension (Half) Reform?
So the pension reform proposal which General Treasurer Raimondo and Governor Chafee have been working on was leaked to the Providence Journal's Kathy Gregg late Thursday. Congrats to Ms. Gregg for landing this scoop. Check out Andrew's post for the projected legislative scheduling of the actual bill (still being finalized), a round-up of recent press coverage and a very good question for the Governor as to process.
The proposal contains some very good elements. It also, however, it contains some unhelpful ones. Perhaps the biggest in this category is that the ball doesn't appear to have been advanced much with regard to that magic moment at which an employee (currently eligible to retire) can retire and start collecting.
... there would be no change for employees eligible to retire by June 30, 2012.
Those at least 52 years old, with at least 10 years of work behind them when the new rules kick in, could retire at age 62. Workers with at least 20 years of service, who were within five years of retirement, would be allowed to retire early, with a reduced benefit.
But for most others, the retirement age would inch up to the Social Security retirement age, which currently stands at 67.
For some groups — such as state and local police and firefighters, judges, correctional officers and nurses at the state hospital — the rules would be different.
For example, state and local police could retire and start collecting a pension at age 55, after 25 years of work. Anyone who left the job with less than 25 years of service would have to wait until he or she reached Social Security retirement age to collect. But there would be an early retirement out for those who were already 45 years old and who had worked at least 10 years when the new rules kicked in. . They would be allowed to retire at age 52.
They would be guaranteed a pension equal to 2 percent of their highest five-year salary average for each year of work, a potential 50 percent at the end of a 25-year career.
Another unhelpful element is that the only adjustment made to current retirees is a suspension of the COLA. This is purportedly temporary, until the pension kitty hits 80% funded. (Many of us are trying without much success to see the "hardship" and "sacrifice" of receiving a defined pension which was generous to begin with and subsequently boosted by COLA's for the last one to thirty plus years, not to mention being collectable at an age that had no relation to the real-world concept of "retirement age".) And when the COLA does return, it would apply to the first $35,000 of pension, not the first $12,000, as had been discussed.
Perhaps these elements explain the most disappointing and alarming aspect of this pension reform proposal. In a separate ProJo article yesterday, we learn that it would result in
a potential $3 billion reduction in the state's $7.3 billion in unfunded pension liability.
So the reform would address less than half of the shortfall?
Am I missing something? How could I be more skeptical of this proposal than the Don of Dubiousness, Tommy Cranston?
Could be better but a good start.
Without reform, payments - on behalf of state employees and teachers only, keep in mind; local pension shortfalls are not included in any of this - to the pension fund will need to rise by $600 million next year and $1.2 billion next (that's the increase only!). With this proposal, wouldn't those increases still be $300 million and $600 million respectively? Is this a shock-and-relief thing? Are we supposed to be happy that they would be cut in half? But that wouldn't solve the very pragmatic problem that, from everything that has been reported, these amounts would be no more affordable than the original amounts.
This is an open solicitation for knowledgable feedback. In other words, please oh please prove me wrong.
For decades, Rhode Island's elected officials made extremely generous promises via a decision process that was remarkably free of the taint of foresight, responsibility, equitability and rational thought of any kind. Simultaneously, they raised our state and local taxes to the fifth highest in the country and committed that revenue elsewhere.
How does this pension reform proposal adequately address the situation?
Here is a compilation of various media reports on the flurry of activity related to the pension reform legislation which followed from the leak of the basic outline to Katherine Gregg of the Projo. ( Summaries from David Klepper and Scott MacKay).
0. Ted Nesi had this to say after his review of the leaked material...
If you picked up The Providence Journal this morning and were surprised by what you read, you haven’t been paying attention.The whole issue of the "leak" is a distraction, manufactured by politicians who bizarrely think that getting to participate in backroom deals is an actual perk of their job. (More: Dee DeQuattro).
2. There will be a series of public hearings on the bill, so there shouldn't be a see-it-first-on Tuesday afternoon, vote on it Tuesday night situation. David Klepper reports the bill will be over 200 pages in length. No word as of yet if amendments will be introduced and, if they are, how they will be handled. (More: Ian Donnis).
3. The last major delay in drafting the proposal may be due to concerns about whether and/or how locally run pensions will be addressed. The Governor says he wants the local pensions in the bill. The Treasurer is not sure that contractually-negotiated local matters can be handled in the same way as legislatively mandated state pensions. Pension reform advocates say call the GT and the Senate President, and tell them to include the local issues. (More: GoLocal Staff, Paul Edward Parker, Ted Nesi, Ian Donnis).
4. National Education Association Executive Director Robert Walsh has said he doesn't like what's he's seen of the proposal. No word from Governor Chafee on whether he believes that Walsh's public disapproval puts the General Assembly in the position of trying to "end around" the democratic governing process, by trying to pass a law that would not necessarily be approved by a board appointed from the Governor's political allies. (More: Ian Donnis, AP/WJAR).
OK, I'm only 3/4 serious about that last one.
October 14, 2011
"a completely non-violent movement"
Hopefully I'm not inciting violence by only quoting in part from the Occupy Providence mission statement, but I'm just hoping that the recent actions by the Occupy movement in other cities isn't a sign of things to come here in Providence.
The Providence folks, in their mission statement, wrote
Occupy Providence is a completely non-violent movementWell, that's great and hopefully it stays that way. However, looking around at New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles, we're not really seeing that so much.
In Seattle, there were fights over tents in the park:
In New York today, after the Mayor agreed to let the protesters clean up after themselves and to not relocate the protesters, things got violent during a march
Police say the protesters were throwing bottles and bags of garbage at officersAnd then in Los Angeles, there is the video of one protester on a microphone calling for violence and was cheered by the crowd
(Jump to 32 seconds for violence talk)
So here we go tomorrow with Occupy Providence, with what seem like the best of intentions and hopefully the organizers will stick to their claims.
The Legislative Response Rate on Tuition
There are two major takeaways from the Providence Journal's poll of RI legislators on the matter of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants:
- 55% of senators and 37% of representatives were willing to go on the record opposing it even though there is no vote currently before them.
- 24% of senators and 41% of representatives didn't even respond to the question; add in "undecideds" and the percentages are 32% and 52%.
This issue comes up regularly, and it has been pretty heavily covered in the media, lately. How is it possible not to have an opinion?
The third takeaway, of course, is whether your own senator and representative responded in the way that you would like him or her to... whether he or she responded at all is also an important fact to keep in mind next time you're voting.
October 13, 2011
Primitive Rhode Island, Primitive World
Not to be too much of a stereotypical conservative, but I'm not 100% convinced that there's actually any such thing as modernity. By this, I mean that I think there's a good case to be made that the social forces and pressures experienced by the average schlub trying to live his or her life are pretty much the same today as they've been for the last 2,500 years or so. People go along with some stuff because it's the way it's always been done, try to change other stuff when it becomes obvious to them that there are better options, work together with some folks to get ahead, and try to minimize the influence of other folks whom they believe would drag the community in the wrong direction.
There have definitely been changes over the centuries, as the scales that people are willing and able to work cooperatively across have enlarged and some of the more extreme methods of human interaction have been ruled out, but the ideas upon which those changes have been based -- think of a concept like "thou shall not kill" -- are not uniquely modern. The difference between now and the past lies largely in how boundaries have been expanded, so that we try to treat many of the other people we encounter as well as we are naturally inclined to treat members of our clan then tribe. This is a continuing struggle that has always existed and always will.
I bring this up on this particular day, because of the advocacy by filmmaker Michael Corrente and others on behalf of reputed New England mobster Luigi Manocchio, which is one of the clearest examples casting doubt on the existence of a distinct age of modernity that I have ever encountered. It is difficult to find much daylight between Corrente and his fellow advocates' insistence that a mob chieftan whom they are familiar with be treated with special concern and the attitudes of early Middle-Ages Barbarian clans (using the term in its proper historical context) who took veneration of the local warlord to be a central virtue in life. Sometimes, both as individuals and as a society, we are better at resisting this impulse than at other times, but the temptation never entirely goes away.
Occupy Providence Releases Mission Statement
Dear People of Rhode Island,I've tried not to be cynical about this, really. (Yes, even if I poked a little fun). In fact, I've been impressed at how the Occupy Providence movement as been able to leverage a (purposeful?) vagueness about their ultimate goals into news coverage as everyone asked, "So what's it about?"
We the people of the Occupy Providence movement respectfully convey our intent to gather in Burnside Park on Saturday, October 15th at 5:00 pm and remain there for howsoever long it takes to build a society by, for, and of the people. Occupy Providence is a completely non-violent movement that seeks to give voice to the 99% of Rhode Islanders who have been disenfranchised as the economy and governance of our country has been increasingly ceded to powerful corporate interests.
The “occupation” of Burnside Park is an act of free speech which we feel compelled to resort to in order to have our voices heard. Occupy Providence will act with all due respect for the people and the property of the City of Providence and the State of Rhode Island, and we intend to leave Burnside Park in better condition than we found it. Occupy Providence is inclusive for all people and families of all ages: drugs, alcohol, discrimination, harassment, and violent behavior are NOT WELCOME.
We welcome your support in our efforts to come to a consensus on how best to challenge corporate greed, which places profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality.
Well, now they're finally telling us (and I've taken the liberty of highlighting what I take to be their core points, above). As many of us have suspected all along, this really seems like nothing more than a new marketing campaign for the same class-warfare, anti-business screed that has been characteristic of the liberal/progressive left since...forever. They're just hoping to tap into the current economic frustration and--by being a little vague about what they're after--maybe catch a few new people up in their nets. That's why some have insisted that the protest is "the thing" more than any goals. It's an actual exercise in frustration. It's all meta, man!
Perhaps they'll come out with a few workable ideas--after they string everyone along for a while anyway--but I'm guessing most of their "new" ideas will involve the old progressive standby's of taxation, redistribution and more regulation. Though it's nice to think that, as both Patrick and Don Roach have suggested, the Occupy and Tea Party movement will find some common ground to join together on--after all, both groups have a distaste for the nexus where Big business and Big government meet--the plain fact is that each group blames an opposite half of the "Big" duo more than the other for our current problems. That fundamental difference is a big hurdle to jump before landing on common ground.
ADDENDUM: Ian Donnis calls attention to the "introductory request" made by Occupy Providence in their press release announcing the above Mission Statement (I got it from WPRO, so I didn't get the actual press release nor was I aware of the request). Here it is:
This is the first version of this document. As a document drafted by consensus, it is obviously less polished than many would like, but as a group we are enthusiastic and proud to have reached this point in our communion together as members of the movement. Please DO NOT quote in part from this document. We ask respectfully that this document either be posted in full, or merely referenced by your media. We humbly ask this out of respect for those who have met for days helping us consolidate our message.Good thing I posted in full or else....anyway, this is interesting and illustrative. It has come from days of meetings whereby they have produced something that "consolidate[s]" their message. If that is the case, it looks like they've turned away from potential "common ground" sharing.
Occupying the Tea Party
It's interesting to see people come out and align themselves with the Occupy
It seems that both groups believe the US government is broken. I would guess the vast majority of Americans would agree with that. Both groups are seeking ways to fix the problems.
The Occupy Providence group released a mission statement where they stated one goal as
to build a society by, for, and of the people. Occupy Providence is a completely non-violent movement that seeks to give voice to the 99% of Rhode Islanders who have been disenfranchised as the economy and governance of our country has been increasingly ceded to powerful corporate interests.So maybe the language isn't the same as what the Tea Party wants, but it sure sounds a lot like Occupy Providence is also asking for smaller government. Too much entanglement between government and business. They say they want a society by, for, and of the people. That sounds like they want government to get their hands off the people. Again, smaller government.
Now, I'm not saying that these groups are identical in every way, they're not. I'm sure there would be strong disagreement on many issues between them, but if they could simply pick a couple issues that they agree on and get the two groups to work together on those issues, maybe the politicians in Washington would finally be forced to listen, or even better, forced into retirement.
October 12, 2011
Two Headlines, One Question
State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo told the Rotary Club of Providence on Tuesday that the biggest potential hurdle to pension reform is “politics, politics, politics: special interests lobbying politicians and telling them, if they pass this reform, they’ll go after them in the next election.”...Look, this is politics. Special interests. You know I briefed the Senate a couple of weeks ago … and there were over a dozen labor union lobbyists in the room. Special interests have money and power, not just in Rhode Island, but in Washington.”"Thousands protest cuts in R.I. programs for disabled":
“My job is to balance everyone’s interest. ... My job is to stay strong and not be overly influenced by special interests, and I will do that. But that is why I am saying … they need to hear from you, too, because I guarantee you the special interests have a very loud voice in the State House.”
More than 3,500 protesters encircled the State House Tuesday night, waving glow sticks in a “Circle of Hope” to protest $24 million in state cuts that threaten the homes, care, jobs and transportation for people with developmental disabilities.
People in matching neon-green T-shirts started arriving around 4 p.m. They included people with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, along with family, friends and caregivers. The backs of the T-shirts said “Keep the Promise” or “Stop the Cuts.”
“The promise,” said Thomas Campbell, pushing the wheelchair of William Kwiatkoski, both 44 and both of Providence, “was that we would have community living.”
By 5:30, their numbers had grown to an estimated 2,000. At 6 p.m., protesters were advised to snap their glow sticks and stand near the railing. Organizers said that all 3,500 glow sticks had been handed out.
At 6:20, a helicopter approached from the East Side. Protesters cheered and raised their glow sticks, some twirling them by the lanyard. Organizer Doreen McConaghy, director of PAL, an advocacy organization for families and people with disabilities, said the helicopter flight, along with the services of a photographer to capture the “Circle of Hope” from the air, had been donated. She said PAL, which had once been an acronym for the group Parents and Friends for Alternate Living, reached out to other parent-support groups across the state to organize the event in two weeks’ time.
Will anyone listen? I guess it depends on which special interest is speaking.
Running the State as a Giant Corporation Is a Bad Idea
Part of what bothered me about Governor Chafee's "findings" in Pittsburgh was the broader economic strategy whereby the state government tries to run Rhode Island like a giant corporation picking preferred industries, backing particular players (as if they are subsidiaries), and trying to shape available public resources (such as the I-195 land) toward a specific vision. That's the impression also given by a recent article in which Monster Mini Golf founder Christina Vitagliano complains about Rhode Island's handling of businesses:
... even a glowing skeleton doesn't make Monster Mini Golf a biotech company, and Vitagliano said her firm doesn't fit in with the state's plans to create a "knowledge district" of life science and high-tech companies.
"No one knows we're here," Vitagliano said. "I'm not a pharma company, I'm not a medical-device company, I'm not Curt Schilling. There has been zero help from anyone."
She said that's a stark contrast to her experience in Las Vegas. "When you walk into City Hall in Vegas, they welcome you with open arms. It's a very pro-business, proactive city."
Who in government would have gone in search of a black-lighted mini-golf company as an economic development project? Mr. and Mrs. Vitagliano had a unique vision, they chased it down, and it's been a success. That's real entrepreneurship, and government with its vested interests, direct line to bar-raising regulation for big-rolling incumbent organizations, and access to NIMBY politicians and constituents, alike is ill suited to encourage it.
The best strategy is simply to get government out of the way.
October 11, 2011
The Dreamy One Chris Christie Will Endorse Mitt Romney
FOX broke this a few minutes ago; h/t Fox News Radio's John Gibson.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, just one week after definitively announcing he will not run for president in the 2012 race, plans to endorse Mitt Romney for the job Tuesday afternoon, Fox News has learned.
The event is set to take place in Hanover, N.H., the site of the Republican presidential debate being held Tuesday night. The endorsement will be made in advance of the debate.
In view of Governor Christie's popularity, which has not been (fairly or unfairly) tarnished by the harsh glare of an actual presidential run, this is undeniably a significant endorsement.
Important tangent: the Republican debate, referenced above, begins at 8 pm tonight and willl focus solely on the candidates' economic plans. Supposedly, the debate, sponsored by the Washington Post and Bloomberg, can be watched on line here. The link is to a Washington Post article which previews the debate with "Five Things to watch"; presumably, a "Watch Live" link will magically appear on the page at some point before 8 pm.
UPDATE - Where to watch the debate
That Washington Post link is useless. Bloomberg TV is streaming the debate live on line. Alternately, if you have cable/satellite/dish television, the Bloomberg link has a box where you can enter your zip code to get the channel number for Bloomberg TV.
The Democrats Closed Their Primary
No, the headline isn't a mistake, the Democrats really did close their primaries, as did the Republicans and every other state party. A "closed" primary means that to vote in a primary with a particular party, you must be a member of that party. You cannot be an unaffiliated voter and vote in a primary.
Currently, you don't need to be affiliated for anything more than a few minutes or even seconds, depending on how long it takes you to choose a party, vote and then disaffiliate. Some may think they are an "independent" but that doesn't exist as a party in RI. If you're not affiliated with a party, you're listed as a U or "unaffiliated".
So that's really the question here, how long must you be affiliated with a party in order to vote in its primary. One party, the Republicans, are discussing lengthening the amount of time that you need to be an affiliated Republican before the primary, in order to vote in the primary. Keep in mind that in the general election, not the primary, you can vote for whomever you want, regardless of the candidate's party affiliation and regardless of your own party affiliation.
The whole point of primaries is so the party can choose who they feel is their best candidate to win in the general election. Many people feel they should be able to choose any candidate in the primaries. That's not how it works. Political parties are supposed to be groups of like-minded people who work together to put forth similar-thinking candidates. This isn't supposed to be for any person to just show up on election day and decide who should be the standard-bearer for the party. That's what the general election is for. On the day of the general election is when it is time for everyone to vote for anyone they'd like.
I guess the question I'd ask anyone who has a problem with this is why do you want to choose the candidate for a party that you don't want to be affiliated with? If you don't want to affiliate with a party, why should you be one of the people to choose who to send to the general election? Let me repeat, the general election is different from the primary. Your party affiliation does not matter in the general election, you can vote for anyone in any party in the general election. This is only about the primary.
It would seem that if you don't like what the Republicans are suggesting, you have two choices, affiliate as a Republican or simply wait until the general election and then choose the best remaining candidate for each seat. However, holding the party's decision on a closed primary against the candidate is cutting off your nose to spite your face. I implore you to choose the best available candidate in the general election, regardless of party.
An Inapplicable Model
Honestly, something about Governor Chafee's fact-finding missions makes me very nervous. Consider this, from his latest trip, to Pittsburgh. It focuses on the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which is attracting all sorts of federal money and expanding the prominence of the University's medical program:
Dr. Edward Wing, now dean of medicine and biological sciences at Brown's Alpert Medical School, worked 23 years at the University of Pittsburgh. He notes that the western Pennsylvania medical school with massive collaboration, clinical-research dollars and consolidation has since catapulted from the middle of the pack to among the nation's top-tier medical schools.
UPMC is now a $9-billion global health enterprise that operates more than 20 hospitals and 400 outpatient sites; employs more than 2,800 physicians and 54,000 employees; ranks as western Pennsylvania’s largest employer and the state’s second-largest. ...
In the midst of the tour, Wing noted, "It's very hierarchical, so they can make decisions easy. It's much harder in Providence." ...
At UPMC, it's clear that money drives activity.
So, you've got a massive, hierarchical structure fueled with giant infusions of public money and absolutely central to the local economy. That sounds extremely risky, and while I don't know enough about Pennsylvania politics to know how they're handling it, out there, I simply wouldn't trust the power brokers of Rhode Island with such an entity.
And that's if the feat would be possible to reproduce. One need only look at a map to see one way in which Pittsburgh differs tremendously from Providence: There's no urban competition in proximity. We've got Boston and New York City within easy striking distance.
The governor should turn his sights away from top-down behemoths and look toward making Rhode Island notable, in the crowded Northeast, for being an easy and inexpensive place to start and grow business. Our economic development people look to UPMC and see the flow of money that they could use to get entrepreneurs and innovators over the hump of high expenses and difficulty, in RI, when they should be looking to flatten it, instead.
October 10, 2011
Even if it's Amazing, It's not fair, so I hate everything
Trying to figure out this Occupy thing? Right now, this seems to explain it the best (h/t):
Remember this bit by Louis CK (thanks for reminding me, Will)?
...a sultan and student both have iPhone 4s...it's not fair
Overall, much of the logic seems to go something like this (h/t):
ADDENDUM: I put this is all under our "On a lighter note...." category because there is humor in the unknowns surrounding the Occupy movement. Still, there are serious questions that haven't been answered.
Now, a movement that started with no concrete goals as a simple protest of power must decide what to do with some power of its own. Can a leaderless group that relies on consensus find a way for so many people to agree on what comes next? Can it offer not only objections but also solutions? Can a radical protest evolve into a mainstream movement for change?Unfortunately, from what I have heard of the solutions, they roughly approximate the tongue-in-cheek poster above. In writing about the recent passing of Steve Jobs, Kevin Williamson illustrated that there is a dichotomy:
The beauty of capitalism — the beauty of the iPhone world as opposed to the world of politics — is that...[w]hatever drove Jobs, it drove him to create superior products, better stuff at better prices. Profits are not deductions from the sum of the public good, but the real measure of the social value a firm creates. Those who talk about the horror of putting profits over people make no sense at all. The phrase is without intellectual content. Perhaps you do not think that Apple, or Goldman Sachs, or a professional sports enterprise, or an Internet pornographer actually creates much social value; but markets are very democratic — everybody gets to decide for himself what he values. That is not the final answer to every question, because economic answers can satisfy only economic questions. But the range of questions requiring economic answers is very broad.
I was down at the Occupy Wall Street protest today, and never has the divide between the iPhone world and the politics world been so clear: I saw a bunch of people very well-served by their computers and telephones (very often Apple products) but undeniably shortchanged by our government-run cartel education system. And the tragedy for them — and for us — is that they will spend their energy trying to expand the sphere of the ineffective, hidebound, rent-seeking, unproductive political world, giving the Barney Franks and Tom DeLays an even stronger whip hand over the Steve Jobses and Henry Fords. And they — and we — will be poorer for it.
And to the kids camped out down on Wall Street: Look at the phone in your hand. Look at the rat-infested subway. Visit the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, then visit a housing project in the South Bronx. Which world do you want to live in?
October 8, 2011
A Welcome Update on Pension Reform
[With apologies for prematurely putting up the rough outline of a beta verison of a draft of this post earlier this morning.]
Yesterday, in a briefing by Deputy Treasurer Mark Dingley to the State Retirement Board, we got more details as to the pension reform plan to be proposed by the Governor and General Treasurer - in particular, the heretofore unclarified issue of how far simply suspending the COLA will get us. If someone hasn't misallocated a decimal point or forgotten to carry the one, it appears to take a decent bite out of the shortfall.
(In depth coverage courtesy WPRI's Ted Nesi.)
It would immediately raise the pension system's funding level from 48% to 62%, [Dingley] said. ...
Under the actuary's proposal, COLAs would be suspended until the system is 80% funded, which could take 12 to 15 years. "So it is a long period of suspension," Dingley said.
The bad news, which we'll get to in a second, is that re-amortization is still on the table. Staying with COLA's, however, the question that I have at this point is, why are we taking so long - twelve to fifteen years, assuming a far from guaranteed 7.5% rate of return - to get to 80% funded? Is this responsible? How will rating agencies view this timeframe? How much does it unnecessarily add to the cost of pension reform?
Now as to reamortization. It needs to be removed altogether from the mix; firstly and principally, because it is like a freshly opened box of chocolates. Delicious and tempting and easy - I'll have just one right now and save the rest for later. Okay, just one more. Ooo, is that a caramel??? Before you know it, the box is empty, reamortization is the bulk of the solution and Rhode Island taxpayers have been forced to gouge on the price of a benefit that at no point was ever reasonable or remotely sustainable.
Which leads us to the second reason reamortization should not be on the table. It is perhaps the largest instance of a recurring budget theme around the state and on Smith Hill: the problem is not lack of revenue but too much spending.
How do we know that revenue is not lacking? The ranking of our tax burden - fifth highest combined state and local taxes.
As for the spending, vis a vis the pension system. The biggest factor of the pension shortfall is not a lack of contributions by employees; not a lack of contribution by the employer (though this is certainly a factor - has anyone from the GA leadership explained why, for over a decade, Rhode Island social programs offered the maximum benefits permitted under federal law?); not an occasionally spotty performance by an investment fund at least partially dependent upon the vagaries of the stock market.
No, by far the biggest contributor to the state's unfunded pension liability has been that the promises made to future retirees were eye-poppingly unrealistic (e.g., retire immediately after twenty years of service [no longer an option but with plenty of retirees grandfathered into the system] and start collecting a defined benefit; amount of pension based upon the final three years of wages which, in turn, were too often jacked up by an excessively generous overtime clause.)
It is there, then, that additional adjustments must be made.
Deputy Treasurer Dingley characterizes this proposal as
a starting point
In fact, from the perspective of retirees and vestees, it should be a nirvana-like ending point. If a suspension of the COLA is the sole sacrifice needed from the retireee to fix the worst pension shortfall in the country, they should be lining up to kiss the General Treasurer's feet.
Don't start that queue just yet, however. For the taxpayer who has never stopped sacrificing, this proposal is just a starting point. We need to start walking back from the fifth highest tax burden nationally. That's never going to happen if 1.) a larger adjustment is not made to current retirees' benefits and 2.) reamortization is not taken off the table and out of the reach of temptation.
About this proposal, Deputy Treasurer Dingley observed,
We received a lot of feedback on this.
Let the feedback continue.
October 7, 2011
Governor Chafee May Push His Sales Tax Plan Again
Chafee says he may resurrect his controversial sales tax plan next year. Newsmakers (with myself, Ted Nesi and Ian Donnis) will be online soon.
This Morning’s Political Roundtable
Usurpation Cannot Be Challenged in Central Falls
This ruling is worth highlighting before it slips in the vast mire of news about Rhode Island's fatally ill civic structure:
The state-appointed receiver running Central Falls can go after Mayor Charles D. Moreau and the City Council to recoup legal fees spent defending the receivership law from Moreau’s unsuccessful state Supreme Court challenge, a special federal bankruptcy court judge ruled Friday.
Look, it stinks that a struggling city would have to pay for both sides in this legal battle, but there's a clear value to ensuring that a law that completely removes local democratic control is at the very least vetted in a court of law. Compare that with, say, Tiverton, where taxpayers are paying the school committee's legal council to argue against the town solicitor, for whom the taxpayers are also paying, over $367,000 that the town treasurer removed from the school committee's earmark on the grounds that it exceeded the local appropriation approved by the financial town meeting and that represented a surplus for the schools, anyway. In that case, the lawyers' bills must fund the process through the education commissioner and the Board of Regents before it even gets to a court of law. (Not surprisingly, the commissioner in charge of the school system found in favor of the schools.)
The controversy in Central Falls reads like a tale out of some third-world backwater trying to fake representative democracy:
The receivership law gave the first state receiver, Mark A. Pfeiffer, and then Flanders the powers of every elected and appointed official in city government. Pfeiffer had specifically refused to authorize the lawsuit and told Moreau and the council not to contest the law. They did anyway.
In the effort to recover the expenses from the appeals, Flanders' lawyer, Theodore Orson, has argued and a Superior Court judge agreed that because Moreau and the council disregarded Pfeiffer's orders, they can't claim the suit was part of their official duties.
Well, duh. After a coup, the elected officials have no "official duties," and the usurper will never be likely to grant permission for a legal challenge. Apparently, the judicial system in Rhode Island buys the logic of tyranny (which should be too surprising, considering that the American judiciary has been imposing policy and amending the Constitution via lawsuit shortcut for decades).
October 6, 2011
No Cell Phones In Schools
Well, it's about time. In today's Valley Breeze, Marcia Green tells about a new policy at Cumberland High and Middle schools that ban any use of handheld devices. The policy is based on one that was previously instituted in Warwick schools. The Cumberland schools used the first two weeks of the year to inform and remind both students and parents of the new policy. CHS Principal Dorothy Gould explains the policy succinctly, "If we see it or hear it, we're going to ask for it." The penalty is to lose the device for five days.
My first thought on the punishment was that it sounds a bit harsh. Five days? Why not give it back at the end of the day? But on second thought, there isn't much "risk" in the "risk vs. reward" equation. If the risk is to lose the device for five days, including nights, that might make someone think twice about bringing it into the school or at least into sight of a teacher.
Of course, the policy isn't without its opponents either.
Gould said five families have "raised a big, big stink by arguing, fallaciously, we can't keep them overnight. Or they say, 'My kid is a good kid so you should do something differently for my kid.'"Two of the cases are even arguing this to the superintendent, who completely supports the policy.
Some parents try to argue that they need to keep in touch with their children during the school day. I don't quite understand that one. They're at school, they're learning, if something comes up that you need to know about, the school will call.
Then there was also a woman who posted in a Facebook group about her son having a health "emergency" at the school. He was vomiting. She said the school tried to get in touch with her by phone, but her employer doesn't allow her to receive phone calls. Being aware of this, the son texted his mother to let her know what was going on. The son lost his cell phone as well and the mother isn't happy. Does this situation smell fishy to anyone else? How does her employer prevent her from taking calls during the day, even in an "emergency", but she can accept text messages? I just don't get some parents.
So I would like to take this time to congratulate the Cumberland Superintendent Phil Thornton and the school principals on adopting this policy. School time is learning time and the other eighteen hours of the day can be used for cell phone time.
NEA-RI Promotes John Leidecker
EastBayRI reports - exclusively, it appears - in an article that also describes the latest development (mediation) in the stalled Bristol/Warren teacher contract negotiations. Mr. Leidecker is the lead negotiator for the NEA-RI in those talks.
... Mr. Leidecker, negotiator for the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association (NEARI), was recently found guilty of cyberstalking by a Superior Court judge. Though some, including his target, former Bristol/Warren Representative Doug Gablinske, have called for him to step aside as negotiator now that the court has spoken, that won’t happen.
Instead, he’s been promoted. Once Mr. Leidecker finishes these negotiations, he will step aside as a “UniServe,” the union’s name for one who negotiates contracts across the state, and will step in as Deputy Executive Director of NEARI. Once he leaves, the plan is to make Linda LaClair, a long-time librarian at the Kickemuit Middle School who now works for NEARI, the district’s new UniServe.
Mental Illness: Rhode Island Ranks Highest
Must. Resist. Wisecracks. And. Speculative. Correlations.
( Via the Sacramento Bee.)
A new report providing state-by-state analyses of the prevalence of any mental illness including serious mental illness (SMI) reveals significant variation across the country. For example, among adults aged 18 or older, the rate of serious mental illness in the past year ranged from 3.5 percent in Hawaii and South Dakota to 7.2 percent in Rhode Island.
Peter Palumbo on Legislation to Reverse In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants
At yesterday's rally at the Rhode Island statehouse in protest of Governor Lincoln Chafee's bypass of the legislature on various issues (in-state tution for illegal immigrants through a board decision of a public corporation, an executive order to being the process of creating healthcare "exchanges", and possible executive action to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants), State Representatives Joe Trillo and Peter Palumbo spoke to the crowd of their intention to introduce legislation to reverse the decision on illegal immigrant tuition made by the Board of Governors for Higher Education.
I was able to ask Representative Palumbo about his bill, and whether he expected to receive leadership support for it...
Anchor Rising: What is the content of the bill you are planning to submit to the legislature?
State Representative Peter Palumbo: The intent of the bill is going to be to override the decision...that the Board of Governor's made that gives illegal aliens in-state tuition...
Audio: 15 sec AR: And are you expecting to have leadership support for that bill?
PP: At this time, no. At this time I do not anticipate it, but this doesn't mean we're not going to go forward with it...
Audio: 34 sec AR: You've kind of answered the third question I was going to ask, but I will ask it directly: You are prepared to go ahead with this bill, without leadership support?
PP: We've been doing this, and we're going to do it in a bi-partisan manner...hopefully, if we get enough people...and the people get activated after this rally and contact their local reps, there is optimism there. Audio: 34 sec
Ah, Communism: the Political Structure of the People!
This is about what one should expect from a communist utopia:
Until May, a sign inside the gate identified the property as the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club. The placard was removed after a Chinese reporter sneaked inside and published a story about the farm producing organic food so clean the cucumbers could be eaten directly from the vine. ...
Many of the nation's best food companies don't promote or advertise. They don't want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes. The general public, meanwhile, dines on foods that are increasingly tainted or less than healthful meats laced with steroids, fish from ponds spiked with hormones to increase growth, milk containing dangerous additives such as melamine, which allows watered-down milk to pass protein-content tests.
Communism, like socialism more broadly, is about the haves buying off the have-nots with promises and rhetoric to make their tyranny sound charitable. At the end of the day, the wall around the edible food supply is just as high or higher, and the people outside have less opportunity to develop their own.
Can You Focus on Cicilline, Please?
I've been meaning to put up a post asking both the Loughlin and Doherty campaigns if it is possible to focus on one thing, winning the Congressional District 1 seat. Is that possible? Why is it required to tear each other apart as a part of the race? And now, why is it necessary to disparage the RI Republican Party along the way? With some of the quotes in the GLP article, you'd wonder if it wasn't Democrat Chairman Ed Pacheco pulling the strings.
So were Cicione and Governor Carcieri responsible for damaging the Party?Why are some Republicans airing their own internal dirty laundry in public? What is this going to help? Or more importantly, who is this going to help? Well, that answer is easy, all GOP infighting is going to help David Cicilline. Just like when Sheldon Whitehouse took the Senate seat, both Chafee and Laffey camps pointed at each other for poisoning the waters so badly that Whitehouse breezed through election day.
“Absolutely they’re responsible,” [RIGOP Parliamentarian John] Clarke said.
Why does it have to be this way? No one person is entitled to either a seat or a spot on the ticket unopposed. If each Loughlin and Doherty think he is the best person for both the Republican nomination and for the US House seat, then that's great, work for it. However, it's not going to do you any good or the people you serve to negatively attack your GOP opponent. Instead, tell people why you are the better man for the job. Explain what ideas you have that will help both Rhode Island and this country. Explain why you are better served for that seat than the current sitting Congressman. He's the one you have to beat.
A primary can be a great thing for both Loughlin and Doherty. It will focus the media's attention on the candidates and will get more microphones in front of both of them. Use that in a positive way. Worry about your internal struggles internally and worry about the external problems externally. Keep the focus on the end-goal, winning the House seat and even work together to do whatever it takes toward that goal.
The Governor's Evasive Principles on Immigration
It's been a few weeks since he made it, but I didn't want to let Governor Chafee's statement on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants go without comment:
"I have long been a supporter of efforts to encourage college attendance among students who, through no fault of their own, do not have full residency status," Chafee said.
He continued: "All that separates these young people from the thousands of other students who gain entry to Rhode Island's public colleges and universities each year is the place where they were born -- a factor none of us can control."
Place of birth is in no sense the issue; plenty of people not born in the United States have made their way to Rhode Island in such a way as to be eligible for in-state tuition. At issue, with immigration, is the right of the people of the United States to regulate the flow of foreigners into their country. That cannot be accomplished by walls and force alone, so it is critical to temper the lure of illegal entry by reducing the benefits that its practitioners seek to acquire and increasing the difficulty of operation within the country for those who have come here through improper channels.
October 5, 2011
Erroneous, One-Sided Public Discourse Misleads on Tuition
As news consumers across the nation and the globe are aware, on Monday, September 26, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education approved a policy granting in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who attended local high schools. As recently as this spring, the General Assembly explicitly declined to join the twelve other states that offer this concession, so it is a matter of some controversy that an unelected board has cemented RI's reputation for diluted democracy by making ours the second to join the list as a matter of policy, not law.*
With this issue, as with many others, our drift toward unabashed aristocracy is abetted by a lack of balance in the public debate, locally. The problem goes much deeper than mere media bias, down to the data on which discussion and decisions are based. In this case, a report from the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University has enjoyed a near monopoly when it comes to research citations from radio to Web sites, from television to print.
Even just in the A section of this Sunday's Providence Journal, the institute's findings received two high-profile mentions. The first came in a characteristically unfair PolitiFact take-down of Terry Gorman, executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. According to journalist Lynn Arditi, the study "showed that 74 undocumented students were attending one of the three public institutions of higher education in Rhode Island in 2009."
The second mention came from Board of Governors member Lorne Adrain, in an op-ed written on behalf of his fellow members. Adrain explains that their decision was based, in part, on the study's suggestion that "our state schools will still experience net new revenues from the policy."
Both assertions are demonstrably false. At a basic level, the study has broadly been assumed to deal with illegal immigrants (or "undocumented," if you prefer), although the term in the title and throughout the document is "non-citizens," which the authors never define. Thus, the report's executive summary cites the U.S. Census's 2009 American Community Survey, finding 69,757 "non-citizens" in Rhode Island, meaning that many residents counted as "not a U.S. citizen," no matter their legal status, as a few clicks at census.gov prove.
Something similar is true of the "74 non-citizen undergraduate students attending" public college. This data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, and what it actually tallies are all "nonresident aliens" enrolled in RI's public undergraduate system. Clicking "i" for information brings up the following definition: "A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely."
The NCES may or may not have slipped illegal immigrants into that total, but it appears mainly intended to indicate students temporarily in the United States pursuing degrees. The new tuition policy will not apply to such "international" students. Moreover, legal-immigrant residents, whom the NCES counts among the general student body, appear already to be eligible for in-state tuition.
But let's pretend that the Latino Policy Institute's report actually addresses the students affected by the Board of Governor's new policy. That is, for the sake of argument, let's say that there are 74 illegal immigrant undergrads currently attending the University of Rhode Island (with 38), Rhode Island College (with 21), and the Community College of Rhode Island (with 15), and that in-state tuition will attract another 12 to URI, 7 to RIC, and 5 to CCRI. Will that increase in enrollment yield "net new revenues," as Mr. Adrain claims?
The Latino Policy Institute gives that impression by factoring in the "FTE instructional cost" for each institution, or the amount that it spends on a narrow range of expenses specifically filed under "instruction." The Institute subtracts that number from the tuition and counts the difference as a profit. Thus, the authors claim that "the enrollment of non-citizens would result in roughly $162,000 in revenue to public institutes of higher education per year."
The glaring error in this argument is that the "net new revenue" is not coming from "net new students." At out-of-state tuition rates, those 74 students are currently paying $1,435,010 in tuition. Give them the in-state rate, and the colleges and university are looking at a total tuition loss of $881,530. The 24 new students whom the lower tuition would supposedly attract would only bring the loss down to $703,586.
It's worth repeating that these headcounts are essentially made up. If illegal immigrants count among those here on a "temporary basis," there would be many fewer of them; if they count among those "who have been admitted as legal immigrants for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident alien status," there could be many more. In any case, the question of whether new illegal immigrant students provide a profit or require a subsidy would have to be the subject of another essay. (I'd argue that they represent a net cost of thousands of dollars each per year.)
At the very least, one can say that an unelected board should not be implementing public policy in lieu of duly passed laws, especially on the basis of erroneous and one-sided research. The Board of Governors should rescind its decision, and the civic society of Rhode Island should find a way to foster better-rounded public discourse.
* I attempted to change the Providence Journal version of this essay (which appears in the paper today) to reflect an AP report that specifically cited 12 other states that offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, with Oklahoma having already blazed the trail of doing so via policy. Either my correction came too late, or the Projo's findings differ from those of the AP.
I've corrected Lorne Adrain's gender in the above, and I apologize for the error. The only other "Lorne" I've ever heard of is Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live, and for some reason, my initial feeling that it was a woman's name never went away, despite knowing that Michaels is a man. Fortunately, though, my argument does not rely whatsoever on the personal qualities of the people whom I mention, and even if it did, I provided links to all of my sources, so readers can check my results on their own.
With all of the time that I spent culling data, I didn't have time to research Mr. Adrain's biography, which after all, is entirely irrelevant.
October 4, 2011
Does Anyone Else Find It Ironic, Or Possibly Redundant, That They've Come to Occupy the Most Anti-Corporate State in the Country?
A contingent from "Occupy Wall Street" is now gearing up to "Occupy Providence". Earlier this evening, WPRO's Matt Allen interviewed Bob Plain. He is covering the Occupiers' Rhode Island campaign, which is currently in the planning stage. (Hey, Bob, when you get a minute, can we hear more about the hand signals employed at their meetings?)
From the beginning, the Occupiers' principles and goals have been passionate but somewhat diffuse, not to say vague. Even The Daily Show professed to being a little unclear on the point. But since then, the original "Occupy Wall Street" chapter has penned a Declaration. From it and from statements by Occupiers themselves, they seem pretty down on corporations and capitalism and business.
Well, go-o-o-o-lly, Occupiers, welcome to Rhode Island!!! Your principles were implemented here long ago. Accordingly, we now have the worst business climate in the country, with the corresponding economy, (non)employment rate and shriveled tax base to show for it. With the state having been corporately pre-trashed before your arrival, you should feel right at home!
By all means, stay and "occupy". But you don't need to go all out. Rest up for the next state. Patronize our coffee shops. Be sure to make your way over to Thayer Street at some point (you'll love it).
In terms of the mission, your work here is done.
Analyzing the Civics of the Board of Governor's Illegal Immigrant In-State Tuition Policy Change
Determining whether it was a legitimate exercise of authority for the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education to make certain illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition at RI public colleges and universities takes us into a murky borderland in the civic landscape occupied by "public corporations" and "quasi-public entities" that have been created by governments to provide "non-public" goods or services. (In economic parlance, a "non-public" good or service is one that can be parceled out in a manner such that those who want it can spend what they want for it, and those don't want it don't have to buy any at all).
Whether government should ever create “public corporations” or other "quasi-public" bodies for the provision of private goods and services is a valid question in itself, but given that such entities are already with us and making decisions that impact people's lives, the immediate focus needs to be on whether their actions directly violate the core principles of democratic governance. In the case of the BoGfHE’s illegal immigrant tuition “policy change”, this means making certain that the Board has not exceeded its authority by doing something that must be a legislative function, and that it has acted in a way that was a reasonable exercise of its statutory mandate.
To address these issues, it is useful to consider a "public corporation" that deals with a less controversial good or service (at least in this century) such as a state-run liquor store. While the legislature authorizes and defines the purpose of a state-run retailer, it is not left to a legislature, or a committee of legislators, or even a board that is hired and fired directly by the legislature to make day-to-day decisions on matters such as pricing and inventory. Indeed, allowing a legislature to directly exercise executive authority in such a manner would be the violation of the separation of powers principle.
Likewise, allowing the Board of Governors for Higher Education to manage tuition pricing is not in inherent conflict with the principle of separation of powers, so long as the board is acts in a manner that does not conflict with the law. And since Rhode Island law makes no significant mention of immigration status in the context of public higher education and Federal law is unclear, the Board's action is consistent with current law.
Of course, because a “public corporation” can do something does not mean that it should, and there is a strong case to be made that the unelected board of a public corporation should not be imposing measures which the legislature has had before it but decided not to enact. The flip-side of this is that if a legislative majority feels that the Board has stretched an ambiguity in the law beyond reasonableness, it is their right -- and their duty -- to clarify the ambiguity.
The legislature does not have to wait for the Board of Governors to rescind its tuition policy change to begin a move to reverse it. It is not the legislature that has to make its actions conform to those of the Board of Governors; it is the Board of Governors that must set policies that conform to the law. If a new section is added to Rhode Island law regarding public higher education, perhaps in the form of language similar to section 40-6-27.1(b) of current RI law, which prohibits giving certain public assistance benefits to illegal immigrants, then the BoGfHE would have to change its policies in response.
The action taken by the Board at this stage is no more permanent than any preliminary budget recommendation for spending money in the next fiscal year, and it is certainly not written in stone that any government department, never mind a government created corporation, must get everything that it asks for. Indeed, for those inclined to view this purely as a budgetary and fiscal issue, one option the legislature could pursue would be to cut the budget of the BoGfHE -- a budget item separate from that of any actual educational institution, and that costs Rhode Islanders about $7 million annually in operations and personnel -- by the amount needed to make-up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for the number of illegal immigrants expected to be admitted to RI colleges.
In the end, if a 3/5 majority of Rhode Island legislators think the Board of Governor's decision on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is a bad idea, they can only be bypassed in our system of government if they allow themselves to be. (I am assuming that the current Governor of Rhode Island would veto a standalone bill on this subject, necessitating a veto override, although this matter would also be germane for inclusion in the annual budget bill, which could allow it to passed as part of the same 2/3 majority that has to approve the budget). Approval of the legislative leadership should not be any factor; if a supermajority wants a bill passed, there are various ways a bill can be brought to the floor, if the members value having something passed more than they value following leadership dictates. And if the voters believe that the Board's decision should be reversed, but their legislators refuse to act for whatever reason, then the people need to consider electing new legislators who will.
The Pension Performance Is Already Underway
I wanted to go to last night's Publick Occurrences event, but after around 10 hours of motivational speeches and get-rich sales pitches, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Part of the problem is my suspicion that the game is already set, and like those sales pitches, everything being said right now is just a performance. General Treasurer Gina Raimondo gave Newsmakers a pretty good indication of where leadership is going:
Raimondo signaled a COLA freeze will be a key part of the plan, saying a suspension of the annual increases could reduce the unfunded liability by up to $1 billion, depending on whether the freeze is full or partial and if it continues for "a lengthy time." That would be the most significant change for current retirees. ...
The third major plank expected in the Raimondo-Chafee proposal: reamortization, or stretching out the schedule for paying down the unfunded liability, which raises its long-term cost. The treasurer has criticized reamortization in the past as inadequate, but said Friday she can support it if it's tied to other changes. ...
One policy Raimondo doesn’t support: raising the retirement age for state workers who are already eligible to retire, which she said could result in a rush to the exits before the new plan takes effect.
The game is up. (The "second plank" was a hybrid plan moving forward.) We're looking at a $7-9 billion shortfall. $1 billion will come from a little temporary tweaking of COLAs, and the rest will fall to reamortization, which only increases the burden down the road, and there's still a probability that all of the "fairness" and "spreading the pain" talk indicates additional tax increases, beyond what's already been pushed down to towns and cities by lowering the expected rate of return on pension investments.
Plainly put, the people running the show in Rhode Island aren't willing to avoid yet another bad long-term repair to the problems they've created by making the changes that have to be made for pensioners across the board. So, they're pretending that a temporarily suspended annual adjustment (in a continuously bad economy) is the end of the world.
That's why legislators are making such a big deal about "doing the right thing" and voting to reduce the pensions that so many of them and their families are receiving or will receive: Because it's not nearly enough of a reduction in total benefits, and in a sense, they're negotiating the public down.
October 3, 2011
John Ward: Pension Costs Must Be Reduced
(Following are the prepared remarks of Mr. Ward at the Publick Occurrences Forum, "Pension Puzzle: What Can We Afford?" of this evening.)
My thanks to the Providence Journal, Leadership Rhode Island and Rhode Island College for allowing me the honor of participating in this forum.
There was an advertisement in yesterday’s Providence Journal placed by a new group named Engage Rhode Island. In their ad, they say, “Without reform, our taxes will rise, school funding will be slashed, social services will be dropped and more jobs will be lost.” What an understatement!
I can’t speak for the rest of Rhode Island, but in Woonsocket, as a result of the state budget cuts, we have already seen our taxes rise by 29% in the last four years as a direct result of the elimination of $3.3 million of general revenue sharing, the reversal of the motor vehicle excise tax phase-out to the tune of $5 million and $4.4 million in reduced education aid. That’s a revenue loss of $12.7 million. Our levy increases have now completely offset the lost state aid, but we are in no way out of the woods. The additional burden of $3.6 million for municipal, police and fire pensions as has been projected will push us over the fiscal cliff! Period, not debatable!
As for the other points in the ad, you have already heard about how state cuts will affect social services? In Woonsocket, our local support for social services vanished long ago. The local operating budget doesn’t include any social service funding worthy of note. Three years ago, we had to eliminate our summer parks programs entirely! We simply couldn’t afford it. But more than that, we have had to charge each household $96 per year to offset the rising cost of trash collection and half of our street lights are out! That’s what I call cuts in services.
They say jobs will be lost? Our public safety staffing has been reduced by 10% since 2008 and the rest of the city staffing has been cut by 24%, yet our savings have been offset by deficits resulting from mid-year state aid cuts and suffocating increases in health care and pension costs. The jobs left to be lost are in the private sector because the state is driving up our property tax burden.
Finally, they say school spending will be slashed. It should say school spending will be slashed again!
Since FY2003, Woonsocket has seen the cost of teacher retirements increase by 138%. Now we are told that unless we reform the pension system, we can expect to have to pay an additional $2.3 million. That would put the ten year increase at triple what it was back then.
Since 2003, Woonsocket’s student population has decreased by about 10.5%, not unlike most other communities in Rhode Island. However, for Woonsocket, the number of teachers has been cut by over 20%, teacher aides more than 38%, facilities and clerical staff by 17% due to the lack of funding from the state. You see, contrary to the misinformation around the state house, the local funding for education in Woonsocket has increased by 16 ¼% over that time while state education aid has risen and then been reduced to the same level as it was back in 2003. When the city issued $10.5 million of deficit bonds last year, $6.5 million was due to school department deficits caused by mid-year state aid cuts and the extreme increases in pension and health care costs.
So what we have done without? All day kindergarten has been eliminated, making Woonsocket the only urban school district without all-day K. There has been almost no capital spending, much of our technology has become obsolete; there has been almost no spending on textbooks or their equivalent. Our class sizes throughout the district are at, or beyond, the maximum allowed by the contract. Quite frankly, I think a careful assessment of our current offerings would find Woonsocket in violation of the new BEP.
To allow the pension system to remain largely unchanged will make it impossible for Woonsocket, and every other urban community to survive. We have no time for half measures. We need a complete, permanent pension reform that will not only eliminate the projected increase in our pension burden, but it must reduce pension costs so our extremely limited resources can be used to bring back critically important municipal services and educational programs for our children.
And yes, the employees deserve a fair and affordable retirement benefit, but that’s not what we have now. Don’t start thinking this is the solution that will solve our financial problems. If this pension reform is done right, it will only be the first step in a process that will require much more “shared sacrifice” if Rhode Island is to survive and prosper.
I am a new grandfather. My beautiful little granddaughter lives in Virginia with my son and his wife. They left Rhode Island, as so many of their friends have, moving to Virginia after graduating from college to follow great job opportunities. He is a computer engineering graduate and she is a high school science teacher in, you might guess, the Fairfax County school district. He is in a 401(k) defined contribution retirement plan and she is in a blended retirement plan that combines components of social security, a defined benefit plan, and the additional savings she may choose to contribute to her 403(b) plan, all designed to provide a fair retirement benefit in an affordable way.
So, my challenge to the General Assembly as they consider pension reform is this. What will you do to convince my son and his wife to move back to Rhode Island with their family and skills? When they ask me why they should shoulder the burden of Rhode Island’s past mistakes and deprive themselves and my granddaughter of a rich and full life with all that their labors can offer her, how shall I answer them?
John Ward is the President of the Woonsocket City Council.
Checking in from a Seminar
So, at my employer's insistence, I'm attending the GetMotivated seminar in Providence. Colin Powell is speaking, and he opened by thanking Providence for its involvement in his charity. When he specifically thanked former Mayor David Cicilline, the audience roundly booed... and were softly chastised by the speaker for bringing politics into it.
I have to say, though, that I can't agree that some public involvement in a charity undoes real and palpable damage to the people of a city.
Block on the Labor-Social Welfare Crackup
Moderate Party founder Ken Block has been circulating an interesting letter:
I have been waiting for someone to call out Bob Walsh on his comments in the September, 22, 2011 Providence Journal article "Business Coalition Backs R.I. Pension Reform."
Since no one else has yet taken Mr. Walsh to task, I will now do so.
The article describes how Crossroads RI and Family Services of RI - two prominent providers of social services to the needy - have joined a coalition whose mission is to advocate for thorough pension reform in the upcoming special legislative session in October.
The NEA chief has this to say about about Crossroads' joining the coalition: "They should think long and hard about who is the bigger supporter of social services - the unions or the Chamber of Commerce. Labor is their ally, not the business community."
Mr. Walsh's error in logic is that Crossroads is choosing between 'Labor' and 'Business'. I am fairly certain that Crossroads is looking at the issue as to how the organization can best assure that their funding stream from the State is maintained into the future.
Rhode Island's pension crisis threatens everything that the State government touches. If Rhode Island's pension problems are not fixed, an ever growing chunk of tax revenues will go solely to keeping the pension system afloat - to the detriment of funding schools, building roads and yes, funding worthy organizations such as Crossroads RI and Family Services of RI.
It is time for Labor's union bosses to meaningfully engage in helping to resolve Rhode Island's pension problem - a problem that these bosses have helped to create. Red herrings like selling off Twin River or trying to frame the pension issue as 'Labor' versus 'Business' are attempts to distract an easily distractible public from a simple truth: If we do not fix the pension problem, every aspect of Rhode Island's economy and society will be massively and permanently harmed.
Pension reform is not an us versus them issue. Successful pension reform means a stable and guaranteed pool of retirement monies for pensioners and a kick start to rebuilding Rhode Island's ailing economy. Failed or incomplete pension reform will keep Rhode Island on our downward spiral into the economic abyss.
Perhaps recent cuts to social-service spending at the state level helped advocates for the less fortunate to see the writing that others of us have long seen on the wall. If businesses cannot operate and productive residents continue to leave, there will be no tax revenue to divvy up against the various groups that survive on government revenue. It may be easier for the government-dependent to pretend that they can survive without a thriving economy, but they can't, and ultimately, they'll have to fight over what the government is able to confiscate from the shrinking pool.
The shared interest of public-sector labor and the needy isn't much deeper than a mutual interest in having the government redistribute money, and the pension crisis threatens to absorb more of it than social services groups can afford. What's particularly interesting, though, is that the alliances that have formed like fingers around Rhode Island's throat have created another division: between the members of various groups and their government-class leaders.
The deeper alliance, that is, is between the labor leaders, like Mr.Walsh, and the professional advocates who usually speak for the poor. They represent the core of the left-wing movement, and although a few groups might splinter off, the members who actually suffer by the difficulties of bad governance will have to replace their own leaders before a new paradigm becomes possible.
Mr. Walsh should take note of that fact. Eventually, the teachers who ultimately give him his power will figure out that his interests aren't the same as theirs, much less of the state in which they live and work.
October 2, 2011
Doherty to Announce Big News Tomorrow
Ron St. Pierre has tweeted, within the hour, that Col. Brendan Doherty will appear on WPRO's (630 AM) Buddy Cianci show tomorrow at 4 pm to make a "'big news' announcement". (h/t Jon Pincince, who wonders if it might be just about the biggest news possible, a change from the First to the Second district Congressional race).
OK, I may have gotten carried away here. Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12) just posted an item to his blog, with the details of a Bobby Farrelly fundraiser to be held in Rhode Island for Brendan Doherty. Could this be the big news?
On the other hand, at least the Phoenix and the Projo have already carried stories about a Farrelly Brother fundraiser for Colonel Doherty, though without a specific date being settled. Would locking down a fundraiser date qualify as "big news"?
Do They Even Read What They Write?
This one was just too easy. First Politifact accuses Terry Gorman of RIILE of issuing a "Mostly False" statement, and then they actually explain how their own ruling is wrong!
At issue is a statement that Gorman made about the recent RI Board of Governors offering in-state tuition to illegal aliens. According to the article, Gorman said
"[Federal] law says that you can't give in-state tuition to an illegal alien … unless you first offer it to any other student regardless of their state of residence."
And then they go over the law and explain how he's wrong because there is an out in the federal law:
The section goes on to say that states can grant undocumented immigrants public benefits that they otherwise would not qualify for if the state enacts a law to do so.Well, I guess they gotcha there, Terry, eh?
Oh wait, in Politifact's own article, again they wrote:
...if the state enacts a law...Did I miss something here? High school civics class was a while back, but I do know that it is only the General Assembly that can "enact a law". They didn't do that. The Board of Governors for Higher Education enacted a policy. The federal law doesn't say that "if the state enacts a law to do so or the Board of Governors of Higher Education enacts a policy".
So is Politifact trying to slide one pass us that it is "close enough"? Sorry, not good enough for me. Why? Try this. Go and Google "Politifact words have meaning" and see what you get for results. We have many instances where Politifact themselves have used this phrase when it works for them. Words do have meaning, as do a lack of words.
So based on this, Terry Gorman would seem to be exactly correct. According to the federal law, Rhode Island must offer in-state tuition to all US citizens because it didn't enact a law giving this benefit to illegal aliens. Until that time, it would seem that RI is in violation of federal law.
Sorry Politifact, but this time you get a "Pants on Fire".
October 1, 2011
Via WPRO, John Loughlin Checks In From Iraq
John Loughlin, currently serving in Iraq, sent a letter to WPRO (was this via snail mail?), mainly describing his duties and schedule but also touching on living conditions. Below is an excerpt; inexplicably, WPRO did not put up the entire letter. I found his description of the living quarters especially enlightening. Keep in mind that Loughlin is an officer so presumably, the conditions for enlisted personnel are even more ... luxurious.
I live in basically a shipping container called a Containerized Housing Unit or “CHU.” It’s basically 8’ x 12’, has a wall locker, a bed and a small refrigerator. A typical work day begins at about 0500.
We are on a seven-day per week schedule, about 10 hours per day. I do get four hours off each Sunday, but that time is consumed doing my laundry and cleaning out the CHU.
I have about a 20 minute walk to my office which is located in the former Baath Party headquarters on Forward Operating Base or FOB Union III. We are a team of about 15 advisors who advise on everything from training to tactics. We have a tag-up to compare notes and then journey to Phoenix base to meet with the Iraqis. That’s a short journey via up-armored SUV, wearing what we call “full battle rattle.”
Full battle rattle consist of (gotta love the acronyms) IOTV, ACH with 9mil. Translated that’s the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, kind of like the flack vest of old, the Army Combat Helmet and the ever-present sidearm.
We typically spend three hours or so per day working directly with the Iraqi’s. I have found them to be extremely hospitable. They always break out the tea, and unlike US offices, there is no prohibition on smoking at ones desk – so the second hand smoke is thick.
We return to the FOB after these meetings, which the Army calls Key Leader Engagements to, reduce the data, compare notes and work on providing the benefit of our experience to the fledgling force.
The week is broken up by the reporting we have to make to higher headquarters. Last Friday, I briefed the three-star general on helicopter maintenance issues. I spent probably ten hours or so making sure my briefing was ready to go. This included rehearsals with my colleagues asking every conceivable question to make sure I was ready to brief and could field any question that might come up. Not unlike political prep for the Dan Yorke show. The three-star’s reaction was three words, (one for each star) "Thanks, good brief".
Grotesque Claim: Reduction of Welfare Benefits A Violation of Due Process
Michigan, in the face of a not unique budget crunch, recently implemented a reduction in social assistance (cash payments) from five years to four with, it should be noted, ample exemptions.
A group of recipients filed a lawsuit to overturn this new, lower cap, which went into effect today. The basis of the suit?
The lawsuit says that the welfare cap violates the due process clause of the 14th amendment. They claim that the cutoff notices were vague and generic. The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the cap.
Doesn't the right of due process apply only to criminal cases? So by the logic of this lawsuit, should we view these plaintiffs - and all people who participate in social programs - as criminal defendants???
Of course that's a silly question. But it's not as silly as asserting an unrelated constitutional right to secure, not a social benefit, but a larger share of a social benefit.
Dan has answered the question in the third paragraph.
No, any constitutional rights having to do with deprivation of life, liberty, or property.
Needless to say, due process rights to government handouts are a very recent and "progressive" development in American jurisprudence.
(I'm pretending for the moment that I didn't see Andrew's comment because the concept described therein is simply incomprehensible.)
Link to the Fourteenth Amendment here. Pertinent excerpt:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So there is no presumption of criminality. I stand by the main point: it is grotesque to use this or any Constitutional Amendment to assert either the right to participate in a social program or the right to receive the social benefit in a quantity that the recipient finds adequate.