February 29, 2012

The R.I. Republican Strike Force Has Landed

Monique Chartier

... and they are poised to storm the Campaign 2012 beach!

The formation of the Strike Force was announced last night at Perella's restaurant in Warren. The volunteer corps (no "e", Mr. President) will be the boots on the ground in the campaigns of Republican candidates for the General Assembly - to assist with events, sign waves, GOTV calls, press releases. The goal, of course, is to bring some badly needed balance to the RI General Assembly - decades of one party rule having left the state in such ... er, admirable condition.

From WPRO:

Mark Smiley, Warren GOP chair and a member of the panel said he is excited for the new group and what it will bring to the GOP. “Tonight we created a group of highly motivated volunteers and supporter’s dedicated to the RI GOP General Assembly races. In the past candidates were on their own to build these groups locally. Now they will have a contact where they can request the support that they need to get their message out. This becomes yet another advantage for candidates to step forward and run as a Republican in Rhode Island.”

Anyone intrigued by the idea of joining the RIGOP Strike Force can either call RIGOP headquarters (732-8282) or e-mail Mike Napolitano (lrepublicans@aol.com).

"Are You Better Off Today Than Five Years Ago?"

Patrick Laverty

Economics for five year olds, by a five year old.

It's (Not) the Economy, Stupid!

Patrick Laverty

With all due respect to Governor Chafee and to the position of RI Governor, the title of this post is in reference to a 1992 Clinton presidential campaign theme first coined by James Carville. However, I found it surprising, if not laughable that the Governor attributes his low approval ratings to the current economy.

Chafee said he thinks he is suffering in the polls because he is the governor and people are looking to blame someone. “Anytime the economy is bad the governor is going to be the lightening rod and that is just the way it is.”
Just like Cicilline doesn't seem to get it that his race is more than just about what he (not) done in Washington for the last two years, Chafee doesn't get the reasons either. Sure, it's very easy to blame the economy for the Governor's low poll numbers. On the surface, that might even make sense. But let's drill down a little further. As bad as the state is doing as a whole, is there anyone doing worse? Aha! There's this little town that most might have heard of called "Providence". Providence sure isn't looking too good lately on many economic scales. Something about "bankruptcy" as a possibility. If the economy is the cause of low approval ratings, let's take a look at the Providence chief executive and what his poll numbers are. A 59.8% approval rating for Mayor Angel Taveras. One of the highest in the state.

So, maybe it isn't the economy and maybe it actually is due to policy decisions like trying to increase taxes by taxing nearly everything? Plus then trying to raise the meals tax by 25%? Or maybe it is because Chafee courted union support before his election and then had the same unions claiming he broke a promise to them when he signed the pension reform bill.

Maybe it's time for the Governor to look in the mirror and realize who is the reason for his low approval numbers. Part of the reason that both Taveras and Gina Raimondo have such relatively high approval numbers is because while they might not be making popular decisions, they are making decisions that are necessary for the state and city to survive and have any chance at flourishing again. People respect that.

Delegate Tie in Michigan?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Multiple media sources are now reporting that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have evenly split the delegates awarded in yesterday's Michigan primary. CNN reports...

Of the 30 delegates at stake, Romney took 15 and Santorum took 15, with zero unallocated as of late Wednesday afternoon.

The numbers will not be final until the state certifies its ballots in the coming days.

The degree to which states have been unable to 1) schedule meaningful elections and then 2) tally the results in a timely fashion in this primary cycle is starting to become quite worrisome.

In related non-news, my abilities at forecasting Presidential elections seem to be as keen as ever.

Imagine Reevaluation of Political Philosophies...

Justin Katz

... It may be more difficult than it seems.
If dislike of dictators
Is contingent on progressive dreams

Over on the Current, I express restrained hope that some noise on the Left about Central Falls' receiver will spur reconsideration of liberals' long-running centralization project.

I note, too, that Anchor Rising's unease with the entire municipal receivership program goes back to a May 2010 post by Andrew.

Leap Day Musings

Marc Comtois

Why are unemployment numbers always "revised" towards the negative? Could it be the current political climate induces a need for optimism such that it is reflected in somehow too-rosy estimations? I don't know.

Today, Occupy Providence will be protesting in....Connecticut? Makes as much sense as anything else they do....

Former WPRO online journalist Bob Plain has taken over the helm of RI Future, making him the 4th owner of RIF since its inception. Good luck to Bob as he attempts to "monetize the site" and best of luck to Brian Hull as he moves on.

Polls, schmolls....I'll believe incumbent Rep. David Cicilline can't win CD-1 when he actually doesn't win CD-1. Yes, he's in trouble, but never underestimate the seemingly genetic pull that the "D" lever has on the minds/psyche/sense-of-self-worth of too many RI voters.

On the other hand--even though we've got a few years to go--if there isn't another 4 person race for Governor in 2014, I don't see how Governor Chafee isn't a one-and-done. But maybe I'm being optimistic.

My former home state of Maine is in a bit of shock with the announcement that Senator Olympia Snowe has decided not to run for re-election. This relatively late announcement has the state in a scuffle--especially the Maine GOP--as there are only 2 weeks left before candidates can collect signatures and declare for the race. Snowe is a moderate Republican who says she has become frustrated with too much partisanship in the Senate and is throwing in the towel. On a personal note, then Representative Snowe nominated a certain kid from a small town in Maine to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy way back in 1986. While I certainly don't agree with all of her politics, I'll always be grateful for that.

Finally, like it or not, has there ever *really* been any doubt that it was going to be Mitt all along? The media has tried mightily to keep it a race (and a complicit GOP helped by scheduling 17000 freaking debates) and it seems like many conservative pundits have been so desperate for anyone-but-Mitt they've projected Reagan into one-after-another of Mitt's also-flawed competitors. A proper cynic would observe that Mitt was, is and always has been the best of a bad lot.

February 28, 2012

Romney Projected to Win Michigan and Arizona

Carroll Andrew Morse

CBS News is projecting Mitt Romney as the winner of the Michigan primary. He has a 41% to 38% lead over Rick Santorum, with about 80% of precincts reporting. Ron Paul is 3rd at 12%, Newt Gingrich is 4th with 7%.

And with a little over 50% of precints reporting in Arizona, Romney leads with 48% of the vote, over Santorum (26%) than Gingrich (16%) and Paul (8%). I think it's interesting that Paul did so poorly in the state that, at least at one time, was considered to be the icon of "Western" libertarianism.

But the main story, of course, is that with the candidates pretty well known to the primary voting public at this point, if none of them could beat Mitt Romney on a primary day with just two contests, it's hard to see how any of them will knock off Romney, generally regarded as the best-organized candidate, when 7 states hold primaries and 3 hold caucuses on next Tuesday.

Tuesday Political Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Polls from Brown University's Taubman Center and WPRI-TV (CBS 12) say that Congressman David Cicilline is in serious electoral trouble.

The X-factor impacting his near-certain use of a standard medi-scare campaign is that Brendan Doherty can counter with "David Cicilline will leave Social Security and Medicare in the same condition he left Providence -- and the Democratic Party is alright with that".

To which Barry Hinckley can add "...including Sheldon Whitehouse".

According to the same polls, Governor Lincoln Chafee is not very popular. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras are. Yet, somehow I doubt that this will impact how self-proclaimed "realists" insist that accountability to the electorate is the problem, rather than how elected pols approach the citizenry, when difficult decisions need to be made.

Michigan and Arizona vote in Republican Presidential primaries tonight (where delegates will actually be awarded).

The conventional wisdom is that the near-frontrunner attention that Rick Santorum attracted over the past two weeks, in conjunction with his lackluster performance in the most recent debate, will probably drag him under. If that's right, everything is in place for Mitt Romney to win the nomination as the traditional Republican next-guy-in-line. If it's wrong, we may have finally reached truly uncharted territory.

February 27, 2012

The Ocean State Current: Carpenter No More

Justin Katz

Many of you have already heard, through one channel or another, that I've been working on a new project that has moved me from the construction site to an online media office. (Still mainly my basement.) Well, that project, The Ocean State Current, has just quietly gone live. Noise to follow.

Rather than copy and paste, for Anchor Rising readers, information about the site, I'll simply refer you to its about page and a more personalized blog post that I've published on its "Justin's Case" page. I'll also point out that I've spent the past week blogging to nobody, so there's over a week's worth of posts containing content that I could bear to cast directly into an archive, but that AR readers will find worthy of perusal.

The most important thing that I can say about the Current is that it cannot succeed unless people read it and participate in the conversation, there. So, if you've got the space in your schedule to add it to your daily (or hourly) routine, please do so. I'll be covering many more events, delving into a greater number of policy issues, breaking stories, interviewing people, and even digging a bit more deeply into blog content than I've been able to do here for quite some time.

As to Anchor Rising: This site will continue, and I will continue as administrator. As I've been joking in person, it would take more work to hand it off than to simply keep the habits up. Even my frequency of posts may not change very much. The Current has replaced my carpentry; it may conceivably create an opening for even greater participation in the AR community. What content, when, how, where, why... well, that's something that will have to work itself out over the coming months.

And the greatest benefit of it all may be that the other contributors will have reason to grow to fill the space, as they've so often proven themselves talented enough to do. We're ankle deep in the election year, and our state, nation, and world are staring at a long hallway of unknowns, so there's plenty to say, to research, and to debate.

Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 28 - March 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

The prologue to this week's list of General Assembly bills to be heard in committee is a bumper crop of local impact bills. I can't say for certain if they are all sinister or sensible, but folks interested in the goings-on in Cranston, Cumberland 2, Middletown/Newport, New Shoreham, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket 2 3 4 5 6, Portsmouth 2 and Warren might want to take a look at the one or more bills that specifically impact their communities.

And now on to the regular list...

14. H7406: Sets a minimum price of $35.00 for transportation provided by "public motor vehicles", i.e. privately owned non-taxicabs hired for individual trips (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 28).

13. H7371: Requires that all wood burned in wood stoves be "clean wood". No, I am not making this up. Also requires any new wood stoves installed in 2013 or after to be 50ft from the owner's lot-line and 200ft from the nearest neighbor's dwelling, with the intention of prohibiting them from being installed in densely populated areas (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Mar 1). Addendum: Commenter tcc3 points out that the law also prohibits the sale or rental of a home that has a wood stove closer than 50ft from the lot line or 200ft from the nearest neighbor.

12. H7220: "Only state or federal elected officials, General assembly employees or retained consultants and their employees shall be required to testify under oath when addressing the reapportionment commission. All others shall not be compelled to present sworn testimony to the reapportionment commission" (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28).

11. S2391: Adds to the charter of Johnson and Wales that "the real and personal property of the corporation shall be exempt from state and local taxes" (S Corporations; Tue, Feb 28). Ed note: What are the possible interactions, between this bill and other state and municipal efforts to tax non-profits?

10. Bud Art. 13: Authorizes the department of administration "to adjust the salaries of directors of state executive departments, in an amount comparable to monetary adjustments for cost of living provided to classified state employees as a result of the most recent collective bargaining agreement" (S Finance; Tue, Feb 28).

9. The H Small Business agenda for Wed, Feb 29, which includes bills to try to help Rhode Island businesses in various ways, including creating loan funds (H7230), loan (H7354) and other capital access (H7513) assistance programs, regular review of government regulations (H7770), and requirements for state government to give priority to RI businesses (H7771).

8. Bud Art. 33: Removes election day from the list of state employee holidays (S Finance; Tue, Feb 28).

7. Bud Art. 12: A host of education issues, including changes in state aid for capital projects and for Central Falls, and the elimination of the "textbook reimbursement fund" (H Finance; Thu, Mar 1).

6. H7204: Expands the penalty for texting-while-driving to include a "mandatory requirement that a device which prevents text messaging and cell phone calls be installed" in the vehicle of the perpetrator (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28). Ed note: I didn't know such devices already existed.

5. H7172/H7290 Statements of "apology, sympathy, compassion, condolence, or benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a patient" made by a healthcare provider would be inadmissable as evidence in a legal claim or civil actions against that provider (H Judiciary; Wed Feb 29).

4. H7151: Prohibits different rates from being charged to health insurance customers on the basis of gender (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 28). (Ed. note: This bill is an indication of the progressive inability to realize the difference between actual insurance and the subsidizing of predictable costs).

3. Bud Art. 5: Bond issues for the 2012 general election ballot: $109,900,000 for "Higher Education Facilities", $21,500,000 for "Transportation", $20,000,000 for a "Clean Water Finance Agency", $25,000,000 for "Environmental Management" and $25,000,000 for "Affordable Housing" (S Finance; Thu, Mar 1).

2. H7543: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question, and a local referendum in Newport (H Finance; Wed, Feb 29).

1. H7556: A non-binding resolution stating "this House of Representatives hereby respectfully requests the President and Congress of the United States to refrain from enacting or imposing any law or regulation that is beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers or that would diminish the rights of the people of Rhode Island to govern themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state" (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 28).

Re: Providence Journal Lowers The Boom On Us Freeloaders Tuesday

Patrick Laverty

I started this as a comment to Monique's post, but then decided to move it up.

I bet with my wife yesterday that the ProJo's paywall will only accelerate the decline. The ProJo likes to say "But the NY Times did it" but that's like me trying to hit a baseball like Kevin Youkilis and saying "Yeah, but that's how Youk hits!" We're not even in the same league. Plus, the NYT gives about 20 articles a day away for free. ProJo is instead giving about two to three paragraphs of most, if not all articles on the site, and then gives no indication that there is more to the story in the eEdition. Given the choice, I'd rather have what the NYT is giving away.

I really think many newspapers, especially the locals like the Woonsocket Call and Pawtucket Times will really need to rethink their business model and maybe they need to cut down to just two or three times a week and only focus on local news. Because really, who reads the Call or the Times for stories on Obama or Syria or even California. That's what we have all the national outlets for and if they're just pulling down AP stories, then it's all the same content anyway.

Plus, don't they need to ask themselves why they're failing in their model while the Valley Breeze-Observer is succeeding? Yeah, a huge difference is they are dalies and the Breeze is a weekly, but maybe that's something they need to look at. And what if the Breeze-Observer decided to add a paper a week and went twice a week, depending on area? What would that further do to the Call and Times?

And the ProJo is in a similar boat. Take a look and check out how many stories are "off the wire." Why should I pay the Journal money for the same articles I can read on cnn.com and other places for free? So two changes I would make to the Journal would be to actually do what they claim and go "hyper local" and phase out the national and international news. Example, just the other night, Dan Yorke chided the Journal for one instance of their lack of local coverage:

#ricanchorman pull miracle comeback down 11 w/3 to play hour away in league semi all they get in @projo is a box score

And I'm still at a loss for why the Journal would be emphasizing their print version over the digital so much. Look at it this way, if you had two ways of delivering your product, and one has the cost of huge reams of paper, barrels of ink, huge multi-million dollar machinery and a large distribution network of trucks, vans and independent carriers, plus all the staff it takes to maintain that process or you could simply send out a stream of 1s and 0s out to the internet at very little additional cost, which one would any normal business emphasize? This is the exact argument the recording industry lost and one that Apple completely figured out early with its iTunes model. Digital is cheaper and the way to go. Instead, the Providence Journal is still figuratively pressing 45s on wax.

The other idea I've put out there before for the Journal to try is micropayments. I don't necessarily want to pay $416 a year for a paper that as I've described simply has many wire stories and not as many local stories as they used to. Maybe there are individual articles that they could market and get people interested in. So sell individual articles. Have people put up a certain amount of money and then pull from that credit as they read individual articles. Maybe it costs 15 cents to have access to an article for 24 hours. I don't know what the right price is, but maybe people would be more willing to participate in a model like that. I have offered the suggestion and others directly to the people making the decisions (as have other people) but I have no idea if it even got received or read. There's never any kind of response from Fountain Street.

I'll just have to assume they know what they're doing. What do I know, I'm just an internet blogger. Hey Justin, since it appears the better way to go, should we start up a print edition of Anchor Rising?

February 26, 2012

Providence Journal Lowers The Boom On Us Freeloaders Tuesday

Monique Chartier

... so the ProJo itself announced earlier today.

Starting on Tuesday, The Providence Journal will begin charging some subscribers for access to the newspaper’s digital editions.

I came across the announcement just now while browsing Rhode Island news. But readers of "On Politics" with Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay would have learned about it three full days ago as MacKay had obtained and shared the contents of

a memo sent to ProJo employees from Deb Tomlinson, the newspaper’s vice president for audience, business development and digital

which included a description of the various pay options that the ProJo will offer.

... the Journal will begin charging for “new subscription packages’’ that include a choice of print-only, a hybrid of print and digital, or digital only subscriptions. And customers will have options for either a seven day and weekend subscription or a Thursday-Sunday package or Sunday only home delivery.

What Exactly Do You Propose To Do About It?

Monique Chartier


It took a moment to grasp the misanthropic message of this bumper sticker, spotted in Cranston recently. When it fully registered, I was shocked. (Yes, that's a stork off on the right, carrying a "bundle".)

Give 'Em What They Want

Patrick Laverty

Former Central Falls Mayor Thomas Lazieh has asked State Receiver Robert Flanders to leave his post in the city. State lawmakers have submitted a bill that will attempt to limit what a receiver can actually do.

City Council member Patrick J. Szlashta thanked citizens and elected officials for turning out Friday for a discussion of the city’s receivership and bankruptcy, then summed up why the council, which no longer has any power, was meeting:
“We’re trying to give the city back to you.”
About 40 people, some of them former city employees, such as former Police Chief Joseph Moran, filled the council chamber, lined the walls and stood in the back to support each other in calling on Governor Chafee to investigate receiver Robert G. Flanders and his chief of staff, Gayle Corrigan.
All the powers that be in the city, are now really pushing to have Flanders leave and let them self-govern yet again. Even state legislators are getting in on the act and doing what they can.
Sen. Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls, said she would be willing to camp out at the door of the governor’s office if it would help the people of Central Falls get their city back.
This is all an interesting turn of events, especially since:
In 2010, the city's mayor, Charles Moreau, requested the state appoint a receiver to assist with returning the municipality to financial viability
Let me see if I have this straight. The city was mismanaged for years. The city already doesn't pay for it's own school department, the taxpayers of the other 38 cities and towns assist in paying for that. The city, through its mayor, asked for the state to take over, but now they don't like the decisions being made and want the city back and run it themselves. Is that about it?

Great. Give it to them. Let them have their city and let them run it. Give them their school department back, give them an amount of school funding that any other town would get with their demographics. Give them the same amount of state aid as any other town with their population and let them go. Let them continue on making the same decisions as they have in the past and electing the same people. But if they run the city into the ground again, let 'em go. Let people like Moreau, Crowley, Silva and McLaughlin sort it all out.

Crowley said she has heard other state senators say they’re “not going to give Central Falls another penny,”

February 25, 2012

“It’s an abuse of power”

Patrick Laverty

“It’s an abuse of power,” said Frank Flynn, President of the RI Federation of Teachers (RIFT?).

He's referring to a situation in Woonsocket where the school committee gave notice to all school department employees that they could be laid off this year, similar to what Providence did last year.

Now, I agree that it is silly to do this to 100% of your workforce. We all know that Woonsocket will have schools next year and they will need teachers, so why all of them? There is a minimum they will need, so why not only notify the remainder?

That being said, I find the Flynn's comment pretty funny. Why is it that when the unions exercise their rights to the full extent of the law, they're just "playing by the rules" but when the school committee does the same, "it's an abuse of power"?

What makes this even more egregious is Flynn and others, like Deborah Gist don't like the March 1 deadline for these notices. They complain about how it hurts the morale of the teachers and causes so much stress right in the middle of the school year. However, it was the teachers' unions who requested this date so the affected teachers could have plenty of time to figure out how to go forward and start looking for a new job.

And, it could have been prevented.

Projo writer Jennifer Jordan also explains:

Last year, teachers’ unions lobbied for the General Assembly to pass binding arbitration for teachers, saying if they gained that power, the notification deadline could be moved back. The Senate passed the measure, but it failed in the House and the deadline remained March 1

The part that gets me is "could be moved back". What? Does the General Assembly need the unions' approval to pass a law? Jordan implies that this stress that the Woonsocket teachers are now feeling could have been resolved, but their own union heads prevented that from happening? Teachers, were you aware of this? Are the teachers' union lobbyists always working for the best interests of their members at the State House? In this instance, it sounds like that answer is "no".

You Don't Like Your Politicians Much, Do You?

Patrick Laverty

Wow, more than a few of our elected leaders can't be too thrilled with the results of a recent Brown University poll.

For starters, just when you thought that David Cicilline's numbers couldn't get much worse than the 17% approval rating that he put up last year, he did get worse in this, an election year. He's now polling at 14.8%. Herculean feats like that are unheard of. Dan McGowan suggests that it might be the worst approval rating ever for a RI politician. Even Ed DiPrete had an 18% rating. Imagine that.

So hey, how was your rush hour commute around Providence and Warwick Thursday night? Hope you didn't have dinner reservations anywhere as I-95 northbound was closed from Warwick to Providence so the Vice President could attend a fundraiser for Sheldon Whitehouse. I can't even imagine the anger that stewed in some of those cars that were lined up for miles, so it shouldn't really be any surprise that Whitehouse only received a 29.6% approval rating for the job he's doing in the Senate. When you co-sponsor things like SOPA and fly in the Vice President at rush hour and things don't seem to be getting much better in "Road" Island, that's about the rating you get. On the bright side Senator, you almost doubled Cicilline's score.

Our Governor can't be feeling too comfortable either. He was elected with a 36.1% plurality, yet since then, the numbers have been dropping. He's moved from 32.1% shortly after the election, to 27.4% back in December and sits at 22.1% today. I can't quite understand why people in the state would be unhappy with Chafee. A year ago, he presented a budget that called for taxing many more things in the state and then this year, he wants to raise taxes on one of the things that Rhode Island seems to have going for it, its restaurants. Luckily for Chafee, it's not an election year.

When people in the State Assembly see numbers like 62.9% believe RI is "on the wrong track" and 95.5% responded that RI's economy is either "not so good" or "poor" and only 3.3% rated it as "good", isn't that really a time when you can push for some radical change? Isn't that the time when you really start looking at the way things have been done for decades and then decide, "let's start doing the opposite now?" One great start would be to enact the "Right to Work" legislation that is up at the State House this year.

Another part that I wanted to take a look at after hearing Matt Allen talk about it the other night on the radio was where responders were asked if they were in favor of certain tax increases and what they thought about the Governor's suggestions for cutting some state run programs. Of course, very few ever want to have their taxes raised. But when you look at the questions, I can clearly see how people are answering those. You have the people who will say no to any increase in taxes, but there are of course some people who said yes to these increases. Clearly, those are people who would be unaffected by the increase, or at least that's their belief. 34.4% support tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Hey, I don't use that bridge at all, so why not. 71.1% support a four cent increase on the cigarette tax, already the highest in the nation, but that number is probably pretty close to the percentage of non-smokers. 38.6% support an increase in the hotel tax. How many Rhode Islanders stay in a Rhode Island hotel? Sure, tax those tourists...if we still get any. 18.1% support the increased restaurant tax. Ok, now this is one that hits more Rhode Islanders in the wallet. Thus, the lowest number. It's ok to tax everyone else, just don't tax me is what I see in these results.

But back to Matt Allen's points. 48.2% oppose vs. 33.6% support cuts to UHC and NHP health insurance plans. Don't hurt my medical coverage! 42.8% oppose taking away free dental coverage for adults. I honestly didn't even know that was an option in this state. And all this time, I've been paying for my dental insurance. 44.7% oppose cutting funding to RI PBS. We need our Big Bird and Elmo, even though anyone with cable can still get WGBH in Boston. 64.2% opposed cuts for child care support. It is interesting to see numbers like this and hear people saying that they want services that they don't want to pay for.

I think the big takeaway from this study should be that Cicilline and Whitehouse should be a little nervous in their re-election bid and it should be advertising fodder for Brendan Doherty and Barry Hinckley in their campaigns against the incumbents. Also, with the numbers further trending downward, this should serve as a notice to the leaders on Smith Hill to try something different, to try a different direction than they've gone for the last 40-50 years. Maybe they shock the state back to the right direction.

In the meantime, Waterfire season will be coming soon. At least that's a great thing about Rhode Island, right?

February 24, 2012

The State of Local Taxation in Rhode Island, Measure II

Carroll Andrew Morse

How do amounts paid by municipal residents, in the form of local taxes, relate to how much their local governments have to spend?

Here is the answer for Rhode Island's cities and towns with the local tax levies measured in terms of percentage of income above a community's aggreggate poverty threshold...


The State of Local Taxation in Rhode Island, Measure I

Carroll Andrew Morse

How do amounts paid by municipal residents, in the form of local taxes, relate to how much their local governments have to spend?

Here is the answer for 38 Rhode Island cities and towns (New Shoreham is way off in the direction of the upper right-hand corner) with the local tax levy measured as a straight percentage of community aggregate income...


Revenue per Resident in Rhode Island Municipalities

Carroll Andrew Morse

While the percentage measures used in the previous posts provide initial insights into the question of willingness and ability to pay with regards to local taxation, the total picture requires looking at an absolute measure of what each RI city and town has available to spend, since the cost structure for local services is not a linear function of local income. For example the fact that per-capita income in North Providence is 80% of what it is in Foster does not mean that North Providence can provide the same services for 80% of what they cost in Foster.

Revenue from five sources for fiscal year 2011 (with the exception of the fire levies, noted below) is included in this table:

  1. The real property levy from all sources; residential, commercial and industrial.
  2. State non-education aid, which includes PILOT payments and the state car-tax reimbursement.
  3. Fire-district levies from all sources (using the 2010 data).
  4. Local car-tax levies.
  5. State education aid.
Local levy figures (including the fire district figures) are from the annual statements compiled by the Division of Municipal Finance. State aid figures are taken Rhode Island's publicly available state budget documents.

The amounts in each of the five categories for each city/town are below the fold, in Table 4.

Results are ranked using the sum of the five revenue sources per-capita...

Community Revenue From All
Considered Sources
Population Estimated Revenue
per Resident
New Shoreham $8,569,119 1,051 $8,153
East Greenwich $48,431,608 13,146 $3,684
Jamestown $18,984,613 5,405 $3,512
Barrington $56,539,329 16,310 $3,467
West Greenwich $19,504,001 6,135 $3,179
Charlestown $24,593,699 7,827 $3,142
Westerly $71,429,766 22,787 $3,135
Middletown $49,407,769 16,150 $3,059
Foster $13,860,749 4,606 $3,009
Newport $73,014,485 24,672 $2,959
Portsmouth $51,175,543 17,389 $2,943
Hopkinton $23,912,807 8,188 $2,920
Little Compton $10,196,191 3,492 $2,920
Narragansett $45,773,136 15,868 $2,885
North Kingstown $75,786,657 26,486 $2,861
Warwick $234,713,634 82,672 $2,839
Glocester $27,639,056 9,746 $2,836
Smithfield $60,184,769 21,430 $2,808
Central Falls $53,669,511 19,376 $2,770
Richmond $21,284,730 7,708 $2,761
Providence $488,555,304 178,042 $2,744
Lincoln $57,568,015 21,105 $2,728
Scituate $27,473,139 10,329 $2,660
Burrillville $41,749,102 15,955 $2,617
Exeter $16,680,553 6,425 $2,596
Cranston $207,593,421 80,387 $2,582
Warren $27,196,787 10,611 $2,563
Tiverton $39,471,890 15,780 $2,501
Coventry $85,874,992 35,014 $2,453
North Smithfield $29,330,391 11,967 $2,451
South Kingstown $74,173,165 30,639 $2,421
North Providence $75,579,151 32,078 $2,356
East Providence $108,554,357 47,037 $2,308
Woonsocket $93,586,294 41,186 $2,272
West Warwick $65,936,808 29,191 $2,259
Cumberland $73,274,936 33,506 $2,187
Johnston $62,572,597 28,769 $2,175
Pawtucket $154,046,441 71,148 $2,165
Bristol $48,178,255 22,954 $2,099

Now, to put this all together...

Table 4:

Community Real Property Levy
State Aid
Fire Levy
Car Tax
Education Aid
Estimated Total
Barrington $49,117,548 $617,332 $0 $5,421,597 $1,382,853 $56,539,329
Bristol $33,043,738 $803,895 $0 $2,114,743 $12,215,879 $48,178,255
Burrillville $21,626,663 $1,114,166 $2,423,428 $4,214,812 $12,370,033 $41,749,102
Central Falls $10,435,467 $543,833 $0 $1,692,957 $40,997,254 $53,669,511
Charlestown $20,533,877 $87,662 $1,384,058 $875,848 $1,712,254 $24,593,699
Coventry $55,179,009 $423,961 $8,386,987 $4,996,092 $16,888,942 $85,874,992
Cranston $152,545,092 $5,756,330 $0 $19,779,811 $29,512,187 $207,593,421
Cumberland $49,941,956 $459,077 $6,756,292 $5,094,064 $11,023,547 $73,274,936
East Greenwich $40,998,655 $238,877 $4,163,061 $2,005,805 $1,025,209 $48,431,608
East Providence $74,502,485 $2,104,628 $0 $8,836,962 $23,110,281 $108,554,357
Exeter $10,464,440 $115,122 $1,035,934 $1,873,562 $3,191,494 $16,680,553
Foster $9,826,016 $104,033 $0 $1,143,949 $2,786,751 $13,860,749
Glocester $18,154,502 $163,465 $1,205,723 $2,012,696 $6,102,670 $27,639,056
Hopkinton $15,894,338 $94,524 $1,127,619 $1,340,465 $5,455,860 $23,912,807
Jamestown $18,051,277 $113,053 $0 $501,120 $319,163 $18,984,613
Johnston $52,967,452 $478,858 $0 $204,162 $8,922,125 $62,572,597
Lincoln $42,266,817 $416,053 $4,678,636 $4,492,145 $5,714,364 $57,568,015
Little Compton $9,604,414 $50,250 $0 $297,583 $243,944 $10,196,191
Middletown $38,717,663 $212,660 $0 $1,536,033 $8,941,414 $49,407,769
Narragansett $42,789,815 $208,960 $245,888 $1,343,389 $1,185,084 $45,773,136
Newport $60,045,258 $1,065,913 $0 $1,724,590 $10,178,723 $73,014,485
New Shoreham $8,082,112 $372,680 $0 $86,946 $27,381 $8,569,119
North Kingstown $61,167,487 $480,628 $0 $4,304,727 $9,833,815 $75,786,657
North Providence $53,952,680 $1,471,619 $0 $8,870,833 $11,284,019 $75,579,151
North Smithfield $21,234,295 $235,431 $0 $3,840,809 $4,019,856 $29,330,391
Pawtucket $76,765,817 $3,762,330 $0 $13,855,082 $59,663,211 $154,046,441
Portsmouth $43,105,307 $209,400 $493,808 $1,881,879 $5,485,149 $51,175,543
Providence $256,120,965 $29,872,599 $0 $31,634,368 $170,927,371 $488,555,304
Richmond $14,083,585 $82,074 $459,388 $1,234,689 $5,424,994 $21,284,730
Scituate $23,036,054 $219,739 $0 $1,567,667 $2,649,679 $27,473,139
Smithfield $48,585,535 $965,642 $0 $6,167,390 $4,466,202 $60,184,769
South Kingstown $59,736,318 $502,392 $2,331,788 $3,177,280 $8,425,386 $74,173,165
Tiverton $32,309,942 $199,185 $799,554 $1,277,633 $4,885,575 $39,471,890
Warren $19,657,522 $133,935 $0 $1,758,267 $5,647,063 $27,196,787
Warwick $178,253,730 $2,771,536 $0 $22,656,024 $31,032,344 $234,713,634
Westerly $58,046,078 $365,386 $3,004,157 $4,891,573 $5,122,572 $71,429,766
West Greenwich $15,102,424 $220,947 $0 $1,133,188 $3,047,443 $19,504,001
West Warwick $42,358,092 $1,905,724 $0 $3,885,599 $17,787,393 $65,936,808
Woonsocket $41,634,604 $1,911,609 $0 $7,832,720 $42,207,361 $93,586,294

February 23, 2012

Hinckley Welcomes Our V.P. "Road" Scholar

Monique Chartier

Having presumably raked in a campaign haul for Rhode Island's junior senator (which will be especially welcome in view of the senator's latest approval numbers), Vice President Joe Biden has come and gone from Road Rhode Island.

A couple of hours before his arrival, however, senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley released this ... er, "public service" video.

Residential Taxation in Rhode Island Municipalities, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the previous post on local resident taxation in Rhode Island, there is a group of distressed communities (and Bristol?) at the bottom of the percentage-of-resident-income levied list. The clustering raises a question worth addressing of whether total income is the appropriate basis for measuring the taxation level in very poor communities.

The argument for adjusting the straight percentage is that there are certain fixed costs to human existence that are at least as important as paying your taxes and that taxation should be measured against what's left after basic necessities have been taken care of. The argument against is that an adequate adjustment has already built into a percentage metric, i.e. 5% of Central Falls' income would rank equally to 5% of New Shoreham's income on the straight-percentage list, even though it means much less money from Central Falls, and a further adjustment will open the divergence even wider.

I will calculate one version of a additional poverty adjustment, and present it along with the straight percentage measures going forward.

The Federal government annually calculates poverty thresholds based on family size. The Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2010 includes a 5-year-based estimate of the number of households by number of household members in each RI community. Combining these two data elements, the amount of aggregate income needed to reach the Federal poverty threshold in each community can be estimated. Subtract that figure from the total estimated income in a community, and the result is estimated income above the poverty threshold.

The aggregate poverty thresholds alongside total community income for each Rhode Island community are listed below the fold in Table 3.

Using income-above-poverty-threshold as the percentage denominator does noticeably change the rankings. Pawtucket and Woonsocket, in particular, move up from the bottom of the list, though West Warwick and Central Falls stay about where they were...

Community Estimated
Residential Taxes
Est. Community Income
Above Poverty Threshold
New Shoreham $7,548,403 $43,156,924 17.5%
Westerly $60,068,382 $572,176,124 10.5%
Charlestown $22,344,774 $228,566,907 9.8%
Jamestown $18,226,276 $201,536,359 9.0%
Narragansett $41,330,974 $483,824,656 8.5%
Hopkinton $17,371,823 $205,331,075 8.5%
Smithfield $44,556,739 $540,793,934 8.2%
North Providence $55,663,407 $677,191,804 8.2%
Tiverton $32,555,171 $396,244,079 8.2%
Glocester $20,367,277 $248,135,004 8.2%
Barrington $52,531,961 $648,026,956 8.1%
Cranston $140,031,603 $1,731,101,472 8.1%
Warren $18,903,276 $242,159,186 7.8%
Foster $10,126,928 $130,700,587 7.7%
Scituate $18,898,836 $255,536,328 7.4%
Coventry $59,892,348 $816,146,172 7.3%
Richmond $14,284,170 $196,708,025 7.3%
Warwick $142,107,199 $1,962,582,789 7.2%
South Kingstown $59,666,885 $824,990,949 7.2%
East Greenwich $40,943,187 $567,021,673 7.2%
Little Compton $9,690,006 $134,548,069 7.2%
Providence $187,919,289 $2,645,403,886 7.1%
Burrillville $25,001,269 $352,665,391 7.1%
Middletown $31,522,496 $446,713,652 7.1%
Pawtucket $74,151,943 $1,067,974,255 6.9%
Johnston $40,940,330 $590,829,955 6.9%
Woonsocket $38,789,267 $563,406,119 6.9%
Portsmouth $41,832,221 $619,570,326 6.8%
Newport $48,915,879 $727,564,232 6.7%
North Kingstown $57,562,579 $859,563,071 6.7%
North Smithfield $22,118,882 $333,768,892 6.6%
East Providence $64,344,891 $996,042,498 6.5%
West Greenwich $11,254,689 $175,003,296 6.4%
Exeter $12,546,640 $203,667,786 6.2%
Cumberland $55,052,263 $905,804,162 6.1%
Lincoln $37,704,656 $640,511,273 5.9%
West Warwick $33,739,187 $574,321,052 5.9%
Bristol $32,574,555 $577,082,755 5.6%
Central Falls $9,700,424 $174,284,570 5.6%

So now we have half of a story: how much do local governments collect from their own residents, measured in two different ways. Next we'll add the other half, and look at how much governments have to spend on their residents...


Community Estimated
Community Income
Community Aggregate
Poverty Threshold
Community Income
Above Poverty Threshold
Barrington $750,732,990 $102,706,034 $648,026,956
Bristol $711,183,782 $134,101,027 $577,082,755
Burrillville $451,319,085 $98,653,694 $352,665,391
Central Falls $290,465,616 $116,181,046 $174,284,570
Charlestown $280,245,735 $51,678,828 $228,566,907
Coventry $1,038,550,254 $222,404,082 $816,146,172
Cranston $2,230,900,024 $499,798,552 $1,731,101,472
Cumberland $1,121,847,892 $216,043,730 $905,804,162
East Greenwich $650,450,934 $83,429,261 $567,021,673
East Providence $1,310,121,561 $314,079,063 $996,042,498
Exeter $242,627,275 $38,959,489 $203,667,786
Foster $159,648,566 $28,947,979 $130,700,587
Glocester $310,049,498 $61,914,494 $248,135,004
Hopkinton $258,085,760 $52,754,685 $205,331,075
Jamestown $238,128,085 $36,591,726 $201,536,359
Johnston $778,402,833 $187,572,878 $590,829,955
Lincoln $777,803,670 $137,292,397 $640,511,273
Little Compton $158,047,920 $23,499,851 $134,548,069
Middletown $553,331,300 $106,617,648 $446,713,652
Narragansett $589,639,012 $105,814,356 $483,824,656
Newport $883,701,696 $156,137,464 $727,564,232
New Shoreham $50,670,812 $7,513,888 $43,156,924
North Kingstown $1,030,596,746 $171,033,675 $859,563,071
North Providence $896,195,164 $219,003,360 $677,191,804
North Smithfield $410,133,024 $76,364,132 $333,768,892
Pawtucket $1,534,520,064 $466,545,809 $1,067,974,255
Portsmouth $732,059,511 $112,489,185 $619,570,326
Providence $3,691,700,870 $1,046,296,984 $2,645,403,886
Richmond $244,582,548 $47,874,523 $196,708,025
Scituate $321,459,138 $65,922,810 $255,536,328
Smithfield $660,901,200 $120,107,266 $540,793,934
South Kingstown $990,620,148 $165,629,199 $824,990,949
Tiverton $501,504,180 $105,260,101 $396,244,079
Warren $313,342,830 $71,183,644 $242,159,186
Warwick $2,515,047,584 $552,464,795 $1,962,582,789
Westerly $723,623,972 $151,447,848 $572,176,124
West Greenwich $213,215,790 $38,212,494 $175,003,296
West Warwick $771,810,040 $197,488,988 $574,321,052
Woonsocket $833,687,012 $270,280,893 $563,406,119

Legalized Theft of Real Property: Rhode Island's Adverse Possession Law

Monique Chartier

Today's ProJo contained a description of the most alarming threat to the private ownership of real estate that I've seen since the Kelo vs New London ruling.

A [RI] Superior Court judge has ruled that some neighbors, not Our Redeemer Evangelical Luther-an Church, own a piece of land because they have had uncontested use of it for more than the 10 years required by a state law. ...

The plaintiffs filed suit under the adverse-possession statute in June 2008. In Rhode Island, adverse possession means that if someone can prove open, unchallenged use of land for at least 10 years, a judge can rule that they are the owners.

Of course, the law doesn't apply only to church property. So you can simply set up shop on a chunk of someone's land - say, the land of an elderly person who doesn't get around as much as he used to. And if he doesn't notice that you have done so, after ten years, you can simply file suit and take possession???

This is insanity. Why should such a right and power be given to a squatter?

Residential Taxation in Rhode Island Municipalities, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Everything up until now has basically been the prologue. Now on to the real thing.

Commercial property tax revenue is a relatively small portion of how RI municipalities generate their funds. The major part of the story involves residential tax revenue plus state aid.

An important quantity that needs to be taken into consideration, usually entirely neglected in Rhode Island taxation debates, is the degree that communities actually tax their own residents to pay for local services. Presently, the measures of "tax effort" that the state uses for various bureaucratic purposes (including calculation of the education aid "funding formula") seem to lump residential and commercial taxation together, meaning that a community can inflate its appearance of "tax effort" by raising taxes on commercial properties. There is a fairness issue here tied directly to an economic one -- if a community makes short-sighted decisions that run a bunch of businesses out of town because of high commercial tax rates that keep residential taxes low, is that community then entitled to demand that the state make up the difference in some kind of "funding formula"?

Data is available for painting a better picture of what is happening on the residential side. In terms of residential tax levies in each RI city and town, 3 components will be considered:

  1. "Residential" real property levies, provided by the RI Division of Municipal Finance for the year 2011, with the usual caveat that apartments and mixed-used properties which can officially be classified as commercial will all be treated as residential.
  2. Fire-district levies in communities where they occur, using the most recent data available from the Division of Municipal Finance from the year 2010 and that I will just move forward for the purposes of this particular analysis. I believe that fire levies are applied to both commercial and residential properties in the places where they are used, so the official figures will be pro-rated by the percentage of residential valuation.
  3. Car-tax levies, provided by the Division of Municipal Finance for the year 2011

(See Table 1, below the fold)

The U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey provides mean income data for all 39 Rhode Island cities and towns, based on a 5-year data span (and I can hear the skinflint pseudoconservatives shrieking: What? We spent money to pay for 39 estimates. We should consolidate everything, and then we'd only have to pay for 1 estimate).

(See Table 2, below the fold)

Based on those numbers, local taxation in Rhode Island can be calculated in terms of the income of local residents. There are some interesting variations in the results.

Community Estimated
Residential Taxes
Community Income
New Shoreham $7,548,403 $50,670,812 14.9%
Westerly $60,068,382 $723,623,972 8.3%
Charlestown $22,344,774 $280,245,735 8.0%
Jamestown $18,226,276 $238,128,085 7.7%
Narragansett $41,330,974 $589,639,012 7.0%
Barrington $52,531,961 $750,732,990 7.0%
Smithfield $44,556,739 $660,901,200 6.7%
Hopkinton $17,371,823 $258,085,760 6.7%
Glocester $20,367,277 $310,049,498 6.6%
Tiverton $32,555,171 $501,504,180 6.5%
Foster $10,126,928 $159,648,566 6.3%
East Greenwich $40,943,187 $650,450,934 6.3%
Cranston $140,031,603 $2,230,900,024 6.3%
North Providence $55,663,407 $896,195,164 6.2%
Little Compton $9,690,006 $158,047,920 6.1%
Warren $18,903,276 $313,342,830 6.0%
South Kingstown $59,666,885 $990,620,148 6.0%
Scituate $18,898,836 $321,459,138 5.9%
Richmond $14,284,170 $244,582,548 5.8%
Coventry $59,892,348 $1,038,550,254 5.8%
Portsmouth $41,832,221 $732,059,511 5.7%
Middletown $31,522,496 $553,331,300 5.7%
Warwick $142,107,199 $2,515,047,584 5.7%
North Kingstown $57,562,579 $1,030,596,746 5.6%
Burrillville $25,001,269 $451,319,085 5.5%
Newport $48,915,879 $883,701,696 5.5%
North Smithfield $22,118,882 $410,133,024 5.4%
West Greenwich $11,254,689 $213,215,790 5.3%
Johnston $40,940,330 $778,402,833 5.3%
Exeter $12,546,640 $242,627,275 5.2%
Providence $187,919,289 $3,691,700,870 5.1%
East Providence $64,344,891 $1,310,121,561 4.9%
Cumberland $55,052,263 $1,121,847,892 4.9%
Lincoln $37,704,656 $777,803,670 4.8%
Pawtucket $74,151,943 $1,534,520,064 4.8%
Woonsocket $38,789,267 $833,687,012 4.7%
Bristol $32,574,555 $711,183,782 4.6%
West Warwick $33,739,187 $771,810,040 4.4%
Central Falls $9,700,424 $290,465,616 3.3%

We're not done yet (hence the "part 1" in the title of this post), but I will make two immediate comments:

  1. A major factor that's missing that's really needed to complete this analysis for Rhode Island is the contribution made by summer residents. In effect, in communities that have a large number of summer homes, there is more property value than residents, which makes the final percentage appear higher than it should. A strong case can be made for backing that number out to calculate the percentage of year-round resident income that is collected in local taxes.
  2. We've got a couple of more posts to go, to contribute to a fuller understanding of the revenue side in each RI city and town...

Table 1:
Community 2011 Residential
Tax Levy
2010 Pro-Rated
Fire District Levy
2011 Car
Tax Levy
Residential Taxes
Barrington $47,110,364 $0 $5,421,597 $52,531,961
Bristol $30,459,812 $0 $2,114,743 $32,574,555
Burrillville $18,691,892 $2,094,565 $4,214,812 $25,001,269
Central Falls $8,007,467 $0 $1,692,957 $9,700,424
Charlestown $20,113,222 $1,355,704 $875,848 $22,344,774
Coventry $47,653,167 $7,243,089 $4,996,092 $59,892,348
Cranston $120,251,791 $0 $19,779,811 $140,031,603
Cumberland $44,005,066 $5,953,132 $5,094,064 $55,052,263
East Greenwich $35,348,088 $3,589,294 $2,005,805 $40,943,187
East Providence $55,507,929 $0 $8,836,962 $64,344,891
Exeter $9,711,665 $961,412 $1,873,562 $12,546,640
Foster $8,982,979 $0 $1,143,949 $10,126,928
Glocester $17,211,488 $1,143,093 $2,012,696 $20,367,277
Hopkinton $14,969,360 $1,061,997 $1,340,465 $17,371,823
Jamestown $17,725,156 $0 $501,120 $18,226,276
Johnston $40,736,167 $0 $204,162 $40,940,330
Lincoln $29,902,515 $3,309,995 $4,492,145 $37,704,656
Little Compton $9,392,423 $0 $297,583 $9,690,006
Middletown $29,986,463 $0 $1,536,033 $31,522,496
Narragansett $39,759,113 $228,472 $1,343,389 $41,330,974
Newport $47,191,289 $0 $1,724,590 $48,915,879
New Shoreham $7,461,456 $0 $86,946 $7,548,403
North Kingstown $53,257,852 $0 $4,304,727 $57,562,579
North Providence $46,792,573 $0 $8,870,833 $55,663,407
North Smithfield $18,278,073 $0 $3,840,809 $22,118,882
Pawtucket $60,296,861 $0 $13,855,082 $74,151,943
Portsmouth $39,497,860 $452,482 $1,881,879 $41,832,221
Providence $156,284,921 $0 $31,634,368 $187,919,289
Richmond $12,637,270 $412,211 $1,234,689 $14,284,170
Scituate $17,331,169 $0 $1,567,667 $18,898,836
Smithfield $38,389,349 $0 $6,167,390 $44,556,739
South Kingstown $54,367,391 $2,122,214 $3,177,280 $59,666,885
Tiverton $30,522,223 $755,314 $1,277,633 $32,555,171
Warren $17,145,009 $0 $1,758,267 $18,903,276
Warwick $119,451,175 $0 $22,656,024 $142,107,199
Westerly $52,461,672 $2,715,137 $4,891,573 $60,068,382
West Greenwich $10,121,502 $0 $1,133,188 $11,254,689
West Warwick $29,853,587 $0 $3,885,599 $33,739,187
Woonsocket $30,956,546 $0 $7,832,720 $38,789,267

Table 2:
Community 2010 Census Bureau
Per-Capita Income
Population Estimated
Community Income
Barrington $46,029 16,310 $750,732,990
Bristol $30,983 22,954 $711,183,782
Burrillville $28,287 15,955 $451,319,085
Central Falls $14,991 19,376 $290,465,616
Charlestown $35,805 7,827 $280,245,735
Coventry $29,661 35,014 $1,038,550,254
Cranston $27,752 80,387 $2,230,900,024
Cumberland $33,482 33,506 $1,121,847,892
East Greenwich $49,479 13,146 $650,450,934
East Providence $27,853 47,037 $1,310,121,561
Exeter $37,763 6,425 $242,627,275
Foster $34,661 4,606 $159,648,566
Glocester $31,813 9,746 $310,049,498
Hopkinton $31,520 8,188 $258,085,760
Jamestown $44,057 5,405 $238,128,085
Johnston $27,057 28,769 $778,402,833
Lincoln $36,854 21,105 $777,803,670
Little Compton $45,260 3,492 $158,047,920
Middletown $34,262 16,150 $553,331,300
Narragansett $37,159 15,868 $589,639,012
Newport $35,818 24,672 $883,701,696
New Shoreham $48,212 1,051 $50,670,812
North Kingstown $38,911 26,486 $1,030,596,746
North Providence $27,938 32,078 $896,195,164
North Smithfield $34,272 11,967 $410,133,024
Pawtucket $21,568 71,148 $1,534,520,064
Portsmouth $42,099 17,389 $732,059,511
Providence $20,735 178,042 $3,691,700,870
Richmond $31,731 7,708 $244,582,548
Scituate $31,122 10,329 $321,459,138
Smithfield $30,840 21,430 $660,901,200
South Kingstown $32,332 30,639 $990,620,148
Tiverton $31,781 15,780 $501,504,180
Warren $29,530 10,611 $313,342,830
Warwick $30,422 82,672 $2,515,047,584
Westerly $31,756 22,787 $723,623,972
West Greenwich $34,754 6,135 $213,215,790
West Warwick $26,440 29,191 $771,810,040
Woonsocket $20,242 41,186 $833,687,012

February 22, 2012

Inst. for Int. Sport: No, There Is No Doctor In The House

Monique Chartier

Whelp, wherever the money went, we learn this evening that it didn't go to doctors or medical care at the World Scholar-Athlete Games last summer (the ones held in Connecticut because URI had booted the I.I.S. owing to their tab).

... A spokeswoman for [I.I.S. Executive Director Daniel] Doyle, Beth Bailey, said Wednesday that a different doctor was on call for the world games — West Hartford psychiatrist Ken Robson. Robson was both a volunteer and the licensed physician available around the clock, she said.

Robson declined to be interviewed Wednesday but said in a statement read by an assistant, "I offered to be the doctor on call." When asked if he actually served as the doctor on call, Robson's assistant said the doctor had no further comment.

Dig, boys, dig.

Members of the State Police Financial Crimes and Computer Crimes Units executed a search warrant at the embattled Institute for International Sport Wednesday afternoon and were still removing records two hours later.

Commercial Property Levies by Rhode Island Municipality

Carroll Andrew Morse

The next local tax table is a little more concrete than the previous two and their somewhat amorphous bases of "valuation" per resident. The table presented here is a list of Rhode Island communities, ranked by the amount of commercial and industrial property tax levy per resident. Again, the amount of "commercial" revenue attributed to "apartments" and "combined" use properties, as reported to the state's Municipal Affairs Office, where most of the cost is passed on to residential renters, has been removed from the figures.

And again, there is scant evidence that the City of Providence is being forced to work with an unreasonably low amount of property tax revenue from commercial and industrial sources due to tax exempt property within city limits...

Community 2011 Com & Ind
Prop. Tax Levy
Population Com & Ind
Rev / Resident
West Greenwich $4,980,923 6,135 $812
Warwick $58,802,556 82,672 $711
New Shoreham $620,655 1,051 $591
Lincoln $12,364,301 21,105 $586
Providence $99,836,045 178,042 $561
Scituate $5,704,885 10,329 $552
Middletown $8,731,200 16,150 $541
Newport $12,853,970 24,672 $521
Smithfield $10,196,186 21,430 $476
East Greenwich $5,650,568 13,146 $430
West Warwick $12,504,505 29,191 $428
Johnston $12,231,284 28,769 $425
East Providence $18,994,556 47,037 $404
Cranston $32,293,301 80,387 $402
North Kingstown $7,909,636 26,486 $299
Woonsocket $10,678,058 41,186 $259
North Smithfield $2,956,222 11,967 $247
Westerly $5,584,407 22,787 $245
Warren $2,512,512 10,611 $237
Pawtucket $16,468,956 71,148 $231
North Providence $7,160,107 32,078 $223
Coventry $7,525,842 35,014 $215
Portsmouth $3,607,447 17,389 $207
Narragansett $3,030,702 15,868 $191
Richmond $1,446,315 7,708 $188
Burrillville $2,934,771 15,955 $184
Foster $843,037 4,606 $183
Cumberland $5,936,890 33,506 $177
South Kingstown $5,368,927 30,639 $175
Central Falls $2,428,000 19,376 $125
Barrington $2,007,183 16,310 $123
Exeter $752,776 6,425 $117
Tiverton $1,787,720 15,780 $113
Hopkinton $924,978 8,188 $113
Bristol $2,583,927 22,954 $113
Glocester $943,014 9,746 $97
Little Compton $211,991 3,492 $61
Jamestown $326,121 5,405 $60
Charlestown $420,655 7,827 $54

Combining the levy table with the valuation table raises a basic tax sanity question: Providence obviously achieves its high commercial levy ranking through the use of a high-tax rate, e.g. East Providence has more commercial and industrial property tax value within its city limits, but generates less tax revenue, because of a lower tax rate.

The forward-looking question is what the ultimate purpose of getting more money from the tax-exempts is. Ultimately, should Providence be looking to lower its extremely high commercial tax burden with new revenue from the tax-exempts, or is there really a long term advantage is being a community that has high commercial property-tax rates and that taxes non-profits like no one else does? Or are these two separate policy questions (and is money not fungible)?

Newport, interestingly, is one community on the other side of this dynamic. They are an outlier at the top of the list in terms of commercial property available for taxation, but they keep their commercial tax rates relatively low, but still generating a relatively large commercial levy. Is this a factor that should be counted for or against Newport, when they wants more state aid, or to be subsidized by Portsmouth and Middletown in some sort of "consolidation" scheme?

UPDATED: Port Developments

Marc Comtois

Last week I commented on the good news "that there is movement in the Legislature--specifically a commission headed up by Jamestown Rep. Deborah Ruggiero--to develop Quonset/Davisville as a short sea shipping port."

To accomplish this, dredging of the harbor would be necessary. According to the story from the ProJo, "The commission recommended that the state issue $7.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for the dredging." In reaction to this, I wrote:

So...we're going to have to go the bond route. Of course, we don't have to go that way. There's a remarkable vehicle that could be used to fund the dredging that wouldn't require the state taxpayers taking on more long term debt: It's called the State Budget. Of course, that may require re-prioritizing expenditures and the like. I guess we can't have that.
Rep. Ruggerio contacted me to clarify that the Governor's budget, specifically Article 7 (PDF), does indeed contain language regarding the bond and that she is submitting separate legislation only as a backup plan in case the article doesn't pass. So, contrary to what I wrote, the budget is the vehicle being used. Yet, regardless of the the method being used, the proposal is still to fund the work via a bond with the associated debt. Here is the pertinent section of Article 7:
Quonset Development Corporation Revenue Bonds

This article authorizes $7.5 million in debt for various capital projects including, but not limited to, harbor, pier, port, channel, dredging and other costs related to the Davisville Piers Improvements Project at the Quonset Business Park. Total debt service is not expected to exceed $911,200 annually and $9.1 million in the aggregate, based on an average interest rate of 4.0 percent and a 10-year maturity.

The bonds or loan agreements issued pursuant to this article will not constitute the indebtedness of the State, and required payments will be derived from Corporation revenues. The Corporation has identified several sources of revenue to contribute to this debt service, including increasing the tariff on dockage from $3.00 to $6.00 per foot ($243,750 annually), increasing the tariff on wharfage from $3.00 to $6.00 per vehicle ($160,000 annually), and contributing $507,456 annually from operating funds. The authorization for this debt applies to bonds issued within one year of the passage of the resolution.

My thanks to Rep. Ruggerio for clarifying the technical aspects, but I still remain critical of the method. In addition to the dredging, Article 7 contains $201 million in proposed bond referenda (including more Transportation bonds) and $278 million worth of "budgeted" debt authorizations (including the dredging).

Whether a bond is passed as part of the budget, via a referendum or in a separate piece of legislation, my original contention remains: Though I understand the philosophy of spreading debt out over X number of years, I'm critical of the bond avenue because I believe that we are asked to fund too many bonds to pay for items that should be paid for via appropriation from the general revenue, not as loans with interest. If the dredging was funded through a regular appropriation, the $7.5 million worth of work would cost $7.5 million, not $9.1 million. I also understand that we can't appropriate everything on the bond wishlist using today's funds, but that's where setting priorities comes in.

Setting aside my philosophical qualms, thanks again to Rep. Ruggerio for the clarification and, more importantly, for taking leadership on this item.

February 21, 2012

Cicilline Playing the Blame Game

Patrick Laverty

On 630wpro.com, David Cicilline tries the old "wasn't me" argument with regard to Providence's finances.

Cicilline told the WPRO Morning News with Tara Granahan and Andrew Gobeil that he did not put the “outrageous” cost of living increases for retirees in place
Ok, so he has a point there. He didn't sign a decree to make those happen, that's true. But if that is a benefit that was given to the retirees, it could be taken away. Maybe it couldn't be easily taken away from the people who were already retired, but in the eight years that Cicilline was in the mayor's office, why couldn't he negotiate a change to that benefit with future retirees? Why just the hands in the air and the "Not my fault!" As he was asked on Newsmakers a few weeks back, if Gina Raimondo could get a statewide pension reform bill passed in her first year, why couldn't Cicilline clean up Providence's finances over a span of eight years?
Cicilline highlighted his administration's success in making sustainable contributions to the pension system
Ha! "sustainable"? Seriously? When you raid the rainy day accounts to levels where it gets the city's bond ratings lowered, how in the world is that "sustainable"? If I need to spend my life's savings to buy food this month, I've balanced my budget for the time being, but is that sustainable? What happens next month? We know what was next for Cicilline. A promotion to Washington.
we developed a plan to make our contributions to the pension system and got near 100% for most of those years
My question here is that if his administration was paying "near" 100% for most of the years he was in office, then why is the system a mess? Paying near 100% should mean that he's bringing the fund back to solvency. He said that the prior administrations were paying closer to 60% of what they should have, so that 100% that he quotes should have included making up for the earlier shortfalls. So either he wasn't paying close to 100% of what he should have or the number that he was using for 100% was way off.

So now we have David Cicilline admitting that he knew the system was a mess. If that's true, then why, during the last election cycle, when John Loughlin was sounding the alarms about the fiscal mess that Providence was, why did David Cicilline tell us

Fortunately, the strong fiscal health that Providence has maintained under Mayor Cicilline’s leadership...
Which is it? Did the city maintain strong fiscal health or did he know it was a mess? We're getting conflicting stories from Cicilline now. He's been so outed even indirectly by his own friend in Mayor Taveras that he finally has to come clean. But rather than taking that one on the chin, he passes the buck back to his old political nemesis Buddy Cianci.

Cicilline proves once again that he just doesn't get it. Spinning stories to fit the current narrative doesn't make him look very good. If the city was struggling due to cuts from the Assembly or due to anything else at all, that's fine, just say it. If the city is financially a mess, he should just explain it and do what he has to do. That's exactly what Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras have done and look at how people view them. The difference between them and Cicilline is startling and obvious. In the end, people want the truth. Unfortunately, that wasn't offered by David Cicilline.

Commercial Property Assessments by Rhode Island Municipality, Plus PILOT Payments

Carroll Andrew Morse

Furthering the discussion from both Justin's post on Providence and Brown University, and my post from last week on commercial and industrial property values in Rhode Island municipalities, bear in mind that Providence is already receiving state support, nominally related to some of its tax-exempt properties. Providence receives on the order of $20 million per year in state funds through the PILOT program, described in the state budget as follows...

Legislation creating this program requires the State of Rhode Island to reimburse cities and towns for property taxes that would have been due on certain types of real property that are exempted from taxation by state law. This includes property owned by nonprofit educational institutions, nonprofit hospitals, or any state owned hospital, veteran’s facility, or correctional facility.
Cranston received about $4 million per year from this program in fiscal year 2011 and no other Rhode Island community received more than $1 million in FY2011.

Given the City of Providence's commercial tax rates, the $19 million dollar PILOT subsidy is equivalent to being able to tax about a half billion dollars worth of additional commercial property.

For every RI city and town, the additional commercial property assessment that would have been needed to generate their PILOT subsidies can be calculated...

Community FY2011 State
PILOT funds
2011 Local Com
Tax Rate
C&I Prop. Value
Covered by PILOT Funds
Providence $19,097,871 $36.75 $519,669,959
Cranston $4,239,850 $30.39 $139,514,643
Warwick $957,595 $26.53 $36,094,798
Newport $833,229 $13.76 $60,554,433
Bristol $580,241 $12.43 $46,680,692
North Providence $456,364 $30.85 $14,792,998
Smithfield $429,064 $15.85 $27,070,284
Pawtucket $377,406 $24.54 $15,379,218
Woonsocket $134,688 $36.14 $3,726,840
South Kingstown $124,230 $14.51 $8,561,682
Westerly $110,040 $9.74 $11,297,741
East Providence $91,188 $22.25 $4,098,337
Burrillville $66,573 $16.15 $4,122,167
Barrington $48,984 $17.95 $2,728,914
Central Falls $19,158 $33.23 $576,562
East Greenwich $7,599 $17.49 $434,477
North Kingstown $5,803 $17.26 $336,211
Foster $417 $17.58 $23,720
Cumberland $109 $15.34 $7,106

...and added to the actual commercial/industrial tax base, to yield an "effective" commercial/industrial tax base for each community.

With PILOT funds taken into consideration, Providence rises to near the top of the list of Rhode Island's urban areas, roughly tying East Providence, when ranked in terms of an effective tax base on a per-resident basis. (And note that using local commercial tax rates skews the results to Providence's advantage, since an equivalent subsidy will translate to less taxable value in a high-tax community compared to a lower-tax one)...

Community2011 Com&Ind
Assessed Prop. Value
C&I Prop. Value Covered
by PILOT Funds
Effective Com&Ind
Prop Value
PopulationEffective C&I
New Shoreham $130,939,920 $0 $130,939,920 1,051 $124,586
Newport $934,154,749 $60,554,433 $994,709,182 24,672 $40,317
West Greenwich $212,634,500 $0 $212,634,500 6,135 $34,659
Smithfield $643,292,510 $27,070,284 $670,362,794 21,430 $31,282
Middletown $478,133,706 $0 $478,133,706 16,150 $29,606
Warwick $2,216,473,370 $36,094,798 $2,252,568,168 82,672 $27,247
Westerly $573,347,700 $11,297,741 $584,645,441 22,787 $25,657
East Greenwich $323,074,200 $434,477 $323,508,677 13,146 $24,609
Lincoln $499,566,954 $0 $499,566,954 21,105 $23,671
East Providence $853,687,753 $4,098,337 $857,786,090 47,037 $18,236
Providence $2,718,570,863 $519,669,959 $3,238,240,822 178,042 $18,188
North Kingstown $458,263,940 $336,211 $458,600,151 26,486 $17,315
Johnston $494,193,192 $0 $494,193,192 28,769 $17,178
Cranston $1,062,342,644 $139,514,643 $1,201,857,287 80,387 $14,951
Portsmouth $259,361,400 $0 $259,361,400 17,389 $14,915
Narragansett $225,330,972 $0 $225,330,972 15,868 $14,200
North Smithfield $167,491,298 $0 $167,491,298 11,967 $13,996
Warren $146,246,352 $0 $146,246,352 10,611 $13,783
Scituate $141,574,476 $0 $141,574,476 10,329 $13,707
South Kingstown $369,939,495 $8,561,682 $378,501,177 30,639 $12,354
Burrillville $181,718,900 $4,122,167 $185,841,067 15,955 $11,648
Cumberland $387,020,200 $7,106 $387,027,306 33,506 $11,551
Little Compton $39,773,100 $0 $39,773,100 3,492 $11,390
Bristol $207,878,241 $46,680,692 $254,558,933 22,954 $11,090
Foster $47,954,300 $23,720 $47,978,020 4,606 $10,416
West Warwick $298,922,040 $0 $298,922,040 29,191 $10,240
Richmond $78,348,600 $0 $78,348,600 7,708 $10,165
Coventry $345,856,734 $0 $345,856,734 35,014 $9,878
Pawtucket $671,106,617 $15,379,218 $686,485,835 71,148 $9,649
Exeter $56,010,100 $0 $56,010,100 6,425 $8,718
North Providence $232,094,220 $14,792,998 $246,887,218 32,078 $7,696
Woonsocket $295,463,687 $3,726,840 $299,190,527 41,186 $7,264
Tiverton $113,794,995 $0 $113,794,995 15,780 $7,211
Barrington $111,820,800 $2,728,914 $114,549,714 16,310 $7,023
Jamestown $35,409,500 $0 $35,409,500 5,405 $6,551
Charlestown $46,429,900 $0 $46,429,900 7,827 $5,932
Hopkinton $47,827,200 $0 $47,827,200 8,188 $5,841
Glocester $38,302,758 $0 $38,302,758 9,746 $3,930
Central Falls $73,070,759 $576,562 $73,647,321 19,376 $3,801

The list once again unavoidably brings us to the question that the urban chauvinists refuse to consider: Is there any real justification for demanding that significantly more non-residential "value", for taxation or for other in purposes, be available to Providence than to other densely populated Rhode Island communities like Pawtucket, Cranston or North Providence?

Indeed, if you forgo the assumption that the most populous place is a region must automatically become the place where everybody wants to go for everything, and then compare Providence to its surrounding communities, Providence seems to have done very well for a non-tourist urban area in terms of the amount of commercial property within the reach of its tax assessor. Certainly, in terms of commercial and industrial tax revenue collected, there are only a few places in Rhode Island doing better, at least in the short term. That will be the subject of the next chart...

The Audience for Self-Empowerment

Justin Katz

I know Michael Morse to be an insightful observer and often inspiring writer, and his recent op-ed in the Providence Journal was no exception... although it's inspiring in a way that isn't entirely expected based on past exchanges, particularly in the comments 'round here:

People who say they are lucky to have a job have either been brainwashed and beaten down by the present state of the economy, and manipulated by the near mythical "job creators" into actually believing that their job, their means of survival, their contribution to society and the very essence of self-worth, is a product of luck. Their uncertainty about the future and their ability to find work fuels the machinations that lead to a culture's decay. A population beholden to people who control the nation’s wealth, energy and commerce is doomed. ...

Luck does not exist. Luck is a myth. Work is real, and good work a valuable commodity. This economy is not going to right itself. If we, the people who power it, are not healthy, productive and confident in our abilities and worth, mediocrity will rule. We will be a country full of mediocre people doing mediocre things for mediocre wages, as the world that generations of hardworking, productive people have built crumbles into a pile of mediocre things that nobody wants.

The contrasting sentiment that I've heard Michael express in the past is that it is also a myth to believe that hard work and ingenuity can help one fulfill the American Dream of relative wealth. To be sure, the two statements are not wholly incompatible: One can encourage a brought confidence that "my job is lucky to have me," as this piece does, while still believing that no explanation exists for real success beyond luck. But the above quotation insists that luck does not exist.

My suspicion is that Michael is not so much taking the Occupy-style class warfare to the extreme of believing that every wealthy person has achieved that state through evil means as simply constraining his audience to exclude those "near mythical 'job creators.'" In other words, once all that hared work and productivity have paid off, once mediocrity has been sloughed off and the spark of achievement fanned to flame, one crosses into the realm of Them, who are, indeed, lucky to have their jobs.

February 20, 2012

Nine Years Ago Tonight

Patrick Laverty

Today marks nine years since The Station fire happened in West Warwick where 100 people died and many others are permanently injured both physically and mentally. With a state the size of Rhode Island, it seems that everyone knows someone that was directly affected by this tragedy. Even if you didn't know anyone affected, try to keep these people in your thoughts, so we can make sure events like this do not happen again.

Over the next year, filmmaker David Bettencourt will be putting together a documentary about The Station fire and plans to release it next year, on the 10th anniversary of the fire.

As painful as the annual articles about the fire are and what the movie might do to stir up emotions from those affected, it will be good to have the event and its toll preserved for future generations to learn from.

Happy Presidents Day

Marc Comtois

I had thought about pointing to a few articles on presidential rankings made by historians or political scientists. But, really, we know they're biased (heck, they ranked President Obama #15 overall after 18 months in office!), so I'll just leave you with this link to a Wikipedia article on the subject that also includes a handy and sortable aggregate ranking table.

Rankings don't mean agreement with ideology or politics, just recognition of their effectiveness at what they wanted to do combined with how well they governed. For my money, I still put ol' GW as #1. Thanks to him, the whole idea that the President isn't a king took hold (though FDR would have kept going if he hadn't died, methinks). I have a soft spot for John Adams, but, frankly he wasn't a good President even if he was a helluva character. Lincoln, for me, is a close #2--he guided our nation through it's toughest times. After that, we get into tiers--Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR; Madison, Jackson, Truman; Reagan, Wilson, Polk--etc. Obama isn't in the top half in my book--I'd put Clinton ahead of him for instance--but I still think he's ahead of Carter!

Who's your favorite?

February 19, 2012

Donnis Tells the World About Brown & Providence

Justin Katz

An Ian Donnis story has been picked up by the nationally broadcast NPR programmers. The battle of the struggling city, with its socially mobile mayor, and the liberal Ivy League school is, not surprisingly, of broader interest than just to those within Donnis's usual broadcasting range.

Viewed from the other side of the political street than both the administration and the university tread, it's a fascinating dispute. Mayor Angel Tavares leveraged Ivy to climb from lower to upper class, and there's surely not a scary free-marketeer (or at least an admitted free-marketeer) among the decision makers at Brown.

Explaining the Cuts to Services for Developmentally Disabled

Marc Comtois

Bob Kerr writes about cuts to programs for developmentally disabled people in Sunday's ProJo. My wife worked for some years with adults in this population and I'm aware of the importance of the programs that these individuals and their families rely upon. I also appreciate that they are going to go to great lengths to restore or save these programs. Kerr provides a few examples of the cuts that have been enacted and he quotes the father of one client, Brian Newton:

“I don’t think anyone expected the severity of the cuts,” says Newton, who attended the rally and has been a strong and consistent voice for the disabled. “Since 2003, there has been no budget increase. And in 2008, they started with the cuts. There has been 38 percent in cuts overall.”
Well, that piqued my interest. I had a hard time believing there had been no budget increase since 2003. After a review of the "Services for Developmentally Disabled" included in state budgets since 2003, it's readily apparent that, in fact, there have been several budget increases for those programs since that time.

In fact, what has happened is that the programs were funded at around $213 million in 2003 and they were funded at about the same level in 2012 (actually, about a 1% increase). But in between, the funding rose and fell, with the fall coming after the recession hit full force in 2008. That's not "level funded", per se. It is true that since 2008 funding has decreased, but by around 19%, not 38%. (However, Newton may be talking about a specific program and not the overall budget).

Digging deeper, personnel costs hung around in the $40-45 million range until 2008, when the recession hit, and have decreased ever since (though Governor Chafee's 2013 budget proposes an increase).

The total number of positions funded (FTE's) hung around 612 from 2003 to 2007, when there was a cut of 35 positions, then another 20 were cut in 2008. However, 2009 saw yet another cut of around 90 positions and, since then, there have been around 445-460 positions funded. And while the number of positions declined, the cost/position (salary + benefits) trended upward.

There is a distinct demarcation line in 2009. In that year, when the number of jobs were cut the most, the cost/FTE was at it's largest ($90,500); perhaps some legacy overhead costs? Since then, while the number of funded FTE's has remained relatively stable, the cost/FTE has slowly declined (though Governor Chafee's budget results in a slight increase). Yet, overall, while the cost/FTE was $67,700 in 2003 it was $75,000 in 2012. That includes roughly a 29% increase in the cost of benefits (particularly health care and pensions) since 2003.

Taking out personnel costs, we see that $170.8 million was spent in 2003 while $180.3 million is budgeted in 2013 (a 5.5% increase). However, the high mark was $213.8 million in 2008, which means, since then, funding for non-personnel related expenditures has dropped nearly 16%.

As the above charts show, costs have basically returned to 2003 levels after rising and then falling. As Kerr's article points out, people feel that services are being cut and it is particularly manifested in the loss of personnel. Even at the return to 2003 funding levels, the number of personnel--boots on the ground--has declined from 613 people to 443 today and, overall, personnel costs have declined from $41.5 million to $33.8 million. Yet, they cost more to employ (about $6,300 $7,300 more) per person. So there are fewer people providing services, which has resulted in a lower level of service than people have come to expect. Hiring 170 people to return to 2003 personnel levels at an average of $75,000 (salary + benefits) would cost an additional $12.75 million. That isn't going to happen right now.

What is the solution? I honestly don't know. Tax increases, if what we're told is true, are a non-starter in the General Assembly. Perhaps a consolidation of services between the various local entities could help with the overhead. Or maybe advocates should help the General Assembly see that a re-prioritization of what we're spending money on is needed. They could also find other areas of the budget to cut or think of ways to save more money in their own budget.

February 18, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

A couple things about this story where the Institute for International Sport can't account for a few hundred thousand dollars that it got from the state in the form of a legislative grant. When Kathy Gregg is calling, chances are that it isn't going to end well for you. Second, if this money was given to them in 2007 for the purpose of erecting a building, why did it take until 2012 for the issues to be discovered? Who was checking on the status of the deal since then? Is the state only paying attention now because of the current fiscal crisis? The Assembly needs to be equally protective of taxpayer money regardless of the financial times.

One of the issues in Providence is that so far, the city hasn't been able to match all the savings and income with what was budgeted. Why was the city allowed to pass a budget on such intangible things like moving the retirees over to Medicare and banking on $7M in additional income from the tax-exempts? This sounds like a little bit of irresponsibility on the side of the budget makers.

I wish Tim Wakefield a happy retirement. He seems like a nice enough guy, but how would I know? Why is it that when professional athletes or celebrities are maligned in the press, we hear, "You don't know the real me" but then when they're praised, the subject of the praise accepts it all?

Why do some people keep claiming that the government can simply force insurance companies to not charge people for birth control? Let's look at this another way. What if the government also decided that it's in the country's best interests to have people eat oranges. So Congress decreed that every American should get one free orange per week. No, Congress isn't going to pay for them, the grocery stores must make them free to their shoppers. Do you really think the grocery store would simply absorb that cost or would they increase the price of everything else to cover the cost of the free oranges?

On to the topic of people like Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney and John Kerry paying very low income tax rates. The reason for this is because these people mainly derive their income from investments. The capital gains tax rate is 15%. So if all of your income is from capital gains, you pay a 15% tax rate, minus other offsets. Is this a bad thing? They're investing in companies and taking risk. Plus, how did they get the money to invest in the first place? Quite often, they did that through regular work, and they invested their income that was already taxed at the top tax income tax rates. So basically, these people earned their money, paid taxes on it, then invested in businesses, reaped the rewards and were taxed a second time on that. Now, many are suggesting that we should tax them at an even higher rate on that second set of taxes? Is that what Sheldon Whitehouse wants to do with his so-called "Buffett Rule"?

Why is it that a few years ago when Bush was in office and gas prices spiked, it was the "Texas Oil Man" and his friends in Texas controlling the market and personally benefitting from it. The day he left office, the price was $1.79. Today, gas prices are around $3.60. Does the person occupying the Oval Office still have much to do with the price of gas or were those Bush detractors actually full of hot air?

This week in the Providence Journal was a story where the former mayor of Central Falls, Thomas Lazieh asked the state's receiver, Robert Flanders to leave. If I'm not mistaken, current Mayor Charles Moreau asked the state to appoint a receiver. I guess it is true that you should be careful of what you ask for.

Also in the Journal was a story that the local hospitals aren't interested in the I-195 land that is now available for sale. I guess this shouldn't be too surprising, as the mayor of Providence has been rattling his saber about getting more property tax or PILOT money out of the hospitals. At this point, they have no idea how that's going to turn out, so if they do have money in reserve, it would make sense to sit on it and see how it turns out. Plus, as mentioned by Buddy Cianci this week, if they were to make a multi-million dollar offer for that land, it's much harder to go back to Providence and claim to not have money for property taxes.

This week, Jack Reed supported a bill that would extend the payroll tax cut but also reduced the amount of time that RI's unemployed can receive benefits by 16 weeks. Why is it that if a Republican supports something like that, they are destroying the working man, but if Jack Reed supports it, not a word is spoken?

Providence is now requiring all of its property owners that receive the homestead exemption to prove that their vehicle(s) are registered in Providence. This makes sense as some around the state have noticed the high incidence of Florida and dealer license plates. Does it really make sense to see so many Florida plates in RI in the middle of winter? Even if they are snowbirds, shouldn't they be in Florida now?

It looks like Providence College student and Maine resident Christine Rousselle might have been on to something with her article about the welfare abuses she witnessed while working at Walmart. New efforts in Maine have cracked down on these abuses and other overpayments of about two million dollars.

Earlier in the week, I wrote about a bill that would essentially put an end to the need for political parties and brought back up the idea that voters could basically sabotage a primary. This week, Ted Nesi suspected that David Segal may have paid pollsters to check his viability for a second run for Congress. If Representative Brien's bill were made law, I could see this as a primary that maybe Republicans would be interested in. It seems that there will be no primary opponent for Republican Brendan Doherty, so why not jump over to the Democratic primary if the choice was between Cicilline and Segal. As damaged and poor a candidate that Cicilline is, for some reason voters still like him. Segal is more of an unknown and he's very much on the liberal side of most issues. When voters are presented with a very young and very liberal option in Segal against a widely respected candidate like Brendan Doherty, the result could end in the Republican's favor. As for Brien's bill, I'll say it again, be careful of what you wish for Dems.

One nice part about finishing my weekly thoughts is that now I can go read the similar article on Nesi's Notes. I usually try to abstain from reading his (who started doing this about the same time as I did) until I'm done, to avoid any heavy borrowing.

Once We’re Done With the One Aspirin Remark, Can We Return To The 1,000 Weeks of Racism and Anti-Americanism?

Monique Chartier

Let me affirm up front that Foster Friess’ chestnut observation was notably asinine and unfunny. No, I'm not pasting it here; click on the link to read the comment if you haven't yet heard it. Mr. Friess needs to stick to his day job and leave the humor to the professionals.

Having said that, in a side matter, upon reflection, I am indebted to Mr. Friess for making the comment, as it inspired Barney Frank to utter this gem.

no, it's an affirmation of the fact that intelligence is not uniform across the board. mr. friess is good at some things that made him very rich, but he also appears to have moronic tendencies.

Indeed, Congressman Dining Tabl … er, Frank, intelligence is not uniform across the board.

What’s interesting is how the media immediately tried to tack this comment to Rick Santorum. I don’t watch t.v. – someone give us an update: are they still doing so?

But in one way, this is good news. For if this is a worthy endeavor, the expose of the rantings of President Barack Obama’s preacher for twenty years – and a full examination of the implications about President Obama’s views on race and the United States – surely must be many times more worthwhile.

After all, the Friess comment was a single utterance of stupidity with no indication of concurrence by Santorum. Yet President Obama called Reverend Wright

his mentor, his moral compass, his sounding board on matters of politics

And with his presence in the pew week after week, President Obama appears to have affirmed twenty years of hatred and anger directed at the country and certain of the people that he now represents.

... or did he? I look forward to the media leading us on this exploration.

February 17, 2012

Chafee Proposes Funding Cuts to RI PBS

Patrick Laverty

Ok, I'm one of the first to admit that the Governor's proposed budget is worth even less than the paper it is written on and it's extremely possible that the Assembly treats this idea similar to the "broadening and lowering" of a year ago.

In Chafee's budget proposal, he suggests cutting the television channel's funding by just under half this year and then eliminating all state funding next year.

First, I'll suggest that it's not a good thing to cut funding for PBS. They do great things, from the obvious like Sesame Street and the old Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, or Julia Child or America's Test Kitchen. The local station has a great show in "A Lively Experiment." To me, this decision isn't a political football, it's more of a financial necessity. In case someone hasn't noticed, the RI economy isn't all that great. Funding is getting slashed in many different directions. What can be easily argued as more essential services are being cut. So if one of the victims in this situation needs to be Rhode Island's own PBS channel, so be it.

But what about the children, and Sesame Street? I just checked the Cox cable listings and with even the most basic cable package WGBH, Boston's PBS station, is included. So as long as the household has cable TV, PBS will still be available. But what if the house doesn't have cable? Well, here's an idea for you. Don't watch TV! I know, a heretical statement, but children can learn quite a bit without turning on the television. Reading books, trips to the library, and exploration are all great ways to learn.

What about "A Lively Experiment" and other local productions? Will those be lost? Yes, I assume it would and that would be unfortunate. However, with regard to A Lively Experiment, we have other similar shows available now like WPRI's Newsmakers, and WJAR and ABC6 sometimes have similar shows. Plus on RIPR, Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay have the Political Roundtable. So this kind of medium for discussing the issues would not be completely lost.

So while this doesn't seem like a perfect solution but with the state's deficit situation, unfortunately someone has to lose. Maybe the organization can do something to keep themselves afloat without state money, and I hope they can. But if they can't and if the choice is between RI PBS and a homeless child, then sorry, PBS is out of luck.

After Criticism, Ship Naming Reverts to Tradition

Marc Comtois

A quick follow-up to my post last week on how Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has a high batting average when it comes to departing from naval ship naming conventions: apparently the complaints worked.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, under fire from Congress and veterans for naming ships after fellow Democrats and social activists, plans to announce another round of ship names in the near future that will be more traditional, a Pentagon official tells The Washington Times.

The official said Mr. Mabus has chosen names for five surface ships - three for war heroes and two for locations. Ships typically are named after states and cities.

“I think they would be more consistent with what most people would say traditions and naming conventions are,” the official said.

As proof, 5 new ships have been named and have followed convention.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced today the next five Navy ships; three Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyers, the USS John Finn, the USS Ralph Johnson, and the USS Rafael Peralta, and two littoral combat ships (LCS), the USS Sioux City and the USS Omaha.

Mabus named the three destroyers after Navy and Marine Corps heroes whose actions occurred during different conflicts which spanned several decades, but were united in their uncommon valor. The littoral combat ships were named after two American communities.

About the Cranston Banner

Marc Comtois

Regarding the Cranston banner, well, it's pretty much all been said, so I won't divert too much time into it. Suffice to say, it's obvious that the decision to pursue an appeal was heavily affected by the current fiscal crisis in the City of Cranston. Would they have gone ahead if Cranston had more money? Possibly, but not a guarantee. The popular will certainly seemed to be there and even if took some dragging and cajoling I think the political will would have followed.

Yet, instead, fiscal trouble provided a convenient excuse (and a real one) to get the brouhaha off the School Committee's table. Most politician's aren't looking for a fight, but this is especially true on school committees, where the go-along-to-get-along attitude is evident in the legacy of school contract "negotiations" that we're dealing with across the state. No, it's better for all to "get past" this unpleasantness and move on. The only question that remains: in the aftermath, will those on the School Committee who voted against pursuing the matter further feel it at the ballot box in November? I have doubts.

In Case You Missed It...

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Cranston School Committtee voted not to appeal the banner ruling, 5-2. Mark Schieldrop of the Cranston Patch liveblogged the proceedings.

Parker Gavigan of WJAR-TV (NBC 10) is in the middle of a two-part report about Central Falls, which includes this detail to be expounded upon...

City records show the chief of staff hired her lawyer's daughter last summer. Her mother worked at City Hall, too.
The Drudge link to the story presents Central Falls as the next Bell, California...
Bankrupt RI city pays 2 employees $56,000 a MONTH
(The headline refers to Receiver Robert Flanders and Chief-of-Staff Gayle Corrigan).

Rhode Island State police are investigating hundreds of thousands of dollars that the Institute for International Sport, based in South Kingstown and next to the University of Rhode Island campus, though not officially part of the university, cannot account for. John Mulligan of the Projo reports today that the Institute has been a favored recipient of Federal earmarks. According to the Hartford Courant, former Hasboro CEO Alan Hassenfeld's signature was forged on Institute documents, listing him as the Chairman of the Board. Hassenfeld says he was never on the board. The Associated Press has reported that the Institute says it's leaving the state anyway, and that its decision has nothing to do with the investigation into its financial problems.

Maine says it has to let one more county vote (New York Times report, USA Today report), and re-verify some other results, before it can declare a winner in its Republican Presidential caucuses. Ron Paul could still beat Mitt Romney, if and when the final votes are counted.

Teacher Evaluation: If not Value-added, then what?

Marc Comtois

While Education reformer Rick Hess thinks "would-be reformers [are] getting waaaay ahead of themselves" when it comes to implementing "primitive systems to measure everything they can, or to validate everything else (observations, student feedback, etc.)" under the mantle of value-added analysis, he also doesn't dismiss it out of hand as a way to evaluate teachers. Why? Because he doesn't see any alternative evaluation tool being offered that is appreciably better. Assuming that we all think teachers--like other employees--should be evaluated, he offers five alternatives:

There's principal evaluation. This asks accountable supervisors to take responsibility for their employees, though research has shown that principals usually punt, rating 99 percent of their teachers as terrific, come hell or high water. In principle, this is an attractive tool. Of course, the same folks who denounce value-added also tend to reject this one, arguing that supervisors may be dumb, biased, subjective, or eager to fill the teacher's job with a friend or relative.

There's level-based accountability, upon which value-added attempts to improve. As critics of NCLB have noted, the problem with holding teachers or schools responsible for achievement levels is that the result is only a faint reflection of their work; it also captures everything else in that child's life, and all previous years of schooling. Level-based accountability has the virtue of helping us see how kids are faring, but it's a troubling tool when used to evaluate individual teachers or schools.

There's student and/or parental feedback, which presumes that student surveys or parental information can provide valuable insight into teacher or school performance. The Gates Foundation's "Measures of Effective Teaching" project, for instance, has been working intensively with student surveys. These seem like potentially useful tools, though there are serious questions about reliability, validity, how these data are collected, and the rest.

There's choice-based accountability, where one leans less on supervisor judgment or on measuring particular dimensions of performance and more on the marketplace. This is accountability that results from families making choices about where they want to send their kids, with those dollars following along. This is decentralized, market-driven accountability. It is the least driven by bosses, policymakers, or simple measures, and in that sense it is particularly democratic. But questions immediately arise about whether families value the "right" things or are making informed choices, whether this can work in rural communities or those with a dearth of good schools, whether there are unintended consequences (like social fragmentation), and so on.

Finally, there's peer review, which many self-styled teacher advocates tend to like. They see it as sensible, professional, and fair. And I'm all for peer review, so long as it's identifying excellence and mediocrity and providing tough-minded accountability. However, few peer review efforts have lived up to their billing. For instance, as Steven Brill has reported, the lauded Toledo peer review program--which has been credited with aggressively weeding out bad teachers--turned out, when studied for The New Teacher Project's "Widget Effect," to have removed just one tenured teacher (in a fair-sized, low-performing system) during the two years studied. If peer review is providing toothsome accountability, then it's a swell option. But if teachers engage in peer review and nothing much happens, that doesn't cut it. This means that those who think peer review is the answer need to explain how parents and taxpayers know when peer review is really working and what happens when it's not.

My experience is that the same folks who lash out at value-added also pooh-pooh each of the alternatives (except a weak sauce version of peer review). Rather than recognizing that each approach has strengths and weaknesses, and that smart accountability is designed accordingly, they attend only to the potential flaws--and use those to reject each in turn. The result? What they're ultimately rejecting is not just the tool of value-added but the notion that public educators who are paid with public funds to serve the public's children ought to be responsible for how well they do their jobs. And I, along with the "reform" community, find that an unacceptable stance.

February 16, 2012

Placing Providence's Property Tax Burden in a National Context

Monique Chartier

Further to Andrew's post, Providence's very high property taxes undoubtedly result from a combination of two critical factors. One, at least, was eminently controllable and, therefore, avoidable.

The first is that 40% of the city's real estate is tax exempt. The second factor contributing to its very high property taxes, and the one that could have been avoided, has been decades of elected officials formulating and/or affirming (i.e., passing along) seriously irresponsible budgets - budgets that appear to have completely disregarded the first factor and its implications to revenue.

Below are the national rankings of Providence's property tax rates. It is difficult to see where there is room to increase them. In fact, the city clearly needs to go in the opposite direction.

Residential Tax Rate: 7th highest
[As of 2009. Source: The US Census.]

Commercial Tax Rate: 2nd highest

[As of 2010. Ranking of US urban cities by the Minnesota Taxpayers' Association and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.]

Jobless and Taking the "Disability Option"

Marc Comtois

Glenn Reynolds points to a Republican Study Committee graphic that asks, "Where Are the Jobs?".

The above chart shows the “labor force participation rate.” This statistic represents the share of working-age Americans who are either employed or unemployed but looking for work. It is not a pretty picture. Only 63.7% of working-age Americans are currently in the workforce – the lowest in almost 29 years!

To put it another way, 36.3% of working-age Americans do not have a job and are not even looking.

What are they doing--how are they surviving--if they aren't working? Well, according to Art Cashin, evidently they are going on disability. According to a report from JPMorgan:
...increases in the number of disability benefits recipients account for about a quarter of the decline in employment participation. Furthermore during recessions the number of new disability claims actually increases, even though the number of jobs with higher injury incidence (such as construction) generally declines. Try explaining that one... Half of the benefit recipients suffer from "mental disorders" and "musculoskeletal disorders" (such as back pain). "Mood disorders" alone account for over 10% of this group. And once someone starts receiving these benefits, it's almost impossible to take the off the program. In 2011 only 1% of the recipients lost their benefits because they were no longer deemed disabled. So how much is this program costing the US taxpayer? Apparently quite a bit.
And a paper (PDF) by David Autor of MIT (summarized by Art Cashin):
Autor attributes disability's expansion mainly to liberalized, more subjective eligibility rules and to a deteriorating job market for less-educated workers. Through the 1970s, strokes, heart attacks and cancer were major causes. Now, mental problems (depression, personality disorder) and musculoskeletal ailments (back pain, joint stress) dominate (54 percent of awards in 2009, nearly double 1981's 28 percent). The paradox is plain. As physically grueling construction and factory jobs have shrunk, disability awards have gone up.

For many recipients, the disability program is a form of long-term unemployment insurance, argue Autor and his frequent collaborator Mark Duggan of the University of Pennsylvania. Benefit applications surge when joblessness rises. From 2001 to 2010, annual applications jumped 123 percent to 2.9 million. On average, recipients start receiving payments at age 49 and keep them until 66, when they switch to Social Security's retiree benefits.

Rep. Edwards's Legislation Against Local Civic Participation

Justin Katz

Rep. John Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) has submitted legislation (H7060) that — in attempting to add ballot-question sorts of direct democracy to the list for campaign finance disclosures — would erode Rhode Island's already apathetic civic participation.

Political candidates receive votes, ultimately, based on the decisions that they will make in the future, and voters determine likelihood through a mix of history and an understanding of the foundations of the candidate's opinions. It is therefore relevant who has used campaign contributions as a means of purchasing special consideration when elected officials go on to enact and execute laws and to spend public dollars. Moreover, transparency with respect to politicians' large donors is not prone to strategies of intimidation because, one, candidates have broad mixes of policy positions with which supporters can agree or disagree and, two, seeking the attention of powerful people is so understandable as to be intrinsically built into our political system.

The dynamics of "campaign" contributions in direct democracy are entirely opposite.

A ballot question is, itself, a decision. There is no potential for future corruption based on contributions, and the policy enacted (or not) is on the ballot for all to research, consider, and decide. Money spent in support of one side or the other is not to curry favor, but to ensure that a particular set of arguments is broadly known. Yes, it would be interesting to know who helped to fund one side's most vocal advocates, but it would also be interesting to know the advocates' religious affiliation, gender, race, sexual orientation, divorce history, financial history, and any other factor that might directly or indirectly have contributed to their strong beliefs about the matter in question. The voting public can speculate about all of these things, but in the end, voters must decide the merits of the proposed policy, which is bare there before them.

In the case of individual candidacies, it is also true that the campaign seeking contributions can be expected to have an organizational structure in place to ensure that rules are followed. In the case of ballot questions — especially those of local scale — grassroots activists (better characterized as engaged citizens) may very often be political novices. Requiring them to navigate the complexities of campaign finance laws, with the specters of fines and public ridicule over technical errors, can be a strong barrier to participation.

Most importantly, as has been illustrated across the country, direct democracy is absolutely prone to strategies of intimidation. Not only is the bright focus on a single issue, but intimidating potential contributors is a direct means of ensuring that a particular set of arguments is not broadly known. It is, in other words, a means of silencing the opposition. Worse still, voters can thus be shown the likely consequence should their own votes ever become public by leak or by slip.

A local issue that was surely among the inspirations for Edwards bill provides a perfect example. The issue was whether to abandon Tiverton's Financial Town Meeting, at which residents annually determined the town's budget and taxes in public view at the high school gymnasium. While raising their hands for yea or nay, parents could not ignore the watchful eyes of their children's teachers lined up high in the bleachers, and senior citizens felt the palpable presence of the town's emergency personnel standing in the back of the room. Speakers could expect loud jeers and angry glares, often accompanied by unfair attacks from the public officials on the dais at the front of the room.

With the newly implemented Financial Town Referendum, this dynamic more or less goes away. A handful of dedicated advocates will have to step forward to make the argument for a particular budget, but the secret ballot will free residents to vote their conscience. To be sure, the opposition (particularly those whose financial interests are directly at stake) would find it beneficial to force as many people as possible to raise their hands in public, as it were, but their motives are surely contrary to democratic principles and the healthy operation of our civic sphere.

February 15, 2012

Commercial Property Assessments by Rhode Island Municipality, as a Measure of the Impacts of Tax-Exempts on Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

To what degree is governing the City of Providence hampered by the existence of tax-exempt property within its boundaries? One way to begin answering this question is to start with readily available fiscal-data. Each year, all Rhode Island municipalities report tax assessment and levy information to the Division of Municipal Finance in the state’s Department of Revenue, with results separated into residential and commercial/industrial categories.

In the past, I've used the data collected and provided by the Municipal Finance Division to calculate the commercial/industrial tax-levy per resident in each RI city and town. However, with respect to the question of "tax opportunities" missed in Providence, this introduces at least one confounding factor. Because commercial tax-rates vary from community to community, the commercial tax levy measures both opportunities and what is made of those opportunities (for better or for worse). Since we are asking (at least for now) whether Providence is handicapped right from the beginning, before any incomes are earned or tax rates are set, we will go back one step further, to examine at how much commercial/industrial taxable property value is within each Rhode Island municipality, on a per-resident basis.

One technical note: In Rhode Island, taxes on apartments with more than five units and mixed residential/commercial properties are often classified as commercial. Since most, if not all, of the taxation levied on these properties will be passed along to residents, they will be considered residential and not commercial for this analysis. The Municipal Affairs Office collects assessment information that is detailed enough, in most cases, to allow the part of the official commercial levy due to class 3 (“apartment”) and class 4 (“combination”) properties to be determined and subtracted.

In the table below, the second column is a city or town's reported commercial/industrial tax levy for tax roll year 2011 with any portion due to class 3 or class 4 properties subtracted out. The third column is population from the 2010 census, and the fourth column is the amount of commercial/industrial property value per resident:

Community2011 Com&Ind Assessed
Prop. Value
New Shoreham $130,939,920 1,051 $124,586
Newport $934,154,749 24,672 $37,863
West Greenwich $212,634,500 6,135 $34,659
Smithfield $643,292,510 21,430 $30,018
Middletown $478,133,706 16,150 $29,606
Warwick $2,216,473,370 82,672 $26,810
Westerly $573,347,700 22,787 $25,161
East Greenwich $323,074,200 13,146 $24,576
Lincoln $499,566,954 21,105 $23,671
East Providence $853,687,753 47,037 $18,149
North Kingstown $458,263,940 26,486 $17,302
Johnston $494,193,192 28,769 $17,178
Providence $2,718,570,863 178,042 $15,269
Portsmouth $259,361,400 17,389 $14,915
Narragansett $225,330,972 15,868 $14,200
North Smithfield $167,491,298 11,967 $13,996
Warren $146,246,352 10,611 $13,783
Scituate $141,574,476 10,329 $13,706
Cranston $1,062,342,644 80,387 $13,215
South Kingstown $369,939,495 30,639 $12,074
Cumberland $387,020,200 33,506 $11,551
Little Compton $39,773,100 3,492 $11,390
Burrillville $181,718,900 15,955 $11,389
Foster $47,954,300 4,606 $10,411
West Warwick $298,922,040 29,191 $10,240
Richmond $78,348,600 7,708 $10,164
Coventry $345,856,734 35,014 $9,877
Pawtucket $671,106,617 71,148 $9,432
Bristol $207,878,241 22,954 $9,056
Exeter $56,010,100 6,425 $8,717
North Providence $232,094,220 32,078 $7,235
Tiverton $113,794,995 15,780 $7,211
Woonsocket $295,463,687 41,186 $7,173
Barrington $111,820,800 16,310 $6,855
Jamestown $35,409,500 5,405 $6,551
Charlestown $46,429,900 7,827 $5,932
Hopkinton $47,827,200 8,188 $5,841
Glocester $38,302,758 9,746 $3,930
Central Falls $73,070,759 19,376 $3,771

Quick conclusions, not exclusive to Providence:

  1. Much to the dismay of folks who don't like suburbs for various reasons (whom Joel Kotkin would call "urban chauvinists"), a good way to generate commercial tax revenue seems to be through strip-mall/big box commercial development, e.g. as in Warwick and Middletown.
  2. West Greenwich and Smithfield seem to be doing well in collecting revenue for their residents to use from large employers, though the conditions that make this possible are no more generalizable to every community in Rhode Island than are conditions in New Shoreham and Newport.
  3. Compared to its neighbors like Johnston and East Providence, there is plausible evidence of a bit of a dent in Providence's available commercial revenue per resident (although Johnston is a beneficiary of the strip-mall dynamic). And East Providence is doing well, even though most of its big-box potential has been grabbed by Seekonk, MA.
  4. On the other hand, Providence, in 13th place on the list, does have considerably more commercial property to tax than do the neighboring communities of Cranston, North Providence and Pawtucket.

Moving from the table of numbers to the taxation and subsidy policy questions that are the reason for their creation suggests a question central to this issue despite being rarely a subject for explicit discussion. Is it a sign of a problem, when the largest city in a region doesn't have the most commercial revenue per unit, i.e. does it automatically mean that something is out of balance, because Providence doesn't have as much commercial revenue per resident to work with than does Middletown or Warwick?

Port Developments

Marc Comtois

I think it's good news (and about freakin' time!) that there is movement in the Legislature--specifically a commission headed up by Jamestown Rep. Deborah Ruggiero--to develop Quonset/Davisville as a short sea shipping port. Imagine: taking advantage of our geography and greatest natural resource for possible economic gain! There are some hurdles ('allo Guvnah!)

The commission found that there was little statewide coordination of the maritime trade economy, and suggested that the governor appoint a port economic policy ombudsman to take on that role.

The ombudsman would chair a Rhode Island Port Marketing Collaborative, which would seek out business and development opportunities for the state’s ports.

A spokesman for Governor Chafee said the governor received the port commission’s report Tuesday afternoon and would not comment until after he had studied it.

The port commission urged the General Assembly and the state’s federal delegation in Congress to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to designate Rhode Island ports as “destination ports” in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Marine Highway System. That’s a federal program started in 2010, designed to move freight along the coastline and waterways, relieving highway congestion.

Ruggiero noted that New Bedford is already on the Marine Highway map, but Rhode Island’s ports are not. “New Bedford had an advocate, while the State of Rhode Island did not,” she said.

She said Rhode Island’s location should give it an advantage in short sea shipping.

There's also some dredging that would need to be done and, in an of-course-it's-Rhode-Island kinda way, it turns out the Harbor Maintenance Fund I mentioned last week can't be tapped to dredge the Davisville port:
The port commission also recommended that the state fund what Ruggiero called “maintenance dredging” at Davisville and in the shipping lane extending from Davis ville to Jamestown/Conanicut Island.

The commission recommended that the state issue $7.5 million in revenue bonds to pay for the dredging.

While federal funds could be used for the dredging, the port commission said that could mean a wait of between 5 and 10 years before funds could be appropriated.

What’s more, since Davisville hasn’t been dredged since the U.S. Navy did it in 1977, the port is exempt from a federal Harbor Maintenance Tax.

Davisville is the only commercial port on the East Coast without the tax, which gives it a commercial advantage that is important to its growing auto-import business.

So, a long-term competitive advantage, but a short-term bottleneck because of a tax exemption. Figures, right? So instead we're going to have to go the bond route. Of course, we don't have to go that way. There's a remarkable vehicle that could be used to fund the dredging that wouldn't require the state taxpayers taking on more long term debt: It's called the State Budget. Of course, that may require re-prioritizing expenditures and the like. I guess we can't have that.

February 14, 2012

An Open Thread for Interesting Times

Carroll Andrew Morse

We've hit a bit of lull at Anchor Rising today, for reasons entirely unrelated to a lack of things happening in the world worth blogging about. Here are a few big-picture items on my list to cover, that I am planning to articulate upon over the next few weeks...

  • Local taxation numbers in Rhode Island, and what they tell us about how well various municipalities are run.
  • What the Cranston West Banner tells us about a progressive need for absolute purity (Cranston is an important counter-example to some cutting edge research into the nature of people's political beliefs).
  • Is Rhode Island an outlier in how it deals with its fiscal crisis, or will we be the first domino to fall on this side of the Atlantic, as 300 years of limited government democracy prove to be an anomaly, and the world resumes an unstoppable path to absolutist rule?
  • What it is that drives Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Providence to their blatantly hypocritical behavior.
  • What overall trends in Rhode Island educational scores seem to tell us (hint: it's not that teaching quality doesn't matter, and socio-economic status is unalterable destiny).
  • Why Mitt Romney's failure to connect with Republican voters is not just personal, but a product of the times.
The first post on local taxation numbers -- as Rhode Island heads toward what looks to be the next chapter of the "funding formula" debate, as schemes to raise statewide taxes to bail Providence out seem to be receiving an increasing number of mentions -- should be up within 24 hours.

Otherwise, consider this an open thread on what you think are the absolutely biggest issues facing your community, your state, your country and the world right now. Also, you can enjoy this picture of Hopkinton Town Councilman Scott Bill Hirst at CPAC (he's on the far left) which was used to headline the FrumForum website for a few hours yesterday. (Councilman Hirst's photo is the only thing in the linked blog item worth noting).

Buddy Roemer Qualifies for the RI Primary; RI Primary Field Now Complete

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the RI Secretary of State's office, Buddy Roemer has qualified for the April 24 Rhode Island Presidential primary.

This should complete the primary field (unless signatures are being counted strictly in the order they came in, and all of the signatures for Mark Callahan were submitted after the other candidates' were, which is less likely than the probability that Callahan filed but got no signatures).

The five candidates who will appear on the Republican ballot will be Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Buddy Roemer. (I believe that their ordering on the ballot will be determined by a lottery to be held before the election).

Barack Obama is the only name that will appear on the Democratic ballot.

February 13, 2012

Cranston Pensions: Rhode Island… with Emphasis

Justin Katz

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had published data covering all of Cranston's public-sector retirees, and I've posted a general comparison of the numbers with those for the state system overall.

Rahe: Catholic Church Reaping What it Helped Sow

Marc Comtois

With the ongoing controversy between the Obama Administration and religious institutions--particularly the Catholic Church--as to whether the health care plans offered by the institutions should cover items they deem inconsistent with their religious tenets (ie; contraception, etc.), Paul Rahe writes that the support given to various progressive causes by the institution of the Catholic Church, in particular, has come back to bite them. He provides some history:

In the 1930s, the majority of the bishops, priests, and nuns sold their souls to the devil, and they did so with the best of intentions. In their concern for the suffering of those out of work and destitute, they wholeheartedly embraced the New Deal. They gloried in the fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt made Frances Perkins – a devout Anglo-Catholic laywoman who belonged to the Episcopalian Church but retreated on occasion to a Catholic convent – Secretary of Labor and the first member of her sex to be awarded a cabinet post. And they welcomed Social Security – which was her handiwork. They did not stop to ponder whether public provision in this regard would subvert the moral principle that children are responsible for the well-being of their parents. They did not stop to consider whether this measure would reduce the incentives for procreation and nourish the temptation to think of sexual intercourse as an indoor sport. They did not stop to think.

In the process, the leaders of the American Catholic Church fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity – and so they fostered state paternalism and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern liberalism – the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.

At every turn in American politics since that time, you will find the hierarchy assisting the Democratic Party and promoting the growth of the administrative entitlements state. At no point have its members evidenced any concern for sustaining limited government and protecting the rights of individuals. It did not cross the minds of these prelates that the liberty of conscience which they had grown to cherish is part of a larger package – that the paternalistic state, which recognizes no legitimate limits on its power and scope, that they had embraced would someday turn on the Church and seek to dictate whom it chose to teach its doctrines and how, more generally, it would conduct its affairs.

I would submit that the bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they asked for. The weapon that Barack Obama has directed at the Church was fashioned to a considerable degree by Catholic churchmen. They welcomed Obamacare. They encouraged Senators and Congressmen who professed to be Catholics to vote for it. {Emphasis added.}

He also offers anecdotal evidence:
I was reared a Catholic, wandered out of the Church, and stumbled back in more than thirteen years ago. I have been a regular attendee at mass since that time. I travel a great deal and frequently find myself in a diocese not my own. In these years, I have heard sermons articulating the case against abortion thrice – once in Louisiana at a mass said by the retired Archbishop there; once at the cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and two weeks ago in our parish in Hillsdale, Michigan. The truth is that the priests in the United States are far more likely to push the “social justice” agenda of the Church from the pulpit than to instruct the faithful in the evils of abortion.

And there is more. I have not once in those years heard the argument against contraception articulated from the pulpit, and I have not once heard the argument for chastity articulated. In the face of the sexual revolution, the bishops priests, and nuns of the American Church have by and large fallen silent. In effect, they have abandoned the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in order to articulate a defense of the administrative entitlements state and its progressive expansion.

Rahe goes into much greater depth than these snippets indicate and it's worth a read (whether you tend to agree or disagree).

Eliminate Political Parties in RI

Patrick Laverty

We've finally gotten there, it's time to fully eliminate political parties in RI. I've long advocated for this as the whole party system is extremely antiquated anyway. The only real purpose they served was in a time when it was very hard to disseminate information to everyone, where farmers could be miles separated from their nearest neighbors. This wasn't exactly a time when a candidate could "walk the district." Instead, it would be easier for a candidate to toe the party line and then people could simply vote along party lines when they didn't understand the individual candidates' stances or were just unaware of them. This sort of thing is also what brings us straight ticket voting. Today, these are more for the uneducated or lazy voter. It's for someone who doesn't want to take the time to get to know the candidates and their stances on the issues.

But with that aside, one of the bills that Andrew mentions below will also deal such a blow to the political party system that they may as well be eliminated completely.

H7089: Allowing voters to choose their political party on the day of the primary, instead of having to be registered 90-days beforehand.
I often hear the exasperation in Dan Yorke's voice when he continually tries to educate his listeners on what political parties are and their primary means. Political parties are intended to be semi-private organizations who choose a candidate to rally around and to support for a given office. If you're not a member of this organization, not only should you not be allowed to help decide who its standard-bearer will be but even moreso, why should you care? I'm not a member of the YMCA but I don't get to vote for their leadership. I'm not a member of AARP, so I don't get a vote in their leadership elections either. Nor do I even care. If I'm not a member of the RI Democratic or RI Republican or RI Moderate party, why should I get a vote to elect their candidates either? Why should I care who their candidate is, I'll get to vote in the general election anyway.

Currently in RI, if you're a registered voter but carry the "Unaffiliated" designation, you can decide on primary day which party's ballot you get to cast a vote on. That in itself is ludicrous, as I've written about before. Affiliated yourself with a party and vote accordingly. If you don't want to affiliate, show up in November for the general election. Simple.

But what House Bill 7089 wants to do is not just blur this line for the Unaffiliated voters, it will do the same for people who are affiliated! If I'm a registered Democrat, why should I get the choice on the day of the primary to vote in the Republican election and vice versa? (Or the Moderate Party, not forgetting you guys, Ken) If this is what we're going to do then what's the point of political parties at all? The whole point is to let the organization choose their candidate to send to the general election. If we're going to eliminate that, then let's just eliminate the parties entirely and make everyone run on their own stances. Heck, all we ever hear is "He's a RINO" and "She's a DINO", so why not? They're all useless labels anyway and this bill will just remove the last vestiges of what the parties can do. I say, wipe 'em out.

Coming up in Committee: Ten Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 14 - February 16

Carroll Andrew Morse

10. Bud Art. 27: Creates a restricted-receipt account for historic preservation tax-credit processing fees, to be used for reimbursing historic tax-credit processing fees (H Finance; Tue, Feb 14). Ed. note: Rational government budgeting at its finest?

9. H7406, aka the strange regulatory bill of the week: Sets a minimum price of $35.00 for transportation provided by "public motor vehicles", which are privately owned non-taxicabs hired for individual trips (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 14). Ed. note: Does RI have a strong taxicab lobby?

8. Bud Art. 26/Bud Art. 28: Various municipal impact articles, including an extension of gambling appropriations to distressed communities, an extra-constitutional appropriation of local revenue in Central Falls, and a statutory exemption allowing a receiver to agree to longer contracts than democratically governed municipalities can (H Finance; Wed, Feb 15).

7. S2158: Moves layoff notice date for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (S Labor; Wed, Feb 15).

6. Bud Art. 4, Sec. 3: Creates an Office of Management and Budget within the Rhode Island Department of Administration, including a newly created director-level position to be appointed by the Director of Administration. The new OMB is given lots of responsibilities for seeking out and administering Federal grants and, as far as I can determine, there's no offsetting reduction or consolidation of other departments related to its creation (H Finance; Thu, Feb 16).

5. H7349: Card-check unions for public employees, with a definition of "public employee" that expressly includes quasi-public entities (H Labor; Tue, Feb 14).

4. H7390: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid. Somebody with knowledge of real-estate transactions should review this list, and determine if they really are all the "minor defects" that the official description claims they are (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 14).

3. The entire House Judiciary agenda for Wed, Feb 15:

  • H7060: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums.
  • H7086: Moves the power to nominate judicial magistrates to the Governor, away from Supreme Court justices/Superior Court and other judges where it currently resides.
  • H7089: Allowing voters to choose their political party on the day of the primary, instead of having to be registered 90-days beforehand.
  • H7388: Requires the legislature to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and assign Presidential electors to the winner of the popular vote as determined by other states instead.

2B. H7201: Requires the faculty of Mayoral Academies to join the state teachers' retirement system (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15). Patrick's earlier take on the bill is available here.

2A. H7344: Requires that students be assigned to Mayoral academies based on randomized offers (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15). Ed. note: I notice that 3 of the sponsors on this bill are from Providence. Where is their companion bill, requiring that students be assigned to Classical High at random?

1. H7286/S2258: Teachers' right-to-work bill, prohibiting membership in a labor organization from being a condition of employment for teachers, teachers aids or specialists who work in an educational setting (H Health Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 15 & S Labor; Wed, Feb 15).

February 12, 2012

The More Things Change...

Patrick Laverty

I don't think that I can add much to the story in Sunday's Providence Journal about what looks like an attempt at "pay for play". Sam Zurier, the Councilman from Providence's Second Ward (East Side) is alleged to have been trying to shake down a couple of constituents for a campaign donation after he got a sidewalk repaired for the homeowners. The request for the sidewalk repair went in from the Witman family because Gary Witman had become a quadriplegic and there was a risk of his wheelchair tipping on the broken pavement. The repair took five months from the time the Witmans put in the request and cost the city $4,500. At that point is where the story turned a bit dark for the family. The first-term councilman sent the family a letter that contained:

“This Fall, I held a fund raising reception. I am grateful for the generous response of our neighbors. Everyone who promised to support my campaign followed through with a contribution –– everyone, that is, with one exception.”

Zurier reminded them how he “went to bat for you” to get their sidewalk repaired, despite a scarcity of city funds.

Additionally, the article refers to another instance where Zurier went to see the family to check on the sidewalk work and also to get the campaign donation. When he was unsuccessful, he followed up with a separate letter:

“I also was grateful for your kind and generous offer to support my political campaign. The reporting deadline is almost upon us, so I would appreciate your making your contribution in the coming week. I enclose a card and an envelope for your convenience.

Rhode Island doesn't need more instances like this. This is exactly what is wrong with politics in Rhode Island. Everyone believes that the whole government operates under a "pay for play" so when examples like this come out, it further undermines the confidence in the government.

Then with the final letter, where Zurier expresses his disappointment in the Witmans for not donating to his campaign, Mrs. Witman was taken aback at the tone of the letter she received:

The tone of the letter is astounding.… It’s an angry letter. If he is so angry because he did his job, maybe he should leave his job.”

Lastly, Zurier tells the reporter

I am saddened that I caused them distress,” says Zurier. “It is now clear that my interactions with them undermined their confidence in me as a public servant. It is my hope we can sit down and discuss this issue further, so I can regain their confidence.”

Yet again, one has to wonder, is he saddened that he caused the family distress or is he saddened that he got caught?

February 11, 2012

Personal Accountability

Patrick Laverty

Earlier in the week, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, a former major league pitcher, began his press tour to promote a book that he wrote. A couple curious quotes came from one of the interviews, with Nick Cafardo, first

[he] admitted he was under the influence of cocaine two-thirds of the time he was on the mound.
Many people have responded to that with not much more than a shrug.

The other part of his interview that I thought was curious, was this statement:

Boyd contends he was blackballed from baseball and his career cut short because he was different.

“The reason I caught the deep end to it is because I’m black. The bottom line is the game carries a lot of bigotry, and that was an easy way for them to do it,’’ Boyd said. “If I wasn’t outspoken and a so-called ‘proud black man,’ maybe I would have gotten the empathy and sympathy like other ballplayers got that I didn’t get; like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe. I can name 50 people that got third and fourth chances all because they weren’t outspoken black individuals.’’

Blackballed? Because he's black? Because he was outspoken? Interesting. He compares his career to three other former players who also had documented drug issues, Strawberry, Gooden and Howe. Boyd is claiming his career ended because he was outspoken and still appears bitter that he was not given the number of chances that those three were given. In fact, Steve Howe was suspended from baseball nine times, including once when he was banned from baseball for life by the commissioner's office, only to have that ruling overturned by an arbitrator.

But let's take a look at the stats for what might be the real reason that Boyd was never invited back to the major leagues. According to baseball-reference.com, his final season was split between the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers, finishing the year in Texas. After his trade to Texas in July of 1991, he won two games and lost seven while recording a 6.68 ERA and allowing more baserunners per inning than at any other time during his career. At age 31, it appeared his career was in decline.

He compares himself to Dwight Gooden, a perennial all-star and someone who may have been on a path to the baseball Hall of Fame. He won a Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in baseball and won a Rookie of the Year award and continued to put up great seasons. He was widely known as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was referred to as "Doctor K" for his prowess at striking out opposing hitters. There should be no question as to why Gooden would have received multiple chances, but he too was out of baseball when his skills declined at age 35.

Boyd also mentions Darryl Strawberry, one of the most feared hitters in baseball during his career. Another player on a path for baseball's Hall of Fame when it appears alcohol and drugs caught up with him after his 1991 season. Up to that point, he was one of the best hitters in baseball and then suffered a quick decline. When you've shown to have the elite talent that a player like Strawberry had during the 1980s, teams will give you multiple chances in hopes that you can reclaim that glory.

That leaves Steve Howe. Howe is definitely a more tricky case. Unlike Strawberry and Gooden, Howe was white and Howe was not an elite starting pitcher. Howe is the first name that most people bring up when they spoke of what was wrong with baseball's drug policy during the 80s. He was given multiple opportunities, but he is someone who also earned the Rookie of the Year award and was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball until 1983, when he checked into a drug rehab program. He had a pretty bad season in 1985 after missing all of 1984 for a drug suspension, but followed up with an above average 1987 season. He missed the next three seasons and then came back with the Yankees in 1991 while putting up great results. Once it seemed his talent had completely left him, the Yankees released him for good in June of 1996.

If you look at the career paths and statistics of the players that Boyd mentions, you can clearly see that he was not in their class as a player. Boyd was what one may refer to as an average major league pitcher, never winning any awards or appearing near the positive end of any statistical leader boards. It seems that players like Strawberry and Howe did at least make an attempt at rehab and Boyd admits that people did reach out to him and try to help him too:

“I never had a drug test as long as I played baseball,’’ he said. “I was told that, yeah, if you don’t stop doing this we’re going to put you into rehab, and I told them . . . I’m going to do what I have to do, I have to win ballgames. We’ll talk about that in the offseason, right now I have to win ballgames.’’
He had a major league career until the age of 31. When you take a look at the whole picture, things like the fact that he was over 30, was never a great or elite pitcher even in his best days, now admits that he had a cocaine habit and says that he was "outspoken", is it any real surprise that he was never offered another major league contract? No, and to attribute it to "bigotry" is simply a failure to look in the mirror and take some personal responsibility. Anything else is an excuse.

February 10, 2012

Memo to Bishops: Don't Fall For It

Justin Katz

The Washington Post has collected a spectrum of religious reactions to the Obama administration's "compromise" — apparently announced as such without first consulting with the parties implicitly involved in the negotiations (a sure sign that Obama is more concerned about appearing to compromise than actually doing so). Religious leaders and others concerned about religious liberty — in particular those concerned about our ability to work through cultural avenues distinct from government to help shape society — should pause in their deliberations about the specifics of this overture.

Note what position the President's games put us in: We're not arguing about the morality of contraception (including abortifacients). We're not even arguing about the legitimacy of the government's declaration that everybody should have access to them free of cost (at least free of immediate cost to them). We're merely arguing about who else must pay — who has to chip in for the pills that address pregnancy as an illness to be treated and against which to be inoculated.

One hopes that the administration's initial overreach was enough to awaken the bishops and others to the reality that a deal with the Devil is always, always conditional on his ability to force you to the next-least-moral space on the playing field.

In Honoring Giffords Mabus' Flouts Navy Ship Naming Conventions Again

Marc Comtois

Since President Obama took office, his Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus has been, shall we say flexible in following the conventions of Navy ship naming that have been set down. He has strayed tradition enough to have prompted a review of ship-naming policy. And he has done it again.

Now Mabus has named a new vessel after retiring Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The logic behind this is difficult to take issue with--except it still flies in the face of past precedent. The Giffords will be an LCS, a littoral combat ship (these are pretty cool looking ships!), which have been named (with the exception of the first two) for smaller cities; a convention Mabus followed until now.

Ship naming has always been subject to some level of politicization. There is a Virginia-class attack submarine named after former senator John Warner and the aircraft carriers are usually named after presidents except when they're not! Then there is the Bob Hope Class of vehicle cargo ships which are all named for individuals who have received the Medal of Honor (as are several other AKR class vessels). Well, except for Mr. Hope of course. Another example of inconsistency more familiar to Rhode Islanders would be the Seawolf class attack submarines named Seawolf, Connecticut and Jimmy Carter.

Yet, these exceptions have occurred over a period of years and decades. Mabus is set apart because he has a pretty high batting average in flouting ship naming conventions during his 3 years as Navy Secretary. Mabus started his tenure by naming a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship--traditionally named after cities--after the recently deceased Democratic Representative John Murtha.

Next up is the T-AKE Class of naval support vessels, the Lewis and Clark Class, which had been named after explorers and pioneers*--until Mabus took office. Then the Medgar Evars and Cesar Chavez were named to join the likes of Sacagawea, Alan Shepard, Amelia Earhart, Mathew Perry, Washington Chambers et al. In his defense, Mabus' supporters argue that Chavez, a Navy veteran, was a "pioneering" organizer of migrant farm workers. While it's harder to criticize Mabus for naming the Evers (also a Navy veteran), it is pretty clear that he has broadened the original definition of pioneer since the keels were first laid for this class of ships. Overall, I counted 4 out of 7 ships that have been named by Mabus that didn't appear to follow prior convention. Is this going to sink the Navy? No. Yet, it does appear to be an unprecedented level of politicization by one Navy Secretary.

*Incidentally, the description of the AKE class naming convention has been "retcon'd": there are a lot of articles supporting Mabus saying these ships were originally to be named after explorers, pioneers and “visionaries.” The "visionary" qualification is a recent appellation. The original intent was to name them only after explorers.

Robert Flanders' Answers to Questions on Receivership

Carroll Andrew Morse

Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders certainly cannot be faulted for not responding to inquiries in a timely fashion...

Q1: You have been quoted on the Buddy Cianci radio show as saying that some sitting Rhode Island Mayors should approach the state government and ask to become the receivers for their cities. Is this indeed a course of action that you advocate?

Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders: It depends on a number of factors, including whether the State (i.e., the Governor's office and legislative leadership) would be likely to have some measure of confidence that that particular sitting mayor would be able to and willing to take the sometimes politically unpalatable actions that might be needed to restore the City to fiscal solvency and whether the mayor in question has the credibility, capacity, political will, and respect needed to accomplish such a goal and to work cooperatively with the Director of Revenue, the Governor, and other stakeholders to do so.

Q2: Conflicting accounts of the rescinding of the recent parking ban in Central Falls have been presented to the public. Most recently, W. Zachary Malinowski of the Providence Journal attributed the rescinding of the ban to the Governor of Rhode Island and not the Office of the Central Falls receiver (February 4 Providence Journal, "The next day, Governor Chafee, reacting to a public outcry, suspended the parking ban"). Could you clarify the process by which the parking ban was rescinded?

RF: The Receiver suspended enforcement of the parking ban, after obtaining input from the Governor's office, local elected officials, and a number of Central Falls residents.

Q3: In Federalist 47, Montesquieu was quoted by James Madison: "There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates". Do you believe it is a wise course of action to tell the people of Central Falls, of Rhode Island, of the United States and of the world that fiscal crises justify restructuring of government in a way that removes what some of the great thinkers of the Western political tradition believe to be an essential safeguard to liberty?

RF: To my knowledge, no one associated with the Receivership is telling people that or saying that, nor have they said that. Rather, what state policy makers decided when they enacted the Fiscal Stability Act (providing for the appointment of various levels of state fiscal oversight when a city or town experiences extreme financial difficulty) is that fiscal emergencies call for extraordinary temporary measures to correct a problem that threatens to cause a City or Town to default on its obligations and/or to run out of cash. When the emergency and crisis ends, then the temporary and extraordinary measures used to deal with that situation also end. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of this statute in the teeth of arguments such as those that your question adopts, expressly rejecting them as legally unsound. A corollary to the quote in your question is that there can be no liberty when the executive and legislative branches of a state are powerless to prevent a city or town (and therefore the residents who depend on its viability) from experiencing utter financial ruin.

Economic Magnetism? Providence Has The Single Ladies

Marc Comtois

Maybe those of us trying to convince our politicians to attract business and people to our state are taking the wrong tack. Instead of using fiscal-centric arguments, how about this: According to Men'sHealth, Providence is the 25th best city to find the SINGLE LADIES.

The best city in New England? #2 overall Portland, Maine (ahem, that's where I met my wife, so I concur!). For the rest of New England, Boston ranked #3 followed by Manchester, NH (#13), Burlington, VT (#15), Providence (#25) and then #49 Bridgeport, CT (Bridgeport? What about New Haven? Stamford?). To come up with this rankings, the magazine examined "data on datable citizens: the ratio of single women to single men, the percentage of college-educated women, the percentage of gainfully employed single women (all from the Census), and the number who work out (Experian Simmons)."

Receivership as a Way for Mayors to Grab Total Control of City Government?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday was the second consecutive day on which Buddy Cianci, during his WPRO (630AM) radio show, referenced an earlier interview with Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders, where Receiver Flanders had apparently suggested that Rhode Island Mayors could deal with their fiscal problems by approaching the state and having themselves appointed receivers of their own communities. I'd be very surprised if state legislators had this kind of process in mind when they passed the "fiscal stabilization" law in 2010.

(Under the fiscal stabilization law, the state can move to immediately suspend municipal democracy in a community, without first passing through an "overseer" or a "budget commission" process first)...

In the event the director of revenue determines, in consultation with the auditor general, that a city or town is facing a fiscal emergency and that circumstances do not allow for appointment of a fiscal overseer or a budget commission prior to the appointment of a receiver, the director of revenue may appoint a receiver without having first appointed a fiscal overseer or a budget commission.
I didn't hear the original interview and haven't been able to find it on the WPRO website, so based on Mayor Cianci's account, I've put the following set of questions via email to Central Falls Receiver Flanders' office:

1. You have been quoted on the Buddy Cianci radio show as having said that some sitting Rhode Island Mayors should approach the state government and ask to become the receivers for their cities. Is this indeed a course of action that you advocate?

2. Conflicting accounts of the rescinding of the recent parking ban in Central Falls have been presented to the public. Most recently, W. Zachary Malinowski of the Providence Journal attributed the rescinding of the ban to the Governor of Rhode Island and not the Office of the Central Falls receiver (February 4 Providence Journal, "The next day, Governor Chafee, reacting to a public outcry, suspended the parking ban"). Could you clarify the process by which the parking ban was rescinded?

3. In Federalist 47, Montesquieu was quoted by James Madison: "There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates". Do you believe it is a wise course of action to tell the people of Central Falls, of Rhode Island, of the United States and of the world that fiscal crises justify restructuring of government in a way that removes what some of the great thinkers of the Western political tradition believe to be an essential safeguard to liberty?

Santorum Qualifies for RI Primary

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rick Santorum has become the 4th GOP contender qualified by the RI Secretary of State for placement on Rhode Island's April 24 Presidential primary ballot, joining Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

February 9, 2012

Illegal Alien "Public Advocate": President Obama Officially Gives the Table For One Salute To Legal Immigrants

Monique Chartier

It's not a piece from The Onion, as I was fervently hoping when I first heard about it this afternoon. Could the President have telegraphed any more plainly his disdain for those who come here in conformance with our laws? Not to mention for the sovereignty and laws of the United States.

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a new "public advocate" charged with listening to immigrants' concerns about its law enforcement policies — but Republicans said the position amounts to an official mouthpiece for illegal immigrants being deported.

Further words fail me. Take it, guys.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that meant elevating the concerns of illegal immigrants.

“It’s outrageous that the Obama administration has appointed a taxpayer-funded activist for illegal and criminal immigrants who are detained or ordered deported. The administration all too often acts more like a lobbying firm for illegal immigrants than as an advocate for the American people,” Mr. Smith said.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said the appointment of a taxpayer-funded legal representative for illegal immigrants “continues to ignore the rule of law, which begs the question: Where is the rule of law czar?

“President Obama refuses to enforce immigration law, sues the states that do so and now he’s appointed a czar for illegal immigrants. The president is making a conscious decision to evade Congress in order to appease his base,” Mr. King said. “The president must realize that his job description does not include being an advocate for illegal immigrants. It is defined by his obligation to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.’”

Bureaucracy Bottles Up Harbor Maintenance

Marc Comtois

While we continue to hear about money we don't have being spent on bad loans to green economy darlings like Solyndra and Fisker, it turns out that there is cash sitting there waiting to be spent on good old fashioned things like our waterfronts and waterways. In the latest Federal Transportation bill (h/t), which is currently making its way through the House, is contained the following "Sense of Congress on Harbor Maintenance" (page 822 of PDF) regarding one trust fund that has money:

(a) Findings- Congress finds the following:

(1) There are 926 ports served by federally maintained channels which handle more than 2.2 billion tons of cargo annually, and this figure is expected to increase.
(2) More than $1.1 trillion in foreign commerce enters the United States through the Nation's ports annually, and this figure is expected to increase.
(3) Expansion of the Panama Canal system in Central America will likely be completed in 2014, and this will present opportunities and challenges for the Nation's economic well-being.
(4) Insufficient maintenance dredging of the Nation's navigation channels results in inefficient water transportation and harmful economic consequences.
(5) In 1986, Congress created the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to provide funds for the operation and maintenance of the Nation's navigation channels.
(6) The fiscal year 2011, Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund equity grew by 13.7 percent from fiscal year 2010 (to $6.42 billion) and total annual receipts increased 17.3 percent (to $1.6 billion).
(7) Despite growth of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund continue to decline.
(8) Despite growth of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, federally maintained channels are only at their authorized widths or depths 35 percent of the time, thereby restricting access to the Nation's ports for both imports and exports.

(b) Sense of Congress- It is the sense of Congress that--

(1) the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund is not being used for its intended purpose and charging maritime commerce a harbor maintenance tax while failing to provide the service for which it was established is unfair and places the Nation at economic risk;
(2) the Administration should request full use of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for operating and maintaining the Nation's navigation system; and
(3) Congress should fully expend the amounts in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to operate and maintain the Nation's navigation system.

The fees have already been assessed and collected from the stakeholders (the damage is done, in other words). So why is it just sitting there? My guess is that the OCEAN state could benefit from that money being spent as it was intended.

More broadly, this is a clear example of government inefficiency. I wonder how many other special programs are in place that assess the private sector fees for a purported "beneficial" reason and then fail to follow up. Meanwhile, the money piles up because of typical bureaucratic malaise. In the mean time, that money could have gone towards other, more immediate and beneficial things that those in the industry could have identified for themselves. At this point, maybe a better solution would be to offer them a refund!

Farmer Explains Why Tax Rates Matter

Marc Comtois

In the debate about higher tax rates for "the rich", Missouri farmer Blake Hurst thinks something is being overlooked.

It’s obvious that the Obama administration does not believe that tax rates on investment are a factor in investment decisions, or that marginal rates on real income affect how hard and how much people work....In all the arguments over incentives and tax fairness, there has been little mention of, well, cash. I’ve read long, learned dissertations on work effort, impassioned pleas for incentives to encourage a rekindling of animal spirits, and exotic calculus in service of whatever agenda an economist possessed before the study was undertaken. But cash is rarely mentioned.

As a small businessman, I can’t argue that I worked harder or longer the year after the Bush tax cuts were passed. I would imagine that my effort was pretty much the same as the year before. The same goes for my investment plan. I invest everything left after living expenses and taxes, no matter what the capital gains tax rate is. I have no plan to sell my farmland or my business. Like Warren Buffett, I’m not selling, so the tax rate on any expected gain doesn’t matter to me.

The only question that matters to the growth of my business is this: how much cash does the tax man leave me?

Without cash, there is no business expansion, which means no new jobs.
When we expanded our farm recently by purchasing a neighboring place, the lender required at least 35 per cent of the purchase price as a down payment. That would be cash. It mattered not the capital gains tax rate, the cost of capital, the expected return, or what Obama considers fair. Business is hard and cash is king.

My wife and I had built the cash reserves necessary to make that down payment on our new farm over a period of years–years, interestingly enough, when the government taxed business and investment income at rates far lower than those envisioned by the present administration. With higher tax rates, it would have taken me many years longer to build the capital necessary to expand my business....My family businesses don’t add much to the overall economic prosperity of our nation. They’re small, not terribly profitable, and are hardly giant engines for job creation or on the cutting edge of innovation. They do, however, employ nine family members throughout the year, with another dozen or so employees during the busy season. Without sensible tax rates on both labor and capital, we can’t build the equity we need to expand in good times and survive the bad times. That’s why tax rates matter.

Yes, tax rates matter in Rhode Island as much as in Missouri, but vehicle, property, restaurant tax increases, etc. (& administrative "fees"!) negatively effect our cash in hand, too.

You Can Tell A Lot About David Cicilline By His Press Releases

Patrick Laverty

Thanks to Ian Donnis over at the RI Public Radio Blog for posting a press release from Congressman David Cicilline with regard to his probable Republican opponent in November, Brendan Doherty. The most interesting parts are those that seem either untrue or blatantly hypocritical.

The central theme to the release is Cicilline is trying to paint Doherty a certain way, based on his assumed associations and other instances of putting words in his mouth. Rather than turning this around and trying to judge Cicilline for who he associates with, let's take a look at who Cicilline is and what he says.

The more Paul Ryan (remember him? He’s the guy that wrote the bill to end Medicare)
I guess that's one take on it. Let's see what CNN had to say about it.
the Ryan plan would totally reverse the course of recent fiscal history by lowering federal health care spending from 8% of GDP today to just 5% by 2050. If we remain on the current course, the spending would jump to 14% in that time frame.
That doesn't sound like "the bill to end Medicare." So let's just call that one a "False".

Next up from Cicilline:

Eric Cantor (the chief cheerleader for shutting down the government last summer)
Again, let's see how CNN saw it.
Overall spending levels in the new measure would conform to the outlines of an agreement reached in Congress earlier this year.

"I hope we abide by that deal and move forward in a bipartisan way," Cantor told reporters.

That doesn't sound like a man rooting for a government shutdown. Plus, keep in mind that any time there is a government shutdown or the threat of one, it takes two to tango. It's always easy to not budge from your view of an argument and then just blame the other side for being stubborn. Nonetheless, it shows that Cantor was willing to move forward and not just a "cheerleader" for government shutdown. Another "False" for Cicilline.

Let's continue with the Cicilline's words.

Brendan Doherty’s plan to slash corporate taxes, end the capital gains tax and change Social Security benefits for anyone born after 1960
Wait, what? Hmm, I'd love to read a little more about these plans from Mr. Doherty. So where's the best place to look? How about his Issues page on his campaign web site. I've scanned it a couple times now and I don't see those things anywhere in there. Has anyone heard of Doherty's plans to do those things? Or is that just Cicilline projecting what he wants onto his opponent? Hey, I can do that too. How about this, David Cicilline has a plan to go to war with Canada. David Cicilline will reinstate the 95% tax bracket for anyone earning any amount over the poverty line. David Cicilline has a plan to go back to the days of rationing gas and bread. Is any of this true? Of course not. But it doesn't seem like the things he's attributing to Doherty are true either. So yet again, a "False" for Cicilline.
You can tell a lot about a candidate by who they choose to associate with.
Oh absolutely. This is probably true. David Cicilline associates with Congress, the same Congress with an 82% job disapproval rating and a 12% approval rating. You can tell a lot about Cicilline by who he's associating with. So that tells me one thing, Cicilline must be a terrible Congressman. I'll be fair and give him a "True" for that statement.

Back to Cicilline's press release:

Doherty’s loyalty is being rewarded and national Republicans recently sent out a press release hitting David that was later called a “Pants on Fire” lie by Politifact.
So let me get this straight, first Politifact supports Cicilline against a statement that he supported the federal loan guarantee to Solyndra, due to the fact that Cicilline was not in Congress when those were enacted. Yet then Cicilline wants to do the same thing, attributing Congressional Republicans' actions to Doherty, even though Doherty is not in Congress yet. You can't have it both ways, David. This is starting to sound like a broken record, "False."

Ok, lastly:

We can only expect more of these desperate attacks
Huh? From who? If there is one side in this that is clearly engaging in "desperate attacks" and blatant partisanship, it's clearly the reeling and very nervous David Cicilline through press releases like this one.

Most political analysts will tell you that people hate negative campaigning, but they all say it works. I'd agree. However it really only works when your negative ads are also true. If they're not going to be true, it's just going to backfire. This press release backfired on Cicilline in a big way.

February 8, 2012

Presidential Man of Principle

Patrick Laverty

It's refreshing to see that President Obama is a man of principle. When he takes a stand on something that he believes in, he sticks to it. It doesn't matter how it makes him look, he sticks to his word. Well, I guess except in the case of Super-PACs:

Mr. ‍Obama belatedly decided to give his blessing to so-called super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. Both ‍Obama‍’‍s campaign and the White House maintain that the president does not support today’s rules but realized belatedly he must play by them to give himself a competitive chance at a second term.
Very nice. Flip, flop.
Campaigning for Democrats before the 2010 midterm elections, ‍Obama railed against corporate interests spending money directly to sway federal elections, calling it a “threat to our democracy.”
Wow, so during his Sunday night Super Bowl interview with Matt Lauer, Obama backtracks on his word that if he can't get the economy fixed in his first term, he shouldn't get a second and now he's backtracking on his own vows against the Super PACs. He himself is now going to be a part of the "threat to our democracy."

I'm not offering any opinion on the Super PACs themselves, as yes, I know Republicans including Mitt Romney are using them, that's not the point. The point is the president purposely made this a campaign issue two years ago and campaigned against it. Now he's getting into bed with it. I guess I'll just finish with a quote from the House Speaker Oompa Loompa

“Just another broken promise”

ADDENDUM: As commenter David P reminds us, this isn't the first time that Barack Obama reversed course on his campaign finance stances. Remember in 2008, he pledged to stick to the public financing and then later changed it mind, allowing him to raise many millions more.

Why Rhode Island Passed Voter ID: Or, Who is 'El Macho'?

Marc Comtois

Simon Van Zuylen-Wood--Brown grad and writer for the liberal New Republic--has written a piece trying to explain how "blue" Rhode Island has joined "red" states in passing a Voter ID law. His first instinct is that it's about race.

The perpetrators are all Hispanic and the accusers are mostly not. This underlines what is most likely at play in Rhode Island— anxiety over the state’s changing demographics. Since 2000, the state’s white population has declined by 55,000, while its Hispanic population has increased by 45,000, or nearly 50 percent. The immigration boom, coupled with a 10.8 percent unemployment rate (the third-worst in the country), has contributed to the open hostility toward Hispanics.
Zuylen-Wood also basically tags Senator Jon Brien as sort of the white puppet master manipulating fear and distrust amongst minorities to get Voter ID passed.
Voter ID proponents subtly capitalized on these fears. The bill’s main House sponsor, conservative Democrat Jon Brien, has “anti-immigrant credentials like no other,” says Latino activist Pablo Rodriguez. Brien has argued that illegal immigrants are usurping government resources, taking American jobs, and now, voting.
However, Zuylen-Wood doesn't think its solely a racial thing; apparently a form of modern day Know-Nothingism is also present as "here-firsters" are aggravated by newbies, regardless of whether they are in the same racial demographic:
A couple of established Latino state representatives voted for the bill, suggesting that they too may have concerns about the political influence of newly arrived immigrants.
Meanwhile, liberal college professors and anonymous state legislators thinks its much ado about nothing:
Besides, as Providence College professor of political science Tony Affigne told me, minority legislators who voted for the law weren’t necessarily fabricating their tales of voter fraud—they were just ascribing too much importance to them. “I’ve seen [some voter fraud] with my own eyes,” Affigne told me. “But it’s certainly not the kind of problem that [necessitates] a statewide draconian law.” One state legislator agreed, telling me, “I think they’ve fallen for the urban legend stuff,” adding that, because of their naïveté, they’re “being used as pawns by the anti-immigrant conservatives.”
Poor pawns, can't think for themselves. That brings us to the story of 'El Macho':
How does this alleged voter fraud work? According to [State representative Anastasia] Williams, a candidate hires a “recruiter,” who obtains a list of likely non-voters, and then pays willing foot soldiers to cast ballots in their place. A large Hispanic man who calls himself “El Macho” and works for the Providence Water Supply Board is rumored to be the most prominent recruiter. George Lindsey, a prominent South Providence African American, told me that candidates have long paid El Macho five or six thousand dollars per election. “What he’ll tell you is he’s basically a hired gun.”
I bet it would be interesting to figure out who exactly 'El Macho' is and get him to talk. Seems like there's a story to tell there, no?

Ron Paul Qualifies for the RI Primary Ballot

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Secretary of State's official totals, Ron Paul has crossed the 1,000 signature threshold, becoming the 3rd Republican contender (in addition to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, so far) who will appear on the April 24 Republican Presidential primary ballot in Rhode Island.

February 7, 2012

Negotiate And We Won't Litigate: NEA-RI Brandishes a Paper Tiger

Monique Chartier

In light of recent court judgements which have failed to uphold changes to public employee retirement benefits and the corresponding possibility that last session's pension reform law will eventually be deemed illegal by a court, NEA-RI's Robert Walsh has a suggestion, via WPRI, for the state: negotiate.

That’s why the four state leaders who pushed through the new pension law should start formal negotiations with union leaders on an alternative overhaul of the system before they lose in court, according to Bob Walsh of the National Education Association Rhode Island.

“The legislative victory that the folks who supported changes in the pension system achieved is going to be short-lived – because it was illegal,” Walsh told WPRI.com on Tuesday. He suggested state leaders should appoint a neutral mediator such as former R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams to start talks between the two sides.

Surrender, Dorothy!

The complication here is that the specter of yet another unfavorable court ruling may not be as threatening as Mr. Walsh believes. The problem, as we have discussed, is not the unfavorable ruling itself but the reality of its aftermath. Courts can rule all day long that the original, promised benefits - however extravagant and inequitable - are legal. But the court cannot create the ability to pay the benefits if the employer (the state and/or the municipality) simply lacks the means to do so.

The pension reform passed last session by the G.A. fell far short of real reform and represented a substantial victory for labor, as witnessed, in part, by the support it garnered from pro-labor legislators.

It appears that Mr. Walsh is hoping to expand on that victory. If, however, the state were so ill advised as to act on Mr. Walsh's suggestion, the most likely end result - the promulgation of another precursor to one more perfectly legal and unenforceable ruling - would be an ephemeral victory at best.

Another Witness to Voter Fraud

Carroll Andrew Morse

When Rhode Island passed voter-ID into law this past summer, the RI Chapter of the ACLU responded by saying it had been passed "in order to address a non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud". State Representative Charlene Lima, who has introduced a bill in this legislative session to repeal voter ID, told WPRO radio (630AM) that "there is no voter fraud as far as people posing to be someone else at the voter booth".

Given the strong position taken in such claims, the buried lede in Simon van Zuylen-Wood's RI voter ID story at the New Republic website is the author's mention of another Rhode Islander (the first being State Rep. Anastasia Williams) who has directly witnessed vote fraud...

Besides, as Providence College professor of political science Tony Affigne told me, minority legislators who voted for the law weren’t necessarily fabricating their tales of voter fraud—they were just ascribing too much importance to them. “I’ve seen [some voter fraud] with my own eyes,” Affigne told me. “But it’s certainly not the kind of problem that [necessitates] a statewide draconian law.”
With the claim that in-person voter fraud doesn't exist having been put convincingly to rest (from a number of different sources), progressives in opposition to voter-ID laws are now left to explain how much cancellation of the votes of law-abiding citizens they accept as being consistent with the principle that every vote counts.

New Education Funding Formula Contributes to Increases in State Aid

Marc Comtois

Dan McGowan at GoLocalProv has a story on how Governor Chafee's budget sends more money to the cities and towns.

A GoLocalProv review of the Governor’s budget plan shows Barrington, East Greenwich, Lincoln, Cranston, Scituate and North Providence will all receive at least 16 percent bumps in aid, with Barrington and East Greenwich – two of the wealthiest communities in the state – getting 38.2 percent and 36 percent increases, respectively.

In total, 15 communities will receive at least ten percent increases and Providence, which receives by far the most state aid of any city or town, will get a 9.5 percent increase in aid.

As Dan notes, the increase is "mostly in education aid". That is because the state passed a new funding formula bill (PDF) last year and, based on the calculations, communities such as Barrington and East Greenwich are seeing an increase because they had been getting less money on a per pupil basis than other cities under the old, hodge-podge,/who-you-know-in-the-legislature system. The percentage increase looks big for the "rich" towns like Barrington and East Greenwich, but they are less in real dollars when compared to the nearly 19% increase for Cranston, for instance.

Additionally, GoLocal didn't include school aid for a couple cases where communities share a school district--Exeter/West Greenwich and Bristol/Warren. With the exception of Portsmouth, these four communities are the only ones experiencing an overall decrease in aid. Based on the new funding formula, these towns will be receiving less education aid, which makes their reduction in state aid even more than that indicated by GoLocalProv.

In years past, the perception in the Legislature (and, probably, in the general population) has been that Barrington and EG didn't "need" more aid. Conversely, the old system failed to account for population and demographic changes that have occurred in some communities--Bristol and Warren, for example--by continuing to send the same or a little more money every year while, for instance in the case of Bristol/Warren, the student population continues to go down. Well, a comprehensive funding formula takes out such "gut feel" factors. We'll see how this plays out: To some, the new funding formula may not be "fair", but it is equitable.

Missouri's Meaningless Primary

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you are wondering why tonight's Missouri Republican primary isn't receiving the attention that it might as a potential firewall for the non-Romney GOP Presidential candidates, it's because no delegates will be allocated based on the results. Kansas City Star columnist Steve Kraske has a good column on the unplanned chain of events that led Missouri to waste a good calendar date on a statewide straw poll...

Missouri will pick its convention delegates at sparsely attended caucus meetings March 17....

In July, [Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon] vetoed an elections bill that moved the presidential primary from Feb. 7 to March 6. Yes, that’s late in the game, but at least we wouldn’t have wasted millions on a February primary that didn’t count....

The Republican State Committee opted Sept. 29 to pick their delegates at those county caucuses. In effect, the GOP played it safe. It caved to pressure from the national party, which had warned that any state holding a nominating contest prior to March 1 loses half its delegates....

The Missouri Senate and Sens. Jason Crowell and Jane Cunningham...missed an Oct. 17 vote that would have canceled the primary after the House already passed it. A 16-16 deadlock was the result.

February 6, 2012

Coming up in Committee: Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 7 - February 9

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H7343: Allows school districts to replace school bus monitors on K through 5 buses with a suitable technical monitoring system (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 8).

8. Bud Art. 28: In addition to involving some specific financial details relating to Central Falls, including an extra-constitutional appropriation of local revenue, this article also gives municipal receivers the power to negotiate contracts of 5 years in duration in any community where they have been installed. (Current Rhode Island law says that municipal contracts cannot extend beyond three years, though this law is routinely ignored in practice) (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9).

7. S2121: "With respect to police officers employed by the town of Johnston, only those police officers hired on or after July 1,2011 shall be eligible to be members of the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System of the state of Rhode Island" (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9). (Still have the same question here: Isn't the MERS system the pension system in Rhode Island considered to be the one in the best shape?)

6. H7059: Makes the intent to defraud in a residential mortgage transaction into a crime, whether or not "any particular person was harmed financially in the transaction". The bill also extends the statute of limitations for various crimes, including residential mortgage fraud, making false statements to obtain a loan or credit and "bank fraud", to 10 years (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 8).

5. Bud Art. 12/Bud Art. 26: Changes the state-aid allocation to municipalities, including how local capital education expenses are reimbursed, how Central Falls education expenses are funded by the state, and a one-year extension on a "temporary" appropriation of gambling revenue to distressed communities (S Finance; Thu, Feb 9).

4. H7317: "Legal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town, shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract". (H Labor; Tue, Feb 7) (Editorial Note: Justin's view on the problem with this bill is available here).

3. H7283/S2180: Replaces a 5-section/7-subsection part of the law prohibiting for-profit "corporations, subsidiaries, or affiliates" from applying to "convert" more than 1 hospital in a 3-year period, with 1 section (sans subsections) expressly stating that for-profits can apply to "convert" more than one hospital per year (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 7 & S Health and Human Services; Wed Feb 8).

2. H7316: Prohibits municipal governments (including school committees and fire districts) from modifying or negotiating collective bargaining agreements after a primary election, until after the officials chosen in the associated general election have taken office (H Labor; Tue, Feb 7).

1. H7112: Eliminates good-behavior reduction of prison sentences for individuals convicted under sections 11-23-1 (Murder), 11-26-1.4 (Kidnapping of a minor), 11-37-2 (First degree sexual assault), 11-37-8.1 (First degree child molestation sexual assault) or 11-37-8.3 (Second degree child molestation sexual assault) of Rhode Island law (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 8).

Re: Legal Condom Tossing

Justin Katz

Commenting to Monique's post on the topic, Matt writes:

There is no question this conduct was criminal in nature (whether it should be is another issue) and the AG prosecutes for this kind of stuff all the time. See e.g. State v. Cardona, 969 A. 2d 667, 675 (Battery is defined as "an act that was intended to cause, and does cause, an offensive contact with or unconsented touching of or trauma upon the body of another, thereby generally resulting in the consummation of the assault." Id. (quoting Fenwick v. Oberman, 847 A.2d 852, 855 (R.I.2004)).

He expanded the citations for me, via email:

Section 11-5-3, entitled "Simple assault or battery," provides:

"(a) Except as otherwise provided in § 11-5-2, every person who shall make an assault or battery or both shall be imprisoned not exceeding one year or fined not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both.

"(b) Where the provisions of `The Domestic Violence Prevention Act,' chapter 29 of title 12, are applicable, the penalties for violation of this section shall also include the penalties as provided in § 12-29-5."

Assault and battery are both chargeable under § 11-5-3.[4] Assault is "a physical act of a threatening nature or an offer of corporal injury which puts an individual in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm." Broadley, 939 A.2d at 1021 (quoting Hennessey, 694 A.2d at 696). Battery is defined as "an act that was intended to cause, and does cause, an offensive contact with or unconsented touching of or trauma upon the body of another, thereby generally resulting in the consummation of the assault." Id. (quoting Fenwick v. Oberman, 847 A.2d 852, 855 (R.I.2004)). As this definition reflects, these two crimes, although independent and distinct from each other, are closely related and often arise from a single incident. See Proffitt v. Ricci, 463 A.2d 514, 517 (R.I.1983) (emphasizing that "assault and battery are separate and different acts, each with independent significance," that often arise out 676*676 of the same incident); see also State v. Messa, 594 A.2d 882, 884 (R.I.1991).

All this, of course, is in addition to other possible charges that I came across while perusing the General Laws over the weekend. (What, you don't do that?) There's this:

11-11-1 Disturbance of public assemblies generally. — Every person who shall willfully interrupt or disturb any town or ward meeting, any assembly of people met for religious worship, any military funeral or memorial service, any public or private school, any meeting lawfully and peaceably held for purposes of moral, literary or scientific improvement, or any other lawful meeting, exhibition or entertainment, either within or without the place where the meeting or school is held, shall be imprisoned not exceeding one year or be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500).

And this:

11-11-2 Use of dangerous or offensive instruments or substances to disturb public assemblies. — Any person who shall willfully place in, on, about, or upon any theater, motion picture house, hall, or other building or place where people are assembled for the purpose of entertainment or instruction, any substance or thing that does or is liable to interrupt and disturb the peace and order of that place, or is liable to interrupt, disturb, or throw into confusion or endanger the life and limb of persons assembled in that place, or which is liable to or does cause injury to the property of the owner, lessee, tenant, or other occupant of the theater, motion picture house, hall, or other building or place, or whoever willfully throws into, against or upon, or puts, places, and explodes or causes to be placed or exploded in or upon any theater, motion picture house, hall, or any other building or place of public assemblage, any bomb, torpedo, or other instrument or package loaded or filled with any explosive or offensive substance with intent unlawfully to destroy or injure the theater, motion picture house, hall, or other building or place of public assemblage, shall be imprisoned not exceeding five (5) years, or shall be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both.

And especially this:

11-45-1 Disorderly conduct. — (a) A person commits disorderly conduct if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly: ... (1) Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; ... (3) Directs at another person in a public place offensive words which are likely to provoke a violent reaction on the part of the average person so addressed; ... (5) Engages in conduct which obstructs or interferes physically with a lawful meeting, procession, or gathering

Clearly, there's room to suggest that throwing objects during a political assault on such a gathering as the pro-life rally is illegal... unless, of course, the judiciary has effectively nullified these sections of the law or the AG's office just wants pesky right-leaning bloggers to go away like the mainstream reporters do.

February 5, 2012

A Week of Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

This week, Governor Chafee proposed a 1-2 point increase on the tax paid at restaurants. He said this increase will go to help the schools in the state. Really? Wasn't the purpose of bringing a lottery to the state to help the schools? Wasn't the gas tax supposed to be for the roads and bridges? This "earmarking" does not exist. It all goes into the state's general fund and then the Assembly decides how much to give to each department. Don't fall for the "it'll go to the schools" argument again.

This week, Anthony Gemma jumped into the fray of helping to better inform the voters of Providence and Rhode Island about what role the former mayor and current Congressman played in the city's financial demise. Gemma claimed that he will hold Cicilline accountable. My question is "are you in or are you out?"

This week's Valley Breeze contained an article about the RI Tobacco Control Network who gave RI a grade of an F for "adequately funding proven tobacco prevention and cessation programs." The state isn't properly funding campaigns to discourage people from smoking. Wouldn't it be nice if RI had like a billion dollars for anti-smoking campaigns that didn't cost the taxpayers anything? Oh wait, that's right, we did. We used it to plug holes in the budget and pay things like pensions.

It's too late to make a prediction on the Super Bowl, so how about a prediction on the next mayor of Central Falls, if and when things get cleaned up there. I'll put my money on city councilman James Diossa.

This week, the FBI and Scotland Yard put together a conference call to discuss future strategy and leads they had on the Anonymous hackers group. The only problem is that members of Anonymous were also on the call. Whoops. Some high tech hack to break into the phone system? No. One of the officers forwarded the call information to his personal email box. Systems like gmail or hotmail can be less secure than government or other corporate mail systems. Plus, don't choose dumb and easy passwords. Things like adding a number or using a $ instead of an S isn't any more secure.

Do you ever go out with friends and see them checking their phone for messages through dinner? Here's a game I saw suggested. Upon arrival, everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table, face down, stacked on top of each other. If someone checks their phone, they buy dinner. Sometimes it's just good to unplug.

Every election year, Rhode Island has millions of dollars on the ballot in spending questions. This year, Governor Chafee wants to put $201 million in spending questions up for vote. Every time, there is some group out there to advocate for each of the questions. Someone to tell us why we should be spending that money. What we really need is a group to explain the other side of the spending questions. For starters, when you vote in favor of those questions, you are increasing your tax bill. You are agreeing to pay more money for those things. They are not free. It always amazes me how easily these questions pass yet people complain about the taxes in this state. You're doing it to yourself, people. If you want to do at least something to keep your taxes in check, don't vote for these things.

Curt Schilling's 38 Studios' game, "Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur" will finally be released this week. The reviews are coming in good and it even appears that the game will be profitable, which would virtually eliminate all risk to Rhode Island from the $75 million in loan guarantees that the firm received.

Also in the Valley Breeze this week, publisher Tom Ward wrote about the abundance of out of state license plates in Rhode Island, possibly an attempt to avoid the car tax. There seems to be another part to this that I often notice and that is dealer's plates. Aren't dealer plates for test driving cars? Why do I see a woman at the local Stop & Shop loading up her car with groceries and her car adorned with dealer plates? I'm not talking about temporary plates, those are the cardboard things we see. I've seen other cars in similar situations around the state that don't look anything like a test drive. Maybe it's all legal and there are other purposes for the dealer plates. Maybe a loaner while their car is in the shop?

Are you really still surfing the internet with Internet Explorer 6? Really? Stop. Even Microsoft proclaimed that browser to be dead. You're begging for people to take over your computer and so many web sites look horrible with it. C'mon, upgrade. Here, I'll help you: Latest Internet Explorer or even better FireFox or even my current favorite, Chrome.

Did you see this week where even the town council in Coventry had no idea that they were running a pension system? They thought they had a defined contribution plan where the town's commitments end upon the employee's retirement. If you're elected to the town council, shouldn't you really be digging in a lot deeper to how things work? Even the town council president said "I knew nothing about this fund until last week." Why? Shouldn't the town council president know where every dollar is coming from and where it's going?

Lastly, we had two seemingly unrelated stories on back to back days on the front cover of the Providence Journal. On one day, we saw that the Governor and the General Assembly wants to give its employees a 4.6% pay increase for this year and a 16.5% increase next year. All this on top of things like longevity bonuses and other merit pay. The front page story the next day was

National report finds many in Rhode Island living on the edge
Twenty percent of households lack assets to cover three months of expenses if they lose a job or face an emergency
Well, maybe they can just get a job at the State House.

Congratulations New York Giants fans. Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

R.I. Attorney General: Barring Injury, Not Illegal To Throw Condoms or Light Objects Onto A Crowd

Monique Chartier

Last Friday, a Right to Life rally at the State House was cut short due to serious disruptions by, it would appear, a group of pro-choice, Occupy Providence activists. Check out the FOX News report of the incident here.

Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, said their rally had to be cut short after the Occupiers began screaming and refused to allow a Catholic priest to deliver a prayer.

“This is their idea of civil speech but we believe it’s an outrage,” Bracy told Fox News & Commentary “They started heckling, chanting and blowing whistles. They shouted down a priest.”


Bracy said one of the most egregious incidents occurred when an Occupier climbed to the third floor balcony and dumped a box of condoms on girls from a Catholic school.

“What kind of individual throw condoms at Catholic school girls,” Bracy asked.

Bracy said capitol police were outnumbered and overwhelmed by the protesters. At one point they even attacked State. Rep. Doreen Costa.

“This was one of the most disturbing sights I’ve ever seen,” Costa told Fox News & Commentary. “It was horrendous. “

Costa said a female Occupier hit her on the head with a sign and shoved her “moppy” hair in the lawmaker’s face.

There are several disturbing aspects to the incident. One of the bigger ones, for me, is the implications to all future rallies at the State House - the ability of any group to exercise their right of free speech at the seat of government without being drowned out, shut down, physically impeded or having objects thrown on them. One of the ways to ensure that this unacceptable incident will not be repeated would be to hold these disruptors acountable. (The preferred way would have been to have quelled it as it occurred. But for some reason, that didn't happen.)

Accordingly, on Friday, I called the office of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. After some discussion with his spokesperson, Amy Kempe, we agreed that the initial question to be answered was: "Is it illegal to throw condoms or small objects onto a crowd?"

After consulting a Deputy Attorney General, spokesperson Amy Kempe came back with the answer: No, it is not illegal to throw condoms or small objects onto a crowd, in the absence of injury. As with Judge Sarah Taft-Carter's decision on a different matter, a legally correct answer, undoubtedly, but one which leaves in its wake an untenable situation.

Who has legal/physical custody of the State House? The Governor? The Speaker's office? How do they view the precedent set last Friday?

Because make no mistake, that's what it was - a precedent. Witness: what happens now if a conservative-leaning group decided to emulate the immature, repugnant actions of the disruptors last Friday? Suppose they drop, say, wet nap packs onto an Occupy rally or folded pictures of Jesus Christ onto a pro-choice rally. They also physically box in some of the rally attendees, push around one legislator, hit another one with a sign and then scream and whistle so much that they shut the speakers down and cause the rally to end early.

As things stand, absolutely nothing should happen to them. After all, according to the Attorney General, barring injury, it would be legal.

But legal does not necessarily equal desireable. Nor does it address the matter of escalation at subsequent rallies in the event that a group was stupid enough to repeat the disruptions of last Friday's rally. Of course, an escalation would be illegal because it would almost certainly involve injury - small consolation to those harmed. Far better, again, to head it off rather than react after the fact.

Governor Chafee. Speaker Fox. Is this the direction that future rallies at the State House should take? If not, what is being done to prevent it? And doesn't prevention have to involve, in part, holding accountable those who set the precedent last Friday?

Have a Super Day!

Marc Comtois

Let's face it, the big news story around here has to do with football. So, despite the fact that some knucklehead on the NY Football Giants website team thought they had already won, the game is in fact tonight. There are plenty of football storylines, but to a lot of people, it will be about the commercials. No matter what your focus, enjoy our unofficial national holiday & may the Patriots Reign again!

February 4, 2012

Does the Mayor of Central Falls Live in Lincoln?

Patrick Laverty

I guess he's just following the leader. Remember before the election two years ago, GoLocalProv.com broke the story about then-candidate Lincoln Chafee being accused of having car registrations in East Greenwich, taking a homestead exemption in Providence and being a registered voter in Warwick? For those unaware, property owners can only get a homestead exemption for their primary residence. But I guess we should just "Trust Chafee."

Based on that precedent, I guess it would only stand to reason that the mayor of Central Falls would register a vehicle in Lincoln, where the taxes on that vehicle are cheaper.

The next year, 2010, when Mayor Moreau declared the city insolvent and petitioned Central Falls into state receivership, the couple found a better car tax deal. He transferred the registration to Lincoln where he and his wife own a home in Serenity Acres, a woodsy development at 1906 Old Louisquisset Pike. There, the Moreaus took advantage of a lower car tax rate and a $3,000 exemption the town provides on vehicle assessments, which allowed them to save about $450. They paid Lincoln $528.89 in vehicle taxes.
Some might be led to question whether he is still the mayor as Robert Flanders is the current state appointed receiver for the city, but as Flanders said:
“It bothers me that we are giving him a salary of $26,000 when he’s doing little or nothing as mayor,” he said. “It’s discouraging to see the mayor depriving the city of revenue when it’s in a time of need."
Moreau is receiving a salary to be Central Fall's mayor in name only, yet he owns a property in Lincoln where he has registered a vehicle.

Additionally, according to the ProJo

The City Charter requires the mayor to live in Central Falls.

To be completely fair here though, the ProJo article might have inadvertently explained this.

A review of tax records from each community shows that in 2009 the sport utility vehicle was registered to Moreau’s wife, Kristen
If the vehicle is the mayor's wife's, there's no law that says she can't live in Lincoln and register a vehicle there. She's not the mayor and doesn't have any residency requirement. As for further figuring out exactly where they live, there's this:
The Moreaus in October sold their house at 141 Jenks Ave., where they had been registered to vote, and are now registered to vote at 150 Jenks Ave., the home of Jonathan and Sharon Kelly, according to the Board of Canvassers.
But unless Mrs. Moreau has voted in Central Falls since registering the car in Lincoln, I don't know that we have a problem here. Maybe it is her car, maybe she lives in Lincoln and just hasn't gotten around to registering to vote in Lincoln yet. I guess it is possible. Right?

As for Chafee, the explanation once again seems to be that the cars and home in question aren't in his name, but instead are his wife's or belong to a trust. To quote Dana Carvey as the Church Lady, "Well, isn't that conveeeenient?"

Gotta love Rhode Island politicians.

Gingrich and Obama Qualify for the RI Primary

Carroll Andrew Morse

Newt Gingrich (on the Republican side) and Barack Obama (on the Democratic side) have qualified to be on Rhode Island's April 24 Republican primary ballot. (Collection of the signatures needed to get on the ballot is closed at this point; the Secretary of State's office is tallying the totals).

Barack Obama will be the only candidate on the Democratic ballot, having been the only Democrat to file in Rhode Island. Newt Gingrich is the 2nd qualifier for the Republican ballot, with Mitt Romney having crossed the 1,000 signature threshold earlier in the week.

February 3, 2012

General Assembly Trying to Further Mess Up the Pension System

Patrick Laverty

House Bill #7201 submitted by State Reps Savage, San Bento, Ajello, Blazejewski and DaSilva is an attempt to force the teachers at the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA) into the state pension system. Currently, the staff at RIMA are in a defined contribution plan, or more specifically a 401k plan. They pay into the system, they maintain their own account and they know how much money they will have. To know specifically what this bill is about, all you have to do is read the summary at the end of the bill.

This act would require that teachers, administrators and employees of mayoral academies participate in state teachers’ retirement system. This act would take effect upon passage
Hey teachers at RIMA, are you all aware of this? I hope so and I hope you all react in the same way as you would if these State Representatives were trying to take away your retirement funds, because that's potentially what could happen.

I did wonder what the people working with they thought at RIMA, so I asked Michael Magee, the CEO of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies:

"Mayoral Academy teachers are highly satisfied with their 100% solvent and very generous matching 5% 401K retirement plan. I can't imagine why anyone would want to force them into the state pension system. We view the Blackstone Valley Mayoral Academies compensation system as a valuable innovation worth studying, not as something to disrupt at the expense of hardworking public school teachers."
Mr. Magee makes an excellent point here. This General Assembly is doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. Instead of forcing these teachers out of a plan they're happy with, they should be taking a look at how RIMA is doing things right and see if it is feasible for the rest of the teachers in the state.

Anyone have any guesses on why the Assembly would be looking to do this? How about this one. RIMA teachers seem to be on the younger end of their career, so they have another 20-30 years of work before they'll ever collect a pension. That is 20-30 years of payments into the system. Also that is a whole lot of new money to dump into the system and use to pay the current retirees with. But then what happens in 20-30 years? Who knows. The only thing we do know is that Reps Savage, San Bento, Ajello, Blazejewski and DaSilva will be long gone from the General Assembly and will simply be "mistakes of our past."

And what exactly do you call that when you have new people pay into a system and the money gets paid out to people who paid earlier? Oh yeah, that's called a Ponz...ohhh, you almost got me there. I almost said it and we know that's a no no, right Politifarce?

RE: Voter Fraud in Florida

Marc Comtois

As Patrick points out, while, apparently, voter fraud happens in Florida, it can't happen here....right? Breitbart has more:

A local Florida station invented an unprecedented way to check for voter fraud: jury excusal forms. NBC2 compiled a list of jury excusals based on not being a citizen of the United States and compared it to a list of registered voters in two counties. They discovered almost 100 illegally registered voters, many of whom had voted multiple times. "I vote every year," one woman told NBC2, despite the fact that she is not a US citizen. The woman had told the court that she couldn't serve on a jury because she wasn't a US citizen, but she doesn't seem to have a problem voting like one.

Based on the NBC2 investigation, local election offices say they'll now request a copy of every jury excusal form where residents say they can't serve because they're not a citizen.

Here is part 1 and part 2 of the complete report from NBC2 in Florida.

The Problem that Doesn't Exist

Patrick Laverty

We've heard State Rep Charlene Lima liken Rhode Island's new voter ID law to "Jim Crow". We've heard from people like Dr. Pablo Rodriguez that it is "a solution to a problem that doesn't exist." And Providence immigration lawyer, Roberto Gonzalez said in reference to the law "They based their support on some perceived fraud that no one has been able to establish actually existing. So based on some phantom problem..."

People have said that there are few to no known cases of voter fraud in Rhode Island. Well guess what, until a local television station in Florida had done the research, few known cases existed there either. Their reporter dug up 94 cases pretty easily. We can easily surmise that they missed some, simply because of their methodology. They went through all the jury duty recusals due to "Not being a US citizen" and crosschecked that with the registered voters. So if you begged off jury duty due to not being a US citizen, yet you're registered to vote, that was flagged. So how many did they miss that have not been called to jury duty or those non-US citizens who did serve and didn't call out their own status?

This is a problem that doesn't exist? No, it's simply a problem that isn't known about. The voter ID law is a step in the right direction toward better protecting the legitimacy of our elections.

February 2, 2012

Providence Mayoral Academy Gets First Approval From Board of Regents

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Blackstone Valley Prep's Twitter feed, the State's Board of Regents has given preliminary approval to an Achievement First operated mayoral academy to be sited in Providence -- with Board of Regents chairman George Caruolo casting the 5th and deciding vote in favor.

Let's Remember: Half of Providence's Annual Tax Take Is Owed to Pensions and Post-Retirement Benefits

Monique Chartier

GoLocalProv did some very good research last June.

Just over half of all taxes collected in Providence in 2010 were owed to pensions and benefits for all city retirees—sucking money away from basic services and adding to the property tax burden, according to new data obtained by GoLocalProv.

Now, local taxes do not comprise the entirety of the revenue funding Providence's budget. Nevertheless, if half of all taxes collected are owed to a city's past services, something is very wrong. No wonder Mayor Taveras has hit the panic button.

Romney Qualifies for RI Primary

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to official figures from the Rhode Island Secretary of State's website, Mitt Romney has become the first candidate (of any party) to qualify for the RI Presidential Primary, to be held on April 24.

Achievement First, Paying Twice?

Marc Comtois

The application by Achievement First to open a new charter school (a Mayoral Academy) in Providence is up for approval before the Board of Regents today. In an effort to promote this application, RI-CAN has been rolling out "7 Facts in 7 Days" on their website. Whether you approve, oppose--or are pre-disposed to either--one fact (already touched on by Andrew) contained some additional information that was news to me.

FACT #5: Under Rhode Island’s new fair funding formula, money follows the child, so the Achievement First Mayoral Academy would not be taking money away from its host districts. --- Because of Rhode Island’s new school funding formula, each of the four communities that the Achievement First Mayoral Academy would serve are set to receive additional resources from the state in the coming years. Instead of a lump sum, districts will receive funding based on enrollment and student need, so that every child will get their fair share of state dollars, whether they go to a public charter school such as Achievement First Mayoral Academy or a traditional public school. To allow districts to adjust to the new funding formula and changes in enrollment pattern, districts will even get funding through the 2017-18 school year for the students who are no longer enrolled in their schools. {Emphasis mine}.
So for 4 or 5 years, districts sending kids to the Providence Mayoral Academy will still receive compensation for students they won't be directly educating. What is the more likely scenario come the end of the 2017/18 school year: 1) The districts will have planned accordingly and their budgets will anticipate the oncoming "shortfall" such that they will be able to absorb budget cuts or 2) The districts will factor in the windfall and expect it to be part of the new funding baseline regardless of the "deadline"?

Providence on the Brink of Bankruptcy

Marc Comtois

As Andrew mentioned, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras held a press conference this morning and painted a grim picture for Providence unless some remedies are found to close the budget gap. Ian Donnis summarizes

– Taveras says the city is pursuing an expedited state Supreme Court review of Super Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter’s decision barring the city from moving public-safety retirees into Medicare.

– Taveras was joined by House Speaker Gordon Fox, who said he’ll go to the wall to help Providence avoid going into bankruptcy. Fox said this could include passing legislation requiring contributions to the city by tax-exempt institutions.

– Taveras announced plans for an early March “Town Hall” with retirees at the Rhode Island Convention Center. It will also be carried online for retirees who can’t make it to the event.

– Taveras says the city is due to run out of money in June, and a decision will be made by then about whether to seek a supplemental tax increase. He called that a last resort and said he doesn’t want to solve Providence’s budget problems with a temporary fix.

Ian will have more details soon.

Mayor Taveras' Providence-on-the-Brink Press Conference

Carroll Andrew Morse

Whether you're into Twitter or not, the best immediate coverage of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras' hastily-called press conference on Providence's dire fiscal situation came from the members of the RI media who Tweeted it as it happened.

Erika Niedowski (Associated Press):

Taveras mentions possibility of bankruptcy, saying 'everything is on the table
Ian Donnis (Rhode Island Public Radio):
City of #Providence is seeking expedited review of Superior Court decision barring city from moving public-safety retirees to Medicare.
Bill Rappleye (WJAR, NBC 10):
Want to suspend cost of living raises. We will reduce their benefits... Want law to collect money from tax exempts
Ted Nesi (WPRI, CBS 12):
Taveras: "We will reduce retiree benefits," either thru concessions or in bankruptcy ie C Falls. Will hold mtg w retirees next month.
Also, take one guess who Tweeted this message, obviously with other things on his mind than the City of Providence, while the presser was occurring...
Just leaving National Prayer Breakfast. Beautiful singing by Jackie Evancho & inspiring words from our President. Good way to begin the day!

Legislation to Beat Cities and Towns Senseless with Their Own Amputated Legs

Justin Katz

Fresh on the heels of Governor Chafee's declaration of the Year of the Cities and Towns, Reps. Scott Guthrie (D, Coventry), Roberto DaSilva (D, East Prov., Pawtucket), and John Savage (R, East Prov.) have introduced legislation (H7317) that may win the sure-to-be-tough contest for union-loving lunacy:

28-7-7.1. Representation of towns and cities - maximum legal fees. — Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary contained in any general or public law, rule or regulation, legal fees pertaining to a labor contract entered into by a city or town, shall not exceed two tenths of one percent (0.2%) of the value of the contract.

Says Guthrie in the associated press release:

"My legislation is not intended to interfere with contract negotiations, or muddle the legal process associated with them... My legislation is intended to be a form of property tax relief, by setting a specific monetary cap on legal fees so they do not grow and grow like top seed."

One needn't be but so cynical to think that his legislation just might be intended to add a restraint on the employer in negotiations. They have to fight with the knowledge that a buzzer will eventually go off requiring them to lower their gloves and take whatever beating is coming their way.

Then again, given the lack of a "what then" in the legislation, a municipality surely would gain some immunity to accusations of unfair negotiation tactics if it unilaterally imposes contract terms the day that the law says its paid advocate has to go home.

February 1, 2012

Publishing Votes to Hold for Further Study is the Official RI Senate Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Senate Director of Communications Greg Pare informs me, in response to an inquiry, that Senate Committees have been publishing the committee votes to hold bills for further study since last year (he sent along a few examples, available here, here, here, and here), as part of a set of rules changes supported by Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed that include...

  • Requiring that electronic votes taken on the floor of the Senate be posted online in real time
  • Requiring that work continue towards placing committee votes online in a timely manner; and
  • Calling for greater use of technology to broadcast Senate activities, such as committee hearings.