March 31, 2012

Re: Dime Ain't Worth A Dime

Patrick Laverty

I certainly didn't think the post about the cost of creating and distributing coins would create such a stir. But that's great, comment away.

In related news, Canada has decided to stop production of their penny.

In an effort to cut costs, the Canadian government released its 2012 budget Thursday without any money designated to fund the Canadian penny.
According to the article, Canada also pays more than one cent to produce each penny, but yet somehow, they still do it for 0.8 cents cheaper than the US, 1.6 to 2.4. Amazing.

Ciccone Re Ruggerio: Do You Know Who He Is???

Monique Chartier

"Do you know who I am???"

That bullying, boastful phrase made famous by Moe Greene and sometimes uttered by politicians and the famous when they get in a jam.

After hearing a full accounting of the arrest of Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D) for allegedly DUI, some of us were left slightly wanting (and slightly impressed) by the absence of that phrase or the attendant attitude on the part of the arrestee.

Now, thanks to some excellent FOIA work by the Providence Journal, it turns out that the substance of the phrase was very much employed at the scene. But it emanated from a third party.

A North Providence state senator threatened police officers with legislative retribution Wednesday and tried to pull strings to get Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio off the hook after Ruggerio was pulled over and later charged with drunken driving, according to a Barrington police report released Friday after The Providence Journal filed an Open Records Request.

In a roadside confrontation, Frank A. Ciccone III told Patrolmen Michael J. Gregorzek and Walter C. Larson, "You think you got pension problems now, wait 'til this [expletive] is all done. This guy voted against you the last time, it ain't gonna get any better now," according to Gregorzek's report.

Gregorzek also declared that Ciccone "was calling numbers from his cell phone trying to contact the major of the state police and every other person he could think of to deal with 'the problem.'"

The officer also said that Ciccone urged him to call "John," whom he identified as Police Chief John M. LaCross of Barrington.

The ProJo link above has links to both police reports: the "supplemental" report issued Friday by the Barrington police which contains this new information and the original report about the arrest of Senate Majority Leader Ruggerio.

I would be remiss if I failed to say:

Major kudos to the Barrington police for not being dissuaded from doing their job by such antics on the part of an unwelcome bystander.

Asked for his reaction to this new revelation, Senator Ciccone weakly tries to distance himself from it but ultimately does not deny its substance.

In a statement, Ciccone declined to address the details of the report. "While the Barrington Police were at all times courteous and professional, I do not agree with the accuracy of some of the details in the report," he said. "However, I certainly regret anything I may have said Tuesday evening that was inappropriate."

Two small questions arise from these new details about the incident: where did Senator Ciccone pop from to do this bullying and blustering? The "supplemental" police report says that he walked up to the scene where Officer Larson was questioning and administering a field sobriety test to Senate Majority Leader Ruggerio. Presumably, Senator Ciccone was not jogging beside the Senate Majority Leader as he drove down Wampanoag Trail but had been leading or following Senate Majority Leader Ruggerio in his own vehicle. If so, was the smell of alcohol also detected on Senator Ciccone?

March 30, 2012

Did He Really Go There?

Patrick Laverty

I'm not sure what exactly I would do without Ted Nesi's Twitter feed. Today, he had a link to a Huffington Post OpEd from Congressman David Cicilline titled "They Just Don't Get It" where he bashes the budget passed by the House yesterday.

Did he really state "they just don't get it" and referred to budgeting in the same article? Really? Wouldn't that be akin to Newt Gingrich or John Edwards giving marriage fidelity advice? David Cicilline is seriously criticizing someone over budgeting and anything financial? Just three days after Providence had its bond rating cut yet again in part due to Cicilline's own budgeting issues?

A couple of the head-scratchers from the article include:

I have spoken with families across our state who are tired of the same old political games that got our country into this mess to begin with.

They know that Washington should put politics aside and work on policies that will create jobs, support our middle class, and put the economy back on the right track.

And yet he goes on to attack the Republicans for this budget. How exactly is that putting "politics aside"?

There's also the rehashing of a 2010 election trick:

This Republican budget proposal would also replace the current health care system for our seniors with a voucher program that could allow Medicare to wither on the vine and shift costs to seniors.
I guess on the bright side, he stopped blaming Brendan Doherty for the Congressional budget.

Finally, I have to wonder about the consistency of message in the Cicilline campaign. In this article, he leads off with

Yesterday, less than a year after a similar proposal was defeated, the House Republican leadership held a vote on a budget proposal that would extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans
But just two days ago, I got an email from the Cicilline campaign stating:
David is facing a conservative Republican in this upcoming election who is so out-of-touch, he actually supports repealing the Bush tax cuts
I'm confused here. On one hand, Cicilline blasts the Republicans for wanting to extend the tax cuts and on the other, his campaign is blasting Brendan Doherty for wanting to end the tax cuts. If he's against extending them and he's against ending them, is there anything that Cicilline is for?

Does Lincoln Chafee Support David Cicilline for Congress and, if He Does, is it Actually News?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Chris Fierro, District Director for Rhode Island First District Congressman David Cicilline, tweeted this following a Cicilline fundraiser held last night...

Leaving a fantastic event for @davidcicilline -- strong support; full room with @Angel_Taveras @LincolnChafee @GinaRaimondo and many more!
Mayor Taveras and Treasurer Raimondo were mentioned in earlier news reports (WRNI's Ian Donnis, WPRI's Ted Nesi) as members of the host committee for this event and have declared various level of public support for Cicilline's reelection (in Raimondo's case, her support is not an "endorsement"), but the list of names on the host committee reported by GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan and WRNI's Ian Donnis did not include Governor Chafee and, as far as I know, this is the first mention of Governor Chafee publicly supporting Congressman Cicilline's reelection.


According to Ted Nesi, fresh from the taping of this week's Newsmakers for WPRI-TV (CBS 12), it's a full-blown endorsement...

Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Friday he’s endorsing the freshman Democrat for reelection, the morning after he attended a Cicilline fundraiser in Providence whose host committee included Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

“A lot of the criticism leveled against Congressman Cicilline’s time as mayor I think is unfounded, because he suffered $30 million in [state aid] cuts, and that’s what we’re talking about,”

March 29, 2012

Civically Valuable Performance Art Courtesy of the Supreme Court

Carroll Andrew Morse

During Tuesday's oral arguments over Obamacare, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer apparently teamed up to pay tribute to the old adage, attributed to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain amongst others, that it is "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt".

Justice Thomas has attained a degree of notoriety over his career for not asking questions during Supreme Court oral arguments. Tuesday was not an exception.

And here's a part of what Justice Breyer had to say about the US Constitution's Commerce Clause, transcripted by Conn Carroll of the Washington Examiner...

I say, hey, can't Congress make people drive faster than 45 -- 40 miles an hour on a road? Didn't they make that man growing his own wheat go into the market and buy other wheat for his -- for his cows? Didn't they make Mrs. -- if she married somebody who had marijuana in her basement, wouldn't she have to go and get rid of it? Affirmative action?
Carroll's blog post includes a longer excerpt from Justice Breyer, a decrypting of what he was trying to say, and an explanation of his legal errors.

Not So Fast: Now The City Council Will Consider Whether To Request An Investigation

Monique Chartier

Last night, despite what appeared to be considerable grounds to do so, the Woonsocket School Committee voted three to two against bringing in the State Police to investigate such matters as apparently falsified school budget surpluses and a vanishing termination clause.

Under my post reporting this irresponsible development, City Council President John Ward this morning advises that

The Woonsocket City Council will be considering a resolution to initiate an investigation into the financial and contractual issues of the Woonsocket School Committee. The city charter grants specific authority to conduct the investigation.

Upon my e-mailing him, Council President Ward clarified

Actually, the council will be taking sworn testimony from witnesses in order to determine if further action is needed, such as referral to the state police or other group. We are not asking for a state police or any other outside investigation at this point. The resolution will be on our agenda for Monday, April 2, 2012.

Good. And it makes sense that the Council has the authority to do so as it is the body which, by state law, has the authority to levy taxes and to set the amount of the school budget - a legal state of affairs which school committees and superintendents around the state have too often disregarded.

March 28, 2012

Woonsocket School Committee: No Police Investigation And Soon, No School Buses

Monique Chartier

So here's where we stood as tonight's School Committee meeting was gaveled to order.

A $69,000 surplus in the school budget had suddenly turned into a $2.7 million deficit (and a $10 million deficit for two years), in part, due to cuts in state aid and in part due to off-the-book hires by the prior superintendent, Robert Gerardi, hirings about which the School Committee purported not to be informed and which school business manager Stacey Busby had failed for months, at the instruction of then-Superintendent Gerardi, to include in her reports. It had also come to light in recent days that the termination clause had mysteriously vanished from Ms. Busby's contract - another item about which the school committee claims to be gormless and which has now kicked off a chorus of "whodunit?".

Further, in public comments that were alertly picked up by the Valley Breeze's Sandy Phaneuf, Darren Cooper, a payroll specialist for the Woonsocket school department, pointed out that questionable practices were not necessarily limited to the prior superintendent but, in fact, extended to the PRIOR, prior superintendent, Maureen Macera. (Fine! Cast that investigatory net wide.)

Now, as a direct result of an "unexpected" $10 million deficit caused in part by months of questionable practices and reporting by the school department, the city's bond rating has been reduced to junk status and the city is staring down the barrel of bankruptcy.

Notwithstanding all of this, the school committee voted three to two against asking the State Police to initiate an investigation. Falsified surpluses, a vanishing termination clause and the repeated, questionable actions of, not one but two, prior superintendents - really? That's not sufficient to warrant a police investigation? As Chairwoman Anita McGuire Forcier correctly pointed out, if the school committee cannot trust the information given to them, that body cannot do its job.

For the record, Chairwoman McGuire Forcier and Member Christopher Roberts cast the two votes in favor of sunshine and accountability.

In other business, preceding the vote on the police investigation, the committee voted to table consideration of changes to the school department's bus contract. The contract has been rendered moot, at least for now, by notice from the bus company to the city that transportation services (i.e., the buses bringing Woonsocket children to school) would be discontinued if the sum of $506,599 was not received by April 5. As Andrew Morse remarked earlier upon hearing this, the hits just keep coming.

A Dime Ain't Worth a Dime Anymore

Patrick Laverty

Well, actually a dime wasn't ever really worth a dime, it's worth less than ten cents. However, the cost to produce a penny and a nickel has more than doubled its own face value.

The cost of making pennies and nickels are about twice the face value of the coins–2.4 cents for a penny and 11.2 cents for a nickel, the Treasury Department said earlier this month. Rising commodity prices have driven higher production costs.
Which when you think about it, the whole thing sounds pretty weird. Originally, we started using precious metals as legal tender and their value was the going rate multiplied by their weight. (Related: Rep. Dan Gordon bill) Not so with our fiat currency. Any of our paper money is really only "worth" about 6 cents, but you can use it in exchange for something else worth the value printed on it. But with nickels or pennies, the value of just the metal is worth more than the face value. Plus, there are also production and distribution costs that need to be figured in.

So where does the mind go when one knows that when you get 100 pennies, you're holding about $2.20 worth of metal? You can't get the $2.20 for them in their penny form, but what if they're melted down into something unrecognizable as a penny? Not so fast:

Under the new rules [as of the 2006 article], it is illegal to melt pennies and nickels. It is also illegal to export the coins for melting.

Violators could spend up to five years in prison and pay as much as $10,000 in fines. Plus, the government will confiscate any coins or metal used in melting schemes.

So there you have it. I don't know anyone else but a government who could really make $2.20 be worth $1.00, but we have accomplished that feat and added fuel for the "Retire the Penny" crowd.

March 27, 2012

You Want Flexibility? Try Yoga

Patrick Laverty

The President believes he'll have additional flexibility after the November elections. He was recorded on a live microphone telling Russian President Medvedev, in the context of national defense systems:

“This is my last election,’’ Obama is heard telling outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. “After my election, I have more flexibility.’’
What exactly could that mean? He'll have more flexibility after the election? I don't really understand that. If there's something he wants to do, he should just do it. If he believes it's not good for the US people to do it, he shouldn't do it at all, whether it is before or after the election.

If nothing else, it tells us how he's thinking and what his priorities really are.

RIGOP Gets a New Executive Director

Monique Chartier

Everyone say "hello" to Ann Clanton.

(Below is the Press Release issued by the RIGOP this afternoon.)


Warwick: The Rhode Island Republican Party today named Ann Clanton, of Providence, as its Executive Director. Ms. Clanton succeeds Patrick Sweeney, Esq., who has held the post for more than a year.

Clanton was named to the position following an extensive recruiting and interview process that considered the talents of a number of the State Central Committee’s members. Mark Zaccaria, State Chair, summed up the difficulties of selecting from a field of well qualified candidates. “The Rhode Island GOP boasts a large number of talented members who are experienced at Ocean State politics” he said. “That made my job more difficult but also insured that our new ED will be more than equal to the task.”

Ann Clanton is a Rhode Island Native who began her political career on the staff of Congresswoman Claudine Schneider. Following her graduation from both Howard University and Roger Williams University, Ms. Clanton worked in Washington, DC, as a political coordinator for the National Association of Realtors. That assignment led her back home where she worked with the Campaign for Healthy Rhode Island and the advocacy group, Rhode Island for Community and Justice. Immediately before taking the post of Executive Director of the RIGOP, she consulted with both state and federal Republican candidates.

Patrick Sweeney also indicated his feelings about the transition. “I am happy to be leaving the state party in such capable hands. In just a short period of time, Ann has already evolved into the roll and I will continue to provide her support as she begins to learn the ropes. I know she will continue the growth of both the spirit and infrastructure that have marked the RIGOP for the last year or more” concluded Sweeney.

“There is real energy in the state party these days” Zaccaria continued. “We are gathering speed and with Ann’s able assistance and a field of new and energetic candidates we look forward to making real gains in November.”

The Rhode Island Republican Party sponsors and supports Republican candidates for seats in the state and federal legislatures. As with all state GOP organizations the Rhode Island Republican Party has three seats on the Republican National Committee. Please visit the state party’s web site

"Take Action": E-Verify (Both Public & Private Sector) To Be Heard Today in House Labor

Monique Chartier

... as Andrew noted on his list, though you wouldn't know it from the General Assembly's Bill Status page (which still has both 7315 and 7927 "scheduled for hearing and/or consideration" on March 19).

If you very reasonably object to a major enticement - employment - to illegal immigration; if you would prefer private and public sector jobs go to legal immigrants and citizens; if you'd like the burden on state and local budgets lessened, the indefatigueable folks at RIILE are asking that you attend the hearing this afternoon, set for the Rise of the House (around 4:30 pm) in Room 135. If you cannot attend, they have pointed us to the handy-dandy "Take Action" form on RISC's website so that you can contact your elected officials.

Maybe the Worst Kept Secret

Patrick Laverty

The usual federal income tax filing deadline could be another not great news day for Congressman David Cicilline. It appears that local businessman Anthony Gemma will finally throw his hat in the ring for Rhode Island's District 1 Congressional seat. This morning, via his Twitter account Gemma tweeted:

Big things coming my friends! Save the date April 15th 6pm! Pass it on! ~Anthony
It's widely assumed that Gemma will run as a Democrat again and take on Cicilline in a primary. However, the Democrat establishment doesn't seem to be taking too kindly to Gemma and already labeling him as a DINO and someone who isn't playing their game. So this could get interesting to see which path Gemma takes. Does he go for the early high risk/reward and take on the badly damaged Cicilline head-on, or does he guarantee himself a shot in November and go the Independent route. I guess we'll see on April 15.

March 26, 2012

The Rhode Island Economy and Change

Patrick Laverty

A recent Providence Journal article (Thanks Ted) remarked on the business economy in this state:

If the state did not develop new industries and revive old ones, future generations would have trouble making it in the Ocean State.
A heavy reliance on a single industry made the state “highly vulnerable to shifts in consumer demand and technological progress,” said economists at Brown University.
but wait, there's more:
[The state] suffered from a weak economy, a high unemployment rate, high unemployment compensation costs and an unstable job market made up of mostly low-skill and low-paying jobs
and yet more:
Generating jobs should be the state’s top priority, they said. The governor should rely on a group of economic advisers and make Rhode Island more attractive to industry through new laws. And business, labor and government officials should embrace a common goal.
Is any of this sounding familiar yet? Any of this sound like Rhode Island pundits of the last 5-10 years? Well, those quotes are as much as 65 years old. The first one, about not developing new industries, was uttered in 1947. The second was issued in the 1950s and the last one in 1972.

It appears that many of the leaders, while some were not even born yet when these statements were made, have not really learned from the past. What probably makes this even worse is it appears there was once a chance to re-make the Rhode Island economy, but it too was shot down:

In 1983, Gov. Joseph Garrahy led a campaign for the plan’s approval — a blueprint to create 60,000 jobs, improve wages and nurture high-tech industries such as robotics and medical devices. ... Voters, angry at politicians and wary of tax hikes, overwhelmingly rejected the plan.
Yet again today, when people are trying to create a new economy, such as in the Jewelry District (I just can't bring myself to call it the Knowledge District) it too is mocked as a bad idea.

It sure seems that in Rhode Island the old axiom, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it" has never been more true.

Coming up in Committee: Thirteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 27 - March 29

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Bristol, Coventry 2 , Pawtucket 2 3, Providence, Warwick (at least that's where I suspect, based on the sponsors), Westerly, West Greenwich 2.

13. S2752: Opens the William M. Davies vocational technical school and the Metropolitan Career and Technical School to all students in Rhode Island, on a permanent basis (S Education; Wed, Mar 28)

12. H7260: Requires vehicles owned by any corporation, association, etc. authorized to do business in Rhode Island and used on RI highways for 30 days or more to be registered in RI (H Corporations; wed, Mar 28).

11. H7411: Prohibits credit-rating from being used in the determination of an individual's automobile insurance rate (H Corporations; wed, Mar 28).

10. H7055: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (S Judiciary, Thu, Mar 29). There's also a 3,000 voter limit that's been proposed in this session.

9. H7760: "No application for any license or employment from any public agency or private employer shall be denied by reason of the applicant's having been previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses", with some exceptions. Also, H7864 prohibits disqualifying someone for employment "solely because of a BCI report" (H Labor; Wed, Mar 28).

8. Tax credit for the installation of alternative fuel dispensers (S2125) and an excise tax exemption for plug-in electric vehicles (S2123) (S Finance; Thu, Mar 29).

7.  Either decriminalization (S2253), or legalization of the "constructive" use (S2367), of a little bit of marijuana (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 27).

6. H7797: Creates a process for reviewing and retiring health insurance mandates (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 27).

5. H7769: Reduces benefits paid to municipal disability pensioners, if the total of disability benefits plus other income would exceed the original base salary of the pensioner (H Municipal Government; Thursday, March 29).

4. S2695: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question and a local referendum in Newport (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Mar 28).

3. H7863: Changes public school teacher tenure qualification from having been a party to "three annual contracts within five successive school years" to receiving "three consecutive ratings of effective or higher under the district evaluation system" (H Labor; Thu, Mar 29).

2. New layers of bureaucracy added to every level of health care delivery. H7621 creates a binding arbitration process for "any hospital or health care insurer participating in negotiation of a hospital/insurer contract" and if I am reading the bill correctly, I think that only one party has to declare an impasse for the matter to go to arbitration; H7687 institutes a requirement that all healthcare plan participants in Rhode Island designate a primary care provider; H7790 instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island and H7784 creates a workgroup "for the purpose of coordinating the development of processes, guidelines, and standards to streamline health care administration that are to be adopted by payors and providers of health care services operating in the state” (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 27).

1B. H7315: Writes into the law the provisions of the 2008 executive order on illegal immigration (since repealed by Governor Chafee) requiring RI executive branch agencies and contractors to use E-verify, relevant state agencies to notify victims of identity theft, the State Police to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Corrections and the state parole board to work towards deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes (H Labor; Tue, Mar 27).

1A. H7927: Requires all employers in Rhode Island (employing 3 or more persons) to participate in E-verify by 2014 (H Labor; Tue, Mar 27).

The Current Week, 03/19/12-03/24/12

Justin Katz


A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 1 of 3 - Interview/profile
The Current interviews Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, part 1 of 3: welfare and charity; "a global authority"; solidarity and subsidiarity; giving authority over to the state.
03/20/12 - House Committee on Labor - Liveblog
Justin writes live and extemporaneously from the House Committee on Labor, addressing teacher layoff notifications, right-to-work for teachers, city/town council approval of school labor contracts, and others.

A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 2 of 3 - Interview/profile
The Current interviews Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, part 2 of 3: no political box; healthcare and political lessons; school choice
03/21/12 - Meals Tax Tea Party - Liveblog
Photos from the rally against Governor Chafee's proposed tax increase on meals and beverages.
Meals Tax Tea Party Video - Liveblog
Video of the speeches from the meals tax tea party protest.

A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 3 of 3 - Interview/profile
The Current interviews Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, part 3 of 3: illegal immigration; perceptions of an oppressive state.

House Labor Chairwoman Williams Vents to Tea Party in Action - Investigative Report
House Labor Committee Chairwoman Anastasia Williams paused a hearing, on Tuesday, to criticize an email that she had received, but sender William B. Palazzo disputes her description of the content.

Justin's Case

Betting It All to Force a Turnaround - Opinion
The Providence Journal is pumping up the common wisdom on how to turn RI around, but Justin suspects the project is going in the wrong direction from the start.
Real Hourly Earnings on the Decline, Due to Inflation, but RI Might Be Doing a Little Bit Better - Research
BLS data shows real earnings on a slide, nationally, and although RI might be doing slightly better by this marker, it's hardly enough to overcome unemployment problems.
New Group of Health-Industry Insiders Seeks Leverage in Exchange - Investigative Report
Legislation to review healthcare mandates is scheduled for House Corporations Committee review; meanwhile, the local insurers and business interests are forming a group for leverage in the impending healthcare exchange.
Inadequate Government Solutions Are the Fault of the User - Opinion
Justin offers Tiverton's experience in the garbage-bag business as evidence of the risky difference between government services and those available on a free market.

Death by 1,000 Government Bills - Opinion
A letter by Providence business owner John Palmieri might provide a good indicator of the problems that Rhode Island fundamentally needs to address.
Being Fine with Good Guys Gone Bad - Opinion
Mistaking the content implied by a David Brooks headline leads Justin to a stark juxtaposition showing the deadly danger of relativism.

Keith Anderson, Teacher and Right-to-Work Advocate, also Candidate for General Assembly - Interview/profile
East Providence High School teacher Keith Anderson is running for the district 29 House seat, from Coventry.

Council Ratification Foes Layer on Technical Objections - Analysis
Technical objections raised to legislation that would give town/city councils authority to ratify employment contracts appear to have been overstated or incorrect.
A Movable Threshold for Municipal Pension Adjustment - Analysis
An argument about pension fund discount rates by the Mercatus Center and RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity illustrates the difficulty, and risk, of setting thresholds on the availability of pension reforms.
Residents Need Incentive for Civic Involvement - Opinion
Apathy in Central Falls leads Justin to further questions about the long-term wisdom of bailouts and receiverships.

Living an Ethical Life, Beautifully - Opinion
Justin takes the opportunity of a gorgeous afternoon to muse about beauty in ethics.
RI on a Spree of Losing Jobs and Giving Up - Analysis
Unemployment only "ticked" up, this month, but the overall labor force dropped more from December to February than it has since the dot-com bust.  Public officials looking for a turnaround should consider the power of their message.

Doggedly on the Leftist Message - Opinion
Justin finds in an RI Future post by Bob Plain evidence of the rhetorical method of barricading the door to discourse.

March 25, 2012

One Lesson From the Police Raid on Kim Dotcom's Place: Always Ask to See the Search Warrant

Monique Chartier

... thought possibly it only applies in New Zealand as I could not imagine any American police force being stupid enough to do this.

Kim Dotcom, the notorious founder of MegaUpload and one of the most-wanted alleged copyright infringers in the world, may get all his stuff back from police after a judge ruled that authorities seized his property on a faulty court order. ...

That means New Zealand police went on an unlawful manhunt and illegally invaded Dotcom’s home, taking his vehicles, electronics, jewelry and all other financial assets, without a valid court order to back them up.

New Zealand Justice Judith Potter noted that it wasn’t until hours after the raid that police realized their mistakes and actually applied for the proper court order, seeking to make it retroactive by listing targeted assets that had already been seized.

The criminal case against the founder of MegaUpload still stands but this latest development may have complicated the pending extradition request by the United States. [H/T commenter Andi Cockroft on Watts Up With That .]

The Value of Resembling the President

Justin Katz

I wonder if Melissa's Coon son looked like Pres. Obama. That's the 13-year-old Kansas City boy who may have been set on fire because "You get what you deserve, white boy."

As Robert Wargas notes, the story appears not to rate national attention in the eyes of the national media.

Wargas's post, linked by Instapundit, comes at the end of a week that saw the President of the United States describe a young black man tragically shot in Florida as follows: "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."

During the same week, movie director Spike Lee set off a series of tweets providing the home address of the Hispanic man who shot Trayvon Martin. Meanwhile, the New Black Panther Party issued fliers calling for his capture "dead or alive."

Hope. Change. And very dangerous times ahead.


It occurs to me that I should specify my intention and concern with the above.

The facts in the case of Tayvon Martin are still in question. What appears known is that Martin was visiting his father and step-mother in a gated community in which he did not live. As he walked back from a nearby 7-Eleven, neighborhood watch "captain" George Zimmerman began to follow him, thinking him suspicious. Watson appears to have asked Zimmerman why he was following him. They wrestled, and Zimmerman shot Watson.

The unknowns bear on the range of factors that bridge an accusation of racially motivated murder to self defense, and it would be unwise to propound on them from a distance. Suffice it to say, for now, that human interactions are such that it's very easy to imagine that tense situation escalating into a fight, sadly culminating in death, in this case.

The point of this post, however, bears on something that is known and available for comment across the country — namely, the shameless racial demagoguery that have poisoned our politics for far too long.


Apparently, even the right-leaning blogosphere is raising questions about the Kansas City story, wondering whether it may not be what it at first appears to be. On the other hand, an American Thinker piece expands the subject to raise deeper racial problems in the school district.

As with the Martin/Zimmerman case, though, the point of legitimate concern from a distance isn't to get to the bottom of a local investigation and pass judgment, but rather to survey the national discourse.

March 24, 2012

More than a Political Narrative

Justin Katz

Back in college, it was a matter of some classroom literary discussion that relativist thinkers still went about their daily lives as if they believed something to be true. (True enough, it appeared often to be that they deserved tenured sinecures that allowed them freedom to ruminate.)

To broad readers of conservative political commentary, this sort of peculiarity feels like cognitive dissonance, especially in Rhode Island. The world is crumbling around us and the sense is that we must flee to cover, and still people behave as if partial turn of the key will open the door. From the town level to the national level, the sense of leaders' message is that some minor technocratic tweaks will be sufficient to set things right.

In my view, RI's pension reform was a spectacular example, erroneously capturing the imaginations of even those on the right.

Yet, we read (and agree with) the warnings of Mark Steyn:

"We are headed for the most predictable economic crisis in history," says Paul Ryan. And he's right. But precisely because it's so predictable the political class has already discounted it. Which is why a plan for pie now and spinach later, maybe even two decades later, is the only real menu on the table. There's a famous exchange in Hemingway's "A Place In The Sun." Someone asks Mike Campbell, "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways," he replies. "Gradually, then suddenly." We've been going through the gradual phase so long, we're kinda used to it. But it's coming to an end, and what happens next will be the second way: sudden, and very bad.

And so, one wishes to believe that Rick Santorum's new video is much too like the latest eerie prime time series to be other than a laughable dramatization of a political message:

Here's the thing: Our society encompasses a range of experiences. For some people, some families, some towns, Santorum's prognostications will prove understated. For others, especially among the upper classes who make up our upper crust of decision makers, the lives of the lowly are already akin to televised fiction.

A deeper problem, one supposes, is that the remedy ultimately does not require an active fix from Washington or the State House, but the determination of people to turn their own communities around and the realization that the first step is to get distant politicians out of the way.

Bankruptcy Judge Rules that Central Falls' School District is Separate from the City

Carroll Andrew Morse

Federal Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Bailey has issued a preliminary ruling that the Central Falls School District is not part of the City of Central Falls. The Projo has the complete ruling available here.

Specifically, Judge Bailey rejected a request from Central Falls receiver Robert Flanders to issue a declaration "that the School District is part of the City and therefore, ipso facto, the collective bargaining process is within the Bankruptcy Court’s subject matter jurisdiction".

Judge Bailey's reasoning is that...

  1. School committees are parts of local government...
  2. which the state legislature, under its Constitutional grant of authority for education, has "vested" "the entire care, control, and management of all public school interests in the several cities and towns".
  3. However, in a 2007 referendum, the people of Central Falls approved changes to their City Charter which eliminated their school committee...
  4. ...meaning that they eliminated the organ of their municipal government authorized to exercise local jurisdiction over the schools...
  5. ...through the process specified in Home Rule Article of the State Constitution for making permanent changes to local forms of government...
  6. ...and that this act, when combined with the laws that placed the Central Falls school system under the control of a Board of Trustees appointed by the State Education Board of Regents and "not mentioned in the City’s charter [or] answerable to City authorities"...
  7. ...fully separated the Central Falls school district from the City of Central Falls.
The judge also goes through a list of factors which he deems irrelevant to this determination, including issues like Central Falls receiving almost all of its education funding from the state, and the school department and the city maintaining separate bank accounts.

Though I am not predisposed to favor the outcome, I have to say that Judge Bailey's reasoning is pretty solid, given the Constitutional structure of Rhode Island government and the laws that have been passed under it. This ruling also strongly suggests that it is only Central Falls' school district that is part of the state, at least until such time as other municipalities begin holding local referenda to wipe out their school committees (though I'm not sure how the regional districts cleanly fit in to all of this).

There are still some process hurdles to be cleared, but where this is likely leading to the bankruptcy court also rejecting a second item that Receiver Flanders asked for a ruling on, "that the Receiver has the power under the Fiscal Stability Act to act on behalf of the City relative to collective bargaining with the Union".

March 23, 2012

Governor Chafee's Municipal Relief Package

Carroll Andrew Morse

Governor Lincoln Chafee's municipal relief bills are now available at the Rhode Island General Assembly website. The Senate sponsors are Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte and Senator David Bates of Barrington/Bristol.

Here are some excerpts from the submitted text:


16-2-9.4. School district accounting compliance. -- (e) The department of elementary and secondary education shall conduct periodic reviews and analysis of school revenues and expenses. The department shall also review and monitor compliance with the approved budget model and best practices. The department shall identify those local education agencies considered to be at risk of a year-end deficit or a structural deficit that could impact future years. Such potential deficits shall be identified based on the periodic reviews, which may also include on-site visits and reporting in accordance with the provisions of section 45-12-22.2. Potential deficits shall be reported to the office of municipal finance, office of auditor general, superintendent, chairman of the school committee, mayor or town manager, and the president of the town council, of the applicable school district, regional school district, or state school, and/or for a charter school, to the board of trustees or directors, as applicable.
45-21.4-3. Limits on retirement benefits. -- Notwithstanding any general law or special law of the state of Rhode Island to the contrary no current municipal ordinance, collective bargaining agreement, or interest arbitration award shall require employee retirement benefits that exceed the actuarial value of benefits afforded under state law for those municipal employees who participate in the municipal employees retirement system as authorized by chapters 45-21, 45-21.1, and 45-21.2 of the Rhode Island general laws. For employees who have not already reached their vesting date in a pension plan that provides benefits with greater actuarial value under the municipal employees retirement system as authorized by chapters 45-21, 45-21.1, and 45-21.2 of the Rhode Island general laws, and except as further limited by this chapter, town and city councils following normal procedures for approval of an ordinance are authorized to amend the retirement benefits for new and non-vested employees and such action shall take precedence over existing collective bargaining agreements for new and non-1 vested employees.
45-65.1-3. Definitions. -- (3) “Critical status” means that, as determined by its actuary, as of the beginning of the 19 plan year, a plan’s funded percentage for such plan year is less than sixty percent (60%)...

45-65.1-5. Benefit adjustment suspension. -- Notwithstanding the provisions of any other statute, ordinance, interest arbitration award, or collective bargaining agreement to the contrary, a municipality in critical status shall not be required to provide benefit adjustments, pursuant to the provisions of this chapter. Once the municipality is no longer in critical status, it shall resume providing cost of living adjustments, but such adjustments shall not exceed the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) as published by the United States department of labor statistics determined as of September 30 of the prior calendar year until the actuarial value of the locally administered plan’s assets is one hundred percent (100%) of the actuarial value of such plan’s liabilities, using actuarial assumptions made by the actuary in good faith and in accordance with accepted actuarial standards.

45-65.1-6. Mandatory reinvestment. -- At least fifty percent (50%) of funds resulting from benefit adjustments suspended pursuant to this chapter shall be reinvested exclusively to increase a plan’s funded percentage, at least until the plan is no longer in critical status.


This is the longest of the individual bills. A major chunk of the bill is built around this section...

45-13.2-6. Relief provisions. -- During any fiscal year in which a municipality is designated as a highly distressed community pursuant to section 45-13.2-4 and for two (2) years after it is no longer so designated, its municipal council shall be authorized and empowered to adopt an ordinance or charter amendment specifying any of the following relief provisions (which relief provisions shall be automatically repealed, and shall have no legal force or effect, as of two (2) years after the date that the municipality is no longer designated as a highly distressed community)...
The bill then lists 12 areas for relief provisions: (1) Purchasing; (2) Continuance of contractual provisions; (3) Retirement of sick or injured police officers and fire fighters; (4) Educational incentive pay; (5) Consolidation of administrative functions; (6) Municipal budget and contract approvals; (7) Teacher step increases; (8) Certified nurses; (9) School bus monitors; (10) Transportation to nonpublic schools; (11) Health insurance cost sharing and plan design; (12) Public safety collective bargaining.


The official explanation provided by the legislative council is the best summary of this bill...

This act would change the dates for payment of the state’s share of the 1 basic program for foundational level school support and approved expenditures. It would also change the percentage of the aid due for both the July payment and the August through September payment which is payable based upon the data for the reference year. This act would also provide for payments to be made to each eligible community each August from the distressed community relief fund.
45-21-22. Accidental disability allowance. -- (b) Upon any application for accidental disability submitted on or after July 1, 2012, if the member has been found to be permanently and totally disabled from service but has not been found by the board to be permanently and totally disabled from any employment as a result of his/her accidental disability, a member shall receive a retirement allowance equal to fifty percent (50%) of the rate of the member's compensation at the date of the member's retirement...

(c) Upon retirement for accidental disability that has been found by the board to be permanently and totally disabling from any employment, a member shall receive a retirement allowance equal to sixty-six and two-thirds percent (66 2/3%) of the rate 1 of the member's compensation at the date of the member's retirement...

16-7-23.2. School deficit reduction -- Maintenance of effort provision. -- A city, town, or regional school district appropriating authority may appropriate supplemental funds to eliminate or reduce a school budget deficit. To the extent that such a supplemental appropriation represents payment of past annual expenditure, the payment shall not be used in the computation of the maintenance of effort requirements established by section 16-7-23.

March 22, 2012

Note to the General Treasurer: If George Nee Supports It, It Is Definitively Not "Sound Fiscal Policy"

Monique Chartier

Kudos to WPRI for bringing this to light.

Treasurer Gina Raimondo is urging lawmakers to reject a little-noticed proposal by Governor Chafee to shave $2.6 million off the amount taxpayers must put into the pension fund next year.

The governor’s proposed 2012-13 budget would scrap a seven-year-old law mandating that if the state’s required pension contribution rate falls from one year to the next, taxpayers must put 20% of the reduction into the pension fund anyway.

Inexplicably, the General Treasurer doesn't want to scrap this financially infeasible law. She wants the state - not exactly awash in surpluses - to somehow put that 20% in anyway.

”After thoughtful analysis, Treasury concluded that the policy should remain in effect and therefore did not recommend a change to this statute,” she wrote in a letter to House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo obtained by

As Treasury's analysis does not specify where the money would come from, it's not clear how "thoughtful" the analysis could be. The Governor's office noticed this absence of source, too. (This is all very confusing. I thought Treasurer Raimondo and not Governor Chafee was the fiscally prudent General Officer of the state.)

“In each of these years, we would need to provide this additional funding instead of having the savings accrue to the budget,” [Gubernatorial spokeswoman Christine] Hunsinger told “Our proposal helps address the projected out-year deficits by not having to allocate funds to this purpose.” The state is on track to run a $349 million deficit in 2015-16.

However, that little detail doesn't seem to bother at least one fan of doing things the old way.

Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee praised Raimondo’s position. “The labor movement appreciates the treasurer weighing in on the side of our members,” he said in an email. “The present law is sound fiscal policy and should remain unchanged.”

The Issue is Not the NDAA, it's the AUMF

Carroll Andrew Morse

A group of Rhode Island State Representatives (Dan Gordon, R-Portsmouth/Tiverton/Little Compton; Jack Savage R-East Providence; Raymond Hull, D-Providence; John Carnevale, D-Providence/Johnston and Donald Lally, D-Narragansett/North Kingstown/South Kingstown) has introduced a resolution into the RI House (H7916) condemning the section of the Federal Government’s 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) pertaining to the detention of persons operationally connected to "al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners" by the Armed Forces of the United States.

The primary focus of the proposed House resolution is NDAA section 1021 which "affirms" that Presidential authority under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) "includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war". The 2001 AUMF was passed for the purpose of allowing sustained military action in response to the September 11 attacks of that year.

The “covered persons” of subsection 1021(b), according to the text of the NDAA, are...

(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.

(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

…though subsection 1021(e) adds this qualifier...
(e) AUTHORITIES.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
This is clearly less than a complete prohibition on the President or the Armed Forces which he commands using their war-powers to detain someone within the borders of the US.

The proposed resolution in the RI House contrasts the language of section 1021 with that of the next section (1022), which addresses persons "captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force". Subsections (b)(1) and (b)(2) of section 1022 exclude US citizens and lawful residents from its jurisdiction in no uncertain terms...

(1) CITIZENS.—The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

(2) LAWFUL RESIDENT ALIENS.—The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to a lawful resident alien of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.

The RI House resolution takes exception to the difference between the strong language of 1022(b) versus the weaker qualification embodied 1021(e), averring that it implies an intent to give the executive branch the power to deal with section 1021's "covered persons" who are also US citizens, at home, outside of normal civilian policing rules and court procedures. I can agree that this is probably true.

Thinking through this issue takes us into a yuck-area of government and the law that people living in a peaceful society don't like to contemplate, but that does need to be considered and prepared for. What is or isn't allowed, during a shooting war, if an American citizen decides to collaborate with the enemy, be it inside or outside of the borders of the United States?

In the case of a full-on declared war, in the way that declared wars were thought about up until at least World War II, there was a straightforward principle that could be applied: Whatever response would be allowed against enemy soldiers who crossed the border would also be justified against a citizen pursuing the same goals as that enemy. There would not be one set of rules for a non-citizens organized to violently impose their will on the people of the United States, but a lighter set of rules for US citizens who joined in their efforts. And in at least one case from World War II, this principle was directly applied, when a US citizen (Hans Haupt) who had trained with German saboteurs was deployed into the United States, then captured, tried by a military tribunal and executed. The use of a military tribunal to impose a death sentence in Haupt's circumstance was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in its ruling in Ex Parte Quirin.

But reasonably erasing the boundary between a hostile foreign army and its domestic collaborators necessitates taking another boundary very seriously, the one between war and peace. The idea of giving the American President increased powers during wars has always assumed an unambiguous line between peace and a declared state of war, and a declared wars are not supposed to be permanent states of affairs; they are supposed to be the exceptions, with beginnings and endings that can easily be identified. Staying with the World War II example, when war was declared against Japan and Germany, it was implicitly understood that at some time in the future, something would happen to bring the state of war to an end, something that was more than just a paper declaration. Either leaders from one side who possessed real authority to command the forces doing the fighting would say "we surrender" and issue orders, that would be followed, for their troops to lay down their arms, or parties on both sides would agree to some form of truce. At that point (maybe with an assist from the ratification of a peace treaty or a similar formality), extra powers granted to the executive branch associated with a declaration of war would vanish.

In the case of the present AUMF, what the events are that will signal to everyone that a state of war has ended is far from clear. In part, that is because of how the enemy is defined in the AUMF...

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
With potential future attacks from "organizations" or even individuals part of the justification for the AUMF, an act from a leader or a group of leaders (for example, Osama Bin Laden catching a hailstorm of bullets with his head) that would make it clear that the conditions necessitating the AUMF have passed is difficult to define. Indeed, it is not even certain whether some of the "organizations" associated with Islamist terrorism have a command and control structure that would allow for any set of leaders to offer an efficacious surrender.

For people concerned about how aggressively pursuing enemies foreign potentially increases Presidential power at the expense of domestic liberty, in the end, the issue of importance isn’t what the 2012 NDAA affirms, building on the grant of authority in the AUMF. The issue is the AUMF itself. The NDAA’s reaffirmation of the AUMF doesn't impact much of anything, and a legislative victory that changed the NDAA but ignored the AUMF wouldn't diminish the increased war-powers that have been granted to the President by Congress. At some point, Congress is going to have to grapple with the issue of whether conditions that justify the AUMF remaining in force still exist, or whether it needs to be repealed or superseded by new legislation.

A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 3 of 3

Justin Katz

The Current interviews Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, part 3 of 3: illegal immigration; perceptions of an oppressive state.

(Link fixed.)

March 21, 2012

Rhode Island: The Ultimate Microcosm of Walter Russell Mead's America

Carroll Andrew Morse

Walter Russell Mead of the American Interest has a long (but very readable) essay on the future of the American social and political systems. He is discussing the nation as a whole, but anyone who follows the news in Rhode Island with any regularity will recognize that we are on the leading edge of nearly every, if not every, trend that he describes. Here are a few excerpts that could have come from an RI-specific article...

The incompetence, mediocrity, high cost structure and all-around dysfunctional nature of backward blue staffing and management patterns in large public school systems increasingly appall Democrats as well as Republicans.

The teachers unions are fighting a bitter rearguard action, and by no means have they lost their influence in Democratic Party politics and state and local governments, but across the country the unions are often fighting Democrats rather than Republicans as Democratic elected officials work to do something about the state of our schools...Ultimately even most Democratic officeholders in deep blue cities can’t keep raising taxes to please teachers while parents fume about poor educational results. Something has to give, and increasingly, that something is the traditional school system as charter schools and other forms of innovation push ahead....

Generous pensions were fine as long as you didn’t have to make much of a tradeoff between paying pensions and covering current expenses. But after years of evasion and deceit, the bills are coming due. The underfunding of state and local pensions isn’t just showing up as shadowy future deficits projected ten and twenty years down the road; it is showing up as actual costs that have to be paid out of current revenues right now. Do you pay off the geezers and fire the cops, or do you keep the cops on the beat and stiff the retirees?

In spite of the problems, Mead harbors a bi-partisan optimism for America's future...
Democrats will have to streamline government, trim fat, stop featherbedding and generally remake state and local government into something leaner and meaner because they have no choice...

Republicans and anti-blue statists will want to fix this because bad government is big government and takes a terrible toll on the economy (cumbersome procedures, bad decisions, a large and expensive staff). But smart proponents of a strong federal government will also want to change this status quo because the state as presently constituted is simply not able to take on all the missions they would like to see addressed.

Just as we once saw competing Republican and Democratic versions of Progressive politics, so going forward we will see competing Republican and Democratic versions of post-blue politics. I can’t predict how these partisan battles will come out, but it seems likely that through it all, the government will be remade and the bureaucratic administrative state that has dominated American life since the New Deal will transform.

As bloggers are wont to say from time-to-time, read the whole thing.

Sweeney Resigning as RI GOP Executive Director

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Public Radio's Ian Donnis is reporting that Patrick Sweeney is resigning as Executive Director of the Rhode Island Republican Party, citing "growing family commitments and needs to focus on his legal career", and that...

[State Party Chairman Mark Zaccaria] says he hopes to have Sweeney’s successor ready to deliver a presentation during a March 29 state committee meeting.

Re: He Walked the Walk

Justin Katz

Doctor-assisted suicide isn't an issue that I've spent much time with. From where I sit, right now, suffering from nothing more burdensome than a week-long sore throat brought on (I'd guess) by the change in the weather and post-nasal drip, I'd be extremely hesitant to tell somebody with excruciating pain that they must endure it.

However, commenting to Patrick's recent post on the issue, Jon raises the worthwhile point that "death with dignity" becomes quite a bit more insidious when healthcare moves into the hands of a government necessarily keeping an eye on top-down control of costs. Insurance companies can serve the same ends, by increasing the incentive to end life rather than to manage disease.

Even beyond that concern, though, there is the broader problem that these sorts of policies tend to expand once the culture accepts them. The barriers keeping the practice rare and targeted to extreme cases tend to erode, and cultural ideas about life tend to shift.

It's all well and good to make broad pronouncements about averting suffering and to assert that "a physician who does not believe in this action will not be forced to perform it" (which Patrick is surprisingly blithe in doing, given recent debates). But if our society does move in the direction of accepting the practice, it's critical that we do so with more clarity than appears common.

Even look at the statistics available in Oregon, from the page to which Patrick links. Since the practice was legalized in 1998, only 596 people have officially availed themselves of the opportunity, which is (thankfully) not a large number comparatively.

However, only 40 of them were "referred for psychiatric evaluation." The median length of the patient's relationship with the prescribing physician was 12 weeks (that's 84 days or roughly three months). That means that for every patient who'd been seeing the prescribing doctor for their entire lives (maxing out at 1,905 weeks), there was one who'd known him or her for less than 12. The median length of time between the first request for medication and death was 46 days, or almost seven weeks.

Now, of course, it's possible that family physicians might be squeamish about killing long-term patients, or that their moral objections led their patients to other doctors. But such are the numbers that ought to constitute the core of any real debate about the issue, especially given the fact that only 6.7% of them appear to have gone through even a pro forma psychiatric evaluation.

Of far more concern, however, is the fact that only 134 of the patients cited "inadequate pain control or concern about it." Be sure, advocates, that you have a clear definition of what you consider to be suffering. Most of the patients cited "losing autonomy" and "less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable." A couple hundred less cited "loss of dignity" and "losing control of bodily functions."

If this is a path that people want our society go down, we have to take profuse care to ensure that "death with dignity" doesn't morph into plain ol' suicide, and from there, to a cost saving measure toward which the healthcare infrastructure (however it finally develops) creates incentive.

A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 2 of 3

Justin Katz

The Current interviews Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, part 2 of 3: no political box; healthcare and political lessons; school choice.

March 20, 2012

Romney Wins Illinois, as Chances for a High-Impact Primary in RI Dwindle

Carroll Andrew Morse

It looks like Mitt Romney is on his way to a victory in tonight's Illinois primary, with something close to 50% of the vote (CNN results available here). All 4 remaining GOP contenders were on the ballot, and Ron Paul is hovering around 9%, so even if 100% of Rick Santorum's plus Newt Gingrich's votes could have been combined behind one candidate or the other, it still wouldn't have been enough to beat Romney tonight.

NPR has a nice layout of the remaining primary schedule available here. If Romney follows up by doing as well as a close second in Louisiana on March 24, and then wins decisive victories in Maryland, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia on April 3, then it looks as if the race will be mostly decided by the time Rhode Island votes (along with Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania) on April 24.

Almonte First into the Democratic Gubernatorial Void?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo's Randal Edgar reported last evening that former RI Auditor General Ernest Almonte is considering running for Governor of Rhode Island as a Democrat (h/t Ted Nesi via Twitter)...

Former Auditor General Ernest A. Almonte said Monday that he is "seriously considering" a run for governor in 2014.

Almonte, who stepped down in 2010 after 15 years as auditor general, said he is talking with friends and associates about the possibility and expects to make a decision later this year....He said he would most likely run as a Democrat.

I know it seems tres early to be discussing the 2014 Governor's race, but one unknown that is going to significantly impact the fate of pension reform in Rhode Island and the state's fiscal health in general is the question of who's going to be the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2014.

If Governor Lincoln Chafee maintains about the level of support for pension reform that he has shown so far (though with all due respect to Jim Baron, I want to see the final version of municipal legislation he proposes, before giving him full plaudits for tackling the issue) and runs for a second term as an I or a D, and either Ernest Almonte or Gina Raimondo becomes a credible gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic side, it will make it significantly harder for opponents of the current version of pension reform to propel someone into the top tier of candidates. And if there's no Rhode Island Democrat willing and/or able to push a don't-worry, the system can be fixed with higher taxes and reamortization message in the Governor's race, chances increase of the changes currently being put into place taking hold.

The question accelerated by a potential Almonte candidacy is whether there is anyone from the traditional spend first, figure out how to pay for it later wing of the Democratic party in Rhode Island with the stature to run for Governor of Rhode Island.

A Free-Market Catholic's Conversation with the Bishop, Part 1 of 3

Justin Katz

Read the full article.

Providence (Ocean State Current) — When Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin took on the responsibility of leading the Diocese of Providence (encompassing the entire state) in 2005, he stepped into a society self-endeared with its own quirkiness. Rhode Island is simultaneously the most Democratic state in the union and the most Catholic. Not that long ago, such a condition wouldn’t have resonated as a contradiction, but traditionally religious voters have increasingly migrated toward the Republican Party as the Democratic Party has solidified its position on issues, such as abortion, that are irreducibly inimical to Catholic and other traditionalist beliefs. In that limited context, Rhode Island can be seen as one of the final reserves for old alliances and may therefore provide fertile ground for changing minds through mutual understanding.

Bishop Tobin’s reception has been suitably mixed. On matters of social welfare and immigration, Rhode Island conservatives often see him in line with his more activist counterparts in progressive denominations. On abortion and same-sex marriage, his stance has been so stalwart as to inspire as vicious a response as any right-wing pundit could manage. When the conservative blog Anchor Rising (of which I remain administrator) compiled a list of the most influential conservatives in the state (as distinct from the most conservative people in the state), the bishop came in at #2, just behind the Republican governor.

However, the answers that he gave when fielding questions from a different perspective than normally posed to public figures in Rhode Island prove that the bishop, like the Church, does not fit conveniently into partisan, or even ideological, categories.

Part 1: Welfare and Charity; “A Global Authority”; Solidarity and Subsidiarity; Giving Authority Over to the State

March 19, 2012

Full Time Pay To Attend College

Patrick Laverty

In the video below, WJAR's Jim Taricani dug up a provision in Rhode Island Local 580's contract that says they may attend college full time to obtain a master's degree in social work while being paid their full time salary. I am familiar with businesses that offer a tuition reimbursement plan, but I'm not familiar with any that let their staff take a leave from their job and attend school full time while still collecting their full salary.

On top of receiving their full pay while attending college, the state (again, that's you and me, the taxpayers) pay half of the cost of the schooling. One thing that was not mentioned in the video was whether these employees are going to school full time and still keeping a full time case load as well. However, reading an associated document on the web site shows the employees using the benefit are "out on Ed leave"

What has this cost so far? Since 2007, the salary cost has been $1.1 million paid to the employees while on education leave and the cost of the schooling has been slightly more than $100,000 for 18 employees. On the latter part, that sounds like either one incredible bargain or a few of them never completed it or some of those 18 just began. Because remember that $100,000 is just half the cost. That puts the average at just a little more than $10,000 per employee. How in the world can you get any master's degree for about $10,000? So there's clearly more to that story too.

Bovine Burglary

Patrick Laverty

Ok, maybe this isn't a lighter note to the owner of the cows, or maybe even to the cows themselves I would suppose, but I'm guessing when you heard of stolen cows, you had the same response. How the heck do you steal cows? It's not like you can just slip one inside your coat, or drop one in a bag, or even take one into the fitting room, remove the tags and walk out with it. Plus, it's not like the thief was the next door neighbor just leading the cows out of their pastures to another field. This is someone who moved them from Tiverton to North Stonington, CT.

The Connecticut man reportedly told authorities that he had sold some cow feed to the Tiverton farmer and had not yet received payment, so he figured it'd make sense to drive to the farm, I'm assuming with a trailer, and steal away with the steer. What he planned to do with them next, I'm not so sure, but apparently, it's not healthy for a dairy cow to not be milked on their proper schedule.

However, the bovine burglar appears to have been properly pinched and is currently under the auspices of the authorities.

Coming up in Committee: Twelve Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 20 - March 22

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Central Falls, Glocester, Middletown/Newport, New Shoreham, Pawtucket 2, Portsmouth 2, Providence, Smithfield.

12. I've never been sure if the high-profile tension in Rhode Island between auto body shops and insurance companies is an "only in Rhode Island thing" or if it's connected to some broader trend; whatever the answer, here is this year's raft of bills on the subject: H7688, H7690, H7692, H7782, H7783, H7787, H7789 (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 20).

11B. H7885: Allows employees of the RI Resource Recovery Corporation to unionize (H Labor; Wed, Mar 21). Noted because it seems a little unusual that 4 representatives from one community (Johnston) are sponsors of this bill...

11A ...speaking of which, 5 Senators from Providence would like to make a change in the state law on infrastructure rights (S2601), to extend it to telecommunications, cable and satellite services (S Corporations; Thu Mar, 22).

10. H7796: Mandates that all health insurance plans issued in Rhode Island include a "telehealth" component, defined as "the mode of delivering health care services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management, and self-management of a patient’s health care while the patient is at the originating site and the health care provider is at a distant site" (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

9. Bud Art 7, secs 3-5: Special obligation bond issues for the Airport Corporation, the Quonset Development Corporation and the Resource Recovery Corporation. All 3 sections contain a variation on a statement that "none of the bonds or the loan agreements shall constitute indebtedness of the state or a debt for which the full faith and credit of the state is pledged" (H Finance; Wed, Mar 21).

8. H7794: Requires insurers to reimburse the full amount to healthcare providers and then go get the deductible from the insured party (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

7. S2489: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 3,000 voters (S Judiciary, Tue Mar 20) This is a sub-A version of the bill -- suggesting that the legislature is serious about passing it -- where the limit has been knocked down from the 4,000 voters in the original.

6. H7582: The official description says this bill "legalizes marijuana and establishes regulations associated with legalization". It leans heavily towards regulation, legalizing only the activity of "constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce or less of marijuana" with regards to direct usage (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 21).

5. H7873: "Health insurers shall reimburse eligible physicians, no less than one hundred forty percent (140%) of what Medicare would pay the physician for providing the same service", with eligible physicians defined as physicians who "provide medical services within a designated medically underserved practice area", provide 5% of their care free and meet a few other conditions (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21). Supporters of this bill will then go on to claim, with a straight face, that government-provided health care is inherently cheaper.

4. S2604: Allows out-of-state businesses to operate in RI during a declared disaster without being immediately treated, for purposes of taxation and regulation, as having opened a branch office in RI (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 20).

3. H7797: Creates a process for reviewing and retiring health insurance mandates (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21).

2. H7892/H7909: Various measures, sponsored by the Lieutenant Governor, to establish "health insurance standards in addition to, but not inconsistent with" Obamacare, including a prohibition on limiting or excluding healthcare coverage based on pre-existing conditions and the establishment of a a single, statewide community rating for small-employer plans (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 21). Of course, if Obamacare is repealed or declared unconstitutional, Rhode Island would still have to live under any of its provisions that are passed into state law.

1C. H7272: Moves layoff notice date for public school teachers from March 1 to June 1 (H Labor; Tue, Mar 20).

1B. H7286: 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 Labor; Tue, Mar 20).

1A. H7757: Repeals the Caruolo Act and requires that municipal education contracts be ratified by a city or town council (H Labor; Tue, Mar 20).

Sentence In the Head Kicking Case: What Is The Message Out of Superior Court?

Monique Chartier

That you can kick a handcuffed person in the head and not go to jail ...

1.) Whenever you want?

2.) Only if you're a police officer?

3.) Either of the above as long as you have the right attorney?

From WPRO:

Edward Krawetz, the Lincoln Police Officer convicted of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head outside of Twin River Casino in 2009, will serve no jail time.

On Monday morning Superior Court Justice Edward Clifton sentenced Krawetz to a 10 year suspended sentence and 10 years probation. The state asked for 7 years with 18 months to serve behind bars but the judge showed leniency because the crime was not committed with a knife or gun and there was no injury. Krawetz could have faced up to 20-years in jail.

The Current Week 03/12/12 - 03/16/12

Justin Katz


Hal Meyer: Revisiting My Former Home from the Outside - Opinion
Hal Meyer reflects on his move from Rhode Island to Idaho.


Differing Interpretations of Tax Effects Play into Local Decision - Analysis
Experts disagree about whether the seven legislative proposals to increase personal income taxes on "the rich" will have an adverse effect on Rhode Island's economy, but the complexity of such changes requires a more local debate.

03/15/12 - House Finance Committee - Liveblog
Justin writes live and off-the-cuff from the House Finance Committee hearing on retirement contributions, dept. director salaries, corrections, board compensation, and holidays.

Justin's Case

03/08/12 - House Labor on Binding Arbitration: Carnevale Provokes Nadeau - Liveblog
Video of Rep. John Carnevale provoking Warwick School Committee Member Eugene Nadeau during House Labor's hearing on binding arbitration.
Societal Structure (Including Boys and Men) and Societal Health - Opinion
Educational imbalances and legal bias against boys and men and the corrosion of cultural mores illustrate why small-government, fiscal conservatism requires a dose of social conservatism, as well.
Owner Liability and Renter Trust in H7136 and S2212 - Analysis
Foreclosure-related legislation illustrates the need for in-depth debate between advocates for and against the proposals.  Even those that appear to be common sense may have unintended consequences affecting the public at large.
Memo to EDC and 38 Studios: Economic Development Is More than Just Money - Opinion
As Mark Patinkin notes, in a Sunday Projo column, the EDC and 38 Studios need to realize that it isn't enough for Rhode Island just to be a place with some buildings in which stuff happens that makes money.

Merging with MERS Not so Simple, or Even Beneficial - Analysis
As RI leaders begin to explore the possibility of moving local pension plans in the MERS, the only matter getting any clearer is that there's no simple fix.
Unemployment Down in RI, but Labor Force Down More - Research
Rhode Island's unemployment rate fell, from December to January, but the exodus from the labor force has accelerated.
The Bureaucratic Office Has the Last Light to Go Out - Opinion
Justin cites James Lileks' illustration of the absurdity of bureaucratic spending in a down economy.

Bringing the Right Lesson from Chelsea, MA, to Central Falls - Opinion
Even with the direct comparison of Chelsea, MA, with Central Falls, Justin finds that Rhode Island learns the wrong lesson.

Iannazzi (and Taxes) Did It - Opinion
Every bit of legislation raising taxes, every apparently corrupt action, contributes to the culture and sense of hopelessness that is driving people away from Rhode Island. Justin argues that that's the first thing that has to change.
Winners, Losers, and Losing More - Analysis
The 2010 tax reform had winners and losers in every income range.  Increasing taxes this year, even if only on wealthier residents, would arguably represent two straight years of tax increases.

3.5% of RI Land Preserved - Investigative Report
In the past few months, the Department of Environmental Management has purchased land or the development rights for nearly 100 acres of land at a cost just under $1 million.
Social Issues, Economic Issues, and Marriage - Opinion
In Justin's view, marriage as a social issue is inevitably bound up with other policies as small-government issues, and in a way that both "economically conservative social liberals" and "big-government traditionalists" ought to consider.
Chafee's Municipal Plan: A Giant Leap Toward Technocracy and Town Solicitor Invoices - Opinion
Justin takes the highlighter and red pen to Governor Chafee's proposal for "municipal reform and relief."

March 18, 2012

Keystone Pipeline Vote Reveals Sheldon Whitehouse's Highly Questionable Priorities

Monique Chartier

Remarkably (did the sun rise in the east this morning?), PolitiFact today ruled as "True" a statement by an R (Barry Hinckley) to the apparent detriment of a D (Senator Sheldon Whitehouse).

Benjamin "Barry" Hinckley III, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, recently criticized Whitehouse's vote in support of President Obama's decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and Texas. ...

"According to Hinckley, the impact is not just on Mid-Western construction jobs but also on jobs right here in Rhode Island," the news release said. "More than 27,000 Rhode Island jobs depend on trade with Canada, and Rhode Island sells more to Canada than to the state’s next six largest export markets combined."

The debate over the Keystone pipeline extends from Alberta to Washington, D.C. But one question hits close to home: Does Rhode Island really have 27,000 jobs that depend on trade with Canada?

More importantly, it affords the opportunity to highlight the completely misguided actions of Senator Whitehouse (and President Obama and other democrats) in opposing the project.

Let's dispense, first of all, with the assertion by its opponents that there has not been enough time to review the environmental implications of the pipeline. In fact, contrary to President Obama's statement that Republicans were trying to "rush" him into approval, a review of the pipeline on the federal, state and local level had been ongoing for years until

the [Obama State Department] backed away from signing off on the plan last year after environmentalists and local lawmakers complained.

Secondly, larger environmental concerns. Barry Hinckley summarizes nicely.

"Because Senator Whitehouse voted against the Keystone pipeline, oil from US producers in the midwest must be shipped by rail and truck, creating more carbon emissions – and the Canadian oil will most likely be shipped by oil tankers to China,” Hinckley continued. “That means greater risks to our oceans from oil spills and increased carbon emissions from tankers -- not to mention the fact that this Canadian oil will be refined and burned in China where environmental regulations are nowhere near as strict as in the US.”

Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that, in terms of both refinery and transportation processes, China and the US are on opposite ends of the environmental spectrum.

Now we're down to the core of the issue: why shouldn't the United States encourage the oil production and economy of its neighbor and strong ally, especially when it means the creation in the US of 20,000 new, private sector jobs? It has become abundantly clear that not all energy related jobs can be in the fast shrinking field of the heavily-government-subsidized green "industry".

More specific to the junior senator from Rhode Island, why is he discouraging the oil production and economy of a neighbor and strong ally from whom the state that he purportedly represents derives 27,000+ precious jobs?

March 16, 2012

ATTRIBUTION CORRECTION: Mid-Year School Closure or Bust the Budget: Choosing Between RI Laws

Monique Chartier

[The post below has been revised with the addition of the link to the article, quoted extensively in the post, by the Valley Breeze's Sandy Phaneuf, who appears to have broke the story about the Woonsocket School Comm contemplating the closure of schools two plus months early. I had omitted the link when the post originally went up four days ago. This was an inexcusable breach of blogging protocol that I'd like to blame on being a tad overworked or on recent solar flares or on non-existent technical issues. But, in fact, it was a stupid, brainless omission on my part for which I apologize. Please e-mail me right away about any recurrences of such brainlessness.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out Sandy's recent article in the Valley Breeze, wherein the head of the Woonsocket Teachers Guild advises that a two year, ten million dollar deficit built in part on off-the-book hires by the prior superintendent "is a revenue problem, not a cost problem".]

Correct me if I'm wrong here, Woonsocket friends. It appears that the school committee is proposing to close all schools early, thereby not providing Woonsocket students with the requisite 180 days of education.

Although Rhode Island General Law requires a district to provide students with 180 days of education, Roberts points out that there is also a law which requires education departments to stay within their annual budget. With more than $4 million in payables, many of which are more than 90 days old, including utilities and services for the district's special needs students, Roberts said the committee is looking at all available options.

What might head off this drastic step?

"We as a School Committee have been putting a lot of ideas out there for the state to help us, but the situation is dire," [committee member Christopher] Roberts said. "we really need parents and voters to get behind the legislation that would help us by calling their representatives," he added, in reference to Senate bills, S-2406 and S-2461, which he's estimated could save the district $4 million.

Failing passage of this legislation,

"We have to make tough decisions and to do it in a lump sum would allow us to go into 2013 without a deficit.

... the lump sum represented by shortening the school year by two plus months. Yikes.

Got a Spare $30,000?

Patrick Laverty

According to, former US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be in Rhode Island next week to headline a fundraiser to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also mentioned as possibly being in attendance is our own Congressman, David Cicilline, along with co-sponsors Gina Raimondo and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

This sure sounds like one heckuva great night and could be fun for the whole family. I'm sure this will just lift the spirits of the middle class Rhode Islander that we hear David Cicilline working so hard for. So what exactly is the cost to attend such an event for us middle class, working Rhode Island folk?

The event with the former speaker is carrying a hefty price tag with attendees being asked to contribute at least $1,000 per person or as much as $30,800 a couple.
I'm not sure I even want to know what I'd get for more than $30,000 for the evening. I wonder if they'll take a check.

Chafee Reforms Take on Union Fundamentals

Marc Comtois

Governor Chafee's municipal reform and relief plan (link to a PDF) contains many items that have long been considered in the "good idea" category by those of us around here (as Matt Allen posted on Facebook, "I think the blind squirrel found a nut!"). As Ted Nesi writes, a lot of it was promoted by Governor Carcieri who, while getting hammered for cutting money to cities and towns, doesn't get credit for also trying to persuade the General Assembly that the cuts and reforms went hand in hand. Instead, the General Assembly went with the politically expedient cuts and left the politically difficult reforms--reforms that organized labor opposed--by the wayside.

Just look at how some of Chafee's mandate relief proposals touch upon some union sacred cows:

* Reduce Accidental Disability Pensions for Public Safety Employees to between 50% to 66 2/3%.
* Remove the requirement that expired public safety contracts stay in place throughout arbitration.
* Suspend requirement that school Nurses also be certified Teachers.
* Suspend requirement that school buses carry bus monitors.
* Allows retiree health plans to be aligned with active employee plans. ie; no more Blue Cross Blue Shield classic.
* Suspends teacher step increases for determining pay based on seniority.

According to the ProJo, the RI Federation of Teachers lobbyist James Parisi "said giving certain cities and towns the ability to freeze annual salary increases for teachers and change medical benefits were particularly offensive..." State Association of Fire Fighters lobbyist Paul Valletta Jr. considers these proposals an "insult" and the RI AFL-CIO's George Nee called them a "fundamental assault" on the Rhode Island labor movement.

Then we have the lukewarm statements from Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed and House Leader Gordon Fox, "We look forward to a thorough vetting of Governor Chafee's proposals regarding cities and towns through the committee process. The Senate and House are committed to continue working with the administration to address the financial challenges the cities and towns face." A thorough vetting, huh? Is this an election year?

Finally, just to note, it looks like the Rhode Island labor movement continues to learn that supporting Lincoln Chafee in no way guarantees he'll have your back when push comes to shove. Just ask John McCain and the national Republican Party.

He Walked the Walk

Patrick Laverty

In my usual perusing various news sources for anything interesting, I fell upon this article about a doctor in Oregon. He was someone who campaigned for and helped to get a Death with Dignity law passed in his state. Then last week, he used that law for his own benefit, at the age of 83 after suffering through a disease similar to Parkinson's.

I've never really understood why we treat our pets with more compassion than we do our family and ourselves. Any time we have a pet that is near death, or in pain or suffering due to an incurable illness, we do what we feel is right and euthanize the animal. However, many don't feel like we deserve that right for ourselves. The opposition will argue that

the proposal would promote suicide among the mentally ill or even wrongdoing by doctors and unscrupulous relatives.
That just seems shortsighted to me. It takes more than a family member or a wayward doctor to make these decisions. There's only one thing that any of us truly owns in this world that that is our own lives. However, do we really own it when the only options for taking one's own life are either gruesome or painful? If someone has an untreatable disease that simply leads to suffering and a painful end, why not let the person bypass that part?

Lastly, does something being illegal mean that something isn't going to happen? Of course not.

Goodwin pointed out that the acts he sought to legalize were going on quietly between doctors and terminally ill patients anyway. The proposed law, he said, restricted the right to rational people who were at the ends of their lives and repeatedly requested their physicians' help to end their suffering.
Legalizing this will remove some burden and fear from physicians. Just like anything else, a physician who does not believe in this action will not be forced to perform it. Instead it merely allows those who do agree with it to help. If anybody deserves help, it should be those who are suffering.

March 15, 2012

David Cicilline vs. The Boogeyman

Patrick Laverty

I just got this in my mailbox, which I always find interesting to see how campaigns communicate with those they consider their "friendlys".

Dear Patrick,

The same shadowy right-wing group that aired vile and disgusting ads smearing David in 2010 is back and its leaders are promising to do everything they can to try yet again to tear him down. Among the group's major backers is a Texas billionaire who gave millions to the Swift Boat campaign that trashed John Kerry's service record in 2004 and who is now helping to fund Karl Rove's attacks in races across the country.

We need your help right now to push back against this coordinated far-right attack on David. Please donate $125, $75, $50 or $15 now so we will have the resources to combat their misinformation.

This group said after the 2010 election that David should be "looking over his shoulder for the next two years," and they are gearing up for an all-out assault this campaign. It's not going to be about the issues or who can best bring jobs to Rhode Island and fight for the middle-class. Instead, they are going to run nasty, deceptive character attacks that insult the intelligence of all of us.

There are some big choice facing Rhode Islanders in this upcoming election and we need to make sure we have the resources to make this race about who will best deliver for Rhode Island.

We need you to get David's back. Please donate $125, $75, $50 or $25 today.


Eric Hyers
Campaign Manager

I see a few things missing from this correspondence. First, how about any attribution. Mr. Hyers is claiming that some "shadowy right-wing group" is out to get David. Is that true? I have no idea. I see no evidence of it. Or does Mr. Hyers simply believe that because he says it, it's true? Not even a reference to a newspaper article or a footnote or anything. I guess we're just supposed to trust the Cicilline campaign. How's that worked out for us so far?

Also, they refer to a "Texas billionaire" without naming him or her. Right, from Texas. We can pretty easily figure out that the game being played here is "guilt by association". Our previous president was from Texas and we all know that only bad people come from Texas.

Mr Hyers also wrote:

It's not going to be about the issues or who can best bring jobs to Rhode Island and fight for the middle-class.
Oh no? What's it going to be about? Sending emails with unsubstantiated allegations about an unnamed boogeyman seemingly making out of context threats against your candidate? I have an idea Mr. Hyers. How about explaining what then-Mayor Cicilline did to help the city of Providence during the eight years he ran the city. What did he do to prevent the current situation? I think we know that answer.

Ok, ok, you don't want to make this race about what the former mayor did for the city of Providence. You want to make this about what the sitting Congressman has done for Rhode Island over the last two years in office. Let's see. There was a bill about a stamp collection. And there was...hmm. <crickets>

Ahh, I remember. During the last campaign, we saw commercials for "Make it in America" featuring the then-candidate Cicilline. He told us of his plans to bring jobs back to America and more specifically back to Rhode Island. So what exactly has the Congressman done to promote jobs for Rhode Islanders. Who is Eric Hyers, the current campaign chairman for David Cicilline? Until recently, he was the executive director for the Democratic Connecticut.

Not a single Rhode Islander was qualified to run this campaign? At least Cicilline put an American to work, even if he was from Connecticut.

The Banana Peel In Gov Chafee's Municipal Pension Reform Plan

Monique Chartier

Governor Chafee will unveil his "Critical Plan Empowerment Act-Municipal Pensions" today in Pawtucket.

Ian Donnis got an early look at it. As I read through his article, my hands rose to applaud the Governor's initiative.

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s bill to aid struggling cities and towns — slated to be unveiled later this week – would allow communities to suspend “benefit adjustments,” according to a copy of the legislation obtained by RIPR. ...

"In order to mantain the sovereignty and fiscal stability of as many municipalities as possible, as well as to safeguard the well-being, public safety, and welfare of the citizens of the state and their property, it is essential that the state take immediate and proactive steps."

Then I got to the last sentence of Ian's article.

The bill calls for steering at least 50 percent of money resulting from COLA suspensions to be “reinvested exclusively” to increase a plan’s funded percentage.

And my ovation was terminated before it began.

Many cities and towns do not have the revenue to properly fund their pension plans. Some cities and towns do not have the revenue to maintain day to day operations, much less try to make up underfunded and very generous pensions. Accordingly, how could they have the money to reinvest, exclusively or otherwise, into their pension systems?

50% of something could be a lot unless it's 50% of an empty coffer, in which case, it's zero. An adjustment, modest or substantial, of pensions will not magically make money appear where there is none now. How is this component of the governor's proposal at all feasible?

Cicilline On Fitch's Downgrade of Prov Bonds: Told Ya So

Monique Chartier

Fitch's downgrade of Providence's bonds has brought out in a big way David Cicilline's propensity to tell whoppers.

[Cicilline spokesman Richard] Luchette said the three-step downgrade by Fitch “confirms what both [Cicilline] and Mayor Taveras have said is the root cause of Providence’s economic problems

How does this correspond, first of all, to his repeatedly bragging in 2010, when he was running for a political promotion, about the "excellent fiscal condition" of the city?

Secondly. Congressman, how could you have known? You completely stonewalled the city's internal auditor, compelling him, incredibly, to file FOIA requests to obtain information about the city's fiscal condition in order to do his job.

It is very clever of the congressman to try to get on the victim side of Providence's situation. Unfortunately, it does not conform to the quality that seems to so elude the congressman - the truth.

March 14, 2012

Differing Interpretations of Tax Effects Play into Local Decision

Justin Katz

Experts disagree about whether the seven legislative proposals to increase personal income taxes on "the rich" will have an adverse effect on Rhode Island's economy, but the complexity of such changes requires a more local debate.

Click here for the full article.

Providence (Ocean State Current) - Throughout the autumn and winter, the Occupy Movement filled newspapers with slogans pitting Americans from the top 1% in wealth against the other 99%, whom the Occupiers presumed to represent.  That spirit has entered the General Assembly, this session, in the form of seven different proposals to increase taxes on "the rich."

Advocates tout a paper released this month by Jeffrey Thompson, an assistant research professor with the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts.  Reviewing research literature related to the effects of tax increases on wealthy residents, Thompson concludes that, in general, "modest tax increases on affluent households are unlikely" to change their economic behavior or drive them out of the state.  It is more likely that they'll find ways to avoid the increased taxes, but such results "are not nearly as dramatic as the consequences predicted by some."

On the other end of the debate, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity (the parent organization for the Ocean State Current) expects significant consequences.  Using a computable general equilibrium (CGE) model developed by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, the Center predicts that the most cited tax increase proposal would cost the state 1,372 jobs and 1,000 residents overall, while falling $13 million short of advocates' $118 million revenue target.

American Samoa Erases Santorum's Delegate Lead from Last Night

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mitt Romney won Republican caucuses by large margins in Hawaii and in American Samoa last night. According to CNN, his victory in American Samoa by itself was enough to close Santorum's delegate advantage from earlier in the evening, 9 delegates from American Samoa erasing a 9 delegate advantage Santorum had won in Alabama. (CNN is not showing a delegate total for Hawaii, despite the fact that the official RNC website reports that delegates were allocated according to the caucus vote).

I know there is a narrative being advanced that Romney is wounded because he is not winning states where he wasn't tremendously popular to begin with, but the fact of the matter is that, under the current primary rules -- which reflect the popular sentiment, more closely than a winner-take-all system would -- a guy with lots of strong firsts and close seconds is going to be the legitimate frontrunner, ahead of a guy with lots of close firsts and distant seconds. Unless Rick Santorum (or Newt Gingrich) can find several states where they can win overwhelming victories, which really seems to be a stretch at this point, Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee.

The Romney campaign should understand that this dynamic is working heavily in their favor, and risk some magnanimity towards his trailing GOP opponents and, more importantly, towards their supporters.


As of 10 this morning, the Associated Press had the following results for pledged delegate allocation last night, including results from Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii, and American Samoa:

Romney: 38
Santorum: 35
Gingrich: 24
Paul: 1

UPDATE II: Port Developments

Marc Comtois

Last month I expressed my approval of progress being made to further develop the port of Davisville and Quonset Point. However, I also explained my philosophical opposition to paying for port improvements, ie; dredging, via a bond instead of from the general revenue. However, I subsequently learned that I was mistaken when I thought the bond was being proposed outside of the 2012 budget. I explained my error in a follow-up post, but also noted that a bond is still a bond:

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.
Last night, a comment from @Port_Davisville sought to clarify things further.
...this is not a general obligation bond, but a revenue bond which will be financed completely with payments from port users and QDC revenues. There will be no direct cost to the taxpayer.
That is correct: the proposed bond is a revenue bond, which means the funds to pay for it will not come "from the taxpayers", as I had interpreted, but from the Quonset Development Corporation, Port of Davisville, etc. The language of the budget (Article 7 of this PDF) makes this perfectly clear:
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.
So much for my prospective degree in financing! So, to sum it up, taxpayers aren't being asked to foot the bill. Instead, those that are set to benefit most directly from the improvements will be. I could quibble a bit (you knew this was coming, right?); what is a "tariff" but a tax and it looks like those are increasing. But, to be fair, I'm willing to bet that the tariff increases still aren't as high as they would be if Quonset/Davisville joined the Harbor Maintenance program--which is funded by a tax all its own (currently QP/Davisville is exempt--that's a competitive advantage)--to help pay for the dredging.

So, in the end. I learned a few things and my philosophical wariness was displayed and addressed. Consider me an unqualified supporter now.

March 13, 2012

Santorum Wins Alabama and Mississippi, Romney Third, but Delegates Mostly Proportionally Split

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to CNN, it looks like we're headed for Santorum-Gingrich-Romney finishing 1-2-3 in both Alabama and Misssissippi, where a total of 90 delegates are at stake. (American Samoa and Hawaii also have caucuses that close later tonight, where 29 more delegates will be awarded).

Because of the proportional (Misssissippi) and almost-proportional (Alabama) delegate allocation rules (available here, at the RNC website), there will likely be a slight edge for Rick Santorum in delegates, but not a huge dent in the approximately 200 delegate lead that Romney holds.

For those looking to either board or derail the inevitablity train, the questions are 1) whether there are any places on the remaining primary calendar for Rick Santorum to score some runaway victories; 2) if not, then does momentum or its absence matter to Mitt Romney, as long as he can assemble a combination of first-place and near-first place finishes that preserve his current delegate lead; and 3) how will tonight's result affect Newt Gingrich's longevity in the race, which directly affects the previous two questions.

Teacher Absenteeism Means Academic Inconsistency

Marc Comtois

While looking at Civil Rights data for my previous post, I noticed that they included a category labeled "% FTE of Teachers Absent > 10 days of the School Year". I then started looking at some of the numbers. To ensure that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, I went to their data definition sheet (located at the bottom of the data sheet for Woonsocket, for example) to verify what a couple key terms meant:

* FTE (Full-time equivalent) – a measure of staffing that factors in the proportion of time a staff person serves (at the particular location). A staff person who is at a location for the entire day is 1 FTE at that location; a staff person who is at a location for a half day is 0.5 FTE at that location.

* Absent (for teachers) - A teacher is absent if he or she is not in attendance on a day in the regular school year when the teacher would otherwise be expected to be teaching students in an assigned class. This includes both days taken for sick leave and days taken for personal leave. Personal leave includes voluntary absences for reasons other than sick leave. Do not include administratively approved leave for professional development, field trips or other off-campus activities with students.

I then compiled the available data into the below chart (data isn't available for all of the school districts in Rhode Island. If your school isn't listed, there was no data).

District% FTE of Teachers Absent > 10 days of the School Year
Central Falls64.9%
West Warwick57.8%
South Kingstown56.4%
East Providence49.0%
North Providence41.5%
North Smithfield31.2%
North Kingstown19.3%
*SOURCE: U.S. Office of Civil Rights Data Collection

Again, because these numbers are so high, I thought that perhaps I missed something. My first thought was that they may have included maternity leave in the absentee rate. I'm still not sure about that. Another thought I had is that they simply pooled all possible FTE days and divided by all of the days absent, which would allow a few people taking many sick days to affect the entire pool. I think this may account for a portion of the high numbers. I don't believe RI teachers pay into Rhode Island's TDI system, so they pool their sick days so that members with prolonged illnesses can take time off without missing pay. (If there is any other factor I'm missing, feel free to correct me, please).

Nonetheless, taking the above into account and given the definitions listed, it appears as if we have a problem with teacher absenteeism in the majority of Rhode Island school districts. Even if the "it's a problem" line is (albeit) arbitrarily set at 10%--and 10% is still pretty generous, particularly when most people in the private sector don't get more than 5 sick days a year, much less summers and school vacations--there are at least twenty-one school districts in Rhode Island that have teacher absentee rates of around 20% or more. That isn't good.

Regardless, even if I think its one of those root cause problems that has led to places like, say, Woonsocket, ending up in their current dire straits, the apparent lack of professionalism isn't even my primary concern. Instead, I'm more concerned with how such inconsistency in the classroom affects students. We are told that, whether or not it's the ideal, school is the one place where kids can go for structure and consistency. Instead, too many Rhode Island students are faced with a revolving door of substitute teachers who have little or no stake in their educational growth. So much for consistency.

Race Stats on School Suspensions: Be Careful Jumping to Conclusions

Marc Comtois

RI NPR Education blogger Elisabeth Harrison reports on newly released data (collected for 2009) from the federal Office of Civil Rights showing that, when it comes to school discipline, "African-American students are more likely to face harsh discipline than their peers." Harrison reports that for Rhode Island, it "depends on the school district."

Plenty of statistics appear to support this assertion and Harrison provided some examples supporting these findings (and I paraphrase/quote her report here)*:

* Cranston - African-Americans comprised 4% of the student population but accounted for 50% of all expulsions.
* Pawtucket - Hispanic students made up 66% of all in-school suspensions but represented 25% of the district’s student population. African-Americans accounted for 33% of in-school suspensions and 29% of the student body. White students were the single largest group & had no in-school suspensions.
* Woonsocket - "African-American and Hispanic students were both slightly over-represented in the in-school suspension category."

Harrison's other finding: that these same minority groups are under-represented in advanced courses as well as gifted and talented programs. Again, results vary by community and Harrison cited a couple examples (again, this is a paraphrase/quote of Harrison):

* Woonsocket - There were no non-white students in Woonsocket’s gifted programs and no Hispanic students taking calculus even though Hispanics represent roughly 25% of Woonsocket’s enrolled school population.
* Providence - Hispanic students were under-represented in the district’s gifted programs and calculus classes, and Hispanic students were less likely to take the SAT or the ACT than their peers in other racial and ethnic groups.

This prompted RI Future's Bob Plain to observe that "the easiest way to avoid discipline at local high schools is to be white." However, while Plain didn't specifically address the achievement gap (instead focusing on the "disciplinary gap"), I think the statistics regarding the achievement disparities confirm what most educators and eduwonks have noted over the years: these poor participation rates in academically advanced programs can be best correlated to socio-economic factors rather than race.

I also think the same could be said about the disciplinary statistics. Unfortunately, there is no clear breakdown in the data that takes these factors into account. Nor does demography account for other factors. Without that information, and by using statistics in the same way, we could just as look across the data and easily conclude that being a male puts you behind the 8-ball in nearly every aspect of education. Therefore, I hereby proclaim that the easiest way to avoid discipline at school is to be a girl.

* I'd stress that while Harrison made it clear that Rhode Island showed mixed results, she primarily focused on examples that seem to support the idea that minorities are disciplined more than whites. As a counter, a quick look at the same data for such diverse communities as Warwick and Central Falls--Warwick is predominantly white and Central Falls is predominantly Hispanic--show pretty consistent numbers across the board.

ADDENDUM: Commenter "Dan" points out something I was wondering about. The relative consistency in the data for such seemingly disparate communities as Warwick and Central Falls supports the idea that economic disparity within a school system could be a bigger driver of disparate disciplinary rates than race or class itself, per se.

Hal Meyer: Revisiting My Former Home from the Outside

Justin Katz

Post Falls, ID (Ocean State Current) - Following Jennifer Hushion's explanation of why her family is considering leaving Rhode Island, former Portsmouth resident Hal Meyer reflects on why he left and the change he has experienced.

Not long ago, my wife and I moved out of Rhode Island. We relocated to North Idaho, also known as the Idaho Panhandle. It's been almost five years, and there has been plenty of time to reflect on the change.  My only regret is not moving sooner.

Before we left Rhode Island, life seemed hard. The heavy hand of government seemed everywhere, and often I had the feeling of being a slave to the cabal of insiders who run the state. The contrast between Idaho and Rhode Island couldn't be any starker. Everything seems cheaper, cleaner, faster, and better managed out here.

March 12, 2012

Déjà Woonsocket

Justin Katz

Everything going on in Woonsocket sounds so familiar that I had to check back in Anchor Rising's archives for the city. It's worth scrolling down to the summer of 2009; very instructive. First observation, from a liveblog of a school committee meeting (most of which I missed):

I've got to say that the casual atmosphere, here, is almost disconcerting. As I drove in, the lazy summer evening feel of the streets brought to mind the degree to which most residents are oblivious to the actions of their local, state, and even national government representatives. Given the points of levity, it's almost as if that mood has infiltrated even the bodies that those representatives populate.

At the time, the district was cutting everything and seeking 40 furlough days from teachers. Peruse the surrounding posts, and you'll see that the district's teachers had enjoyed unabated raises since at least the turn of the millennium, and the budget problem could have been solved with a 13-14% reduction in pay. But then, fast forwarding through a bunch of Caruolo noise, we get to this very familiar-sounding item:

There's a $6.9 million difference between the School Committee and the City Council over how much to spend on schools in this fiscal year; it jumps to $10.6 million when the 2008-09 deficit is added in. The reconciliation of those numbers is set to start Wednesday at a joint budget workshop session between the committee and the City Council.

Essentially, the school committee plugged its 2009 hole with 2010 money, and the town council, which legal precedent leaves with no authority to stop that from being done, acknowledged as much and agreed to move on to the next budget. The downside is that even the school committee's impossible plan for the next year will come up 62% shy of the budget gap. With the teachers' union digging in, the school committee surely expects the money to be found, somewhere, and that somewhere would have to be the town's taxpayers.

Of course, we all know that the Magic Obama ARRA Money came in shortly after, and although I lost track of its impact on Woonsocket, at the time, I can't shake the feeling that we're really only seeing the fruits of hole-plugging with the blind hope of a rapid economic recovery unrealized.


As if to deliberately emphasize the point: closing the schools in April would be roughly equivalent to the 40 furlough days that the School Committee was seeking back then.

Bill to Allow State Employees Serve in Assembly

Patrick Laverty

How's this sound on the face of it? A bill sponsored by Senators Jabour, Crowley and Pinga would remove the restriction that prevents state employees from running for election for a state seat. So a state employee could run for the General Assembly or any of the other General Officer seats. It sure sounds like a conflict of interest, doesn't it? In face, according to, the restriction was put in place in 1939 to eliminate at least this possible conflict of interest. I guess "only in Rhode Island" would the politicians look to add more conflicts of interest.

One can see the point though, why should anyone be restricted simply due to their place of employment? We already have other potential conflicts at the State House. How many lawyers vote on bills that can affect them? How many others are members of unions in the state and bring forth bills that would directly affect the unions? How many voted on pension reform when they themselves receive a pension? However, simply because there are other issues shouldn't be an excuse to add more.

You have to think though, and I don't see it in the bill, wouldn't it be interesting for someone to be elected to be their own boss? What if someone with a job in the Governor's Office were elected Governor? Can he keep his job and his salary on top of the Governor's? How about in the Attorney General's office? Can someone effectively do both jobs? How about being employed by the Speaker of the House while serving in the Senate? What kind of mixed loyalties might that cause? It'll be fun to find out.

Unrelated, how funny is it that the Boston Globe even tries hard to link to the sourced article in the Providence Journal and is blocked out. Gotta love being required to get local RI news from the Boston Globe.

Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 13 - March 15, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

6. H7519: Creates a fee-based restricted-receipt state-government account, with proceeds to be used for the creation of a "uniform, statewide electronic plan review, permit management and inspection system" (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). But is a technical fix what's needed to solve Rhode Island's problems with inefficient permitting, or is there a more systemic problem?

5. A series of special education bills; concerning treatment of dyslexic students (H7541, H7542), an exemption from staff certification requirements for non-public schools used by public school districts to provide the appropriate education to students with disabilities that districts cannot provide (H7655), a transferal of hearing jurisdiction for "resolving disputes relating to the identification, evaluation or educational placement of children with disabilities and providing a free and appropriate education" to the Department of Health (H7829), and administrative processes for altering a disabled student's education program (H7217, H7218) (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).

4. S2658: Establishes a fairly lengthy list of "defects or omissions" that a mortgage agreement may contain and still be considered valid (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 13) and someone with industry knowledge should review this list, and tell us if the defects truly are minor enough to be considered inconsequential.

3. H7110: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual who has been arrested (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 13).

2. S2695/H7543: Process for authorizing a full casino at Newport Grand, including a statewide constitutional amendment ballot question, and a local referendum in Newport (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Mar 14).

1. H7413: Among other provisions, a prohibition of standardized tests from being used as a requirement for high-school graduation (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).

Held For Further Study, or We Were Told Not To Vote On This

Patrick Laverty

Andrew has been banging this drum for a while now with a post earlier this year on bills being held for further study as well as his great explanation last year of how our elected leaders could put an end to the practice. Justin has also been live-blogging from some of the hearings and from what I can tell, he might as well just write "Held For Further Study" at the beginning of each bill discussion.

However, Andrew's explanation of how to block the practice requires two people. Two people with the guts to rock the boat and upset the people who fear a committee vote and possibly a floor vote on a bill. One easy way to keep legislators from having to vote on a tricky bill is to bury it in committee. Once a vote takes place and is on the record, voters and opposing candidates can use that against the incumbent. Or the opposite can happen, a legislator can simply tell people "I would have voted for that, but it never made it out of committee."

I can understand the need for "Held For Further Study." Not all bills are perfect, some require some edits, rewrites and even looking up statistics and data. That's a perfect use for the decision. But sometimes, there's nothing more to do.

One such example is the "Master Lever" bill, or Straight Ticket Voting. This bill has been submitted for the fourth straight year this year, all four years never making it past the "Held For Further Study" status. The bill even has the support of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis. But last week during the Senate Judiciary Hearing that Justin attended, the bill was held yet again. Why? What else is there to study? What is the more data that they need to know?

Here's my solution. If a committee is going to hold a bill for future study, they need to explain why and what they need to know. Then give it a vote when that information comes back, or simply repeat the process. If a bill needs to be studied more, then study it! Come back with results. Stop throwing bills into the trash with this political trick.

So Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey, what do you want studied about that bill, what more do you need to know? Let's get you that information and get your committee voting. Whaddya say?

Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 13 - March 15, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Johnston, Middletown/Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket 2 3 4, Providence 2, Tiverton 2, Westerly.

16. H7882: Adds the Governor's Office to the list of government departments that can participate in the operation of a State House gift shop (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).

15. H7687: Requirement that all healthcare plan participants in Rhode Island designate a primary care provider (H Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). Perhaps a step in changing the standard delivery model for healthcare in Rhode Island to something more HMO-like?

14. Bud Art. 24, Sec 3: Extends, for the next 10 years, a sales tax exemption for Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation projects, but excludes retail projects and specifically retail banking from being granted sales tax or any other tax benefits by the EDC (H Finance; Wed, Mar 14). Added to the list, because it seems as if a specific project or two is being removed from the list of possible tax exmeptees.

13. S2606: A vaguely-worded prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities; price gouging would be prohibited not only during a "a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president", but also during any "actual or anticipated market emergency or economic emergency" (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 13). Do the past several years count as an economic emergency that would trigger this bill?

12. H7650: Prohibits the Department of Human Services from requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to use "any alternative brand name prescription drug" prior to using another brand-name drug. (Generic drugs could still be given preference) (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Mar 14).

11. Budget articles relating to state personnel, including Article 13 authorizing 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", and Article 33 removing election day from the list of state employee holidays (H Finance; Thu, Mar 15).

10. H7474: Allows motor vehicle registration renewals to be submitted to city/town clerks, if authorized by an individual municipality (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).

9. S2226: One of many bills on the issue of workers' compensation being heard by the Senate Labor Committee on Wed, Mar 14; this particular bill repeals a large section of the law related to "partial incapacity".

8. S2343: Establishes conditions that must be met, which go beyond the IRS regulations currently in use, for someone being paid to be considered a contractor and not an employee (S Labor; Wed, Mar 14).

7. H7045: Requires that cities and towns change auditors every 3 years (H Municipal Government; Thu, Mar 15).

The Current Week, 03/05/12-03/10/12

Justin Katz


Jennifer Hushion: Why RI Is Driving Us Out - Opinion
Jennifer Hushion explains why her family is considering moving out of Cranston and Rhode Island


Star Kids for the Children Left Behind - Interview/Profile
The Star Kids Program, in the East Bay, helps the children that Rhode Island might otherwise leave behind to close the graduation gap.
03/06/12 - RI Senate Judiciary Hearing - Liveblog
Justin writes live from the RI Senate Judiciary hearing, including bills addressing campaign finance and straight-ticket voting.

Campaign Finance Reform Targeting National Organizations Worries Local Groups - Analysis
Campaign finance reform legislation currently under review in the RI General Assembly targets large national organizations and companies but has small local groups fearing that their speech (and donations) will be chilled.
03/08/12 - RI House Labor Committee Hearing - Liveblog
Justin writes live from the RI House Labor Committee Hearing, dealing mainly with binding arbitration and perpetual contracts.

03/10/12 - RISC Winter Meeting - Liveblog
Justin writes live from the RISC Winter Meeting at the Radisson Hotel.
Video of 2012 RISC Winter Meeting - Liveblog
Video of RISC's 2012 Winter Meeting, featuring Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Woonsocket Mayor Loe Fontaine, Providence advisor Gary Sasse, and Rep. Larry Ehrhardt.

Justin's Case

Complete Streets Legislation Takes Build-It-and-They-Will-Bike Approach - Analysis
The General Assembly is considering legislation that would require Department of Transportation preference of "complete street" designs, but the cost and demand for new regulations appears not to have been thoroughly assessed.
Each Family a Royal Family, but Only If Rights Persist - Opinion
Family and voluntary associations (including those defined geographically, like villages) are a necessary source of authority to oppose ever-expanding government.
Incentive for Psychoses in a Therapeutic Culture - Opinion
A Swedish man disabled by his love of heavy metal illustrates how, as community standards are pushed closer and closer to the closed-door home, the police of the public sphere are apt not only to defend, but to subsidize material they like.

Attorney General Settlements as Corporate Shakedowns - Analysis
Forty-nine of 50 states participated in legal action against five mortgage banks resulting in a $25 billion settlement.  The public should wonder, first, what the banks gained from the settlement and, second, whether the whole process is wise to encourage.
School Budgets to Town/City Councils: Derailing Reform Still Suggests a Forward Motion - Analysis
A labor-friendly senator proposing reform-minded legislation indicates the need for the careful consideration of unintended consequences as Rhode Island shifts the way it does business.

Measuring the Inflation of Government - Analysis
Local political analyst Tom Sgouros asserts that government ought to be measured against income, rather than in line with other expenses, but it isn't as reasonable a premise as it may at first seem.
Ethics in an Everybody-Knows-Everbody State - Opinion
As a Ted Nesi article illustrates, the matter of legislator ethics is not a simple one.  Perhaps disclosure, not investigation, is the answer.
Taxing the Rich Raises Taxes on All - Analysis
Efforts to increase the top tax rate shouldn't be viewed in terms of the current tax system, but the system before the tax reform that is just kicking in.  In that case, it represents a massive increase on more than just "the rich."

In the Mood for Binding Arbitration? - Analysis
The insider take is that the General Assembly wants to avoid controversy, after pension reform, but last night's House Labor hearing gave the impression of a different kind of show.
Unemployment Unchanged... but at Least It's Not Bad News - Analysis
Unemployment held at 8.3% in February, indicating stagnation no matter how one slices the numbers.
RNC Co-Chair: Optimism, Work, and Tools, but No Money - Interview/profile
On a visit to Rhode Island, RNC Co-Chairman Sharon Day promises local Republicans tools, access, and optimism, but not money.

March 10, 2012

A Hint As To What Will Trigger State Intervention?

Monique Chartier

With the recently exposed multi-year, multi-million dollar deficit in Woonsocket's school budget and the subsequent downgrade of the city's bonds, Woonsocket now qualifies for receivership, a.k.a., municipal bankruptcy, under Rhode Island's new, albeit overarching, law.

The big question now is whether the state will step in and start that process.

Though terse, we get a possible answer in an AP article of today.

State revenue officials continue to meet regularly with city leaders to find possible solutions, [gubernatorial spokeswoman Christine] Hunsinger said. She said Chafee would consider more aggressive intervention if state officials decide to contribute money to help the city’s bottom line.

So, if this report is accurate, intervention is tied to the direct furnishing of dollars. If Woonsocket doesn't ask for any (presumably, the state would not unilaterally force funds upon the municipality), the Governor will not be inclined to intervene.

RISCing the Press Table

Justin Katz

Andrew did an excellent job summarizing RISC's Winter Meeting, this morning. I was trying to follow along with the comments from the other side of the room, where I was doing the same thing from near the press table.

If you're interested in even more post-live liveblogging of the event, I think I might be a little bit faster typist than Andrew (while he was doing research and engineering in his younger days, I was writing long obscure novels). I've got some pictures, too.

Tassoni: Pets Need Court Advocates

Monique Chartier

H'mmm, do you suppose if we could get taxpayers reclassified as pets, Senator Tassoni would be a little more concerned about our welfare ...?

A Rhode Island lawmaker says it's unfair that pets and other animals don't get a voice in court when their welfare is at stake.

State Sen. John Tassoni has written legislation that would allow a state veterinarian or a representative of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to act as a court advocate in animal abuse or neglect cases.

The advocate would make recommendations to a judge in cases in which an animal may be removed from a person's custody.

RISC Panel Discussion on Municipal Finance

Carroll Andrew Morse

[9:16] Good morning, from the Rhode Island Statewide Coalititon Winter Meeting, where a panel discussion on municipal finance in Rhode Island has been convened. Panel members are Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders, and the multi-titled Gary Sasse.

[9:18] Central Falls Receiver Flanders is the moderator, and introducing the discussion. He says he'd like to spend some time focusing on the legalities of receivership.

[9:21] CF entered into many agreements with its public employees that were unsustainable over time. $16M in revenue was being collected to pay for $22M in benefits, and that's before the real costs for OPEB benefits kick in.

[9:21] Flanders reminds us that CF petitioned the state for a judicial receiver. The state responded, eventually, by passing the current fiscal stabilization law. Flanders reviews the triggers that allow the state to step in.

[9:23] The triggers, Flanders says he's been told, are present in Providence and Woonsocket.

[9:24] Flanders reviews the 3 layers of fiscal stabilization (overseer, budget commission, receiver).

[9:26] The two powers the receiver has are 1) to take a city or town into bankruptcy and 2) all of the powers that the city government has (this is Flanders' description),

[9:27] Flanders discusses chapter 9 bankruptcy. Little used, not many precedents, but it seems to be generally agreed that a receiver can start making changes immediately after bankruptcy is filed for. Motion to reject all of the problem contracts can immediately be filed.

[9:30] Chapter 9 also requires state authorization. The RI law makes a receiver the only official who can give this authorization.

[9:31] A judge can't appoint a trustee to manage a city in a different way than it is currently be managed, nor liquidate the city.

[9:37] Biggest lesson of Central Falls: It's possible to get over the stigma of bankruptcy, which is just a restructuring.

[9:39] Flanders is discussing "regionalization" and "consolidation" as longer term structural fixes, but it's the lite version of each, incremental sharing of services, school dept./muni consolidation within towns.

[9:40] Other perception problem: City and town officials have to lose all of their powers -- but that doesn't have to happen.

[9:41] In my opinion, Judge Flanders is trying to redefine the concept of receivership as it has so far been applied, so that Providence or Woonsocket would be able to ask for a receiver as a form of power sharing, not as a complete state takeover.

[9:42] Flanders goes on, receivership is the best way to short circuit court interference in the process.

[9:43] Flanders also says, rather directly, RI state judges are ruling on items that could affect their own pensions.

[9:44] Now talking about the bondholder law. Flanders defends it with conventional argument that one muni bond failure in Rhode Island would cause higher interest rates to spread to other communities. This "tempers" concerns that bankruptcy would be bad for Rhode Island.

[9:49] Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine is up next. Starts with a reference to the Declaration of Independence. To have a Tea Party today, we'd need a permit, a detail police officer, and probably get fined by the EPA and start a conflict with the Tea carriers union.

[9:51] We're collapsing under the pressure of bunches of promises made with good intentions.

[9:52] This isn't a problem of one or two cities or towns, this impacts all of us.

[9:52] Woonsocket looked at the same corporate receivership option that CF originally pursued. Woonsocket wanted to wait until the GA was out of session, so it couldn't be quickly contravened.

[9:54] Current receivership law is trying to solve the problem of government by inserting more government.

[9:54] Woonsocket has been trying to solve its problems by cutting costs.

[9:55] Fontaine claims that Woonsocket is one of the highest-taxed communities in the state. (However, I have questions about this claim).

[9:56] Mentions that it's school-side spending that's nout of control in Woonsocket, because of the independence that school committees have been given, again with good and noble intentions.

[9:58] Doesn't think that receivership is the answer.

[10:00] (Note to commenter "John": Mayor Fontaine is making the people of Woonsocket look like they have taken to choosing responsible politicians (at least lately)).

[10:04] Cranston Mayor Allan Fung up next: Cranston is not in as bad a position as Woonsocket or Providence, but it's not out of the woods yet. Percentage of budget going into contracted costs is about the same in Cranston as in other distressed communities. Both the costs, and the "playbook" for dealing with those costs are the problem.

[10:07] Binding arbitration has imposed many structural costs that are now a problem. Serious fiscal analyses were not done, when benefits were offered.

[10:09] Gary Sasse, advisor to the Providence City Council: If we have a sick capitol city, we're not going to have a healthy state. Bankruptcy can be made more predictable -- in public decision making, predictability is very important.

[10:12] Two factors creating difficulties for Providence: #1 State mandates, which make it difficult to treat property taxpayers fairly. 20 pieces of legislation have been proposed to relieve this, they couldn't get a hearing.

[10:13] Factor #2: The payments needed to keep the city pensions solvent.

[10:14] Huge tax increases will be needed, under the current system, just to make pension payments (basically the same argument that Gina Raimondo has explained regarding state pensions).

[10:18] 3 options 1) bankruptcy 2) negotiating with the unions and 3) a supplemental tax increase. It's legitimate to ask, from a tactical perspective, how do you get the unions to come to the table, to renegotiate what are effectively guaranteed annual raises and other benefits.

[10:20] Concept of bankruptcy needs some more conversation.

[10:21] State Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt (whom I neglected in the intro) is the final panelist to speak.

[10:22] Mentions taking back longevity increases and, of course, state-system pension reform as two things the legislature has done, to help RI's finances, that in the past he wouldn't have thought possible. However, there were some unique circumstances of timing and leadership that allowed this to happen.

[10:24] Leadership of the House is facing organized opposition pressure, because of their decisions.

[10:26] "Haven't seen much in the way of requested legislation, to deal with the municipal problem". Legislation that has been filed is mostly taxes on non-profits, that just moves money from one pocket to another.

[10:28] Mentions binding arbitration -- it wasn't clearly dead last session until the last night of the session (suggesting it could come back again this year?)

[10:29] Flanders asks for specific examples of problem mandates. Fontaine: BEP mandates on the school side, DEM mandates impact Woonsocket's waste water plant, mandates on renovating historic buildings.

[10:31] Sasse: 2 types of mandates that unnecessarily drive up costs: Environmental regulations and mandates that public employee unions got added to the law, when they couldn't get them written into contracts.

[10:32] Fung: We need reform, not repeal of mandates, to get the public to understand that cities and towns need more freedom to reduce their costs, e.g. evergreen contracts aren't mandates, as much as they are bad laws.

[10:40] Audience Q portion, based on written questions:

[10:41] Q to Gary Sasse on the specifics of Providence's pension. Sasse explains the difference between statutorially awarded pensions, and contractually negotiated pensions. Mentions state judges are making decisions that set precedents for their own pensions.

[10:42] Would a Providence bankruptcy affect the state's bond rating? Sasse: Bond markets don't just look at bankruptcy. They also look at what will be done, with the new flexibility gained through bankruptcy.

[10:46] A tax-to-the-max strategy would be worse than bankruptcy (from the perspective of the bond markets, I think).

[10:47] Q: Why are there so many school department deficits? Should all school departments be consolidated with their municipal governments?

[10:48] Flanders: "I think so". There should more connection between the tax-raising power and spending on schools in cities and towns.

[10:49] Fung: Cranston was downgraded, with 2 reasons cited 1) the pension system 2) school spending. Cities can't be an ATM for the schools, cities need more accurate info for budgeting.

[10:50] Fontaine agrees with above sentiments. Fung: End the Caruolo act.

[10:53] Q: Can local plans be merged into the MERS plan? Flanders: Courts have ruled that whatever plan someone retires under cannot be changed.

[10:54] Fung: You also need a carefully considered transition plan, to make a move into MERS work.

[10:55] Sasse: In Providence, 16M of 60M in pension costs is to pay COLAs to retirees.

[10:56] Q: could RI become a right-to-work state? Fontaine: Why shouldn't employee service costs be put out to bid, like other costs that cities deal with.

[10:58] Harry Staley wraps up. Bad bills get defeated, but come back the next year. Can the legislature afford to waste time, reconsidering things like binding arbitration every year? Or trying to repeal something like voter ID, that was just passed last year, and hasn't even been implemented yet?

[11:00] The time should be used to consider the real issues that are critical to our future.

[11:01] There's either going to be a voluntary or an involuntary solution to RI's problems. He hopes it's voluntary.

Justin's liveblog of today's RISC event is available at the Ocean State Current.

March 9, 2012

Why Are We Soft on the Assembly?

Patrick Laverty

I'm frequently reading articles about how towns are struggling financially because of millions of dollars less being given to the municipalities. The mayors say that they're struggling because they're not getting as much money. The Assembly is plugging their own budget holes with that money instead.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has said that a part of Providence's financial problem is cuts to his city's aid. The amount of cuts in aid is more than a town can make up in increases in taxes, especially with the town capping tax rate increases.

More recently, in the Valley Breeze, Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine said:

"I need to give some credit to the governor in that he recognizes that cities such as Woonsocket have been placed in this situation by the actions of the past administrations at the state level that have continually cut funding to cities and towns,"

We've also seen the former governor get blamed:

The deep cuts in aid to cities and towns that Chafee decries so often and so loudly were made by Carcieri

Ok, two points here. First, why don't these mayors put their own Assembly members on the hot seat? Why aren't they being called out directly? The Assembly is at least partially responsible for the situation that these cities are in. Why is it just the faceless "Assembly" that gets the blame? Who is going to be the first mayor to call these people out individually? I could understand this phenomenon a little better if the actions of the Assembly were affecting just one town. But it's not. Virtually every town in the whole state is affected by these cuts. When will the local leadership actually do something substantial and hold their local Representatives and Senators accountable? When will Taveras, Fung, Fontaine and others actually call out Assembly members for their specific votes on the aid cuts? Put a face on the problem and put the blame squarely where it belongs.

Speaking of putting the blame where it belongs, why does Carcieri get blame for cutting aid to the cities and towns? He did no such thing. I recently heard Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien on the radio blaming Governor Carcieri for aid cuts to his city. If you believe that Carcieri had the power to do this, let me ask you something. Remember last year when Governor Chafee wanted to broaden the sales tax? Why isn't that a law now? Answer, because the General Assembly didn't want it. The Governor cannot do anything that the General Assembly doesn't approve of. The Governor merely suggests a budget and then the Assembly, specifically the Budget Committee creates and approves the budget. So yes, Carcieri did suggest these cuts in aid to the towns but it was the General Assembly, those very same people who knock on your door in October and ask to put a sign in your yard, who cut the aid to your town.

Go back to and look at the past budget votes. Look to see who voted in favor of the budget, which included the cuts to local aid. Those are the people who cut the aid to your town. When they come knocking on your door this fall, ask them why they did it. Ask them why your taxes have gone up. Ask them why your town is cutting services. When they try to blame Carcieri, you'll see the problem first hand, right on your doorstep.

How the Rhode Island Legislature Can Bring More Presidential Campaign Attention to Rhode Island All On Its Own

Carroll Andrew Morse

Supporters of the "National Popular Vote" interstate compact for Presidential elections frequently explain that one of their goals is to have to have Presidential candidates pay attention to more than just a handful of "swing states" during their general election campaigns. But Rhode Island has the ability to increase its share of Presidential campaign attention by acting on its own.

Presently, Rhode Island allocates its Presidential electors according to a winner-take-all rule. The legislature could replace this with a system where winner-take-all only occurs if the leading vote-getter exceeds a certain vote threshold. Otherwise, if no candidate exceeds the threshold, Presidential electors would be assigned proportionally.

If the popular vote percentage was multiplied by the number of electors and rounded to the nearest whole number, and the winner-take-all threshold was set at the same percentage that would move a proportional split from 2-2 to 3-1, then the difference between winning close in Rhode Island and winning a supermajority would be 2 electoral votes. That would make it worthwhile it for candidates to actively pursue a supermajority win, or, conversely, to do enough to deny an opponent a supermajority win. Putting 2 electoral votes into play in this manner would give Rhode Island roughly the same influence it would have in a popular vote system and where landslides in either direction were possible.

There is no obvious Constitutional objection to this method of allocating electoral votes, so it would allow progressives and conservatives interested in more Presidential campaign attention for Rhode Island to unite behind it. And one feature-not-a-bug (depending on your perspective) is that it might provide progressives with an opportunity to laugh at me at a later date (probably not this year), when some future Republican Presidential candidate ekes out a 50.1 - 49.9 victory in Rhode Island, only to get 2 electoral votes out of it.

Finally, the ability to implement this system is fully under the control of the Rhode Island legislature. They don't have to wait for any other state to act. If those legislators who support NPV are truly interested in bringing more attention from Presidential campaigns to the state of Rhode Island, this could be implemented in time for the 2012 election, where the candidates will be going after every vote that's in play.

Brendan Doherty on the Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ian Donnis has posted a link, at Rhode Island Public Radio's On Politics blog, to a private-channel YouTube video of a Brendan Doherty campaign appearance, plus a summary with a few quotes.

For folks who want to learn more about Doherty's positions on the issues, the video starts off in the midst of a discussion on illegal immigration. At about 3:05, Doherty answers a question from a reflexive-lefty position on working with Congressional Republicans (which he answers by saying he's a conservative and that he'll always do what's in the best interest of the people of Rhode Island and of America), and then answers questions on term-limits (he supports them) and right-to-work (he supports it, and notes in an answer to a subsequent question that some unions are "out of control").

At 10:15, Doherty is asked about the Blunt Amendment, answering that he doesn't support its particular language, but does support an exception in Federal healthcare law for Catholic organizations, and that there wouldn't be a problem at all, if Obamacare were repealed, which is also something he supports.

Also, at about 13 minutes into the video, second-time Second District Congressional candidate Michael Gardiner makes a short presentation to the crowd, where he discusses mostly biography and political tactics.

March 8, 2012

"Deficiencies In Internal Fiscal Controls": Woonsocket School Committee Brings Down The City (Bonds)

Monique Chartier

So Monday night, with the Governor in attendance, Mayor Fontaine broke the disastrous findings of the audit of the school department's budget.

Thanks, in large part, to $4 million in overspending on salaries, the Woonsocket Education Department is projected to exceed their 2012 budget by more than $7.3 million.

A budgetary recap is in order at this point. In less than four months, we've gone from a small surplus to a $2.7 million shortfall to, now, a $7.3 million gap.

How did we get here? Well, the initial $2.7 million was in large part the result of off-the-book hirings by the prior Woonsocket superintendent - hirings about which the school committee purported to be completely uninformed.

By the way, my favorite public comment at Monday night's City Council meeting was from a taxpayer who, citing the need for accountability, called for the de-certification of the prior superintendent. Absolutely. If the school committee was, indeed, not apprised of these hires, they will take this step forthwith so as to protect other cities and towns from, literally, millions of dollars of unauthorized spending by an out of control superintendent.

But a rogue superintendent was not the cause of the entire shortfall. Check out item #4 of the list compiled by Sandy Phaneuf in this excellent Valley Breeze article.

The committee spent their 2012 state allocation in advance and therefore miscalculated their actual deficit for 2011 by $2 million.

The school dept was given a $2 million advance on its state aid. It repaid this favor by wrongly accounting for the entire sum. Further, it took an outside auditor to uncover the $7.3 million shortfall. At best (which is not good at all), it appears that the school committee was once again gormless about yet another chasm that had opened up in its own budget.

As with the superintendent's unauthorized hirings, these developments would be grounds for criminal charges in the private sector.

Now, the final blow. As a result of the Woonsocket School Committee's gross, recidivist incompetence, Fitch reduced Woonsocket's bonds to junk status this afternoon.

An estimated $7.3 million deficit, about 7.6 percent of the city’s general fund, is projected for the fiscal 2012 school budget, following a deficit in the previous year. That reflects “deficiencies in internal fiscal controls,” Fitch said today in a statement. The company lowered Woonsocket’s rating to BB-, down from BBB-, the lowest investment grade.

Senator Tassoni has proposed a law (S2239) that would transfer all school department fiscal matters from school committees to city/town councils. I share Justin's caution about the bill and the potential that ulterior motives lurk for its passage. At the same time, the City on the Move would almost certainly be in better shape right now if such a Gut-The-School-Committee law had been passed, say, five years ago.

Cities & Towns Appear Unwilling to Sign Onto Meals Tax Fools Bargain

Marc Comtois

As reported by the ProJo, many, many people testified before a House panel that was convened to discuss the new meals (and other) taxes being proposed by Governor Chafee. Purportedly, the money will be sent back to cities and towns, which caused the legislators to make an interesting observation.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, noted that no city or town officials testified in support of the tax plans, even though a significant chunk of the revenue would benefit their communities....“I found that pretty amazing,” House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo, D-East Providence, said afterward of the lack of support from cities and towns.
Perhaps, just perhaps, cities and towns realize that this is a twofold fools bargain. What good is a raise in a tax if it can't be collected because its added cost caused the local business to close or move? And whose to say the money that is supposedly earmarked for cities and towns won't just end up elsewhere in the black hole of Rhode Island government?

Maybe a third reason is that they know every business is against it, so it's not a very politically popular stance to take, either. Well, for most people anyway:

The only person to testify in favor was Kate Brewster, executive director of the Economic Progress Institute, which advocates for policies affecting the poor.
...and never met a tax increase they didn't like. 'Nuff said.

How Private is Your Property?

Marc Comtois

If your lucky, you don't have to deal with "that house" in your neighborhood. You know, the one with the two or three beat up cars in the driveway (or on the lawn) and the hayfield instead of a lawn. It doesn't look good and brings the appearance of the rest of the neighborhood down. But is it a "conservative" thing to do to force someone to clean up their yard? The discussion is being had in today's Warwick Beacon:

“Frequent flyers,” is the name Annamarie Marchetti bestows on a small group of residents whose names resurface time and again for infractions of the “property maintenance code,” previously known as “minimum housing.”

The habitual offenders, Marchetti believes, don’t do what they do deliberately, said the clerk of property maintenance. She thinks they really don’t understand why their neighbors should be upset with the piles of junk and unregistered cars in their yard. After all, it’s their stuff – andtheir yard.

Debris and unregistered vehicles are two of the three most frequent infractions, says Ted Sarno, director and building official. The third most common relates to “protective coating” which could be peeling paint or siding coming off a house. In the summer, the fourth and fifth sources of complaint are overgrown lawns and standing water that is a source for mosquitoes. With so many foreclosures, Sarno said complaints over uncut lawns have been on the rise.

When negligence towards your private property affects the value of mine, is it any of my concern? Philosophical arguments based on conservative or libertarian principles can be made from both sides.

And there are some pretty obvious extensions, right? For instance, to conflate two, drug legalization and health care: some may say what they put into their body is their own business and also that they pay-as-they-go for health care instead of pay for insurance---until we end up paying for their visit to the Emergency Room and rehab care because they OD'd and didn't have health insurance. So where are the boundaries? Are they all slippery slopes? Part of what makes political discourse interesting is where we all choose to draw our own lines in the sand on issues like this. Where do you draw them?

Campaign Finance Reform Targeting National Organizations Worries Local Groups

Justin Katz

Legislation under review in the General Assembly targets national organizations but has local groups fearing their speech (and donations) will be chilled.


Providence (Ocean State Current) - The political stars appear out of line when RI Right to Life stands with the ACLU against a campaign finance reform proposal from Common Cause. Yet, there were their respective heads, Barth Bracy and Stephen Brown, sitting next to John Marion, telling the Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island Senate that legislation he had ushered into being would be "extraordinary."

On the table was Senate bill 2569, companion of House bill 7859, "disclosure of political contributions and expenditures." The leaders of both chambers, as well as Governor Lincoln Chafee, had been so anxious to jump on this bandwagon that they held a joint press conference weeks earlier, even before the legislation had been finalized.

The bill would require "any person, business entity or political action committee" advocating for or against a candidate or referendum to report its "independent expenditures or electioneering communications" spending to the Board of Elections if it amounts to $250 or more. In addition to describing the expenditures, the reports would have to identify all donors who've given the group $1,000 or more within the previous 12 months. In existing campaign finance law, donor identification typically includes his or her address and employer.

The legislation further requires any communication --- in printed, audio, video, or digital form --- made in the course of a campaign to provide the name of the organization and its chief officer or treasurer, its address, and a statement of agreement and independence. Non-profit organizations would also have to list their top 5 donors from the past 12 months, regardless of the total amounts that they contributed.

Bracy described a recent incident at the State House when "peaceful pro-lifers" were "bullied and harassed, shouted down and pelted with condoms." If that is the price of supporting a particular cause "in the very rotunda of the State House," he suggested, it would chill participation to "ask them to post their names in newspapers so that people who disagree with them might take some form of retribution."

In defense of that provision, which Common Cause "firmly stands behind," Marion focused on the right of an organization's members and shareholders to know what campaign activities are being done on their behalf. He referred to a 2010 controversy in Minnesota involving Target Brands, Inc., when the company's $150,000 in campaign donations resulted in "1,800 protests in Target stores within a matter of days."

Public debate about the legislation has repeatedly cited the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. According to the legislative findings sections of S2569 and H7859, Citizens United allowed "unlimited political spending by outside groups via independent expenditures," which are "often extremely difficult or impossible to trace."

At the press conference and the Senate hearing on the bills, participants asked whether there has been any evidence that the "super PACs" that have emerged at the federal level are active in Rhode Island. Proponents responded that the legislation has been put forward in anticipation of future campaigns. Speaker of the House Gordon Fox told assembled members of the media at the conference, "This is a way of dealing with what has grown into an enormous problem that has tilted the scale."

March 7, 2012

Really? RI State Gov't Should Eliminate Internal Audits?

Monique Chartier

I'm all for cutting government. But this? A page taken directly from the David Cicilline Handbook On Governing?

The Rhode Island Society of CPAs (RISCPA) announced its strong opposition today to Governor Chafee’s proposal to abolish the Rhode Island Bureau of Audits. Under the Governor’s proposed FY2013 budget (House Bill 7323, Article 4), the Bureau, which provides the internal-audit function for all of state government, would be entirely eliminated.

“Eliminating the Bureau of Audits, a key tool in preventing corruption, would be a grave mistake,” said Robert Mancini, Executive Director of the RISCPA. “The proposal would undermine transparency, accountability and the crucial internal audit function of the State.”

The Bureau of Audits performs the auditing function for the Executive Branch of the State Government. It provides an independent appraisal and evaluation of the effectiveness of financial and operational controls through objective analyses, evaluations and recommendations.

Re: Edging Towards the Inevitable

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the delegate total, according to CNN (including North Dakota, whose delegates according to the RNC are unbound), from last night's Super-Tuesday primaries:

Mitt Romney 200
Rick Santorum 73
Newt Gingrich 67
Ron Paul 24
Also, according to the RNC website, there were no winner-take-all races last night. A majority of states allocated A) a portion of their delegates according to Congressional district-by-district results and B) another portion of their delegates according to the statewide result, usually proportionally, to every candidate who bettered a preset vote threshold. As a result of these rules, there is not an overwhelming amount of distortion between last night's delegate result and last night's popular result, though there is some, mostly as a result of some Congressional districts being winner-take-all, which gave Mitt Romney a 26-13 edge over Rick Santorum in Ohio, despite the popular result being nearly tied. (Also, you could cite the 43 delegates Romney received from Virginia as an anomaly, as Mitt Romney and Ron Paul were the only candidates on the ballot there, though it is equally fair to point out that if Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich wanted to win delegates in Virginia, they could have gotten on the ballot too).

I haven't chosen a particular candidate to support in this year's GOP primary (even in the Raimondoian sense, where you support someone without endorsing them), and I know the conventional buzz of late has focused on finding second-order reasons why Romney's victories show that his position is not very strong, but if you are looking at what ultimately matters for winning the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney has won solid victories in the past two weeks, across a pretty fair sampling of Republican voters in the nation as a whole.

Edging Toward the Inevitable

Marc Comtois

Whether your response is excited, angered or tepid (ahem), Mitt Romney won 6 out of 10 primaries/caucuses last night, including the supposed bellweather, rust-belt state of Ohio. Though the latter was close, he still won it. Yet, as avowed Romney-supporter (some would say shill) Jennifer Rubin writes, you would think that Romney lost by winning (addendum--others have noted this too).

When all the nails were bitten in Ohio and all the votes counted from Massachusetts to Alaska, Mitt Romney had won six of 10 Super Tuesday contests (including all three of those states) and jumped to a commanding lead in the delegate count. Romney now leads with 415 delegates to 176 for Rick Santorum. Romney narrowly won Ohio, which before Tuesday was dubbed the must-win state for both him and Santorum, and picked up wins in every region of the country except the Deep South.

It is only in a media environment in which so many pundits are rooting for the pummeling to continue in the GOP could this be characterized as “failing to close the deal” or evidence of weakness by Romney. Unlike every other GOP nominating contest, the standard for this year appears to be that Romney should and must win virtually every state other than his opponents’ birthplaces.

She also points out that the 4 states that didn't go Romney's way--Georgia (Gingrich's home state), Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota--are all reliably Republican regardless of who wins the GOP nomination. So, yes, he squeaked it out in Ohio, but, like he did in Michigan, he won in a swing state that will be crucial in November.

March 6, 2012

Super-Tuesday Political Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the schedule of poll closing times for tonight's Super-Tuesday primaries.

7:00 pm

Georgia (Primary)
Vermont (Primary)
Virginia (Primary)
7:30 pm
Ohio (Primary)
8:00 pm
Massachusetts (Primary)
Oklahoma (Primary)
Tennessee (Primary)
9:00 pm
North Dakota (Caucuses)
About 10:00 pm
Idaho (Caucuses)
12:00 am
Alaska (Caucuses)

The Republican National Committee has the delegate allocation rules available here.

Star Kids for the Children Left Behind

Justin Katz

From a new interview/profile on the Ocean State Current; for the complete article visit the page:

Rhode Island is "leaving behind a remarkably high proportion of the population," Beacon Hill Institute Senior Economist Jonathan Haughton told the audience at a February 28 conference hosted by the RI Public Expenditures Council. "But those who make it through high school get on to college and do rather nicely."

Over the past decade, addressing the problems of the American education system has become the subject of national political debates and high-profile documentaries. During that same period, the Star Kids Program, based in Middletown, RI, has quietly gone about building a 100% graduation rate for the disadvantaged children of parents dealing with drug addiction and incarceration.

Star Kids works with private schools, charitable organizations, and individual sponsors to offer students guaranteed financial and community support from the time they enroll through their college application process. “We’ll never displace any child,” says Executive Director Kathleen Burke. The result has been that not a single one of the 148 students who have begun with the program and stayed within its geographical area has dropped out. That includes 12 who have graduated, all going on college (one trade school), with the most prestigious being Notre Dame and Georgetown.

The program began in 2000, when Dr. Timothy Flanigan --- head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Miriam Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, and Brown University --- applied his experience cofounding Providence’s Rhode Islanders Sponsoring Education (RISE) program to the East Bay, from Newport to New Bedford. Often at the suggestion of social workers, families approach Star Kids, and the organization assists them through the process of choosing and applying to private, mostly religious schools.

In the plainest terms, what Star Kids offers to parents and other legal guardians is a choice of schools and a way out of a detrimental environment. In that regard, it can be seen as part of a larger trend, a movement, in education. According to Stephen Nardelli, Executive Director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools, the latest round of lotteries for the state’s 15 public charter schools, held last week, sifted through 6,521 applications to fill 697 openings. “It’s clear that there is a demand for public school choice,” he says.

“The real root is one child,” says Burke. “If you can make one child’s life better, if you can break into one generation of a family that’s been ’round and ’round with issues, then that’s going to help the educational system as a whole.”

March 5, 2012

Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 6 - March 8, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

3C. H7462/H7465: Constitutional Amendment whereby the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island would be chosen together (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

3B. H7219: Repeal of the voter ID law (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

3A. H7426/S2060: Elimination of the master lever from Rhode Island general election ballots (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6 & S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6). S2059, striking additional mentions of the master lever in Rhode Island law, is being heard in Sentate Judiciary on the same day.

2. Bud Art. 24, section 2, 5 & 6: Expansion of the hotel tax to 1-room bed and breakfasts (currently 3 rooms have to be available at a B&B for it to be taxed as a hotel) and the increase in the meals and beverage tax (H Finance; Wed, Mar 7 & S Finance; Tue, Mar 6).

1C. Contract terms for firefighters (H7618) and police officers (H7619) would not expire until a new contract is reached (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8).

1B. H7620: Permanent contracts and binding arbitration for municipal employees (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8). The combination of this item with the previous one is also known as "Donald Lally's Festival of Municipal Contracting".

1A. H7617: Binding arbitration for school teachers (H Labor; Thu, Mar 8). The bill includes a provision reading that "no certified public school teacher shall participate in a strike". This presumably replaces the current section of RI law which reads "nothing contained in this chapter shall be construed to accord to certified public school teachers the right to strike". Is this kind of trade what RI teacher's unions refer to as bargaining in good faith?

Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, March 6 - March 8, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

With many bills of significant impact being heard by General Assembly committees this week, the weekly review will be split into two sections. Here is part 1:

Local impact: Little Compton 2, Portsmouth, Smithfield 2

14. S2489: Changes election rules from requiring that "substantially not more than nineteen hundred voters shall be served by the same polling place", to requiring that "voting districts" shall be limited to 4,000 voters (in the absence of special approvals) (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

13. S2336: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

12. S2434: As per the official description: "This act would repeal the requirement that utility customers contribute to a fund to pay utility bills for those whose bills are unpaid" (S Corporations; Tue, Mar 6).

11. H7181: Repeals the current prohibition on classified state employees running for elected state office (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

10. Two bond issues: the section of Bud Art. 5 placing $21,500,000 for "Transportation" on the 2012 general election ballot for voter approval, and the section of Bud Art 7 "reallocating bond proceeds" to the New Sakonnet Bridge and the Washington Bridge (H Finance; Thu, Mar 8).

9. H7533: On its surface, an obvious statement of what should already be required under existing contract law: "A health care entity or health plan shall be required to pay for health care services ordered by a health care provider if: (1) The services are a covered benefit under the insured’s health benefit plan; and (2) The services are medically necessary". However, I am fairly certain that this bill relates to the unintended consequences that Federal ERISA law has had on medical insurance, and will either allow the state of Rhode Island to regulate employee health benefits in a way that ERISA has closed off, or it will be preempted by ERISA and have no impact at all (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 7).

8. H7393: Immediate driver's license suspension, for anyone charged with driving under the influence (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 7). Aren't there serious constitutional problems here, with handing out a penalty before the courts have resolved a case?

7. Price controls on healthcare insurance policies (H7530) and prescription drugs (H7573) (H Corporations; Wed, Mar 7).

6. S2333: Requires the state 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 (S Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

5. H7256: "The Comprehensive Racial Profiling Act of 2012", including such provisions as requiring police officers to contact "a dispatcher or supervising officer" (where practicable) before conducting a "reasonable suspicion" or "probable cause" search, barring police officers from requesting identification during a traffic stop (a clear sanctuary for illegal immigrants provision), and charging the Department of Transportation with studying racial data on traffic stops by all PDs in Rhode Island (H Judiciary; Wed, Mar 7).

4. S2569: An attempt to bring independent electioneering expenditures under a campaign-finance regime. Anyone -- including individuals, not just corporations -- who wants to independently spend more than $250 in a calendar year supporting/opposing a candidate for office or a position in a referendum would have to register with the Board of Elections (H Judiciary; Tue, Mar 6).

Thought Much About Dying?

Patrick Laverty

Have you thought much about your final days, final minutes or even thereafter? I, probably like most other people have already attended more wakes and funerals than I'd ever want to. But as the great philosopher Yogi Berra said, "You should always go to other peoples' funerals or else they won't go to yours." Then again, I'm pretty sure that I don't even want anything like that. Thousands of dollars on a casket? For what? A nice box and pillows for a bag of bones? Thousands of dollars on flowers and a funeral home and all the trappings. C'mon, what a waste. Let's put that money to much better use, spend it on the living.

There's a similar sentiment to end of life health care. I recently stumbled across an article in the Wall Street Journal about how physicians die differently. Ironically enough, it's not that doctors get better end of life care, they actually often opt for less.

Years ago, Charlie, a highly respected orthopedist and a mentor of mine, found a lump in his stomach. It was diagnosed as pancreatic cancer by one of the best surgeons in the country, who had developed a procedure that could triple a patient's five-year-survival odds—from 5% to 15%—albeit with a poor quality of life.

Charlie, 68 years old, was uninterested. He went home the next day, closed his practice and never set foot in a hospital again. He focused on spending time with his family. Several months later, he died at home. He got no chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment. Medicare didn't spend much on him.

I'm not going to say I would make the same choice as Charlie. That's an extremely difficult choice to make and maybe it depends on where you are in life. Maybe that extra couple months means getting to see a first grandchild. It could mean any number of things. However, how often do we see people hooked up to machines and tubes and all the latest and greatest inventions in the world of medicine to keep someone "alive"? Is this really how we picture our last days? Hooked up to breathing and feeding tubes in a hospital room? I'm guessing most people hope or expect to just drift off to sleep one night and peacefully continue on. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that way. Quite often, it's our own fault.

Have you spoken to your spouse or other family members about what you want to be done for you? Have you given someone else (or multiple people) the ability and right to make these decisions for you if you're unable? It's always best to make these decisions when you're clear-headed and not stressed. I have one such example.

I was very close with my own grandmother. She was getting into her 80s and had failing health. She had a number of issues going on, not the least of which was untreatable leukemia. Similar to Charlie described above. She worked her career as a nurse and has seen that quite often "the cure is worse than the cause" and decided she'd just ride it out. She also decided to keep that condition from our family for most of the rest of her life.

One day, she called and asked me to go to the doctor's office with her where she needed me to sign some paperwork. She wanted me to be second in charge (after my mother) in making end of life decisions for her. She finally explained her condition, along with her physician, and said she didn't want any more life saving procedures. She signed the "Do Not Resuscitate" orders. She even half-jokingly threatened to haunt me from the afterlife if I let her die after being hooked up to machines for weeks for months. I believed her. I accepted my responsibility, signed the paperwork and kept a copy.

Less than a week later, with my mother out of state, I got a phone call at 6:30 am from my grandmother that she wasn't feeling very well at all and was going to the hospital. She asked me to meet her there. This one sounded different, she sounded worse than normal. Just in case, I brought all the paperwork with me and I got there a few minutes after 7. As soon as I got to the ER and explained why I was there, the nurse said my grandmother was being prepped for surgery. I immediately got to her room where a surgeon was just wheeling her out to the operating room and explained to me that she had massive bleeding on her brain from the leukemia and needed emergency surgery now to relieve the pressure. With surgery, she might survive but without it she definitely would not.

I handed the paperwork to the surgeon, he read it, asked if I was sure, I said yes, and that was it. A few hours later, she was gone. About the only positive thing, or at least the only reassuring thing that happened all day was that her original physician, the one I'd met with less than a week before stopped in to see my grandmother and me. He offered his condolences and just looked at me and said, "You did absolutely the correct thing."

There was no extended suffering, there were no heroic measures, there was no stringing it out artificially. Her time had come and she made her choice, I was merely the spokesperson for her.

So take a read through the linked article, give it some thought, and help the people who will be put in the same spot. Let them know what decision you want to make, so they will not have to decide, in a stressful and emotional situation. Give them the reassurance that they too are making the right decision.

Addendum: If you'd like to read more about this need for decision making, Jessica David (@JDinRI) sent this additional article along:

Why RI Is Driving Out the Hushions

Justin Katz

Jennifer Hushion submitted an op-ed to the Ocean State Current explaining why the City of Cranston and the state of Rhode Island are pushing her family toward the door:

The economic climate in Rhode Island — and specifically Cranston — is why we are considering leaving. It’s not that we are necessarily against higher taxes; we are against higher taxes when we receive so little in the way of services. Even more important to us than our current situation is the outlook for the future. Unfunded pension commitments and budget deficits are burying Cranston, and my family only sees the situation getting worse. ...

I can understand why one might think that those who make over $250,000 are 'rich.' We have worked very hard and are grateful for what we have, but the math is undeniable. Spend 30% of taxable income on private education because of local schools’ inadequacy, pay another 10-15% in state property and income taxes, put another 15% away for a retirement that is slipping away, and being “rich” means driving an 11-year-old car and postponing badly needed household repairs.

March 4, 2012

Tax Surprise Time

Patrick Laverty

It's tax time again and people are sitting with their 1040 and Schedule A and 1099 and W2 and all the other fun hoops the IRS makes you jump through. This year, it took me a minute but I was reminded of a little change to the RI tax code last year that very few people noticed.

Last June, with the fiscal mess the General Assembly was dealing with, they cooked up new ways to bring in revenue. One of those being to hold on to even more of our money. I normally get a pretty small refund from the state. My goal each year is to have both my tax returns end up as close to zero as possible. I don't want to have to pay anything more, but I don't want to give the government an interest-free loan either. However this year, we had no choice. The state decided that I can't afford to get back what I'm owed from the state. Or something. They've been withholding even more from each paycheck than they have in past years, even though they've already been withholding enough to result in a refund in past years.

On the face of it, it's a pleasant surprise to get a bigger refund than usual, but at the same time that money never should have been withheld from me in the first place. The state knows how much I need to pay them and I've been doing it just fine each year. Yet last year I needed to have even more withheld?

What the state did was give themselves an interest-free loan all year. If I missed my tax payments by the amount that Rhode Island missed their withholding, there'd be penalties involved. Interest added. But there's no interest in the other direction. Why?

Plus, there's the dumb economics of it. Let's say RI was withholding $40 a month too much from my paycheck. Let's also say I make the average salary and just to pick numbers out of the air, let's say there are 400,000 people working (eliminating the unemployed, retirees and underage). Just doing some back-of-the-napkin math, that's $1.6 million that the state has taken out of the economy each month or nearly $20 million over the last year. Does that make much sense? Our economy didn't need $20 million to be pumped in? I guess if they look at it selfishly and could get even a 2% return on that money, the state got a free $400,000 for simply holding on to it all year, only to give the $20 million back now. Not a bad deal, I guess.

Happy tax season.

March 3, 2012

Will Anthony Gemma Make it Official This Week?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio is reporting that...

Multiple sources tell RIPR that Anthony Gemma, who placed second to David Cicilline in the four-way Democratic First Congressional District primary in 2010, is gearing up to announce a rematch against the freshman congressman. Gemma is expected to make his run formal as soon as this week, sources say.

Gemma did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Mayor Taveras and the Retirees

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island's Twitter corps has once again provided the public with excellent as-it's-happening coverage of public developments in Providence's fiscal crisis, in this case the meeting held this morning between Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and city retirees. Here's a brief compilation that captures the flavor of the meeting...

Ted Nesi (WPRI, CBS 12):

The Taveras proposal is: 20% health co-pays for retirees under 65; Medicare + supplement plan for 65+; no COLAs till pension fund hits 70%.
Ian Donnis (Rhode Island Public Radio):
Applause when D'Amico cites how judge blocked move of healthcare to Medicare for retirees

D'Amico: we have $1M against $1.2 BILLION in retiree healthcare obligations #providence

Derek Silva (Prov FF, independent tweeter):
Retiree is tough to hear but basically stated Brown needs to pay and water supply board has to be part of the solution.
Dan McGowan (GoLocalProv):
Sounds like selling of water supply board is an unrealistic option just being pushed on talk radio.
Erika Niedowski (Associated Press):
Taveras: 'People are looking for easy solutions to get out of this. There are no easy solutions to this problem.'

One retiree told the mayor he fulfilled his end of bargain. He had nothing to negotiate. 'You're going to do whatever the hell you want.'

Derek Silva:
Mayor: I can't guarantee what will happen when I'm not mayor but I will guarantee that if nothing is done it will be worse

Traditional news stories written by Ted Nesi , Erika Niedowski, and Ian Donnis are already available. (Note: This paragraph updated, since original post).

Also, in a replay of events from early February, former Providence Mayor David Cicilline offered a tweet of his own, as major events impacting the City of Providence were playing out in a public forum...

Reading "Horton Hears a Who."

The Current Week, 02/27/12-03/02/12

Justin Katz

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About the Current - Site-related
RI Senate Economic Summit, Quonset “O” - Liveblog
Justin writes live and off-the-cuff from the RI Senate’s Economic Summit, “Expanding Jobs through Port Resources.”

RIPEC: Rhode Island’s Business Climate Conference - Liveblog
Justin indulges his wonkish inclinations writing in from RIPEC’s conference on “Rhode Island’s Business Climate: How Rhode Island Measures Up.”

Cranston Police and Fire Retirees Receiving up to $900 on Holidays - Investigative Report
Cranston police and fire retirees are receiving double-and-a-half time for holidays that they do not work and would not be working, anyway.

Justin's Case

Government Bans and Health Statistics - Analysis
Smoking bans and other government regulations may catalyze or accelerate positive changes, but the critical question is whether their results are worth their costs.
Food for All Market Shows Business and Community in the Absence of Regulation - Opinion
community interest, while government regulation would bring about unintended consequences with a much more difficult "undo" button.
Arguments and Practice in High Stakes Testing - Analysis
National studies do not show that standardized graduation tests have a clear and immediate effect on student achievement, but closer examination is required for RI's specific circumstances, and all students deserve diplomas that are universally acknowledged to have value.
Another Start - Musings & Announcements
Justin's thoughts upon launching the Current.

Revenue Above Estimates Not a Sure Sign of Economic Health - Analysis
The total tax revenue that the State of Rhode Island has received for the fiscal year continued to beat estimates in January, by $57 million (3.6%), but it would be premature to infer either strong economic growth or the disappearance of the deficit expected for fiscal 2013.
Tying Some Threads from Diversity to Education to Social Disparity - Opinion
The education gap and Rhode Island's economic difficulties converge in such a way as to suggest school choice and a diversification of opportunities for schooling.
Catching on to the Danger of Municipal Dictators - Opinion
Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders' performance, both on stage and in his job, should spark reevaluation of theories of governance and political expedience.
Chafee Wants to Be Fair to the Boss - Opinion
"Fairness" is an ideal term of a sort beloved by politicians: descriptors that sound inherently positive and desirable, but that are completely subjective and can be flipped around every which way to serve any political need, as Gov. Chafee illustrates by seeking parity in raises for highly paid directors.

Sen. Whitehouse on the Left-Right Scale and Chafee on the Left - Analysis
National Journal ranking of liberal and conservative legislators points to politics and posturing.
Tax Foundation Runs Some Test Firms Through the RI Ringer - Analysis
A new Tax Foundation study exposes some of the flaws in RI's economic development practices.

Laffey Movie Catches Mood, but That Might Be a Different Kind of Success than Hoped For - Interview/Profile
Justin reacts to an initial screening of Stephen Laffey's movie, Fixing America.
Mobility Has Held, but Perception and Perspective Have Changed - Analysis
Economic mobility has improved or held steady over the past half-decade, but public perception is otherwise.  Arguing hopelessness or dependence may reinforce the trend.
The End of an Era (But Not Fast Enough) - Opinion
As impossible as it may be to deny the necessary changes in public policy related to the economy and government spending, the will to reform is not strong enough for due speed.

March 2, 2012

Ted Nesi's Interview with David Skeel on the Basics of Municipal Debt

Carroll Andrew Morse

3 points about Ted Nesi's WPRI-TV (CBS 12) interview with University of Pennsylvania Law Professor and bankruptcy expert David Skeel are worth immediately noting:

  1. In the first half of the interview, Prof. Skeel advances that same argument, based on current law, that we at Anchor Rising have been making from a wider historical perspective for a while now -- government has no inherent authority to make promises to trade away that which it does not possess...
    DS: The question is if a city or a state makes a pension promise, but does not fund the promises – which has been true in many states in recent years – what exactly is protected in the event of a default or of bankruptcy? A lot of people assume that what’s protected is the full promise, even if there’s no funding behind it.

    Although this is certainly not free from doubt – this is unchartered territory in many respects – my view is that there’s a good argument that what’s protected is the amount of money that’s been set aside. Pension obligations are a form of what we refer to in the law as a property right, and other kinds of property rights are protected up to the value of the property that’s set aside for them. So if somebody has collateral for a transaction, we treat that promise as sacrosanct up to the value of the collateral.

    This portion of the discussion should be of particular interest to those who want to invoke the "police power" as being central to the solution to Rhode Island's government-financing crisis. In particular, a strong case can be made that the future is best served not by expanding the police power to new circumstances, but instead by enforcing the proper limits on the government's appropriations power, an idea implicit in Prof. Skeel's argument, i.e. the government cannot legitimately promise everything because it does not own everything.

  2. Towards the end of the interview, Prof. Skeel explains that one possible first-cut common-sense response to the idea of a bond default -- if there's a real price to risk, then bondholders should understand that there's a real possibility of not getting every payment -- is essentially correct...
    TN: The argument I always hear back here is that Rhode Island governments can’t operate without being able to borrow money, and that without this protection we could be cut off from the bond markets. What do you make of that argument?

    DS: I disagree with the assumptions underlying the argument, which is that if you don’t completely protect bondholders all possibility of borrowing will disappear. I just don’t think there’s evidence of that. The bond market view tends to be if you do anything that prevents us from getting 100 cents on the dollar, the world is going to come to an end. And my view is, there’s just no evidence of that. The evidence is really to the contrary – healthy municipalities will pay less and have better access to the bond markets than sick ones, and the restructuring of one city is a lot less likely to have contagion effects on other cities in those states than people in the bond market tend to believe.

    I just don’t find these kinds of arguments compelling. For instance, Greece is restructuring its bond markets severely right now – the bond markets have not shut down in Europe.

  3. Finally, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would like the media and academia a lot more, if every interaction between media and academics covered the details as clearly and concisely as this interview does.

Rasmussen: "Why Politicians Can't Connect With the Middle Class"

Marc Comtois

Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that only 27% believe government can adequately "manage the economy" and 50% thinks it makes things worse when it tries to "help". Rasmussen focuses on why this attitude explains "why politicians can't connect with the middle class". (Incidentally, Steve Laffey's film, Fixing America provides further evidence of this point).

Upper-income Americans are evenly divided as to whether government management of the economy helps or hurts. Middle-income Americans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly view government management of the economy as hurtful.

The affluent, perhaps because they can easily gain access to the policymakers, are OK with government management of the economy. They want it done well, and many want it done in a way to benefit their own interests. That's why a plurality of Americans now believe the United States has a system of crony capitalism rather than free-market competition.

The middle class, without friends in Congress or on Wall Street, has an entirely different view. Broadly speaking, it see the federal government as a burden weighing down both the economy and the middle class. To help the economy, most simply want to reduce the burden. Seventy-seven percent of voters think that the government could help the economy by reducing the deficit. Seventy-one percent think it would help to reduce government spending, and 59 percent think tax cuts would help.

So when a politician talks of helping the middle class with a new government program, it just doesn't ring true.

It is exacerbated because, for the most part, modern political candidates can't relate to the middle-class.
Most candidates...tend to hang out with more affluent Americans. They tend to discuss how to make government work rather than how to make the nation work. To some, an issue like the price of gas is primarily a question of how it will impact potential investments in alternative fuels or whether higher gas prices are good because they encourage conservation.

To the middle class, the question of gas prices is much different. Data from the Discover Consumer Spending Monitor shows that half of all Americans don't have any money left over after paying their basic bills each month. For these Americans, rising gas prices force unpleasant lifestyle changes.

This disconnect wasn't always the case, even when the candidates were pretty well-off themselves:
To connect with the middle class requires understanding the middle class. Franklin Roosevelt did this in the 1930s. As he expanded the role of the federal government, he explained it in a manner that made sense. His greatest achievement, Social Security, was not sold as a government handout but as an insurance program with people setting aside money during their working years that could be drawn down in retirement. That attitude still resonates with 21st century Americans.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan understood the rising frustration with an ever-expanding government. In his first inaugural address, he said, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Six out of 10 voters still agree.

Yes, there is seemingly a contradiction here: the middle class supports a "big" government program but wants to cut government. But this circle can be squared if we--and the politicians looking for our votes--can better prioritize what we spend our tax dollars on.

March 1, 2012

Taibbi - No Respect for the Dead

Patrick Laverty

In case you were unaware or unfamiliar, conservative journalist/blogger Andrew Breitbart passed away today. According to his Wikipedia page, Breitbart was

an American publisher, commentator for the Washington Times, author, and occasional guest commentator on various news programs, who served as an editor for the Drudge Report Web site. He was a researcher for Arianna Huffington, and helped launch her web publication The Huffington Post.
He ran his own news aggregation site,, and five other websites:, Big Hollywood, Big Government, Big Journalism, and Big Peace.

Admittedly, Breitbart could be polarizing and was no stranger to controversy, always willing to mix it up with the left.

Keeping in mind that Breitbart died today, March 1, Rolling Stone blogger Matt Taibbi penned his own sort of obituary (Warning: crude language).

So Andrew Breitbart is dead. Here’s what I have to say to that, and I’m sure Breitbart himself would have respected this reaction: Good! **** him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.
Really? That's what this is coming to? This is where the partisan politics has gotten us? Literally, on the day a man dies, this is the response from a member of the liberal media. I would like to think that if it were Keith Olbermann or someone similar who had died today, that Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin would not be rushing to their keyboards to speak such ill. It really is a shame and also speaks poorly on Rolling Stone as well.

ADDENDUM: Anyone that follows one-time Rhode Islander Seth MacFarlane on Twitter will know that he's not shy to point out either real or his perception of conservatives' shortcomings. However, his Twitter post is something more along the of what any human with common decency should expect: "All politics aside, Andrew Breitbart was a fun guy to have a drink with. He shoulda stuck around longer."

Watson Cops A Plea

Monique Chartier

... just this afternoon. Posted here in accordance with A.R. policy.

Looks like WJAR broke it.

Former House Minority Leader Robert Watson pleaded no contest Thursday to a charge of marijuana possession.

Watson was arraigned in Washington County District Court.

According to a court clerk, Judge Mary McCaffrey imposed the recommended sentence, and if Watson stays out of trouble for a year, the case would disappear from his record. ...

Just Politicians After All: Raimondo and Taveras Throw Support Behind Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Recent polls show that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras enjoy broad-based, multi-partisan support in the state, particularly for their willingness to take stances that are politically unpopular amongst their natural consistencies. These "pragmatic progressives" have thus benefited from some good press and good feeling that, perhaps, they were a different sort of politician.

They have both just undermined that line of thinking by their avowed support for unpopular Rep. David Cicilline. Mayor Taveras set aside the apparent irony of throwing his support behind a man who contributed to the "Category 5 Hurricane" he inherited by saying it didn't happen "overnight" and we need Democrats in Washington, D.C. For her part, Raimondo tried to walk back any impression that she had formally endorsed Cicilline, but such a stance is too cute by half.

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo confirmed her position in the host committee for a fundraiser for Congressman David Cicilline but when asked if was an endorsement she replied, “no.”

A spokesperson later clarified that Raimondo, while supporting Congressman Cicilline, has not formerly endorsed him.

“I’m part of that host committee for that event and I am supportive of the congressmen,” said Raimondo.

It's hard to walk a line that isn't there, Treasurer. As WPRO's Dee DeQuattro tweeted, "She has officially become a politician..."

Both have allowed their ideological instincts to trump their "pragmatic" political ones and may have made a political miscalculation in supporting such a polarizing figure as Cicilline. It will chip away at the bi-partisan political capital they have both earned--particularly amongst dispositionally skeptical independents and conservatives--and serves to confirm that, by supporting a prototypical politician like David Cicilline, they, too, are typical RI politicians after all.

Cranston Police and Fire Retirees Receiving up to $900 on Holidays

Justin Katz

I have no intention of making Anchor Rising an RSS feed for my work on the Ocean State Current, but I think this story is a bit of a doozy.

As the city finds itself downgraded, partly based on the 17.8% funding of its locally administered pension plan, Cranston police and fire retirees are receiving double-and-a-half time for holidays that they do not work and would not be working, anyway.