April 30, 2012

A Few Questions About ALEC

Patrick Laverty

I was reading Phil Marcelo's story in the Providence Journal today about the state legislators who had joined ALEC but weren't too familiar with the organization. One thing near the end that stuck out was Sen. Walter Felag looking into canceling his membership. I decided to steal a page from Andrew's book and send Senator Felag some questions about this. I know state legislators don't like to answer questions from non-direct constituents, but hopefully we'll get a response.

In the meantime, here were the very simple questions:
1. Why did you become a member of ALEC?
2. Why are you looking to terminate your membership?
3. Are you a member of any other organizations and are you keeping your membership with those?
4. Because you are looking to terminate your membership, are you willing to reimburse the state for your membership dues?

I just sent these tonight, so with the Assembly back in session for the next few days, I'll look forward to a response.

Political "Compromise" and Gridlock: Cause and Effect?

Marc Comtois

In a recent column, Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, authors of the new book It’s Even Worse Than it Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, state that the Republicans are to blame for congressional gridlock. As I tweeted earlier, my main problem with this theory is that they are actually taking a snapshot of the current gridlock in Congress (and relying upon their "40 years of watching Congress" to buttress their claims) while ignoring the evolution of how we got here.

During the last decade (at least) power plays have been made by Democrats as well as Republicans and to conveniently blame the party to whom both authors are ideologically opposed (don't let his ties to AEI fool you, Ornstein is a liberal) during an election year should raise some eyebrows before being accepted whole cloth.

The right-side of the blogosphere has already offered up plenty of rebuttals to Mann and Ornstein (here, here and here), including many examples of the Democrats contribution to the current culture of gridlock, thus showing how the situation has evolved. Politics ain't beanbag, but it IS retributive. As several of the aforementioned point out, there is also an argument to be made that the more recent GOP gridlock that is so troubling to Ornstein and Mann...is pretty much what the voters wanted when they voted the Republicans back into power in the House in 2010.

In a review of Jonah Goldberg's The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Roll Call's John Bicknell does a fine job defining what the so-called conventional wisdom (ie; the mainstream media's interpretation of what's pragmatic) would have us believe is political compromise:

They’re just for what “works.” What works, of course, is liberals getting their way. If liberals want to spend $10 billion on something, and conservatives don’t want to spend anything on it, liberals make a deal with moderates to spend $5 billion this year and call it a compromise, knowing they’ll get the other $5 billion next year.

That’s putting ideology into practice. But it’s not a compromise. It’s modestly deferred gratification for liberals.

In a compromise, everybody gets something. In this case, repeated ad infinitum over most of the past century, liberals get the money, moderates get to be seen as pragmatic (that’s like heroin for moderates), and conservatives get to watch as the government grows ever larger.

Perhaps, then, the current gridlock is actually the desired result of voters who were tired of the gridlock-breaking "compromises" that still resulted in government growing and more tax dollars being spent.

Waiting on Senator Crowley

Patrick Laverty

Some of you might remember a few months ago when Senator Elizabeth Crowley of Central Falls wrote a letter to the editor in the Providence Journal excoriating the city's receiver Robert Flanders. Flanders had recently appeared at the newspaper's annual Follies show dressed in an executioner's outfit and touted himself "Lord of the Pink Slip."

Crowley didn't find this too amusing, she didn't see the humor in it. Neither did Bob Plain, as he also wrote about it in his forum. So I guess gallows humor doesn't work for them and they even appear to be somewhat offended by someone making light of a bad situation.

So can we expect them to have at least something similar to say about President Obama and one of his jokes from this weekend's White House Correspondents' Dinner?

"Look at this party. We’ve got men in tuxes, women in gowns, fine wine, first-class entertainment. I was just relieved to learn this was not a GSA conference."
In case you missed it, there has been some concern lately after the General Services Administration (GSA) spent $823,000 of taxpayer money for a 300 person conference in Las Vegas.

Now I'm not going to feign any anger or say that I didn't find some of the President's jokes funny. I'm not that much of a partisan. My point is whether Crowley and Plain will be consistent in their indignation and write similarly about the president?

As another local who shares the Senator's surname would say, the silence is deafening.

The Ocean State Tea Party In Action Blog (Better Prepared for the Unexpected than Other Bill-Watching Bloggers You May be Aware Of)

Carroll Andrew Morse

The RI General Assembly website was down this weekend, so I wasn't able to do my weekly review of the legislation coming up in committees. (There was a similar occurrence, at least one time last year).

However, as fate would have it, this is also the week that the Ocean State Tea Party in Action's (OSTPA) blog went live. The OSTPA blog includes daily legislative alerts on the bills scheduled for hearings that OSTPA is tracking. (I've been consulting with OSTPA on the setting up and maintaining of the blog portion of their website, and will be a contributor to their blog; more to come on that later in the week). Since a major part of OSTPA's activity is staying current with GA activity, so as to be prepared to offer RI legislators different perspectives on bills before them than they might otherwise hear, OSTPA wasn't caught as flat-footed as I was by the unexpected technical difficulties.

Tuesday looks to be a very busy day in committee, the large number of bills on OSTPA's watch list that are being heard can be viewed here. Also, OSTPA's complete legislative alert for this week (including some interesting observations about what happened on Smith Hill last week) can be viewed here, at their main website.

I will provide my rundown of bills (which will continue to be a separate effort from OSTPA's fine work, in case anyone was wondering) after the GA website returns.

The Current Week, 04/23/12-04/29/12

Justin Katz


04/24/12 - House Finance Committee - Liveblog
The House Finance committee hears a variety of tax proposals, mainly concentrating on taxing "the rich"; Justin writes live.

04/26/12 - Senate Floor and House Finance - Liveblog
Liveblogging from the Senate floor session and some committee to be determined.

Justin's Case

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Burrillville - Research
Burrillville's unemployment rate equals the statewide average of 11.8% mainly because the town's employment has not matched its growing labor force.  Consequently, unemployment is near the town's all-time high.
State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Central Falls - Research
The not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for Central Falls was 15.6% in March and would be much higher if the same percentage of the population were in the labor force as in other RI cities and towns.
Tax Reform and Medicaid Money-Go-Round - Investigative Report
RI's income tax reform affected taxpayers with little income beyond what they pay for medical care.  As the state seeks to fill in the gap for low-income Medicaid recipients, the gravity of government complexity grows.
State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Cranston - Research
Cranston's unemployment rate is below that of RI overall. Most interesting, though, is how trends in employment compare with those in Warwick, for very different results.
Providence Budget Illustrates Pension Charade - Analysis
Inflated assumptions for pension system rates of return mean that the budget that Providence Mayor Angel Taveras unveiled this evening (and all current RI budgets) amounts to an accounting trick to disguise future tax increases and pension cuts.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Cumberland - Research
Cumberland is somewhat unique in Rhode Island, in that from 2000 to 2010 it gained employment.  Still, its labor force grew more quickly, so its unemployment is still high, and all numbers are down from their boom-time peak.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Portsmouth - Research
In terms of employment change from 2000 to 2010, Portsmouth is pretty much the typical RI town. The town weathered the recession well, until 2010, and its seasonal swings create an interesting comparison with the rest of Aquidneck Island.
Using Providence for Pension "Liability" Perspective - Analysis
Pension actuaries use the word "liability" differently than the layman would.  The total actuarial accrued liability of Providence's pension system has been given as $1.3 billion, with about $0.4 billion in assets, but the liability as most people would probably conceive of it is more likely $5.7 billion, with the same $0.4 billion saved up to date.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: East Providence - Research
Not seasonally adjusted, East Providence's unemployment rate of 12.8% is well above the state's average.  With its total employment near a record low and its labor force nearly there, as well, it's even more concerning that unemployed residents remain near the high.
Giving the Regulator the Power to Police - Analysis
S2680, from Sen. Walaska, appears to open the door for the PUC to act as a police force. Senate Judiciary hears the bill, today.
When Is a Sleazy Politician Non-Partisan? - Opinion
The Providence Journal publishes an entire article about him without letting on that John Edwards is a Democrat, much less that he was almost vice president on that party's ticket.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Foster and Glocester - Research
In a comparison that plays out in other competing communities in RI, Foster and Glocester exhibit an interesting dynamic. Foster has significantly higher unemployment, but its number of employed residents is up, while Glocester's is down. The difference is the number of people who want to work.
What's the Complaint, with ALEC? - Opinion
In some circles, local ties to ALEC have been hot news this week, but Justin isn't sure that the complaint against the group is really what it's being articulated
Even Minimal Take from Table Games May Be Overstated - Analysis
Ian Donnis has looked into RI's negotiations for its share of prospective casino revenue, and pulling all the data together suggests that table games may only mean $9 million per year to the state government.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Johnston - Research
At 12.9% (not seasonally adjusted), Johnston has among the highest unemployment rates in Rhode Island. Like some other cities and towns, however,  Much of the employment gap results from the presence of additional people in the workforce.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Lincoln - Research
Lincoln's employment trend over the last decade was along the typical Rhode Island line, with labor force growing substantially while employment receded. Since 2010, however, the town's situation has not improved, although it remains better situated than the state overall.

Businesses Go Where Taxes are Lower

Patrick Laverty

Businesses will set up shop where the tax laws are more favorable to them.

And in other news, water is wet. Maybe it would seem obvious to most that people will be motivated by lower tax rates. However, if you listen to some on the left, especially locally, this isn't true. But how do you argue it when it comes straight from the horse's mouth?

“We set up in Luxembourg because of the favorable taxes,” said Robert Hatta, who helped oversee Apple’s iTunes retail marketing and sales for European markets until 2007.
A New York Times article today "How Apple Sidesteps Billions In Taxes" tells much of the story and explains some of the various ways that Apple has chosen various places around the world to open offices, strictly due to the favorable tax laws. One of their offices has as few as twelve people assigned to it, but records revenues of one billion dollars a year.

It's not just international either. The California company even plays states off against each other.

Apple’s headquarters are in Cupertino, Calif. By putting an office in Reno, just 200 miles away, to collect and invest the company’s profits, Apple sidesteps state income taxes on some of those gains.
California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84 percent. Nevada’s? Zero.
If this can happen in a state as large as California, where 200 miles to Reno is considered "nearby", then can the same happen here where a 200 mile radius can land you in any of seven different states? Of course it can. It does! But yet, we still have those on the left who want to continually increase tax rates on businesses and further drive them away from Rhode Island.

It's also interesting to see the outrage against Apple for paying so little in taxes or paying it to foreign countries or a state other than California, where they're headquartered. The NYT spoke with DeAnza College President Brian Murphy, as DeAnza is a nearby neighbor in Apple's hometown of Cupertino.

But the company’s tax policies are seen by officials like Mr. Murphy as symptomatic of why the crisis exists.

“I just don’t understand it,” he said in an interview. “I’ll bet every person at Apple has a connection to De Anza. Their kids swim in our pool. Their cousins take classes here. They drive past it every day, for Pete’s sake.

“But then they do everything they can to pay as few taxes as possible.”

I'd have a question for Mr. Murphy and anyone else who criticizes Apple for legally paying as few taxes as possible. Do you take the standard deduction on your tax return? Do you have children and claim them as a deduction? Do you take the mortgage interest deduction? Do you take charitable deductions or any other kinds? If so, what's the difference? Each of those are "loopholes" within the US tax law that we all legally take advantage of. Apple and many other corporations are merely doing the same.

If we don't like the loopholes, then we should close them. Work with those in Washington who make the tax laws and get them changed. In the meantime, let's see this for what it is, proof that businesses will go where the tax laws are favorable and at the same time ask ourselves, "How's business in Rhode Island?"

(h/t Ted Nesi)

April 29, 2012

Rhode Island's Presumptive New Historian Laureate Testified Against Separation Of Powers

Monique Chartier

On Friday, Governor Chafee signed the bill that created the unpaid position of state Historian Laureate.

Per the ProJo,

... the presumptive candidate-in-waiting has been the controversial lawyer, historian and developer Patrick T. Conley.

Let's not forget that in the mighty battle to bring separation of powers to Rhode Island, Dr. Conley testified at length against the measure - and as an "expert", at that. (Thank you, Common Cause, for the record.)

April 9, 2003

More expert testimony is heard against the Gorham bill. The only expert witness who testifies this evening is a former professor of history at Providence College Patrick T. Conley, the author of Democracy in Decline, a study of the history of Rhode Island’s first constitution as well as other scholarly books and pamphlets.

At the request of Governor Chafee, the position of Historian Laureate will

... be merely "honorific" and not confer "official status" to any of the laureate's statements.

Nevertheless, it will be reflective of all that has been and gone wrong for decades with a state that has a constitutionally muscular legislature if the state's first Historian Laureate vigorously opposed even the modicum of balance between the executive and the legislative represented by separation of powers.

Providence Pension Reform: Final Vote Tomorrow

Monique Chartier

An alert Ted Nesi reports that, in a special meeting tomorrow late afternoon, the Providence City Council will take a second, final vote on pension reform. Note that this would affect not current workers, but current retirees.

The proposal would freeze retirees’ pensions for about 24 years and shave at least $236 million off the city’s unfunded pension liability.

While retirees are not formally represented by a labor union, the reaction from at least one labor leader was predictable in both substance and drama.

Officials emphasized Thursday that negotiations with retirees to craft an alternative compromise deal on pension cuts can continue even if the ordinance is enacted, but firefighters union president Paul Doughty dismissed that idea, warning that approving the changes unilaterally would poison the city’s relations with his members for “a generation.”

This would be a good point to stop and note that one seriously damaging blow to the sustainability of the Providence pension system – 4%, 5% and 6% compounding COLA’s - was implemented in part at the direct hand of labor and via … er, disinformation put forth on their part.

When the union-majority Providence Retirement Board voted to award 6% COLAs in 1989, labor leaders defended the richer benefit as affordable because the city’s pension fund was “one of the wealthiest in the country.” They also incorrectly estimated the COLAs’ cost at only $750,000, while the city put the cost at $22 million."

(These COLA’s do not currently form the basis for new retirees’ pensions.)

It’s been almost two month’s since Mayor Taveras made the Big Ask of Providence retirees. Only a couple of dozen retirees have responded in the affirmative. In that period, Providence has made it onto a list of

cities set to enter default danger zone

If two months are not sufficient, what timeframe would Mr. Doughty like to see for discussions about “bilateral” reform? Does the inexorable ticking of the budget clock and the attendant compounding of a deficit factor at all into such a timeframe?

Providence’s pension system is only 34% funded. If the city goes bankrupt, by one calculation, Providence retirees would face a 73% reduction in pension benefits.

As it stands today, one quarter of the city budget (and one half of the city’s tax income) goes to pension and OPEB alone. Further, as Providence has the second highest commercial tax rate in the country and the seventh highest residential rate, “revenues” are completely maxed out.

Certainly, as Mayor Taveras has repeatedly said, it is far preferable that (retired) labor be a partner in finding solutions to the city’s dismal fiscal situation. I would add: especially as they contributed to the situation in two substantive ways – both via the addition of those exhorbitant COLA’s in the 1980’s and in negotiating contracts which included budget-straining benefits (i.e., pensions). This is not a matter, however, where time is on anyone’s side. Retirees should not take their cue from labor leadership. Foot-dragging will only exacerbate, not improve, the options for rescuing Providence's exceedingly generous and woefully underfunded pension system.

April 26, 2012

Woonsocket Memorial: FFRF Declares Victory - Prematurely?

Monique Chartier

A couple of hours ago, the AP reported that the organization which has demanded that Woonsocket remove the soldiers' memorial in front of a fire station is counting their crosses before they're removed.

The Wisconsin group challenging the constitutionality of a cross on a war memorial in Rhode Island says it expects to prevail without the type of long legal battle that unfolded over a prayer banner ordered removed this year from a public high school. ...

Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said the group expects the cross will be removed without legal action.

"We expect to prevail without going to court," she said Wednesday. "Our assumption is that the city does not realize the law."

We'll get to who "does not realize the law" in a moment. I'm trying to reconcile their statement to the comment that Council President John Ward made this morning under Andrew's post.

The City of Woonsocket is not in a position to exhaust its sparce financial resources to defend this case should it move into the courts. That said, my email account and home phone answering machine have been filled with objections to the threat and offers of support.

This monument, originally placed on a traffic island has not moved since erected in 1921.

With the outpouring of offers of support coming to me, other city council members, and our mayor, the memorial and our determination to leave it in place will be defended. One or more offers of pro bono defense, should it come to that, will be accepted and the peoples right to maintain the design and placement of this war memorial will be defended.

My thanks to all who have raised their voices in objection to this affront to our freedoms and I look forward to seeing this monument refurbished and kept in its rightful place in the island dedicated as Place Jolicoeur.

John Ward
Woonsocket City Council President


Now, as for the law. Andrew cites the pertinent Supreme Court decision of just two years ago.

The court decision most relevant to the Woonsocket's war memorial that displays a cross isn't the Cranston West prayer banner decision, it is the Supreme Court's 2010 Salazar vs. Buono decision. ...

This decision from just two years ago makes clear that bona fide war memorials that incorporate crosses on public lands are Constitutional, and there's no question that the cross in Woonsocket, "erected in 1921 and...dedicated to four men who lost their lives defending the United States", is part of a bona fide war memorial.

Direct link to the decision here for the ease of reference of those who might not fully "realize the law".


Brassband demurs with my conclusions about Salazar.

Caution. Justice Kennedy's opinion in the Buono case is a plurality opinion, meaning that it did not command a majority of the Justices. . . and the issue was not whether the cross could stand on government land, but whether Congress' enactment of a statute transferring to a private party the land on which the cross stood was an adequate response to a lower court injunction ordering the cross to be removed.

Transparency Now Equals Union Bashing

Patrick Laverty

I was in my car yesterday afternoon listening to Matt Allen talking about this new ordinance in North Smithfield and talking with town councilor Ed Yazbak about it. The Town Council in North Smithfield will put new contracts up for public review for two weeks before signing. This ordinance will only cover contracts that the Town Council negotiates, so teacher and fire contracts are not subject to this change.

Imagine that. Openness. Transparency. Accountability. All good things in government.

I had a similar experience in my own town a few years ago when my School Committee was negotiating with the teachers union. I emailed back and forth with a few of the committee members sending a few of my own suggestions and to their credit, they didn't respond to me like some crazy person from outer space. When I learned through the media that the committee had come to an agreement with the union on a contract and that it was to be signed at the upcoming committee meeting, I asked to see what they'd agreed upon. I simply wanted to comment on it before its signing. One committee member responded that I could see it after it is ratified at the committee meeting. No one may see the contents of the contract before it is signed.

Well that hit me like a brick wall. I can't see a contract that I have to help pay for before it is signed? This sounds a lot like Nancy Pelosi referring to Obamacare in that we have to pass it in order to see what's in it.

But now, North Smithfield is attempting to make the change toward openness and transparency. Who could possibly be opposed to transparency in government?

Senator John Tassoni, that's who. His claims include "union bashing" as well as

"Not only is the recent action taken by the North Smithfield Town Council a clear and obvious attack on the municipal union, it is also a clear indication that the members of the council who support this action are shirking their responsibilities and avoiding the duties they were elected to perform,” said Senator Tassoni.

He goes on to add:

“The council is the duly authorized body to be voting on these negotiated contracts, and shouldn’t be looking to avoid their duty by seeking public input that they are then able to hide behind,”
Hide behind public opinion? So if the public, the ones paying the bill, decide that the contract is not something that they want, if they feel the value isn't there, then they should have every right to voice that opinion to their town council. If anything, this could put additional pressure on a town council. They spend time working through negotiations only to get hammered by the public? How does that sound like shirking any responsibility?

Also, if the employees covered by the contract are doing a good job and are getting paid fair compensation, then what is Senator Tassoni afraid of? Why does he want the council to continue hiding behind "We can't show you the contract until it's passed?" The only people who look to hide things are those who have something to hide. Clearly the town council in North Smithfield feel they have nothing to hide. So why does Senator Tassoni feel that differently?

Among some of the other ludicrous statements by Tassoni comes this gem:

“These people ran for office knowing that they would occasionally face some tough decisions and difficult votes,” said Senator Tassoni. “If they are not willing to live up to those responsibilities, they should get out of office. Seeking public input on union contracts is not, for them, about transparency. It is about stirring up anti-labor sentiments.”
If anything, it would seem the town council is more than living up to their responsibilities, they are demonstrating how they want to be more accountable to the taxpayers and the voters.

When people think of what's wrong with Rhode Island and more specifically its politics, Senator Tassoni would be one of the poster children. Fortunately however, he announced last September that he will not seek re-election this year. So I guess we at least have that to look forward to.

Congratulations to Councilors Ed Yazbak, Christine Charest and Thomas McGee for voting in favor of good government.

State Lines Up First Step of Woonsocket Receivership

Monique Chartier

So reports the Valley Breeze's Sandy Phaneuf.

While Woonsocket's legislative delegation continues to debate the merits of a supplemental tax bill, State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly is reportedly preparing for the worst and has already begun choosing members for a Budget Commission to help guide the city out of fiscal crisis.

The commission would consist of five members including Mayor Leo Fontaine and City Council President John Ward. The chairperson of the commission would be an outsider to Woonsocket government, as would the two remaining selections.

One of the steps that would head off a Budget Commission - a 13% supplemental tax that would form the basis for the city's tax rate going forward - requires approval from the General Assembly. A bill to enable this was filed in the Senate but

No corresponding legislation has been filed in the state House of Representatives and time is rapidly running out for a city on the brink of complete financial collapse.

(Does anyone know what's happening with a prospective House bill?)

Indeed, tempus fugit on the cash flow front,

... the city only has enough money to sustain operations until the end of May, and must prepare a back-up plan

... the back-up plan, of course, being receivership.

The Woonsocket War Memorial Is Constitutional

Carroll Andrew Morse

The court decision most relevant to the Woonsocket's war memorial that displays a cross isn't the Cranston West prayer banner decision, it is the 2010 Salazar vs. Buono Supreme Court decision. The original issue in Salazar was whether the Federal Government could transfer to a private owner a parcel of land within the Mojave National Preserve in California, on which a cross had been placed in 1934 "to honor American soldiers who fell in World War I", in order to avoid any church-state entanglement issues.

In the plurality opinion that held that such a transfer was acceptable, Justice Anthony Kennedy also directly addressed the question of whether a cross could legally be displayed on public land as a war memorial...

The cross had stood on Sunrise Rock for nearly seven decades before the statute was enacted. By then, the cross and the cause it commemorated had become entwined in the public consciousness....

....a Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs. It is a symbol often used to honor and respect those whose heroic acts, noble contributions, and patient striving help secure an honored place in history for this Nation and its people. Here, one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten.

This decision from just two years ago makes clear that bona fide war memorials that incorporate crosses on public lands are Constitutional, and there's no question that the cross in Woonsocket, "erected in 1921 and...dedicated to four men who lost their lives defending the United States", is part of a bona fide war memorial. (The succinct description of the memorial is from Tony Gugliotta of WJAR-TV).

A second court opinion worth reading on this matter is Judge Paul J. Kelly's 2010 circuit-court dissent in American Atheists v. Duncan, aka the Utah roadside memorials case. In his dissent, Judge Kelly described how the "reasonable observers" constructed by the courts in church-state cases have a history of being anything but...

The court’s decision continues a troubling development in our Establishment Clause cases -- the use of a “reasonable observer” who is increasingly hostile to religious symbols in the public sphere and who parses relevant context and history to find governmental endorsement of religion. Despite assurance from the Supreme Court that the Establishment Clause does not require us to “purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes in the religious,” , the court’s “reasonable observer” seems intent on doing just that.
If the courts choose to ignore an opinion just two years old in order to declare the Woonsocket cross unconstitutional, then their rationale will be built upon an assumption that "reasonable" means growing ever-more cranky and irritated towards religious displays as time passes and that has been made to continually expand the scope of what is disallowed.

The Nanny State Again

Patrick Laverty

Oh here we go again. Yeah it sounds like a good idea. Don't you want to keep people safe? Do you want someone else to get killed?

But that's not the point. The point is that the General Assembly keeps passing bills forcing people and businesses to do things that make sense, but still they are things that the individuals should have a free choice over.

This time it's Senate bill S2072. Luckily, it's short enough to post in its entirety here.

It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:
1 SECTION 1. Chapter 19-3 of the General Laws entitled "Powers and Operations" is
2 hereby amended by adding thereto the following section:
3 19-3-13.3. Security cameras. – All financial institutions and credit unions shall install
4 and continuously maintain security video cameras covering night deposit repository areas.
5 SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.
So there you have it. Because someone was tragically murdered while putting money in a bank's night deposit box, the RI Senate wants all banks to install and monitor cameras on their facilities.

Does this make sense for banks to monitor their facilities? Yes, of course it does. They all have cameras already inside the bank, so sure, it makes sense to do this outside too. But we're going to force them to do it? Why? Let this be part of the business decision that people make in choosing their bank. Is this bank safe? Has this bank taken my night time safety into account when I have to make my business deposits?

Only the Senate has passed the bill so far. It's on to the House. Hopefully they will see through this and see it as yet another cost we're adding on to businesses. Does the Assembly want to make Rhode Island business-friendly or keep on adding to the cost? I guess we'll see.

April 25, 2012

Official GOP Delegate Tally

Carroll Andrew Morse

State Republican Chairman Mark Zaccaria has sent out an official press release with the delegate allocation decided upon by Rhode Island GOP primary voters last night: 12 delegates for Mitt Romney, 4 delegates for Ron Paul.

The official delegation listing is available here.

Mitt Wins, Paul Places no one else really shows

Marc Comtois

So, to no one's surprise, in the lightly attended primary, Mitt won RI and 4 other Northeastern states and has all but technically locked up the GOP Presidential nomination with Newt ready to throw in the towel (the book tour must be over). Ron Paul marches on and I find I'm in agreement with Politico as to why Paul does well amongst New Englanders of middle/right mindset:

The numerous universities and small liberal arts colleges that dot the landscape probably help his cause, given his appeal to the youth vote. So does the fact that New England isn't as hawkish as other parts of the country. Then there is small town and rural New England -- ancestrally Republican, with distinct libertarian coloring and vestiges of skin-flint fiscal conservatism.
That last bit hits particularly close to home!

April 24, 2012

Unofficial GOP Delegate Tally

Carroll Andrew Morse

OK, based on the rules submitted to the RI Secretary of State, this is my best guess on how Rhode Island's Republican delegates will be allocated.

1. All candidates who received more than 15% of the vote are eligible to receive delegates. For the 2012 Republican primary, that means Mitt Romney (63.0% of the vote, with 14 of 135 precincts left to report with all precincts in) and Ron Paul (23.8%).

2. 8 delegates are awarded from each Congressional district (that part I'm pretty sure of) based the proportion of the statewide vote going to candidates who broke the 15% threshold (that part I'm less sure of, see update II below). At the moment, that means Mitt Romney would receive 5.8 delegates per district and Ron Paul would receive 2.2 delegates per district. Assuming traditional rounding is used, that's 6 for Romney and 2 for Paul.

That means, with 121 of 135 precincts reporting, and under the assumptions that the statewide total is applied to each Congressional district and results are rounded to the nearest integer, the unofficial leaders are:

District 1, Leading Romney Delegates:

John F. Robitaille 3793
Lynda Adams-Robitaille 3152
Daniel Patrick Reilly 2955
Robert J. Gallagher 2339
Amy Lynn Gallagher 2146
Barbara Ann Fenton 1903
Mark Smiley 1874
Peter D. Costa, JR. 1861
Giovanni D. Cicione 1844
Tara L. Pinsky 1746
Steven E. Santos 1455
Joseph H. Lorenz 1444
Rudd C. Hall 1169

District 1, Leading Paul Delegates:

Richard E. Ford 1103
Daniel S. Harrop 1080
Douglas P. Berge 1075
Robert A. Marquis 1063
Paul Andrew Schmidt 1058

District 2, Leading Romney Delegates:

Allan W. Fung 4052
Donald L. Carcieri 4019
Suzanne O. Carcieri 3705
Scott Avedisian 3357
Ruth A. Zaccaria 2620
Doreen Marie Costa 2455
William K. White 1617
Richard A. Mumford 1566
Scott Bill Hirst 1539
Eileen G. Grossman 1499
Elizabeth O. Smith 1464
Clifford M. Carlson 1077
Diane S. Nobles 1070

District 2, Leading Paul Delegates:

Andrew J. McNulty 1120
David J. Aiello 1062
Erik E. Turgeon 1028
Rachael L. McIntosh 981
Justin K. Price 975


CBS News lists last night's result as 13 delegates for Romney versus 3 for Paul, in their estimated delegate count chart.


The delegate selection rules summary on the State Republican Party website says that...

Each presidential candidate who qualifies for delegates and alternates shall receive a proportional share of the delegates and alternates in each CD based upon the percentage of the vote in that CD,
...so using the town-by-town totals on the Board of Elections website, I calculated what the delegate allocation would be in each Congressional District if they were treated separately. Again, using traditional to the nearest-integer rounding on the proportion of votes received by the two 15% qualifiers, Romney gets six delegates in both districts and Paul gets two -- though in the Second District the split came close to being 5/3. If fractional (and not just factional) delegates were allowed, the resulting split would be 5.6/2.4.

It is also worth noting that Burrillville voted in the First District primary last night even though they will be part of the Second District going forward. Was this a mistake? It makes objective sense for a primary election to be carried out according to the rules that its corresponding general will use, but the legislation that realigned the districts is ambiguous on the subject, first saying that it takes effect immediately, but also containing a long section explaining how immediately means after September 2012. Given that one Ron Paul delegate race last night was decided by a margin of 5 votes, whom Burrillville voted with may have had an impact on the final result.

Anti-Religion (Pro Legal Fee?) Zealots Take Aim at Woonsocket

Monique Chartier

The Woonsocket Call reports.

The thorny constitutional principle of separation of church and state is rearing its head over a 1921 World War I monument featuring a prominent Christian cross on city property.

Unlike the recent prayer banner controversy in Cranston, which was sued by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the threat of legal action in this case is coming from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization halfway across the country.

On April 13, the Madison, Wisc.-based foundation sent Mayor Leo T. Fontaine a letter calling the display of the “Latin cross” on public property “unlawful” and demanding that the situation be rectified.

The monument is located in the parking lot of the Woonsocket Fire Department. But it’s not FFRF’s only problem with the WFD. The foundation says the image of an angel and the inclusion of “The Fire Fighter’s Prayer” on the department’s web site are also unconstitutional.

Despite being a heathen, I am eminently sympathetic with the religious side of these matters. This newest unpleasant development, along with the Cranston prayer banner, strike me as not much more than a form of fiscal bullying. In a call to the Matt Allen Show a couple of months ago during the Cranston prayer banner debate, Jeff in Warwick (a fellow atheist) phrased it well: this is taking the First Amendment way past what our founding fathers had in mind.

Woonsocket City Council President John Ward has his own, not unreasonable theory.

More likely, he says, FFRF routinely canvasses cities and towns around the country for opportunities to litigate potential violations of the so-called establishment clause of the constitution as a way to fatten its war chest. Often, he says, all such groups have to do is lodge a legal complaint to wheedle a settlement and legal fees out of their targets.

“It’s a jobs program for lawyers with nothing better to do,” says Ward.

And they might not have anything to do here. The city's dire fiscal condition has herded both Mr. Ward and Mayor Fontaine away from a court battle.

If the city is backed into a legal corner, however, Fontaine said he may seek to relocate the cross to private property. Ward concurs with the plan, saying the city, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, simply cannot afford to get dragged into a costly legal battle over a principle.

While there is a principle to defend here, it takes more than a determined will to prevail in such a skirmish. Filthy lucre is required, something that is in quite short supply in our cities and towns. Accordingly, distaste as it may be, I cannot disagree with the ultimate conclusion of Mayor Fontaine and Mr. Ward.

Secretary of State Advertises For A Union

Patrick Laverty

The Providence Journal has a story today by Randal Edgar about a "bug" on the Secretary of State's envelopes. For those unaware, a bug is a little icon that is placed on an item or a screen, sort of like advertising. You're probably familiar with the television network bugs during their programming. On NBC, they'll have the little peacock logo or recently, I've seen the peacock with the Olympic rings under it. That's what is referred to as a bug.

The Secretary of State's office takes it one step further. Their envelopes have a pretty large bug under the return address in the upper left corner. It's the logo of the United Steelworkers union. Take a look for yourself here.

Was the office aware this was going to happen? Are they ok with it?

Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis says the union symbol — or bug, as it is commonly known — is on his office’s envelopes because they were printed by a union shop and union shops “routinely put their bug on the material they print.”

Gee, if I knew the state was in the business of taking ads on their stationery in exchange for cheaper rates, I'd probably give them all the envelopers they need with the Anchor Rising URL on it. I'd probably even do this for free.

According to the article, the state saved $400 over the next lowest bidder and the order of 70,000 envelopes for $2,485. Also interesting in the article, though might not mean anything at all:

The company hired to handle the job was Regine Printing Co. Inc., of Providence — a company that has also done work for the Mollis campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state. The Mollis campaign paid Regine $480 in 2011 and $2,868 in 2010, while also hiring other printers, according to the reports. In addition, two Regine employees donated to the Mollis campaign during 2010 and 2011, contributing a total of $525.
Umm, nope, nothing sounds too fishy there.

Well, I guess over here at AR, we should just keep our eyes open for any upcoming state purchase requests. Let's see what we have in that advertising budget for the next time when you get a mailing from the state, maybe it'll have the Anchor Rising "bug" prominently displayed.

April 23, 2012

GOP Primary Day Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Courtesy of Dave Talan, here's a quick guide to what's going on, and what's at stake in tomorrow's Rhode Island Republican primary...

You can vote for any 8 Delegate candidates, anywhere on the ballot, no matter who you vote for for President.

Rhode Island is a "Proportional Representation" state. Any Presidential candidate, who gets at least 15 percent of the vote statewide, will get a proportional share of the 16 Delegates and 16 Alternates to be elected (8 Delegates and 8 Alternates in each Congressional District). (R.I. will also have 3 super-Delegates, the 3 National Committee people, who are not on the ballot tomorrow).

We expect a small turnout tomorrow (as little as 15,000 voters statewide), because the news media has told everyone that the race is already over and your vote does not matter. That means that as few as 2,250 votes for a Presidential candidate will be enough to win Delegates for him. So if your first choice is Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul; you should still go vote for them tomorrow, in order to elect Delegates who will promote their issues at the national convention...

You will NOT necessarily be voting at your usual polling place tomorrow. (A lot of polling places are being combined, due to the expected low turnout). Go to the Secretary of State's web site, to determine where you vote.

Sample ballots from the Secretary of State's office, where you can see who's running for delegate, are visible at the links below:Finally, speaking as a fully disclosed Rick Santorum supporter and candidate for delegate, Dave expounds on why it is still worthwhile for Santorum supporters to get out and support their first choice for the nomination, even if the main question in the primary campaign appears to have already been decided...
If you had originally been planning to vote for [Rick Santorum], his R.I. supporters urge you to still go and vote for him tomorrow. Then, if he gets 15 percent of the vote, some of his Delegate candidates will be elected. They will go to Tampa to promote his conservative issues for the Party platform, and to educate the news media on conservative GOP issues.
That reasoning can pretty well be applied to all of the candidates on the ballot.

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 24 - April 26, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

9. H7719/H7378/S2757: Changes how debt service is considered in maintenance of effort calculations for school-district budgeting. H7719 would apply to all school districts; the other bills apply only to regional districts (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 24). Also, H7815 would have the maintenance of effort amount in each community determined by the state's Auditor General (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

8. S2287: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25).

7B. H7714: "No provision or provisions in any collective bargaining agreement providing for binding arbitration shall be applicable or applied to" the development of locally-administered public employee pension plans (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

7A. H7713: Amends the Home Rule Article of the Rhode Island Constitution (new part underlined) to read:

SECTION 2. Local legislative powers – Every city and town shall have the power at any time to adopt a charter, amend its charter, enact and amend local laws relating to its property, affairs and government not inconsistent with this Constitution and laws enacted by the general assembly in conformity with the powers reserved to the general assembly, provided, however, that no city or town shall have the power to offer as an inducement to employment or continued employment, any compensation or benefit, future or present, including, but not limited to, compensation or benefits pertaining to pension or retirement, that would be in excess of any such compensation or benefit allowed by any law enacted by the general assembly, including laws enacted by the general assembly which became effective prior to this amendment (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

6B. Various unreforms of the pension system; S2552 modifies the part of last year's reform that suspended cost of living increases when a pension plan is less than 80% funded, reinstating annual cost-of-living increases "for all members whose annual retirement allowance is at or below one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the federal poverty level" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 25); H7711 would repeal the minimum age of 55 for the retirement of police officers and fire fighters (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

6A. H7418: If I read this correctly, this would prohibit cities and towns from moving or being moved into the state pension system, if they currently operate or participate in any other local pension system, i.e. it would prohibit closing a local pension plan and putting new hires into a state-run plan (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

5. H7372: "Notwithstanding any provision of the general or public laws, or any rule or regulation to the contrary, all unfunded state mandates, not attached to federal funds, required of the towns and cities in municipal areas of operation under their jurisdiction are hereby repealed" (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

4B. Estate tax changes. H7491 changes the exemption for estates below $850,000 into a tax-credit of $33,200 (to be annually adjusted for inflation) which means that only value in excess of an effective exempted amount gets taxed. This changes the situation under current law where an estate valued at $850,000 might pay nothing while an estate valued at $850,001 would pay the full amount. Also, H7491 drops the estate tax exemption down to $675,000 for the remainder of this year; H7705 raises the value of estates exempted from the estate tax to $5,000,000 (to be annually adjusted for inflation); H7706 cleans up the description of the current $850,000 exemption (to be annually adjusted for inflation) and H7635 changes estate tax rules on "farmlands and other real and tangible property associated with agricultural operations" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

4A. Additional income taxes; H7379 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7381 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7382 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $500,000; H7305 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $500,000 and H7729 which is supposed to set a top tax bracket of 9.99% on incomes over $250,000 that then declines with the unemployment rate, but is ambiguous about what happens if the unemployment rate doesn’t montonically decline (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

3. S2483: Foundation for a single-payer health insurance system in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25), containing such intriguing phrases as...

  • "EOHHS [The executive office of health and human services] shall maintain enrollment and expenditures to ensure that expenditures do not exceed amounts available in the fund, and if sufficient funds are not available to cover the estimated cost of program expenditures, EOHHS shall institute appropriate measures to reduce costs",
  • "EOHHS is authorized to seek appropriations from the general fund in the form of loans to the healthy Rhode Island program trust fund", and
  • "In the event that EOHHS reasonably expects that the cost of healthy Rhode Island program will exceed the available funds, coverage for eligible individuals shall continue until the annual redetermination of each eligible individual, after which time EOHHS shall immediately transfer the eligible individual to coverage in the state’s health insurance exchange." (i.e. when this program proves too expensive to manage, we'll transfer people to a magic exchange where magic money will appear to pay their costs )
2. House Finance takes its first stab at Governor Chafee's municipal reform package: H8006 relating to distressed community relief; H8007 changing the dates for payment of state education aid; H8008 relating to school district accounting compliance; H8009 allowing suspensions of benefit adjustments for pension plans in critical status; H8010 limiting allowed retirement benefits according to "the actuarial value of benefits afforded under the municipal employees retirement system"; H8011 modifying disability pensions in cases where the beneficiary receives other income and H8012 exempting payments made to compensate for past deficits from school district maintenance of effort calculations. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26). Additional detail on the municipal reform bills is available here.

1B. H7340/S2279: Statutory implementation of the decision by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24 & S Finance; Wed, Apr 25).

1A. H7266: Statutory reversal of the decision made by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 24 - April 26, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

...and to be honest, I only got it down to twenty-one through liberal use of part-A's and part-B's. It's definitely a busy week for disposing of legislation at the RI General Assembly...

Local Impact: Coventry 2, Middletown/Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, Richmond.
Local Impact bill of special note: Woonsocket (the supplemental property tax).

21. H7591: Adds to the charter of Johnson and Wales that "the real and personal property of the corporation shall be exempt from state and local taxes" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24). What are the possible interactions, between this bill and other state and municipal efforts to tax non-profits?

20. S2556: 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" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25).

19. S2149: Police officers who cross out of their municipality in pursuit of a driver whom they intend to stop for violating the motor vehicle code maintain the authority they would have in their home jurisdiction "to arrest and hold in custody" the driver being pursued. (Presently, police officers would retain their authority to arrest only if they already were intending to make an arrest during the pursuit) (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

18. S2336: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings & referendums (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

17. Senate Finance Committee advice and consent hearing on the reappointment of 3 members (Elizabeth Fournier, Linda L. Cwiek, David Quinn) and new appointment of 2 members (David Robert, Kenneth M. Mallette) to the state Vehicle Values Commission (Thursday, Apr 26).

16. H7225: Provides for stays of foreclosure for active duty or deployed armed service members (H Veterans' Affairs; Thu, Apr 26).

15. H7710: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

14. S2052: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (S Housing and Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 26). But could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?

13, H7810: Assesses a $50 per semester "public transportation fee" on students attending RI public colleges and university. In return, student IDs will be enabled to serve as passes for public transportation services (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24). Of course, the irony of this bill is that if a student wanted to take public transportation to his or her polling place on an election day, Arthur Handy, the primary sponsor of the bill, would be OK with someone having to show an ID card to ride the bus but not with having to show an ID at the polling place.

12. S2223: $100 fine for using a non-hands free cell-phone while driving (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24).

11. S2248: An attempt "to implement waste, fraud and abuse detection, prevention and recovery solutions" to Medicaid, RIte care and RIte share (and to Obamacare, to whatever degree it is implemented) (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25). The question is whether waste, fraud and abuse be effectively countered, all other things being held equal, by adding law that basically says "the state shall try and detect it using technology" and then having the Department of Health and Human Services produce a report on how well it's worked.

10. S2659: Gives city and town solicitors the power to investigate false claims against the state and municipalities, and bring civil actions against the perpetrators (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 24). It's worth noting that Senators Dominick Ruggerio and Frank Ciccone, who have both been in the news of late for reasons different from good-government advocacy, are both sponsors of this bill.

The Current Week, 04/16/21-04/21/12

Justin Katz


04/16/12 - Don Watkins at Brown - Liveblog
Justin writes live from Don Watkins talk to the Brown Republicans on entitlements.

Rhode Island Treats Us All as Strangers - Opinion
Operating in RI government is like following directions based on where things used to be; Justin says outsiders are disadvantaged and vulnerable.

04/18/12 - Ron Paul Town Hall - Liveblog
Justin writes live from Ron Paul's town hall event at URI.

04/18/12 - Video of Ron Paul at URI - Liveblog
The Current's full "Video on the Go" from Congressman Ron Paul's campaign appearance at the University of Rhode Island.

Two Economies, or One with Exceptions? - Opinion
Is it the bull or the bear for Rhode Island?  Justin suggests that if Rhode Island is to cease to be a drag on its region, the model has to be quite different.

Justin's Case

Kennedy Describes "Quid Pro Quo" White House - Opinion
Former district 1 congressman Patrick Kennedy tells the New York Times that big donations from special interests is how the business of politics works, with implications for local campaign finance initiatives.
State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Jamestown - Research
According to RI Dept. of Labor and Training statistics, the number of employed residents in Jamestown fell 7.6% from 2000 to 2010. The town's number of employed residents has almost returned to its level before the new bridge to the mainland eased travel to the island in 1992.
The Downer Side of Centralization and Lost Social Capital - Opinion
An interview with Charles Murray leads Justin to muse on the possibility that avoiding judgmentalism in the name of tolerance might just make it less likely that others will have the opportunity to judge us good and worthy of advancement.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Little Compton - Research
Although Little Compton is among Rhode Island's wealthiest communities, the town has seen an above-average drop in employment and its unemployment rate is higher than the state's overall number.
The Labor/Left Strategy: Shore Up Revenue - Analysis
RI's unions are behind efforts to increase state revenue through gambling and "taxes on the rich" in an apparent effort to counter the effects of Massachusetts casinos, but the state will have to decide whether the consequences are worth the attempt.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Middletown - Research
Middletown's February unemployment is high compared with the rest of the state, at 13.4%, and January's was the highest in 22 years of data.  More concerning is that those numbers were achieved even as the total labor force shrank.
First Quarter Single-Family Home Sales Picture Mostly Bleak in RI - Research
Reviewing William Raveis data for single-family home sales in each Rhode Island community, Justin finds that the picture isn't rosy.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Newport - Research
Newport joins its neighbor, Middletown, in having very high unemployment, as well as a dramatic downward trend in its population and employment data.
Central Falls Charter Panel Selected (Not Elected) - Opinion
The process for selecting charter review commissioners in Central Falls has Justin concerned that an important lesson in self-governance is being missed.
Lower Unemployment in Alabama Corresponds with Immigration Law - Analysis
Correlation is not causation, but Alabama's employment picture has improved in the wake of its stringent immigration law.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Tiverton - Research
Tiverton's employment trend is characterized by ten-year growth in population and labor force that wasn't matched by employment. In recent months, improvement in unemployment results only from a fast-falling overall labor force.
Scariest Unemployment Fact: It's a Trend - Analysis
RI's accelerated decline in labor force and employment continues and now constitutes a full-quarter trend; combined with poor housing market results, the trend ought to be of great concern to Rhode Islanders, especially in their capacity as voters.
If They Know What to Do to Fix Education, Why Not Do It? - Opinion
A consulting group under contract with two of RI's most-struggling cities is sufficiently confident in its turnaround estimates to proclaim a specific dollar amount; Justin suggests they just go ahead and find the money.

April 22, 2012

Taking on Ted

Patrick Laverty

Ted Nesi writes a weekly notes column and posts it on Saturday mornings. I tried writing my own for a few weeks and it's really a lot of work. It's not something that can be thrown out there in a few minutes, as it does take a bunch of researching and note taking. So it's a big credit to him for the work he does on it each week.

I try to read the column each week and while there may occasionally be a point in there that makes me pause, this week there seemed to be a few. So rather than just posting in his comments section, I figured I'd post them here.

3. Greg Mankiw: ”If people feel that their taxes exceed the value of their public services, they can go elsewhere.
Not always. After being in the situation where I had my house up for sale and had a somewhat limited timeframe of about six months to sell, I can say that this isn't always true. It eventually came down to my deadline where my realtor wanted to drop to a price where my house would have sold at a loss, or not nearly enough in order to qualify for the next mortgage. So voting with my feet turned out to not be an option. I imagine this is the case for many people who want to move but also want to be able to get another mortgage again in the next 7-10 years. They're stuck where they are.
6. The best argument for the idea that David Cicilline didn’t know what a mess Providence’s finances were during the 2010 campaign may be his botched communications strategy after the details emerged last March. If the congressman really understood how bad things were but was hiding it, wouldn’t he have used that advance knowledge to prepare some sort of response? And wouldn’t he have waited fewer than 13 months to pivot to an apology?
No. It's called "arrogance." He greatly underestimated the people in Rhode Island, at least with regard to their ability to answer poll questions. It's yet to be seen if they can be trusted to do the same at the voting booth. David Cicilline is a smart man and is very skilled in the art of argument. He thought he could argue and spin his way at least into another term in Congress. Like I've written before, there's no way he didn't know the full story of the condition of Providence's finances. If he didn't, then there was no reason to block the auditor from getting the records he needed to do his job.
The Providence Phoenix’s David Scharfenberg made a similar point in his profile of Rhode Island’s Future proprietor Bob Plain, calling him “part of an emerging, alternate daily press corps that also includes Rhode Island Public Radio, golocalprov, and WPRI blogger Ted Nesi — a youthful, digital-savvy crew that has taken on increased importance since the Providence Journal put most of its reporting behind a paywall in February.” (I would agree with that analysis, though, wouldn’t I?)
Imagine if there were any other bloggers or "alternate daily press corps" in Rhode Island that weren't mentioned. Like, a conservative leaning one. Now that'd be cool.

Like I said, Ted does a great job and some of these points aren't even necessarily directed at him, but just some things that I wanted to add as I read his column.

April 20, 2012

The Newest Hope for Limiting Political Expression in America -- and its Unintended Consequences

Carroll Andrew Morse

A top priority for liberals inside of government has become responding to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC ruling, which prohibits government from banning political speech by corporations when the speech is independent of a campaign organization. Possible responses have come in two flavors.

One response (endorsed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse at the end of last year) was a move to amend the Constitution to give government an enumerated power to limit the political activities of both corporations and individuals. This, so far, has not gained much favor with the public.

The second response, pubicly supported by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi this week, is an amendment to strip Constitutional rights from people when they act through corporations. Though presumably intended to be less egregious than the first solution -- hey, it's only "corporations" affected, and not individuals -- this answer to the perceived problem is not as clean as some of its supporters might hope. As Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy explains...

...just as Congress could therefore ban the speech of nonmedia business corporations, it could ban publications by corporate-run newspapers and magazines -- which I think includes nearly all such newspapers and magazines in the country....State legislatures and local governments could do the same. All of them could seize corporate property without providing compensation, and without providing due process. All corporate entities would be stripped of all constitutional rights...
Given the scope of the "People's Rights Amendment" that has been proposed, Rhode Island liberals may want to consider, for example, what its impact would be on collective bargaining organizations, which would no longer be covered under the US Constitution's "no impairment of contracts" clause, allowing state governments to change the terms of contracts at will -- though this might actually be a feature and not a bug in the minds of some of RI's "pragmatic progressives"!

"Single, Ready to Mingle"

Patrick Laverty

When even the left is showing disgust for the entitlement system and the issues with it, you know there's a problem. I don't like to use anecdotal examples ("Oh yeah, well I once knew this guy who...") but it's not like this is the right-wing version of Michael Moore out to do a hatchet job. This is Nancy Pelosi's daughter Alexandra doing "person on the street" interviews for Bill Maher's show; he too not exactly someone you might consider to be a conservative.

After all, "it's just food."

(h/t Helen Glover Show)

April 19, 2012

Abortion Question Shows PolitiFact RI's Bias and Ignorance

Justin Katz

It's a tedious exercise reviewing the ways in which the pretense of ostensibly neutral journalists to judge truth via PolitiFact investigations is tilted severely toward their political leanings. Indeed, if it weren't for an explicit meter and the assertion that they are dealing only in facts, it wouldn't be worth the effort.

But in order that I may exorcise today's demon, I have to point out the ignorance and bias on display in Eugene Emery's finding that it is "mostly true" that "only 14 percent of Catholics agree with the Vatican's position that abortion should be illegal."

An objective assessment must acknowledge that there are two parts to the question, with a third qualifier necessary for an understanding of the results:

  1. What is the Church's position on the matter?
  2. Do Catholics agree with that position?
  3. In what sense are the respondents "Catholic"?

In order to answer the first question, Emery did not call up our very accessible bishop, Thomas Tobin, for an explanation. Rather, he thumbed through the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and quoted it as follows:

The "Respect for Human Life" section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."

The theological/philosophical language "willed either as an end or a means" ought to have provided Emery a clue that he should tread carefully. As with theological notions such as double effect and just war, the difficult matter is where the line is between willing an action and accepting it as a consequence of an action undertaken for a morally positive end.

Removing an unborn child from his or her mother's womb prematurely may be necessary to prevent both of their deaths, and it may thereafter be impossible to preserve the child's life. As a moral matter, such an action is substantially different from "willing" an abortion "as an end or a means." That is especially true "as an end," and inasmuch as the death of the child, of itself, will never save the life of the mother, "the means" are a step removed, as well.

When it comes to determining the law of the land — what should be illegal — we must acknowledge that the judgment of professionals and those who find themselves in horrendous positions is unavoidable. So, this moral teaching of the Church would translate as "except to save the life of the mother."

As with all translations of religious teaching into law, semantics are a problem. The procedure of "abortion" implies the intent of killing the child. That is, in the public debate and in the law, there is no separate term for "fatal early delivery," or some other construct that might be more accurate to describe a circumstance in which a doctor does something to save the mother's life that unavoidably ends the child's life. In public discourse, we simply call all such exigencies "abortions."

Therefore, given the only four options available in the surveys (legal always, legal most of the time, illegal most of the time, illegal always), it isn't really the case that the Catholic Church requires the last. A far more useful survey would draw a line in the third category to distinguish between "life of the mother" and other exceptions.

Of the three surveys that Emery reviewed, only the one conducted and promoted by the pro-choice activist group gives any such indication. They found that 51% of the 923 Catholics supposedly representing the 70 million or so U.S. Catholics believe that abortion should be legal "in just a few" cases or "never." The percentage climbs to 75% among those who "attend mass frequently" (44% and 31%).*

The survey goes a bit farther and gives some evidence of what "just a few" cases might be, although it does so in terms of what health insurance (whether public or private) should cover. In that case, the 14% who are against all abortions increases minimally to 16% who don't think any should be covered by insurance. The next marker, though, is 24% who don't believe it should be covered in any case except those that "threaten the life of the woman." Of the options, that is most closely the official Catholic view.

Adding in the qualification of Church attendance, however, the percentage moves up considerably. And the qualification is certainly relevant, I'd argue, because it doesn't tell us much to know that people who don't assent to the bishops instruction to go to Church regularly also don't assent to much more emotionally difficult teachings.

In summary, according to a poll commissioned by a group that actively advocates for access to abortion while calling itself "Catholic," 30% of Mass-goers don't think insurance should cover abortion in any case, and 42% don't think it should cover nothing or only life saving procedures. Adjust that a bit, if you like, to account for those who think the procedure should be legal but not covered even by private insurance, but it'd likely be a small tweak.

From a devout Catholic's point of view, assent to the Church's teaching is still too limited, but it's significantly different from 14%, and one needn't accept even the highest arguable number to think "mostly true" is more than a little bit of a stretch.

* For some perspective on a 923 sample size for a 70 million person population, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys 1,200 people in Rhode Island alone to determine unemployment. That means that bias in the methodology could have a huge effect.

For example, the survey document does not define what the survey sample bases " proper proportions" on, the total population or the Catholic population. If the former, it could skew toward wealthy Northeastern whites who attend Church only occasionally. That may be a representative sample of people who happen to be Catholic in the general population, but not of people who are Catholic.

Ron Paul at URI

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at the Ocean State Current, Justin has posted both video and a liveblog of Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul's University of Rhode Island campaign stop that took place last night.

April 18, 2012

A (Temporary) Gubernatorial "Deployment": Bravo, Governor

Monique Chartier

There probably isn't a single policy issue about which I agree with Governor Chafee. But this is a very good thing that he is doing.

Governor Chafee is visiting with Rhode Island troops deployed in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan this week as part of a tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense.

"They were grateful to see a Rhode Islander, to see the governor come out and pay an interest in what they're doing in Kuwait, what they're doing here in Afghanistan," Gov. Chafee said Wednesday by satellite from Bagram Air Base. "I was surprised how grateful they were that someone was showing an interest and listening to the challenges they're facing."

The trip began with a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon before heading overseas.

The Republicans Most Unsatisfied with their Probable Nominee

Carroll Andrew Morse

National Review Online's Ramesh Ponnuru calls attention to a Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll which gauged, amongst other things, which groups of Republican voters were most and least certain in their support for Mitt Romney between April 4th and 15th.

According to Pew's survey of Republicans and Republican leaners, self-described conservatives weren't the group least certain in their support of Romney. 82% of the respondents describing themselves as conservative expressed certainty that they would support Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in the general election. And support was not highly-uncertain amongst Tea Partiers either, 89% of whom said they were certain to support Romney. ("Certain supporters" are defined in the poll as "those who back Romney and say there is no chance they will support Obama. Not certain are those who only lean toward Romney or say there is still a chance they will support Obama").

No, Mitt Romney's least certain support within the Republican party came from the self-described "moderates" and "liberals", only 66% of whom say they are certain to support Romney in a General election. For not-Tea Party Republicans (who presumably overlap with the "moderate"/liberal crowd) the not-certain figure was 65%.

This puts a serious dent into the idea that Republican unity problems begin with conservative demands for a perfect candidate (which many folks who observe actual Republican politics and not just its caricature could have told you anyway).

By the way, this particular poll had Barack Obama beating Mitt Romney amongst everyone surveyed (including Democrats and independents) 49-45.

April 17, 2012

Re: Democrats Stay Home

Monique Chartier

As Patrick points out, with his announcement Sunday, Anthony Gemma feigns disregard for his primary election in September and, in fact, expresses near sympathy for his primary opponent.

"Gemma paused and said "I won't hit a man when he's down." Then later went on to add "This race is between me and Brendan Doherty.""
There's something very strange here. First of all, how did we go from the ferocious primary contender of two years ago to not wanting to "hit a man" - that same reprehensible opponent! - when he's "down"? We should also clarify here that "down", in this case, doesn't mean some fatal disease (unless you count a pathological inability to speak the truth where it would make him look bad). It means that David Cicilline finally had to confront, to a very limited extent, his own lying and covering up of Providence's actual fiscal condition - official conduct which was so bad that it warrants a criminal investigation.

Most importantly, however, Mr. Gemma doesn't get to face off against Colonel Doherty unless he first beats the prevaricator currently representing CD-1. But Mr. Gemma is disregarding this critical fact. There are three possible explanations for this course of action; none of them reflect well on Mr. Gemma:

1.) Under Patrick's post, Jon identifies the first: Mr. Gemma is staying on as a straw candidate to assist David Cicilline.

2.) Mr. Gemma has been told that David Cicilline is going to withdraw from the race. This information would have to come from the candidate himself or a very close surrogate for Mr. Gemma to be guided by it; you don't pull your political punches on the say-so of a campaign underling. Accordingly, if this is the case, Mr. Gemma is making the fatal error of conducting his campaign on the basis of the word of David Cicilline.

3.) Mr. Gemma has seen poll results which give him what he believes to be an insurmountable lead in the primary. But, of course, there is rarely such a thing as an insurmountable lead in a political campaign. "Rarely" becomes non-existent when it comes to an opponent who is willing to utter any lie and do just about anything (as we saw during his tenure as mayor!) for political gain.

It doesn't bother me to watch a Rhode Island Democrat step on a political banana peel. Sometimes, though, it is a fascinatingly perplex-full occurance.

April 16, 2012

Gemma: Absolutely No Reform to Social Security

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, Anthony Gemma made his well-telegraphed announcement. As Patrick notes, the announcement was very light on issue substance.

Thanks to the ProJo's John Mulligan, however, we have at least one substantive morsel to gnaw on. Towards the end of Mulligan's article in yesterday's Providence Journal, which went to press before Mr. Gemma made his announcement, we learn about this fascinating and disturbing stance.

For good measure, Gemma embraces a Social Security policy to the left of most Democrats: “no changes, ever” in the tax or benefit structure as a means of ensuring the program’s long-term solvency.

Really? Even though, in 2010, social security began paying out more than it took in and, in 2036, social security benefits will be exhausted?

So Mr. Gemma will disregard the advice of the Treasury Secretary? (For the record, that's not President Bush's Treasury Secretary, but President Obama's.)

"Social Security and Medicare benefits are secure today, but reform will be needed so they will be there for current and future retirees," Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told reporters at a Treasury Department news conference.

Geithner said the report underscores "the need to act sooner rather than later" to make reforms to entitlement programs.

"We should not wait for the Trust Funds to be exhausted to make the reforms necessary to protect our current and future retirees," he said.

In light of the precarious financial condition of social security, is no reform to social security - "no changes, ever" - really a wise and sustainable goal, either as a fiscal policy or a political stance?

Democrats Stay Home

Patrick Laverty

If you live in the First Congressional District, the only race you care about voting in on primary day this fall and you're a Democrat, you can stay home. The race is over, just come vote in November.

Anthony Gemma was on the Helen Glover Show this morning and he repeatedly contrasted himself with Republican Brendan Doherty. At one point, Glover asked Gemma directly, whether he will attack Cicilline at all during the race. Gemma paused and said "I won't hit a man when he's down." Then later went on to add "This race is between me and Brendan Doherty."

So there you have it Dems. It's over, just stay home, there will be no primary in September.

Or maybe Gemma is right. Maybe he knows something that Mark Zaccaria predicted earlier. Will Cicilline drop out of the race due to his sagging poll numbers and clear the field for Gemma to take on Doherty unscathed?

The Current Week, 04/09/12-04/15/12

Justin Katz


04/10/12 - General Treasurer Guide to Comprehensive Pension Reform Part II - Liveblog
Justin writes live from General Treasurer Gina Raimondo's second comprehensive pension reform workshop for municipal leaders, Part II: Creating a Secure & Sustainable Pension Plan.

04/11/12 - Romney Town Hall - Liveblog
Justin writes live from Mitt Romney's town hall in Warwick, Rhode Island.

04/12/12 - RI Senate Finance Committee Hearing - Liveblog
Justin writes live and extemporaneously from the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Gov. Chafee's municipal relief package of legislation.

Justin's Case

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Barrington - Research
Reviewing the unemployment picture for RI cities and towns, the Current finds that Barrington lost 3% of its population from 2000 to 2010 and almost 7% of its employment.  Meanwhile, in the quarter leading up to February, 1% of all residents left the town's work force.
Legacy Media Woes Point to Larger Political Dynamics
- Analysis
Reason's Matt Welch measures cutting-edge media against legacy media worries about the death of their industry, and reviewing the local playing field, Justin gives an example of how public policy can give them a cudgel (even inadvertently).
The Obscurity of Appointed Public Boards - Analysis
Objections that low state contributions to public institutions of higher education should mean low authority over their operational activities raise the question of what the relationship between the schools and the state actually is.
State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Bristol and Warren - Research
Reviewing the unemployment picture for RI cities and towns, the Current finds that Bristol has actually been gaining population and workers, over the past decade, but they're finding jobs in insufficient numbers.  And the circumstances for Warren appear dismal from every angle.

State Pension Projections Versus Actual Results - Analysis
At this morning's workshop, Treasurer Raimondo's news that the state pension has only been earning 2.28% return on its investments jarred disconcertingly against the actuary's projections of what 7.5% and 5.0% returns mean for the future.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Coventry - Research
Reviewing the unemployment picture for RI cities and towns, the Current finds that Coventry's exploding unemployment rate can be explained by increases in population and labor force rather than a decrease in the overall number of residents who are employed.
Who Are Legislators to Save Our Lives? - Opinion
Matt Allen's petition for repeal of the primary-offense seat belt law leads Justin to consider the real consequence of such legislation.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: East Greenwich - Research
Given its reputation among Rhode Island towns, it's surprising that East Greenwich has a higher-than-average unemployment rate. The explanation likely lies in the growth of its population and labor force, which exacerbated the smaller decrease in employed residents.
Fighting Over Numbers in the Public Debate - Opinion
A pair of articles point to the use of statistics in public policy debates, and Justin encourages everybody not to lose sight of the points being made.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Warwick - Research
Warwick's employment story appears to be one of lost population and lost employment.  As with some of RI's other cities and towns, Warwick's number of employed residents has never been lower in the twenty-two years of data.
The Meaning of "Legislation Last" in Pension Reform - Analysis
Argumentation about the concept of "legislation last" when it comes to municipal pension reform appears to be an example of two sides talking past each other.
More About When a Marriage Begins than Whether Cohabiting - Analysis
Couples who are engaged when they move in together are more likely to stay married than those who are not, but interesting gender differences in the survey data suggest that it matters whether one spouse has been married before.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: West Greenwich - Research
West Greenwich's employment data (while of limited confidence, given the small population) tells a story of consistent growth, until the current recession moved its unemployment rate above that of the state overall.

State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: West Warwick - Research
West Warwick leads Kent County in unemployment, in part because its total labor force grew 4.1% at the same time that the total number of residents working or looking for work (its labor force) increased 4.9%.

April 15, 2012

Gemma's Back in the Race

Patrick Laverty

Local businessman Anthony Gemma formally announced his bid for Congress today in CD1. He'll be running as a Democrat and facing off with David Cicilline in a primary this fall, I think. You'd never know who his opponent is though by his speech on Sunday. According to reports filed by Ted Nesi and Ian Donnis, Gemma never named his primary opponent and saved his barbs for Republican Brendan Doherty.

(He) left public service as soon as he became eligible for his state pension. … Brendan Doherty lives in a public sector bubble.
So does the Democrat Gemma oppose public sector pensions? Does he not think that the public employees deserve a pension? Plus, didn't Doherty leave public service as soon as his supervisor, Governor Chafee, expressed the opinion that illegal immigration can actually be a good thing for a community? It seemed the new Governor's stance on Secure Communities might have had more to do with Doherty deciding to leave his position than anything about having a fully vested pension.

How long has Gemma considered running for this seat? I'm assuming it was more than just Sunday. So then why can't he offer any substance to his proposals?

[Gemma] is "most equipped - and therefore most likely - to create thousands of well-paying jobs in Rhode Island and, by extension, in the United States." He promised more details in the weeks to come but said his proposals would include a plan to make college more affordable.
More details in the weeks to come? He's had two years to come up with these details and this is what we get?

Ian Donnis added

Gemma also talked big about creating jobs and transforming how members of Congress do their jobs. The details, he said, will be forthcoming
I'm glad this speech was planned so well ahead. Additionally, Sam Howard noted
Thus Mr. Gemma introduced that his candidacy would run under the theme of the “New Idea”. However, he did not once say what that New Idea would be, leaving the door open to speculation.
Why not wait until you have at least some details to offer in the speech?

Maybe another example of Gemma's lack of preparation was the fact that he refused to take any questions from the media in attendance. Ted Nesi noted

[Gemma] quickly got into his SUV and departed. A supporter criticized members of the media for following Gemma to ask questions, saying they'd "chased him away" from his kickoff event.

So here we have a Congressional candidate that can be "chased away" by a few local media members? I've met Nesi and Donnis and while they may be very scary characters (not really), I would think that if Gemma can't take the heat of a couple questions from them, he may not quite be ready for the spotlight and the heat of the public scrutiny given to a Congressman.

We'll have the next five months to see if he handles the media any better, and to see what those details are on creating jobs, making college more affordable and what is the new idea?

Iowahawk On the Fiscals of Romney Vs Obama

Monique Chartier

Presumably referencing the divisive and pointless class war which the campaign of President Barack Obama (and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse) feels it needs to wage in order to win re-election, David Burge, aka Iowahawk, tweeted this remark Friday night. (H/T Instapundit Glenn Reynolds.)

Apparently, I'm supposed to be more angry about what Mitt Romney does with his money than what Barack Obama does with mine.

April 14, 2012

RI Assoc of Firefighters Re Municipal Relief Package: We Will Litigate

Monique Chartier

Justin live-blogged the Senate Finance Committee hearing of Governor Chafee's Municipal Relief Package for Ocean State Current.

Justin's coverage of hearings on Smith Hill are a treat for us followers of Rhode Island policy and politics because he includes many interesting and enlightening details and macro items. This time is no exception. Therefore, with great restraint, I'll focus on just one item for this post: remarks by Paul Valletta, a firefighter and lobbyist for the RI State Association of Firefighters.

Says the cost of Flanders et al. has been more than the cities and towns needed to avoid bankruptcy. “We’re in this mess because of the pensions,” and we all know it was a matter of mismanagement. “We would like just once for the leaders of this state” to take the blame and ask for help, and we’ll help. ...

He’s going through the bills, saying they’ll all be challenged through grievances, and he’s confident that the unions will win. ...

Valletta is particularly against changes to the Firefighters Arbitration Act.

One point and one question.

Firstly, receivers' fees have come nowhere close to the debt racked up by the borderline criminal budgeting of decades of Central Falls' highly irresponsible, could-give-a-damn-less elected officials. (Speaking of criminal, can we get an update on the investigation of Mayor Charles "Board-Up" Moreau?)

Secondly, before publicly committing them to a legal fight against this legislative package, did Mr. Valletta made it clear to his fellow firefighters, current and retired, that most of their pension plans fall somewhere in a range between underfunded and close to busted and that absent reform, pension checks will bounce?

April 12, 2012

Woonsocket's Startling 13% Supplemental Property Tax Faces Uncertain Reception in the General Assembly

Monique Chartier

Observers of Woonsocket's current financial straits are aware that the city has proposed a 13% supplemental property tax - an increase, by the way, that would then form the basis, going forward, for Woonsocket's new (higher) tax rate. Such a step requires approval by the state legislature. The Valley Breeze reports, however, that at a work session Monday night, Woonsocket's delegation to the General Assembly was not overly encouraging.

Rep. [Jon] Brien said that while he was glad to sponsor the legislation, it serves as no guarantee he'll be able to get it passed.

"Naturally there's going to be opposition in the room," said Brien. "It's not just cobbling together the 38 votes, it's cobbling together the functions of the leadership of both the House chamber and the Senate chamber." ...

Each member of the delegation asked a number of questions, many with the common theme: How can Woonsocket residents be sure this won't happen again? ...

Sen. Marc Cote said he was hesitant to support a tax plan based on the assumption that state legislation would later fix the structural problems. ...

"My fear is the constituency in the city of Woonsocket will not have the means to pay the bill," said [Rep Lisa] Baldelli-Hunt.

Woonsocket faces nothing but bad choices because, conversely, of course, without this supplemental tax, the city almost certainly would be tipped into receivership and bankruptcy.

One puzzling matter sticks out from Sandy Phaneuf's article. She lists the steps that the city has put in motion to extricate itself from involvency.

Plans to address the crisis include a 13 percent tax hike on all city property, a temporary 10 percent pay decrease for all municipal unions employees and a number of additional legislative measures that could decrease the city's obligations on everything from pensions to education mandates.

Question: why is the 13% supplemental tax permanent but the pay decrease for employees temporary?

In a related matter, it's worthwhile to note here Justin's determination on Ocean State Current that, contrary to the assertion by RI Federation of Teachers President Frank Flynn,

Teachers here in Woonsocket haven’t had a raise in five years

in fact, the current teachers contract includes $4.7 million in bonuses and step raises increases.

Eye Opening

Marc Comtois

It may have been noticed that I've been MIA for about a month. So, for those wondering, I learned on St. Patrick's Day that when an eyeball (my left one, in this case) collides with a soccer ball traveling 80+ mph, the soccer ball will win. Thankfully, there was no damage to my retinal nerve, but the orb got a good squishing (no rupture, thankfully) and hyphema (blood in the eye) occurred.

I've spent the last month doing nothing (and I mean nothing) but sitting (relatively) still and watching TV, doing minimal email and some very short reading using the cyclops method (ie; with one eye). The key is keeping head (and my eye) as "still" as possible so it can heal. I've been taken more eye drops than I thought possible and was on more glaucoma medicine than an 80 year old because my eye pressure was pretty high. I'm not very good at the "keeping still" part, but got better (once surgery was mentioned!) and, eventually, so has my eye.

I've now progressed from "couch potato" to "tortoise" mode. I'm also finding that extended time on the computer (now with two eyes!) is still a little taxing, but as it gets better, I hope to get back to regular blogging.

The Nanny State

Patrick Laverty

Some readers have questioned my conservative credibility, and that's fine, no worries there. We're all somewhere on the spectrum. However, the philosophical spectrum isn't just bi-directionally linear. There are other forks in the road in different directions from being conservative or liberal, and one is libertarianism.

I won't claim to be a staunch or strict libertarian like some, but I'm right there with many facets of it. I want a smaller government and when the government thinks they know what is best for me, I want to push back.

Some of you may have heard that WPRO's Matt Allen started a petition which he sent to the RI Speaker of the House calling for the repeal of last year's new law regarding seat belts. The 2011 law made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense in RI. This means that the police may now stop you in your car even if your only offense is not wearing your seat belt. Prior to this law, they needed another reason to stop you.

I've been listening to Matt on the radio and of course this all makes sense. We're all adults, we're responsible for ourselves and should be treated like responsible adults. If someone doesn't want to wear a seat belt in their car, let them. It's not hurting anyone else. The opposition tells us that wearing a seat belt is safer and you'll have a better chance of surviving a car accident if you're wearing it. Great, got it. We are informed, we are aware of the risks.

Another argument that those in favor of the law will tell us, like Speaker Fox did in his response to Matt and included in Justin's Ocean State Current post on the topic:

crashes cost the nation about $230 billion each year in medical expenses, lost productivity, property damage and related costs. Rhode Island pays $767 million of these costs, which accounts for $732 for each Rhode Island resident per year.
If we want one end of the libertarian argument, we should also accept the other. Let's make a deal here. If you choose to not wear a seat belt and are involved in a car accident that requires you to receive medical attention, you're on your own. You work out what you can with your own insurance company but any other costs are yours and yours alone. Don't burden me with your medical costs because you chose to not wear the safety device. Similarly, I support motorcyclists' right to not wear a helmet. However when they crash, I think they should be on their own for their medical care. I don't want to have to support their dumb decisions.

I also have to question the Assembly's motives on this. Is it really about personal safety, or is it about money? I guess the Speaker has already admitted it's at least partially about money, as he cited that in the accident statistics. However others will just argue that this law makes sense because it makes us safer, with no mention of money. I know on the radio, Matt has been using the logic used for this law in other areas. Let me try that for one: Why is cigarette smoking legal at all? If we truly care about peoples' health and safety and not money, then shouldn't tobacco products be banned immediately?

Easy answer, it's all about the money.

April 11, 2012

One's Playing Checkers, the Other is Playing Chess

Patrick Laverty

Come on now. When you are the incumbent, shouldn't you usually have the better team and the better responses available? Today's response and then response to the response posted on the RI NPR OnPolitics Blog, between Brendan Doherty and David Cicilline's spokeswoman wasn't even close. If this was a boxing match, it'd easily have been a 10-8 round.

Am I biased? Yes, of course I am, I'm able to admit that. However just about anyone could read these two releases and see it wasn't Nicole Kayner's finest hour.

For starters, the Doherty response to Cicilline's attempt at an apology was concise and very much on point. He continued to reinforce the points that the whole issue isn't as much about the fiscal situation in Providence. I think everyone is fully aware that the problem was not solely caused by David Cicciline. The issue here is how Cicilline handled it, possibly against the by-laws of the city, then concealed those actions, and then told us everything was fine. Worse yet, he tries to tell us that he's taking full responsibility while also telling us that he did not intentionally mislead us on the financial status of the city.

The Cicilline campaign chose to respond to the response. Fortunately, it's short enough to include here.

David Cicilline has accepted responsibility for decisions he made, including the decision to avoid a tax increase during a recession. He explained that he had been hopeful that the Carcieri administration would accept its responsibility to the cities and towns of the district rather than cut 40 million from the Providence budget. Mr. Doherty was Governor Carcieri’s protégé. His desire to defend the Republican administration is understandable if wrongheaded. These drastic cuts really hurt cities and towns all across Rhode Island. While Doherty is busy attacking David, he is silent on the leaders of his party, who are obstructing the passage of a bipartisan transportation bill that passed the Senate with 74 votes which would bring 9,000 jobs to Rhode Island.
Let's take a close look at this. I'll leave aside the semantics of whether it was due to being a recession or an election year that Cicilline chose to not increase taxes. Then it's all attack mode. Put all the blame on Carcieri. What'd Carcieri do? He submitted a budget that could have been the Sunday comics for all the power he had to go along with it. It is the state's General Assembly that controls the budget. The same General Assembly that ripped the current Governor's budget proposal to shreds last year. The Assembly can do whatever they want with the budget, the Governor is virtually powerless to do anything about it. If you want to blame anyone for cuts in state aid, the Speaker (who just happens to be from Providence) and the then-Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino, also from Providence, would be a great place to start.

Lastly, I had to laugh at the mention of Doherty not criticizing Congressional Republicans. That is laughable since Doherty isn't even a member of Congress yet, but Cicilline thought it appropriate to lump Doherty in with them. To even suggest that Doherty should be critical of members of his own party is in itself hypocritical. Have we seen a single instance recently where Cicilline has criticized the Obama administration? He can't even bring himself to criticize the Democrat-led Rhode Island General Assembly!

Read both releases and I'm guessing you might agree that this wasn't Kayner's best day as it includes quite a bit of reaching for straws. However, with Sunday night fast approaching, this might be their last chance to pay any attention to Doherty for a few months.

Wednesday Political Roundup

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made a campaign appearance in Warwick today. Justin liveblogged the event at the Ocean State Current.

Anthony Gemma announced a Sunday announcement "regarding his political intentions that will positively impact the political, economic, and cultural fates of Rhode Island and, by extension, the United States of America for the foreseeable future" (via Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio). I'd offer a remark on this announcement being slightly overblown, but they've already all been taken.

First District Republican Congressional Candidate Brendan Doherty offered a response to Congressman David Cicilline's expression of regret for having described Providence as being in excellent financial condition (via GoLocalProv).

Given all of this other stuff that was going on, Mike Gardiner picked kind of a bad day to officially announce his second-time bid to win the GOP nomination for RI's Second District Congressional seat.

April 10, 2012

Cicilline "Apologizes"

Patrick Laverty

Now what could I possibly have to say negative about David Cicilline finally admitting that he misled the voters and may not have described Providence's financial picture accurately and is now apologizing? Why am I using the quotes in the title? Well, lets take a look at Tim White's story about the Cicilline apology.

Congressman David Cicilline offered a public apology and expressed regret Tuesday for saying during his 2010 campaign that Providence was in "excellent financial condition."

“I should not have used that word,” Cicilline said in a wide-ranging interview with WPRI 12. “It obviously doesn’t describe the condition the city is in [and] it was never my intention to mislead people intentionally.”

Oh no? It wasn't your intent to mislead people? What was your intent when you said the city was in "excellent financial condition?" I'm trying to figure this one out. What I would ask is was he aware that the city was not in fact, in "excellent financial condition?" Did he believe at the time of the statement that the city was in "excellent financial condition?" If he didn't believe the city was doing so well, then why did he make the statement if it wasn't to intentionally mislead people? It might seem that when he's apologizing for not telling the truth, he might still not be telling the truth.

Sorry, I'm just still stuck on that "mislead people intentionally" part. He's saying that it wasn't a lie. So if he wasn't intentionally misleading people, how did that statement come about? Either he thought Providence was in fine financial shape or he didn't and used the words to intentionally mislead. Which is it? Do we need to cite the multiple examples of how he had to have known that the city was in tough shape? From the blocking of the city auditor to the "tapping into the rainy-day fund – without councilors' approval" and even his own statements about the loss of state funding. How could he not know that the city was in trouble financially? If he didn't, he was clearly the most incompetent mayor in the history of America. So I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he isn't that and just leave it that even the apology isn't the most sincere.

And yes, of course we have to question the timing of this "apology." Just like two years ago when he was telling us what we wanted to hear, that everything was all rosy with the finances, he's trying that trick again. Tell people what they want to hear, that he's sorry, he's apologizing, give him another shot. So this is twice now that he's tried this trick. Or is it?

I'm sure Firefighters Local 799 remembers 2002 and dealing with then mayoral candidate Cicilline. Local 799 had their own ongoing dispute with the Providence mayors but then

In a July 2002 email Cicilline sent to the members of Local 799, he indicated that he hoped to resolve their pending contract dispute with the city within 30 days of taking office.
In an election year, exactly what the union wanted to hear! Someone on their side! Their guy! Elect Cicilline and the contract will finally get done, right? Wrong. On March 23, 2010 Ian Donnis wrote:
The long-running dispute between Providence firefighters and City Hall appears headed for resolution.
Right. It was eight years later that the deal was done. And take note of the year it was done. Yes! Another election year!

So there you have it. Quite the pattern of saying one thing during a campaign and either doing something different or not really meaning what you say. Three concrete examples. What more do we need? What's that old saying, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, I must be a Rhode Island voter."

Santorum Out

Carroll Andrew Morse

Multiple media sources are reporting that Rick Santorum has suspended his Presidential campaign. An official annoucement is expected soon, if it's not happening at the moment.

Langevin's Challenger (Riley) Attracts Potential $upport From National Organization

Monique Chartier

The Providence Journal's John Mulligan reports.

The leader of a conservative group that spent about $165,000 to attack then-congressional candidate David N. Cicilline in 2010 wants to help unseat Rep. James R. Langevin in 2012, he said Monday.

Democrat Langevin is “a tax-and-spend liberal” who faces a “viable” challenger in Republican Michael G. Riley, said Christopher Stenberg of Americans for Common Sense Solutions. Riley has already demonstrated a willingness to tap his personal assets for the race, he said, while incumbent Langevin “has a weakness in his own fundraising.”

What's interesting is not just that a Republican candidate - two, actually, the group will also be supporting Brendan Doherty - would receive support from a national organization. (John Loughlin was also a recipient of this organization last election.) It's that it would happen so early in the campaign.

On behalf of Rhode Islanders who would like to see more domestic oil flowing into the world's supply, who would like far fewer tax dollars flowing from our wallets to fiscally unsustainable green manufacturing, and who don't appreciate being dictated to about light bulbs (to pick just one issue - energy - about which Congressman Langevin is seriously misguided), let me say: thanks, "Americans for Common Sense Solutions". We appreciate all the assistance we can get in dislodging our bad congressmen.

(I'm having a nice, serene day. So for the moment, I'm not going to link to or even think about just HOW BAD the congressman from the first district is. He might be knocked out in a primary - oooohmmm. He might not run at all. Oooooooohmmm.)

April 9, 2012

Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 10 - April 12, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

7. S2302: Constitutional amendment providing for 1) four-year terms for state Senators and 2) an 8-year term limit on both Senators and Representatives (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 11). As currently written, the amendment would have voters choose an entire Senate class every fourth year starting in 2014. I would humbly suggest rewriting the bill to follow the method used for the Federal Senate, and have half of the seats up for election every two years.

6. Several proposals to change item-specific sales taxes: a $1.28 per gallon "sugar-sweetened beverage tax upon every sugar-sweetened beverage, syrup, powder or other base product sold within the state of Rhode Island" (H7342), a reduction in the gasoline tax from $0.32 to $0.27 per gallon (H7638) and a reduction in the cigarette tax from 173 to 123 mills per cigarette which the official description says is a reduction of $1.00 per pack (H7639) (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

5. H7129: Repeal of the $500 minimum franchise tax on most Rhode Island corporations and the $500 minimum corporate income tax on most Rhode Island C-Corps and LLCs, which are two separate taxes under Rhode Island law (though payment of one can be credited towards the other) (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

4. 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; Tue, Apr 10).

3B. S2294: Prohibits law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a complainant or a witness. Also, S2330 prohibits landlords from inquiring into the immigration status of tenants and prospective tenants (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

3A. S2216: Requires all employers in Rhode Island (employing 3 or more persons) to participate in E-verify by 2014 (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

2. A series of bills regarding abortion, including civil penalties for forcing someone to have an abortion (H7009), a provision allowing "a physician or certified counselor" to authorize an abortion for a minor in cases where parents have not given consent (H7754), a requirement that a woman seeking an abortion be provided with an ultrasound of the unborn child (H7205), several bills imposing criminal penalties for harming an unborn child during an unlawful assault on another (H7006, H7010, H7091), a general ban on government interference with a woman's decisions to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability or at any time where the life or health of the mother is involved (H7041) and a ban on using abortion for sex-selection (H7114) (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 11).

1. All seven items comprising Governor Chafee's municipal reform package: S2823 relating to school district accounting compliance; S2824 limiting allowed retirement benefits according to "the actuarial value of benefits afforded under the municipal employees retirement system"; S2825 allowing suspensions of benefit adjustments for pension plans in critical status; S2826 relating to distressed community relief ; S2827 changing the dates for payment of state education aid; S2828 modifying disability pensions in cases where the beneficiary receives other income and S2829 exempting payments made to compensate for past deficits from school district maintenance of effort calculations (S Finance; Thu, Apr 12). Additional detail on the municipal reform bills is available here.

Coming up in Committee: Seventeen Sets of Bills and a Bunch of Community Service Grants Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 10 - April 12, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

One set of items on the House Finance agenda very different from anything that has come up in this session so far are labeled officially as "community service grants", which are being heard at three separate early afternoon hearings this week...

Local Impact: New Shoreham, North Kingstown, Providence, Smithfield 2, Warren.

17. S2706: The continuing battle in this session to make small-scale renting of motor vehicles more regulated and more difficult. This one says you have to be licensed to rent one motor vehicle one time during a year; current law says you don't have to be licensed until you rent "more than five motor vehicles" (S Corporations; Tue, Apr 10).

16. S2160: A constitutional amendment(!) requiring General Assembly members to "contribute twenty percent (20%) towards the premium for health care coverage paid for by the State of Rhode Island" (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 11).

15. H7996: 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 (H Labor; Tue, Apr 10).

14. S2480: Allows hospitals to open ambulatory care sites without obtaining individual licenses for them (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 11).

13. H7173: A statutory "bill of rights" for homeless individuals, including "the right to fair, decent and affordable housing in the community of his or her choosing, and access to safe and proximate shelter until such housing can be attained". (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10). Question: Could an unlimited number of people use this section of the proposed law to sue for their right to housing in New Shoreham?

12. S2122: "[A]ny university, college or other non-profit educational institution which has not entered into a tax treaty with the municipality wherein it is located, shall not be considered tax exempt and its real and personal property shall be subject to taxation by the municipality in the same manner as other businesses taxed by the municipality" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 11).

11. H7722: The language on this is a little specialized, but I think this bill allows municipalities to assess "private nonprofit institutions of higher education" a $150 fee per dorm room per semester" (H Finance; Tue, Apr 10).

10B. S2727: Prohibits the use of an individual's credit report or credit history for making employment decisions (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

10A. S2411/S2678: "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 (S Judiciary; Tue, Apr 10).

9B. S2526: Unionization of and a binding arbitration process for (including wage and pay rate issues) Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation employees (S Labor; Wed, Apr 11).

9A. S2425: Binding arbitration on wage and pay rate issues, and non-expiring contracts for municipal employees (S Labor; Wed, Apr 11).

8. S2361: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST). A MOLST is defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 11). The basic question about this bill is whether it is intended to make it easier or harder to end life-sustaining treatment for a patient who cannot make decisions for him or herself, relative to existing law.

The Current Week 04/01/12 - 04/07/12

Justin Katz


Rep. Trillo: Casino Research Should Seek Equal Revenue, Include Allens Ave. - Investigative report
Rep. Joseph Trillo supports a casino ballot question, but he has submitted legislation for a broader study of ways to increase RI's gambling revenue, possibly including a casino on Allens Ave. in Providence.
04/02/12 - Central Coventry Fire District Annual Meeting - Liveblog
Justin writes live from a contentious Central Coventry Fire District annual meeting in Coventry.

AG's Gambling Bill Leaves State Lottery to Self-Police - Analysis
A bill originating in the attorney general's office transfers all authority over casino gambling in RI to the Division of Lotteries and omits "conflict of interest" rules for its employees.
Video for 04/02/12 Central Coventry Fire District Meeting - Liveblog
"On the go" video from the Central Coventry Fire District special meeting on 04/02/12.

04/04/12 - Senate Committee on Special Legislation - Liveblog
Justin writes live from the Senate Committee on Special Legislation, with particular interest in casino-related legislation submitted on behalf of the attorney general.

04/05/12 - House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources - Liveblog
Justin writes live from the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources hearing, including (for one thing) creation of a new public consortium with powers of eminent domain.

Bill Centralizes School Budgeting a Piece at a Time - Analysis
Governor Chafee's legislative package for municipal relief includes a bill, S2823, that would expand and deepen the Dept. of Education's authority over school budgets, including general oversight of municipal budgets, as well.

Justin's Case

The Weekend Distraction of Hunger Games - Opinion
While determining whether to let his daughter read it, Justin found himself with an opinion about The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

Education Formula for Results, Not Just Funding - Opinion
Observing some points in the national education debate, Justin suggests a shift in how we align funding with measures of success.
The Supply Chain Is Not Immortal - Analysis
From digital cameras to cancer treatments, the supply chain is not immune to disruption, and the drive to build the perfect system cannot rely on an assumption that the status quo will hold.

Government Legal Action Isn't About the Money (But Isn't the Money Grand?) - Opinion
Justin expresses concerns that a windfall forfeiture from Google to government agencies is further evidence of dangerous incentives for an entity that has the authority to tax, regulate, imprison, and kill.
Paiva Weed on Senators' Misconduct; the Rhode Island Way; and National Popular Vote - Opinion
Justin reacts to Sen. President Paiva Weed's latest Ruggerio statement with an explanation of the end-all-be-all of political consequences, which don't exist in Rhode Island.

The General Fund Revenue Surplus Continues to Disappear - Analysis
Updated "budget to actual" numbers show that the extra state revenue once heralded as a sign of economic recovery continues to fade.
Caps on College Loan Interest Shift Pressure Away from the Problem - Opinion
Democrats in Congress are looking to slow the expanding cost of financing college while people are beginning to notice the questionable priorities of the institutions that ultimately collect their money.  Justin suggests that it would be better to rethink the entire system.
Unabridged Video of Sen. Pres. Paiva Weed's Short Presser; DUI Victim & Candidate Keith Anderson Goes Beyond "No Comment" - Liveblog
Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed and Sen. Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio have issued releases insisting that we move on from the latter's DUI and its aftermath. GA candidate Keith Anderson, victim of a drunk driver's poor judgment, expresses disappointment.

Gambling as a Regressive Tax - Opinion
Justin wonders why the concern of left-wing commentator Robert Reich that state-run gambling is a regressive tax receives no voice in Rhode Island.

Two Views of Government on the Projo Opinion Page - Opinion
Justin points out the interesting contrast of two opinion pieces in Tuesday's Projo, one an unsigned editorial and the other a column by Ed Achorn.
Only the First Lawsuit Is Necessary to Erase Culture, Apparently - Opinion
Three incidents of public-school censorship lead Justin to conclude that "offense" is trumping a heritage that fostered social health and progress.

The Conservative Message of Hunger Games? - Opinion
Colleen Conley finds a metaphor for D.C. in the Hunger Games; Justin hopes it indicates a shift in political understanding.

April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

Carroll Andrew Morse


(Art created by Donut Diva)

April 7, 2012

Derb Cut Loose on a Saturday

Justin Katz

So, National Review has let John Derbyshire go:

His latest provocation, in a webzine, lurches from the politically incorrect to the nasty and indefensible. We never would have published it, but the main reason that people noticed it is that it is by a National Review writer. Derb is effectively using our name to get more oxygen for views with which we’d never associate ourselves otherwise. So there has to be a parting of the ways. Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.

Longtime readers of the National Review corner of the commentary world will note the genre in which Derb is writing. He's long relished the reaction that being politically incorrect to the verge of retrograde elicits. Whatever his private views might be, one suspects that his biases are insignificant in the shadow of his enjoyment of mischief.

What gives this recent episode such an air of sad error is that the piece, while clearly indefensible, reads like tone-deaf parody. Derbyshire recently acknowledged a dire reason that he's been off his game, lately:

The fact is, I have been under the influence of bendamustine. (Trade name Treanda; though that always looks to me like something I'd see on the name tag of a check-out girl at the local discount store. "That'll be $14.95." "Here you go." "Thank you, Sir. Have a nice day." "You too, Treanda.")

The nature of the influence is that my IQ seems to have dropped about 20 points, and my life processes have slowed to a crawl. Was there really a time when I simultaneously plotted and wrote books, conducted major home repairs, kept up a busy journalistic schedule, paid attention to my wife and kids, and took frequent breaks for travel? It seems incredible. This last few weeks, by the time I've roused myself from bed, got through necessary ablutions, checked my e-mail, and eaten a boiled egg, it's 10:30 p.m. and time to go back to bed.

Bendamustine, as Derb provides a link to explain, is a heavy-duty drug for treating cancer.

I don't see that National Review had any option but to disassociate itself from such an essay and its author. About the best one can hope — and it's far short of a defense to say it — is that Derbyshire's judgment has been so impaired that he didn't realize that he'd marched so far beyond the line as to enter a whole different realm from the merely controversial. Even had the piece found no greater audience than whatever the obscure Web site that published it can claim, Derbyshire's primary literary home would likely have found itself coming to the same conclusion.

It's a shame, though... first, that no editor protected John Derbyshire from himself and, second, that politics had to be politics, with the calls for his head seeming completely unmitigated by any acknowledgment of his circumstances.

The Gov't Giveth and the Gov't Taketh Away: State Diverts Half a Million in School Aid to Select Vendors

Monique Chartier

In a move that should set off alarm bells in (state-aid receiving) school boards around the state, Ed Comm Deborah Gist will pay three overdue school invoices directly and reduce state aid to the Woonsocket school department by that amount.

Three vendors owed money by the Woonsocket Education Department will receive the funds directly from the Rhode Island Department of Education, thanks to a decision this week by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist.

The state will withhold a total of $555,000 in education aid for Woonsocket, instead paying monthly invoices to three programs that provide services for some of the city's disabled students. NRI Community Services, Action Based Enterprises/Hillside Alternative Program and the Sargent Center, all private schools providing special education programs, will receive past-due tuitions for Woonsocket students from RIDE, bypassing the school department. The funds were scheduled to be disbursed to WED at a rate of $185,000 a month.

First of all, does anyone know whether this action has any precedent? Not legal, just historic - i.e., has this ever been done before?

Of course, these invoices represent vital services that are provided to Woonsocket students. Then again, isn't most of the school budget comprised of vital services? Can the school system do without teachers, for example, or fuel oil or electricity or et cetera?

But isn't it the role of the school committee to determine how school dollars are spent? Granted, as with the mayoral powers of Central Falls' Charles "Board-Up" Moreau (D-Lincoln), though for substantially different reasons, there probably couldn't be a worse example of an elected official/body in the state to attempt to defend. With its inexcusable lack of oversight of a rogue superintendent and business manager, the prior Woonsocket School Committee has placed the city on the precipice of bankruptcy. Additionally, the results of its (in)actions and possible malfeasance might well become the target of a police investigation.

Additionally, there is no disregarding that Commissioner Gist's act comes down, if you'll excuse the cliche, to a pragmatic "golden rule": he who has the gold makes the rules. If the state is handing out aid, ultimately, they're going to do what the heck they want, up to and including showing preference to certain unpaid vendors of a floundering school department.

At the same time, this action evokes a distinctly queasy unease: it appears to violate state law that dictates that school committees shall determine how school budget dollars are spent and, presumably, when they are disbursed. Additionally, where does it end? Does this establish a new, questionable pattern of a (current or future) state Education Commissioner stepping in and accelerating the payment to a local vendor?

Larger issue: regardless of the soundness of the specific decision, what is the benefit of state government reaching down and meddling - sorry, there is no other word for it - in a local budget matter?

[Coincidentally, over at Ocean State Current, Justin expresses similar concerns on a different front - that a bill submitted as "part of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s package of legislation to address the budgetary problems of Rhode Island’s cities and towns" might be the first step towards a state move to centralize school budgeting.]

April 6, 2012

Fish on Fridays

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

April 5, 2012

Expungement and Ciccone's Arrest Record: Because If It's Expunged, It Didn't Happen

Monique Chartier

Yes, as Andrew notes, Ian Donnis points out at On Politics that Senator Ciccone has an arrest record.

State Senator Frank A. Ciccone, under fire for threatening comments allegedly made to Barrington police during a road stop last week, was arrested twice in the early 1980s and testified under immunity against the late former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua during his 1986 impeachment trial.

In his article, Ian is careful to credit the source of this information: not the state judiciary's defendant database but the Providence Journal.

ProJo stories describing Ciccone’s past are behind the newspaper’s pay wall, which could help explain why the information hasn’t surfaced until now.

More specifically, these reports are in the ProJo's archives. I can provide no link to them, however, because, as Ian pointed out in an e-mail this morning, their archives were placed behind a pay wall long before the paper was.

What was illuminating was Senator Ciccone's reaction when Ian brought up this ... history.

Asked about the arrests, Ciccone — in an apparent reference to how the charges were expunged — said, “Show me the arrest records … Show me the arrest records.” Senate aides stepped in to end the interview as yesterday’s session was being called to order.

The Senate session was starting. Yeah, that's the ticket. Aids had to step in because the Senate session was starting, not because Senator Ciccone had given a patently Tommy Flanagan answer.

Gee, Senator, we can't show you the arrest records. They were expunged, remember? But much as you and/or the victims might wish it otherwise, that doesn't mean that the crimes weren't committed.

Governor Chafee Questions Higher Education Costs

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo's Gina Macris reports today that Governor Lincoln Chafee is not happy with the management of public education finance in Rhode Island...

The Board of Governors for Higher Education should have known better than to negotiate 3 percent compounded raises at the public colleges for the next three years, when other state employees, taxpayers, and families of college students are so challenged, Governor Chafee said Thursday.
Operating costs for "Public Higher Education" plus the "Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority", consolidated into one item in this year's budget, grow in the Governor's budget by 2.8% over the amount spent last year (which involved a $9 million+ overrun of the originally budgeted amount), for a total of 10.8% growth over the past two years...

FY 2013 Request$983,006,187
FY 2012 Revised$956,245,535
FY 2011 Audited$887,212,753

To his credit, Governor Chafee seems to realize that this kind budget growth cannot continue indefinitely, even if a nearly 11% increase in operating costs implemented over two years might be the kind of spending that some Rhode Island progressives refer to as "austerity".

April 4, 2012

Notes on Senator Ciccone's Demotion

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. By now, you've probably heard one of the media reports on Rhode Island State Senator Frank Ciccone being removed from/giving up (more on the slash in point 4) his Chairmanship of the Senate Government Oversight Committee and his membership on the Senate Finance Committee. He kept his assignment as Vice-Chairman of the Labor Committee.

2. Government Oversight is the committee which gets the first crack at gubernatorial appointments, and the Finance Committees of the Rhode Island General Assembly are special positions within the legislature because of their role (or at least their potential role) in the annual budgetary process, so these are more than cosmetic changes.

3. Rhode Island Senate Rule 5.2 states that...

Each senator other than the president and the majority and minority leaders, shall serve as a member of one of the following standing committees: committee on housing and municipal government; committee on corporations; committee on finance; committee on the judiciary.
...so technically speaking, Senator Ciccone can't serve only on the Labor Committee (is this waivable with the Senator's consent?). However, the larger point is that, according to Senate Rules as well as general legislative practice, every Senator must be allowed to sit on at least one committee; the Senator cannot be stripped of all committee assignments.

4. Philip Marcelo's report in the Projo mentions that the decision on which committee assignments to give up was "mutual" between Senator Ciccone and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed. This too is consistent with Senate Rule 5.2...

Each of the standing committees of the senate shall consist of the president of the senate and the majority and minority leaders of the senate, ex officio, with voting rights, and senators appointed by the president of the senate, each to serve until January 1, 2013. Provided, however, that the president of the senate may change the committee assignment of a member with the member's consent.
This is actually a pretty decent rule, protecting Senators from having their committee assignments changed if the Senate President decides she doesn't like how votes are being cast during a session.

5. In the reaction to Senator Ciccone's demotion given to Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12), Rhode Island Common Cause Executive Director John Marion mentioned the ethics legislation pending before the RI Senate...

John Marion, executive director of good-government group Common Cause Rhode Island, told WPRI.com that stripping Ciccone of two key committee assignments should only be a first step by Paiva Weed.

"Common Cause is pleased that Senator Ciccone was held responsible for attempting to abuse his power as a state senator," Marion said. "We hope the Senate leadership continues to support accountability by letting the voters restore the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission over the General Assembly this November."

...but Senator Ciccone's behavior in office should also bring to mind the persistence of the master lever straight-party voting option in Rhode Island elections. Whether Senator Ciccone will retain his right to sit on at least one Senate committee and participate in Senate floor actions after 2012 will depend on whether the voters of his district put him back in office or not -- and if the argument is that Senator Ciccone should be able to personally wield governing power for as long as the voters in his district assent to his holding office, and that nothing else really matters, then it is not unreasonable to require that he be personally selected by a plurality of the voters in his district.

A bill to eliminate the master lever (S2060) has been introduced to the Rhode Island Senate. It is being held by Senate Leadership for further study, which means it can be brought back to committee for a vote in this session.


On the less procedurally-oriented side of the story, Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio has discovered two arrests (that did not lead to felony convictions) in Senator Ciccone's past, which according to a Providence Journal from the early 1990s, involved activities such as "carrying a loaded shotgun in a moving car and smashing a window at a bar" and "punch[ing] a cab driver and his passenger". Donnis also reports that Ciccone "testified under immunity against the late former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua during his 1986 impeachment trial".

Loughlin Resigns from Hinckley Campaign

Carroll Andrew Morse

John E. Mulligan of the Projo is reporting that John Loughlin has resigned as the campaign spokesman for GOP Senate Candidate Barry Hinckley...

John J. Loughlin II has resigned as spokesman for Republican Barry Hinckley's Senate campaign, after taking responsibility for an erroneous charge leveled against a tax proposal by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
The "erroneous charge" refers to a press release put out by the Hinckley campaign which claimed that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's so-called "Buffett Rule" bill would cause property taxes to rise due to an impact on municipal bond investment, despite the fact that "the Whitehouse legislation would not affect the tax treatment of municipal bonds" (also reported on by Mulligan).

Lesson #1 from this: Rhode Islanders, even well-meaning ones, need to get over their obsession that all taxation issues can be reduced to how they impact the property tax, and that the property tax is a bad tax while other taxes are good taxes.

Lesson #2 from this: The country needs to get over its obsession that "how will this impact bondholders" is the primary question for evaluating any public policy change.

April 3, 2012

From Spaccone To Surreal: Senator Ciccone Had Proposed Letting The Senate (Ethically) Police Itself

Monique Chartier

How did I miss Item #3 from Ted Nesi's most recent "Saturday Morning Post"? (Thanks to a friend for pointing it out. H/T John Depetro for invoking an excellent Italian word to describe the senator's now notorious actions last week.)

... The majority leader’s arrest report was released Wednesday morning by Barrington Police Chief John LaCross, who has another official role in public life: LaCross was appointed to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission a year ago by Governor Chafee. And who’s fought hardest to make sure LaCross and his fellow commissioners don’t get back the power to police lawmakers’ ethics? Senate President Paiva Weed, Ruggerio and the rest of the chamber’s leadership. In fact, Ciccone himself drafted a proposal to let senators police themselves.

That's right, "let senators police themselves". Take it, Kathy Gregg (two years ago).

The Senate Rules Committee is considering a proposal to let the state Senate adopt its own conflict-of-interest rules, and police the behavior of its own members. ...

Not everyone is enthralled with the idea.

"Common Cause opposes any plan to have the Rhode Island Senate police itself,'' says John Marion, executive director of the citizens' advocacy group. "Historically efforts by legislatures to monitor their behavior internally have been unsuccessful. One need look no further than the U.S. Senate, whose Ethics Committee has fallen into a partisan stalemate,'' Marion said. ...

Maselli said there is no written proposal yet, but Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, is working on one ...

You know, some people would say the reason that the Rhode Island Senate shouldn't have their "own internal conflict-of-interest rules" is because they are not capable of policing themselves. The incident involving Senator Frank Ciccone last Wednesday is a great opportunity to prove them wrong. That night, as Dan Yorke phrased it well yesterday, Senator Ciccone used the power of the Senate chamber as a weapon to intimidate. Is the Senate going to stand for that? Or perhaps the Senate would prefer to go the criminal route and ask A.G. Kilmartin to press charges against Senator Ciccone for obstructing a police officer in the conduct of his duties?

To use an expression of one of my favorite interviewers, "What say ye, Madame Senate President?".

April 2, 2012

Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 3 - April 5, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

8. H7592: Creates a board called the "East Bay Energy Consortium", with members selected by East Bay town councils and granted the power, amongst others, "to fix, charge and collect rents, fees, rates, and charges for the use of any project or the electricity generated or delivered thereby and to make assessments and impose reasonable and just user charges" (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5). Apparently the legislature thinks things are going too smoothly between East Bay residents and the Bristol County Water Authority, so they want to throw another regional body with revenue collecting powers into the works.

7. H7735: Detailed procedures for dealing with and possibly altering a patient's "medical order for life sustaining treatment" (MOLST). A MOLST is defined as a "request regarding resuscitative measures that directs a health care provider regarding resuscitative and life sustaining measures" (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Apr 4). The basic question about this bill is whether it is intended to make it easier or harder to end life-sustaining treatment for a patient who cannot make decisions for him or herself, relative to existing law.

6. S2737: 100% of "new revenues from either new and/or expanded forms of gambling shall be deposited into a restricted receipt account to fund elementary and secondary education on a state and local level" -- and the state is not allowed to reduce education funding from other sources, as a result of the new revenue (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 4).

5. S2406: Changes the ratio of 40% state/60% local for the employer contribution to the public school teacher retirement system, currently fixed in state law, to a state/local split that will be "each year determined by the Rhode Island department of elementary and secondary education" (S Finance; Wed, Apr 4).

4. H7388: 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 (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3). Supposedly this bill is motivated by a desire to have Presidential candidates pay more attention to Rhode Island, but that goal could be achieved -- in time for the 2012 election -- by honoring the choice made by Rhode Island voters, and only awarding electors on a winner take-all basis to a candidate who receives 62.5% of the state's popular vote. Full explanation here.

3B. Proposed changes in the motor vehicle tax "exemption" and corresponding reimbursement. H7253 Raises the motor vehicle tax "exemption" back to $6,000 in distressed communities. H7350 sets the exemption at $3,000 in all RI communities and adds "the mileage of the vehicle" to the list of factors used to determine vehicle value (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 5).

3A. H7224: Mandates that car tax valuations be set according to "Kelley Blue Book values...for new vehicles for the year and vehicle model in question", plus this formula:

Relative to the manufacture year of a vehicle, the excise tax paid on the vehicle or trailer shall be on one hundred percent (100%) of the vehicle’s presumptive value. Thereafter, in the sixth (6th) year, the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of ninety-five percent (95%) of the presumptive value, and shall be reduced in each subsequent year by five percent (5%) until years fifteen (15) through nineteen (19), at which time the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of fifty percent (50%) of the presumptive value. Thereafter in year twenty (20), the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of forty-five percent (45%) of the presumptive value, and shall be reduced five percent (5%) per year in each subsequent year until years twenty-three (23) and twenty-four (24), in which the vehicle shall be taxed at a rate of thirty percent (30%) of the presumptive value.
The bill also says that vehicle owners dissatisfied with the formula appraisal can submit an individual appraisal from a licensed RI appraiser. However, the law doesn't say that the vehicle value commission has to do anything with that appraisal; it just adds an outside appraisal to the list of items that can be considered in the appeal process that is already on the books, but rarely if ever used to modify a valuation (H Municipal Government; Thu, Apr 5). Not having consulted with anyone about this bill, and speaking only for myself, I don't think this is going to satisfy the Warwick Car Tax Revolters and others who have been active in this issue.

2. H7603: State Constitutional amendment (requiring approval by the voters) making clear that Ethics Committee jurisdiction extends to the state legislature (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

1B. H7859: 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, Apr 3).

1A. H7899: Resolution asking Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to roll-back First Amendment protections and allow government restriction of both corporate and individual political activity (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

Coming up in Committee: Nineteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 3 - April 5, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Local Impact: Barrington, Middletown/Newport, Pawtucket, 2 3 4, North Providence, Portsmouth, Providence, Warren 2.

19. A potpourri of bills illustrating that no matter what the top issues of the day are in the State of Rhode Island, no subject is too small to escape the General Assembly's attention...

  • H7791: From the official description: "This act would provide that the price for propane gas would be expressed in terms of the sum of any fees divided by the number of gallons delivered" (H Corporations; Tue, Apr 3).
  • H7590: Adds arboriculture and production of wood mulch to the "Right to Farm" section of state law (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5).
  • H7674: The base used for pre-calculated gratuities at restaurants is not to include "any applicable taxes" (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).
  • S2703: A rewrite of horse racing, jai alai and other gaming regulations submitted by the Attorney General (S Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs; Wed, Apr 4).
  • S2691: Employers would be given the option of observing holidays that fall on Sundays on a later date in the calendar year (S Labor; Wed, Apr 4).

18. S2270/S2271/S2272: Changes to the state's motion-picture tax credits (S Finance; Thu, Apr 5).

17. H7801: Provisions for the removal of derelict and abandoned vessels in state waterways (H Environment and Natural Resources; Thu, Apr 5). You mean we don't have provisions for this already?

16. H7193: Prohibits "educational level or homeowner status" from being used in the determination of automobile insurance rates (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

15. S2307: Repeal of the section of the law allowing pay-day lenders to operate in Rhode Island; S2832: would allow pay-day lenders to continue to operate, while tightening their regulation (S Corporations; Tue, Apr 3).

14. H7282/H7357: Prohibits charging fees for debit card usage (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

13B. H7359: 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 (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

13A. H7409: A prohibition on price gouging of essential commodities "upon a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor, or federal disaster declaration by the president, or during an actual or anticipated market emergency" (H Corporations; Wed, Apr 4).

12. H7060: An extension of parts of campaign finance regulation to local financial town meetings and referendums (H Judiciary; Tue, Apr 3).

11. S2318: Changes the allocation of state aid to charter schools for capital costs (S Finance; Tue, Apr 3).

10. S2374: Raises the minimum wage to $7.75 per hour beginning in 2014, then raises it on an annual basis according to the rate of inflation (S Labor; Wed, Apr 4).

9. Several bills submitted at the request of the Attorney General, including increased sentences for crimes committed in association with "criminal street gangs" (H7843), the use of an "ignition interlock system" being part of the possible sentence for driving-under-the-influence (H7332), and a new section of law defining crimes against the public trust which carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine (H7755) (H Judiciary; Wed, Apr 4).

The Current Week, 03/26/12-03/30/12

Justin Katz


Consolidation Becomes a Battle for Power in North Kingstown - Investigative report
Proposals from North Kingstown school superintendent Philip Auger could change a balance of power that some already see as out of whack.
03/27/12 - House Committee on Labor - Liveblog
Justin writes live and extemporaneously from the House Committee on Labor hearing concerning E-Verify.

Newport Grand Casino Legislation Quietly Amended Based on Twin Rivers Study - Investigative report
In the space of three minutes, the Senate Committee on Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs had amended and approved legislation calling for a public vote allowing state-run casino operations in Newport Grand and Twin River without further economic analysis.
03/29/12 - David Carlin on Christianity and Party Politics in 2012 - Liveblog
Justin writes live from a speech talk by David Carlin on Christianity and Party Politics.\

Justin's Case

Woonsocket Teachers Receive $4.7 Million in Raises and Bonuses in Current Contract - Research
Far from receiving "no raises," the increases in pay of the teaching staff in Woonsocket amount to $4.7 million over the period covered by their current contract.
Contrary to Left-Leaning Analysis, Tax Rates Do Correlate with a Healthy Economy - Analysis
A study being touted by left-leaning think tanks defines economic health dubiously by leaving out population and workforce growth.
On Dan Yorke to Discuss Woonsocket Raises - Interview/profile
Audio of Justin's appearance on the Dan Yorke Show relates to the larger questions of structure and strategy that Rhode Island has to answer.
Large Field of Central Falls Charter Review Commission Applicants Still of Ambiguous Import - Opinion
Justin considers whether a flurry of applicants to Central Falls' Charter Review Commission is evidence that the city can yet avoid the hard lessons of self governance.

Teacher Steps in the Law, Not Above the Law - Analysis
Step increases for teachers are, indeed, mandated by law, but that does not change them into something other than raises or present the public with a single path forward.

Engineering Complexity into Healthcare - Opinion
Justin worries that increasing complexity of health insurance arrangements that attempt to factor in patient outcomes take a more dangerous path than just allowing patients to find (and pay for) the doctors who suit them.
House Labor Committee Calls Out Ocean State Tea Party in Action... Again - Investigative report
Reps. Williams and Guthrie opened yesterday's House Labor hearing with an objection to a legislative alert from the Ocean State Tea Party in Action that inferred legislators' opinions on teacher-related issues.  Reviewing the transcripts allows readers to decide who is misrepresenting what.
The State Table Games Corporation Nears Reality - Opinion
Justin notes the movement of Newport Grand casino gambling through the General Assembly and suggests that a government-run casino may not benefit the people of Rhode Island.
03/28/12 - Senate Special Legislation Hearing - Liveblog
Justin checks out a (warm and uncomfortable) Senate Special Legislation hearing concerning Newport Grand table games.

Conspicuous Timing Between Alinsky and Unfruitful Spending - Opinion
Noting a chronological coincidence of Saul Alinsky's influence on teachers' unions and leveling results (with higher expenditures), Justin suggests that reevaluation might be wise.
Tax Hike Kills Four Times More Jobs than Resisting Casinos - Analysis
Comparing job loss estimates related to casino gambling with those related to taxing the rich shows that the latter will be four times more destructive than avoiding the former.  However, in one case, the government's incentive is in opposition to the workforce's.

Superior Court: North Kingstown Schools Cannot Knowingly Overspend - Analysis
A Superior Court Ruling in Town of North Kingstown v. North Kingstown School Committee requires the school department to live within its budget but solidifies legal precedent requiring town governments to cover losses in state aid unless the budget makes estimates "expressly contingent" on actual revenue.
Loans for Kindergarten, Another Middle Class Bubble - Opinion
Justin sees a trend for private-school loans, even at the kindergarten level, as an indication of a staggering civic society, not a faddish excess of the 1%.
Hoodie Protest Comes to Providence - Liveblog
A handful of hoodie protesters outside the State House, today.

The Slippery Governor

Patrick Laverty

One skill that you can learn by watching the local politicians is a nice way to evade any tough questions. Simply don't answer them. I don't mean you just sit there and stare at the questioner, but you answer the question you want to answer.

On this weekend's Newsmakers, Governor Chafee was the guest and early on, Arlene Violet seemed to have Chafee backed into a corner. She smelled blood kept the blows coming. Being the experienced politician that Chafee is, he clearly knew that she had him stuck and he was left with two options, either don't directly answer her question or be caught in an easily disproven lie. He seemed to choose the former. Check the video for yourself.

After the commercial break, Ted Nesi asked a question about a campaign pledge that the then-candidate Chafee offered up. This was not a pledge that someone asked him to take, this was something written on Chafee's campaign web site. Nesi first read the pledge and then asked about it:

"Make no mistake, I will oppose any change to our taxes without first reforming our spending, particularly the mandates."

And we've now had two budgets in a row where you've proposed significant tax increases. I know you've said why you think those are necessary, but isn't that breaking that campaign pledge?

The Governor responded with:
No, the reforms are always a part of any revenue package and as a candidate I've appeared before the Finance Committee urging reforms that now I have as part of my legislative package. So even as a candidate, going up and urging reforms, Massachusetts called "No revenue without reform" when they put in their sales tax increase. And I feel the same way. We're not just going to throw money at a problem. We want to fix it structurally.
Huh? Chafee gave an excellent answer if the question was an attack on reform. It's as if Nesi asked him why he's offering some reform in his proposal. But that's not the case at all. We understand that part. The point of the question was why has Chafee proposed any tax increases at all if the reforms are not in place yet? Remember what Chafee had written,
I will oppose any change to our taxes
I guess what should I expect from someone who later in the Newsmakers episode was asked about why he is endorsing David Cicilline for re-election and responded with:
A lot of the criticism leveled against Congressman Cicilline in his time as mayor is unfounded because he suffered $30 million in cuts.
But then Tim White redirected the point and reminded Chafee that the criticism to Cicilline was because Cicilline wasn't honest about Providence's financial situation. Chafee's response:
Maybe there's some legitimate criticism there. He should have been more forthright in the devastation of these cuts.
"Forthright." Yes, a very interesting choice of words. Maybe it's also time to start evaluating the Governor's statements a little more closely for their own forthrightness.

April 1, 2012

The Closet of Professional Sports

Patrick Laverty

Late last week, a man in Connecticut was arrested for allegedly attempting to extort Minnesota Twins pitcher Carl Pavano. The asking price was a new Land Rover, navy with tan leather interior. Give the guy credit. If you're going to extort someone, know exactly what you want.

But what was the other part, what was he looking to hide? He claims to have had a three-year physical and emotional relationship with the major league player when they were classmates in high school.

I don't know and don't care if Carl Pavano is or ever was a homosexual. That is not the point. As of this moment, I don't see any reports of where Pavano has addressed the issue. But it did get me to thinking, wouldn't it be an interesting turn of events if Pavano, now 36 years old, were to turn to the reporters' microphones and answer the question with something simple and along the lines of "Yes, it's true. It was a period of my life of exploration and growth. I learned a lot from it and like everyone else, I've changed a lot in my life since I was in high school. Let's go play some baseball."

How would that be received in the world of professional sports? A lot has been said about when we'll see the first openly gay professional athlete in one of the big four sports (baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey) in America. Could this the baby toe in the water in that discussion? Would a statement like I offered above be enough to make someone else confortable enough to address it?

We have previously had professional athletes admit that they are gay, but they've all done it after they've left the world of professional sports. When will we have someone or multiple players be comfortable enough to admit it while they are playing? But even moreso, how long after that will it take until the collective American public responds with a "Who cares?"