November 30, 2012

Re: Keep Christ in Christmas, but the Government Out

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't believe it's fair to blame WPRO (630AM) talk show host John DePetro for "manufacturing" the controversy about the Rhode Island Christmas tree/holiday tree.

The blame rests squarely with Governor Lincoln Chafee, who is claiming the authority to rename a religious symbol because he is the head of the state. (Bill O'Reilly is wrong when he says Christmas trees are a secular symbol).

To Governor Chafee and some of his extreme-liberal fellow travelers, it's just plain obvious that "separation of church and state" means that government has inherent authority to rename religious symbols. To other Rhode Islanders, many Rhode Islanders, the possession of such a power by government officials isn't a slam dunk.

When Governor Chafee tries explaining why government should involve itself with renaming religious symbols, he generally isn't very convincing and, as a result, often prefers to take the discussion towards declaring that there shouldn't be so much opposition to his decision because publicly voiced dissent, he believes, could create chaos. Or maybe dissent, on this issue, in the Governor's mind, is chaos.

These, in the end, are the two sources of the continuing Rhode Island Christmas tree controversy: a Governor who asserts that his office as head of state comes with the power to rename religious symbols and said Governor's intolerance for dissent from that position. That much public questioning occurs about the wisdom of both these propositions is not just acceptable but healthy.

Keep Christ in Christmas, but the Government Out

Patrick Laverty

Ok, so there's this green tree kerfluffle thing at the Statehouse. People are making a big deal over it and what name the Governor chose to refer to it. He even went on the Bill O'Reilly show last night to talk about it, and I think he did better than I expected. I wish he had a better explanation for his position, but at least he didn't embarrass himself terribly. He showed his biases a little bit with his comment about the Fox network being "angry", but that's beside the point.

I think we should give credit where credit is due. Lincoln Chafee did not create this issue. This is an issue that was created by WPRO talk show host John DePetro. He brought it to the forefront and used countless hours on his show to rail against the Governor referring to the "Holiday Tree", and has been wildly successful in getting many others excited about the topic.

Plus, there are those who think that Chafee created this by calling it a Holiday Tree, but as he said on O'Reilly, he's merely following what at least one of his predecessors did as well, as WPRI's Ted Nesi noted last year.

Let's put all of this aside and get down to what should be the real question. Why in the world is there any kind of tree at all in the Statehouse? Why is the state government celebrating any religious holiday? I know O'Reilly referred to the tree as secular, but how in the world can a "Christmas" tree be secular? Unless he's now going to tell me that Christmas is as secular a holiday as Thanksgiving or New Year's Day. There's no question that Christmas is religious and if you call it a Christmas tree, it is a religious symbol.

I get that the people who celebrate Christmas are in the majority in RI, however should everything be done simply because the majority wants it that way? Even at the potential expense of others? Maybe it's an overused example, but how angry would many get if Muslim symbols were celebrated at the Statehouse? Or random piles of flying spaghetti? We saw what happens when a government tries to be all inclusive and a flock of pink flamingos appeared on the Cranston City Hall lawn. Full inclusiveness is impossible, someone's going to be left out.

Here's a thought. Stay out of it completely. Don't try to include anyone. Government's job isn't to be hanging lights and decorations on an oversized, dying fir in the Statehouse rotunda. Their job is to run the state, keep it safe for its citizens and create an environment where all can thrive. In addition to create a healthy environment for business and jobs, but also create a healthy environment where everyone can celebrate anything they want, any time they want themselves on private property with their family and friends. That is how we all should celebrate our religious holidays, separate from the government.

November 29, 2012

Things We Read Today (37), Thursday

Justin Katz

Changing unions' privatization strategy; the government spending ratchet; the government spending racket; and the trap of dependency.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Governor Gives Thirty Minute Notice For Tree Lighting

Monique Chartier

Yes, you read that correctly: thirty minutes. Governor Chafee deliberately excluded the people of Rhode Island from the lighting of THEIR tree (whether "Christmas" or "holiday") at THEIR State House.

Chafee's office announced at 11:31 a.m. on Thursday that the governor would host a lighting of the tree at noon. Typically, several days' notice is given for such events.

Chafee said before flipping the switch at the sparsely attended ceremony that he gave short notice this year because last year the event turned into a "disrespectful gathering."

The Governor chose to adhere to his characterization - "holiday" - of the State House tree again this year. By giving effectively no notice for the tree lighting, the Governor was attempting to minimize the consequences to himself of this inexplicable decision by putting the lighting ceremony behind him. "See? I held a tree lighting. Now let's move on." Regrettably, however, at noon today, he only succeeded in exacerbating and dragging out the situation.

November 28, 2012

Things We Read Today (36), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Threats to the economy (cliffs and debts); RI lagging again (yawn); dependors and dependees; Social Security a problem; and a civil right to the war zone frat party.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Rhode Island's Government Payroll: Living Beyond Our Means

Justin Katz

When a family comes to a decision about purchasing any product or service, it doesn't merely accept the seller's sense of what's reasonable. In addition to the market rate, consumers must take into account the quality of the thing they're buying as well as their own ability to afford it.

With deteriorating infrastructure, doubts about the quality of government services, and the high-profile specter of unfunded municipal and state retirement liabilities looming over the state during this current period of economic stagnation, the compensation of public-sector employees has become a subject of heated debate about fairness and affordability.

A study that I’ve just produced for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity shines a stark light on the comparison of the public sector in Rhode Island to the private sector that supports it financially. Using a refined methodology for collecting data, economists William Even, of Miami University, and David Macpherson, of Trinity University, find that state and local government employees here enjoy a 26.5% "premium" in total compensation over their private-sector neighbors — even after controlling for variables like education, experience, and broad job category. That compares with 18.8% for New England and 14.9% for the United States as a whole.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Good Intentions Gone Wrong, Part 2: The Welfare Cliff

Marc Comtois

Gary Alexander, Secretary of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ~ "The single mom is better off earnings gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income & benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045." (h/t)

Is it any wonder people have made the economic choice to be more "taker" than "maker"? We've incentivized it. Perhaps one step away from the "fiscal cliff" would be to take a similar one back from the "welfare cliff" by reducing the incentives (ie; benefits)? "Tyler Durden" has much more.

Good Intentions Gone Wrong

Marc Comtois

Michael Barone writes:

In "Mismatch," law professor Richard Sander and journalist Stuart Taylor...[tell] a story of good intentions gone terribly awry. Sander and Taylor document beyond disagreement how university admissions offices' racial quotas and preferences systematically put black and Hispanic students in schools where they are far less well-prepared than others.

As a result, they tend to get low grades, withdraw from science and math courses and drop out without graduating. The effect is particularly notable in law schools, where large numbers of blacks and Hispanics either drop out or fail to pass the bar exam.

This happens, Sander and Taylor argue, not because these students lack ability but because they've been thrown in with students of exceptional ability -- the mismatch of the authors' title. At schools where everyone has similar levels of test scores and preparation, these students do much better. And they don't suffer the heartache of failure.

That was shown when California's state universities temporarily obeyed a 1996 referendum banning racial quotas and preferences. UCLA Law School had fewer black students but just as many black graduates. The university system as a whole produced more black and Hispanic graduates.

Similarly, black students interested in math and science tend to get degrees in those subjects in historically black colleges, while those in schools with a mismatch switch to easier majors because math instruction is pitched to classmates with better preparation.

University admissions officers nevertheless maintain what Taylor in the preface calls an "enormous, pervasive and carefully concealed system of racial preferences," even while claiming they aren't actually doing so. The willingness to systematically lie seems to be a requirement for such jobs.

November 27, 2012

Things We Read Today (35), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Healthcare and what you get for free; making a living trying to fix the dying (state); the dictator prescription; and unhealthily sexist (female) teachers.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

The Unmentionable Solution to the Fiscal Cliff

Justin Katz

Watch public policy even for a short while and the trick becomes evident. Whether we're talking my hometown of Tiverton, Rhode Island, (population 15,780) or the federal government, the maneuver is to claim increasing amounts of power and make sure that's the one thing not on the table when something has to give.

Thus, we get massive government interwoven like a terrible tumor around the vital organs of our economy. When the predictable illness follows, the two operations suggested, as if in opposition, are cuts on the spending side and increases on the revenue side.

Either, we're told, is apt to drive the patient into shock. The government can take money out of the economy through taxes, or it can stop putting money into the economy via cuts. That's not much of a choice.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

November 26, 2012

Things We Read Today (34), Monday

Justin Katz

Political theory (watching where you're going); bonds added to the pool of bubbles; safe regions in a pool with dangerous; government as the most dangerous bubble.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

November 25, 2012

Getting to Root of RI Voting Problems

Patrick Laverty

Edward Fitzpatrick has a column today in the Providence Journal about some comments from state officials on their findings about how the voting went during this month's election. Unfortunately, the focus is always on the precincts that had the most trouble, especially the Juanita Sanchez precinct in Providence where it was reported that some people waited upwards of three hours to cast a vote. Did that happen anywhere else? Not that I've heard. Other than that horror story and some ballots sent to the wrong towns, it all seemed to go relatively smoothly. Sure, I had to wait about 30 minutes at my precinct where normally I can get in and out in less than about three minutes. But unlike primaries and non-Presidential years, this year people were excited to vote. Many of the polls were pointing at a dead heat in the campaign for President, so possibly more people made sure they got out to cast their vote.

As for situations like the Juanita Sanchez precinct, state officials are trying to figure out how to make things better and unfortunately, some may be making the typical mistake by inferring causation from correlation, even where there is none. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis is quoted in Fitzpatrick's column:

Mollis noted that in 2008 Juanita Sanchez was the polling place for 1,136 people and 599 voted there, but this year it was the polling place for about 3,000 voters and 1,251 voted there. “Slightly more than double voted there,” he said, “so that had to have an effect.”
Sure. This year, the maximum number of voters per precinct was increased from 1,900 to 3,000. If there were only 1,251 who voted, still fewer than the half allowed and still fewer than the previous maximum, that does not appear to be the problem. The problem would seem to be that while the state reduced the number of precincts from 541 statewide to 413, quite possibly they did not increase the number of staff working the polls or increase the number of machines at the precincts. In the example above, Mollis pointed out that Juanita Sanchez had 599 voters there in 2008 and 1,251 this year, more than double. Did they double the number of workers? Did they double the number of machines? Or did they keep those numbers the same? Or were the issues at this one precinct merely a statistical anomaly that no one could possibly have accounted for?

When those 128 precincts were eliminated, that must have freed up another 128 voting machines and 128 sets of poll workers. Many of those will not be necessary, as that was the whole point of cutting, but clearly some were. Were any of those extras used to beef up any precincts that needed the help? Does the Board of Elections have someone on call who can deliver machines or staff on short notice?

One other issue that baffled me on election day and others reported similar findings, was also mentioned by Board of Elections Chairman Robert Kando:

And he said some polling sites did a poor job of splitting voters into different lines based on the first letter of their last name, so you might have 200 voters in the A-to-L line and 500 voters in the M-to-Z line. In the future, the Board of Elections will advise polling sites on how to split the voting rolls more evenly, he said.
I was in the A-L line and it was about 30 people deep and took about 30 minutes to get through. The M-Z line was non-existent. People with a last name in the second half of the alphabet were able to walk in and right up to the table. Why? I thought the split was made on the number of registered voters in the town, not by the approximate halfway point in the alphabet. If you have 1,000 people in the A-L lists and 500 in the M-Z lists, why break them up that way? Was this part really lacking this much common sense?

Lastly, and the part that I would put more weight on being the problem is that of the uninformed electorate. C'mon people, is it that hard to educate yourself before heading to the voting booth? If this is the first time you've even read everything on the ballot, how in the world are you going to make a smart decision on any of the referenda?

But more than anything, “those multiple-page ballots killed us,” Kando said. “In Providence, it was three pages, with five sides, and a lot of people didn’t know who they were going to vote for. They just walked into the voting booth and started reading.”
Not knowing "who" you're going to vote for before you get in there is mind-boggling, so when you add in not knowing "what" you're going to vote for and seeing how long some of the referendum questions were, that alone is going to clog up the system.

I'm hoping that the state does figure out how to fix the problems for next time. However my fear is they will use the turnout numbers from this past election for planning the next election which is actually a non-Presidential primary, a voting day with normally the lowest turnout of the all the statewide election possibilities.

Unionize? Hellooo, You're Management

Monique Chartier

Here's something I never thought I'd say: good decision, RI State Labor Board.

The Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board recently dismissed a petition to unionize by Tiverton’s municipal department heads.

The board decided the matter on Nov. 7, saying the superintendent of wastewater collections, the town planner, tax assessor, zoning officer, senior center director, tax collector and public works director were ineligible to unionize because they all held managerial positions.

The town had also argued that the positions did not share a community of interest with each other, further limiting their eligibility to join a municipal employee union.

File the petition by Tiverton department heads to unionize under the category, "Unclear on the Concept". It appears that the Labor Board also subscribed to this view in light of the superlatives employed in their denial.

“The testimony and documentary evidence submitted in this proceeding overwhelmingly established that each and every one of the positions sought, meet the test for supervisory and/or managerial status,” the decision stated. “As such, they are wholly ineligible to engage in collective bargaining under the Municipal Employees Arbitration Act.

November 24, 2012

SEIU Local President: Woe Is Us

Monique Chartier

Apparently, the Governor had commissioned a study

of Rhode Island's infamously convoluted structure for hiring, firing and compensating state employees.

In that article from Wednesday's Providence Journal in which she reports that legislative leaders will be briefed soon about the findings of the study, Kathy Gregg also secured this comment from one of the potentially affected parties.

SEIU Local 580 President Philip Keefe is hopeful the effort will result in "a fair system of compensation... that will attract qualified folks into state service and [provide] some motivation for them to stay in state service."

"You know, we've been hit pretty hard over the last several years," he said, "between pay reduction days, increased contributions to our medical insurance, the decimation of our pension system, the elimination of our longevity [bonuses] ... I mean, what's the incentive now for state employees?"

A compensation level that often exceeds the private sector. Unparalleled job security. Excellent medical coverage with a fractional premium co-share. A work week that is usually shorter than most and no question of having to work extra hours, except on overtime. Vacation, sick, personal days galore. A pension or a 401k. (One item that stumps me: can someone remind me when the "decimation" of the pension system took place? To those of us without a pension or a retirement fund, an already generous pension minus COLA's looks like heaven, not decimation.)

It is very difficult, indeed, to visualize how such employment terms could evoke a despairing "How do we carry on???" reaction.

But perhaps I would better understand if I were to walk a ways in the shoes of a public employee. Should the head of any state or local government department have any openings and a desire to promote a better understanding of public employees, please by all means e-mail me. I promise to keep an open mind and try like mad to allow the despair to permeate me as I carry out my new responsibilities in the public sector under such compensation terms.

November 23, 2012

Things We Read Today (33), Friday

Justin Katz

What's up with the Providence charter push; why RI schools lack warmth; how pervasive is progressive destruction; and how an island is like policy knowledge.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Whitehouse's Social Security Blinders

Justin Katz

Everybody should print out this snippet of a John Mulligan interview with U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) as a cheat sheet on Democrat talking points about Social Security. It's all there.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Free Market Argument for Copyright Reform

Marc Comtois

There was a bit of a controversy earlier this week when a policy brief from the Republican Study Committee was released advocating for major copyright reform with regards to intellectual property--and then it was "unreleased". The reasoning given was the the report was actually not properly vetted, whereas the belief amongst many was that lobbyists--such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America--got to the GOP.

As Lisa Shuchman reports, Rep. Darrell Issa, who was a strong opponent of SOPA, is regarded as someone with both the pull and desire to get something done on this front.

“The bad news for the movie studios and record companies is that the discussion about how to make copyright law make sense in a digital age has already started in Washington, and it will continue, with our without them,” Gigi Sohn, an attorney and president and co-founder of the public policy non-profit Public Knowledge, wrote in her blog.

Indeed, Public Knowledge and others advocating for change to the copyright system have at least one ally in Congress. Rep. Darell Issa, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and its Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee, wrote on his Twitter account Monday that the report was a “very interesting copyright reform proposal” and "It's time to start this copyright reform conversation."

The Congressman, who emerged as a leader on issues related to Internet rights earlier this year when he opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has already said he plans to make digital rights a priority in the new Congress.

So, while it's not "official", here is the brief in full. And, to give you some flavor, here is the conclusion, which argues for reform based on free-market principles.:
To be clear, there is a legitimate purpose to copyright (and for that matter patents). Copyright ensures that there is sufficient incentive for content producers to develop content, but there is a steep cost to our unusually long copyright period that Congress has now created. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with explicit instructions on this matter for a limited copyright – not an indefinite monopoly. We must strike this careful Goldilocks-like balance for the consumer and other businesses versus the content producers.

It is difficult to argue that the life of the author plus 70 years is an appropriate copyright term for this purpose – what possible new incentive was given to the content producer for content protection for a term of life plus 70 years vs. a term of life plus 50 years? Where we have reached a point of such diminishing returns we must be especially aware of the known and predictable impact upon the greater market that these policies have held, and we are left to wonder on the impact that we will never know until we restore a constitutional copyright system.

Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets – rather it destroys entire markets.

There is much more free-market based reasoning within the brief. As they say, read the whole thing (it's only 9 pages!).

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marc Comtois

Given the contemporaneous release of Lincoln, I figured posting our 16th President's Thanksgiving Proclamation seemed appropriate this year:

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States
A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

November 21, 2012

Things We Read Today (32), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Taft-Carter takes the Iannazzi mantle; RI back to pre-democracy; the ascendance of unaccountable bureaucracies; and America gone mad (with the Big Blue Bug)

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

To Starve or Gorge the Beast?

Marc Comtois

"[W]e've got to reduce spending before we can reduce taxes. Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker. But Government has never reduced. Government does not tax to get the money it needs. Government always needs the money it gets." ~ Ronald Reagan

Hence was born the idea of "starve the beast," a conservative core belief if ever there was one. But is it true? As explained in a recent column by Andrew Ferguson, economist (and libertarian) William Niskanen didn't think so.

Beginning in 2002, Niskanen published a series of papers and op-eds about tax cuts and spending increases that turned conventional conservative wisdom on its head....If we wanted a smaller government, he said, we would have to raise taxes....Niskanen, looking over 25 years of budget data, noticed something about STB ["Starve The Beast" ~ ed.]: It didn’t work. In fact, attempts to starve the beast by tax cuts seemed to lead to increased federal spending.

Niskanen looked at both spending and taxes as a percentage of GDP. On average, he found, if federal revenues declined by 1 percent, federal spending increased by 0.15 percent. When revenues rose, on the other hand, relative spending decreased. A further study in 2009 by another Cato economist, Michael New, came to the same conclusion after the gluttonous administration of George W. Bush. Under Bush and his mostly Republican Congress, new benefits like subsidized Medicare drugs and increased federal education spending followed on the heels of large tax cuts.

Niskanen’s explanation for the failure of STB was straightforward, a conjecture based on standard economics: When you cut the price of something, demand for it will increase. Lowering taxes without lowering benefits meant that taxpayers were getting the benefits at a discount. The government made up the true cost with borrowed dollars that future taxpayers would have to repay. There was a big difference, Niskanen said, between a kid on an allowance and the federal government: The government has a credit card with no debt limit. {emphasis added}

That last--the ability of government to write checks on credit--was overlooked by STB advocates.
[E]arly advocates of STB had counted on something that never materialized. They had assumed that as the debt piled up to finance annual budget deficits caused by free-flowing benefits, public outrage would force politicians to restrain spending without raising taxes. Yet we’ve had the deficits and the borrowing, in amounts that would have left Friedman and Reagan agog; what’s been missing is the outrage.
People aren't outraged because they don't feel the immediate pain of increasing government because the money for government expansion is either borrowed or paid for by increasingly fewer individuals. So around 50% of the population feels no pain (they don't pay income taxes) while a majority of the rest pays relatively minimal amounts. And a lot of that pain is left to future generations. This aligns with Niskanen's reasoning for why higher tax rates lead to lower spending:
“Demand by current voters for federal spending,” he explained, “declines with the amount of this spending that is financed by current taxes.” When you make them pay for government benefits out of their own pockets, in other words, voters will want fewer of them. The journalist Jonathan Rauch put Niskanen’s point more pithily: “Voters will not shrink Big Government until they feel the pinch of its true cost.”
Yet, as I mentioned, not everyone shares the tax burden evenly in our progressive income tax system. So, perhaps a flat tax would prove or disprove Niskanen's theory, but it's doubtful that will happen any time soon.

Ferguson's article brought some critiques of Niskanen's ideas. Noah Glyn offers up another reason for why government spending decreases when tax revenue increases:

[It's] the business cycle. As the economy grows, people earn more so they pay more in taxes; conversely, when the economy enters a recession, government revenue plummets. During recessions, however, the public relies on increased government spending, in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and other transfer payments. (This can go the other way, too: Some state and local governments have used economic growth to justify increasing promises to government employees’ pension plans, but those costs typically come much further down the line.)
This is buttressed by Ramesh Ponnuru's important, technical point and "thought experiment":
Let’s say we still had the Clinton-era tax rates and a (smaller but still quite large) long-term debt problem. Wouldn’t we be debating an increase in tax rates to a higher level than we are now? That seems to me pretty likely. The baseline from which we’re negotiating would be higher, perceptions of what’s tolerable would be higher, expectations of tax rates would be higher. On the Niskanen theory there would be a countervailing effect: In the interim the tax cuts caused spending to be higher and thus moved the spending baseline higher. But Niskanen didn’t find that a dollar of tax cuts were associated with a dollar of spending increases; he found that a 1 percent reduction in revenue over GDP was associated with a 0.15 percent increase in spending over GDP. So the countervailing effect would be smaller.
Jonah Goldberg adds:
I always liked Niskanen’s argument, even if I didn’t quite find it persuasive. One thing that always bugged me about it which, to my surprise, Ferguson doesn’t mention, is the implicit assumption that Americans behave like rational economic actors with regard to what they get from government....The American species of homo economicus has been paying hundreds of billions to get rid of poverty for decades, what do we have to show for it? Poverty rate in 1975: 26 percent. Poverty rate in 2010: 26 percent. What a great return on the investment. Federal spending on education? Ahem...For reasons, good and bad, voters don’t treat tax dollars the way they do their own dollars. They don’t demand quality. They don’t demand accountability. They don’t push for efficiency. Many people think the government should spend money as if it comes from someplace other than the wallets of citizens and that what we get for it should be graded on some spiritual, emotional, philanthropic or metaphysical curve. How we spend for X so often seems to matter more than how much X is actually delivered.
Yet, as Patrick Brennan argues, re-stating Niskanen's implicit premise, the missing demand for government quality is because so many have so little stake in the game.
People might be a lot more likely to start caring about where their tax dollars go (whether the ends are efficient and whether the money comes back to them) when those taxes are really substantial, broad-based, and they actually have to pay them.
Brennan also compares U.S. expectations for government services to that of Europeans:
If you live in a society where, as Jonah pointed out Arthur Brooks has argued, the state is considered the main conduit for meeting societal needs and caring for the poor and vulnerable, you’ll care more about how well government works and whether it can care competently for you, and that’s a cultural matter. But it’s also important to homo economicus, because Leviathan has taken most of his paycheck, and he now has to hope, and should ensure, that government will provide for society at large, the poor and vulnerable, and even him at times, and do so as efficiently and competently as possible.

There are obviously other explanations for these differences: Charlie Cooke has lamented to me on many an occasion that in Britain, the conversation about almost all government policies ends up being debates over efficacy of programs, not whether the programs should exist in the first place. Leaving aside the financial constraints Britain and elsewhere are now experiencing, if you don’t have a constitution with enumerated federal powers, a truly conservative and independently minded political movement, etc., you’re going to spend more time on making government work, not on making it smaller, and that’s for other reasons than I’ve just proposed.*

Regarding the last, many conservatives (well, at least me) believe that a smaller government is one that is easier to make workable!

* Brennan expounded on the point later in the post: "It’s difficult to assess my thesis inasmuch as big government and the cultures that give rise to it have other negative effects on efficiency, so it’s possible citizens subject to a huge government and a regressive tax code get a more efficient government than they would if they didn’t have higher expectations than free-riding Americans, but still not a very efficient one. It’s been suggested, in fact, that it’s highly efficient yet regressive taxation (like light capital taxation, competitive corporate-tax rates, consumption taxes, etc.) that’s allowed places such as France and Scandinavia to have functional economies despite the burdens of absurdly large governments; perhaps it’s also the relative efficiency and usefulness of their government spending programs, and not just their tax system, that’s allowed them to manage as well. Thus again, economic preferences force the hand of citizens and politicians in a completely government-dominated society but not in one like America."

Oh SNAP! It's Cory Booker!

Patrick Laverty

Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker is getting some attention today for taking the SNAP challenge. He's going to live for a week on the amount of money for food that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) offers. The rules of the challenge are that you get $35 for the week and all food consumed must be included in that $35.

Maybe to the surprise of some, this post isn't to disparage SNAP or anyone on it. I get it. Some people don't have enough money for food at times and it could possibly even keep them alive. This program is especially important for children, where they personally aren't at fault for not being able to supply food. I also get that $35 per person is a very small amount for one person to live off of for a week of food. It works out to $1.66 per meal.

My point here and my request is, can people like Booker and others at least be a little more intellectually honest about the topic? The purpose of SNAP is not to be the sole source of money for food. Heck, look at two words in the title: "Supplemental" and "Assistance". This $35 for the week is supposed to supplement your own income. It is intended to be assistance, not the sole provider.

I also looked up the requirements to qualify on the USDA web site:

Household size Gross monthly income
(130 percent of poverty)
Net monthly income
(100 percent of poverty)


$1,211 $ 931


1,640 1,261


2,069 1,591


2,498 1,921


2,927 2,251


3,356 2,581


3,785 2,911


4,214 3,241

Each additional member

+429 +330

You can bring in $400 a week for a family of four but have zero money for food? Nothing? This would seem to be a matter of priorities. When I start thinking about how to spend money, I prioritize. Food and a roof over my head are the most important. Everything else comes after that. Instead of trying to live on SNAP's $35 a week, add even $20 to that and that gets you into an area that many would like to see SNAP providing.

I also understand the high cost of eating out. Three people for a dinner at McDonalds can easily run up $20 or more. Often, when my wife is working at night, I'll try to put together a healthy meal for my daughter and I and then figure out the "per-meal" cost. Last week, I got a $4 steak, had a 99 cent bag of frozen corn and a baked potato between us. The baked potato was 35 cents, we used about 20 cents worth of the frozen corn, so the meal came out to $4.55 or $2.28 per person for a perfectly good and healthy meal. It is over the $1.66 that SNAP would provide but it's over by 64 cents. That 64 cents is my supplementation. Ok, we both drank milk too. At $4 a gallon, we probably drank about 40 cents worth.

Other nights, we might have Tuna Noodle Casserole. This is the one we'll have when we're pressed for time. We have a bag of the $1 Butter Noodles, throw in a can of $1.50 tuna and some fresh broccoli. Total cost, about $3.50, plus milk beverage, we're up to about $2 a meal. And this is just for dinners.

But why do people like Booker, and many others, use the fringe cases? Use the extreme examples? If I wanted to do that too, I'd bring up all the corruption and fraud cases. But that never helps any discussion. I do think Booker's heart and intents are in the right place, but let's talk about the actual problems and the issues and re-examine what the point of the program is. It is to assist people with their food costs and help people to make the best possible food choices and try to slow the hysteria.

November 20, 2012

October Employment: Boomtime in Rhode Island?

Justin Katz

Rhode Island's employment results, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), would surely surprise the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who are struggling to survive the state's continuing downturn: For the second month in a row, the Ocean State led the nation in employment growth. The state still has the second worst unemployment rate, and it is still the second farthest state from its pre-recession peak, but the gap — huge as it grew — is closing.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Democrats in U.S. Senate: All Your Emails Has Belonged to US

Marc Comtois

From CNET:

A Senate proposal touted as protecting Americans' e-mail privacy has been quietly rewritten, giving government agencies more surveillance power than they possess under current law.

CNET has learned that Patrick Leahy, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has dramatically reshaped his legislation in response to law enforcement concerns. A vote on his bill, which now authorizes warrantless access to Americans' e-mail, is scheduled for next week.

Here are some of the "highlights":
✭ Grants warrantless access to Americans' electronic correspondence to over 22 federal agencies. Only a subpoena is required, not a search warrant signed by a judge based on probable cause.

✭ Permits state and local law enforcement to warrantlessly access Americans' correspondence stored on systems not offered "to the public," including university networks.

✭ Authorizes any law enforcement agency to access accounts without a warrant -- or subsequent court review -- if they claim "emergency" situations exist.

✭ Says providers "shall notify" law enforcement in advance of any plans to tell their customers that they've been the target of a warrant, order, or subpoena.

✭ Delays notification of customers whose accounts have been accessed from 3 days to "10 business days." This notification can be postponed by up to 360 days.

Hey, you elected 'em America.

Of course, this won't apply if you work for the EPA. Meanwhile, and relatedly, Democrats are trumpeting their unprecedented voter-data-mining abilities and getting ready to deploy it again in two years. "If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you." Gives ya the warm and fuzzies, no?

November 19, 2012

City Politics, Country Politics

Justin Katz

Over on Anchor Rising, Marc Comtois has pulled together a handful of stories in the subcategory of "two Americas":

Hendrickson puts some stock in the so-called "Curley Effect", named after the former Boston Mayor. Basically, it has two parts: first, that politicians provide enough incentives to their own voters to ensure continued support; second provide enough disincentives such that their political opponents decide to move out, thereby increasing said politicians vote share, etc. (Seems to be working in RI, too).

Yet, while that may explain continuing support for Democrats amongst those receiving government assistance and public unions, Hendrickson asks, "Why do affluent, white-collar, highly educated citizens in these cities tend to be liberal and vote Democratic?" In a word, insularity.

As often happens, over there, the comment-section discussion is worth reading, as well. That especially became true with the very agitated commentary of young urban-dweller Mangeek. As I've commented at the above link, I find a number of intellectual and philosophical problems embedded in his self-admitted rage.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

California: The Consequences of Magical Thinking

Marc Comtois

As goes California...

[H]ow is California doing, now that liberals have successfully terminated the state's remaining conservatives?

For starters, it's still in debt. Despite Brown's historic tax hike, the California Legislative Analyst's Office announced this week that the state still faces a $2 billion budget deficit just for the next fiscal year. California's liberal electorate has already racked up an additional $370 billion in state and local debt over that last decade. That is more than 20 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

According to the California State Budget Crisis Task Force, that comes to more than $10,000 in debt for every Californian. And because the state's credit rating is so low, California taxpayers must fork over about $2 for every new dollar borrowed. In 2012 alone, the state budget included more than $7.5 billion in debt service -- more than most states' budgets.

Don't think for a second that California's chronic deficits are caused by low taxes. Even before last Tuesday's tax hikes, California had the most progressive income tax system in the nation, with seven brackets, and the second-highest top marginal rate. Now it has the nation's highest top marginal rate and the nation's highest sales tax. And the budget still isn't balanced.

The real cause for California's fiscal crisis is simple: They spend too much money. Between 1996 and 2012, the state's population grew by just 15 percent, but spending more than doubled, from $45.4 billion to $92.5 billion (in 2005 constant dollars).

What are Californians getting for all this government spending? According to a new census report released Friday, almost one-quarter, 23.5 percent, of all Californians are in poverty. One-third of all the nation's welfare recipients live in the state, despite the fact that California has only one-eighth of the country's population. That's four times as many as the next-highest welfare population, which is New York. Meanwhile, California eighth-graders finished ahead of only Mississippi and District of Columbia students on reading and math test scores in 2011.

Middle-class families that want actual jobs, not welfare, are fleeing California in droves. According to IRS data compiled by the Manhattan Institute, since 2000, almost 2 million Americans have left California for other states. Their most popular destination: Texas.

It isn't a tough move to make. Thanks to low taxes and simple regulations, Chief Executive magazine ranked Texas as the best state to do business in for 2012. Guess who ranked dead last? That's right, California. And not only does Texas (6.8 percent) have a far lower unemployment rate than California (10.2 percent), but, according to the Census Bureau, income inequality is worse in California than it is in Texas.

For more on California, Victor Davis Hanson--a native of the state--has been regularly charting the decline (here, for example). The Golden State is but the largest canary in the coal mine of states who've succumbed to unsustainable budgeting thanks to the magical thinking of Democrat-dominated polities. Illinois is another. And Rhode Island.

Inefficiency in Economic Development: Money Looking for Makers

Justin Katz

Readers of Philip Marcelo's article, in today's Providence Journal, about restoration of the historic-structure tax credit program in Rhode Island should see some warning signs indicative of a broader flaw in government economic development:

... the national recession and a 2008 moratorium on the tax-credit program brought such projects to a near halt.

Dozens stalled or never got off the ground, leaving around $150 million in credits –– which can be redeemed to offset business and personal income taxes — still pending final approval. ...

Millions of dollars more in credits also could become available, if developers do not meet a May 2013 deadline to show some progress on their projects. (A project must be fully completed and its expenses reviewed before state officials approve issuing credits.)

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

November 18, 2012

Per Iowahawk: Hostess Shrugged

Monique Chartier

Citing an inability

to fulfill customer orders or sell product at their retail stores

and a lack of money to wait out a prolonged strike, Hostess announced Friday that it will return to bankruptcy court to request liquidation.

It's difficult not to see some resemblance to the denouement of the Brown and Sharpe strike right here in Rhode Island. (Contemporaneous labor perspective of that strike here.)

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union denies that its work stoppage precipitated this action.

The truth is that Hostess workers and their Union have absolutely no responsibility for the failure of this company.

One interesting item in this CNN article: as part of its counter offer, the company had offered its workers a 25% equity stake in the company. This, however, did not seem to appeal to the union and/or its members.

Normally, my attitude towards private sector unions and how they conduct their business is one of complete indifference. But shouldn't they be ultimately motivated by and provide guidance on the basis of what is best for their members? This one appears to have missed this concept and has "succeeded" in marching its members straight off a cliff.

[Title of this post coined by Iowahawk in a tweet.]

A Nation Divided

Marc Comtois

Two Americas? The idea is nothing new. We learn that almost 23% of Americans are open to the idea of seceding given the recent election results. And we've heard reports that 37 Chicago precincts, 59 Philadelphia precincts and multiple others in urban areas gave President Obama 99% support--some with 0 votes for Romney.*

Mark Hendrickson of Forbes notes that the largest divide is between city-dwellers and the rest of America:

Basically, the urban metropolises are Democratic blue and the vast expanse of most of the rest of the country is overwhelmingly red. If presidents were elected by acreage rather than by head count, Republicans would win national elections by landslides.

Look at it another way: take Philly out of Pennsylvania, the Big Apple out of New York, the Motor City out of Michigan, the Windy City out of Illinois, Cleveland out of Ohio, Milwaukee out of Wisconsin, St. Louis out of Missouri, etc., and a lot of blue states would instantly be red. What explains this pronounced and hugely significant partisan divide between urban and nonurban areas?

Hendrickson puts some stock in the so-called "Curley Effect", named after the former Boston Mayor. Basically, it has two parts: first, that politicians provide enough incentives to their own voters to ensure continued support; second provide enough disincentives such that their political opponents decide to move out, thereby increasing said politicians vote share, etc. (Seems to be working in RI, too).

Yet, while that may explain continuing support for Democrats amongst those receiving government assistance and public unions, Hendrickson asks, "Why do affluent, white-collar, highly educated citizens in these cities tend to be liberal and vote Democratic?" In a word, insularity:

[P]eople who live in cities are relatively insulated from how difficult and challenging it can be to produce the food, energy, equipment, devices, etc., that comprise the affluence that urbanites enjoy. In their urban cocoons, city-dwellers take for granted the abundance and availability of the economic goods that they consume. For instance, many well-to-do, educated urbanites see no downside to supporting stricter regulations and higher taxes on energy producers, because to them, energy is something that is always there at the flip of a switch (except during the occasional hurricane, as some New Yorkers recently discovered). Life in the city for affluent Americans creates the illusion that all they have to do is demand something and—presto!—it will be there when they want it.

Affluent denizens of our metropolises see no inconsistency in supporting the Democratic jihad against “greedy corporations” and “the rich” while also expecting their every whim to be supplied, often by those same corporations and successful entrepreneurs. This is because they are removed from some of the harsher daily realities of life that confront those who are on the front lines of mankind’s ongoing economic struggle. They have forgotten that mankind’s natural state is poverty and that strenuous, heroic efforts are required to produce the astounding affluence and abundant paraphernalia of our modern, affluent lifestyles. To use Marxian terminology, urbanites have become alienated from economic reality.

Yes, we see it in urbanite political ideas and how they view such things as the estate tax:
Rancher Kevin Kester works dawn to dusk, drives a 12-year-old pick-up truck and earns less than a typical bureaucrat in Washington D.C., yet the federal government considers him rich enough to pay the estate tax -- also known as the "death tax."

And with that tax set to soar at the beginning of 2013 without some kind of intervention from Congress, farmers and ranchers like Kester are waiting anxiously.

"There is no way financially my kids can pay what the IRS is going to demand from them nine months after death and keep this ranch intact for their generation and future generations," said Kester, of the Bear Valley Ranch in Central California.

Two decades ago, Kester paid the IRS $2 million when he inherited a 22,000-acre cattle ranch from his grandfather. Come January, the tax burden on his children will be more than $13 million.

For supporters of a high estate tax, which is imposed on somebody's estate after death, Kester is the kind of person they rarely mention. He doesn't own a mansion. He's not the CEO of a multi-national. But because of his line of work, he owns a lot of property that would be subject to a lot of tax....

"The idea behind the estate tax is to prevent the very wealthy among us from accumulating vast fortunes that they can pass along to the next generation," said Patrick Lester, director of Federal Fiscal Policy with the progressive think tank -- OMB Watch. "The poster child for the estate tax is Paris Hilton -- the celebrity and hotel heiress. That's who this is targeted at, not ordinary Americans."

But according to the American Farm Bureau, up to 97 percent of American farms and ranches will be subject to an estate tax where the exemption is set at $1 million. At that rate, the federal government will pocket $40 billion in 2013 and up to $86 billion in 2021. That contrasts with just $12 billion this year.

They think they're going after Paris Hilton, but it is actually Old MacDonald and his kids--land rich and cash poor--who bear the brunt of the estate tax. But they know all about Paris Hilton (and so do the suburban and urban youth voters, incidentally) and don't know much about farmers--unless of course they're buying organic at the Whole Foods. It's all about personal experience and it won't change any time soon.

* Check out these results from Cuyhoga County in Ohio, for instance. There do seem to be some statistical anomalies amongst those results.

November 16, 2012

Marijuana Legalization Because of or In Spite of Drug Tourism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan McGowan of GoLocalProv has a short round-up of the background and momentum that will be leading into a 2013 Rhode Island General Assembly debate on legalizing non-medical use of marijuana; the article mentions that House Judiciary Chairwoman Edith Ajello thinks there is support in the GA not just for "decriminalization" but for full "legalization" (RI decriminalized possession of an ounce or less of marijuana last year).

The American Interest has published a guide to the policy issues surrounding marijuana legalization including multiple lines of reasoning that will very likely be directly discussed in any RI debate on the subject...

A principal motivation for legalization has been its potential to generate tax revenues. [Colorado’s Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act] CO-LA specifies that the first $40 million raised by its excise tax would be credited to the public school capital construction fund. That figure suggests unrealistic expectations; unless state-level legalization tripled Colorado’s cannabis use, the tax receipts from sales to Coloradans wouldn’t even total that much, especially since the law would exempt medical users from paying taxes and such users account for about a quarter of Colorado’s current regular marijuana users. (Under CO-LA, medical dispensaries would be like “duty-free” shops at airports.) However, there are about fifty times as many marijuana users elsewhere in the United States as there are in Colorado. That, ultimately, is why Federal authorities would not be able to ignore the matter.

“Drug tourism” (users coming to Colorado to buy) could generate significant economic benefits, though not nearly as much as it might for an eastern state with more populous neighbors.

November 15, 2012

Zaccaria Stepping Down as RI GOP Chair

Carroll Andrew Morse

Monique reports that Mark Zaccaria announced at tonight's state Republican Party meeting that he will not seek another term as party chair.

Another View of Romney's Loss II

Carroll Andrew Morse

National Review Online's Ramesh Ponnuru does not believe that Mitt Romney's problem was that his economic message was drowned out by social issues; he argues the Republican economic message heard by voters lacks broad appeal...

Romney was not a drag on the Republican party. The Republican party was a drag on him...

The Republican story about how societies prosper — not just the Romney story — dwelt on the heroic entrepreneur stifled by taxes and regulations: an important story with which most people do not identify. The ordinary person does not see himself as a great innovator. He, or she, is trying to make a living and support or maybe start a family. A conservative reform of our health-care system and tax code, among other institutions, might help with these goals. About this person, however, Republicans have had little to say...

The perception that the Republican party serves the interests only of the rich underlies all the demographic weaknesses that get discussed in narrower terms. Hispanics do not vote for the Democrats solely because of immigration. Many of them are poor and lack health insurance, and they hear nothing from the Republicans but a lot from the Democrats about bettering their situation. Young people, too, are economically insecure, especially these days. If Republicans found a way to apply conservative principles in ways that offered tangible benefits to most voters and then talked about this agenda in those terms, they would improve their standing among all of these groups while also increasing their appeal to white working-class voters.

Another View of Romney's Loss

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't agree with everything in this Robert Oscar Lopez election post-mortem from the American Thinker, but it's definitely a more interesting read than anything telling Republicans that electoral success is only attainable if they limit their message to promising thrifty and honest management of government designed by Democrats...

By now it's widely understood that all politicians are scum and that voting is a choice for the lesser of two evils. Nobody who's rational would have reason to believe that Mitt Romney's promises to cut the deficit would be more bankable than Barack Obama's long-forgotten promises to close Gitmo and scale back the use of drones. Yet Romney's love for the unborn was less convincing than was Obama's instinctual love for underdogs, the oppressed, the little guy, or whatever you call that class social justice theorists have dubbed "subalterns."

What happened? Twenty-twelve was, perhaps, a choice between mercy (Obama) and efficiency (Romney) in a lot of Americans' minds, and they asked themselves, "What does it profit a man to get a 4% unemployment rate and lose his love for the oppressed?" The question may sound naïve, but it nonetheless runs through people's minds. Republicans never bothered to ask the question, let alone answer it. And so Barack Obama got elected amid a burgeoning deficit and four years of unconscionable unemployment.

By now it's clear that "it's the economy, stupid" is not a timeless nugget of wisdom.

Rather, we ought to start saying, "It's got to be more than just economics, idiots."

November 14, 2012

Free Cars!

Patrick Laverty

I'm just amplifying Tim White's latest WPRI report on the use, and possibly, abuse of state-owned vehicles for top politicians, titled "Taxpayer Taxi."

My immediate reaction is probably the same as everyone else's, why the heck do they have state-owned and even chauffeured cars? Seriously? Here are all the people who we are paying to have a car, and maybe all have a driver:
-Governor Lincoln Chafee
-Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts
-Treasurer Gina Raimondo
-Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed
-House Speaker Gordon Fox

Plus, possibly the Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis, but that has not been confirmed as his office has not yet responded to WPRI inquiries.

Wow. Five or six different politicians all need cars. Add to that, the Mayor of Providence also has a car. If you've been around City Hall, maybe you've noticed that the car has its own parking spot.

I try to be fair, so I can understand that maybe the Governor can be so busy that he can actually get work done by having a car and driver. I'm ok with that one and won't argue it too much. But the others? The Lt. Governor needs a driver? The Treasurer? I'm not buying it in the least. Certainly not for the Senate President or House Speaker either.

The article indicates that two cars were purchased for about $60,000. Plus $7,500 a year in expenses. Sure, the approximate $33,000 a year in expenses for those four or five unnecessary cars is a drop in the bucket in the whole state budget, but we're seeing many drops in the bucket. Can these people seriously not find any better use of $33,000 a year?

Add on to that, the article indicates the Senate President was using a Legislative Aide as her driver, who earns $39,000 a year. Is that the best use of a state employee? Is that what this person was hired for? Do we have five people making $39,000 a year to be chauffeurs? If so, that'd be another $160,000 we're spending.

One other part of the article that stuck out to me was Sen. President Paiva-Weed's statement:

"It was a tradition when the vehicle was acquired in 2007, prior to me becoming the Senate president," she said. "If in fact it came time to acquire a new vehicle … I would give some consideration that maybe we no longer need a state vehicle."
I would say that if a leader felt that way, then a leader would end the perk immediately. If she doesn't think it's something that she'd renew, that she isn't seeing the value in it, then why is it continuing? I would think there are only two options here, either she sees the value and she would sign a deal to continue the perk, or she doesn't see the value and should end the benefit immediately and sell the vehicle. It seems rather wishy-washy to tell Tim White that given the choice, you might not continue the benefit. SELL, SELL, SELL! That would show leadership.

Lastly, one other point that needs to be highlighted in Tim's article is one of the last statements he makes in the video, that there are no logs kept of where the vehicles go, what they're being used for, when they're used and who they are used by. Is this merely oversight or are they trying to hide something? Unfortunately and possibly unfairly, when this is the case, we have to assume the worst.

The usual response to reports like this is the people involved just wait and hope that things blow over and it's back to business as usual. I'm guessing that will be the case here, but maybe enough legislators will agree that enough is enough. If they're not willing to cut their legislative grants to plug holes in the budget, maybe they'll agree that these vehicles have got to go. It's time to put an end to this pork.

November 13, 2012

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."*

Marc Comtois

I know I'm not alone in taking stock in the aftermath of last Tuesday and I do so realizing that there is an important contrast between conservatism and Republicanism. The national and local GOP continues to navel gaze as to how to make itself more appealing and marketable. In the mean time, conservatives should be consistent and, well, conservative before embracing the latest marketing plan from K Street. Political outcomes rarely change core beliefs--that's why they're "core beliefs"--but they can change the way we think those beliefs, or ideas, can be implemented and which should take priority.

While the electoral crush was significant, the actual overall vote tally wasn't. It's been the same for the last decade or so, no matter who has captured the White House. We're still a 50/50 country, and the difference is in turnout, which translates to message and effective politics; and that's the job of a political party. So, to the degree that conservatives want to see their ideas implemented, they rely upon the political process to do it and that usually means the Republican party.

In Rhode Island, though, we have seen some conservative ideas co-opted by right-thinking Democrats (albeit watered-down, ie; pension "reform"), much to the consternation of the progressives (and the few remaining elected Republicans). In fact, our own state reminds us that there is a difference between politics and ideology insofar as there are many conservatives flying under the Democrat banner out of a sense of, well, wanting to win. In general, though, the party most amenable to the conservative mindset is the GOP.

Currently, it appears as if the beltway cadre of the Grand Old Party is trying to follow a path of demographic bread crumbs out of the wilderness and are open to throwing away conservative ideals for the sake of supposedly making the GOP "brand" more marketable. Modifying the stance on immigration reform, is but one--and the most oft-cited--change in position being discussed. Meanwhile, conservatives in fly-over country--and particularly down South--argue that the ideas and philosophies that they believe still provide a straightforward path to follow and are popular with many (including those who, apparently, didn't turn out this time around). Unsurprisingly, I believe in sticking to conservative ideals, properly defined. However, there is certainly cause to hone the message, at least nationally. Locally is an entirely different matter.

Economically, most people still say they want smaller, more effective and less intrusive government. Most approve of lower taxes concomitant with the idea of keeping more of the money they've earned (though the idea of taxing the "Blue state" rich is starting to take hold amongst conservatives). Most people don't like federal deficits and think that a cut to a program actually means a cut, not a reduction in the expected increase. Most people dislike an ever-expanding social safety net that is starting to resemble a hammock. And most are against "corporate welfare", with the caveat that said welfare doesn't impact their backyard. (And there's the rub, right Ohio?). And they don't like rich people (but what else is new?).

But to touch back on the safety net: there can be no doubt that demogoguery won this time out. It's pretty clear that Republicans--and conservatives--need to find a more effective message regarding welfare, health care, social security, etc. And they need to get better at beating back the mischaracterizations of their plans.

As for the so-called social issues--which really means gay marriage and abortion--conservatives have (predictably) lost ground on the former in the northeast and west coast and were, unfortunately, defined by outliers for the latter during the last election. It's not going out on a limb to guess that the biggest schism between conservatives and Republicans will occur on this front.

In the case of gay marriage, states are different--Rhode Island ain't Texas--and the populations should be allowed to make up their own mind via statewide ballot. If people's minds are being changed in favor of gay marriage, than that fact will be evident at the ballot box. Conservatives should continue explaining and warning, but I think it's a rearguard action.** Which is why, politically, the Republican party will probably modify their stance by either promoting the aformentioned federalist approach (which I agree with) or downplaying the issue altogether. There will be conservatives who will or won't vote on this single-issue--it is a core belief, remember? Republican political calculus will be to determine whether downplaying the issue gives them a net gain. A political party's core belief is to get elected.

Regarding abortion, no matter what a couple out-of-their-depth Republican Senate candidates said, most pro-life people are willing to grant exceptions for the relatively minuscule instances of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. Of course, the reality is that there is no way that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned, liberal scare tactics notwithstanding, which is something I think most pro-life people recognize. (And even if it was, the vast majority of states would still keep abortion legal).

Politically, a couple bone-headed statements caused the damage to national Republicans. However, as for the issue itself, pro-life conservatives continue to focus efforts on changing hearts and minds with results that have been trending in a positive direction for life. There is little doubt that this has also contributed to the increase in babies being born out of wedlock. This consequence of winning the life argument makes it incumbent on pro-life supporters to more directly address--or at least do a better job of explaining--how they would help unwed or single-mothers. We can't forget the babies and their mothers after they're born (but that doesn't mean they should become permanent wards of the state!).

While I think these and other conservative ideas were pretty consistently and clearly offered up during the last election, apparently the message wasn't clear enough (and yes, the mainstream media didn't help, but it is what it is on that front--no excuses). I suppose a better way of "messaging" could be found, particularly nationally.

Locally there is also the old adage about leading a horse to water and all that. Some horses--especially in Rhode Island--just don't want to drink from the conservative cup so long as it is identified with a Republican. Too many Rhode Islanders have only "D"s in their political DNA. But that is a cultural problem of a different sort and one for which I'm unsure--after 17 years in the state--if there will ever be a solution. It's pretty clear Rhode Islanders think voting the same people--and members of the same political party--will somehow, magically, make things better. It's not because Republicans or Independents or Moderates don't offer alternative plans. Democrat Rhode Island just doesn't seem to care. Blue team or and bust, baby!


*Quote from the character Captain Mal Reynolds of the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly.

** This is an area where demographics are dictating the future, like it or not (but, again, every state is a bit different). In general, I think people are more "live and let live" than before--especially the majority of GenXers and younger. The argument for gay marriage--one of equality--is simplistic and appeals to emotion. It's an emotional issue! No one wants to be called mean or a bigot. As for the argument against? Well, appeals to the great chain of being and larger social problems that may result--and just plain tradition!--may be more difficult to make and are more complicate. But worse, they just don't gin up the same empathy. I've been a lukewarm supporter of civil unions and think some sort of legal equality is fair. Marriage has always seemed a bridge to far because, for me, the most impactful argument has always been about the effect on children.*** But that has lost out to the appeal to immediate equality and fairness for those seeking to be married--to say nothing of the as yet undetermined level of (un)fairness said unions provide their potential offspring. But we've become a society of NOW and long-term thinking isn't something we're doing very well these days.

*** Yikes, notes in notes now. Anyway, this hypothetical is always in my mind: All things being equal, who would an adoption agency choose as the best couple to adopt a child? A traditional couple with two children who make a combined $60,000/year, or a gay couple with two children who make $120,000/year? Which would be deemed best able to care of the child if it comes just down to income (and therefore the relative ability to provide a "good lifestyle") and the composition of the marriage cannot be taken into account? As a traditionalist, I'd select the couple with the traditional marriage because I believe, if given a chance, every child should have a mom and a dad.

Town-by-Town Single-Family Home Sales, October

Justin Katz

Election season and other contingencies led me to miss the single-family home sales data for September, but compared with August, Rhode Island's real estate market appeared to near or perhaps finally to reach the bottom in October. For the state as a whole, median sales prices were lower in the last 12 months than in the 12 months prior, but the number of sales continues to increase, and inventory is finally decreasing.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Heads Up, EDC General Assembly: Providence Has Gotten A Non-Surprising Economic Ranking

Monique Chartier

Rhode Island's real Economic Development Corporation, a.k.a., the Rhode Island General Assembly, goes back into session in less than two months. Recently, newly Elected Speaker Gordon Fox pointed to one of his top priorities for the session.

So let's frame this latest ranking, brought to our attention by GoLocalProv,

Providence ranks 94th among all U.S. cities in a new index tracking the economic strength of the nation's largest metro areas. What is worse? Only 102 cities were ranked.

so that it corresponds to this priority: Mr. Speaker, during the upcoming legislative session, can we please work on making Providence - and the entire state - a more economically friendly place for gays to live? We all - gays and straights - would definitely appreciate it.

November 11, 2012

Mike Napolitano Outlines One Key Element of The RI Dem Congressional Win: Massive, Shameless, Televised Lying

Monique Chartier

For good or ill, I don't watch television. So on the day after the election, when I questioned, semi-rhetorically, the outcome of the Rhode Island congressional races to a sympathetic friend, he filled me in on what I had missed: a barrage of television ads by the Dem candidates falsely proclaiming the intentions of their Repub opponents to end Social Security, Medicare and breathing air for anyone over the age of sixty.

Mike Napolitano elaborates on this in a couple of comments, copied below, under a GoLocalProv post. Mike makes some excellent points, especially with regard to the so-called "deduction" for "moving jobs overseas" and the myth about where the $700+ billion cut from Medicare and shifted to ObamaCare will come from.

Aaron, perhaps you weren't watching TV during the last few months when Cicilline, Whitehouse and Langevin informed voters that Republicans wanted to take away their Social Security, Medicare and even Pell Grants. Perhaps you didn't hear these candidates state that over and over in every ad. Perhaps you didn't also hear them say that Republicans wanted to lower taxes for the rich and get tax credit for jobs overseas. These are called lies and scare tactics. When you can't run on your record, you paint your opponent as someone people should run from. ...

Aaron, your assumptions on policy and stereotypes are very telling. First of all, in a down economy raising taxes on anyone is not a solution. Perhaps a course on macroeconomics is in order. You argue there is no proof and there is a great deal of it. Federal revenue increased after the JFK tax cuts, after the Reagan tax cuts, after the Clinton tax cuts, and after the Bush tax cuts. The problem has not been taxes. The problem has been runaway spending. Total federal spending has not dropped once in over 40 years. The government acts like a college student with his/her parent’s credit card. No matter how much the limit, it is never enough.

Just because Republicans stand for keeping the Bush tax cuts for everyone, does not necessarily translate into tax breaks for the rich, which is how the Democrats have spun it. The Democrats have also stated over and over that the rich don’t pay the same taxes as people in the middle class, which is also untrue. Perhaps you should look at the IRS tax tables and upon checking them, one can clearly see that the more income one makes, the higher one is taxed. Is this not already built in? Of course, your party has gone out of its way NOT to clarify the difference between capital gains taxes and income taxes and the risks associated with investments versus income. Another fact is that the top 10% pay 70% of the federal income taxes. It seems that point is never brought up, either.

Also, technically, companies can claim a deduction for the costs associated with moving. However, the deduction is not a special loophole afforded only to companies moving work overseas, as Democrats have made it sound. Rather, the deduction is written into the tax code pertaining to any cost companies face in the course of doing business. That means a company can claim the deduction whether it's moving operations to Beijing or Buffalo. By the way, any cost of doing business is deductible. It seems these points are never brought up either.

To continue, you use another tactic in your comments to my response. You attempt to lump me in with the fringe theorists which is yet another tactic I see utilized quite often with Democrats, especially Sheldon Whitehouse. So if you wish to argue facts and use logic rather than attempt to paint anyone who debates you as extremist, please don’t insult me.

Under President’s health care plan $716 billion will be cut from Medicare which is a fact. Those touted Medicare savings are achieved through reduced provider reimbursements and curbed waste, fraud and abuse. If they can cut so much from waste fraud and abuse, why hasn’t it already been done? In addition, when you pay less to doctors who participate in Medicare, less will accept patients with it.

A recent investigation involving ABC news affiliate WTVD with Dr. Joseph Shanahan was up front about the challenges of accepting Medicare patients. Shanahan stated the system doesn't pay enough to cover costs. "The reimbursement is so low for that - in some cases 60, 80 dollars - it costs you more to get a plumber to come to your house than to get a rheumatologist to come to the hospital," said Shanahan. Shanahan says he's one of only a few rheumatologists treating Medicare patients in his area . They make up about 60 percent of his business but pay for a small percentage of the cost to run it. "The less physicians get paid, the poorer care you're going to receive," said Shanahan.

Right now, Shanahan said Medicare pays him between $40 and $190 to see a new patient and $19 to $134 for follow-up visits. If proposed Medicare cuts kick in by the end of the year, the payments will be about 30 percent less. "There's a point, an edge, a cliff, that when we get to it, I'm not going to be able to provide that top quality care. If I can't provide the best care, I'm not going to provide any," he said. And, the Raleigh rheumatologist says he's come to that point, making the difficult decision to stop taking new Medicare patients this year.

The bottom line is that Cicilline, Whitehouse and Langevin were dishonest in their campaign ads. The only skill their campaigns utilized was how far they could go on lying by omission. They brought the term spin-doctoring to a whole new concept! But then again you are also using the same tactic.

Thank You Veterans

Marc Comtois

This picture is a good example of why we honor our veterans. No matter what, in times when most of us would take cover, they endure out of duty, honor and for their country. Thank you.

November 10, 2012

Petraeus' Resignation: What Changed? Why Is He No Longer Going To Testify Before Congress?

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, David Petraeus resigned as Director of the CIA, citing an extramarital affair.

General Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress about the Benghazi debacle. Except that, hours after the announcement of his resignation came the news, without further elaboration, that he was not going to do so.

Why not? That he has now stepped down from the post does not change that he was, in fact, Director of the CIA and that he presumably (.... well, is there any doubt now?) possesses information that could shed light on the terrible events, decisions and repeated inaction that led to the death of four Americans at the Benghazi consulate during the September 11 attack. This is one rare instance where I agree with Dem Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday that she believed Petraeus’s infidelity did not require him to resign.

Congressman Peter King still very much plans to call on General Petraeus to testify. Any response along the lines of, "Not gonna happen; I've quit because I had an affair" would pass no test of credulity, legality or honor. Is this how the General wishes to conclude his remarkable career?


David P, Dan and Warrington have pointed out that, for several reasons, General Petraeus was obliged to resign in light of the affair. I stand corrected on that point. My not fully expressed thought was to question his resignation if its purpose was solely to get him out of testifying before Congress.

November 8, 2012

Things We Read Today (31), Thursday

Justin Katz

On the politics (and policy) of exit polls, social issues, statism, and hugging.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

No, Ralph, No

Patrick Laverty

I will admit that when Ralph Mollis first ran for Secretary of State (SoS), I was no fan of his or his candidacy. It seemed that while there wasn't anything direct to pin on him, there was always a cloud of trouble around him as mayor of North Providence.

However in the six years or so that he's been the Secretary of State, I've always found him and his staff to be available and helpful. Plus, I haven't heard of any controversy swirling around him. As is fitting with his office, he's kept a low profile.

Then yesterday, he told Tara Granahan on WPRO that in light of the election day mixups, it might be time to roll the Board of Elections under the Secretary of State's office.

In a word, NO.

We currently have a blurred line between the two offices. The SoS is responsible for setting up the ballot and upholding the election laws. The Board of Elections (BoE) is responsible for running the elections on election day and tallying the results.

However, the SoS is a publicly elected and partisan office. The Secretary is beholden to the voters. On the other hand, the BoE is a seven-member board, nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate and specifically may not hold any current state-wide public office. (RIGL 17-7-2)

We need to keep partisan politics out of the administration and oversight of elections as much as possible. A board who has to answer to one person who is elected to a partisan seat, is a bad idea.

I also wish the problems that came up Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening never happened. But we do need to find the correct solutions to the problems. If Secretary Mollis needs a pet cause to raise his profile for when his term is up, I'd suggest he start trumpeting his call for eliminating straight ticket voting again. That is one cause that I will get right in line with him and advocate for loudly right there with him. That needs to be done immediately. But allowing the Secretary of State to oversee the election details is not the correct solution at this time.

15,000 Gasps for Air

Justin Katz

The most discouraging thing about Tuesday's election results was the totality of it. From where I sit, voters made the wrong decisions at the local level, at the state level, and at the federal level. It isn't my purpose, here, to begin the debate about why.

Suffice, for now, to say that those on the right have to find a way to better explain and communicate our society's predicament in terms of causes and solutions. Folks in Rhode Island who say that the state is just too liberal for our ideas are missing the point. Those who tabulate Americans in a demographic tableau of the United States and project the trajectory of ideology and party are ultimately expressing a flawed, racist notion.

First, ideas can change. Human beings are rational; if we're not, then all of the liberties of behavior that social liberals proclaim are little more than assertions that we're free to be instinct-driven animals. We've reached our condition of advancement by, over time, adapting to reality in response not to physical stimuli, but to stimulating abstractions. Ideas.

And second, correct ideas are not regional or racial qualities. If we have correctly assessed the society in which we live (I think we have), and if we have some sense of the shape of the solutions (I think we do), then we must explain these things. It is not enough to lament that blacks don't presently vote for a particular party. It is the wrong approach to begin with the objective of voicing the ideas that people already have in order to attract them to our political banner.

Our ideas should change because we've found better ones, not because we want them to be liked. To do otherwise would be marketing for marketing's sake. Leave it to industry to prioritize the sale above the thing sold.

This is not the context in which I would have liked to observe that we've now reached the 15,000-posts line. It's not a perfect count, I should note: that number includes all blogs on our back end, most substantially Dust in the Light.

But it still indicates a lot of words. A lot of ideas.

When we began Anchor Rising, eight years ago yesterday, we expressed the goal of progress for Rhode Island. Tuesday's discouragement was that we have not seen it.

Nobody, back then, expected Rhode Island to have turned around by now. But it was reasonable to think Rhode Islanders would be giving signs of recognizing the problem. At best, they're recognizing that there is a problem, which I suppose is a sort of pre-dawn light.

So, we enter another year and another term. We begin the next 15,000 posts, because when recognition comes, it will be helpful that so much has already been written.

Ideological minorities don't (or shouldn't) expect to effect an immediate revolution of ideas. But we can lay out an alternate case, so that as people awake to the fact that things must change (and if they don't flee), it is with the possibility of asking, "What is it that they've been saying all these years?"

November 7, 2012

Re: Re: Picking Up the Pieces

Patrick Laverty

In response to Justin's response, I emailed him this below. We figured I should share with all.

We're having separate discussions with a little overlap. It seems his central point is that RI voters are ok with spending like drunken sailors. I agree. We've seen that every two years. I thought to myself a while ago that it seems odd or even unfair that every bond question has at least one advocacy group but there's never anyone telling people the other side of bond issues. Plus, if anyone dares to speak out against the bond issues, the obvious response is that you hate education, you hate seniors, you hate roads, you're not smart fiscally if you can't see how it makes sense to put up $25M to get $225M. It's an easy counter-argument for some people. Our state budget is $8B. We can't find $25M in the budget to pay for the roads and get the other $225M from the feds? That usually draws either crickets or "but it doesn't work that way", at which point I just say that it should. For the state to bond $25M for roads is like charging a $10 meal at McDonalds and they pay it off 50 cents a month. That meal you had enough money to pay cash for is now costing you 50% more and you've needed more meals since then.

So Justin and I are completely on the same page there withe the approval of bonds. That is a huge problem in this state and as I've said, I'm willing to bet that 90% of the people who vote for the bonds also have no idea that they're voting themselves a tax increase. They think it's just the government's money. No big deal. They're spending someone else's money.

I think he also missed my point on grooming replacements. He wrote:

"There will be no farm team for Republicans because Republicans don't tend to love the operation of government that much;"
That's fine, I'm not advocating for the operation of government. There is a government and Republicans want to be a part of that. I'm saying that people like Hinckley, Riley and to a lesser extent, Doherty were in over their heads to just jump right to challenging such experienced and seasoned politicians. Where are these Republicans who rant and rail against the Democrats constantly? Why aren't these people moving up and helping newer, local, conservative-minded politicians?

We have an excellent example right now in Cumberland. In my eleven years in town, our Town Council has been 7-0 for the Democrats, with an occasional 6-1 thrown in for good measure. This year, the town Republicans ran four candidates for the seats and won three. That's a step in the right direction for good governance. All three are starting out politically, and they're doing it the right way. They're starting small and working their way through the system. Now if they had someone to help them along, someone or people that they could call when they have questions or ideas, that'd be a huge help. Someone to introduce them to the right people to help them move up so that if one or all of them someday want to move on to bigger seats, it's not the state's Republicans saying "who are you?" when they call for money or help. I don't see anyone at the state level who is available to help and mentor them, or at least be a sounding board of experience.

That's the system that needs to be in place. However instead, I feel there is a "what about me?" attitude even among some of the state's Republicans when it comes to someone helping.

That aside, I don't think we can really say that the actions of the national GOP and national candidates had no effect on RI at all. That was the central theme of the entire Cicilline campaign. It was "if we elect Doherty then we're electing Boehner." That was a big part of what scared people away. Yes, many national Republicans are smart and fiscally responsible, but the major failure of the Republicans is in defining themselves. They let Obama and the Democrats define them. Doherty let Cicilline define him. While Romney had to focus on the primary, Obama was reminding the country of the Bush Republican years, scaring them. Then when Ryan was picked, they found the worst parts of his budget and then spun it in the wrong ways (or right ways for Democrats).

In GoLocalProv this morning, RI GOP Chairman Mark Zaccaria is quoted as saying the Democrats are simply better politicians than the Republicans. The Democrats are better at campaigning. This year at least, that is true. I believe it's very possible that the Republicans would govern better than the Democrats yet they have to be a better politician first in order to show people how they'd govern better. Fail at step 1, you don't get to step 2. That's a part of the problem. The Republicans are failing at step 1. The Democrats get to fail at step 2.

Maybe the Republicans hate the game, maybe they don't want to learn how to be better politicians, that's fine. But that's like complaining that I want to be a winning baseball team, but I don't like getting better at hitting. "I don't like that part of the game. But I want to win!" Politics doesn't work that way.

I think the bottom line is Justin and I agree on many of the various problems and there is no single reason for the failings of this state. We see many and today we can hope the party will identify them and begin working to fix them.

Re: Picking Up the Pieces

Justin Katz

To be blunt, I think Patrick's analysis relies too heavily on one of the two clichés about Rhode Island politics that ought to be discarded.

Last night wasn't the RIGOP's fault, in any institutional way. It isn't some strategic error that's led to the party's status. It's the society in which the RIGOP has to operate.

Very closely related is the second cliché, touched on here by Ted Nesi in an analysis of last night's results:

The results seem to be another sign of how toxic the Republican brand has become in Rhode Island as the party has moved to the right nationally. The fierce conservatism of the GOP’s leading voices – Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Michele Bachmann – hasn’t resonated with a majority of voters in Rhode Island (or Massachusetts); Obama is on track to match his 63% Rhode Island vote share from 2008 despite all that’s transpired since.

Consider that paragraph in the light of his suggestion, Saturday, that RI Republicans need to invest in a departure from social conservatism. Ryan, McConnell, and Bachmann — especially Ryan — aren't the poster children for social conservatism. They're generally conservative across the board, yes, but that's not what Rhode Island Democrats are leveraging as a bogeyman.

Sure, scaring people about social conservatism remains a well-worn weapon in the Democrats' arsenal, but it is far from the biggest. If you take a frank look at the rhetoric at every level of campaigning, you see that it was fiscal conservatism — that of explaining how the numbers don't work and seeking to get out in front of the entitlement collapse, for example. Paul Ryan isn't a conservative hero based on fiery rhetoric about abortion or marriage. He's a hero for his chart-laden videos about entitlement reform and cutting analysis of ObamaCare.

And then look at non-candidate results. Personally, I found the most disheartening state-level results to be the debt that voters approved. Oh, I fully expected all or most of the bonds to pass, but consider the margins: 66%, 77%, 74%, 70%, 62%. This is the Rhode Island electorate treating it as a no-brainer to handle infrastructure projects in a way that makes it roughly 50% more expensive. This is Rhode Island green-lighting the continued use of the General Fund for discretionary spending while the state borrows for the basics.

Say what you will about the individual proposals, but this does not indicate high demand for fiscal conservatism. (And I don't see any evidence that social liberalism boosts Republican results.) Now ask yourself this: If same-sex marriage had been on the ballot, how would it have compared? It may or may not have won, but if it had, does anybody think it would have been by 70-something percent? Its advocates' aversion to putting it on the ballot suggests not.

That brings us back to Patrick's post. Having watched a political farm team grow in Tiverton, the stresses of this election taught a stark lesson. When you're the advocate for sustainable economic policies founded in individual self-reliance and community action outside of government, being inside government is very, very difficult. It's a constant fight against the political opposition and a constant strain among friends who disagree about what battles to pick and what compromises to make.

Increasingly, the Democrats here range from those who want to expand government for ideological reasons to those who want to be part of the ruling class and are willing to follow the formula. There will be no farm team for Republicans because Republicans don't tend to love the operation of government that much; they don't tend to want to rule much less be rope-pulling participants in the class that does.

So what's the solution? Well, on an individual level, it's to brace against the gathering storm, which in large part will entail reprioritizing our lives. On the social level, last night may have proven that we have to go a step further back, even, than political offices, to small-scope education, almost on the scale of person-to-person conversations, and a concerted effort to increase the number of people who see what we see.

Picking Up the Pieces

Patrick Laverty

In 2007, the Boston Red Sox were World Champions. Even late in 2011, they were the World Series favorites and the best team in baseball. Then the floor fell out from under them and last year, they were an embarrassment to the history of the franchise.

Well, it's not like the RI GOP has recently been the equivalent of World Champions, but I think it's safe to say that the floor fell out on election night. The Democrats executed their strategy to near perfection. Not only did they re-take the White House, they swept their three contested RI federal races but they also increased their dominance in the State House. How is this even possible?

Maybe we need to get back to that baseball analogy. It's all about development of talent and promoting the best. That's where the Democrats get it right. They build from within, from the ground up.

Where did David Cicilline come from? He got elected to the RI State House, then Mayor, then Congress. Jim Langevin, started by getting elected to a Constitutional Convention, then to a seat in the State House, Secretary of State and then to Congress. Jack Reed served in the RI Senate, then to Congress and then to US Senate. Let's look at another example that's local to me. My current State Representative is Karen MacBeth. She got started by getting elected to the Cumberland School Committee, then to the Town Council and then to the State House.

Are you seeing a pattern yet?

Now this isn't anything against Brendan Doherty, Barry Hinckley or Mike Riley. Those three stepped up when others didn't. This isn't on them. But look at their political background and see how it differs from the incumbents? This is like trying to jump from the sandlots to major league baseball. It takes time and development to learn this game.

The GOP just got absolutely kicked in the mouth in a year when Rhode Island is at the bottom of just about every possible economic indicator. If the Republicans can't make gains in 2012, never mind to lose seats, then clearly there's something very, very wrong. Every single state Republican from the top down needs to take a hard look in the mirror and re-evaluate.

This is where the state GOP needs to do their work. It needs to cultivate local. Build up from the local councils. When the Republicans do get someone in higher seats, even if it's at the State House, they need to start grooming their own replacements. What the GOP doesn't need is for people to sit comfortably in those seats for ten or twenty years.

Move up or move out.

If someone's been at the State House for even six years, it's time to start looking at moving up. If they're happy to just be going up to Smith Hill every year, casting the opposition votes, ranting a little bit from time to time, they're not really helping anyone. If they want to help, they'll cultivate their own replacement in their district and mentor someone locally. Help fresh-faced budding politicians get elected to the school committee or city council. Groom them to take your seat one day. Show them the ropes and how to navigate the various necessary political obstacles. At the same time, build your own profile to move up and challenge for these federal seats. Why aren't the House and Senate Republicans that have been around for many years running for Congress? If the Republicans were to do this, they'd build their own base. They'd have support for when they do want to move up. Imagine a Republican Governor having a veto-proof Senate?

The egos, the attitudes and the infighting need to be put aside. The "big fish in a small pond" mentality has to go. If state Republicans care about advancing the cause and growing the party, it starts from within and being selfless. Help yourself and help the party by helping others to grow.

So there it is. What are you going to do today, Rhode Island Republican Party? More of the same or is it time to try something different? What are you going to do today to help the party? Anyone?

November 6, 2012

2012 Election 10:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[11:19] Matt Allen on WPRO is saying all the major networks all calling the Presidential race for Barack Obama.

[10:58] MN called for Obama by NBC. Obama in OH 50-48, with 2/3 of the vote reporting, and 70% of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) left to report. Obama's Electoral College lead looks pretty solid at this point.

[10:20] Another direct Ted Nesi tweet: "JUST IN: Gordon Fox defeats Mark Binder 3348 to 2472, or 57.5% to 42.5%. A clear victory for the speaker after a tough challenge."

[10:16] Direct from the BoE, with 5 of 5 precincts reporting, incumbent Republican State Representative Dan Reilly has lost to Linda Finn in District 72.

[10:11] Bob Plain is tweeting that Gordon Fox is behind by 54 votes, with 77% of the vote in.

2012 Election 9:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[9:52] Ted Nesi: "Cicilline up by nearly 10,000 votes now with 88% of precincts reporting."

[9:44] Multiple sources reporting that Cicilline is opening up a 3% or so lead.

[9:40] Cicilline ahead of Doherty, 47.3-46.3, 59% percent of precincts in. And there are still a bunch of "delayed" Providence votes to arrive.

[9:36] Multiple sources have called NH for the President. With 45% in, NBC says Obama has a 51-48 lead in CO. Meanwhile, Obama is leading 53-46 in OH (also NBC). If the Prez wins both of those, that just about seals it.

[9:34] 81% in in FL, according to NBC. Romney and Obama separated by 400 votes.

[9:30] ABC says PA goes to Obama (via Haberman). NBC says WI goes to Obama. Not looking good for Romney.

[9:15] 76% in in Florida. Romney/Obama is 50-50.

[9:09] Ian Donnis (and the BoE by the time I finished typing this) reporting that Cale Keable defeats Donald Fox in Burrillville.

[9:06] Bill Haberman of WPRO is reporting that incumbent Republicans Frank Maher and Glen Shibley look like they will lose their Senate races.

[9:05] Looking hyperlocal for some good news; Don Botts has won his City Council race in Cranston.

[9:01] ...but you have to believe the precincts in Providence that are still voting are going to break heavily for Cicilline.

2012 Election 8:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[8:59] Check that; Ted Nesi tweets: "Cicilline, Doherty separated by just over 100 votes with nearly half of precincts in".

[8:55] 29% of precincts in District 1, Cicilline ahead of Doherty 47.8-45.9, from BoE result.

[8:48] Justin Katz, via Twitter, proposes a new state motto.

[8:46] Bill Haberman on WPRO just reported that all 7 RI statewide ballot questions look like they will pass.

[8:39] Numbers have just appeared on the BoE website.

[8:35] Ray Sullivan is tweeting that Lisa Tomasso has defeated Keith Anderson in RI House dist. 29. BoE website is still all zeroes on everything.

[8:30] Obama back ahead of Romney in Florida 51-48, according to NBC with "55% in".

[8:24] Cranston Patch says Frank Lombardi has beat Sean Gately. Also a report that Beth Moura has lost her Senate seat in Cumberland.

[8:23] Multiple reports from my Twitter feed of Jon Brien's write-in campaign in Woonsocket falling short.

[8:19] AP has also called Rhode Island for Sheldon Whitehouse. David Scharfenberg of the Providence Phoenix asks, reasonably, how was that done, given there was no exit polling in RI in this cycle.

[8:15] Now with "51% in", NBC has Romney ahead of Obama 51-49.

[8:12] Reliable sources say the Associated Press has called Rhode Island for Obama.

[8:06] Meanwhile, in Florida with about 41% of the vote in (NBC News), Barack Obama is leading Mitt Romney 51-49. There aren't many likely paths to a Romney victory, without Florida.

[8:01] The Providence Journal Twitter feed is reporting that at least one place in South Providence may stay open to accommodate a long line of people who haven't yet voted.

[8:00] It's official poll closing time in Rhode Island,but...

Just Think How Much More Suspenseful It Would Be Around Here Today...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...if Rhode Island didn't award it's electoral votes on a winner take-all basis, unless a candidate exceeded 62.5% of the popular vote! Why 62.5%, you ask? Read the answer here; it will remain valid at least through the 2020 election.

Proportional allocation with winner-take-all above a certain threshold could be put into effect for the next Presidential election, requiring only the action of the Rhode Island legislature and no other -- meaning that folks concerned that Presidential candidates haven't been paying enough attention to RI, because of current rules for allocating electors, should be able to get behind this right away!


Marc Comtois

So today is the day. Big election. The fate of thousands of politicians is in our hands. And our own too. No matter what the result, life will go on, albeit with sunnier or cloudier skies depending on your outlook. It’s unfortunate that who we elect for President (or for any office) is as important as it is on our daily lives. Smaller government is less intrusive, which means those who would hold the reins would be less important and less impactful on the lives of everyday citizens. But that’s not the case, especially here in the Ocean State. So we make choices.

For me that means supporting those who would work to shrink government, yes; but also those who would work to make it more efficient and effective where it is needed. More than ever, I’ve come to appreciate competence. Most importantly, though, we need people who will lead. That means leading before a crisis hits, not just during or after. Leadership means taking steps to head things off at the pass, not taking the reins of the runaway stagecoach as it’s going over the cliff (and then being applauded when only 3 of the 4 wheels came off). So, competence and leadership.

One way or another, we’ll learn several things after this election. Big questions will be answered--smaller or larger government?--as will small ones--were the polls accurate?--but not everything will be determined for all time based on what happens on November 6th, 2012.

It may just feel that way for a while.

My Random Election Day Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

I might come back and update this post as the day goes on.

I voted at the same time today as I did on primary day. On primary day, I casted the seventh ballot at my precinct. Today, I casted the 184th. Where were you people?! Seriously. Do you realize that many elections are decided by the primary? That's an embarrassment that people don't vote every opportunity they have. In my opinion, if you miss any election, primary or general, you should need to sign up again before the next election. But that's just me.

I heard on both WPRO and WHJJ this morning that there are some (surprise!) irregularities already. Ballots being delivered to the wrong location. Wrong ballots were sent to South Kingstown and West Warwick and Woonsocket. To the point where voters were being told to go to a different polling location and submit a provisional ballot. My question there is whether it is possible to find out if a provisional ballot is accepted or rejected. But how does this mistake happen anyway? Someone messed up at the Board of Elections and sent to the wrong location. Then the local Board of Canvassers didn't check the ballots to make sure they were correct. Then the local poll workers didn't check to see if they were giving out the right ballots. Even worse, in one location, nine people filled out the wrong town's ballot! If you can't determine that you're filling out the wrong town's ballot, you probably shouldn't be voting! And don't tell me that they were all simply voting for the President.

Some quick messages from the Secretary of State's Office on voting today:
-Bring your ID to vote. Picture ID is not necessary this year, but bring some form of ID.
-Polls close 1 hour early this time. Most now close at 8 pm.
-Never let the poll workers turn you away. You may always at least cast a provisional ballot. If you want to vote, never leave without voting.
-With redistricting, your polling location might have changed. You can look it up here: In the half-hour or so that I was in line, I saw two different people get sent to a different location because of redistricting. Save yourself the time and look it up.
-If you have any other questions or problems today, you can contact your local Board of Canvassers or the Secretary of State's Office, as they oversee the election process.

And if you couldn't tell, I'd really prefer it if you'd connect the line for Brendan Doherty today.

UPDATED: The ProJo tweeted at 9:16 that South Kingstown now has the correct ballots.

UPDATED: Commenter JTR wrote that when you cast a provisional ballot, you're given written instructions on how you can track the status of your ballot.

One theme on the Dan Yorke Show today is that people aren't happy with long lines and the customer service at the polls. In my experience, the workers do their best. It's not like these people do this stuff all the time. They're trained but things come up and their focus is usually on getting it right. If you want to see what it's like to be on the other side, sign up to work at the polls next time. It's a long, long day. You do have to be there for about 15 hours. There are no shifts, they may not leave. Let's cut the poll workers some slack.

Multiple people are reporting the same thing I saw this morning. More people with last names between A and L are voting than people with last names between M and Z. I don't get it. I have to assume that the board of canvassers know how many voters there are in a town and basically broke the list in half, rounding to the nearest letter. My experience was that I was about 20th in line in the A-L line and the people just kept queuing up behind me for about the 30 minutes I was in there. I saw maybe three people come through for the M-Z line. Did someone send a memo that A-L is before noon and M-Z after noon? Seems like a weird dynamic. Any thoughts on that?

November 5, 2012

Yet Another Symptom of One Party Domination: RI Last for Teacher "Attendance"

Monique Chartier

Kudos to WPRI's Tim White for catching this.

Rhode Island teachers were absent from school more than their colleagues anywhere else in the country, according to a report by a national think tank.

The findings – released Monday by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C. – examined data from the 2009-10 school year originally compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study shows 50.2% of Rhode Island teachers were absent 10 days or more in 2009-10, compared with the national average of 36%. Educators in Utah had the fewest absences, with 20.9% of teachers out 10 days or more.

Fourteen percentage points above the national average. And we would be remiss if we did not juxtapose this with the state's ranking - top 20% - for teacher pay.

One party has dominated the state for decades. That party has been notably deferential to certain special interests public labor unions, presumably in part on the theory that, what the hell, it's not my money I'm negotiating with. Accordingly, they can now add poor teacher attendance to the listing of all of the other bad rankings that they have inflicted on the state.

You may want to keep this in mind when you're voting tomorrow. I'm not suggesting that you pull the master lever for the Republican Party. I'm saying that if you pick mostly Republicans, you'll be accomplishing the same thing, except in a thoughtful way. And you'll simultaneously be giving yourself the flexibility to also vote for those good independent candidates who, if elected, will, along with Republicans, bring some badly needed political balance to the state.

Things We Read Today (30), Monday

Justin Katz

Pre-election restlessness; race, politics, and advancement; differing job estimates without optimism; situational social issue calculus; old media as the election's big loser.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

The Final Round of Polls Say?

Carroll Andrew Morse

...The final Gallup poll has tightened...the RCP average is now slightly in Obama's favor...CNN has the race about tied too, but in a sample that was 41% Democratic, 30% Republican...

Blogger Bob Krumm has some interesting speculation about what Presidential election projections from five national major pollsters/poll analysts could mean (scroll down to just below the map at the link, to see the five scenarios he evaluated).

Tomorrow we'll find out who was right.

November 4, 2012

The Legislation Enabling the 38 Studios Guarantee Didn't Magically Push Itself Through the Legislature

Carroll Andrew Morse

Based on some chatter in the Twittersphere over the weekend, it appears the claim is still alive and well that Rhode Island Speaker of House Gordon Fox didn't know that the state's Economic Development Corporation would consider awarding $75M in loan guarantees to a single company (that eventually went under), utilizing a $125M pool that had been authorized by the legislature during his watch.

Let's review the timeline on this.

1. Governor Donald Carcieri and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, at the start of 2010, had proposed a $50M program for state-government loan guarantees to businesses in Rhode Island. Here's a description of the original program from WPRI-TV's (CBS 12) Tim White and Ted Nesi...

Carcieri and the EDC had proposed a new $50 million Job Creation Guaranty Program that would provide loan guarantees to local high-tech companies with soft assets such as intellectual property, as opposed to hard assets such as factories and equipment.
Keep the number $50M in mind.

2. According to Mike Stanton of the Projo (h/t Monique), a meeting between 38 Studios founder Curt Schilling and Governor Carcieri at a March 2010 fundraiser led to meetings with EDC Chairman Keith Stokes and Rhode Island Speaker of the House Gordon Fox...

One week later, the new executive director of Rhode Island’s Economic Development Corporation, Keith Stokes, said that both Carcieri and Fox, the House speaker, told him in separate conversations that he should meet Schilling.

On March 16, Stokes and Fox met Schilling and 38 Studios director Tom Zaccagnino at the downtown Providence law office of Michael Corso, a friend and campaign supporter of Fox’s who was working with 38 Studios, sold tax credits, and had helped rewrite Rhode Island’s historic-preservation tax credit law.

Six days later, Stokes met again with Schilling and Zaccagnino, this time with EDC officials. 38 Studios said it was looking for about $75 million, so Stokes said he went to legislative leaders and suggested they add $75 million to a planned $50-million financial credit program for companies that create “soft assets” — such as computer software and other intellectual property.

On April 6 — one month after Schilling and Carcieri first met —House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino inserted the $125-million Job Creation Guarantee Program into the supplemental budget.

Note $75M being added to an original $50M.

3. Eventually, the "Job Creation Guaranty Program" was approved by the House in May of 2010, authorizing the Economic Development Corporation to issue $125M in debt in support of "Rhode Island's economic development strateg[y] of continuing to optimize its knowledge economy assets such, as the sciences, technology, digital media, innovative manufacturing and other technologies". It was then approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor.

4. In July of 2010, Schilling's company was awarded a $75M loan guarantee by the EDC.

So was the extra $75M added to the original $50M loan guarantee program targeted for one company, right from the start, during the legislative phase of the process?

5. House Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Costantino had this to say on the subject of the loan-guarantee program, to Denise Perreault of the Providence Business News in June of 2010 -- that's before the EDC had made its decision to award 38 Studios one chunk of $75M...

Rep. Steve Costantino, chairman of the House Finance Committee and a candidate for mayor in Providence, sponsored the legislation creating the $125 million loan-guarantee program. He said he had heard that 38 Studios was interested in moving to Rhode Island, so he set the guarantee ceiling at $125 million specifically to allow other businesses to take advantage of the funding, too.
Let's work through the numbers here. Suppose Chairman Costantino thought that 38 Studios might receive an amount equal to a whole fifth of the original fund ($10M), and that wouldn't leave enough for others. If that was the case, the program could have been increased to $60M, which would have allowed it to accommodate everyone it could have prior to 38 Studios' interest, plus 38 Studios for $10M. Or suppose he thought that 38 Studios might ask for an amount up to half of the size of the original program ($25M). Then, the sensible thing would have been to increase the size of the loan guarantee fund to $75M, allowing $25M to go to one place and $50M to everyone else.

Instead, so that the program could involve both 38 Studios and "other businesses", a choice was made to increase the size of the loan guarantee program to $125M, suggesting that $75M was going someplace where all of the "other businesses" eligible for the program would not be able "to take advantage of the funding", i.e. the one business mentioned by name by Finance Chairman Costantino was expected to get the $75M.

6. Of course, the fact that the House Finance Chairman pretty clearly knew where the money was going when he spoke prior to the EDC vote doesn't automatically mean the Speaker did. Maybe Stephen Costantino had gone rogue, and was throwing numbers into the budget and making promises without consulting anyone, and Speaker Fox was too busy with other things to notice. Just keep in mind, that's as about as good a claimas there is that the Speaker didn't know the $75M spike in the Job Creation Guaranty Program ceiling wasn't intended specifically for 38 Studios.

As for supporters of Speaker Fox running in Tuesday's election, whether their better argument is "we assumed the Speaker knew where the money was going" or "we know he didn't really know where the money was going, but we voted like he told us to anyway" is not as clear.

Want a Million Dollars?

Patrick Laverty

Apparently the state of Rhode Island doesn't. The state is owed $1,245,200 as of August, and possibly more by now. According to a monthly report from the RI Board of Elections, more than 250 politicians, candidates and Political Action Committees (PAC), both past and present, owe amounts ranging from as little as $25 to as much as $132,831.

Usually, the reason for this is because of late or unfiled campaign finance reports. The initial fine for being late is $25 and then $2 per day is added until the fine is paid. Ultimately, it is the candidate or the head of the PAC who is responsible, however all will also have a Treasurer responsible for filing timely reports.

In full disclosure, I have served as a Treasurer on a campaign and I did also file my a report (my first) late. My candidate immediately paid the fine and was in the clear.

The Board of Elections now has their Electronic Reporting and Tracking System (ERTS) that they put in place about six years ago. Previously, the campaign needed to get a paper copy of the report to the Board of Elections by the deadline. The ERTS system allows for all the reporting to be done online. If nothing has changed, then the campaign merely needs to log in and press a single submit button. It just takes seconds.

Take a look at the list though and I'm sure you'll recognize many of the names. You can also go back and see older reports by simply changing the date in the URL to the report. You'll see some of the amounts increasing each month. Why aren't these being paid off by people who are still serving in office or running for office.

Here's a solution. If you owe a fine to the Board of Elections on the election filing day, you may not run for office or your lobbying license is revoked.

Why do we let these fines just go on for years? We even see some in there from former politicians who move on to other politically connected positions. There's no good reason for them to ever pay these off. Let's put some teeth back in the law and the fine system. If a candidate can't even be responsible enough with their own campaign budget and sticking to deadlines and rules, why should we allow that person to make decisions on taxpayer money? We shouldn't. Pay up or get out.

November 3, 2012

What Comes Around Goes Around

Patrick Laverty

It's been interesting watching the RI Democratic Party Spokesman Bill Fischer bounce back and forth between arguments for his various clients. For months we've heard him talk about how Brendan Doherty won't talk about the issues and just wants to distract with senseless, meaningless things.

Then lately, Fischer tells us all about the alleged campaign finance violations that Gordon Fox's opponent, Mark Binder is engaged in. Binder is trying to talk about the issues and Fox's record as Speaker, but the Fox team just wants to talk about these commercials that are going out over the airwaves about the Speaker. At first, they weren't identifying who as behind the commercials. That part has been fixed. Then they complained about the lack of reporting these commercials on the financial reports. The Fox team kept reminding us that this kind of dirty politics is illegal and needs to stop.

Then today, I got a political mailer. What timing to get such a thing on Saturday before the election. Perfectly timed so there can be no response. The mailer has right on it a picture of Senator Beth Moura, Curt Schilling, the 38 Studios logo and the tag line: $105 Million Reasons Why Sen. Moura Has To Go. On the other side, it reads, "On Nov. 6th, send a message. No More Insider Deals. No More Moura."

Clearly, this mailer is intended to paint the blame for 38 Studios on Senator Moura. Well, I guess that would be fair if she voted for it. But she didn't. Why didn't she do more to stop it? Why wasn't she more outspoken to get the deal with the EDC killed? Couldn't she have done more? Very easy answer, no. Because she wasn't even a senator when that bill was voted on. Dan Connors sat in the Senate District 19 seat and voted for the bill. But yet, his vote is being used against Moura?

Why are these blatant lies allowed? Why can someone supporting Moura's opponent, Ryan Pearson, be allowed to do these things? I've seen Democrats howling about how Brendan Doherty has dragged his campaign into the gutter by telling the truth about David Cicilline and reminding people of who Cicilline is and what he's done. This mailer isn't even the truth. This is worse than a "Pants on Fire."

Why didn't the Democrats do anything about this? They can't claim to have known nothing about it, as when I did some searching to find out who the "Working Families Coalition" and their chairman Edward Johnson is, I found that they did similar things during the primary. I don't see where people like Ed Pacheco, Gordon Fox or Bill Fischer came out and denounced these actions. But yet when someone wants to tell the truth about their candidate, they get all worked up and start leveling charges.

By the way, I checked the Pearson campaign funding reports and I see no mention of Working Families Coalition reported, similar to what Fox is complaining about with Binder. No, there's no direct tie between the group and Pearson, but that's the case in the "Fox in the Henhouse" ads and Mark Binder.

It makes me wonder how many other campaigns are blatantly lying like this. Additionally, it's these types of lies that are really turning people off to politics. It's quite disgusting.

So Democrats, what say you? Are you going to show some leadership here and file a complaint with the Board of Elections against both the Working Families Coalition for an extremely misleading mailer and against Ryan Pearson for this ad? Or do you only do that when it's against you? Leaders can see past the partisan politics and act like adults. Or like Governor Christie.

ADDENDUM: Today (Sunday), Ryan Pearson released a statement indicating that he had no knowledge of the mailer before it was delivered. Additionally, he claims to have had no contact with the Working Families Coalition.

A Familiar School Committee Time Line

Justin Katz

"I had the sense that everybody around the table knew that we were part of the same team.” That's how Tiverton School Committee member Carol Herrmann described negotiations with the teachers' union this summer. On August 14, the committee passed the contract extension.

It isn't surprising that the negotiations would be "cordial," as Herrmann put it. Negotiating for management were Herrmann (a union teacher), Deborah Pallasch (Herrmann's campaign partner in 2008), Superintendent William Rearick (formerly a union teacher), and Finance Director Douglas Fiore (who works for Rearick). Chairwoman Sally Black is a retired union teacher.

The committee's "negotiations," so to speak, with the people of Tiverton have been less cordial.

In January 2009, the committee approved a contract with retroactive raises despite residents' fears that the recession would continue. And voters at the May 2009 financial town meeting (FTM) refused to approve the committee's requested budget increase.

The school committee meeting a week later was heated. One guidance counselor told the committee: "I am the last person on this Earth that would want to hurt a child, but you need to make a statement… to get people to the town meeting."

As it happened, the Obama administration's stimulus filled the gap and then some.

In May 2010, Pallasch proposed an increase, as an FTM voter, that essentially made the stimulus a permanent part of the budget. Herrmann's husband, Nick Tsiongas, then made the familiar threats; if her budget didn't pass: "We will begin by closing one of the new elementary schools… eliminating all extracurricular activities… every sport and every after school activity… middle school band, high school chorus… and then five or six teaching positions at the high school."

We'd heard that before, and we've heard it ever since, including before this year's financial town referendum (FTR), which has replaced the FTM.

For the upcoming FTR, the "five-year plan" that the committee mentioned when it approved the teacher agreement calls for a school department appropriation of $29,106,009, an increase of $1.2 million (4.3%), well over the state tax cap.

And the cycle continues. The only way to stop it — and to make the people of Tiverton feel as if they are the ones "on the same team” — is for voters in Tiverton to elect Susan Anderson, Ruth Hollenbach, and me to the school committee. We will insist that the district maintain its programming within the budget that taxpayers feel they can afford, without threatening to "hurt" children in order to "make a statement."

November 2, 2012

Romney Rally Compare & Contrast

Justin Katz

This Twitter compare and contrast, from an Ohio Romney rally, is too stark not to mark with commentary. The first comes from AP reporter Steve Peoples, formerly a journalist on the political beat for the Providence Journal:

Next comes a picture from somebody in the audience (note that I've seen multiple similar pictures in my feed in the last half-hour or so:

Even with social media, it really is possible to live in your own world, if you want to. Of course, being behind the curtain in Rhode Island makes it a bit easier... at least on one side of the aisle.

Update: Here's a video snippet of that "low energy."

Heading to the Finish Line

Carroll Andrew Morse

I've been told (via various advertisements) that yes votes on ballot Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 will each bring jobs. If it's that simple, maybe Rhode Island should consider adding 10 or 20 more questions to the ballot every two years, since they could all bring jobs too.

In the race for District 4 State Representative, incumbent (and Speaker of the House) Gordon Fox wants a careful review of all monies used in support of challenger Mark Binder (or used in opposition to Gordon Fox). I think Binder spokesman Peter Kerwin is correct to point out that if the Speaker's understanding of where the millions of dollars he helped appropriate to 38 studios was going had been as meticulous as his tracking of a few thousand dollars spent by political opponents, the state would be in better shape at the moment.

And speaking of 38 Studios, the state's Economic Development Corporation has filed a lawsuit involving the $75M loan guarantee made to 38 Studios. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Secretary of State, in consultation with the state's Housing Resources Commission, has sent out voter handbooks telling the voters that $225M in additional matching funds will become available if they approve Question 7, while question 7 advocates have publicly said the matching number will likely be closer to $125M. If the programs that use this bond don't get the additional $100M that they've been promised in the official voter handbook, is someone going to get sued? Oh, that's right, the SoS and the Housing Resources Commission are fully within the government, so they're allowed to make up numbers without consequence.

The Providence Phoenix pulled the Democratic master lever in its endorsements in this week's paper. Here's the beginning of their reason for endorsing incumbent Democratic Congressman David Cicilline...

[I]f Cicilline proved a less-than-ideal fit for an executive position — for a mayor's nuts-and-bolts management — he is well-suited to the legislature; Congress is the place where Cicilline might finally realize his potential.
The question is, what kind of potential is suggested by David Cicilline's eight years as a legislator on Smith Hill, where he voted to increase state spending from $3.5B to $5.4B (B as in billion), by voting for leadership budgets in 7 of 8 years in office and for their overall leadership spending framework in the eighth, when it comes to Federal spending that is predicted to grow from $3.6T to $5.5T (T as in trillion) over the next decade?

Finally, remember that, even if you start your voting by choosing the straight-ticket option, you can still mark your ballot for individuals of the "other" party in individual races, and it's the votes for the person and not the party that count in those races. As that absolutely reliable font of information, the Secretary of State's voter handbook says...

If you cast a straight party vote and also vote separately for an individual candidate or candidates for a certain office on the ballot, only the individual party candidate or candidates that you voted for separately will be counted for that office. The straight party vote will not be counted for that office, but it will still apply in all the offices you do not separately complete.
Be sure to tell a friend!

Strange Days for Employment Data

Justin Katz

Today's "employment situation" release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) presents what might be termed a mixed-but-still-tepid picture best summarized with this quotation:

Employment growth has averaged 157,000 per month thus far in 2012, about the same as the average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.

That's not much of an improvement, and it's not nearly enough to speak of anything like a healthy growth rate.

But a reasonable analysis, teasing out as much election-season politics as it is possible to do, has to admit the peculiarity of the report.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

November 1, 2012

Liveblogging the Final Doherty/Cicilline Debate

Carroll Andrew Morse

[8:24] Doherty closing: Washington is broken, we need to bring jobs to America and jobs to RI through bipartisanship. We need to protect Social Security and Medicare, and cut back on our debt. Election comes down to an evaluation of trust.

[8:23] Cicilline closing: We need to fight against the bigs in Washington, and for the middle class. Will fight to protect Medicare and Social Security, the Buffet rule and stand up for women.

[8:22] Closing statement from Vogel: Vogel is happy that Christie and Obama get along in the wake of Sandy, but disappointed that President Obama was criticized in Virginia today.

[8:20] Each cand gets 15s on Social Security. Vogel: Not broken, easily fixed; Doherty: Consider Simpson-Bowles; Cicilline: Increase benefits do not cut them.

[8:19] Cicilline cites work with Republicans to end the war in Afghanistan as example of bipartisanship.

[8:18] Cicilline defends his vote for the beyond-left Progressive budget.

[8:17] Doherty cites Obama policy to bring the corporate tax-rate down.

[8:16] Responding to a Q, Doherty says he'd vote for a Republican Speaker. Mentions Cicilline's vote for the beyond-left Progressive budget. Rapp wants a specific issue.

[8:15] Vogel says he would caucus with Democrats, because he's a liberal Rhode Islander. Says Republicans have good ideas, doesn't mention any.

[8:14] Vogel: We need comprehensive immigration reform.

[8:13] Vogel: Drain on resources by illegal immigrants is minimal.

[8:12] Rapp: Didn't you oppose "secure communities" program? Cicilline: Didn't want local police doing the work of the Federal government.

[8:11] Cicilline: Comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. Says that Doherty opposes the DREAM act, that Cicilline supports.

[8:10] Doherty: Illegal immigrants need a path to legitimacy, not necessarily citizenship. Rapp: Guest worker policy? Doherty: We need bipartisan compromise.

[8:09] Doherty: Yes; we need comprehensive immigration reform; illegal reentry is a drain on resources.

[8:08] Question from Terry Gorman (via Rapp): Are Federal mandates on illegal immigrants a drain on local resources?

[8:07] Doherty opposes decriminalization of marijuana, supports medicinal use. US attorney needs to step-up and support things one way or another in RI.

[8:06] Cicilline supports state-by-state medical marijuana decisions. Would remove MJ from schedule 1, if necessary, to make this happen.

[8:05] Without saying the words comprehensive drug policy, Vogel makes all the standard legalization arguments.

[8:04] Rappleye talks about the drug war, asks specifically if marijuana should be legalized?

[8:02] OK, didn't have the plug-in to play the WJAR video. It's installed now, I missed a question about flood insurance.

[7:56] Cicilline: We have policies that incentivize offshoring and gives an example of telling the military they have to buy their uniforms from here.

[7:55] Rapp: You want government to tell manufacturers what to do? Vogel: Government tells people what to do all the time.

[7:54] Vogel: Offshoring is making CEO's rich. Comprehensive tax policy could fix this.

[7:53] Doherty: Need to change regulations to compete with foreign countries. Rappleye presses, we don't want our regs like China's do we? Doherty: No, wages are coming up in China, equalizing things to our benefit.

[7:53] Exchange about where Olympic uniforms should be made. Rappleye and Cicilline aren't connecting

[7:51] Doherty supports free trade, Vogel wants a comprehensive tax policy for trade, Cicilline supports free and fair trade.

[7:51] Cicilline pushes point that ending speculation on oil is necessary.

[7:50] Vogel: No connection between markets and regulation.

[7:49] Doherty: Take resources out of the ground, not out of people's pockets.

[7:48] Doherty wants to do away with subsidies to big oil companies.

[7:48] We need regulations to protect the environment, but not one more than is necessary.

[7:47] Viewer question from Rappleye: Is regulation limiting our refining capacity.

[7:46] Cicilline: Big oil is driving US energy policy.

[7:45] Cicilline: We need to do something about the price of gas, and end speculation in fuel markets(?) Did I get that right?

[7:44] Doherty supports support for various renewables. But we need to bring the cost of oil and energy down.

[7:43] Doesn't think programs like Solyandra should be abandoned because of early failures.

[7:42] Vogel's answer to pretty much everything is that we need a comprehensive policy for it.

[7:42] Opposes infrastructure and energy jobs act, calls it "drill baby drill".

[7:41] Vogel: Doesn't think a balanced budget at the national level is necessary.

[7:40] Cicilline doesn't want to take the chance.

[7:39] Rappleye: Who wants to drill off the coast of RI?

[7:38] Mentions tax increases and closing loopholes to reduce deficit. Opposes energy and infrastructure bill that doherty supports, "it's a giveaway to big oil".

[7:37] Rapp to Cicilline: Can you support stimulus and a balanced budgt amendment?

[7:35] 2nd highest unemployment in the US. Comprehensive tax reform to bring down corporate tax rate, close the skills-sets gap, "infrastructure and energy jobs act"

[7:34] Cicilline mentions work on the small business committee, Make-it-in-America block grants, access to capital, stop Chinese from cheating on currency, infrastructure incl. "a modern day version of the WPA", a trained workforce.

[7:34] Q to Cicilline: Besides bringing Federal $$$, what else?

[7:33] Rapp presses, Vogel responds with "a real tax policy" would help.

[7:31] First Q to David Vogel: What can a frosh Congressman do to improve the job situation in RI?

[7:30] Single moderator format, with Bill Rappleye as the moderator.

[7:28] By the way, if you follow me on twitter, you'd have had the opportunity to see the previous attempt at ironic humor, a full day in advance.

[7:27] An undisputed winner of the WPRI-TV (CBS 12) poll showing just a one-point difference, between David Cicilline and Brendan Doherty in the First District Congressional race: WJAR-TV (NBC 10), the host of tonight's final debate in CD1. David Vogel will be there too.

Things We Read Today (28), Thursday

Justin Katz

Mainstream reporters chat; the unknown cost of economic development; improving higher education by dumbing it down; a lawless society.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

A Brief Summary of David Cicilline's Career in Public Spending: First District Congressman

Carroll Andrew Morse

Link to Parts 1 and 2: State Representative and Mayor of Providence.

First District Congressman: During the 2 years that David Cicilline has been Rhode Island's First District Congressman, Congress has not been able to agree on an overall budget, though they still approve appropriations bills for all of the various Federal departments.

Congressman Cicilline voted in favor of the highly-publicized 2011 debt-ceiling deal (officially called the Budget Control Act of 2011) which could include automatic across-the-board cuts (i.e, a “sequester”) at the start of 2013, unless an alternate plan meeting certain fiscal targets is approved. Based on Congressional Budget Office baseline projections with the sequester incorporated, the Federal Government is on a path to a spending cut if we go out two decimal places. The CBO reports $3.60T (T as in trillion) in actual Federal outlays for the year 2011. Estimated Federal outlays are projected to be $3.56T for 2012, $3.55T for 2013 and $3.59T for 2014. After that, spending growth is projected to increase year-by-year, reaching a total of $5.51T by 2022.

The Congressman has stated that he does not agree with all of the details of the debt-ceiling deal, but believed that taking on more debt to keep governing moving forward in its current form took priority over other concerns, i.e. borrow now, worry about how to pay for it later.

Voters are left to decide for themselves what a slight pause in spending growth, support for increased borrowing authority, and projections of major future spending growth all mean, in terms of Congressman Cicilline’s record, and whether he’s learned anything from his past experiences.

A Brief Summary of David Cicilline's Career in Public Spending

Carroll Andrew Morse

During last week's WPRO (630AM) debate, in response to a question from moderator Bill Haberman, Congressman David Cicilline made a general claim that "I don’t have to suggest to you that we need to cut spending. I've already done that". Congressman Cicilline seemed to be referring to a recent vote, but the moderator wanted to move to a discussion of the long-term entitlement spending and Congressman Cicilline wasn’t able to elaborate. However, David Cicilline has been involved with spending decisions in each public of the public offices he has held, allowing for an examination of his record on spending over the arc of his career.

State Representative: David Cicilline was elected to the RI House in 1994 and served there for eight years. In his first seven years in office, as is common practice in the Rhode Island legislature, he voted in favor of the seven leadership budgets put before him. In his final year in office, Rep. Cicilline voted against the final budget (for FY2003), though he also voted in favor of the final version of that year’s Article I, which set out the amounts to be appropriated to the various state government departments.

The first budget that Rep. Cicilline voted for didn't increase spending. After that, it was off to the races, with budgets increasing each year over the prior year. The last state budget (FY2002) he voted in favor of was $1.7B (B as in billion) larger than what the state budget had been prior to the year he took office, having increased from $3.5B in FY1995 to $5.2B in FY2002. Adjusted for inflation, that was an increase in state spending of roughly 25%. In that same period, the portion of the budget funded by state taxes increased from $1.6B to $2.7B, the increase of $1.1B in spending paid for with general revenues corresponding to inflation-adjusted growth of greater than 35%.

I suppose Democratic partisans will respond by saying it's "old news" that David Cicilline supported sizable spending increases crafted by the Democratic leadership of the state legislature, but given that the Congressman is advancing the fact that he will vote for Democratic leadership in the Federal legislature as the primary reason to vote for him, this part of his political career does take on particular relevance.

Mayor of Providence: When David Cicilline took over as Mayor, the city budget was $523M (M as in million), following a $75M budget growth explosion over just two years, under previous mayor Buddy Cianci (about $40M coming from an increase in state-aid). Mayor Cicilline kept the spending pedal to the metal for a third consecutive year, increasing the city budget by $31M to $554M in his first term in office.

In six of seven years after that, Providence's budgets increased over the prior year. The exception was FY2010, when spending was reduced from $641 in FY2009 to $618M. In his final year in office (FY2011), the Providence's budget was up to $638M, $115M larger than when he took office. However, in inflation-adjusted terms, that $115M difference resulted in a final Cicilline budget that was roughly equivalent in size to the final Cianci budget (or was it a Cianci/Lombardi budget?), and throughout Cicilline’s 8 years as Mayor, the inflation adjusted Providence budget fluctuated between bounds roughly established by the final Cianci budget and his own first-year budget.

But while Cicilline’s final inflation-adjusted budget was about the same size as the budget when he took over, according to the city’s 2011 annual report, the number of Fire Department personnel was reduced by 61 from 511 to 450 during his time in office. Again, while some might consider this "old news", municipalities bordering Providence are currently coming under stress because of the number of mutual-aid calls they have to respond to in Providence, and how this situation came to be is not old news.

Of course, Mayor Cicilline's was Mayor while Governor Donald Carcieri and the state legislature were implementing cuts in various forms of local aid, in response to the fiscal crisis at the state level. The combination of "appropriated" municipal and education aid to Providence hit its peak in FY2007 at $257M; by FY2011, Providence was only receiving $203M from that same set of sources. Over the period of that $54M cut in annual aid, the total budget for Providence wound up $28M larger in FY2011 than it was in FY2007.

By the time of Mayor Angel Taveras's first term in office, the city's deficit was on course for $110M, so to blame the "category 5" on state-aid changes basically amounts to saying that Mayor Cicilline’s fiscal management in Providence should have been good enough to have only left behind a category 3 $50M deficit. And that's before factoring in how much was hidden by the one-time raid on the reserve funds.

Link to Part 3: First District Congressman...

What is it with Democrats and the Dominican Republic?

Marc Comtois

First New York Democrat Congressman Charles Rangle wasn't reporting income generated in the Dominican Republic. Then we learn a major vote bundler for Rhode Island's own David Cicilline hailed from the Dominican Republic. Now a few ladies from the Dominican Republic are claiming New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez availed himself of their services, albeit at a non-negotiated discount rate.

Is "the Dominican" the new Vegas? Albeit, without what happens down there, staying down there? Sheesh.

Bury Power Lines? Too Expensive

Marc Comtois

After Irene, the idea of burying power lines was bandied about. As I recall, the cost of such an endeavor was a major disincentive. Here's some hard numbers from Popular Mechanics:

80 percent of our power lines are located aboveground, and the main reason for that is cost. "It’s tremendously expensive to bury power lines," says Mark Garvin, president of the Tree Care Industry Association, whose members are often hired to clean up fallen trees after a big storm.

It can be somewhat affordable to use underground power cables when you’re starting from scratch, he says; developers building new housing tracts can install buried power cables alongside fiberoptics lines and water systems.

But retrofitting is much pricier. "If you’re talking about a built environment where the lines are already up and you’d have to dig through peoples’ lawns and driveways, it becomes prohibitively expensive," Garvin says.

For example, in a new suburban neighborhood, installing ordinary overhead power lines costs about $194,000 per mile on average. Installing underground power lines would cost $571,000 per mile. And to retrofit an older suburban neighborhood with underground lines, the costs climb up to an average of $724,000 per mile.

For high-voltage transmission lines—the thick cables typically slung between towers that carry electricity across long distances—new underground installations can cost as much as $23 million per mile. Those costs get deflected to the consumer.

Emphasis added. 'Nuff said.