December 31, 2012

Leadership and the Missing Rhode Islander

Justin Katz

It took me a couple of read-throughs to put my finger on the eery blank space in Mike Stanton's group interview with Rhode Island's three most powerful politicians: House Speaker Gordon Fox, Governor Lincoln Chafee, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Although only the two legislators are officially Democrats — Fox from Providence and Paiva Weed from Newport — for all intents and purposes, the governor is, as well.

But I'm not talking about the lack of partisan diversity. I'm talking about the missing Rhode Islander. You're nowhere in their words and, judging by the policies that they continue to promote, nowhere in their thoughts.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 30, 2012

Politics Everywhere

Marc Comtois

We've talked about the problems inherent in "big government" around here for, well, ever. More government means more taxes (ie; "revenue"), more regulations and more of government trying to pick winners and losers. Rhode Island is a perfect example. Despite the myriad problems in our state, our politicians don't like dealing with the root causes. Instead, they tinker around the edges and do things like propose new ways to "manage" our economic development or nibble at our pension problems. The real issues: high taxes, an unfriendly business environment and political insiderism go unaddressed. And apparently that is the way the Rhode Island electorate wants it.

Nationally, we seem to be headed in the same direction. Here's John Hayward explaining how the enlargement and encroachment of government into our lives has led to politics "all of the time."

The expansion of government replaces competition with coercion. Free people lack coercive power, so they must compete with each other for business opportunities. Customers must be persuaded. Employees must be attracted. It’s messy sometimes, and the process must be policed for theft and fraud, but it’s generally constructive.

Government power replaces all that with a simple, brutal, zero-sum equation: what you are given must be taken from someone else.

We see this in Rhode Island. We see this across the country. It has put a greater emphasis on being on the inside to carve out exceptions.
The regulatory process is corrupted by both ideology and special interests. Even when it avoids outright corruption, the process is expensive, because it’s not constructive the way private competition is. Wealth and value are lost through forced redistribution. It’s a smaller, poorer world, in which political influence becomes valuable currency. Your fellow citizens are not your competitors – they are your enemies. They become selfish plutocrats or lazy parasites. Their defeat becomes an occasion for riotous celebration.
Red vs. Blue is the larger game, but there are many smaller contests out there. And there are plenty of people willing to exploit the desires, and more importantly the fears, of various voting "blocs".
[E]ffective political power requires solidarity – sizable groups of voters acting in concert, to press their common interests upon the State, whose officials in turn benefit from packaged electoral support. The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them. The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust. People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you. How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?
Hence, every election is "the most important evah!"
When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension. It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends. They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing. It’s much better to have the freedom to choose your own collaborators on the voluntary journey to mutual prosperity. If you think they’re doing it wrong – if you don’t like the services they render, or the compensation they offer for your efforts – you can find other partners. It’s relatively painless, you don’t have to wait two years to make a change, and you’re not setting all the parameters of your life with every individual decision you make.

In politicized America, on the other hand, we’re asked to make hundreds of major life-altering decisions with a single vote… and many of those decisions boil down to our selection for the increasingly powerful office of the presidency: a decision we only get to make once every four years, choosing from only a tiny handful of plausible candidates – and that’s assuming the primaries are particularly lively. You might have noticed a good number of Democrats – from officials and pundits down to average citizens in social-media forums – making the case that the 2012 election permanently settled various issues, and demanding the other side meekly submit. One vote every four years, and if you lose, shut up and obey! That’s not a recipe for social harmony, especially since we know everyone currently espousing such views will instantly change their tunes ten seconds after the next election they lose.

Like in 2004, for instance? Regardless, we've all bought into the game.
Of course the character of this politicized nation is growing more sour. How could it be otherwise? We make too many decisions by voting for other people to make them for us. We communicate through force instead of persuasion – a one-way transmission of absolutes, rather than a productive exchange of ideas. Instead of actively testing and improving solutions to our own problems, we yell curses and shake our fists while waiting for political champions to emerge from Washington’s bloody arena, carrying the latest thousand pages of badly-written central planning as trophies.

Congressional representatives have always said some terrible things to each other, but it’s trickling down to infect the rest of us… and we’ve been maneuvered into a position where all of us stand to lose plenty, if “enemy” representatives win the latest high-stakes showdown.

Unfortunately, we've allowed government to grow to this point. It doesn't look like it will shrink any time soon. Unless it collapses.

December 29, 2012

Words of Wisdom About Teacher Pay and the Perils of Binding Arbitration: Guess the Speaker

Monique Chartier

This column by Steve Frias in the Cranston Herald contains, among other things, some fascinating history about the evolution and implementation of public pensions and collective bargaining in RI.

Some quotes highlighted by Frias from the early 1990's in particular stand out, not so much because of their substance, though they are absolutely correct, but because of who uttered them. (I have omitted the town and the candidate from the original text.)

What few may recall is that ..... during a time when XXXXX teachers were striking, candidate _____ spoke of the possibility of "a voucher system or privatization” for education because teachers were “going to price themselves out of the business." He even lobbied state legislators against approving binding arbitration for teachers because the “unions own the arbitrators.”

Can you guess who said this? (Hint: "Speaker" in the title of this post is not "Mr. Speakah" of the RI House but simply "s/he who spoke the words".)

That's right, it was Lincoln Chafee, then running for mayor of Warwick.

If you're also thinking that now-Governor Chafee's views on such matters have ... er, evolved (or possibly devolved, from the perspective of those who pay the bills), you are correct again. That is one of the main points of Frias' column - possibly as much a reminder to the public unions as to anybody.

Below is the text unedited, including more of the original paragraph that contained it. Let the record show, though, that, surprising as it may be, it turns out that there is a moment in time when I agree wholeheartedly with something that (then-candidate) Lincoln Chafee said!

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s call for negotiation over pension reform is consistent with Chafee’s predilection for fickle political maneuvering regarding unions over the course of two decades. Many recall that before signing pension reform legislation in 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee was supported by public employee unions when he ran for Governor in 2010. What few may recall is that in 1992, when he was running for mayor of Warwick, during a time when Warwick teachers were striking, candidate Chafee spoke of the possibility of "a voucher system or privatization” for education because teachers were “going to price themselves out of the business." He even lobbied state legislators against approving binding arbitration for teachers because the “unions own the arbitrators.” After he was elected mayor by a very small margin in a three-way race, Mayor Lincoln Chafee changed his approach regarding the teacher unions. He circumvented the Warwick School Committee to give Warwick teachers a 19.4 percent pay raise with no health insurance premium co-share. ...

December 28, 2012

Zero.Zero Sales Tax: Objections and Who's Objecting

Justin Katz

As it happens, somebody forwarded to me the following Wall Street Journal political diary entry by Allysia Finley on the same day that the Providence Journal's Philip Marcello reported that the Republicans in the Rhode Island House are considering championing the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity's proposal to eliminate the state's sales tax.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 27, 2012

GOP and Sales Taxes

Patrick Laverty

It seems the RI Republicans in the State House might be finally stumbling on to an idea they can hang their hats on. Eliminating the state sales tax. Granted, it's one that they may be simply saying "me too" on as the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity suggested this back in June. However, that's the whole point. The reason for places like this Center is so they come out with reasoned and researched ideas and then the legislature can decide which ones make sense and move them forward.

This type of idea is exactly the kind of bold thinking that the GOP needs to jump on. This is the party that can't even come up with a unified platform, but if they could forget about all the silly internal bickering they seem to get involved with and rally around an idea like this and sell it to the people of the state, from the leadership to every town committee, it's something that they could possibly see advanced.

Some are having difficulty understanding how eliminating the sales tax can help the state after about $880M of revenue is brought in through this tax. Even if businesses were to boom with the elimination of the tax, a trillion dollars multiplied by zero percent is still zero. But, if you need any evidence in seeing what a lower sales tax can do, look no further than Attleboro and Seekonk. It's no coincidence that so many stores are sitting right on Rhode Island's borders. If Rhode Island were to go to zero sales tax, we'd gradually see these stores move across the border and into the state.

But how would the state cope with the loss of the $880M in lost sales tax revenue? Well, for one, it's not that much, it's only about half of that when you don't count the gas tax, tobacco tax and meals tax that would remain in effect, according to the actual report on the Center's site. They also claim somewhere between 50 and 70% of the lost revenue would be reclaimed on the increased business presence in the state and the additional income tax revenues. If you have more business, you have more jobs and with more jobs, you have more income tax. The Center advocates for the remaining 30-50% to be made up through cuts to the state's services and even eliminating about $7M just by downsizing the state's tax collectors and tax enforcement agents.

I believe that many perceived and real problems go away when people have a job and have income. If we have businesses in the state, people will have jobs, people will have money, people will buy homes in the state, property values will finally increase and municipalities will be able to turn around many of their financial woes.

Finally, here is an idea that the state Republican party can actually get behind, do the work and get all the numbers. Make an intelligent and reasoned case to the people of the state, put on an election-like campaign blitz and then let others explain why we should all pay 7% on top of the cost of goods. Even better, this would get people to stop shopping in Massachusetts and keep the money in Rhode Island, for Rhode Island.

Ominous: Gov Does Not Rule Out Tax Hike

Monique Chartier

Over at On Politics, Ian Donnis reports that Gov Chafee will not say whether his upcoming budget will include a tax hike.

Governor Lincoln Chafee is declining to talk specifics about whether his next budget will include revenue increases – a.k.a. tax hikes.

The governor offered this comment during an interview last week (excerpts of which will be broadcast on RIPR Thursday morning):

"The budget will come out in January … we’re still putting it together."

The governor’s latest budget is expected to emerge by January 17.

With a state economy notably on its heels and beleaguered taxpayers who already endure the fifth highest combined state and local tax burden, wouldn't the correct answer to the question be "Hell, no, I'm not raising taxes! That's the last thing this state needs!"

November Employment: Rhode Island's Peculiar Growth Abates

Justin Katz

After two months of unexpectedly strong employment growth, Rhode Island's surge abated. Unemployment held at 10.4%, leaving the state at second worst in the nation, with Nevada rapidly making up the distance, and the number 3 California finally slipping below 10%.

According to survey data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the pace at which increasing numbers of Rhode Islanders say that they are working fell to about a third of what it had been for September and October, to 1,501. Meanwhile the labor force increased by 1,411.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 26, 2012

The Soul That Needs Searching for the True Liberals

Justin Katz

This week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is an apt one for thinking on a grand scale — of the where-we’ve-been-and-where-we-must-go variety. Essays in that vein fill the tabs on my open browser window, and as is often the case, most of them come from the center-right’s great aggregator and one-line editorialist Glenn Reynolds.

Three that seem particularly closely related are by men whose first names very narrowly miss being one of life’s quotidian, cosmic coincidences: Roger Kimball, Roger L. Simon, and Robert Kaplan.

Mr. Kimball sets the table, writing about the shirked responsibility of our cultural institutions “to act as ambassadors linking the wisdom of the past with the requirements of the present in such a way that we could build responsibly for the future." As Thomas Sowell writes, in another of my open tabs, “The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good.”

If we separate out that huge number of people who consider themselves to be “liberals,” but who, going about their lives, aren’t deeply involved in intellectual definition of what liberalism requires them to believe, we are left with the collection of “progressives.” “Progress,” a dictionary may remind us, assumes a value judgment of which direction is forward, and the intellectuals of the political Left are only too happy to supply the answer.

Continue reading no the Ocean State Current...

"States Doling Out the Best Benefits": Guessez Vous Who Is Number One?

Monique Chartier

Ah, yes. Another week, another undesirable ranking. Rhode Island once again finds itself at or near the top of a category quite disadvantageous to the people who pay the bills.

Thanks to commenter ANTHONY for sharing a link under another post that sent me click-clicking around curiously until I happened across this 24/7 Wall Street analysis posted last week.

... If another recession is not avoided, the need for state assistance, like unemployment insurance and welfare, will grow. Yet not all states provide for their residents equally. Based on a 24/7 Wall St. review of key state entitlements, including unemployment benefits, Medicaid, welfare and education, we identified the states guaranteeing the best and worst benefits.

That's right - cue the triumphant horns - Little Rhody tops the list.

1. Rhode Island

> Average [public] pension benefits: $34,577 (2nd highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $13,699 (9th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,566 (4th highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 43.4% (2nd highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 44.5 (6th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $416 (14th highest)

Rhode Island does more to spread wealth among its residents than any other state. ...

December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Carroll Andrew Morse


From St. Anthony's Church; North Providence, Rhode Island, in the 2012th year of Our Lord.

December 24, 2012

Premium Premiums? RI Employers Paying Higher Than National Average For Employee Health Coverage

Monique Chartier

Business Wire reports.

When it comes to national average costs for health plans, Rhode Island employers are paying 13 percent more for employee single coverage and six percent more for employee family coverage, according to a study by USI Insurance Services’ (“USI”).

Lovely! Another item to add to our ... er, enticing business climate.

By the way, wasn't one of the purposes of the, it turns out, remarkably expensive health insurance exchanges mandated by ObamaCare supposed to be to lower health care costs by, among other things, bringing competition to each state? Yet a recent press release from Governor Chafee's office bragging on the state's health insurance exchange omits any mention of competition. Even more interesting, the author of the Business Wire article points to this somewhat baffling statement by the state's Office of Health Insurance Commissioner.

Slade said, “The Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner for Rhode Island has stated publicly that more competition won't help solve the cost problem which we find interesting given the fact that we have less competition here than almost any other market of comparable size and possibly the absolute worst average costs.”

A couple of questions pose themselves. First of all, why is Rhode Island spending many millions of tax dollars - our federal tax dollars now, our state tax dollars later - to create a health exchange when it apparently will not, after all, bring competition into the mix?

Secondly, why did the Office of the Insurance Commissioner say what they said? Do they not want competition? Are they diminishing the importance of that element because it is now clear that the health exchange will not confer it? Or are they acknowledging that it is, in fact, the excess regulations and requirements heaped upon the insurance industry in this state by the RI General Assembly that play a large role in the higher health insurance and health care costs in the state?

I'm starting to feel that we've been snookered by the hype that preceded the health insurance exchange. It'd be nice to get some honest answers about all of this.

December 21, 2012

RI Only State Losing Population Two Years in a Row

Justin Katz

Since the U.S. Census department released its latest state-by-state population estimates, it has been widely reported that Rhode Island was one of only two states to lose population from 2011 to 2012. The other was Vermont.

However, as with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s findings in September, looking more deeply reveals that the headlines actually understate Rhode Island’s poor position.

In total, Rhode Island lost 354 people, or 0.03% of the 1,050,646 estimated to have lived here in 2011. As bad as that is, it looks preferable to the 581 whom Vermont lost, which was 0.09% of that state’s population. Two considerations smudge that silver lining.

Continue reading on RIFreedom.Org...

Cicilline on the Congressional Budget Committee

Patrick Laverty

As if we needed any further evidence of how messed up our Congress is, we certainly got that yesterday with the news that Congressman David Cicilline is being appointed to the House Budget Committee.

Wow. The very same David Cicilline who left Providence in "excellent financial condition" which I assume means only a $110M deficit.

All I'm left with is that the Democrats either believe that if he can reduce the national deficit to $110M, we'll be in great shape. I'd completely agree with that. Or, they want to find out how to delay audits and keep the information from the public until it's politically feasible to do so. Shouldn't appointments to committees be based on the person's strengths and where they can best help the country? Putting Cicilline on the Budget Committee is like dropping a non-swimmer in the middle of the ocean.

Maybe the apocalypse did happen after all.

Rhode Island's Poor Entrepreneurial Performance

Justin Katz

The word "entrepreneur" has been thrown around Rhode Island a lot in recent months and years. To most people, one suspects, concepts like economic development, entrepreneurialism, knowledge economy, twenty-first century workforce, and skills gap blur into a mosaic of sounds-good promises. The idea is that "they" (the folks in positions to modify public policy) are trying to do something, and this stuff has a feel of the future... whatever it might look like and however "they" might bring it about.

The first problem with chasing this star is that, largely thanks to "them," the fundamentals do not exist in Rhode Island for real economic growth to take hold. The rules that the state's various governments impose are stringent; they are constantly in indecisive flux; and as evidenced in the judges call for mediation of a statute, the folks who hold power are far too prepared to disregard the rules in the name of simply doing what they deem to be necessary or right.

The second, much more important, problem with the attitude described above is that economic growth is not something that "they" accomplish by sparking action by some class of people with ideas and insights beyond normal imagining. Economic growth is something that we accomplish — the Rhode Islanders who are already here, supporting their families and building their lives.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 20, 2012

Rhode Island Rules the Universe!

Marc Comtois

Cranston's Olivia Culpo is Miss Universe!

December 19, 2012

Things We Read Today (44), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Government's corrupt pension handling; the discount rate scam; fighting off the zoning inspector; government peeking doesn't count as privacy invasion.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

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

Justin Katz

Single-family home sales in Rhode Island continued to edge toward equilibrium, in November, meaning that the number of sales increased at an accelerated rate, while the inventory of houses on the market continued to go down. The median sales price continued to go down, too, but its rate of decrease remained steady.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Robitaille not Running for Governor

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dee DeQuattro has a post up on the WPRO (630AM) blog, reporting that John Robitaille, the 2010 Republican candidate for Governor of Rhode Island, has announced that he will not run again in 2014.

The article also sets out an initial pool of candidates who might be interested in a 2014 run...

Other Republicans who are speculated as possibilities to mount a run for Governor are Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, VIBCO CEO Karl Wadensten, and former state police superintendent Brendan Doherty.

How Do You "Mediate" A State Law?

Monique Chartier

... that, slightly rephrased, was the reaction via Twitter last night of John Ward to the news that

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter on Tuesday ordered the state and the coalition of public employee unions challenging the General Assembly’s overhaul of their retirement system to meet with federal mediators and see if a settlement can be reached before the case moves to trial.

In the above ProJo article, reporter Tom Mooney also alludes to Ward's important point, albeit in a somewhat understated manner.

What’s in dispute is the constitutionality of a law, a question usually left to a judge to decide.

Also on Twitter:

> Anchor Rising's Andrew Morse spotted the larger, potential silver lining of such an approach.

If I don't like how a law impacts me, can I also get a judge to order Federal mediators to negotiate changing it?

> Justin Katz points to what is undoubtedly a complete side issue to the ruling.

So an RI judge w/ 3 living family generations in the state pension system gave unions another bite at the apple to undo reform? Surprising!

> And Jason Becker goes to the root of the lawsuit, if not the ruling.

I'm just, surprised no one seems to talk about the fact that this isn't about process as much as increasing benefits again.

Indeed - increasing the benefits from pension reform that was wholly inadequate to begin with, in large part because the original pensions were exceedingly, patently unaffordable to begin with.

December 18, 2012

Things We Read Today (43), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Explaining Rhode Island's decline in four brief sections: legal process, the economy, the media, and fashionable graft.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

The Right to Not Have to Pay For a Job

Patrick Laverty

When I was in graduate school, I had my first experience with a "closed shop". I had borrowed enough money to pay for my tuition but didn't do the usual thing that students do, and borrow enough for things like rent and food. So I had to find a job, and one that was fairly flexible as I was in a program that often included weird hours and schedules. I applied to the local grocery store to bag groceries. I got the job and that's when the store manager told me about the fact that the employees are unionized, that there's a joining fee and there'd be weekly dues taken out. I immediately had the realization that this job was not for me. I'm working to support me, not someone else. I didn't need the benefits that a union negotiates, so I want nothing to do with the union. I declined the job and went to work at a non-union pizza shop. Rent money problem solved, food problem solved. Every penny I earned went to either me or the government, not a third-party.

I often remember my experience when I see people complaining about the "free rider" problem, as described in the Providence Journal where Bloomberg's Michael Kinsley tells us his view of Labor Law 101.

Without a rule like [Taft-Hartley], unions faced a “free-rider” problem: People could enjoy the benefits of union membership, including negotiation of wages, without sharing in the cost. Not only was this unfair to those who did pay their share, but it made organizing a union significantly harder. Why should I pay union dues if my fellow workers don’t?
Ok, I have the solution to this free rider problem and it's not new. Let me negotiate my own deal, as I do in my non-union job. If I could have done that at the grocery store, I would have stayed. Let me decide whether I want to be in the union, pay their dues and receive the benefits that they have negotiated. Or maybe I don't want to be in the union, pay their dues and I'll work out my working arrangements with the employer. That seems to be an easy solution. I'm not calling for outlawing unions, people can still have those and be able to collectively bargain, just allow for a choice. If you choose to not pay the dues, you're on your own. You don't get the benefits of the union. If the employer chooses to pay non-union employees much less or offer lesser benefits, I'm ok with that. That is the deal new hires can agree to. Or, they can simply join the union and get the benefits. I don't see the problem there.

Kinsley also asks:

For principled conservatives, there is another question: Why should there be laws that limit the freedom of individual employers to negotiate any deal they want with their employees? Or at least that ought to be a question for conservatives, though I’ve never seen any of them struggling with it.
Excellent question and one I completely agree with. There should be no laws that prevent me from negotiating any deal with my employer. Exactly! Leave me alone and let me negotiate it. I don't want someone else doing that for me, and most of all, I don't want to be forced to pay someone else to do that for me. So no, there should not be any laws that limit the freedom of individual employers to negotiate any deal they want with me.

The other problem that I see with the way unions work in Rhode Island is that the employer needs to collect the employees' union dues for the union. This is idiotic. Union loyalists will extol the virtues of their union and all the great things they've done. Outstanding. I'm happy for them. They see and approve of the benefits they get for membership in the union. If that's the case, then they should be able to set up and automatic payment from their bank or simply send a check every month.

I personally value the benefit I get from my local YMCA. I like being a member. I set up a bank transfer to automatically pay the YMCA each month so I can continue receiving the benefits of the YMCA. No one requires my employer to withhold my membership dues and send those along to the YMCA, so why is it any different for a union? Could it possible be that the union's members don't actually see the benefit and wouldn't pay it?

I believe we should live in a state where I am not required to pay someone as a condition of my employment. Period. Let me work out the compensation package with my employer. That's my business. If I can't have that then let's at least have the first step where the employer is not burdened with needing to collect a third-party's dues and send them along. If the third-party wants that money, they can collect it from their members themselves. Anything else just doesn't make sense.

Never let a tragedy go to waste: URI Professor Calls NRA Terrorists, then Wages Insular Self-promotion Campaign

Marc Comtois

in the wake of the Newtown, CT massacre, URI History Professor Erik Loomis is getting national attention (h/t) for his tweets calling the National Rifle Association terrorists and other rational, academic thoughts (your tax dollars at work, Rhode Island!). As reported at Campus Reform:

“[I] want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick,” Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI), tweeted.

It “looks like the National Rifle Association has murdered some more children,” he added.”

Can [we] define NRA membership as dues contributing to a terrorist organization?" he asked in a separate tweet.

Loomis’ comments come on the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 young children and six faculty members dead.

The professor contended Democratic lawmakers should exploit the tragedy to force more restrictive gun control measures into law.

“You are goddamn right we should politicize this tragedy,” Loomis tweeted. “[F]uck the NRA.”

“Dear Republicans, do you know the definition of family values?” he continued. “It’s not having our kids FUCKING SHOT AT SCHOOL! Fuck the NRA.”

The professor could not be reached for comment at the time of publication and URI was did not provide a spokesperson for comment to Campus Reform in time for publication.

According to the school website, all members of the URI community pledge to help foster an “inclusive environment recognizing and respecting diversity.”

According to his resume, Loomis, who got his PhD from the University of New Mexico in 2008, has research interests in Environmental History, Labor History, Late 19th-Early 20th Century U.S. History and the U.S. West. He has 2 papers pending publication: "Lives Under the Canopy: Spotted Owls and Loggers in Western Forests," to be published in Natural Resources, Law Journal, Summer 2012 and "Preserving Nature to Preserve the Republic: Laurens Bolles, New Mexico's Cold War Conservatonist," to be published in New Mexico Historical Review, 2013." He is also working on a book, "Empire of Timber: Work and Nature in the Pacific Northwest Forests". Based on these articles and his interests, it looks like Loomis would really prefer to be working out West. Wonder why he ended up at URI?

Meanwhile, instead of responding directly to the Campus Reform interview request, Loomis has decided to continue to wage his battle in the comfort of the Twittersphere. Oh, and he would really like someone to pay him to write a book for all of the attacks he's enduring because he so bravely spoke out...on Twitter....from a college campus. As a few of his tweets explained:

The right-wing intimidation campaign against me for saying the NRA was a terrorist organization continues. Will not succeed....In fact, I'd like to write up my story of right-wing intimidation for a magazine....I feel a reasonably major publication should be interested in this. Could be wrong, but I don't think so.
Rahm Emmanuel was quoted as saying something along the lines of never letting a crisis go to political waste and signs are pointing to that happening. Professor Loomis obviously embraces this mindset. But he's taken it all one, self-interested step further. Professor Loomis craves attention, you see. And wouldn't an article detailing his struggle as a brave, academic tweeter against the forces of the NRA and the right-wing blogosphere just look excellent on his Curriculum Vitae?

UPDATE: Brave, Brave sir Robin ran away. Prof. Loomis has deleted his Twitter account...too bad for him it's been captured for posterity. He was also visited by the RI State Police. Angry man.

UPDATE 2: URI has issued a statement (via their Facebook page):

URI President David Dooley responded today by saying, "The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change."

December 17, 2012

Things We Read Today (42), Weekend

Justin Katz

The lesson of current events and history; what the 2nd Amendment means; what that means for change; government control and healthcare insecurity; government control and economic stagnation; a couple positive notes.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 16, 2012

For the Kids or For the Money?

Patrick Laverty

First of all, if you do a job for an agreed-upon price, you should get paid for doing the job. However, I think the coaches at East Providence High School are handling this the wrong way.

In Saturday's Providence Journal was a story about the EP varsity sports coaches walking out on the kids due to non-payment, plus a game got postponed because the coach refused to attend.

Unpaid the $2,800 he earned for coaching the East Providence girls to the Division I volleyball final last month and expected to take a 60-percent cut in the $3,800 he is supposed to earn for coaching Townies boys basketball this winter, Alex Butler on Friday said enough is enough.
Butler initiated a walkout by coaches of winter sports teams after he and the other coaches of fall sports did not receive checks on Friday, as they were promised.
As a result, Friday night’s EP-Bishop Hendricken basketball game was postponed.
If I was a player on the team, I'd be absolutely irate. The coaches deciding they're not going to show up to work anymore? Postponing or canceling games? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Hendricken coach and athletic director were to demand that the game be declared a forfeit. It was a scheduled game, weather wasn't a factor, it was simply that the EP team refused to show up. That's a slam-dunk forfeit.

This isn't the East Providence school administration who hasn't paid the coaches, it is the state-appointed Budget Commission.

[T]he checks for the fall coaches had been withdrawn by the Budget Commission, Butler said. He added that Val Lawson, head of the East Providence teachers’ union, received word from the city finance director — Malcolm Moore holds that title, according the city website — and passed it on to Paul Amaral, the athletics director. In addition to not paying the fall coaches, Butler said the Budget Commission wants coaches of winter sports to take a 60 percent pay cut.
Ok, that is just wrong. If you're going to do something like this, let the coaches know so they can decide what to do.

However, this statement troubles me as well:

“If they take 60-percent from my boys basketball salary, I figured I would get paid $4.50 an hour,” Butler said.
That sounds like he's doing this for the money. No coach is paid any amount that realistically compensates them for the amount of time they spend with their players. The payment is often not much more than a sign of appreciation. The coach was slated to earn $3,800 for the season, clearly not that much money, but again, no one should be doing this job for the money.

I coached a high school hockey team and though I knew I was getting paid, I sure wasn't doing it for the money. When the check arrived, it was nice to get, but it sure wasn't what drove me. Plus, I made less than half what Coach Butler was supposed to earn this season.

Bottom line, I agree with the coaches' frustration. However, I just wish they could find another way to show that frustration. To take this out on the kids is just the wrong answer. Canceling games on the kids is the wrong solution. Hopefully the coaches will be back for their teams' next game.

Shooting Monster Felt No Physical Pain?

Monique Chartier

Usually, I look through news sites (a couple of times per day) for the latest developments in politics and, especially, for news on Rhode Island politics and gov't. For the last couple of days, however, it's been stories about the horrendous Connecticut shooting that I've been compelled to click on.

Some information is now coming out about the twenty year old shooter - not from the police, who are still very much conducting their investigation, but from the people who interacted with him first hand and who are, naturally, communicating some of their experiences with the press.

Well into the second page of a CBS News report this morning, we learn about one such piece of new information - a chilling one.

Richard Novia, the school district's head of security until 2008, who also served as adviser for the school technology club, of which Lanza was a member, said he clearly "had some disabilities."

"If that boy would've burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically," Novia said in a phone interview. "It was my job to pay close attention to that."

A Telegraph (UK) article also references this condition (?).

"A few years ago when he was on the baseball team, everyone had to be careful that he didn't fall because he could get hurt and not feel it," said the friend.

Don't misunderstand me. Nothing that comes out, confirmation of no mental handicap or physical condition, will change my view that the shooter was and acted out of pure evil when he entered that school. If true, however, the revelation that, for whatever physical or psychological reason, the shooter did not notice physical pain when he himself experienced it is a scary and disturbing piece of information to emerge.


Joe Bernstein, whom I'm going to make my unofficial spokesperson (only half kidding), says that I am way off base.

Monique-the condition you describe is dysautonomia and is very dangerous because people who have it cannot recognize symptoms accompanied by pain and they can be unaware of a serious injury. It doesn't correlate with violent behavior in any way.

December 15, 2012

Re: Looking for Reasons

Monique Chartier

Under Justin's post about the unspeakable attack in a Connecticut elementary school, Joe Bernstein makes the following comment.

How about this Adam Lanza was an evil little f**ker?Maybe he was mentally ill also, but the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people aren't a danger to anyone except for themselves.

Connecticut has very stringent gun laws including some kind of assault weapons ban which obviously didn't prevent this.

I really resent foreign nationals like Piers Morgan and Martin Bashir ranting at us on OUR national networks about banning guns. They are resident aliens-guests-and yet feel comfortable lecturing us. Maybe they'd like a lecture on their ridiculous system of royalty and House of Lords and titled inbreds. I've been in the UK and saw some good things and some really bad things, but I wouldn't presume to dress them down in their own country.

I can't imagine the grief of the families of these children and school personnel murdered senselessly or the horrible effects on the first responders.

Maybe the major media that vomits out nonstop gratuitous violence on tv, film and above all, video games, for profit ought to do some soul searching, but they lack any soul. And the disgusting reality shows that dehumanize people and exploit human failings for fun and profit.

Depicting violence and human weakness certainly has a place in art and literature and in film, too-but we are subjected to way too much over the line cr*p.

In real war, there is no "start over" button. People that get f**ked up stay that way.

What a miserable situation this is-and we hate feeling helpless, but there isn't much that can be done - maybe armed security in schools. Hell, we guard armored cars full of money with firearms - our children are far more precious.

Looking for Reasons

Justin Katz

There are no words to capture the horror of the school shooting, this morning, in Western Connecticut. Beyond the wave of raw emotion that nobody who hears the news can fail to feel, there isn't ultimately one thing on which to focus that emotion. Things that go so terribly wrong have a multitude of causes, and a society's perspective on addressing each one has a distant reach — different principles and boundaries of appropriateness and inviolability.

So, some people turn to tears and gratitude that the whims of fate haven't touched them in a certain way, thus far. Some look to name the illness that is necessarily behind a final snap. Some rush to blame the circumstances, whether the security of a school or the instruments of the act, in this case, guns.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 14, 2012

Gary Alexander's Long Commute and Rhode Island's Big Compensation

Justin Katz

Rhode Island resident and former human services chief Gary Alexander has been making news back home related to his current job as Secretary of Public Welfare in Pennsylvania.

About two weeks ago, Alexander's work came up on the Current and Anchor Rising regarding a chart suggesting that a single-mother in the PA public welfare system is better off not making more than $29,000 in gross income unless she can leap above $69,000, because her loss of public assistance payments drops so much.

This week, Alexander caught the attention of Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis after the Pennsylvania Independent published a story about his use of a state vehicle to travel to and from his family's home in Rhode Island.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 13, 2012

Forbes: RI = 49th "Best" State for Business

Marc Comtois

Dog bites man, I know, but national publications constantly touting how bad this state is does have an effect. That being said, if recent election results are any indication, Rhode Islanders--well, at least those who stick around--just don't really care.

Rhode Island ranks No. 49 this year, down one spot from 2011. Rhode Island has experienced the second worst net migration, after Michigan, over the past five years. Residents are leaving in search of jobs, as the recent unemployment rate of 10.4% is the second highest in the U.S. after Nevada.

Another drawback is a lousy regulatory climate. “Rhode Island has one of the worst records on labor market freedom and health insurance regulations,” says William Ruger, who co-authored the Mercatus Center’s Freedom in the 50 States study, which we incorporated into our state ranking. Rhode Island had the fifth worst regulatory environment in the Mercatus study, which looks at labor regulations, health-insurance coverage mandates, occupational licensing, the tort system, right-to-work laws and more.

Rhode Island took a public beating this year when former Boston Red Sox pitching legend Curt Schilling laid off the 300 Rhode Island employees of his video game company, 38 Studios, and the company filed for bankruptcy. Rhode Island’s economic development agency provided Schilling’s company with a $75 million loan guarantee to entice 38 Studios to move to Rhode Island from Massachusetts two years earlier. The loan was made with the idea of Rhode Island reaping jobs and tax income from the move. The economic development agency sued Schilling and several of its former members last month, but it is not expected to recoup much of the loan.

Hey, we have the Bay! And we're not the worst state in New England, that's Maine! Yay us.

December 12, 2012

Things We Read Today (41), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Two narratives on the economy; a health exchange story the media is missing; government as pretend leader; powerful teachers' unions (plus Ted Nesi's Rolodex)

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

State Comparisons: Right to Work and Beyond

Justin Katz

A stunningly biased article by AP writer Jeff Karoub on the front page of today's Providence Journal likely captures the attitude of most in the Rhode Island media on the issue of right-to-work legislation, as enacted into law in Michigan, yesterday:

The GOP-dominated House ignored Democrats’ pleas to delay the final passage and instead approved two bills with the same ruthless efficiency that the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours, calling them “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”

Yes, that plea-ignoring, ruthless GOP. Not mentioned in the article, in the paper, or in any mainstream RI media that I've seen was reportage of a unionist mob tearing down a large tent set up by Americans for Prosperity, while bystanders plead with them to stop because people were inside, and physically attacking a conservative commentator, after a Democrat legislator promised that "there will be blood."

The Projo's reporters are a unionized subset of the AFL-CIO, after all.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 11, 2012

Piling On the Taxpayer: 59 Illegal Alien Students Enroll at In-State Tuition Rates

Monique Chartier

The Providence Journal reports.

The Rhode Island Office of Higher Education said Monday that 59 undocumented students are paying in-state tuition rates to attend a state college or university..

This fall, 56 such students enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, two at the University of Rhode Island and one at Rhode Island College.

Combined, they paid about $93,000 in tuition, compared with $261,000 they would have paid in out-of-state rates. They pay the full in-state rate and are not eligible for any federal financial aid.

I try not to criticize reporters, especially those here in Rhode Island, especially a reporter who appears to have broken this predictable and unfortunate development. But what does Jennifer D. Jordan mean by "full in-state rate"? In-state tuition is a CUT rate. There's nothing "full" about in-state tuition; it does not cover the cost of educating that student - at URI, not by a long shot. Using the term "full" here can only be described as misleading.

Jobs (i.e., the absence of e-verify), social programs (marked by the state's use of an 666 by-pass number), free health care (Medicaid), free primary and secondary education, and now in-state tuition - our elected officials have inexplicably lengthened, not shortened, the list of enticements for illegal aliens to come to the state and, correspondingly, increased the burden on the state's already overburdened taxpayer.

Terry Gorman's OpEd in today's GoLocalProv could not have been better timed.

What Illegal alien worth his salt, seeing all the above benefits, would not be enticed into making Rhode Island an ideal location for his family? How could he/she resist all of the benefits? We already are seeing the chilling effect Illegal Immigration is having on our State budget. How much more can we sustain without going over our own Fiscal Cliff?

The solution that most of us propose to address illegal immigration is eminently reasonable, minimalist, almost passive: implement e-verify for public and private sector employment, screen out unqualified applications for social programs, cease in-state tution for illegal alien students. This will discourage illegal immigration into the state and, correspondingly, begin reducing the involuntary expenses (primary and secondary education being the largest) that are mandated by federal law. The cost of illegal immigration directly impacts - i.e. INCREASES - both local and state taxes; accordingly, the argument that immigration is a federal problem with solely a federal solution rings entirely hollow. It's time that our state officials stop handing Rhode Island taxpayers the bill for policies that advance a political, selfish, quite destructive agenda and begin acting for the larger good - if not because it's the right thing to do, how about because the state is now dead broke despite being taxed to the max.

December 10, 2012

The Self-Censorship of the Community and a Loss of Rights

Justin Katz

This is quite a thing to read, in a region and a nation that prides itself on tolerance and freedoms of expression and religion. A Tiverton family has spent recent years investing in a spectacular show of Christmas lights on their house, to the extent that they're finding the visitor traffic to be an opportunity for charitable collections.

Asked about the national news that Rhode Island's governor, Lincoln Chafee, has made by doggedly and ineptly refusing to call the festive tree in the State House a "Christmas tree," here's their response to Providence Journal reporter Richard Dujardin:

... the couple acknowledged that they, too, have been a bit cautious as to what they include in their Christmas display. There's no Christ child, and no crèche.

If it were only up to her, said Colleen, she would have included "Christmas with a capital C," a song that does call for keeping Christ in Christmas. But she said she was afraid some might think it too political.

"We don't want anything political because someone might then try to shut us down. That could hurt the charities and the kids."

"You have to remember that this is the town that once shut down the Easter Bunny," Larry piped in, referring to a 2007 controversy when the superintendent of schools banned a parents group from setting up a booth at a school fair where people could have their pictures taken with the Easter Bunny — on grounds it would be a violation of the separation of church and state.

"Personally I think there are more important things to worry about," said Colleen. "I worry about people who don't have enough food to eat, and kids who are seriously ill. If people worried more about those important things, the world would be a better place."

So, the aggressive efforts of secular zealots have accomplished a sense among the people that their public expression of religious belief — on their own property and in the context of a holiday that's explicitly about those beliefs — would be political and that political speech would be grounds for the government to prevent charitable and community-building activities.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 9, 2012

Things We Read Today (40), Weekend

Justin Katz

What subsidizes green?; what the unions want the pension law to say; First Family Holiday Fame; America, the Special.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Trust Chafee...Again?

Patrick Laverty

Ok, this is kinda funny. It seems the union leadership is falling for his tagline all over again. "Trust Chafee".

Last year, after hours of hearings and discussion the General Assembly passed a pension reform bill and Governor Chafee signed it into law. This move quickly drew the ire of the unions who supported is candidacy and helped him get into the Governor's seat. In November 2011, GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan reported:

" union officials say the Governor has gone back on his word by supporting a complete overhaul of the system"
“We like Candidate Chafee’s plan much better than Governor Chafee’s plan,” [NEARI's Robert] Walsh told GoLocalProv in October.
However, not much more than a year later, Governor Chafee seems to be having some second thoughts about going back on his word to labor with the bill he signed.

Governor Chafee thinks it is a good idea for the state to sit down with the unions and discuss negotiating the pension law as it goes to court. WJAR's site reported:

"Some have said that now is not the time for negotiation," Chafee said. "I disagree. The state has leverage only so long as there is still uncertainty as to the outcome of this case."

Chafee met Tuesday with Bob Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, and George Nee, president of the AFL-CIO. Walsh said specifics weren't discussed but Chafee expressed interest in striking a compromise.

Wondering how the discussions went?

"We're right where we want to be with the governor," Walsh said of the hour-long discussion. "It was a good first date."
So if I have this straight, before he was Governor, Linc Chafee reportedly made some promises to some people in the area of labor. Then he got elected, went back on those promises. Now he sees that he's stabbed the labor people in the back and realizes he'll probably need at least their support to get re-elected in 2014 so he's trying the whole scheme all over again. If that doesn't sound crazy enough that Linc Chafee is trying it, the crazier part is it seems that the same people are believing it.

Like they say, politics makes strange bedfellows.

December 8, 2012

Mortgaging the Economy

Justin Katz

Marc Comtois highlights another fascinating glimpse into the reasoning behind policy ideas that he and I agree are, well, in error. I'm speaking of this paragraph from Slate's Matthew Yglesias:

... I'm especially enthusiastic about the mortgage part. Suppose homeowners in expensive coastal cities couldn't deduct their mortgage interest, what would happen? Well, what would happen is that prices would fall. But nothing more dramatic than that. All the deduction does is encourage further bidding up of the price. In a normal market, that bidding up of the price might lead to additional construction. But the main reason those blue metro areas have such expensive houses is that zoning doesn't allow demand to be matched with supply. No matter how expensive Georgetown or Harvard Square or Park Avenue gets they're not demolishing the existing structures and replacing them with much larger ones. So you'd get some extra tax revenue this way with no real change in the amount of underlying economic activity.

Look, I've been known to make statements about the effects of policies that are arguably over-confident, but at this level of detail, human behavior has a definite x-factor of which policymakers (and policy-propounders) should beware.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 7, 2012

Why Not Rhode Island?

Patrick Laverty

In an interview with Brian WIlliams, Apple CEO Tim Cook yesterday said:

"We've been working for years on doing more and more in the United States. Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States."
The article doesn't say where in the US that Apple will begin their manufacturing. Maybe that hasn't been decided yet. However if you were in charge of a state that was economically distressed and heard this type of news, wouldn't you immediately perk up and start putting in calls on behalf of your state?

Now before anyone gets excited, I'm not advocating for any EDC-type loans to Apple. I'm fairly certain the company doesn't need a cash handout. However, if our current corporate tax laws aren't a good fit, I'd certainly put that on the table for negotiations. I have said many times that we should simply fix the corporate tax laws so these types of negotiations and deals aren't necessary, but we're not there yet. If the company wants to move some manufacturing to the US, and a large part of that decision is PR-related, then why not Rhode Island? Imagine the positive PR if in some time, Apple can claim to have saved the Rhode Island economy.

Just as Governor Chafee visited the Dassault headquarters in France recently to keep up relations with the company to the benefit of 350 employees in Rhode Island, he should be looking to begin conversations with a company like Apple. Get Mr. Cook on the phone and invite him to Rhode Island immediately for a site visit. Show them how we have Quonset for shipping, we're very close to a couple information technology hubs in Boston and New York, and we have a large and available workforce.

If Apple is looking to ship some jobs to the US to build their Mac computers, the leadership in Rhode Island should be sleeping out overnight on CEO Cook's doorstep looking to get the brand within our borders.

What's At Stake in the Pension Lawsuit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is what is at stake in the lawsuit to void Rhode Island's 2011 pension reform law, Rhode Island Public Employee's Coalition et al. vs Chafee et al., being litigated in Judge Sarah Taft-Carter's courtroom today. The state's public employee unions are asserting a right to veto legislation that impacts their direct economic interests, i.e. there are certain acts approved by the legislature and the governor regarding expenditures of public funds that cannot become law without their express approval.

This veto differs from a gubernatorial veto in two significant ways. First, the Governor's veto can be overridden by the legislature; the unions would allow no one to override their veto. Second, the Governor's veto is expressly provided for in the state constitution. The unions do not believe an express constitutional provision is needed to establish their veto. They claim it is fundamental to their being.

The unions are also asserting exemption from certain laws already on the books. Rhode Island law is explicit that state employee retirement shall not be an object of collective bargaining. The exact language is "Any and all matters relating to the employees' retirement system of the state of Rhode Island are excluded as negotiable items in the collective bargaining process". Despite the plain wording of the law, in place long before 2011, the unions are demanding that their retirement benefits be negotiated through collective bargaining. Rhode Island law also states that municipal employee and teacher contracts (though not those of state employees) are limited to three years, while the union lawsuit is premised on the idea that post-retirement benefit raises are guaranteed by "implied" contracts that can literally last a lifetime. Lifetimes are longer than three years.

* * *

Ultimately, the courts in Rhode Island Public Employee's Coalition et al. vs Chafee et al. are being asked to decide whether the modern government appropriations process was scrapped when public sector collective bargaining was enacted in RI. Upon what principles the government appropriations process is based, and why people should be expected to go along with it are important questions to ask -- and to convincingly answer. Fail to acknowledge the question, and what remains is a system where people are expected to give stuff up to whomever asks most vigorously, a system of might makes right. When answered prior to the democratic era of history, justifications generally centered on a belief that the people of the earth were divided into rulers and ruled, and that rulers needed permanent claim on the property of the citizens so rulers would have what they needed to provide an orderly society.

As the idea that all people were created equal advanced over the course of history, granting one group in society the power to lay permanent claims on another was no longer tenable. Equality couldn't be said to exist in such an asymmetric arrangement, and the direction of cause and effect was rightly called into question; maybe it was the acceptance of permanent claims by one group over the future livelihoods of others that promoted a permanent division of the world into ruling and ruled.

In response, specific limits on the government's power to compel appropriations were instituted. Decisions to appropriate from the citizenry were restricted to the elected representatives of the people. There would no direct involvement or special vetoes in the lawmaking process for any groups not accountable to the citizenry, be it appropriations or any other kind of law.

Appropriations were also limited in time. Since government was made up of humans, putting people into permanent debt to the government would mean putting people in permanent debt to others; this was not consistent with the idea of equality. So government was restricted to only being able to rightfully and legally take what it needed to keep running for a limited time, until the next appropriations period, which would not be significantly longer than the interval until the next election, when a new set of decisions could be made, and accountable representatives of the people could decide whether more needed to be done or less needed to be taken. It is in this spirit that laws prohibiting contracts for arbitrarily long time periods were enacted.

These are the fundamental issues lying at the heart of Rhode Island Public Employee's Coalition et al. vs Chafee et al. Here in a place once known for a certain democratic radicalism, the plaintiffs want Judge Taft-Carter to decree that certain features of modern democracy have run their course, that collective bargaining law requires government to return to an older practice of allowing certain groups to lay permanent claims on the livelihoods of others, and that these special groups should be allowed to enforce their claims through a veto over the elected representatives of the citizenry. That is a lot to ask for.

The Philosophy of Noose Tightening

Justin Katz

Providence Journal opinion columnist M.J. Anderson offers a fascinatingly candid look at the thought processes of those whose preference for expressing concern for people is through government programs, and at how it ultimately makes a cheap trinket of freedom.

The bulk of her column describes the terrible dynamic of ObamaCare that is leading employers to shift their emphasis toward part-time workers so as to avoid the choice that the federal government has given them: pay for expensive health plans or pay a penalty. ObamaCare sets a threshold of 50 employees working 30 hours or more per week before the mandate kicks in. As with minimum-wage laws, the rest is basic math and economic incentive.

Folks who share my philosophical view of the world look at this situation and see an argument against ObamaCare.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 6, 2012

Things We Read Today (39), Thursday

Justin Katz

Critical thinking sexism in Providence schools; a masculine career in disability; indoctrination; gambling on the law; an earnest pun.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Blue States to Get Higher Taxes They Voted For

Marc Comtois

Joel Kotkin at Forbes:

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest....Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers....The top 10 states with the largest percentage of “rich” households under the Obama formula include true blue bastions Washington, D.C., which has the highest concentration of big earners, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, California and Hawaii. The only historic “swing state” in the top six is Virginia, due largely to the presence of the affluent suburbs of the capital.

...Big metro areas supported Obama, particularly their core cities, by margins as high as four to one. Besides New York, the metro areas with the highest percentage of high-earning households include such lockstep blue cities as San Francisco, Washington, San Jose, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

...Of course, one can argue that these changes follow the precepts of social justice: Rich people and rich regions should pay more. Yet being “rich” means different things in different places, due to vast differences in costs of living. The cost of living in New York and Los Angeles, for example, is so high that the adjusted value of salaries rank in the bottom fifth in the nation. In other words, a couple with two children with a $150,000 income in Austin or Raleigh may be, in terms of housing and personal consumption, far “richer” than one making twice that in New York or Los Angeles.

Jim Geraghty proposes taking it all a bit further.
From this, the GOP could conceivably propose a “tax Blue America” plan:

* Keep the tax rate on capital gains the same.
* Raise income taxes on the top income bracket for 2013, those making $398,350 and up (single filers, married joint filers, or head of household).
* Means-test, or eliminate entirely, the mortgage-interest deduction (which benefits taxpayers in areas with the highest real-estate values and mortgages — i.e., Hawaii, D.C., New York, California, and Connecticut).
* Means-test or eliminate entirely the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which is disproportionately utilized by those in high-tax blue states: “In 2005, taxpayers in California and New York together made up 20 percent of those claiming the deduction and accounted for 30 percent of its value. Itemizers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California claimed on average over $12,000 per household.”

Matthew Yglesias agrees with at least part of Geraghty's plan:
...Geraghty is right that the state and local tax deduction primarily benefits residents of blue states since blue states have high taxes, and so does the mortgage interest tax deduction because blue states have expensive houses.

I think this is a fine idea, but I'm especially enthusiastic about the mortgage part. Suppose homeowners in expensive coastal cities couldn't deduct their mortgage interest, what would happen? Well, what would happen is that prices would fall. But nothing more dramatic than that. All the deduction does is encourage further bidding up of the price. In a normal market, that bidding up of the price might lead to additional construction. But the main reason those blue metro areas have such expensive houses is that zoning doesn't allow demand to be matched with supply. No matter how expensive Georgetown or Harvard Square or Park Avenue gets they're not demolishing the existing structures and replacing them with much larger ones. So you'd get some extra tax revenue this way with no real change in the amount of underlying economic activity.

Hey, they asked for it.

December 5, 2012

Things We Read Today (38), Wednesday

Justin Katz

Evading the progressive ideology snatchers; under surveillance; the not-employed young; and growing up, one way or another.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Stop Spending

Marc Comtois

As Michael Barone points out, historically, no matter the tax rate, tax receipts have almost never eclipsed 20% of GDP. The only time they did (20.5%) was in 2000 just before the dotcom bubble burst. Here's the chart:


Source: Economic Report of the President 2012, Appendix B, Table B-79, p. 412.

As Barone explains:

In the Obama years, federal receipts have hovered at 15 percent of GDP.

That's just because tax rates are too low, Obama backers reply. Just raise the rates on high earners and the problem will be solved.

Actually, high earners don't make enough money to close the current budget deficit. You'd need to raise taxes on middle-income earners too.

But we have had higher income tax rates in most of the years since World War II. What history and Table B-79 show is that even much higher rates -- like the 91 percent marginal rate on top earners imposed from the 1940s to the 1960s -- have never produced federal receipts higher than 20 percent of GDP.

Why is that? As the late Jack Kemp liked to say, when you tax something, you get less of it. When the government took 91 percent of what the law defined as adjusted gross income over a certain amount, not many people had adjusted gross income over that amount.

According to a Congressional Research Service study, the effective income tax rate on the top 0.01 percent of earners in the days of nominal 91 percent tax rates was only 45 percent. Others have pegged it at 31 percent.

In the 1970s, when the top rate on wage and salary income was 50 percent and 70 percent on investment income, high earners spent much of their time and energy seeking tax shelters. The animal spirits of capitalists, to use John Maynard Keynes' term, were directed less at productive investment and more at tax avoidance.

Any serious economic plan has to reduce spending to below 20% of GDP because receipts just aren't going to get above 20% of GDP. But no one is interested in being serious.

ADDENDUM: And, for the umpteenth time, any proposed spending "cuts" aren't cuts at all, just a reduction in the projected amount of increased spending.

December 4, 2012

Over at OSC, Liveblogging the Second Toll Hearing

Monique Chartier

Over at Ocean State Current, Justin is liveblogging a second, packed DOT hearing on the proposed toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge. Feel free to drop over and comment, boo, throw popcorn ( the proposal), etc.

The Deterioration of New England Local Government (and of the United States)

Justin Katz

Paul Rahe's written an excellent essay explaining why libertarians ought to be social conservatives (via Instapundit), which is a point on which I'm writing for future publication. For the moment, though, this paragraph is more immediately relevant:

In America, [Tocqueville] found institutions, mores, and manners antithetical to what he took to be democracy's natural drift. Vigorous local self-government drew the inhabitants of New England townships out of their homes and into the public square. Initially, they made this move in self-defense, but the experience of participating soon became a pleasure all its own, and it induced individuals to abandon what he called "individualism" and to devote themselves to public concerns. In the process, these Americans learned to think ahead, they developed a powerful sense of their own capacity to cope with the vicissitudes of life, and they learned to cooperate with their neighbors and even with strangers in forming private associations for public purposes.

Rahe attributes much of the erosion of American civic society, including the ideas of local governance, private organizations, and moral self-control, to the sort of apathy that arises when generations forget what their ancestors saved them from, and what was necessary in order to accomplish that end. There's certainly a point to be made, in that regard, but I find myself returning to his phrase, "initially, they made this move in self-defense."

On the local level, it doesn't take quite the dramatic threat that is necessary to bring out the self-defense vote (so to speak) in big-time politics, which is one of the reasons pushing governance toward the local level is generally advisable. So why do we not see the apathy of prosperity looping back every now and then to a rejuvenated public engagement?

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Economic Freedom? Not in Rhode Island.

Justin Katz

To kick off a two-year planning process, the RI Economic Development Corporation under Governor Lincoln Chafee is seeking a contractor to, among other things, "analyze existing business climate reviews from the past three years, such as the Tax Foundation's State Business Tax Climate Index, Beacon Hill Institute's State Competitiveness Rankings, and Forbes Best States for Business to determine the reasons for Rhode Island's performance in these studies."

Read a little more closely, and one gets the impression that the idea is to find factors that Rhode Island could leverage without making substantial changes to the tax and regulatory policy that restrict the ability of Rhode Islanders to make their own paths in the economy:

The State intends to grow its business environment in a way that maintains high standards for development that equitably serves all our residents, protects the environment and builds on our assets. This analysis will help the State determine which indicators to improve, emphasizing those that further our standards of equitable growth as well as nurture our business environment.

You'll recall that Rhode Island does best on the Beacon Hill index, which attempts to capture what some might call the "mushier" considerations.

Not so mushy is Rhode Island's performance on the 2012 iteration of the Fraser Institute's "Economic Freedom of North America" report.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 3, 2012

Open Thread: The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation

Carroll Andrew Morse

Philip Marcelo of the Projo reported last week that...

Governor Chafee said on Friday that he is not considering major changes to the state Economic Development Corporation, despite a state-commissioned report calling for a major overhaul of the embattled agency, which came under fire for its handling of the 38 Studios debacle.
I know every other state has some sort of economic development body (RIPEC provided a summary of them, at the end of its report on the RI EDC issued earlier this year), but what exactly is it that an "economic development agency" is supposed to achieve?

The question isn't whether government should be involved with economic development; one way or another it will be. As Justin pointed out earlier this year, during his Ocean State Current coverage of a non-profit/business community get-together, there is a strong perception from people who are trying to do economic stuff that the major way in which government is frequently involved in the current RI economy is as something that needs to be worked around. This leads to a first question: can an economic development agency make any difference with a government as broken as Rhode Island's is?

The other question is more fundamental: Even under as reasonable as can be hoped for conditions of good government, what exactly is it that a mission-specific economic development agency can do (whether as a quasi-public agency or as a regular government department) to bring about more improvement in the Rhode Island economy that directing the same level of "resources" (i.e., moolah) to more fundamental functions of government cannot?

Ted Nesi, in his Saturday morning post for WPRI-TV (CBS 12), recalled that the RI Department of Economic Development, the forerunner to the current Economic Development Corporation, was only created in 1974. The state got by without one for several centuries. Could it do so -- could it even be advantageous to do so -- again?

December 2, 2012

Another View of the Whole Political Landscape

Carroll Andrew Morse

While Ross Douthat's New York Times column from this week isn't exactly an election postmortem, it certainly suggests that a politics focused solely on economic efficiency is incomplete...

Beneath these policy debates, though, lie cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change. The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion -- a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It's a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.
Stagnation over innovation, and a preference for what already exists over what might be certainly sounds like it could be Rhode Island right now. So does that place RI on the leading edge of history, or as an early warning that there's still time to pull back from?

Fortunately (or maybe pollyannaishly), since I increasingly don't believe in the concept of modernity, I'm not quite as pessimistic as Douthat that we've reached some irreversible point of civilizational exhaustion. Which doesn't mean that improvement is inevitable, just that it's possible.