February 28, 2013
Budgeting for a Sequester
Numbers between $17M and $25M are being reported as the cost of the sequester to Rhode Island state government spending. However, if a few state departments did nothing more than stay within their original FY2013 budgets, and the funding tentatively intended for their overruns could be intelligently redirected, the impact would only be about half of that amount.
Let's begin by noting that, for the most part, the various departments of RI government are exhibiting a reasonable degree of budgetary discipline. In other words, according to the Governor's proposed budget document for FY2014, most departments won't spend more than they were appropriated for FY2013 (in Rhode Island, we take our fiscal successes wherever we can find them).
However, at least one government department is an exception to this: the General Assembly. The Rhode Island General Assembly was appropriated $37.2M from the state's general revenues for fiscal year FY2013, a 10.5% increase over the previous year. In the Governor's revised budget for FY2013, the GA is appropriated $40.4M from general revenues, an overrun of $3.2M (8.6% more than their appropriated amount). If the state legislature does nothing more than stay within its original FY2013 appropriation (this is not a cut; they still get their 10.5% increase over the previous year), it would free up $3.2M to be spent on areas impacted by the sequester. Since the money saved would all come from general revenues, the legislature could pretty much spend it wherever it wanted to (just like it could choose to spend on itself, while other programs are being impacted).
The Information Technology section within the state's Department of Administration also spends more, according to the Governor's revised FY2013 budget, than it was allocated in the original. The revised budget allocates an extra $930K from general revenues to finish the year. However, it should be noted that DoA Information Technology (unlike the General Assembly) was budgeted very conservatively at the start, with FY2013 costs for personnel and operating expenses initially budgeted for about $1.8M less than the previous year. Maintaining their general revenue at its original FY2013 level still leaves 3% more for personnel and operations than originally appropriated.
The last area of noticeable budget increase is one of the largest, though it is not under state government control alone. This area also reveals something about priorities in government budgeting. As you may have heard, the executive branch of Rhode Island government is planning to set up an Obamacare "Health Benefits Exchange". In the original FY2013 Rhode Island budget, $22.2M was allocated for initial set-up expenses, all paid for with Federal dollars. In the Governor's revised budget, the cost of setting up a Healthcare Benefits Exchange jumps by 30% to $28.8M, still all from Federal funding. If costs were limited to their original FY2013 budget amount (and, once again, being asked to stay within an approved budget is not a cut), it could free up about $6.6M to be applied to other human service programs. 98% of Health Benefits Exchange spending in FY2013 is on "personnel", so no assistance program would be adversely affected, and the salary-spending plans from the Governor's "revised" budget could be resumed just 3 months from now, on June 1, at the start of the new fiscal year.
Asking these 3 programs to stay within their budgets for this year could free up about $10.8M to replace sequestered monies. That leaves a gap of somewhere in the vicinity of $6.2M to $14.2M to be closed (down from the original $17M to $25M).
Federal dollars allocated to Rhode Island state government, minus two programs 1) the Health Benefits Exchange, already accounted for above and 2) support for the Department Labor and Training, which was temporary and is in the process of being phased out, was $2.39B in FY2012. In the Governor's revised budget for FY2013 (which we'll assume doesn't include the sequester), that amount increases by $140M, to $2.53B. If we pick the larger of the sequester estimates and don't include DLT or Health Benefit Exchange programs, in conjunction with the three proposals suggested above, the rest of Rhode Island government would have to adjust to the sequester by spending "only" $125M more in Federal dollars than they did last year
Or, if it is decided that General Assembly spending on itself and that spending on healthcare bureaucratic cost overruns is more important than everything else, the sequester would mean that Rhode Island only gets to spend about $115M more in non-Health Benefits Exchange, non-DLT Federal dollars than it did last year. Hmmmm. Maybe I buried the lede on this one.
Anyway, with competent fiscal management, managing the "austerity" of a $115M budget increase should be feasible. We'll see how how well Rhode Island is able to handle it.
Late Addition: Bills on Requiring Armed Guards at Schools to be Heard Today
A bill (H5068) requiring cities and towns to post an armed guard at every school in Rhode Island was posted Tuesday for a House Municipal Government hearing today. Here's the complete text:
The school committees of various cities, towns, and school districts, shall appoint a guard to each school building within their jurisdiction. The guard shall protect the safety of all students and school personnel and preserve order at each school.I wouldn't oppose a decision by local authorities to assign armed guards at the schools they are responsible for, if they determined it made sense for their circumstances. However, I'm also skeptical that a blanket mandate by the legislature, especially one that rather casually combines protecting safety and preserving order, is the most sensible policy on this issue.
February 27, 2013
Apathy and Fear in Rhode Island
Most Americans probably know very little about Rhode Island beyond the fact that it is at the wrong end of an awful lot of national economic and civic rankings.
Residents of the state who’ve sought some explanation for its willful decline inevitably come across the concept of "Rhode-apathy." Under the thralls of what force would a state’s electorate allow its deteriorating condition to persist indeed, to advance year after year?
February 26, 2013
02/26/13 - A Conversation with Bruce Katz
Justin liveblogs from Brookings Institution VP Bruce Katz event with the RI Foundation.
February 25, 2013
Things We Read Today (49), Weekend
An article not about what it's about; sequester demagoguery; softening kids for "effort shock"; and the rise of grassroots fascism.
Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 26 - February 28, Part 2
10. S0330: Independent voters would not need to become a member of a political party, to vote in that party's primary. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)
9. H5389: Spencer Dickinson's proposal for a binding arbitration process for teacher contracts. In the Dickinson process, only the school committee could choose to go to binding arbitration, but the bill also implies that teachers would be given the right to strike, if a contract expired, without the school committee requesting arbitration. Also, the 3rd arbitrator would be a retired judge chosen by "the presiding justice of the Rhode Island superior court". (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)
8. Most of the time in Rhode Island's legislative committees is spent on standalone bills and individual budget articles. However, the finance committees also have the responsibility for holding hearings on individual department budgets, where most of the money is actually spent each year. On Wednesday, February 27, the Senate Finance Committee will hold its hearing on the "Office of Health and Human Services" budget which by itself is a 1.86 billion dollar line item.
7. H5251: Mandates "constant" electronic surveillance in all individual resident rooms and public areas of licensed nursing homes. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 27). This line from the proposed law strikes me as particularly creepy: "Electronic monitoring in residents' rooms, bathrooms, and bathing areas shall be constant", even if the surveillance in the bathrooms and bathing areas is only required to be audio.
6A. H5150: (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 26) The most extensive of the automobile insurance compliance bills, authorizing...
- "A system to make both interstate and intrastate vehicle insurance and registration status available to law enforcement for automated query at any time",
- "A system to provide automobile and commercial vehicle insurance information to emergency medical service providers",
- "A verification system to provide courts with financial responsibility status for the court date, the citation date, the day prior to the citation date, and a history of the vehicle's periods of coverage, regarding...vehicles identified as non-compliant",
- "An automatic license plate recognition system to electronically capture license plate images in two (2) seconds or less and non-invasively attempt verification of the insurance and when possible, the registration status of the vehicle", and
- "A system that provides a help desk service with live operators but also a fax service and internet-based response service so that citations can be challenged and any errors corrected in support of the public".
5. S0346: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature would disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)
4. H5441: Limits "student growth and achievement" to one-third of what can considered in a teacher evaluation. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)
3. H5277: Bans "standardized testing program[s] or assessment[s]" from being used as a high-school graduation requirement. (H House, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 27)
2. H5342: Repeal of the Caruolo act, and the addition of a requirement that town/city councils ratify school department contracts. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 26)
1. S0359: Repeal of Rhode Island's voter ID law. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)
Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 26 - February 28, Part 1
Anyone know the background on this one? H5322: Prohibits unauthorized use of the emblem of the Attorney General of the state of Rhode Island.
21. S0341: A potpourri of changes to criminal law, including the decriminalization of a first offense for shoplifting or driving without a license, and an overall change so that "a petty misdemeanor shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a criminal offense". (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28) Would anyone familiar with the legal system care to comment on what the implications of the "petty misdemeanor" change are?
20. S0093: Some changes to the Bristol County Water Authority, the most interesting of which are ones like "All actions taken by the board of directors must be in compliance with the Rhode Island General Laws 'Access to Public Records Act'...and the 'Open Meetings Act'", which basically make clear that the BCWA cannot claim that it has some nebulous not-quite-government status that allows it to evade requirements for conducting business in the open. (S Housing and Muncipal Government; Tue, Feb 26)
19. Proposed Senate Rules for the 2013-2014 session. (S Rules; Wed, Feb 27) If I'm reading this correctly, there is exactly one change from last year: the sentence "In no event shall one (1) calendar day be construed as two (2) legislative days" has been struck from the definition of "Day" in rule 1.2. Further amendments could be proposed in committee.
18. S0173: Prohibits telemarketing (or "telephonic selling") calls to cell phones. Note that this an outright prohibition, not just implementation of a do not call list. (S Corporations; Tue, Feb 26)
17. S0291: Requires a search warrant for the search of any "portable electronic device" in the possession of an individual under arrest. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28) This exact bill was passed by both chambers last year, but vetoed by the Governor.
16. Bud. Art. 8: Moves administration of renewable energy programs, funded via surcharges on ratepayers, away from the Economic Development Corporation and to the state's Office of Energy Resources. (H Finance; Tue, Feb 26)
15. S0305: Makes it illegal for banks to charge daily overdraft fees or overdraft fees greater than the amount overdrawn. (S Corporations; Thu, Feb 28)
14. S0361: Requires prisoners serving non-life sentences for first or second degree murder to serve 50% of their sentence before being eligible for parole. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)
13. S0225/S0358: Creates a good-conduct certificate that can be awarded by the state parole board to individuals who have served prison sentences, with the intent of helping them "to reestablish themselves as law-abiding members of society". (S Judiciary; Tue, Feb 26)
12. S0041: Extends the current requirement that persons convicted of sexual and violent offenses provide DNA to be logged in a database, to a requirement that persons arrested for "murder, manslaughter, first degree arson, kidnapping with intent to extort, robbery, larceny from the person, first degree sexual assault, second degree sexual assault, first and second degree child molestation, assault with intent to murder, assault with intent to rob, assault with intent to commit first degree sexual assault, burglary, and entering a dwelling house with intent to commit murder, robbery, sexual assault, or larceny" or convicted of any felony do so. (S Judiciary; Thu, Feb 28)
11. H5274: Legalizes "actually and constructively using, obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing one ounce (1 oz.) or less of marijuana" and various other related activities. (H Finance; Wed, Feb 27)
February 24, 2013
Re: The Political Spectrum Goes 'Round and 'Round
My previous post referenced the circularly structured political spectrum that Justin proposed a few weeks ago. Samuel G. Howard criticized Justin's mapping in a post at Rhode Island's Future, one objection being that choosing individual emphasis versus community emphasis as a defining axis leads to problems that are intractable...
I suspect it would be difficult for anyone to choose between the individual and the community. I’ve always argued that we seek a more equal community so as to strengthen the liberty of the individual. My emphasis is on the individual, but the method works on the community. There’s no dividing line for that philosophy, the kind that sees equality and liberty as two sides of the same coin.But because a choice is difficult doesn't imply either that it is beyond analysis or unimportant. Indeed, one of the leading contemporary academic authorities on the classification of political ideologies, Michael Freeden of the University of Oxford (the famous one in England), treats the ideas people have about the relationship between individual and community as central to understanding political choices they make and actions they undertake.
Here is Freeden, in a 1999 article about the intellectual evolution of the British left ("True Blood or False Genealogy: New Labour and British Social Democratic Thought"), describing a set of ideas about liberty that, in the 20th century, had come to replace "the old Hobbesian understanding of liberty as the absence of impediments to individual action"...
The first remained focused on the benefits liberty conferred on an individual, but did not rule out any intervention genuinely conducive to removing barriers to personal growth and welfare. The second concentrated on the benefits liberty conferred on society, developing the Marxist notion of emancipation to include human realisation only through full immersion in social life.Add to the above a non-controversial assumption that some form of liberty should be a primary concern of government, and Freeden's two new foci for liberty exactly match Justin's individual versus community split.
In the same article, Freeden also discusses the difference between Britain's Fabian socialists and liberals...
For many socialists, though not for all, the logic of state activity was conceptually attached to the nationalisation of key public resources and services, but it could concurrently be employed to enlist state supervision and control of other important social practices. Notably, the liberal concern with the state as a source of potentially arbitrary and unaccountable power was largely removed from Fabian understandings.So we have one strand of political thought that holds that government should supervise and control social practices while another that holds that it should not. An obvious question that follows is: if government isn't controlling social practices, then who or what is? Just acknowledging this question, along with making the reasonable leap that social practices and morality strongly overlap -- understanding that this entails some open and interesting questions about how they relate to and influence one another -- gives us a second axis in Justin's chart strongly congruent to Freeden's work, i.e. a dividing line between the belief that the state should supervise and control social practices and morality, versus a belief that the state should reflect of social practices and morality that have their origin elsewhere, in the broader culture. (However, it would be fair to add here that we want to be careful about defining culture in too reductionist a manner, where culture becomes simply everything that is not government).
Let's move from the general to the specific for a moment. One purposes the Freeden set out to achieve in his 1999 article was an accurately description of the "ideational roots" of the new Labour government of Tony Blair. If we take two of the dividing axes that Justin defined; i.e. emphasis on the individual, and a distrust of state supervision over social practices, which are consistent with Freeden's work, then the group that Justin labels as right-libertarians potentially ends up as a part of Tony Blair's governing coalition. I will hazard to say that respectable conservatives and libertarians can be found who would object to the suggestion that Prime Minister Blair's government was sympathetic to libertarians, while certain progressives might readily agree that Justin's chart points to how "neoliberals" hijacked the left in Great Britain -- and voila, we've got a discussion going about what is really happening in politics and governance, in terms that are "beyond just left and right". Such discussions are meaningful, not when they are about political labels alone, but when they are about the ideas that underlie the labels.
In the end, the only way to understand the alliances that citizens and groups actively involved in politics will make and break and the policies they will pursue is to understand how the view fundamental political and social concepts, and what common ground they share with their contemporaries. That's true up and down the line, for award winning academics and us yahoo local bloggers alike.
February 23, 2013
What to Make of Chris Dorner's Admirers
Last weekend, a small number of people turned out at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in some combination of protest and memorial for former LAPD officer Chris Dorner, who killed four people in Southern California, before killing himself during a standoff with law enforcement. Meanwhile, in the virtual world, a Facebook tribute describing Dorner as "a man who is willing to die for something instead of living for nothing" has received over 20,000 likes, while the Occupy Los Angeles Facebook site has offered a wish of condolence that Dorner "rest in power". While the number of admirers that Dorner has should not be exaggerated, he does have them.
It is obviously not simply Chris Dorner's grievances or the content of his "manifesto" that won him whatever number of admirers he has. Dorner was not the first to accuse the Los Angeles police department of corruption or racism, and he would have very likely remained mostly unknown had he not taken to murder. Dorner has become the focus of a fringe mini-movement because there are people who believe that his claims against the LAPD are more deserving of attention than they would otherwise be because he started killing individuals not directly related to his "issues".
During an interview on CNN, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill opined that Dorner had "been like a real life superhero to many people" who could find watching him "kind of exciting". Dorner supporters are certainly more excited by his violence than they would be by the details of an administrative and judicial grievance procedure minus the murders. And while many of Dorner's supporters will explicitly disclaim that murdering innocent people is bad, it is the murder spree that has elevated him to the status of a cause, with the celebration of "action" trumping concerns about its justification or consequences.
There have been times in the past when the idea of the pathway to social change following behind a violent superhero might generate support beyond that of a weekend protest and some Facebook likes; we don't have to go very far back into history to find such times. Thoroughly modern ideologies with substantial followings from the first half of the twentieth century, e.g. various fascisms and some (but not all) forms of anarchism, regarded the individual acting on his will-to-power, with total disregard for societal norms that might impede ego-determined ends, as the example to be emulated and the natural leader of society.
The admiration expressed for Chris Dorner makes evident that impulses in humanity that drive people to idolize the violent superman still exist. It is not impossible to imagine that such admiration and idolization can be turned into a willingness to follow, if the superhero had an interest in doing so.
* * *This is a very important reason why thinking about the possible forms of political ideology and political philosophy, what they look like and where they might lead, one version of which Justin posted a few weeks ago, is important.
The philosophies/ideologies that Justin placed in the ring represent, roughly, the post-World War II Euro/Atlantic consensus about what's legitimate, running roughly from various forms of soft-socialism to various forms of welfare-state capitalism. The cross-bar holds forms of "extremism" that don't fit neatly into that consensus. One idea that differentiates the ring from the cross-bar (though not necessarily the only one) is that the will-to-power of a violent superhero can be accepted as a legitimate political force in the cross-bar, but not in the ring. (Some of the best work I am aware of about how to appropriately separate extremism from its mainstream political relatives was done by a young Jerry Pournelle, back in the 1960s; I am of the opinion that 2 dimensions for political classification which he defined, and a third that he proposed, are still very relevant today)
What throws a society into a state of extremism, i.e. from the ring to the cross-bar, isn't wholly understood, making it all the more imperative to think a bit about what the beginnings of a slide into extremism might look like and what its warning signals are, so that folks who favor a more peaceful system can be ready to challenge and defeat any movement towards the social and political institutionalization of the barbaric side of human nature.
Another Big Ask: Woonsocket to Meet With Retirees Monday
In yesterday's dead tree edition of the Woonsocket Call (on-line edition sometimes behind a paywall), Russ Olivo reported that, on Monday, Woonsocket will meet with the city's 780 retirees. On the agenda is the fiscal necessity to shift all retirees to Medicare at age 65 and to abolish the pension COLA for the 250 retirees who are in the local pension plan - measures that were outlined in the February 12 letter to retirees from Woonsocket's Budget Commission.
The meeting will be led by State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly and will take place at the Woonsocket High School at 3:00 pm.
In a separate but related news item, the Budget Commission is considering reducing the homestead exemption which, of course, would raise taxes on residential properties. It should be noted that in Woonsocket, residential taxes are lower than the city's commercial property taxes, which are the highest in the state. (Not a good situation for a municipality that very much needs to attract and retain businesses.)
As noted above, Woonsocket's finances are controlled by a state appointed Budget Commission, the second step of municipal receivership. The Budget Commission is looking to implement these and other measures so as to avoid the third, and last, step: appointment of a hatchet-wielding receiver.
Look, I can't easily defend tax increases, either here or anywhere in the state. Budget problems around the state mostly stem from a spending problem, not a revenue one, as witnessed by the state having the fifth highest combined state and local burden. And attempts to reduce budget expenses - SPECIFICALLY INCLUDING THE STATE'S PENSION REFORM - seem anemic at best. (All you're doing to these generous pensions is suspending the COLA? Seriously? Those of us without a pension or retirement would love to have a pension without a COLA - especially if it was inflated by maxed out overtime during our last three years of employment.)
At the same time, it is difficult not to notice the larger picture and the origins of these budget problems: yet another Rhode Island municipality (along with the state) and its retirees are now compelled to deal with and pay the price for the fiscal disaster brought about by decades of irresponsible, selfish elected officials who made or confirmed promises that were remarkably free of considerations of affordability and equitability.
The first part of the title of this post refers to the term used by Central Falls' receiver, Robert Flanders, in July, 2011, when he met with that city's retirees to discuss the reduction of their pensions, necessitated by the “horrible dilemma” of a mostly empty pension fund and imminent bankruptcy.
Under Mr. Flanders’s plan, which he calls The Big Ask, some retirees would lose almost half their benefits
How many other "Big Asks" will take place as certain municipalities attempt to clean up the mess left by their prior, and sometimes current, elected officials?
As the Sequester Dominates the Weekend Political Talk.....
....keep this in mind.
1) There are no cuts as regular people define them. Just a reduction in the planned for "regular" growth that Washington, D.C. cooks into the budget pie year after year.
2) The sequester was President Obama's idea in the first place. Bob Woodward:
My extensive reporting for my book “The Price of Politics” shows that the automatic spending cuts were initiated by the White House and were the brainchild of Lew and White House congressional relations chief Rob Nabors — probably the foremost experts on budget issues in the senior ranks of the federal government.
Obama personally approved of the plan for Lew and Nabors to propose the sequester to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). They did so at 2:30 p.m. July 27, 2011, according to interviews with two senior White House aides who were directly involved.
Nabors has told others that they checked with the president before going to see Reid. A mandatory sequester was the only action-forcing mechanism they could devise. Nabors has said, “We didn’t actually think it would be that hard to convince them” — Reid and the Republicans — to adopt the sequester. “It really was the only thing we had. There was not a lot of other options left on the table.”
A majority of Republicans did vote for the Budget Control Act that summer, which included the sequester. Key Republican staffers said they didn’t even initially know what a sequester was — because the concept stemmed from the budget wars of the 1980s, when they were not in government.
February 22, 2013
Corruption and Poor Ethics "Unavoidable" in Central Falls
Amazing. If you need any better illustration of the mindset of certain individuals (read: not all) in Rhode Island government, this article from W. Zachary Malinowski at the Providence Journal yesterday is about as clear as you can get.
Moreau’s brother, Frank, said the coziness of small-city politics led the ex-mayor astray.Yes, unavoidable. Impossible to ignore. Never mind that you're the mayor, the highest ranking official in town, but engaging in these activities were "unavoidable" for the mayor. Never mind that he was elected to act in the best interests of the citizens of Central Falls. Screwing them over was apparently "unavoidable." Good to know.
“People that got jobs or other opportunities to earn money through Central Falls were connected to Chuck,” he wrote. “It was unavoidable.”
A former captain in the Central Falls Fire Department talked about how Moreau and Bouthillette’s program to board up vacant and abandoned buildings — the activity for which they were charged — protected city residents. “To me, the safety of boarding up those houses to keep me and other public servants and the residents of the City of Central Falls safe was priceless!” he wrote.Priceless? Priceless makes for some good Mastercard commercials but the boarding up of houses in Central Falls was not priceless. Not even public safety is priceless. Everything has a price. One question I'd love to ask this former police captain about the value of "priceless" is if he sees this safety being priceless, what value does he put on his own life? Is his own life also "priceless"? We can determine what value he has put on his own life by seeing how much life insurance he has bought. Yes, everything has a price, even our own lives. So please spare me the "public safety is priceless" talk. Even Moreau and Bouthilette had a price, albeit a grossly inflated one.
Additionally, the article talked about the letters that were submitted on the defendants' behalf, to the judge, to talk about the character of each. Not surprisingly, lawyers for the defendants opposed the release of those letters to the public. Moreau's lawyer, William J. Murphy (why is that name familiar?) wrote in his opposition:
The letters, he wrote, have “no bearing on the public’s assessment of the sentence imposed … “and would only serve to embarrass (Moreau) and his family.”No, you know what's embarrassing? Being elected to serve the people of a town and then screwing them over. That's embarrassing.
Lastly, in the letter from Moreau's wife, she wrote:
she and her husband have struggled to provide “security and stability,” for their sons — ages 8 and 4. She said that his departure for prison, on March 4, will create a void in the boys’ lives.
“For them, their father is their world,” she wrote. “It is Dad that they want to tuck them in at night, it is Dad who reads them books, and makes them breakfast in the morning. His sons come first, more importantly they know they come first.”
Struggled to provide? If the mayor's job doesn't pay what they need to support their children, then why is he running for the seat? Well, the answer is obvious, but the assumption is that he'll be ethical and not corrupt. Or was the intent from day one to be corrupt and take from your own citizens?
I do feel sad for Moreau's sons. It is a tragedy any time a parent is taken away from children, for any reason. But he brought this on himself. This is not the out of work, bankrupt father stealing a loaf of bread from the grocery store to feed his starving children. This was greed, pure and simple. Fortunately for the boys, Moreau will only be spending two years in a "federally funded gated community" to coin a Buddy Cianci term.
February 21, 2013
Summarizing Acculturated's Symposium on Manliness
Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men....It’s no exaggeration to say that having large numbers of single young men and women living independently, while also having enough disposable income to avoid ever messing up their kitchens, is something entirely new in human experience. Yes, at other points in Western history young people have waited well into their 20s to marry, and yes, office girls and bachelor lawyers have been working and finding amusement in cities for more than a century. But their numbers and their money supply were always relatively small. Today’s pre-adults are a different matter. They are a major demographic event.The character Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman) from Parks and Recreation is mentioned by R.J. Moeller. (Incidentally, Swanson is a character that has been embraced by libertarian/conservatives even though he is an obvious attempt to lampoon their beliefs. Two points: 1) Good humor always contains truth; 2) Surprise! We can laugh at ourselves.)
What also makes pre-adulthood something new is its radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy. Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor’s degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends.
Still, for these women, one key question won’t go away: Where have the good men gone?
Moeller contrasts the fictional Swanson with some young hipster males of today:
...there are manly things. We just don’t seem to prize them anymore, and this is, in part, because they are not easy to obtain and require hard work to maintain.Mark Judge picks up on the nerd theme to argue that we are raising too many specialists and not enough Renaissance men (and women) these days:
Why does someone like Nick Offerman, the actor who portrays the beloved (and hilarious) Ron Swanson...stand out in such an intriguing and ironic way? Because he’s a man. Being a man is now “intriguing and ironic.”
I happened to catch a recent episode of The Nerdist podcast and the three uber-nerds who host the show (all post-thirty, unmarried dudes) were chatting with actor Jason Schwartzman (who has made a living playing the effeminate, hapless loser in multiple films) about how they were all fascinated by Nick Offerman and “just how manly and commanding he is in person.”
Even these four dainty dopes sitting around in Ms. Pac-Man t-shirts recognized he had something they didn’t–and they wanted whatever that was. Of course they didn’t want it badly enough to put down their light sabres and head to the lumber yard or Scottish caber toss competition with Mr. Offerman, but the fact remains that when confronted with traditional manliness, they were attracted to it. Yet the safety of their nerd-nest, the delusional world where weeping outside an Apple store when the stranger who invented your iPod dies, won out because they knew there’d be no judging from the legions of other man-boys running around these days.
I happened to catch a recent episode of The Nerdist podcast and the three uber-nerds who host the show (all post-thirty, unmarried dudes) were chatting with actor Jason Schwartzman (who has made a living playing the effeminate, hapless loser in multiple films) about how they were all fascinated by Nick Offerman and “just how manly and commanding he is in person.”
Even these four dainty dopes sitting around in Ms. Pac-Man t-shirts recognized he had something they didn’t–and they wanted whatever that was. Of course they didn’t want it badly enough to put down their light sabres and head to the lumber yard or Scottish caber toss competition with Mr. Offerman, but the fact remains that when confronted with traditional manliness, they were attracted to it. Yet the safety of their nerd-nest, the delusional world where weeping outside an Apple store when the stranger who invented your iPod dies, won out because they knew there’d be no judging from the legions of other man-boys running around these days.Mark Judge picks up on the nerd them to argue that we are raising too many specialists and not enough Renaissance men (and women) these days:
I believe the problem with the “pre-adulthood” phenomenon is that young men are no longer raised to be renaissance men. In a world that is increasingly secular and illiterate, they are taught to find their niche, hit it hard, and not worry about anything else. Thus, you have Big Bang Theory nerds who cannot name a single contemporary jazz artist; sports junkies who don’t know who John Paul II was; Bible thumpers who don’t own a single Beatles record; politicians who have never read a novel. These days no one tries to take on anything different for the simple pleasure of trying to improve themselves. They don’t stretch themselves.Anthony Dent looks at the problems faced by such uncultured lower-middle class men:
This is why it gets tiresome when conservative critics keep circling back to the same scapegoats: Adam Sandler, Hollywood, toilet humor. They act as if these things are bad in and of themselves, when the problem is that they are not balanced out with anything more noble. I mean, Chaucer made fart jokes in The Canterbury Tales. But there were some other ideas in there as well. Also–and this is crucial–there was once a time when men kept ribald humor to their circle of male peers. There was just certain stuff you didn’t talk about in front of women. With the sexual revolution, those zones of healthy segregation began to collapse.
These days the problem isn’t as much pre-adulthood males as it is uncultured people–including women. When I was in high school at Georgetown Prep, a Jesuit school that prided itself on producing men who could both lay down a block and conjugate Latin, we had a term for well-rounded women: “cool chicks.” Yeah, she’s a cool chick. A cool chick would go to a baseball game with you, maybe liked a cool band, and also had a favorite museum and novel. They were cool because they weren’t just one thing–the Lena Dunham hipster, the scholarship-obsessed athlete, the Ally Sheedy Breakfast Club basket case. Do cool chicks exist anymore? Is there a Dianne Keaton of this generation?
For non-college-educated men...[t]he fundamental problem is structural...it’s the dearth of manufacturing jobs...that causes unemployment and, ultimately, the delay of marriage and the creation of healthy communities [and] these men watch television. These are not “the odyssey years” of competitive pressures and healthy experimentation in pre-adulthood described by David Brooks. A better name might be the Buckwild Years, after the MTV show that profiles the lives of six college-aged boys and girls in the backcountry of West Virginia.Ben Domenech uses the example of the Patriots own Rob Gronkowski to argue that women are only reaping what they've sown:
In the show, the boys are perfect stereotypes for the lower-middle-class men of Fishtown in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Two of the boys, Joey and Tyler, started a lawn-mowing business during the summer to make some money. They quit before they even finish the first lawn. The majority of their time is spent muddin’ or re-enacting countrified Jackass-esque stunts. When Joey was in a relationship with one of the girls, Shae, he wouldn’t acknowledge her as his girlfriend just like Tyler, who hooked up with several girls, yet declined to call any of them his girlfriend. When Shae asked Joey for some level of commitment, he demurred preferring their status as “friends with benefits.” It’s only until Shain’s parents—the only parental figures in the show—tell Joey to man up and ask her out on a date that he relents and takes her out to dinner. As the dog days of summer come to a close, Shae is headed back to school and asks Joey what he’s going to do. He deflects the question with “I’m gonna do something,” but it’s clear he has no idea, the precise “decay of industriousness” that Murray has observed.
Hymowitz is rightly pessimistic about college-educated layabouts, but at least they have opportunities. If Buckwild and Charles Murray are any guides, lower-middle-class men will have a harder time becoming men again because manliness, at its core, is aggression with a telos.
Where have all the good men gone? The answer is: they have been snatched up, held onto, eradicated from the marketplace, because they are so few in number. And there will be fewer still, barring a backlash of some kind.Emily Esfahani Smith responded to Domenech, explaining that everyone really has to be nicer!
Feminism, properly understood, is not about the granting of power but rather its negation. We no longer teach girls that they control the future, even if men think they control the present, and in so doing concede to men power they once only thought they had–the power to muck about, do nothing, and still find a woman with relative ease later in life after the fun stops.
I remember the first time a woman swore at me, in Manhattan, for holding a door for her according to my Southern instincts, an indictment of old-fashioned manners in a compressed Bronx vowel. It was a jarring moment, and I have never forgotten it. I haven’t stopped holding doors open, but I’ve noticed others have. Men are all overgrown boys, after all (myself most definitely included)–it’s experience in life, the lessons we take from our mistakes and our triumphs, that makes us men. And if no lessons are taken, well, then you end up as Gronk, who has never wanted for female attention.
The dark side of feminism was creating a relationship environment that put relatively little if any qualifications on any man before you take him to bed, and even less after. If young men are ever going to stop treating women like objects and instead like creatures of value, then women have to stop behaving like objects and stop confusing a wicked strut with life-affirming power. That ship has long since sailed.
At least part of what lies at the heart of the degeneration of manly behavior and the general breakdown in how men and women treat each other is, I maintain, selfishness, ego, and what results when those two things exist excessively in one person: a decline in compassion and empathy, or the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes....Being a good person is an act in two parts. It involves treating others well, as Ben tried to do here, but it also involves gracefully accepting the kindness of others. This woman failed to gracefully accept Ben’s kind act because she thought Ben was being sexist. Was Ben being sexist? I’m sure if you asked Ben–or any other man who holds doors open for women–why he did it, he will say that he was trying to be kind and gentlemanly.
But instead of taking that kindness on its own terms, this woman imposed her own beliefs and ideology onto Ben, as she probably has done with countless other men. In doing so, she makes these men feel like unenlightened sexist brutes. Why? Because she just has to make her political point. The social and moral cost of her ideological position is attacking men like Ben and their kindness. If that doesn’t constitute selfish behavior, I don’t know what does.
I think women like her underestimate how profoundly damaging and hurtful behavior like that is for men–and I think women have a moral responsibility, not to mention a social one, to consider that it’s not always appropriate to wave the feminist flag....That said, I think that men have a moral responsibility too. I recently wrote an article in defense of chivalry for The Atlantic, challenging both men and women to higher standards of behavior. With the exception of a small handful of shrill ideologues, women (including many feminists) responded positively to my piece, which was a little bit surprising. But many men–too many men–did not. These men thought that women today did not deserve to be treated in a gentlemanly manner; they thought that women need to choose between accepting feminism or living in a culture where gentlemanly behavior is valued and encouraged; if women chose feminism, they should expect to be treated poorly....I find these responses to be rather disturbing. The incentive to treat women–or anyone, for that matter–well is obvious. It’s the right thing to do. The moral systems from the major world religions, especially Christianity, are clear on this point. Even if you are not treated well by another person, you have a moral duty to be kind to them. Women, who for physical reasons tend to be more vulnerable than men, merit special treatment in special circumstances, regardless–by the way–of their views on feminism.
So who is to blame for the cultural breakdown? We all are.
February 20, 2013
02/20/13 - Economic Development Presentation, State House
Another economic development study presentation at the State House, liveblogged.
Station Night Club Fire: Tenth Anniversary and A Grotesque Footnote To It
Ten years ago occurred the horrific and completely avoidable fire at the Station Night Club in West Warwick.
Far from being held accountable, the person most responsible for the one hundred deaths and two hundred injuries, West Warwick Fire Inspector Dennis LaRocque, was actively shielded by then Attorney General Patrick Lynch for what can only have been vile political reasons. As though that were not outrageous enough, by the way, Mr. LaRocque was subsequently promoted - that's right, the FIRE INSPECTOR on whose watch occurred the fourth worst night club fire in US history was actually promoted - and then retired on a tax-free disability pension. (WPRI's well timed reminder yesterday of the exact nature of Mr. LaRocque's retirement is much appreciated.) Yes, indeed, thanks to Patrick Lynch, the Station Night Club Fire Inspector was held above justice and now is living large on the taxpayer dime.
It is important to note the method by which Patrick Lynch shielded the Fire Inspector and subverted justice. Firstly, he steered the Grand Jury away (scroll down the link) from indicting Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque and then, in a craven act of cowardice and dishonesty, hide behind "their" decision.
"That's what the grand jury returned," said AG Lynch to a query. "I can only do what they say."
Secondly, Attorney General Lynch allowed everyone else involved to plea out (in the process, hanging Judge Francis Darrigan out to dry in a most cowardly fashion.)
See, an indictment of Denis LaRocque or the absence of a plea deal for the others would have led to a trial. And above all, Attorney General Patrick Lynch could not risk a trial of anyone involved in fire because then the truth would have come out and that would have gravely endangered his political protegee, Denis LaRocque.
The result of Patrick Lynch's energetic legal maneuvering on behalf of the fire inspector, however, is that vital questions with regard to the Station Night Club fire remain unanswered:
> Why did Fire Inspector LaRocque fail to uphold Rhode Island's fire code by permitting the highly flammable foam to remain on the wall? Was he not trained properly (doubtful) or was he depravedly careless and indifferent?
> Did he see the foam or not? (Mr. LaRocque gave diametrically conflicting statements on that point to the Grand Jury.)
> Instead of shutting down the night club for this (deadly) code violation and others, why did Mr. LaRocque repeatedly twist and break Rhode Island's fire code so as to increase the "permitted" occupancy of the premises to patently unsafe levels?
Now, we learn from WPRI that Patrick Lynch, he who so successfully fended off truth and justice in the aftermath of the Station Night Club fire, will travel to Brazil to "assist" in the aftermath of the horrendous night club fire in Santa Maria on January 27.
This is surreal.
As Dave Kane correctly notes here and elsewhere, Patrick Lynch's sole expertise in the area of night club fires is obfuscating the truth, coddling the guilty and subverting justice.
Will he now be inflicted on another set of victims? It is to be fervently hoped that Brazilian authorities do not permit this to happen. Let them give him a paper-shuffling job in a back office for a couple of days, have him stand in front of some cameras (his favorite part of any job) and then pat him on the head and send him away. "Nice job, Mr. Lynch! Thanks for your help!"
One set of fire victims victimized again by Patrick Lynch is already too many. Let's not make it two.
February 19, 2013
Dave Kane: The Highly Dubious Assistance of Patrick Lynch
In response to my e-mailed inquiry, the following was received from Dave Kane, the father of the youngest victim of the Station Night Club fire.
I promised myself that after the release of the Station fire land to the victims and their families, I would stop writing press releases and go quietly into the night. Then, just when I was ready to get out....they drag me back in. A report from WPRI TV says that former Attorney General Patrick Lynch is going to Brazil to help in the investigation of the Kiss Nightclub fire. Stop laughing. This is not a joke.
That’s right - Patrick Lynch. Gee, what could he do to help? I know. He could give advice to the club owners on how to make a good plea deal. He could advise the Law enforcement officials that the Building and Fire inspectors are above the law and cannot be charged. Hey, maybe he could offer his expertise as a defense lawyer for those responsible for this event.
I believe that Mr. Lynch could better serve this state by coming forward and telling the truth about his own very embarrassing incompetence and malfeasance. He could tell us about the decisions and deals that were made on who to indict and who should be allowed to walk, free. Hey Patrick, when you get to Brazil, stay there!
February 18, 2013
Building It Doesn't Make Them Come
Bruce Landis had an article in the Sunday Providence Journal with the telling title, "Few, but enthusiastic, riders." The "few" are people actually taking advantage of the new length of commuter rail to Wickford. The train goes on from Providence to Boston.
Data from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority show monthly rider- ship increasing from the time the station opened, April 23, 2012, to 6,000 that June. After that, the figures become uneven, plunging by a third from June to July and then shooting up, doubling from July to August. It isn’t clear why the figures were so irregular during the summer. The DOT said it couldn’t immediately explain them.
After August, the data show ridership flattening out, with between 5,000 and 6,000 people riding per month.
This is despite "vigorous" promotion by the state and free-ticket deals. The accompanying table shows that "between 5,000 and 6,000" per month is actually a little generous. The reality is more like a steady decline since August.
February 17, 2013
RI #1 In Teacher Absenteeism
Earlier this week, USA Today highlighted that Rhode Island was the state with the most teacher absenteeism in the country (GoLocalProv picked it up today), according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.
The national average is about 33% ("1 in 3"), but in RI it's 50%. Great. Look, I'm as tired as anyone of highlighting yet another negative "high" ranking, but when national publications highlight the results of Federal Government studies, we can't ignore them. The rest of the nation won't. So, yet again, we're the "hey, at least we don't live there" state.
New research suggests that teacher absenteeism is becoming problematic in U.S. public schools, as about one in three teachers miss more than 10 days of school each year. The nation's improving economic picture may also worsen absenteeism as teachers' fears ease that they'll lose their job over taking too many sick days, researchers say.
First-ever figures from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, compiled in 2012, also show that in a few states, nearly half of teachers miss more than 10 days in a typical 180-day school year.
Rhode Island: 50.2%
New Mexico: 47.5%
Schools serving larger proportions of African-American and Latino students are "disproportionately exposed to teacher absence," notes researcher Raegen Miller, who studied the federal survey data for the Washington-based Center for American Progress, progressive think tank.
February 16, 2013
UPDATED - Providence: 8th Highest Residential Tax Burden in the Country (Commercial Taxes Even Worse)
It's the reason that I haven't shared the enthusiasm [link added] for the ... um, fiscal "achievements" of Mayor Taveras' tenure, genuinely nice guy though he is. His pension reform, as tepid as the state's, has only succeeded in locking Providence taxpayers into the eighth highest taxes in the country. Block Talk Editor Jenna Bromberg reports.
The tax burden of taxpayers living in different parts of the United States varies due to differences in state and local income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and automobile taxes. So how does your city stack up?
The top ten cities* with the highest tax burden for a hypothetical family of three making $50,000 in 2011:
#10 Boston, MA
Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride on horseback here — but today, trading in the horse for a car of your own would cost $303 in taxes per year. The total tax burden for our hypothetical family in Boston sits at 12.2%, or about $6,125 annually.
#9 Burlington, VT
Vermont’s largest city, home to the very first Ben & Jerry’s, was ranked by Forbes as one of the prettiest towns in America — and we’re sure its 42,500 residents agree. But at a 12.3% tax burden ($6,150 per year), it’s #9 on our list of the most taxed cities in America.
#8 Providence, RI
The city of Providence is known for its historic and cultural attractions; it was first settled in 1636 by Roger Williams and was one of the original Thirteen Colonies. As of the 2010 census, 178,042 people lived within the city of Providence — and our hypothetical family paid $6,034 in taxes in 2011. $3,876 was property tax alone.
Yes, undoubtedly, backing down a substantial tax burden cannot be carried out in one term. But let's save the praise for when the burden is lessened, not just stabilized - especially when "stabilized" means assuring our position on yet another undesirable Top Ten List.
That, of course, is the residential tax rate. We would be remiss if we did not note that Providence's commercial tax rate - second highest in the country - is even higher. When do we start addressing both of these absurdly high burdens?
[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]
February 15, 2013
As Local Talk Radio Churns....
First the "Big O", now Ron St. Pierre. The talk radio landscape is a-changing and one wonders where it will lead. While we can appreciate what both Glenn Ordway and St. Pierre have done, it seems to me like it's a pretty normal changing of the guard. In short, out with the old and in with the new.
For WEEI, Ordway's firing is yet one more reaction to the success of 98.5 the Sports Hub, which has supplanted WEEI as the preeminent sports talk station in the region. Ordway was a pioneer, but he was expensive and his schtick just wasn't working any more. And, particularly in sports talk, younger (and cheaper...and hungrier) voices willing to offer "hot sports takes" abound. Ordway will be replaced by one such guy (Mike Salk) and there is talk that WEEI is pursuing other young talent (such as CSNNE's Mary Paoletti) to freshen up their product. What seems apparent is that WEEI is not looking to go with national shows.
As for St. Pierre, the RI Radio Hall of Famer has nothing to worry about as far as his legacy. He's just about done it all in this market. But with the money spent on Gene Valicenti for the new WPRO Morning show, perhaps such a move should have been predicted: in retrospect, keeping St. Pierre on to hold hands with the afternoon drive-host was a luxury that a local station simply couldn't afford. And all of this seems to indicate that the Mayor may not be far behind his long-time friend in exiting the broadcast center on the Wampanoag Trail. The only question is whether other hosts will follow suit, too. However, throughout the tumult, my guess is that WPRO will try to keep it local and I wonder if they'll try to woo other local hosts over to try to consolidate their strength in the market? Time will tell.
February 13, 2013
02/13/13 - Senate Finance Committee, Sakonnet River Bridge Tolls
Justin writes live from the Senate Finance hearing on repealing the Sakonnet River Bridge toll.
Representing Places as Well as People
In The Disenfranchisement of Rural America, James Huffman writes:
The county by county map of the 2012 presidential election clearly portrays the irony and unfairness of a nation of predominantly red communities governed by a blue, urban, national majority. President Obama won 52 percent of the states and 51.4 percent of the popular vote, but only 20 percent of the counties. Yet, everyone in every one of those counties is subject to the will of distant majorities lacking any understanding of or stake in the local communities they control. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, and should not be that way, in our extended national republic.The much ballyhooed "Bloodless Revolution" in RI resulted in the seizing of political power from the towns to the urban core (as we now call it). It was an "end-justify-the-means" exercise if ever there was one. Yet, RI was in the vanguard of turning the "upper" house of the legislature--the State Senate--into nothing more than a differently-districted mimic of the lower House of Representatives. As Huffman explained, it was the Supreme Court that removed geography or "place" as a legitimate construction for governmental representation.
Democratic government at its best must be about more than the arithmetic of nose counting. Communities require representation if they are to survive in an ever more centralized world. Not the political interest groups we now call communities, but the real communities in which people raise their children, pursue their livelihoods, and nourish their friendships. These are the communities people call home, and they are slowly decaying with the loss of control over their own destinies.
As appealing and self-evident as it seemed at the time, one person/one vote was too simple to be right for a vast and diverse republic.
Prior to the 1964 United States Supreme Court decision in Reynolds v. Sims (here's some background ~ MC), most state legislatures included one house apportioned on the basis of population and a second chamber apportioned on the basis of counties or other geographical regions. Many of the former had not been reapportioned for decades, leaving growing urban areas with less representation per capita than rural regions. On the basis of the principle of one person/one vote, the Court found that the failure of most states to regularly reapportion their lower houses put them in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.Indeed, State Senates are, or were, intended to be structured like the U.S. Senate, where each region, i.e. state, has the same representation (two Senators) regardless of population. At the state level, it was usually counties (or cities and towns like in Rhode Island) that determined State Senate representation. If that hadn't change, each state's citizens would continue to have equal representation along populist lines in the House and each place--each city and town--would be equally represented in the Senate (for bi-cameral state legislatures, of course). In Rhode Island, each city and town would elect one State Senator so that Jamestown and Providence or Newport and Exeter or Central Falls and Block Island would have the same representation. However, the Bloodless Revolution of 1935 changed all that and, obviously, we aren't going back. But Huffman explains that the unforeseen consequences (if not unwanted by the urban political machines) has been detrimental for rural communities:
While one person/one vote was widely accepted as the appropriate standard for lower state legislative chambers, most states defended their geographically apportioned upper houses by drawing a parallel to the U.S. Congress in which the Senate is apportioned on the basis of states rather than population. The Supreme Court rejected their argument, concluding that counties and other local entities are merely subdivisions of unitary state governments lacking any claim comparable to state sovereignty. “Legislators,” said the Court, “represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests...." On the technical question of what constitutes a sovereign entity, the Court was right. But history has shown that the Court was wrong in its understanding of the function served by geographically apportioned state senates. While state senators elected from geographic regions rather than on the basis of population certainly did not represent trees or acres, they did represent communities.
Inexorably, the values and ambitions of urban America have been imposed on small town and rural communities. Despite the often broad agreement among their citizens, the rural communities of red county America have gradually lost control of their own destinies at the hands of statewide majorities marching to a different drummer....The point is not that the different drummer is blue and the rural communities are red. That is just the reality of 21st century American politics. The point is that, because of their minority status in statewide population terms and their lack of representation as communities, rural Americans are denied full self-governance.The environment we live in imposes certain needs and priorities upon us. Country folk often have no idea the kind of issues that city dwellers have to deal with. And the reverse is also true. Money for a new irrigation project is much more important to a farmer than paying for street lights in the city. It's no surprise that these acute concerns aren't held in equal esteem by those with differing backgrounds and priorities. However, as Huffman argues, urban dwellers have the political power to prioritize their needs and desires far more than do their rural fellow citizens.
Maybe the other argument to be made is that the redundancy of State Senates should be dealt with by removing them and going to a unicameral legislature. That certainly wouldn't help rural communities any more, but it might make government (or at least legislating) more efficient (if that's a good thing?).
February 12, 2013
Things We Read Today (48), Post-Blizzard
Economic freedom as the best approach to economic development; what Rhode Island chooses to penalize; the root cause of education decline.
February 11, 2013
Keeping Taxpayers in the Dark
I hope everyone was able to keep safe and as warm as they could through the storm. The cleanup has begun, and even probably ended in many towns. However in some places, we hear about the plows' inability to keep up and even still some people complaining that their road hasn't seen a plow yet. For some great updates on cities like Pawtucket and North Providence, the Valley Breeze's Ethan Shorey has been using his Twitter feed to report on conditions
Some of the more interesting tweets from Shorey included:
#Pawtucket resident just informed me that they're hiring private plowing contractors so they can leave their homes.and
Pawtucket's cut a lot of staff since the last big snowy winter. In this case, I'm hearing lighter plows didn't keep up during the day so they couldn't get through later on. Shortage of big trucks.Others were reporting that mayors of Pawtucket and Cranston were asking Governor Chafee for help with the snow removal in those cities.
These are the cities that had some of the most fiscal problems in the past, due to overly generous municipal compensation packages, and now they're having trouble paying for snow removal? The answer is to ask the state to take state-funded trucks off state roads and put them in those towns to do the town's snow removal?
To be clear, these are drivers and trucks that are paid for by people in all 39 cities and towns being sent to the couple of, at least previously, most fiscally irresponsible cities in the state.
Why does it seem like politicians are able to dodge a major awakening from their citizens just in time? What if these cities weren't able to get help from the state? How angry would the residents get? Would they then start asking questions why there is no money allocated in the city budget for snow removal? Would they then start going over the budget and looking to see where their money is going?
If cities and towns are responsible for anything at all, one could argue that as an absolutely minimum, the responsibility is for safety and infrastructure before all else. Otherwise, you don't even have a city.
I am glad that people are finally going to be able to dig out and get around, but I think some hard questions really need to be asked in some of these towns about priorities.
Coming up in Committee: Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 12 - February 14
Local Impact: Central Falls
9. H5047: "Six hours of over-the-road driver’s training from a licensed driver’s training school" required for a first-time driver to obtain a license. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12)
8. Bud. Arts. 3 and 4: Changes to state employee benefits involving removal of divorced spouses from family health plans and establishment of a Social Security Alternative Retirement Income Security Program. (H Finance; Tue, Feb 12)
7. H5147 requires prisoners serving life sentences for first or second degree murder to have served 30 years before being eligible for parole (up from 20), and those serving life for other crimes to have served 20 (up from 10). H5145 requires prisoners serving non-life sentences for first or second degree murder to serve 50% of their sentence before being eligible for parole. (H Judiciary; Wed, Feb 13)
6. H5243: Prohibits medical health insurance premium rates from varying based on gender (excluding policies for "disability income, long-term care, and insurance supplemental policies which only provide coverage for specified diseases or other supplemental policies"). (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12) Will a similar bill that applies to automobile insurance rates be following?
5. H5299: Requires that any Public Utilities Commission rate increase be authorized by a General Assembly joint resolution. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 12)
4. Proposed House rules for 2013-2014 plus some amendments. The only major change in the main rules bill from last session is the addition of a substantial section defining House "caucuses", which does not appear to have any impact on the conduct of formal floor or committee business. (H Rules; Tue, Feb 12) The proposed amendments (each to be voted on separately) include...
- A proposal to try to cut House sessions off at 10pm,
- A proposal for the beginnings of a seniority system in House committees, and
- A proposal to prohibit consideration of floor amendments to the budget unless they are either first approved by the finance committee or by a 2/3 floor majority.
3. S0242: Prohibits tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge and Jamestown Bridge, while increasing the state's vehicle inspection fee from $39 to $59, with the new money to be used for a bridge maintenance fund. S0022 is a more oblique and maybe not as complete restriction on Sakonnet River Bridge tolls, combined with transferring jurisdiction for the Sakonnet River Bridge back to the Department of Transportation from the Bridge and Turnpike Authority. (S Finance; Wed, Feb 13)
2B. S0049: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of "fiscal exigency or program reorganization" and for "a substantial decrease of pupil population within its school system" from March 1 to June 1. Only in the case of a decrease in pupil population would layoffs be required to proceed by seniority (S Labor; Wed, Feb 13) The House version of this bill (H5066) was held for further study last week. Ideally, a pointer to the record of the committee vote would be provided here, but the General Assembly committee vote tracker still treats votes by House committees to surrender their right to take action on bills without leadership approval as if they are not happening. (By the way, Senate committee votes to hold bills for further study are recorded on the General Assembly's committee vote tracker).
2A. H5186: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of a "decrease in pupil population, program reduction or elimination, or budget reduction" from March 1 to May 15. Under all three conditions, layoffs would be required to proceed by seniority. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 12)
1. H5340: Replaces municipal government approval as the last step of teacher contract negotiation with a binding arbitration process, moving final budgetary authority away from school committees and city/town councils to an unaccountable authority. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 12) (Here is just one of many reasons why binding arbitration is a bad idea: If retired Rhode Island judges are truly best qualified to make decisions about local taxation and expenditures, why do they need to be told that they need to consider the taxpayers "ability to pay"? Does anyone really believe that a retired Rhode Island judge who parachutes into a city or town on a one time basis will be better able to judge local residents' "ability to pay" than town/city councilors who have to regularly be elected by the people they are taxing?
February 8, 2013
The (Incomprehensible) Method By Which Scituate Authorized New Pensions
On Monday, WPRI released a detailed expose about how, as Scituate's pension fund was becoming progressively more underfunded, the Scituate Pension Board, from the middle of 1999 and July 2011, met on exactly one occasion. The WPRI story is all original work, well and thoroughly done. It includes, by the way, an aborted, so-called "ambush" interview of the Treasurer and Pension Board Chairman who presided over the twelve years hyatus, Theodore Przybyla. Mr. Przybyla had
refused multiple requests [by WPRI] for an interview to discuss his oversight of the plan.
When WPRI finally tracked him down in person, Mr. Przybyla fled the opportunity of an on-the-spot interview with an admonition about the appropriateness of the Target 12 team's methods. [Cough]
It is important to note, however, that the Valley Breeze did a similar expose almost a year ago. In fact, they revealed that the Pension Board permitted a Scituate staffer to simultaneously receive both a salary and a pension for a previous position that he held with Scituate, a highly illegal arrangement that was discontinued after the Breeze exposed it. (No active links to provide to these Breeze stories but the text of one of the Vallley Breeze's contemporaneous stories is posted after the jump.)
Back to the problems posed by an absentee pension board. Of course, the biggest problem is how they failed to address the mounting shortfall of the pension fund. And apparently, nothing has been set aside for the $4.4 million liability of its retirees' health insurance.
Additionally, though, while the Scituate Pension Board was NOT meeting, pensions were being issued. How did these pensions come into existence if the Pension Board did not meet?
As a result of the Valley Breeze's stories, in March of 2012, Anchor Rising sent a letter asking the then-Scituate Treasurer and then-Chairman of the Pension Board, Theodore Przybyla, among other things,
What was the authorization or process by which you initiated the remittance of pension checks for that period (January 1, 2000 - May 31, 2011)?
We received the following reply to our query. Note that the letter, which is on the Scituate Treasurer's letterhead, is not only not signed, there is no closing or "from" at the bottom - no indication as to who sent the letter.
The Town prepares an authorization (batch) to disburse the funds by the trustee/administrator (trustee). This authorization includes the names and benefit amounts which are to be paid on a monthly basis. Changes are made to this authorization as necessary. These changes require a document to be prepared by the Treasurer's department and communicated to the trustee. The monthly amount is then adjusted and payments processed. The trustee follows the Town's instructions and processes this batch until a revised authorization is transmitted. An example of other changes would be, tax withholding, change of address or direct deposit instructions, etc.
Logistical and legal interpretations of this reply are cheerfully welcome.
And further on the question of legality, as the Pension Board was not meeting and, therefore, not approving anything, isn't the legality of the pensions issued during that period an open question?
[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]
Most, if not all, of the Valley Breeze's stories about the Scituate Pension Board appear to no longer be accessible on-line. Below is the text of one of their stories kindly supplied by the publisher, Mr. Thomas Ward, for this post.
Exposed pension double dipping forces Tucker resignation at Scituate DPW
Retired cop took $100,000 a year in pay and pension
SCITUATE – Richard N. Tucker, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and emergency management director, has resigned after being found double dipping by collecting a pension as retired town officer and working full time for the town.
Local attorney Richard Finnegan and state Rep. Michael Marcello raised the issue of Tucker collecting a full pension from the Police Department pension fund while also earning a full salary from the town, something that is prohibited by the town’s contract with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 502.
Public records show that Tucker, 58, has received from more than $90,000 to over $100,000 a year for several years since his appointment by the Town Council – first as Emergency Services Director in 2004.
In July, 2011, Tucker’s total take from taxpayers was set for $102,884 when his salary and pension are calculated from town pension and payroll documents.
Tucker’s pay was $58,429 at the time. His annual pension was $44,455 by last July, according to pension records. Tucker’s salary as reported in the town’s July 2011 tax book is $58,429.
The windfall came as taxpayers have struggled to fund the police pension, which has been ranked by the Rhode Island Auditor General as among the most underfunded in the state. The pension is administered by a town Pension Committee composed of two full-time police officers and union members, two Town Council members and the town treasurer.
The pension committee has seldom met over the past several years as indicated by an absence of minutes or scheduled meetings for months at a time.
Tucker was hired by the Town Council as director of emergency Services Sept. 10, 2004, with a salary of $43,500 per year with a vehicle provided by the town for 24 hour use, a uniform allowance of $250 a year.
The agreement was signed by Theodore Richard, then president of the Town Council, and Tucker.
On July 10, 2008, the council on a split vote appointed Tucker as assistant director of the DPW.
The town’s Emergency Management Agency director, Richard Tucker, was additionally appointed as assistant director of the Public Works Department by the Town Council on a 4-to-3 split vote on Thursday, July 10.
The approval followed by a few months a previous vote in which the majority of council members rejected the retired police captain as director of the Public Works Department.
Tucker won the appointment when former Town Council member Wayne Salisbury, one of the four council members who voted against Tucker the first time, switched his vote.
“I think Mr. Tucker is an excellent EMA person,” Salisbury said in explaining his switch. “I think we have dismissed some of his duties for many years in the Police Department where he was part of the administrative team.”
Salisbury added, “I thought at first it was a subterfuge to get Mr. Tucker in” as director of public works. “It is not. I have been convinced that it is not.”
David A. D’Agostino, former councilor Wendy Knowlton and John F. Winfield Jr. again voted against appointing Tucker to the DPW.
Charles Collins Jr., also a retired police officer, made the motion to appoint Tucker to the dual positions “at no change in rate of pay.” The motion passed by consent.
Councilor Winfield objected to Tucker’s appointment to the DPW. Winfield, according to minutes from that July 10, 2008, meeting said “the deputy’s position was never posted, and he feels that this is being shoved down his throat. He said that the whole department should be evaluated before any major decision is made.”
DPW Director Dale Langlais told The Valley Breeze & Observer, Tuesday, March 6, that Tucker had resigned Wednesday, Feb. 29. Tucker as of Tuesday had not submitted a letter of resignation to either Langlais or to the town Human Resources office, said Deputy Town Treasurer Karen Beattie. Tucker was not at his office Tuesday morning and could not be reached for comment by The Valley Breeze & Observer. He does not have a listed telephone number.
Langlais praised Tucker for his work, asserting “Those are big shoes to fill because he was doing two jobs, emergency services director and deputy DPW director. I’m not sure what direction we will go in.”
Finnegan brought the issue to the attention of the Town Council and at a special council meeting Feb. 29, Finnegan said Tucker “is the victim here.”
The council adjourned into an executive session on Feb. 29 with members of the pension committee and Tucker.
Marcello told the newspaper Tuesday, March 6, that the Tucker case is the product of the treasurer and the pension committee not doing the job taxpayers counted on them to do. Finnegan searched for minutes of the pension committee meetings and found the panel did not convene from Dec. 12, 1999 to July 20, 2011 or produce minutes. The last meeting was in February.
“The issue here with Richard Tucker is not whether he could be hired by the town, he could. The issue is how he could be hired and collect a pay check and a pension,” said Marcello, who was a council member who approved Tucker’s hiring to the emergency management post in 2004. “It was his duty to inform the council that he was receiving a pension. It was Town Treasurer Theodore Przybyla’s fiduciary duty as the person who was cutting both a pay check and a pension check for Richard Tucker to notify the council. He didn’t.”
Marcello said he found Tucker’s double dipping when the council asked him to seek state assistance to fund the underfunded police pension system.
“I looked at the documents and it was a quick read, it is not some kind of arcane matter, it was in black and white,” Marcello said of the double dipping. “The town’s police pension is poorly administered and it is not transparent to the public. There are no minutes for the pension committee. So how are the pensions being granted? Who is approving these pensions? How are these pensions given out? Who signs off on these pensions? Are these pensions being done correctly? We don’t know. This is the treasurer’s duty and he is isn’t fulfilling it to the pensioners or to the public.”
The Office of the Auditor General reported in September that the town’s only administered pension fund – the police pension – is among those categorized as significantly underfunded, less than 60 percent of what actuaries require. As of April 2009 the police pension had an unfunded liability of $7,481,437. The funded ratio was 23.4 percent of that liability, the auditor’s report said.
Binding and Bound by Legislation
Interesting things happen when news producers order wall-to-wall coverage of a storm set to arrive in a day or two and visibility of anything but snow moves toward zero. Over the last twelve hours, two such things came flashing out of the blizzard of pre-blizzard forecasting and caught in my eye via email.
The first was in the humdrum yet esoteric area of legislative rules for the Rhode Island House of Representatives. ...
The other bit of legislative shrapnel to pierce the snow coverage is the annual bid to give union employees of public schools (teachers and others) access to binding arbitration in matters of money.
February 7, 2013
How Much Are Central Falls' Dilettante Officials Costing Taxpayers?
It was very tempting, indeed, to title this post: "Seriously, are certain Central Falls officials anticipating a commission from the Receiver's legal fees?" Presumably, the answer is, no, they are not.
However, as the "stand-off" between state officials and certain C.F. council members now moves, ludicrously, to mediation, an observer can be forgiven for wondering about the motives of those councilors.
Certainly, many of us opposed, and still oppose, Rhode Island's municipality receivership law. Having a higher level of government reach down, take over power from the locally elected government and impose its will, unaccountable to the voters/taxpayers, is an unacceptable and undemocratic option.
Isn't there a point, however, at which it is necessary to defer to reality? The receivership has happened. Past tense. U.S. Bankruptcy Court officially concluded the receivership in October.
The city, however, does not yet control its own fiscal situation. The state has oversight until FY 2017. Three council members (all but Councilor Robert Ferri) are miffed about this, contending that the state was supposed to have bowed out in July. The councilors are huffily refusing to attend workshops set up by the state to ensure that city officials fully understand
how the city will operate under a debt-reduction plan that was approved by a federal bankruptcy judge.
Meanwhile, as the three councilors refuse to do their homework so that they can carry out the court's orders, the receiver remains camped at C.F. City Hall. And - pay close attention here, Honorable Council Members - he ain't working for free.
The dispute carries a heavy price tag — about $9,400 a week for McJennett and his two-member staff to remain in City Hall.
To review, the receivership has come and gone. By court order, the city's budget remains under control of the state until 2017. So the only accomplishment of the three prima donna councilors is to artificially boost the billable hours of the Receiver.
But why should they care? This invoice accrues to someone else's account, not theirs. In short, someone else is picking up the tab for their childish and irresponsible actions.
February 6, 2013
Things We Read Today (47), Wednesday
Taxing sweet drinks; collectively bargained legislation; equal pay for unequal merit; Projo promotes the economy; civil rights from heroism to handouts.
February 5, 2013
The Political Philosophy of Our Governor
This month, The American Spectator magazine introduces its readers to Rhode Island's Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee through a profile by Ethan Epstein in its "Eminentoes"section. The gist of the piece is that Chafee comes from an old-money political dynasty and views political party more as part of a heritage that he, by rights, ought to be able to define. He did so with his abandoned Republican brand, and he's done the same with his amorphous Independents.
We who've watched his tenure up close can now say that Chafee is “moderate” in the statist sense: He believes big government should confiscate enough money to pay for itself. It was no error that the Cato Institute marked him as the seventh worst governor in the United States for fiscal policy.
February 4, 2013
Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, February 5 - February 7
Inobvious Priorities: H5162 adds "city and/or town owned manhole covers and bridge placards" to a list of items that precious metals dealers are required to hold for fourteen days before doing whatever they're planning to do with them next. (H Judiciary; Tue, Feb 5)
14. H5165: Allows members of the armed forces and members of the national guard who "receive military orders for a permanent change of station or to deploy with a military unit for a period of not less than one hundred-eighty (180) days" to terminate a lease with 30 days notice. (H Veterans' Affairs; Tue, Feb 5)
13. H5213: Prohibits retailers from adding to surcharge to credit card transactions -- but does allow them to offer a discount for paying by cash or check. (H Corporations; Tue, Feb 5)
12. Bud. Art. 21: Converts a $4.2M loan used to obtain matching funds for the purchase of buses that was taken from a Rhode Island Public Transit Authority "revolving loan fund" into "a direct grant" that "need not be repaid". (H Finance; Tue, Feb 5)
11. H5166: Changes the qualification for adjutant general of the Rhode Island national guard from having served "not less than five years in one or more of the federal services" to having served "not less than five years in the Rhode Island National Guard". (H Veterans' Affairs; Wed, Feb 6)
10. Bud. Arts. 2, 3 and 4: Changes to state employee benefits including lots of mentions of "Non-Medicare-eligible retirees", removal of divorced spouses from family health plans, and establishment of a Social Security Alternative Retirement Income Security Program. (S Finance; Tue, Feb 5 & H Finance; Wed, Feb 6 [Art. 2 Only])
9. On Tue, Feb 5, the House Rules Committee will discuss the House rules for 2013-2014.
8. Bud. Art. 22/Bud. Art. 23: Puts the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation in charge of reissuing $25M (initially) in historic tax-credits that were issued by the state but have since been "abandoned". (S Finance; Thu, Feb 7) Looking over the current section of the law on historic tax credits (section 44-33.2), this appears to be the first instance of the Economic Development Corporation being given a role in the administration of historic tax credits, perhaps as a reward for the work they did administering the $75M for 38 studios?
7. Bud. Art. 11: A plan to use $10M per year in municipal aid for three years as an incentive for municipalities to transition their locally administered pension plans into MERS and create "Funding Improvement Plans" that are approved by the state. (H Finance; Thu, Feb 7)
6. H5078: Card-check unionization for public employees, with the definition of "public employee" expanded to encompass all "quasi-public entities". (H Labor; Wed, Feb 6)
5. H5079: Sets Rhode Island's minimum wage to $8.25 per hour beginning in 2014 and adjusts it upward for inflation in subsequent years, with the additional stipulation that the RI minimum wage must always be at least $0.15 per hour higher than the Federal. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 5)
4. Bud. Art. 7: OK, let's go through this one in gruesome detail (H Finance; Tue, Feb 5 & S Finance; Wed, Feb 6)...
- Budget article 7 in its current form is identical to the original version of standalone Senate bill S0019 which would allow the state or any public corporation to enter into a deal to "refund" any non-voter approved "bond", "financing lease", "guarantee agreement", or "other obligation", without prior approval of the General Assembly, provided that "the governor certifies...that the refunding shall provide a net benefit to the issuer".
- What Article 7 seems to be intended to do is allow an executive branch agency or a quasi-public corporation to make a deal that "promises" a refund to a state creditor, prior to any money being appropriated to pay for the refund. An argument can be made that, if a refund costs less than the following through on an original obligation, budgetary impact should be minimal or even positive and, therefore, necessary funding can assumed to be there, but there is still a legitimate and important question about how binding executive branch or quasi-public corporation deals can be in the absence of a legislative appropriation.
- Meanwhile, the original S0019 was amended by the Senate Finance committee last week and sent in to the Senate Floor. Under S0019 Sub A, "the state" would be able to make a refund deal for "any financing leases entered into with the authorization of the general assembly" (no explicit mention is made of "bonds", "guarantee agreements", or "other obligations"), while "public corporations" could refund various instruments of obligation, but only if they had been issued "to finance the acquisition, construction, or improvement of an essential public facility".
3. H5138: Allows public schools "to assess students a reasonable fee for participation by a student in school extracurricular activities". (H Health, Education and Welfare; Wed, Feb 6)
2. H5066: Moves the layoff notice date for public school districts in cases of "fiscal exigency or program reorganization" from March 1 to June 1. (H Labor; Wed, Feb 6)
1. H5106: Requires Rhode Island employers with 3 or more employees to "apply to participate" in E-Verify by 2015. (H Labor; Tue, Feb 5) A national debate over "comprehensive immigration reform" is shaping up around proposals for immediate amnesty in return for promises of future immigration enforcement. Against this backdrop, those following immigration issues should be cognizant that a law requiring an application to participate in E-verify falls, at best, into the category of a future promise once-removed.
February 2, 2013
Ed Commissioner: Let's Put the Children First
On January 22, by a vote of two to two with four others abstaining (that's right, four abstentions due to possible conflicts of interest), the Chariho School Committee failed to implement a policy of non-seniority based layoffs for the Chariho school system.
Late yesterday afternoon, possibly in response to this uncourageous vote by the Chariho School Committee or perhaps to the looming March 1 deadline for districts to send teacher layoff notices, RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist released a letter in which she
threatens to impose sanctions “up to and including loss of certification,” taking districts to court, or withholding state education aid unless they comply with her interpretation of a key education regulation called the Basic Education Program. These sanctions go beyond Gist’s previous statements about teacher assignments , when she said seniority cannot be the “sole” factor in assigning teachers but she did not say directly that job fairs and bumping are, in effect, illegal and punishable.
Teacher unions immediately squawked. Not sure why; this is all supposed to be for the chiii-hhhhhhiiiiillllllll-dren. (Thanks to Phil Hirons for supplying the correct contextual pronunciation of the word.) Anyway, that's what we are told at contract negotiation time when raises are on the line. Ah, but now it appears that a different priority has emerged.
The Rhode Island Federation of Teachers promptly lashed back, saying Gist is bullying school committees and administrators and attempting to gut collective-bargaining rights. RIFT President Frank Flynn said that contrary to Gist’s statements, education policy does not trump state labor law. ...
Flynn said the union is “considering its options” in response to the letter, which he called “outrageous” in both tone and content.
So it is "outrageous" to place educating children ahead of seniority (not qualification) based hiring and labor-friendly laws? Huh. I'm not sure how many people would agree with that. In any case, at least we are quite clear now that this is not all about the children.
[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]
Illegal Immigration: Rep Diaz Reaps A Fine Harvest of Denial From Ample Seeds of Willful Government Ignorance
On Wednesday, GoLocalProv published an article that included a round-up of responses on the issue of whether illegal immigration is a problem in RI.
One of the people that they spoke to was Rep Grace Diaz (D-Providence).
“I don’t think it’s a big issue to put a lot of energy to,” she said. “For regular people who are undocumented, it’s hard to get a job, it’s hard to survive and I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t have any documents or anything to prove who they are being able to work in these regular jobs. For that reason, I don’t think that we have something to worry about".
Such a lovely substance-and-fact-free statement. In fact, when it comes to delivering taxpayer funded services of two of the biggest cost drivers of illegal immigration, K-12 education and "free" health care, we - schools, hospitals, doctors, govt officials, taxpayers - do not ask about immigration status. So it's impossible to quantify how much of the bill that the taxpayer picks up in both of these expense categories is racked up by illegal aliens.
But how convenient for the rep and for other proponents of illegal immigration. We pay the cost but don't keep track of it. So, according to Rep Diaz, we have nothing to worry about! In related news, money grows on trees, government doesn't abuse or squander a single tax dollar that it collects and unicorns frolic daily at Roger Williams Park.
[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]