January 4, 2008

Re: Yorke: We're Screwed

Justin Katz

I'm afraid I have to say that I don't share Dan Yorke's optimism. I'm coming to believe that the silent (read: apathetic) majority that many of us have assumed to exist is dwindling toward mythdom.

I've been beating this drum regularly, of late, but allow me to repeat: Almost 30,000 fewer Rhode Islanders lived in households making over three times the poverty level in 2006 than 2005. That's almost 3% of the total population in the latter year. I'll be very surprised if data shows a reversal — even a cessation, even a slowdown — of this trend in 2007. And despite all of the gaps in information, I'd be willing to wager that those leaving (or preparing to do so) are not those on the benefit side of Rhode Island's suicide-bender system.

In other words, if there does indeed remain any hope that Rhode Island doesn't have to hit rock-hard bottom for change to come, it's a race. What remains of the fleeing "outsiders" has to be joined by one or more of the RI Democrats' strangle-hold constituencies, and unless readers have a sunnier view of human nature than mine, that isn't likely to happen until the General Assembly runs out of ways to plug holes.

And if the legislators don't make huge changes this year, I'll lose all faith in the ability of reasonableness, or just plain sanity, to guide their decisions. Everything might be on the table. Dan predicts a revenue anticipation bond. Others have predicted the sale of the state lottery. Basically, anything that you can imagine that will provide the GA with a quick infusion of cash — no matter how detrimental to the long-term fiscal health of the state — might be on the table and will be increasingly likely as each year passes without some magic change in the state's fortune.

Meanwhile, taxpayers will continue to leave, widening the hole that must be plugged.

The question of the years to come will be how creative the General Assembly can be in mortgaging our state's future. My depressing gut feeling is that the parasites will make it through Yorke's 2010 deadline.

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Justin, for a long time I have held onto an underlying faith that a sleeping giant existed and would be awakened when enough truly became enough. I am slowly losing that faith. It seems that giant, instead of waking up, is gradually and silently chosing to sleep somewhere else.

I'll offer an analogy about my own behavior. When I am poorly served or badly treated at a restaurant, or in a store; I don't complain. I just never go back. That silent protest can be devestating to a business. I'm different when it comes to politics, but I'm beginning to believe many people just don't believe they can do anything about the horrible conditions in our state and are finding it easier to just go to somewhere they will be treated better. The silence (I agree - apathy) continues to embolden the Alvses, the Williamses, the Crowleys, Montanaros, Lynches... because (as they say) "no one's complaining". And they can get away with saying that because there is no media outlet willing to cover what is truly wrong, no viable opposition party to stir people up... and the people who might vote for reform candidates are taking their business, and families, elsewhere instead.

Posted by: George at January 4, 2008 9:49 AM

26 votes are needed to stop a budget. With the combined numbers of Republicans/dissident Democrats/conservative Democrats/scared Democrats I think we are right at that number. A change of even 3 or 4 reps. in November would tip the balance.
Barring that, the parasites can keep up the juggling act for another few years, but for a vrery limited time only. They can sell the lottery, the VLT payments, etc. This will only deepen the hole, as we all know. They can float revenue bonds for a few years (which also will deepen the hole) until at some point in 2015 or 2016 the bond underwriters quietly tell the bosses that there is no more money available.
My guess is we will get to the 26 votes before we reach that point. The people are apathetic NOT stupid. They will see the drain circling. Remember Garry Reilly! I am old enough to remember when the Republicans grabbed 21 out of 50 Senate seats when the people had "enouugh". It can happen very quickly.

Posted by: Mike at January 4, 2008 10:31 AM


With all due respect, your "if the legislators don't make huge changes this year, I'll lose all faith in the ability of reasonableness, or just plain sanity, to guide their decisions" is (I believe) naive.

I lost much faith after RISDIC, which occurred nearly two decades ago now. After the display of arrogance, corruption and a temporary sales tax surcharge to bail out the General Assembly (yes it paid the depositors, but its real purpose was to get the demonstrators off of Smith Hill, take the heat off of the Democrats, and send the bill to the taxpayers).

And what beneficial change occurred afterwards? Nothing. What lessons were learned? Apparently none. It was back to business as usual for the electorate and the Democrats (e.g., Operation Dollar Bill).

Without repeating all my reasons stated in a prior post, the last session caused me ti completely abandon any hope that the Democrat GA would ever act responsibly - with a known fiscal crisis they still peed-away the last of the tobacco money, level funded state aid while handing Frank Williams a monument and clicked their heels and saluted the union bosses by making it impossible to privatize and state "services."

While there a innumerable reasons why the Democrat GA should change, there is NO reason to believe that it WILL change.

Consider Michigan and Detroit - they've known for years (if not decades) that they have a severe economic problem, and have been losing population. And what have they done? They just raised taxes again and are continuing the cycle of decline, while propping up their public sector unions for a bit longer. Given its history, does anyone really believe that "our" Democrat General Assembly, which has been following the Detroit model for years, is suddenly going to change?

Does anyone believe that Rhode Island's public sector unions are suddenly going to put the best interests of Rhode Island first, and accept realistic compensation levels, 401k's for existing employees and realistic staffing levels?

Does anyone really believe that Kate Brewster and her enablers on Smith Hill are suddenly going to realize that they're doing more harm than good?

As someone else posted so beautifully, Rhode Island is circling in the bowl.

Posted by: Tom W at January 4, 2008 10:48 AM

I think George hit the nail on the head. Just look at the aggregate population numbers, and, more importantly, the underlying subsegment dynamics, whose effect show up in the Revenue Estimating Conference forecasts.

Increasingly, as people who are paying for, but not benefiting from the conspiracy, er, I mean RI political system, leave, who makes up a larger and larger percentage of the state's voting population? People who work for state or local government, who have family members who do, who are getting benefits of some type from th state, or who "know a guy" and "have an in" and so are, by fair means or foul, also taking advantage of their fellow taxpayers who aren't as "sharp."

Assuming that mass insanity hasn't taken over RI, and that the majority of people are acting rationally in what they perceive to be their own self-interest, that would explain what we see before us: the same old crew returned to Smith Hill year after year, coupled with an increasing flow of the middle class, retirees, and non-left wing affluent out of RI (though some may continue to vacation here, or even maintain "reverse snowbird" homes here).

What else could explain the data we see?

Posted by: John at January 4, 2008 12:01 PM

I'll tell you why I'm still optimistic:

Carcieri Fails Again
by: Pat Crowley
Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 08:12:57 AM EST

"I'm not 100-percent confident we'll get to $100 million," Gallogly said after a special hearing on the governor's plan before the House Finance Committee. "If you're talking just general revenue dollars, I don't believe we'll get there."

Well, Double Talk Don has once again shown that he can't do math and can't talk straight. The 1,000 job reduction plan isn't going to save the money he said it would..."

Here's the optimism part: Let's do some quick math ... if cutting 1000 jobs doesn't save enough money, then what do we do? We cut the size of government even further ... which of course will cut the cost of government. One way of doing that is by cutting even more government jobs, which has the incidental effect of reducing the corrupting influence of the public sector unions!

Remember, in Pat's world, it always someone else's fault, so it's supposed to be the governor's fault that the antiquated union work rules are slowing down the process? Of course. I can't wait for the Gov's next budget! No more Mr. Nice Guy (insert cackle here).

PS It's going to get worse before it gets better. By the way, the $450M and $150M deficit numbers that you've been hearing aren't the real numbers. :)

Posted by: Will at January 4, 2008 12:18 PM


Yeah, but...remember Michael Napolitano?

I'm giving the RI voters until November 2010. If they don't wake up by then, they never will.

Posted by: George at January 4, 2008 12:49 PM

I had a very cordial discussion with former State Senator Ray Durfee the other day. God bless him, the man is in his 90's but he knows his stuff. He had remarked to me during a visit to his hardware store a few months back that the state had a huge pension problem. We picked up on the discussion during my recent visit. I remarked to him how accurate his prediction had been months before the crisis was revealed.

He put it very simply and, I think, cleverly. He said, look, we have a population of about a million. ~ 200,000 are elderly, another ~200,000 are children. There's another 100,000 or so on welfare. That leaves roughly a half million with a $2 B pension liability, or ~ $2,000 per tax paying person. And that's just for that one problem.

Another observation, all those who are able to pay taxes are seeing the writing on the wall and have either already left the state or are planning to. We're going to reach a tipping point a lot faster than Michigan.

It may be time to run for the hills, like a lot of our brethren have already.

Posted by: Chuck at January 4, 2008 4:33 PM

>>He put it very simply and, I think, cleverly. He said, look, we have a population of about a million. ~ 200,000 are elderly, another ~200,000 are children. There's another 100,000 or so on welfare. That leaves roughly a half million with a $2 B pension liability, or ~ $2,000 per tax paying person. And that's just for that one problem.

His demographic analysis is good, but his numbers are waayyyy too low.

The unfunded liability for the state pension system (state employees and teachers) is about $5 billion, not two billion.

Add in another $700 million or so for retiree health care.

The above figures don't include the unfunded liabilities carried by the municipalities for their employees (police, fire, others).

So the writing is very much on the wall for those who actually pay taxes: if you can get out of Rhode Island, do it as soon as you possibly can.

Posted by: Tom W at January 4, 2008 6:20 PM

"Well, Double Talk Don has once again shown that he can't do math and can't talk straight. The 1,000 job reduction plan isn't going to save the money he said it would..."

Pat Crowley is the boy in a sinking ship who throws stones at Coast Guard rescuers as they are trying to pump out and tow the half submerged vessel.

Posted by: Monique at January 4, 2008 10:49 PM

My 2008 prediction is that Dan Yorke will not spend anything close to 1/100th the amount of time railing against Rhode Island's most powerful politician House Speaker Bill Murphy and holding Murphy personally accountable for his significant role in this state's fiscal ruin that he spends ranting and raving in his usual and predictable blame game pecking order of Rhode Island politicians:
1) Carcieri
2) Cicilline
3) Mollis
When listening to Yorke just make a mental note of the true power players in this state he rarely goes after.
Same for all the media for that matter and it's a major reason why the electorate remain largely uninformed on how our state government R-E-A-L-L-Y works. The media including talk radio obsesses over a Constitutionally weak office of Governor as they ignore the man behind the curtain who actually runs the state into the ground, the House Speaker. Yorke and talk radio are as guilty as anyone for not exposing the daily and weekly gaffes of Murphy and holding him accountable.
Until that dynamic changes then nothing else around here will.

Posted by: Tim at January 5, 2008 8:57 AM


Infamous liberal union liar Ducky Crowley relying on fellow liberal union liars at the Projo for his 'fact based' arguments. lol
Shall we call this the nefarious leading the nefarious?

Posted by: Tim at January 5, 2008 9:13 AM
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