April 21, 2009

On Knowing the Statewide Facts and Hosting Rallies

Justin Katz

For his latest RI Policy Reporter column, Tom Sgouros has moderated his vitriol and, in one way of reading it, attempted to explain what he meant by his statement that tea party goers are "afraid if they do learn about [the issues they claim to speak about], they will lose the purity of their opinions." Herewith, two of Sgouros's "basic facts relevant to the policy proposals promoted by the tea-baggers":

The fact is that when we spoke, [tea party organizer Colleen Conley] didn't know some very basic facts about her own proposals, like how much any of them could save, or even about government spending. For example, if you're going to recommend that cuts in pension costs be used to balance our budget, it's worth knowing that our state's annual personnel costs are around $800 million, or less than a quarter of general revenue. The current budget deficit of somewhere around $400 million is almost half that, and two and a half times as large as all the pension payments we make each year. Trimming pension costs might help meet the budget goals, but it's not nearly enough.

The first thing to note is that Sgouros's statement of our annual personnel costs is not accurate. Referring to the FY 2009 column of the table on page 15 of the governor's 2010 budget personnel supplement (PDF), one finds that, while it may be true that the costs derived from the general revenue hover around $800 million, the total annual personnel costs for 2009 are listed as $1.632 billion. Even if we cut out federal funds, personnel still claims $1.261 billion.

None of the revenue lines that make up the difference appear to be such that it's reasonable to leave them out while discussing the high cost of Rhode Island's government:

  • Restricted receipts are dollars taken by the government for specific purposes.
  • Internal service funds are dollars listed under one department's operating expenses to pay another department for services.
  • Other funds represent government fees and other sources of income (e.g., college tuition).

A $400 million deficit is not "almost half" the non-federal-fund spending on personnel; it's less than a third. The total may be "less than a quarter of general revenue" expenditures, but that makes it the second largest category, after Assistance, Grants and Benefits. It would still be excessive to carve our deficit out of that single chunk of the budget, but that only means that some percentage has to come from elsewhere.

As for pension costs, well, this is a case of taxpayers' looking toward the future. According to the Pension Reform Panel (PDF), by "2010, taxpayers will be paying a total of $400 million to fund the pension system." According to a recent Projo article, the current projection is for an $835.3 million annual expense by 2017. Perhaps Mr. Sgouros missed all the tea party signs that were directed toward the future.

But all of this is moot, as far as I'm concerned, in addressing Tom's complaint that the tea party's organizers and attendees didn't show up at the State House with a proposal in hand. The event wasn't a policy summit; it was a political demonstration. The point wasn't to come to a consensus on what our representatives should do, specifically, in order to rein in government, but to convey the message that they have to start doing something.

Yes, we all know that the organs of the Left formulate policies and hold rallies as marketing events for their presentation, but once again, that's the difference between a popular movement and an establishment structure for special interests.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Face it Justin. You guys got used by Fox News and the Republican Party. They are lying to you like they are lying to the rest of us.

Posted by: Pat Crowley at April 21, 2009 7:18 AM

"we all know that the organs of the Left formulate policies and hold rallies as marketing events for their presentation, but once again, that's the difference between a popular movement and an establishment structure for special interests."

Very good, Justin. This was a populist, not a professional, rally.

And despite disclaimers to the contrary, it impacted even President Obama. While his proposed budget cut of $100m is woefully inadequate (here's a much more productive suggestion, sir: allow the banks to repay their stimulus/bailout loans), he clearly made the request in response to the Tea Parties.

Posted by: Monique at April 21, 2009 7:38 AM

I don't understand why Colleen needed to be able to stand up to the left's quizzing and scrutiny on the issues. Why can't a citizen and taxpayer watch the news, see that people took out mortgages that they couldn't afford, hear that the gov't is going to bail them out via the taxpayers and then get angry about that? Why is that so bad? Why is that so hard for the left to understand? She needs a PhD in Economics to hold a rally about being angry about something the President did?

Posted by: Patrick at April 21, 2009 7:44 AM

RIF has sunk to an all new low when it is suggested by one of their contributors that constitutional rights - specifically the right to "peaceably assemble and petition the Government for a redress of greivances" - is contingent upon the people's acumen or having a bi-partisan solution in hand. I have never heard anything so elitist!

I wonder how Mr. Sgouros feels about a knowledge-based test in order to cast votes?! Or if he voted for Patrick Kennedy...

I feel like the event got a little of course, but I think it was a positive step nonetheless. Diminishing it because of the reasons Sgouros outlines is outragous and I'm disappointed in some of the smarter posters at RIF for not taking him to task on it.

Posted by: JP at April 21, 2009 9:59 AM

Let's not forget. If they (the Tea Parties) didn't represent a threat to their statist designs, they wouldn't be writing about them.

Posted by: George at April 21, 2009 11:17 AM

The RIF crowd is upset that the Tea Parties were a success. Colleen did a great job putting it together. Colleen and the people who attending are fed up with things nationally and locally. Term limits would help. At least we would have a change to weed out the rif-raf.

As far as libertarians being used by Fox and the Republicans, PC is so out of line. People with the same belief system for the most part participated in the Tea Party because they are sick of other people's hands in their wallets.

That's the problems with the "progressive" leftists. They hijacked the Democrat party, and have no time for what other people think. They are the one's that use the poor, and keep them dependant, and stuck in poverty.

Posted by: kathy at April 21, 2009 12:11 PM

Fact Check:

"Progressives hijacked the Democratic Party."


Is that why the Democratic General Assembly has in recent years:

* screwed labor on pension issues

* screwed labor on collective bargaining issues - see child care workers

* cut taxes for the rich

* refused to make an educational funding formula

* refused to override vetoes on renewable energy and criminal justice reform.

* refused to support choice and LGBT legislation.

No. I would certainly not say "hijacked."

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at April 21, 2009 1:48 PM


You conveniently forgot to mention that the progressives managed to push through a substantial increase in RI spending on social safety net programs over the past decade, which came at the expense of adequately funding not only public sector pensions, but also adequate maintenance of RI's crumbling infrastructure.

And the rank and file in the public sector unions know it.

When, for example, was the last time you went by the bar at Twin Oaks on a Friday night and told the teachers gathered there how happy they should be with RI's wonderful social programs and the diverse classrooms that they have produced?

Or how about a cop or firefighter bar?

You wouldn't go near those places, now would you, Matt?

And everybody reading this knows why.

Posted by: John at April 21, 2009 4:27 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.