March 31, 2011

Meet Ron Swanson

Marc Comtois

Ron Swanson is the Director of Parks and Recreation in Pawnee, Indiana. Here's his official bio:

Ron Swanson has been Director of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department for six years. Ron believes in the elimination of government waste and has always brought the department in under budget. In 2007, the Parks and Rec department spent zero dollars and sixty cents out of its discretionary fund, still a citywide record. The sixty cents were spent on a soda.

Ron has closed many unnecessary recreational spaces during his tenure, including the Portola Skate Park, the Grice Dog Run, the Morris-Easton Observatory, the Mohanga Native American Heritage Center, and most public drinking fountains.

Ron enjoys woodworking, breakfast meats, and the works of Ayn Rand.

He also gives self-defense tips and, most importantly, offers sage advice via his "Pyramid of Greatness", which include important building blocks such as CAPITALISM (God's way of determining who is smart, and who is poor), PROPERTY RIGHTS (They exist. Do not let them be taken away from you), CURSING (There's only one bad word: Taxes. If any other word is good enough for sailors, it's good enough for you) and an entire row of various PROTEINS (plus ROMANTIC LOVE). Near the top of the Swanson Pyramid are WEAPONS, WOOD WORKING & WELFARE AVOIDANCE. The Pyramid is capped by HONOR (If you need it defined, you don't have it), which stands on the shoulders of AMERICA (The only country that matters. If you want to experience other "cultures", use and atlas or a ham radio) and BUFFETS (Whenever available. Choose quantity over quality).

Ron also has many life lessons and advice he's willing to offer, such as:

I got my first job when I was 9. Worked at a sheet metal factory. In two weeks, I was running the floor. Child labor laws are ruining this country.

The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! You are free to do so. To me, that's beautiful.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Don't teach a man to fish, and you feed yourself. He's a grown man. Fishing's not that hard.

He has also won Pawnee's "Woman of the Year Award." Ron Swanson: a man's man and a true American.

ADDENDUM: Some believe that Swanson moonlights as local Jazz legend Duke Silver. I remain unconvinced.

Why are Brazilian Greenhouse Gases Fine But Those Generated by the US Verboten?

Monique Chartier

Why are oil jobs created in Brazil desireable but those created in the US abhorrent?

Why should oil profits benefit another country and not the US?

Completely bewildering.

WHEN WAS the last time an American president stood before an audience in a foreign country and announced that he looked forward to importing more of its oil? Answer: Just over a week ago, when President Obama joined political and business leaders in Brasilia in hailing the fact that their newly discovered offshore petroleum reserves might be twice as large as those in the United States. Americans “want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers,” Mr. Obama said.

* * *

The vast majority of U.S. shores, however, have remained off-limits for decades. This, too, is a policy made by two parties, with Republicans opposing drilling when it suited them; President George W. Bush prevented drilling off the Florida Gulf Coast in part to boost his brother Jeb’s 2002 run for a second term as governor. But it is tough to reconcile with U.S. eagerness to “help” Brazil pump oil off its coasts and ship it here.

Politics on Voter-ID

Justin Katz

Two interesting points are buried within Randal Edgar and Philip Marcelo's article on voter-ID legislation currently under consideration in the Rhode Island House. The first is the degree to which Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown's inane argument implies ulterior, political motives:

"When we have no charges filed, when we have no convictions filed against anybody for this very serious felony, one just has to wonder how rampant can this really be," he said, questioning an assertion made by a representative from the secretary of state's office at the hearing that voter fraud in which a person impersonates another is "rampant."

Brown noted that the last conviction for voter fraud in the state dealt with persons voting from a place other than his or her permanent residence — not impersonating someone else.

If poll workers aren't required, or allowed, to check identification, how are they supposed to catch impersonators? Even if the criminal is so inept as to be impersonating somebody who is not dead or known not to be voting, when the impersonatee comes to vote, there would be no way to track the impersonator.

The second point has to do with the big deal that the journalists make about the broad support within the House for a voter-ID law:

It's not every day that House Speaker Gordon D. Fox adds his name to a bill with Republican Joseph A. Trillo or even fellow Democrat Jon D. Brien.

But Fox and House Majority Whip J. Patrick O'Neill, along with Brien, Trillo and Republican Tea Party member Doreen Costa, have joined together to support a bill that would require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Of course, we learn farther along:

[Senator Harold] Metts' bill was held for further study last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So the Senate killed the issue, leaving House members free to posture and gain political talking points on it, even if they ultimately wouldn't wish for it to make it to the governor's desk.

The Government Way: Doing Less with More!

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt discussed the trend of government's tendency, over time, to do less with more on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 30, 2011

Some Pension Crisis Solutions

Marc Comtois

Local 2882 President Cathy Paquette:

The answer to the pension problem … is, if you hire more state workers ...You would get more people paying into the pension system, and you won’t have any unfunded liability.
Yeah, I get it. More workers now to pay for current retirees. Then we just keep hiring more, every year, to pay for the increased future liabilities. And so on. Makes perfect sense.

Cynthia Volante, social worker, Department of Human Services:

It’s time our elected leaders began to hold the people who wrecked our economy accountable and demand from them they clean up the mess they created and stop coming after the people who serve the state. We [are] already paying more for property taxes, fuel, food and our children’s education. Enough is enough.
Question: What if "the people who wrecked our economy" are "our elected leaders"?

Don Botts: The Decline of Rhode Island On a Personal Level

Engaged Citizen

I'm not sure if everyone is feeling the same way I am about the budget Governor Chafee introduced to the General Assembly a few weeks go. Besides talk radio, the reaction has been muted. And even more maddening are the people that don’t mind the new taxes (like Ernie the Barber) or say “eh, what else can we do?”

Since the recession hit RI in 2007, more and more costs have fallen on us, the middle class. From my personal experience, one example I can give is the Cranston East Band. When I attended Warwick Vets back in 1988, where I made a cameo in band and sang in the chorus, there was zero cost to join. Today, that isn’t the case. Many of you have seen me rail against the Cranston School Committee for the poor choices they have made over the years. As a result of their ineptitude of the past and present, it costs about $300 for my son to participate in the band. Besides that, in order to keep the band operating, the parents and alumni also work concessions at Gillette Stadium. The band keeps cut of the sales and all of the tips. But keep in mind, this is for operating costs that in the past were part of the school budget and not extras such as traveling to perform at Disney or new uniforms. There was also an additional cost for my son to play in the Cranston East Winter Percussion group.

Furthermore, one of my daughters takes violin lessons after school. But last year, elementary music was cut from the school curriculum. Kerri Kelleher and the BASICS group stepped up to the plate and created an after school music program. But in order to participate, the cost was $70.

Taxes go up, services go down, and we are left with more costs and fees.

What led me to write this piece is both of these groups tried to fundraise recently. Both had similar ideas. BASICS and the CHSE Alumni were going to have dinners, one at $25 per ticket; the other at $50 per ticket. But generally, the people that attend these functions are the same people already involved with the programs. Therefore, the fundraisers actually take more money out of our own pockets ($50/couple for one, $100/couple for another). Both of these functions were canceled. I believe the reason is we cannot afford it any longer.

There is only a finite amount of disposable income for every family. Some examples of where my disposable income is spent: $125 for baseball for my son, $120 on softball for my two daughters, $130 on soccer for my two daughters. By the way, that was all in March. My oil bill for the last delivery was $700. I owe on the car excise tax, which was raised last year. Tickets for the father/daughter dance was $48, plus dresses. Gasoline has gone up $.50 per gallon since last year. And while I received refunds on my Federal and Massachusetts income tax returns, in Rhode Island, I have to pay.

Now Governor Chafee wants to further erode whatever disposable income we have left. Taxes on services, taxing heating oil, doubling beach fees (which was very affordable, but if passed, not so much). But can't you see that not only will this hurt us economically, but also on a civic/social level? Between his $165 million in new taxes and the pension systems taking a bigger piece of the budget pie on a yearly basis (which eventually falls on us due to budget constraints), there will be nothing left to donate to activities like the band, BASICS, Boy or Girl Scouts, sports organizations, etc.

The scary part of Governor Chafee’s budget proposal is the fact that I consider it DOA (in deficit on arrival). There are no true cuts in the budget to go along with one of the largest tax increases in state history. And the Governor himself has admitted that his budget actually grows what was a $290 million deficit to $330 million. And looking out over five years, each subsequent budget is in a larger deficit, ending with year five at $450 million. Given his philosophy to tax and ask questions later, the new one percent tax will surely have to grow to four or five percent. His one percent tax is a Trojan horse to take even more of your money down the road.

Anyone that reads this needs to rise up and fight the Governor's plan. Why should the conversation always be about raising revenue through taxes and never about cutting our bloated state budget? We can no longer afford generous Health and Human Service programs that cause annual structural deficits. These structural deficits existed long before the recession hit, but were hidden by one time fixes (i.e. bonding out the tobacco money settlement) and, as former Speaker Murphy put it, pulling rabbits out of hats.

Write your state representative and state senator. Write the representatives on the House Finance Committee. Tell them to gut the Governors budget proposal and start from scratch.

Everyone is fighting for that finite amount of disposable money that is out there. But if Governor Chafee's plan is passed, the fight is over because government wins. And our civic organizations, our economy, and we, the middle class, will lose.

Don Botts is a former candidate for Cranston's 16th House District who works in Massachusetts, volunteers for his community and is a husband, father and average Rhode Island tax-payer.

How the Game Is Stacked for the Teachers' Unions

Justin Katz

Predictably, teacher-legislator James Sheehan (D., North Kingstown) is vocally opposed to Providence Schools' attempt to save the necessary money while causing the least amount of harm to students. At bottom, Providence's approach is an attempt to keep the teachers who offer the most value per dollar, which will also allow it to keep more teachers, because the highest-paid and most-senior teachers are not necessarily immune. Sheehan thinks that the law requires Providence to raise taxes and cut services so that it can keep its most expensive teachers whether or not they're the most effective:

In the Richard Phelan v. Burrillville School Committee decision, on Aug. 26, 1991, the commissioner of education held that: In conducting our inquiry as to whether a bona fide financial exigency exists in a particular case, we will consider such factors as the money-saving measures other than tenured-teacher dismissals implemented by the school committee, and the proportion that the amount saved as a result of the school committee's money-saving measures, including the amount saved from the dismissal of tenured teachers, bears to the budgetary shortfall. In short, a school board/committee may only fire as many teachers as is necessary to cover the budgetary shortfall.

Firing all Providence teachers does not meet the latter standard of proportionality, especially when one considers that the dismissal of some hundreds of teachers, as opposed to all 1,926 teachers, would likely have been sufficient to cover the expected school-budget shortfall. Moreover, even these dismissals do not take into account the savings generated from the proposed school closings as well as other cost saving measures.

If financial exigency does not permit the mass terminations of all Providence teachers, as it appears, then Providence teachers must be dismissed according to the contract, namely on a seniority basis.

I'd argue that the district really does have to fire all teachers so that it can rehire the faculty that it requires to meet its budgetary and educational requirements. That there is likely to be substantial overlap of the new faculty with the terminated one is merely a testament to the value of district-specific experience.

Of course, the longer-term necessity is for school committees to stop agreeing to contracts that attempt to lock them into stultifying personnel practices. Unfortunately, Rhode Island's so-called leaders seem not to recognize pitfalls until they hurtle off of them. Or perhaps too many of them, like Sheehan, have a financial interest in maintaining the practices that are pushing the state to its doom.

Where's the Money Supposed to Come From?

Justin Katz

On Monday night, the Tiverton Town Council finally let the ax swing on a new trash collection system that will at least double the cost of curb-side pickup for residents. (The metaphor is meant to indicate an executioner, not a lumberjack.)

The Tiverton Town Council approved a contract on Monday night to begin a trash metering program on May 16. Town officials state they will notify the more than 7,000 residents who use Tiverton’s trash service that they [must] purchase and use special bags for the pay-as-you-throw program, or else their roadside rubbish will not be taken a few weeks after that date.

Yes, prior councils have not adequately prepared the town for the expense of closing the dump in a few years. Yes, it's only a hundred, or a couple hundred, dollars more in expense per year. Yes, provisions have to be made. But this sort of fiscal responsibility is real easy for folks whose oil tanks don't dry up on Christmas Day, as mine did. For the rest of us, where is this money supposed to come from?

Inasmuch as a some hundreds of dollars per year are already collected, per household, to pay for garbage pickup via property taxes, this is not truly a pay-for-use reform. We cannot opt out of 50% or so of the cost. What remains is not sufficient for us to make other arrangements.

Moreover, this new fee structure is essentially a 2-4% tax increase added to what is sure to be a 4-5% increase in regular property taxes, which comes on top of last year's 7-8% increase. To my knowledge, no public contract is going down in cost; no departments are seeing their budgets reduced, and yet homeowners are presumed capable of tightening their belts ever more. If my experience is any indication, many residents have seen their income stagnate or even decrease over the past few years; many have been unemployed.

Where's the money supposed to come from? Guess we'll just notch our quality of life down accordingly.

March 29, 2011

Representatives Karen MacBeth and Dan Gordon Prove the Unthinkable -- Bills Don't Have to be Held for Further Study!

Carroll Andrew Morse

While the story of legislators looking for ways to advance a bill that apparently cannot get committee approval on its own merits was playing out at the RI Statehouse last week, in another part of the building, according to accounts that have been provided to me from several sources, a group of Representatives was working in the sunshine of an open-to-the-public committee process to bring a bill to a vote, in spite of the General Assembly's usual practices intended to obstruct legislators not aligned with leadership from having a say on the agenda.

Last Thursday, the agenda of the RI House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs Committee included bills that would establish an official memorial flag for members of the Armed Forces who lose their lives in the line of duty (H5890), and that would create a legislative commission to study locating a center to assist veterans at one or more of Rhode Island's public colleges (H5724). Representative Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland) -- who is not a favorite of the House Democratic leadership (I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by writing that) -- had been working to have these bills given real consideration as soon as possible in the legislative session. She had agreed to withdraw a version of the memorial flag bill where she was the primary sponsor (H5892) and to support a version with Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Raymond Gallison (D-Bristol/Portsmouth) as primary sponsor, as long as the substance from her original bills would get a real vote in committee. At the Thursday meeting, the Veterans' Affairs Committee deliberated H5890 and sent it to the House Floor with a recommendation for passage.

But based on the flow of the committee meeting, Rep. MacBeth sensed that the veterans' center study-commission bill was not going to get the substantive consideration she had sought, so she quickly made a motion that it be considered for passage. Representative Dan Gordon (R-Portsmouth/Tiverton/Little Compton) seconded. A short debate ensued. Chairman Gallison tried to talk Rep. MacBeth out of pressing for a vote for passage at this hearing; there were issues around Federal dollars that would take some time to consider, etc. Rep. MacBeth responded that H5724 was only a resolution for a study commission and there was nothing about the bill that couldn't be decided by the committee right away.

Seeing Rep. MacBeth unwilling to relent, Chairman Gallison called for a vote on the bill -- to hold it for further study. Rep. Gordon raised a point-of-order: there was already a motion before the committee to send H5724 to the House floor with a recommendation for passage, and that motion had to be disposed of before a new main motion could be introduced. The Chair recognized that Rep. Gordon was correct, and then called for a vote of everyone opposed to passage of H5724. The committee was silent. Then the chairman called for votes in favor of passage, and the bill was passed by the Veterans' Affairs Committee by a majority vote.

And that, citizens of Rhode Island, is all it really takes to end the "held for further study" madness at the Statehouse -- not major rules reform or arcane parliamentary trickery, but legislators who ask for their bills to be considered and voted on by the appropriate committees, and committees who make decisions on the merits of a bill without waiting for leadership to grant them permission to vote in favor of the bills they support (even though, in the short term, it might mean an extra walk from a faraway parking space or other such inconveniences for legislators who choose to place a higher priority on representing their constituents than following partisan marching orders when considering bills).

According to this year's House rules, beginning on May 1, Rhode Island House committees are supposed to begin posting their roll call votes publicly. My suspicion is that, once committee-level information becomes part of an easily accessible public-record, explanations to constituents that "I voted for further study on every bill that came before me because the leadership told me I had to" are not going to win over many undecided voters during election campaigns. Add to this the fact that, over the last two or three election cycles, a group of legislators have been elected who are unwilling to accept the go-along-to-get-along top-down discipline model for running a legislature that has quiescently been accepted by older generations of RI legislators, and the result is that a new way of doing business at the Rhode Island Statehouse is going to be defined very soon -- and is maybe already starting in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Chafee Proposes Beach Fee Raise, Explains How to Circumvent It

Marc Comtois

Only in the Chafeedom....First, Governor Chafee proposed doubling the fees for accessing state beaches.

Under the plan, season passes would double, from $30 to $60 for residents and $60 to $120 for non-residents. Weekend daily parking would increase from $7 to $15 for residents and from $14 to $25 for non-residents.

A legislative panel reviewed the changes last week. The fee increase would raise an estimated $1.9 million.

Then, when interviewed about it, explains how people can circumvent the fee increase by "doubling up" in cars as they visit the state beaches.

This is basically an admission that tax increases affect the behavior of the people being taxed, right? So, about that $1.9 million revenue increase, Governor.....

Breaking the Mold

Marc Comtois

Just to make you think (h/t):

Now, it's a gross simplification, to be sure. I'd add a column labeled "Reading", for instance, and how much of the "classes" and "homework" laid the groundwork necessary for "perl". But the point being made is this: the basics of education are necessary, but it is often what kids do on their own time, outside of school, that helps determine their future career path. So when do we allow them to start charting their own (guided or mentored) course instead of having them wasting their time by keeping them locked into the current, rigid k-12 system? I'm a great works/western civ. kinda guy, but not everyone is. Up to a point, all students should be educated with the basics, but by...say...the 11th grade, maybe its time to break the old mold and let the kids have more flexibility and choice in their education and their future.

A Moment for Misanthropy

Justin Katz

It's the kind of commentary that's probably best let to drift out to the sea of forgotten column inches, but the following general observation from Mark Patinkin has been bugging me:

By contrast, little has been shown of the areas where the tsunami washed over natural areas. That’s because nature is designed to mostly absorb such a disaster. It’s a reminder that a natural catastrophe like this doesn’t destroy the landscape, it just destroys the unnatural things man adds to it. On one hand, human creations represent the highest form of evolution, but on the other, lowly animals in the tsunami zone have no doubt by now gone back to their burrows and lives.

If not treated as a throwaway line, Patinkin's misanthropy in the face of human suffering is quite astonishing and makes me sincerely concerned for his mental state. And it's absurd on its face. A wall of water sweeping across the land uproots countless plants and drowns countless animals. Those animals that return to the landscape, having survived, are wholly reliant on the continued existence of their food source and shelter.

To the extent that natural things bounce back more quickly — and the dinosaurs and shifting habitats prove there to be an "if" involved — it's because the line of their success is drawn at survival. Mankind strives for a bit more.

Patinkin presents human beings as interlopers in an otherwise Edenic nature, but the truth is somewhat starker. In nature, species that cannot survive in a region will not be there to perish when the region does what it periodically does — whether drought or tsunami — because they will have left or died off long ago. In that sense, I suppose, they are "designed" for the circumstances of their environment. Indeed, I'd agree that an active verb like "design" is wholly appropriate.

Human beings, by contrast, are designed to learn from and adapt to our environment. That which we build may not be "great achievements" if the requirement is that they be indestructible, but the defining quality of homo sapiens is that we not only retain the knowledge to rebuild, but we also have the capacity to improve that which we, ourselves, design.

Cicilline Goes National

Marc Comtois

Thanks to left-leaning Politico, Congressman Cicilline is getting some national pub for his Providence past. The lede:

So much for the honeymoon period.

Less than three months into his first term, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has nose-dived in the polls and is under fire back home in Providence, the embattled city where he served as mayor before winning election to Congress.

Not quite the type of national pub Cicilline is looking for.

The Sign of Leadership

Justin Katz

Last week, the RI House Labor Committee reviewed two bills:

In both cases, the views were sharply divided, with labor supporting and cities and towns opposing a bill that would allow municipal employee collective-bargaining contract terms to continue after a contract expires and also allow monetary issues in those contracts to be decided in binding arbitration.

The positions were reversed on the prevailing wage bill, with cities and towns supporting and labor opposing a change that would raise the threshold at which the state and municipalities must pay prevailing wages from jobs costing more than $1,000 — a figure set decades ago — to those costing more than $500,000.

The latter bill would have allowed local governments to hire labor at the actual prevailing wage — that which the market had determined for a particular occupation and which most purchasers of the particular service (those not subject to union political pressure) typically pay. The former bill would have been a marker of the end of Rhode Island.

Of course, the article ends with that marker of Rhode Island leadership:

The committee held both bills for further study.

And so, we'll stagger along, neither improving our civic circumstances nor opting for a quick death. Perhaps the state should change its motto to "held for further study."

March 28, 2011

Lamenting Taxes While Endorsing Taxers

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editorial board is right, of course, to speak out against Governor Chafee's proposed expansion of sales taxes:

This is not a matter of greed; for many businesses, it is a question of survival. Small businesses are the job engines of any economy, and when they are wiped out, jobs disappear. Rhode Island's years of suffering one of America's worst unemployment rates should have taught that lesson. ...

Taxing manufacturing machinery and equipment, which Mr. Chafee wants to do, seems especially shortsighted --- which is why 33 states, including Rhode Island, currently do not do it, Mr. Sasse notes. Encouraging productivity and innovation ultimately pays off in more jobs and higher tax revenues.

I convey the thought only half seriously, but I did wonder whether the Projo should make a habit of mentioning — disclosing, if you will — that its product will face a new tax, as well.

More broadly, the editorial is an excellent example of the paper's tendency to treat issues as if they can be constructed to generate the perfect political regime (from the writers' perspective). That is, the Providence Journal is an establishment entity, in Rhode Island, and its endorsements and policy advocacy have helped to bring Rhode Island to its current circumstances.

Hopefully those who are coming to see the folly of the Chafee Way will follow the logic back to other aspects of RI governance and politics that preceded his election.

Foreign Policy Reset

Marc Comtois

In light of the Libya situation, Victor Davis Hanson concisely sums up the truth behind the past decade of anti-Iraq War stances made by liberals and the Democratic Party.

Libya is now an exegesis of the Iraq War. By now we know that the Bush-Cheney “shredding” of the Constitution (e.g., tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, renditions, preventative detention, Predator drones, and Guantanamo Bay) was simply a liberal talking point. Why do we know that? Because Obama has either embraced or expanded all of those anti-terrorism protocols, and even hired the very lawyers and deans to legitimize them who used to sue the government to stop them. But Libya was the capstone of the entire liberal reset. When the MSNBC talking heads now support bombing an oil-producing Muslim Arab country that does not threaten our national security — without congressional approval, and with fewer allies than went with us to Afghanistan and Iraq — then we realize the entire Iraq hysteria was simply partisan politics, not about principles. That’s why we won’t see Rendition II at the movies, a return of Cindy Sheehan to network news, or Michael Moore in the VIP seats at the 2012 Democratic convention.
Never let a crisis go to waste, right? I'm sure there are those who oppose the Libya war on the same grounds as they opposed all of the "Bush/Cheney/Haliburton!"(TM) actions, but they've been relegated back to the "fringe" by mainstream Democrats/liberals/progressives. They're just not as useful anymore.

My Social Cause for Your Law and Order

Justin Katz

Most people probably have an idealized image of the legislative process as one in which legislators draft bills that they desire, other legislators sign on as they're interested, and everybody votes according to their understanding of the consequences. It seems somehow foreign to everyday life to trade votes on unrelated issues and such, but in a vote-counting occupation like lawmaking, it's inevitable.

And so, state representative Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown) is surely doing no more than offering a look into the regular processes of the General Assembly by going public with one example:

The bill's main sponsor, state Rep Teresa Tanzi last week asked Doreen Costa if she wanted one of the five coveted spots as an official co-sponsor. The legislation is meant to prevent people like Michael Woodmansee---who killed a 5-year-old boy in the 1970s---from leaving prison early. Tanzi, a Democrat, represents South Kingstown, where the boy lived. ...

"I have to horse trade," Tanzi replied, according to Costa. "She said, 'You have to vote gay marriage out of committee.'"

In one sense, there's nothing surprising about this at all. Tanzi has a desirable legislative property, and she wishes to trade partial ownership of it to remove a roadblock on an issue about which she's interested, for whatever reason. In a practical sense, also, there's little to remark. As Costa makes clear, co-sponsorship is not a prerequisite for her vote, so the offer does not affect the likelihood of the bill's final passage.

Still, when we reapply the context, the matter takes on a distasteful aroma. Tanzi has under her control a sensitive issue concerning the gruesome murder of a young child and the ability of victims to be assured that dangerous killers will not roam the streets again while still relatively young. Using that ownership to buy votes for a long-discussed and still-controversial issue like same-sex marriage is cynical, to say the least.

March 27, 2011

Raises & Longevity Bonuses at the State House: Just So We're Clear that the Sacrifice is Shared

Monique Chartier

Tip for the Governor and his budget staffers: here is one of a long list of spending items that needs to be addressed before you even think about jacking revenue, a.k.a., taxes. [Thanks to the Providence Journal's Katherine Gregg, Philip Marcelo and Randal Edgar for picking up on and reporting this item.]

The salary paid Anzeveno, a former state representative from North Providence, has jumped by more than $30,000 since March 2010, from $132,010 at this time a year ago to $162,986 today.

Anzeveno’s administrative assistant Anastasia Custer was given a $10,901 raise that boosted her salary to $76,277, according to a salary report the legislative business office produced late last week in response to a Journal inquiry.

And they are not alone.

While legislative employees got the same 3-percent raise as other employees in January, many got thousands of dollars more.

Some qualified for the automatic “longevity” bonuses that all state workers get every five years or so.

Some got new job titles, such as Stephen Iannazzi, who went from a $37,986-a-year policy researcher last year to an $88,112-a-year special assistant to Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio. ...

Re #1 to a Question from the Woonsocket Fire Department Restructuring Discussion

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to Monique's post on the restructuring of the Fire Department by the Woonsocket City Council, commenter Tom Kenney asked...

Are you willing to negotiate with the unions for those concessions or is your answer the same as many conservatives are away with collective bargaining altogether?
Here's how I would answer the first part of that question, if it had been addressed to me.

1. I would not be willing to "negotiate" when obvious mistakes need correcting. For concrete examples of what I mean by obvious mistakes, think of 1) substitute-teacher pay in Providence 2) the stories from Massachusetts about firemen going out on disability at a higher pay-grade than their official rank, because they were doing a higher-rank desk job as a temporary fill-in when they became injured.

If there are practices that increase costs to the public, without improving the effectiveness of public services, then the public doesn't have to "give something back" to have them fixed. Relevant to the original conversation in Monique's thread, if it is true that there are contracts that allow overtime to be paid because of some paper-distinction about whether someone should be on or off duty during a particular hour of the week, not because of the total numbers of hours worked in a week, this is the kind of provision outside of any legitimate need for negotiation. (This is different from saying there shouldn't be any such thing as overtime).

2. I would not be willing to enter negotiations that begin with unions taking a position that "we're entitled a big piece off-of-the top of the tax-levy beyond the salaries for the positions that are established because of decisions made 20 years ago, and this cannot be altered except maybe by changing the size of the piece off-the-top by a percentage point or two".

I believe that history teaches that this dynamic is a major source of the poisoning of relations between public unions and the public; a full explanation of the historical dynamic I am referring to is here. This does not mean that I do not believe that steps have to be taken to take care of people who have relied on the good sense of the "negotiators" of Rhode Island's past (ha ha ha ha) to provide for their futures, but going forward into our future, steps need to be taken now to prevent this issue from continually recurring.

Finally, I believe that if the barriers between public safety unions and the public described above were to be removed, members of public safety unions would find a base of support for their work that is broad and strong amongst the public, and that is a better long-term bet than is relying upon promises made by top-down and very shortsighted political machines.

March 26, 2011

Video of the "Town Hall" of One Guy Named Jim

Monique Chartier

In his Engaged Citizen post, Mark Zaccaria describes the very odd and self-serving format of the inaccurately named "town hall" held by Congressman Langevin Wednesday: the complete inadibility of the congressman's remarks followed by his refusal to take questions publicly from the audience, choosing, instead, to speak to people one on one privately.

It just occurred to me that this was also the format for a "press conference" that AG Patrick Lynch switched to when his poor handling of the Station Night Club fire investigation began to bite him in the nether region and it became clear at one particularly bad point that the press' questions that day were going to be too tough for him to handle publicly.

Did the congressman similarly believe that his constituent's questions would be too hard to handle publicly? Taken together with the inaudibility of his prefacing remarks (was it a deliberate decision by the congressman and his staff to place the microphone just beyond the reach of his voice?), one is compelled inexorably to ask: what exactly was the purpose of this completely non-communicative non-event? Was it simply for Mr. Langevin's campaign to be able to claim, in Cicilline-esque fashion, that the congressman had reached out to his constituents via a town hall?

For those who might have thought that Mark Z had exaggerated in his description of the short-comings of this "town hall", below is a two minute video clip of the end of the congressman's inaudible prefacing remarks, the announcement - loud and clear, by the way; strange that the staffer had no microphone problems - that questions would only be taken privately and then the objections (disregarded) of a man in the audience to this atypical format.

83% = Reason to Hope: Only 17% of Rhode Islanders Approve of Mayor Cicilline's Job Performance

Monique Chartier

That recent Brown poll determined that Congressman Cicilline has a shockingly low approval rating.

The consensus seems to be that this is a reflection of the recently renewed (it's not accurate to say "new") revelations as to how the former mayor handled and obfuscated Providence's budget problems.

Oh, the consensus is not quite unanimous.

Rep. David N. Cicilline expressed puzzlement Friday over a job-approval rating so dismal that it raises questions about his reelection prospects and may invite opponents to target him, according to the Brown University professor who directed the voter survey.

“I don’t know the basis of people’s conclusions,” the Democratic congressman said of his 17-percent positive job-approval rating in the latest Brown poll. “I’ve only been at the job for about 11 weeks.”

So it's all about the last eleven weeks and not the prior eight years? Um, yeah, okay.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, it appears that the former mayor's poor (to say no worse) job performance is unacceptable to 83% of Rhode Island voters even in this heavily democrat state. WPRI's Ted Nesi is correct to point out that what matters, in terms of the next election, is how District One views the former mayor.

For now, however, I'm happy to take this low rating as a clear sign that Rhode Islanders, at least in this matter, are not only paying attention but have standards which won't excuse the official conduct of even a democrat's democrat.

Mark Zaccaria on Two Guys Named Jim

Engaged Citizen

Last night I had the chance to attend two quite different public meetings.

I began at the newly reemerging Warwick Mall where Rhode Island Second District Congressman James Langevin was holding a hastily arranged public event. Although it was billed as a ‘Town Hall Meeting’ the actual ground rules Rep. Langevin established for the affair were different than that name might imply.

The fifteen or so voters who turned out were supplemented by perhaps 20 or more junior high school students who were dispatched by their teachers on the promise of extra credit. Before the formal proceedings, Mr. Langevin’s staff asked the attendees to sign up for one-on-one sessions of five minutes each with their Representative. These private exchanges were to take place near the main location of the meeting but away from observation and reaction by the whole body of assembled constituents.

The congressman began the formalities by making a rambling statement about the good economic times our state is entering and the fortitude shown by the President in Libya during recent days. The gentleman’s remarks were largely inaudible as, despite reminders, he kept inching the microphone away from its effective range. The impact on the students was swift and predictable. Cell phones at the ready they whispered and texted with one another until the distant chatter ended. Mr. Langevin has been a public figure all of his adult life. I cannot accept that he has not learned how to manage a microphone. It was intentional.

For me, though, the nadir of the meeting was reached when the opening statement was over. Several of the voters in the audience asked that they, too, be allowed to hear the questions that their peers and neighbors had for the Congressman. Mr. Langevin yielded the microphone to a staffer who drowned out that line of questioning by reiterating the ground rules for the evening in a very audible voice, while his boss made his way out of the enclosure and away from the brouhaha.

Whatever you think the rights of the voters and taxpayers might have been, you would have been most disappointed by the impact all this had on the young students. They were regaled with a demonstration of the unwillingness of a public official to even respond to those he is supposed to serve. To the kids it was one more example of why texting is the real world and government is just some impenetrable Kabuki dance. They simply shrugged it off, had their school papers signed for the credit, and repaired to the mall for some group socializing. What a wasted opportunity.

My next stop last night was Providence College where I attended a presentation by video provocateur, James O’Keefe.

Mr. O’Keefe has been branded a conservative guerrilla for the series of undercover tapings he’s made of public officials doing their work on the taxpayer’s dime. You’ve probably seen his exposé on Acorn staffers all across the country advising a pimp and prostitute on how to structure their tax filings to cover the fact that they employ underage, undocumented sex workers in their patently unlawful enterprise. If not, you may have caught his outing of Planned Parenthood staffers in a string of that company’s offices or his dinner with an NPR Fundraiser who, along with the CEO, was then forced to step down.

O’Keefe explained that his real objective was to prompt American News Media into doing this kind of investigative reporting for themselves. He went to lengths to express his outrage that as a college student without any real funding he had to do this on his own. He pointed up the vastly superior resources and network connections that traditional media outlets possess and was indignant that they seemed to be giving publicly funded organizations a pass on their blatant misuse of the taxpayer money they receive.

Unlike the other Jim, Mr. O’Keefe made his point passionately, compellingly, and without prepared notes. He then stayed to answer all questions from the audience and remained in the room long afterward to pose with attendees and hear their take on his past exploits and future plans.

The juxtaposition of the two Jims could not have been more stark.

Mr. Langevin, our Jim, was plodding through a set piece unconcerned – and maybe unaware – of the damage he was dully inflicting on everyone who was there. Mr. O’Keefe, on the other hand, swept in from his home in New Jersey and his work all over the country. He came at the request of the PC Students who’d contacted him to make the appearance. He was energized by the opportunity to connect with real Americans and show them the example of how anyone with a video camera can scoop the atherosclerotic mainstream media if they have the courage and energy to do so.

I applauded O’Keefe, along with everyone else in the room of 100 or so who listened to him. After that performance, as I thought about Our Jim, I was in mourning for the poor service we receive from him at this most critical moment in the history of both our state and nation.

Mark Zaccaria is a resident of North Kingstown, RI, where he operates a small business. He was the Republican candidate for Congress in Rhode Island’s 2nd District in 2010.

March 25, 2011

Eleven Bills Scheduled to be Heard by RI General Assembly Committees, March 29 - March 31

Carroll Andrew Morse

New plan. Better plan. Instead of trying to post something on all of the bills that have been submitted during a week, the week after they have been submitted (which, to be honest, was an interesting experience but was starting to make my eyeballs bleed from too much staring at the computer), I will post a list of the most interesting and impactful bills, in the week before they are scheduled for their committee hearings. Consider these posts an open thread for trying out and/or pondering arguments that might be heard in committee for or against upcoming legislation.

All the usual disclaimers about the choice of which bills are important being solely at the discretion of the author of the post apply. I'm not going to try and strike any a-priori balance between the House and the Senate, so if there are more bills from one chamber than the other, it's because, in my opinion, one chamber is hearing more interesting stuff that week.

11. S0348: Statements of apology or sympathy by medical providers would be inadmissiable as evidence in lawsuits. (Senate Judiciary, March 29)

10. H5941: "Safe school act" that redefines bullying and defines cyberbullying in Rhode Island law. (House Health, Education and Welfare, March 30)

9. Bud Art. 39: Creates a "Municipal Accountability, Stability, and Transparency Fund" that provides state aid to cities and towns if they meet certain fiscal requirements. (House Finance, March 30)

8. H5646: Creates a legislative commission to study the public funding of elections. (House Judiciary, March 29)

7. H5091: Magistrates would be appointed by the Governor from a list of candidates drafted by a judicial nominating commission, instead of by high-ranking judges. (House Judiciary, March 30)

6. Bud Art. 13: Increases the employee contribution for teachers and state employees from 8.75% to 11.75%. (House Finance, March 31)

5. S0087/H5797: The Senate bill would begin to institute the Obamacare "exchange" in Rhode Island. (Senate Health and Human Services, March 30). The House bill "urges Governor Lincoln Chafee to refrain from implementing all aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with the exception of provisions on health care exchanges until such time as the United States Supreme Court has rendered its opinion on the constitutionality of the provisions mandated by this statute. (House Health, Education and Welfare, March 30)

4. H5374: From the official description: "This act would provide that if during any fiscal year the state reimbursement to cities and towns and school districts is insufficient to cover the costs of state mandates as reported by the department of revenue, those affected cities, towns and school districts may cease implementation of state mandates at their discretion up to fifty percent (50%) of the value of the reimbursement shortfall". (House Municipal Government, March 31)

3. H5513/H5127: "No person holding a position in state government which requires confirmation by or the advice and consent of the senate shall engage in lobbying or permitted to register as a lobbyist" (House Judiciary, March 30) and no one "employed by the department of administration in a decision-making position or capacity or influence over legislation with the executive branch" can become a lobbyist "until such time as a new governor shall be elected". (House Judiciary, March 30)

2. H5410: Proposed Constitutional amendment extending Ethics Commission jurisdiction to legislators. (House Judiciary, March 30)

1. H5961: Binding arbitration for teachers. (House Labor, March 29)

Drugs Taxed School Zone

Justin Katz

Some folks have been astonished that I could be ambivalent about the movement to legalize marijuana. A large item on the negative side of the ledger is my suspicion of the manner in which it's being approached, particularly the necessary involvement of the government.

On that note, and without striking for highfalutin waters on a Friday afternoon, I have to remark how amusing I find it to picture a large pot greenhouse over on East Main in Middletown, just a block from the high school. Again, I'm not arguing that there's any reason for it not to be there, but I just remember the implementation of the Drug Free School Zone initiative back in my high school days. We all thought it very unfair that a dealer living a block from the school would face harsher penalties than one who lived another block or two away.

When the government's getting a slice of the action, though, the rationale for particular regulations begins to slip. It'll be interesting to see how far it all goes. I know I experienced an injury or two during high school athletics that might have been palliated with marijuana... not to mention the emotional distress of being a teenager.

Gist, Education Consultants & Skeptical Radio Anchors

Marc Comtois

This morning, I listened as the new WPRO Morning News team of Tara Granahan and Andrew Gobeil went after Education Commissioner Deborah Gist for her proposal to hire up to 50 retired educators (teachers, principals, etc.) as 90 day consultants to help implement the programs funded via Race to the Top. Earlier, Granahan and Gobeil--apparently taking their cue from a ProJo story--interviewed Warwick Rep. Joe McNamara, who sponsored the legislation. I missed that part of the interview, but apparently McNamara basically explained that it was Commissioner Gist's idea. It was apparent that Gobeil and Granahan were particularly bothered by the fact that the bill would allow retired educators to make up to $500/day while still collecting a pension.

Commissioner Gist then called in to try to clear things up, but Granahan and Gobeil took a hard line on paying retired, pension collecting educators $500 a day to consult. The commissioner explained that, basically, $60-70/hr is the going rate for the expertise offered by "master educators" and that she wanted to be able to hire Rhode Island educators and this legislation enabled that. Gobeil and Granahan weren't buying it and pounded away on how $500/day seemed like an awful lot in these tough times. Further, Granahan asked Gist if the consulting fees would be subject to Governor Chafee's new 6% tax (like other consulting fees), to which Gist basically replied, "Of course."

Nowhere was the distinction made (though I think Gist may have assumed this was known) that the money to pay for these consultants was part of the Race to the Top funds. In essence, the bill was a mechanism to allow the Department of Education to hire Rhode Island based educators to perform the consulting. As Gist said, with or without the bill, she will hire the consultants--from another state if necessary--and the going rate is $500/day. I don't think she changed the minds of Gobeil and Granahan, but I'm not sure if they really "got" that the money was earmarked for that specific purpose.

I know $500/day seems like a lot, but professional consultants in all sorts of industries make that and more. I don't doubt that Gist is correct and that's the going rate (at the least!). And while Republicans like Joe Trillo oppose the measure, I think that its more of a knee-jerk reaction than anything else. One other thing: the teachers' unions apparently oppose the legislation:

Several union leaders voiced concerns again Wednesday, saying it was bad fiscal policy to have retirees drawing down the pension fund while working.

“This is bad for the pension system … and it’s bad employment practice when hundreds of teachers are out of work,” said Maureen Martin, political director for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. “We want them to use local teachers already in the school system.”

But Gist isn't looking for regular educators, she's looking for experienced and special ones. Not just the most senior ones left on the laid off list or new hires with lower pay (as Trillo suggested). She needs top-of-the-line folks to implement RTtT (like it or not). As reported by the Brown Daily Herald:
Gist encouraged available teachers to apply for the positions, but emphasized that the plan "can't be a program for jobs."

"This is not going to resolve employment," she said. "We have to make the decisions that are best for our students."

But back to the interview itself. On the surface, it seemed like Gobeil and Granahan (in particular) were aggressive and skeptical of the Ed. Commissioner's motives because they were trying to safeguard taxpayer money. That may have been the case and, while there are important, technical reasons why their apparent watchdoggedness, in my opinion, was misplaced (the money is earmarked for a particular purpose, etc.), I won't fault them for that. (Plus, to the benefit of WPRO, they successfully turned it into a "newsmakers" moment and have been covering it in the news breaks all morning).

Yet, then I remembered their interview last week with new Warwick School Committee member Gene Nadeau. Nadeau had gotten some publicity for his statement that state education dollars were going disproportionally to Providence, Central Falls and other urban core cities and he was ostensibly on the show to talk about that, which he did. Then Granahan went off-topic and asked Nadeau, to paraphrase, "Is it true that they are going to close a high school in Warwick?" Nadeau was obviously surprised by the question and explained he hasn't heard any discussion of that during his time on the School Committee. Granahan wouldn't let him off that easy and re-phrased the question a couple times. It was clear to me that Granahan, who grew up and has family in Warwick, was skeptical of Nadeau and didn't believe him.

Taken together, the Nadeau and Gist interviews have left me with the impression that Granahan in particular is, at the least, skeptical of local and statewide education administrators. Yes, "twice is a coincidence" and all that. But that's two times in two weeks I've heard an education administrator interviewed and given a tough time by Granahan. That's not a bad thing, but it's interesting to see the perspectives and biases of supposedly "straight news" personalities slowly revealed.

If Not for the People, RI Would Have Fewer People

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's a function of idealism, but the continual penchant for racism in our country wearies me. By racism, I mean the division of people into racial groups and inclination to treat them as separate communities:

Without the 39,835 additional residents who identified themselves as Hispanic, Rhode Island would have lost 35,587 people from 2000 to 2010. That would have joined the Ocean State with Michigan, the only state to lose population in the 2010 census. As it was, Rhode Island ranked 49th in population growth, gaining 4,248, or 0.4 percent. ...

Hispanics officially became the majority population in Central Falls, while Providence grew closer to that status. If separated, Providence's Hispanic population of 67,835 alone would be the fifth-largest city in the state.

And so on. The thing is: they are not separated. The population did not decrease by 35,587. What is it we should determine to do differently based on this information? Should it become an outrage that Central Falls doesn't have a majority Hispanic government? Or, from the other side, should we treat "Hispanic" as a synonym for "immigrant" and panic at the loss of native-born Americans from our state?

The detriment arises from the mixture of these perspectives, such that assumptions are made about a group and then notions of how society should be arranged are imposed under those assumptions. The insinuation is that Hispanics have unique needs and points of view, and if those qualities aren't reflected in the political order, then some sort of under-representation must be to blame.

Personally, I find this bit of Census news to be more relevant, and definitely distressing:

In 2000, 247,822 children lived in Rhode Island, according to the Census Bureau. That was 23.6 percent of the state's population of 1,048,319.

By 2010, the number of children had dropped 23,866 to 223,956, or 21.3 percent of the state's slightly larger population of 1,052,567.

Unless one wishes to suggest that we were in the midst of a baby boom in 2000, the decrease in children is an indication of a waning society. Of course, it isn't necessary to turn to demographic statistics to discern that about Rhode Island.

March 24, 2011

NPR: No Such Thing as Unbiased

Marc Comtois

The thing about bias is that 1) we're all biased; 2) we often have a hard time identifying when those of similar bias are being biased; 3) we can identify bias, but probably overstate it because of our own bias! Thus, when NPR's Steve Inskeep defends the unbiasness of NPR, well, my own bias leads me to conclude he's biased.

[L]et's consider the fundamental question: the accusation of "liberal bias" at NPR, which drives many critics calling to eliminate its federal funding. It's not my job as a reporter to address the funding question. But I can point out that the recent tempests over "perceived bias" have nothing to do with what NPR puts on the air.

The facts show that NPR attracts a politically diverse audience of 33.7 million weekly listeners to its member stations on-air. In surveys by GfK MRI, most listeners consistently identify themselves as "middle of the road" or "conservative." Millions of conservatives choose NPR, even with powerful conservative alternatives on the radio.

I know it's my bias showing, but conservatives can walk and chew gum at the same time. Hence, they can listen to conservative "talk radio" and still get their hard news from NPR. Frankly, I think that the news from NPR is perfectly fine. It's all the other stuff--the feature piece selections, the lifestyle/culture talk shows, seemingly all the editorializing (when it is done)--that tilts it leftward. (A locally notable exception is WRNI's Political Roundtable, which is a balanced affair). You see, it's not that we expect NPR to be unbiased, just be balanced...and fair (couldn't resist!). You know, show a few different sides of a political story instead of the one emanating from the Minnesota Prairie, for instance.

Hard Cases Make Bad Law

Justin Katz

If one's stand on a political or social issue is principled, then it ought to be maintained even when it is emotionally difficult to do so, and in the case of Pat Baker, it is certainly difficult.

Baker was recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and she is now spending her days advocating for a change in law that would make the woman whom she married in Massachusetts in 2005 eligible for survivor benefits through Social Security:

"I worked for those benefits. And when I say worked, I worked hard. You name it, it's happened. I've found inmates hanging; I've found inmates dead from suicide. I've been traumatized mentally and physically, only to get to this point in my life when I'm terminally ill ... and I find out my wife is being begrudged $1,861 a month," Baker said.

The circumstances highlight both the rationale for the survivor benefits and the risk in expanding marriage to same-sex couples. On the first count, throughout most of the time that Social Security has been around (and even more of the time before it was), it was understood that, typically, one spouse had been less active economically and more active domestically. Depriving the non-working spouse of retirement benefits because the working spouse had died ignored the very notion of marriage as a means of creating a single entity of two people, who then spend their lives working as a team, particularly with the activity of raising children.

To be sure, frequent divorce and remarriage has decreased the confidence with which such assumptions can be made, but the cultural understanding of marriage is still very much intact, and our society should be looking to bolster it, not modify it further.

It's quite predictable that allowing two people of the same sex to marry and, thereby, gain the benefits of spouses will change the culture of the institution. Why, for one, would it not become common for marriage to develop into a relationship for late-life companions, even if they are only what used to be known as "friends"? The incentive to pair up for the purpose of maximizing retirement and other benefits would be tremendous. If that's something that we want to encourage — and there are definitely worthy arguments for it — then why have any restrictions at all, such as those against marrying near kin and multiple people?

Of course, as I've said before, if same-sex marriage were to arrive in conjunction with tighter laws against divorce, then the calculation would change. I've yet to find, however, an advocate for SSM who thinks that spouses shouldn't be able to dissolve their marriages very easily.

In the specific case of Social Security, the easier solution would be to transition it toward a defined-contribution plan that creates an asset capable of being bequeathed.

Paglia on Liz Taylor: The Power of a Woman

Marc Comtois

Camille Paglia, who admits to being obsessed with Elizabeth Taylor, puts the just-deceased actress in cultural perspective:

To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct...

Elizabeth Taylor's maternal quality is central to her heterosexual power. Elizabeth Taylor could control men. She liked men. And men liked her. There was a chemistry between her and men, coming from her own maternal instincts. I've been writing about this for years, and it was partly inspired by watching Taylor operate on-screen and off. The happy and successful heterosexual woman feels tender and maternal toward men -- but this has been completely lost in our feminist era. Now women tell men, you have to be my companion and be just like a woman; be my best friend, and listen to me chatter. In other words, women don't really like men anymore -- they want men to be like women. But Elizabeth Taylor liked men, and men loved to be around her because they sensed that.

But she was no pushover! She gave as good as she got. There were those famous knock-down, drag-out fights with Burton, and she loved it. No man ever ruled her. Not for a second. But at the same time her men weren't henpecked. She liked strong men.

Plus, she was hot.

Candidate Hinckley Staffs Up

Carroll Andrew Morse

Scott McKay of WRNI (1290AM) reports that Benjamin "Barry" Hinckley, who has filed the paperwork to begin a run for Senate against incumbent Sheldon Whitehouse, has attracted some experienced political operatives to his campaign staff...

[Darcie Johnston] is a Montpelier, Vermont-based fund raising consultant who worked on then-Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee’s 2006 Senate race. [Paul Hatch], who is based in Washington, D.C. is a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. Both Johnston and Hatch were consultants on the unsuccessful GOP attempt to defeat Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank in 2010.
At least in its early stages, this is appearing to be a serious and not idiosyncratic campaign attempt.

Hess: One Size Doesn't Fit All with Teacher Evaluations

Marc Comtois

Rick Hess offers some thoughts on teacher evaluations and the polarization that occurs whenever the topic is discussed:

[O]ur teacher evaluation and pay debates are fought between two bizarre poles. One camp insists that teachers, for some reason that escapes me, can't possibly be evaluated fairly. Any tough-minded effort to gauge teacher performance or reward more productive or talented teachers is seen as an attack that must be ferociously contested. And those who see the value of paying good employees more than bad ones aren't content with creating systems that will push schools and districts to figure out how to do this; far too many want to settle for enacting prescriptive policies that gauge teacher performance in terms of reading and math value-added and then adjust pay accordingly.
In other words, this is a false choice. Teachers aren't some unique class of worker that either simply can't be evaluated or can all be evaluated the same way. Different methods at different levels in different districts or even the same district can be found (say, whole-school a la Deming in Cranston while Bristol does value-added) The point is that there is no one, single solution, but that doesn't mean there is absolutely no evaluation solution!
To most folks in health care, high tech, sales, advocacy, or just about any other field you can name, both positions are inane. To them, the complexities of evaluating personnel and crafting sensible pay systems are pretty obvious. That's why they've been tinkering with different ways to gauge and reward employees for more than half a century. Most people recognize that a boss's judgment is inevitably subjective, but also believe that it has real value--and that a boss who's responsible for their team will take care to weigh the range of relevant factors. Bottom line: most sectors don't turn discussions of employee evaluation and pay into moral crusades, they simply tinker with what might make sense. The biggest problem in education is that our current arrangements force us to approach these questions as "policy" questions, with the presumption that a state or district will set rules that apply to every teacher in every school in that geography. In that fashion, by enforcing uniformity, we stifle opportunities for variability or creative problem-solving, and accentuate the temptations to adrenalize these debates.
While many want to make Rhode Island one district--and that is an attractive thought from an administrative cost-savings standpoint--there are also potential benefits to our current "tiny kingdom" setup whereby different methods of evaluation could be tried. That will require some cooperation, though. We're not there yet.
This has real consequences. As I've noted before, clumsily-designed value-added measures risk "stifling the kind of smart use of personnel that reformers are trying to encourage." But I guess it's easier, and maybe more fun, to rant against step-and-lane pay and promote grand solutions--or to "defend the profession" against the crazy idea that some people are better at their jobs than others, that we can distinguish among them, and that we should take this into account when setting pay.
It ain't rocket science.

The Never-Ending Upward Line of Government Spending

Justin Katz

Andrew suggested that government spending cannot continue to go up in a straight line indefinitely, on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 23, 2011

The Macro View of Government Growth in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

While waiting to go on the air on this evening's Matt Allen show on WPRO (630AM), I heard Matt play Governor Lincoln Chafee's Director of Administration Richard Licht tell Dan Yorke something to the effect that tax increases were necessary to maintain a reasonable level of government services in Rhode Island.

Governor Carcieri had begun to reduce spending on the portion of the budget funded by Rhode Island taxes. However, it was more than offset by increased spending from Federal and local sources. In fact, the sum of money raised from state and local taxes plus federal money spent by the state and has increased at a steady clip over the past 10 years by about 25%, after adjustment for inflation.


Here was the description of the spending pattern, written at the time: "This pattern is one of government growth on autopilot for most of the decade, whether the national economic climate was good or bad, whether state revenues were increasing or decreasing.

This idea of government expansion that is automatic and inevitable -- with everything outside of government expected to adjust accordingly, of course -- is an important focus of the dissatisfaction being expressed with regards to the direction that our state and nation are headed, as more and more people come to realize that steady increases in the real amount spent by government cannot continue indefinitely".

Does the Chafee administration believe that this trend has to continue forever, in order for government to be effective, or that reducing total spending to the level of say 5 years ago is an impossibility?

For the record, I have twice sent Lincoln Chafee, once as a candidate and once as governor-elect, a set of questions that included the issue of the steady growth in the Rhode Island budget. The question was...

The combined state and municipal budgets for Rhode Island have grown steadily (adjusted for inflation) over the past 10 years, a period of time which includes September 11, 2001 and its immediate aftermath, the end-of-the-financial world as we knew it in 2008, and the relative lull (at least domestically) in between.

Is it by design or by accident that government has been growing as if on autopilot -- or would you disagree with that characterization entirely? Compared with 10 years ago, are Rhode Islanders getting more in return for their increased spending?

The answer at that time was...
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.

A Chance to Mend the Teachers' Health Insurance Board

Carroll Andrew Morse

A bill will come before the Rhode Island Senate Health and Human Services Committee today, S0483, that would if passed alter the mandate of the "Uniform Public School Employees' Health Care Benefits Program Committee" (aka the "Teachers' Health Insurance Board"). This board was created by the legislature two sessions ago over a veto by Governor Donald Carcieri and is comprised of representatives of private organizations -- no gubernatorial appointments or Senate confirmation involved -- who have been granted the power to create binding rules on local school committees for selecting teachers' health-insurance plans.

In case you are wondering which organizations participate in this board and whom they have selected as their representatives, the current membership is available on the Secretary of State's website in the minutes of the January meeting

Ned Draper, RIASBO, Business Managers
Ron Tarro, RIASBO, Business Managers
Larry Purtill, NEA, National Education Association
Bob Walsh, NEA, National Education Association
Bob O’Brien, RISSA, Superintendents
Mike Clarkin, RISSA, Superintendents
Ben Scungio, RIASC, School Committees’ Association
Cathy Kaiser, RIASC, School Committees’ Association
Frank Flynn, RIFT, RI Federation of Teachers
Jim Parisi, RIFT, RI Federation of Teachers
Ken DeLorenzo, Council 94
Donald Ianniazzi, LIUNA
It really puts a new spin the understanding of what union leaders mean when they advocate for "collective bargaining", when you can pretty clearly see through an example like this one that the goal is "collective bargaining, in the cases where we can't get outright legal authority to require the public to provide what we tell them to".

Three Democratic Senators, Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston), Frank DeVall (D-East Providence), and Louis DiPalma (D-Little Compton/Newport/Middletown/Tiverton) (not Senators thought of as members of the Michael Pinga caucus, by the way, which means the bill has support from more than the usual RI Senate stalwarts) have submitted a bill that would make the role of this board purely advisory, freeing school committees to exercise their independent judgment on behalf of their constituents, and protecting basic governing principles of separation-of-powers and that decisions involving expenditures of public money should made be by publicly-elected representatives.

We could have an interesting debate about what the proper term is for describing the form of government where leaders of a limited set of restricted-membership organizations get to make decisions that require public monies to be spent on their own restricted-membership organizations -- but it is not democracy, in any understanding of the term.

Let's pass S0483, and make this debate into a truly academic one.


National Education Association Assistant Exeuctive Director and Government Relations Specialist Patrick Crowley informs via the comments section that there is a consensus amongst his and other unions in favor of the legislation changing the Uniform Public School Employees' Health Care Benefits Program Committee to an advisory status only.

New Media Icon on Campus

Justin Katz

Undercover exposer of left-wing organizations — NPR most recently — James O'Keefe will be speaking to the Providence College Republicans, tonight at 7:30 in Moore Hall II. I'm not positive that I'll be able to make it, but I'm certainly going to try.

Thinning the Fuel Won't Create Efficiency

Justin Katz

My Patch column, this week, defines the target population of Rhode Island's recent and proposed tax changes and offers a brief economics lesson to suggest that the apparent strategy is perhaps not the best:

The consequence, overall, is that Rhode Islanders who've invested in property have seen local taxes climb inexorably. Last year, the real cost of those investments increased courtesy of the income tax change. Meanwhile, the tax bite resulting from their efforts to improve their financial positions broadened, and now they'll be rewarded for modest spending habits with a new sales tax targeting essentials. The harm is exacerbated if they've had the audacity to reproduce, thus creating larger families requiring more of life's basics.

In short, with Rhode Island's economic recovery barely detectable, and scarcely felt, the state is turning the screws on home-buying parents who are striving to build their futures. The tendency may satisfy special interests, by protecting government handouts and special deals, and it may comfort politicians, inasmuch as busy families are less able to be politically active, but it is economic suicide.

March 22, 2011

"It's Just Enough" vs a $3 Million Increase

Monique Chartier

They get it up north; in one corner of East Bay, not so much.

Last night, the Woonsocket City Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Fontaine's shift restructuring of the fire department in an effort to alleviate a seven figure overtime overage. From the Woonsocket Call.

The council voted 7-0 to roll the 124 members of the fire department into three platoons instead of the current four, with an average work week ballooning from 42 hours to 56. Instead of working two 10-hour days, followed by two 14-hour nights with four days off in between, firefighters would work endless loops of 24 hours on duty followed by two days off.

Clad in blue and red, some 45 firefighters packed the hall to protest the proposal, but nearly as many citizens — some affiliated with the Woonsocket Taxpayer Coalition, a local government watchdog group, cheered the council on.

“I'm not faulting the firemen — they do a great job,” said Steve Lima, the president of the group.
“But $1.2 million in overtime is unacceptable in any economy. We can't keep working our overtime to pay for them. It's just enough.”

Concurrently, a sub-committee of the Woonsocket School Committee is struggling mightily to find ways to close a budget gap opened up by a pending reduction in state aid.

Contrast with the work product of the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee last week.

Superintendent of Schools Melinda Thies presented the school committee’s approved budget proposal to the Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday evening, asking the towns to share a requested increase of $2,916,164 for the school budget that begins July 1. That’s a total request of $21.7 million from Bristol and $12.2 million from Warren.

In defending this $2.9 million increase to the budget in a time of shrinking revenues and a lousy economy, the school committee pointed out that they had made cuts and balanced the budget last year.

In his opening statement to an audience of 250 people, Mr. Barboza noted the school district’s positive end to last year’s budget. A $22,700 surplus and over $2 million in funds reserved for cash flow and emergencies, he said, is the result of “doing more with less.”

* * *

To achieve the surplus, Ms. Thies said the district has made sacrifices, including an administration pay freeze, accepting a 20 percent co-pay to keep medical premiums lower, and a reduction in full-time employees. These measures were taken in the past year while the district experienced “an uptick” in student enrollment, she said.

Question for the B-W School Committee: what do you see as the frequency of the obligation to balance a budget? Once a decade? Every five years? Or is this, like, a one shot deal and you're pretty much clear of the whole thing going forward?

To the Woonsocket Mayor, City Council and School Comm: Roses and our heartfelt thanks for all of your efforts.

To the Bristol Warren School Committee: Raspberries and a nice, spacious drawing board. The job is not nearly finished yet.

Some Long-View Considerations Regarding Libya

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. Some of the hawkish public affairs commentators could afford to calm down just a bit on the issue of Europe (France, in particular) leading the way on advocating for intervention in Libya, with the United States joining the effort later. You don't have to believe that the world should return to a rigid great-powers spheres-of-influence system, to believe that a primary role for Europe is appropriate regarding decisions about international action in North Africa.

2. American leaders need to be aware that an intervention strategy based predominately on air power is not without long-term risks. The perception of American weakness that helped to fuel the September 11 attacks was created, in part, by a belief that become common in the 1990s that the United States would not go beyond long range air-strikes when attacked. If Gadafi's regime survives a campaign that has incorporated US air power, and the US does nothing further, the credibility of the US deterrent shield takes the same kind of hit that it took in the 1990s.

3. It is almost tautological yet often forgotten that in nations where a leader basically is the government, the time when the leader is rapidly losing or has lost power is a time when major change will occur, whether it is designed or not. Those who fancy themselves to be "realists" need to understand that there is nothing "realistic" about a foreign policy that leaves the United States in a position unable to influence world events at the times and places where regimes are most susceptible to a broad range of influences on their future -- not all of them consistent with goals that are favorable to the US. This applies to Egypt as well.

4. President Obama should have obtained an authorization from Congress for the current action in Libya.

The Law of Honoring Thy Parents

Justin Katz

It seems to me that this, which I spotted in the no-longer-available-to-print-subscribers-online National Review "The Week" feature in the February 21 issue, likely misses most of the good things that an expectation of respect for one's parents can inculcate in a society:

Oldsters in today's China too often go neglected by their busy, ambitious children. ... China now has the world's third-highest elderly-suicide rate. What to do? Pass a law! The nation's Civil Affairs Ministry is pushing legislation that will require adult children to visit their elderly parents regularly. Unvisited parents will have a right to sue the kids.

Where the culture is inactive, I suppose, the law will invade. Operating under guilt at least requires an acknowledgment by progeny that they owe something to their progenitors. I'm not so sure that visits performed under threat of legal action will have the beneficial effects desired for the elderly, or their children.

At Least It's Being Considered

Justin Katz

The legislation has so little chance of coming anywhere close to enactment that proposing it is mainly theatrics, but it's definitely a show worth performing, if only to remind people that the process exists to make it happen:

[The bill by Rep. Joe Trillo (R, Warwick)] would rewrite the rulebook on negotiations with public-employee unions, limiting contracts to one year, limiting talks to the issue of wages, making all contract provisions "null and void" when a contract expires and requiring city or town council approval of contracts negotiated by school committees.

The bill would also end payments for unused sick time, bar unions from deducting dues from members' wages, require an employee to work at least 30 hours a week to receive health care and retirement benefits and put all new hires into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement system, like those common in the public sector.

Labor's choke-hold on Rhode Island has to be loosened, but for any catalyst to have a chance, it will have to be much more subtle. Of course, that means that, even if enacted, it would be much too slow.

Obama's Own Middle-East War

Marc Comtois

It's so obvious that we haven't even commented on it, really. Glen Reynolds calls attention to this by Niall Ferguson:

The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy. Hosni Mubarak, for so long an American ally, has been overthrown in Egypt. Muammar Gaddafi, the erstwhile sponsor of terrorism so foolishly rehabilitated by the West just four years ago, has—until now—lived to fight another day in Libya. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, another insurrection is being quelled with the help of Saudi Arabia—an American ally even more important than Libya.

Obama, a novice in foreign affairs, is a president without a strategy. Once a critic of American military intervention in the Middle East, once a skeptic about the chances of democratizing the region, he now finds himself with a poisoned chalice in each hand. In one there are the dregs of the last administration’s interventions: military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan that he is eager to wind down. In the other is a freshly poured draft of his own making...

When told to beware of schadenfreude for the sake of patriotism, Reynolds, who has been indulging in said Germanic thinking, notes:
Watching the people who savaged Bush and called his supporters warmongers and so on now faced with watching the Lightbringer doing basically the same thing, only less competently, is too good a pleasure to forego. Sorry. I hope that things will go well, but I agree with Niall Ferguson that Obama’s dithering has cost us. If we had elected a more competent President, we’d have fewer worries. But people got excited about Obama, and, well, this is what you get when you elect an inexperienced guy with no great interest — or any experience — in international relations.
So far, they're mostly just watching and not commenting. I guess this foreign policy stuff is kinda tough, after all.

ADDENDUM: Seven Questions For Liberals About Obama's Libyan War

Baby Steps to Good Government

Justin Katz

Don't get me wrong; it's great to see any movement toward improving the way the General Assembly does business, but it does seem like a deliberately slow, small-step process:

With the hold-for-further-study language still intact, the new rules ultimately passed by a vote of 63 to 5. Among the changes: House votes must be posted online, lawmakers cannot take up new bills after 11:30 p.m., and the House speaker must propose a plan to make audio recordings of all committee meetings.

The reporting is confusing, but I'm pretty sure the first sentence means that bills can still be held for further study. As for the deadline for new bills, well, 11:30 is still pretty late... and what about amendments. For its part, posting votes online is pretty obvious.

It's the audio thing that I find truly amazing. For less than $100 each, committee heads could be given digital voice recorders, which they could be required to run during committee meetings. After each meeting, they could hand the recorders off to staff, who within minutes could download the audio to a server and/or upload it to the Internet.

What is the basis for debating to vote to demand a plan to consider the possibility of requesting that committee meetings be recorded? All told, it would be less than $1,000 of technology and less than an hour of cumulative labor for all involved in preserving and posting the files.

March 21, 2011

Binding Arbitration for Municipal Employees

Carroll Andrew Morse

A second bill to be heard by the Labor committee tomorrow (H5700, h/t Mike Puyana) looks like an attempt to create binding arbitration for municipal employees who are not police officers, firefighters or teachers. There is a scattering changes made by this bill, but I believe this strikeout is the key one...

28-9.4-13. Appeal from decision. -- (a) The decision of the arbitrators shall be made public and shall be final and binding upon the municipal employees in the appropriate bargaining unit and their representative and the municipal employer on all matters. not involving the expenditure of money.
If I am reading this correctly, this would extend a binding arbitration provision that currently exists in Rhode Island law regarding non-financial matters concerning municipal employees to financial ones.

The Latest Proposed Government Privilege for Rhode Island's Unions

Carroll Andrew Morse

A bill (H5701) which would expressly give union contracts higher authority than local ordinances and city and town charters will be heard tomorrow by the House labor committee (h/t Mike Puyana)...

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, in the event of any conflict between the terms of a collective bargaining agreement between a public sector employer and a public sector employee organization and terms of any charter or ordinance of any city or town, the conflict shall be resolved in favor of the collective bargaining agreement.
Granting private, restricted-membership groups special privileges for overriding the decisions of elected governments is not compatible with the fundamental tenants of democracy.

Professor Jared Goldstein's Definition of Democracy Doesn't Include the Tea Party or James Madison

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Tea Party Movement is anti-democratic, avers Roger Williams University Law Professor Jared A. Goldstein in his working paper recently posted to the Social Sciences Research Network titled The Tea Party Movement and the Contradictions of Popular Originalism. In Section C of the paper, under the subheading of "The Tea Party Movement's Anti-Democratic Agenda", Professor Goldstein argues that "The Tea Party movement's constitutional agenda seeks to limit democratic power", that "Tea Party supporters complain that the people, acting through their electoral representatives, have created a variety of regulatory programs" and that "the Tea Party emphasizes that the people lack power to adopt such programs, regardless of their support by electoral majorities".

But Professor Goldstein relies on a narrow and extreme definition of democracy to develop his premise. Throughout the Anti-Democratic Agenda section, he casually conflates "the people" with the "Federal Government", not exploring or even acknowledging the concept that placing limits on what the Federal Government can enact is not identical to limiting what "the people" can enact. There are governmental functions that Tea Partiers object to the Federal government carrying out that they would consider wholly legitimate if enacted at lower levels of government -- and those lower levels are made up of "the people" too. Indeed, the idea that when "the people" loosely defined want something, then it must be delivered to them by the largest and most remote unit of government that they are a part of is an extreme conception of democracy that tends towards the latter end of the scale of modern governmental forms summarized concisely by the French political sociologist Raymond Aron: "representative governments restrained by the balance of power and so-called democratic governments invoking the will of the people but rejecting all limits to their authority" (though Professor Goldstein would obviously believe that governments with expansive powers can invoke the will of the people without becoming "so-called" democracies).

Less parsimoniously, in his magnum opus on democratic theory Democracy and Its Critics, the American political scientist Robert Dahl employed a dialog between (fictional) advocates of the ideas of James Madison and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose differing ideas about government and democracy form the basis of the two poles described by Aron, to work through the question of how to maintain a governing system that stays true to democratic ideals of participation while preventing individuals living in a society the size of the modern nation-state from being totally subsumed into meaninglessness. The Madisonian solution, i.e. federalism, is to divide governmental authority between different governing units of different scales, allowing citizens to deal with their common concerns within the smallest, most intimate governing unit suited to a task. This system reinforces a foundational principle of democracy that is as important as the idea of majority rule, that every citizen should have meaningful influence on the government decisions that most directly impact his or her life.

Rousseau viewed things differently, believing that the existence of more than single center of government power would ultimately only confuse the citizenry. But the views associated with his thoughts do not singularly define democracy. There is nothing essential to the idea of democracy that requires that a single unit of government be absolutely supreme in all areas of civic and political life, or that larger units of government be able to assume all of the powers of smaller ones. And unless James Madison is to be ejected from the democratic tradition (over the objections of the likes of some serious political thinkers like Robert Dahl and Raymond Aron), there is nothing inherently undemocratic about the Tea Party advocating for American-style federalism and its division of legitimate government authority between different levels of government.

Watching the Wheels Go Fruitlessly Around

Justin Katz

Is it me, or does neither Allan Tear's list of necessary attributes to grow RI's economy nor the differently emphasized suggestions of John Simmons leave much room for optimism? Here's Tear's list, with my brief thoughts:

  • "Access to talent." It's long been known among RI's young that they must leave the state to find opportunity.
  • "Quality and costs associated with public education." We were making some advances in this area, but our new governor was in some sense elected to end them, and he appears to be complying with that mandate.
  • "Personal taxes." The last fiscal year ended with a bit of reshuffling that disguised the fact that Rhode Island's been backsliding on income tax reform for several years.
  • "Effective government." No comment necessary.
  • "Indirect costs, known as the 'hassle factor'." I'd characterize this as one of Rhode Island's specialities (in a bad way), particularly in the way the government spreads around bureaucracy so as create pools of political power.

Simmons is a bit more traditionalist in the list of things that RI does badly:

John Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, rattled off Rhode Island's rankings: 44th by the Tax Foundation; 45th by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council; 49th by CNBC; 50th by Forbes, which another presenter said had moved the state up to 49th in its most recent ranking; and 39th by Chief Executive Magazine. The business-backed RIPEC monitors government spending.

Those rankings take into account property taxes, unemployment taxes, a state’s regulatory environment, economic climate and transportation, Simmons said. However, Tear said the traditional barriers to doing business here --- energy and labor costs, site availability and permitting --- aren't barriers for the kinds of businesses he's helping grow.

Rhode Island's only hope for real recovery is for the economy to grow so healthily across the rest of the country that our little backwater can't do otherwise than follow it. Unfortunately (though predictably), national policies aren't conducive to healthy growth of anything but government, and (less predictably) international events are ensuring that there's very little margin for economic error.

March 20, 2011

From "Excellent Financial Condition" to Receivership-Ready in Three Short Months: Mayor Cicilline, Is it Possible that you Lied About and Covered Up the Financial Condition of Providence?

Monique Chartier

In predictable fashion, PolitiFarce has jumped into the matter of David Cicilline's self-serving, gross misstatements about Providence's financial condition by examining the former mayor's statement about a minor, tangential matter. (With this approach to current events coverage, if a dragon were laying waste to a town, the news team would rush in and provide extensive coverage of the iguana that was messing around in a local's garden.)

Providence's bonds have been downgraded, by Moodys a couple of days ago, and now by Fitch (accompanied by some pretty serious comments). The city's fiscal condition is such that it qualifies for receivership under Rhode Island law.

Representations made by then-Mayor Cicilline as to the city's financial condition, however, painted a markedly different picture - quite a rosy one, in fact. For the sake of PolitiFarce, we present his characterizations on October 29 during the Channel 10 debate with John Loughlin (emphasis added).

Loughlin: ...and I think that you need to come clean you need to level with us and let us know what the condition of your city is…

Cicilline: Representative Loughlin….

Loughlin: Before you start thinking about going to Washington and spending more taxpayers money.

Cicilline: Representative Loughlin, you have made the reckless claim repeatedly…

Loughlin: No, your own internal auditor made that claim.

Cicilline: Let me be very clear…

Rappleye: (Interrupting)

Loughlin: The City of Providence is broke and you know it …

Cicilline: The City of Providence has earned an ‘A’ rating from its agencies which are not, you know political campaigns, but are done by professionals externally on the city’s financial condition. I’m very proud of that. The city is in excellent financial condition and the suggestion by the city council auditor that was condemned by the President of the City Council as reckless and false. Representative Loughlin knows that.

Loughlin: Then why won’t you give him the data? Why? He had to file a freedom of information act!

Here's the point that PolitiFarce seems determined to miss and the former mayor is hoping will be overlooked. The SEC is currently reviewing Rhode Island's bond offering statements

to determine whether the state adequately disclosed the precarious condition of its pension system.

Statements by the former mayor, in fact, go beyond inadequate disclosure (i.e., the level that attracts SEC scrutiny) and enter the realm of deliberate misrepresentation. Doesn't this get dangerously close to a breach of fiduciary responsibility and, therefore, to criminality?

March 19, 2011

Ken McKay Elected GOP Chair; Frias, Buongiovanni, Lund and Holmes Win the Other Leadership Positions

Carroll Andrew Morse

Will all-things-Republican Ricci has posted the official results from today's RI GOP Statewide convention on his Facebook page...

I'm back from the quickest and least contentious RI Republican Party Convention, I think ever. Congratulations to our all new party leadership team, led by our new RIGOP Chairman Ken McKay, 1st Vice-Chair Steve Frias, 2nd Vice-Chair Brian Buongiovanni, Secretary Ryan Lund, and Treasurer Barbara Holmes!
Chip Young of GoLocalProv notes that Patrick Sweeney voluntarily agreed to step aside in the Chairman's race, allowing McKay to win the post uncontested.

Believe it or Not, Mister Hinckley is Running For Senate...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan McGowan at GoLocalProv has the initial scoop on a potential Republican challenger to Rhode Island junior Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Benjamin “Barry” Hinckley (who, as McGowan notes, has already got his campaign website up).

A quick rundown of Banjamin Hinckley's issue positions, based on the bio on his website, is that he favors repeal of Obamacare, favors reducing government spending by "by eliminating earmarks, cutting all redundant programs, and fighting for a constitutionally-sound Balanced Budget Amendment", favors tax-code reform, and that he believes something ambiguous about Social Security, that "the federal government must stop looting the Social Security Trust Fund and treating it like its own personal petty cash drawer...our citizens contribute much of their hard earned income to Social Security and those funds deserve to be respected and used for their intended purpose". Richard C. Dujardin of the Projo adds a couple of liberal positions on social issues, support for gay marriage and for the right to abortion.

McGowan also notes that the two Federal candidates that Mr. Hinckley has contributed to in recent election cycles are Scott Brown (good, from a Republican perspective) and Kristen Gillibrand (huh?).

March 18, 2011

A Frivolous Post About Getting Older and Bone Structure

Justin Katz

I've noticed that I haven't contributed to the "On a Lighter Note" category in a while, so here's something: Upon confirming, once again, the beneficial qualities of beer, I've shifted the beneficent beverage into the grocery category of my household budget and, with an adjustment here and there, have managed to open up space for its purchase.

On my way home, this afternoon, I picked up my current preference, a Tröegs variety 12-pack, and I was carded... again. Distributors of alcohol check my identification with some frequency, which (being just about 36) strikes me as odd.

So here's my question: is this common? Could I really pass as a 20-year-old if I wanted? Or is this a common experience among people my age?

It makes me wonder who else might be in my "boyish demeanor" category of facial structure. Perhaps Matt Allen (pictured at the top of the page).

Studying Chafee Budget: Moving FTEs Around

Marc Comtois

I start with a chart. A chart of the Full-Time Equivalent positions (FTEs) in the major departments of Rhode Island government from 2009 thru Governor Chafee's 2012 Budget Proposal. I've also included some specific sub-departments if I thought they warranted particular scrutiny. The major departments are bolded while the sub's are regular font.

2009201020112012Chafee ChangeChange 09-12
General Gov't2,308.302,409.802,480.302,259.30-221.00-49.00
Labor and Training395.30514.40512.20470.20-42.0074.90
Governor Office39.0044.0045.0045.000.006.00
Human Services3,474.103,368.503,645.203,651.706.50177.60
Veterans Affairs---268.20268.20268.20
Off. HHS85.1052.9077.60149.0071.4063.90
Human Services884.60919.70988.20674.00-314.20-210.60
Elementary Ed311.40315.80348.40348.400.0037.00
Higher Ed3,395.003,342.203,432.103,449.6017.5054.60
Public Safety2,971.502,951.803,006.603,186.60180.00215.10
Public Safety396.10418.60423.20603.20180.00207.10
Natural Resources445.00438.50446.00446.000.001.00
Total Non-sponsored13,689.9013,653.1014,222.6014,205.60-17.00515.70

There are a couple notes in the Budget:

(1) In FY 2010 Fire Code Board was moved to Department of Administration.
(2) Agencies merged with Department of Public Safety include State Police, Fire Marshal, E-911 Emergency Telephone System, Municipal Police Training Academy,Capitol Police, and the Governor’s Justice Commission.
Obviously, while it looks like Governor Chafee is cutting 17 positions, overall, the number of Non-Sponsored (ie; no Federal subsidization--the state is on the hook) state government is still up 515.7 FTEs since 2009! Further, while we see big cuts in some departments and big increases in others, the reality is that the Governor is mostly just moving people around, which is part of his consolidation effort that is supposed to save money. Let's take a closer look at that.

180 Sheriff Department positions moved from Dep't Admin to Public Safety. A review of the budget shows that the 2011 expenditure is basically being carried over to 2012, although in a different spot. (It's hard to tell exactly as they merged the benefits, OT, etc. with Capitol Police in the accounting). Essentially, the Chafee Administration has simply moved 180 jobs and $15 million from one spot to another.

With the creation of a new Veterans Administration Department, there was an increase of 229.2 FTE's (when the VA was under Human Services) to 268.2 FTEs, for a net increase of 39 jobs added. While under HHS, the VA cost $23,598,637. With the move to its own department, the Chafee budget has expenditures at $23,065,489 for a savings of $533,148 (even with adding jobs). Interesting and, well, color me skeptical.

Finally, there were 81 Positions removed from Health Care Quality, Financing, Purchasing with 71 of those moving to the Office of Health and Human Services for a savings of $2,621,534 (Finally!).

As for real cuts, the Department of Labor and Training saw a cut of 42 FTEs, all from the Workforce Development office. Interestingly enough, though, the cost per FTE actually goes up. The total FTEs in 2011 for the Office was 177.5 at a cost of $13,657,808 or $76,945 per FTE (salary + benefits). The 2012 FTE total is 143.0 at a cost of $13,181,920 or $92,181 per FTE. Sounds like a lot of cuts on the bottom and not so much off the top.

Alternatively, for the DCYF FTE reductions, they are actually "Program Reductions" (ie; no specific FTE reduction is outlined) split between Juvenile Correctional Services and Child Welfare. I believe this is anticipated reduction via natural attrition; otherwise known as "crossing your fingers". Even with these reductions, the overall cost for 2012 over 2011 for DCYF FTEs is $1.5 million.

Basically, going by just the FTEs, there has been no savings: 17 FTE cuts aren't enough. The larger point that needs to be hammered home is that Rhode Island government has created over 500 new positions in just the last 3 years! That includes what I believe are 6 high-level (read: high cost) positions in the Governor's Office (put there under Governor Carcieri). Governor Chafee's answer is to offer more taxes instead of cutting positions that we didn't need 3 years ago.

ADDENDUM: One area where there are actual job cuts is in the Department of Labor and Training, where 42 positions are being cut. As Andrew noted in the comments, however, those jobs were probably directly funded by Federal stimulus money. In other words, these are cuts forced upon the Chafee administration because Federal funding is going away.

Overall, even after taking away the 42 jobs as proposed by Governor Chafee, there have been 75 jobs created in the DLT since 2009 and a concomitant increase in the budget. Perhaps, whenever the Federal Stimulus money dries up, those last 75 positions will also be reduced out of necessity, not out of any proactive motive on the Governor's part.

SOURCE: Individual department personnel supplements can be found here.

Covering Criticism of the Governor

Justin Katz

It's almost humorous. The Providence Journal's PolitiFact team couldn't do otherwise than find that Lincoln Chafee broke his campaign promise not to raise taxes without first relieving the burden of state mandates on cities and towns. As if to counter that affront to media darling, on the same page, they declared that he kept his promise to seek a two-tiered sales tax.

From a certain point of view, I suppose that is a promise kept, but as I've pointed out before, the supposed fact checkers slant the results by picking which part (or variation) of a statement they examine for truth. In that context, consider even this part of their explanation:

Chafee said then that state leaders should carefully examine the possibility of a two-tiered sales tax that would continue the 7-percent tax on many items and charge a 1-percent sales tax on the long list of exempt items that, according to a 2008 Division of Taxation study, account for more than $625.6 million in potential state revenue.

If all the exempt items were taxed at 1 percent, Chafee said, the state could raise an additional $89.4 million in revenue.

What Chafee has actually suggested is to apply 6% to to some exempt items and 1% to others, thereby raising about double the taxes that he initially sought. At the very least, that's a promise half-kept, but from my perspective, it constitutes a full break.

One Bad Tax Plan Shouldn't be Replaced by Another

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports that there is a bill in the RI House proposing an alternative to Governor Chafee's 6%/1% "lower and broaden" tax policy. Let's call it "promise to lower and broaden":

The bill, cosponsored by Representatives Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, Samuel Azzinaro, D-Westerly, Scott Slater, D-Providence, and Peter Palumbo, D-Cranston, would also add the equivalent of a dorm tax on the rental charges for student and teacher housing at the state’s educational institutions.

The way the bill is drafted, many of these exemptions would go away as soon as the bill passed, but the sales-tax rate would remain at 7 percent until July 1, 2012, Monica S. Staaf, legal counsel for the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, told the House committee.

She's entirely correct. According to the revised text offered in H5740 (PDF):
provided, further, that for the period commencing July 1, 2012, the tax is six percent (6%); and provided, further, that for the period commencing July 1, 2013, the tax rate is five percent (5%); and provided, further, that for the period commencing July 1, 2014, the tax rate is four percent (4%); and provided, further, that for the period commencing July 1, 2015, the tax rate is three percent (3%).
Let's say, come May 2012, it's realized that the tax revenue just isn't coming in and before you know it, the reduction plan is "frozen" until such time as it is decided that the state can "afford" to implement it. Could never happen, right? The basic rule being that promised tax cuts are ephemeral while temporary tax hikes are permanent. Regardless, both ideas result in more taxation, not less, thanks to the "broadening." These aren't so-called revenue neutral plans, after all. They're meant to raise"revenue" instead of shrink government spending.

Everybody's Representative?

Justin Katz

It doesn't quite rise to the level of Whitehousian attack, but RI House Representative John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) does give a tax reformer reason to wonder how evenly his representation applies:

"There is a loophole in that law that some groups have been employing to avoid reporting campaign activities around a Financial Town Meeting," he said. "This legislation will close that loophole."

Edwards said Tiverton Citizens for Change spent campaign funds on "robocalls" and sent cards in the mail to residents, campaigning for particular positions at the Financial Town Meeting.

"Then, when we went to check their campaign finance report, they did not file it," Edwards said. "They did not file the work they did at the FTM. The campaign finance laws are pretty clear, and I was surprised a PAC was able to float the law."

To understand the nature of the wicked "loophole," one must consider the clear law; I've italicized the parts that the sneaky residents leveraged in order to work their evil machinations:

(1) "Election" means the filling of any public office or the determination of any public question by vote of the electorate, and includes without limitation any state, town, or city office or question, and any political party primary election for the nomination of any candidate for public office; except that it shall not include a financial town meeting or a meeting to elect officers of a fire, water, or sewer district; ...

(6) "Local election" means any election limited to the electorate of any city or town, or any part, at which any city, town, ward, or district officers are to be chosen, or any elective meeting at which a question is to be submitted to the voters of a city, town, or any subdivision of a city or town, but it shall not include a financial town meeting;

Look, if Edwards doesn't believe previous legislators acted appropriately in explicitly excepting financial town meetings from the definition of "elections," then he should by all means submit legislation to change the law. But he shouldn't pretend that one group alone has been so sneaky as to follow the law.

How can residents trust his leadership when his rhetoric as an elected official is indistinguishable from the rhetoric of local partisans? Note especially the statement that "we went to check their campaign finance report." By "we," does he mean the General Assembly? No, he means the local Democrat Town Committee, and it's not unreasonable to feel as if that's whom he ultimately represents.

March 17, 2011

Latest Court Activity in the John Leidecker Cases (Yes, Cases)

Monique Chartier

Clicking on this RI Judiciary link ("Adult Criminal Information Database"), choosing "Search by Defendant Name/Business Name", clicking "Accept" at the bottom and then entering "Leidecker" in the "LAST NAME" field brings up two files/cases, both pertaining to John Leidecker. (Mr. Leidecker was arrested in late November and charged with a misdemeanor for allegedly impersonating former state Rep. Douglas Gablinske via e-mail.)

The second link indicates a charge of "USE OF FALSE INFORMATION/MISD" and that the arresting agency was the Rhode Island State Police Detectives. Below are the most recent entries; however at the top, under "Disposition / Date", it states


So the charges brought by the State Police were dismissed?

23-February-2011: CONTINUED FOR FURTHER HEARING (latest of three continuances - possibly in an effort to let public attention cool down?)

09-March-2011: CASE DISPOSED


09-March-2011: Charge, Disposition Changes


By the way, does anyone know what the "3rd Division" is?

But what about the first file/case? This case indicates that Mr. Leidecker has been charged with "Cyberstalking", that the arresting agency was the Bristol Police Department and that a pre-trial conference has been set for 06-APR-2011 in the 6th District Court. This link contais five entries, all dated 09-March-2011:






No attorney has yet entered an appearance on behalf of Mr. Leidecker in this case.

As for the second file/case, why was the charge of "Use of False Information" dismissed and who made that call? The use of false information seemed pretty self evident in this matter.

Regarding the first file/case, currently pending, whom has Mr. Leidecker allegedly been "cyberstalking"?


Max Diesel and Brassband provide some answers and helpful information.


3rd Division is a division of the District Court located at the Kent County Court House on Quaker Lane. Unlike local police departments, the State Police use the AG's Office to prosecute all their cases. There could be many reasons why the case was dismissed but sometimes if two agencies file charges resulting from the same incident, sometimes they just role with the better case even if the charges aren't the same.


Criminal case files are public record. Anyone who goes to the 6th Div. clerk's office (2d floor, Garrahy Courthouse)and asks for the file by docket number should be able to get a look at the file.

The file would contain a copy of the complaint and might or might not identify the victim.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Marc Comtois

A beautiful St. Patrick's Day! My girls are Irish Step Dancers and they (and their Mom) have had a busy few days springing and jigging across the state (their "tour" essentially concludes with the Providence St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday).

In the spirit of the day, here is Rhode Island's own Tom Lanigan Band playing "Slow and Right" (wink wink).

For myself, though I'm mostly French-Canadian, I'm also Irish-Canadian, with an Irish Grandmother a couple generations back who made her way from Kilrush in County Clare to Quebec during the Potato Famine.

Regardless if you have any Irish or not, may you all step high on this fine day!

Patrick Kennedy: Brain Man of Brown

Marc Comtois

(H/T Ian D.) Well, it is something he knows about....

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy has a new title- visiting fellow at Brown University's Institute for Brain Science. He'll be spending his time advocating for advancements in the field of traumatic brain injury....Kennedy will deliver two lectures on the Brown campus during each year of his [two year] fellowship. He says the details of his day to day work are still being defined.
Bwahhahaha! "day to day work"? Right. Looks like Kennedy will be paid a nice little stipend for two 10 minute, stream-of-consciousness rambles. Regardless, it was nice of them to tell him he was a lecturer and not an exhibit.

The Governor's Faith That You Don't Matter

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting tidbit from Ed Achorn:

I asked Governor Chafee last week whether he, or anyone in his administration, had done an analysis of the number of jobs that his tax hikes would cost the state, since many financially stressed Rhode Islanders would respond by traveling the short distance to neighboring states for goods and services.

After three rounds of spin by Mr. Chafee and his aides, I finally got the governor's answer on the fourth try:


The loss of such private-sector jobs seem to be of little concern.

To take the charitable view, it might just be that Chafee and his administration lack the competence to ask and answer such difficult questions. It's much easier to simply calculate a tax as if it will have no effect on the behavior being taxed. One would think, though, that some effort might have been made to figure out what incentives would be created by the new taxes and what ripples would therefore be likely.

Be that as it may, government budgeting isn't ultimately a matter of predicting revenue and planning expenses on its basis. Rather, it's ultimately a matter of making the books appear balanced to conform with the law and adjusting later when financial reality gives the politicians excuses to act. In the case of the current governor, it seems likely that, when revenue doesn't increase as much as he expects and when his meager and vague cuts and efficiencies don't produce the predicted savings, he'll seek to increase taxation yet again. More of that shared sacrifice... meaning that taxpayers share the sacrifice among themselves to support government.

Fifth Highest State & Local Tax Burden: The Sacrifice isn't Really Shared If One Party Is Already Disproportionately "Sharing"

Monique Chartier

With difficulty, I'm going to disregard the spectacle of the governor attempting to sell his proposed $176 million sales tax hike as a remake of Rhode Island into a "tax haven" and just focus on one critical data point.

Governor Chafee has balanced his proposed budget with, on the one hand, suggested "cuts" that seem quite ethereal at this point and, on the other, a grimly real revenue stream that would represent "one of the biggest tax increases in state history".

He describes this budget as "shared sacrifice". This characterization contains a fatal premise: that the pre-existing budget burden or level of sacrifice is equal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rhode Island has the fifth highest state and local tax burden. Any addition - even one item, never mind the nightmare list proposed by the governor - to the state sales tax rolls would only exacerbate the already high level of sacrifice on one side.

Sacrifice Starting from Unequal Footing

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt talked taxes and sacrifice on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 16, 2011

Providence Now Eligible for State Takeover and Suspension of Municipal Democracy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Barbara Polichetti of the Projo is reporting that Moody's has downgraded the City of Providence's bond rating. Combined with the budget deficits projected for this year and next, this means that the City of Providence now meets the conditions for state intervention specified in the"fiscal stabilization law" passed last year, ranging from the creation of a budget commission, to takeover by a receiver.

Debating Blackness: Duke and the Fab Five

Marc Comtois

Back in the '90's, when given the choice, I preferred Duke (though I wasn't exactly a "fan") to the much-hyped Fab Five of Michigan (who actually won, well, nothing and lost 3 out of 3 to the same Duke Blue Devils). Duke had a bunch of white guys who seemed sorta privileged (and won...always it seemed) while the Fab 5 had all that sizzle and swagger--and no results. In truth, to most fans of other teams, we couldn't really abide either bunch. Sore losers and all that.

Recently, the Fab Five had one of their own ESPN documentaries (produced by Jalen Rose, who was one of the Fab5 and works for ESPN). In the documentary, Jalen Rose said:

For me, Duke was personal. I hated Duke. And I hated everything I felt Duke stood for. Schools like Duke didn’t recruit players like me. I felt like they only recruited black players that were Uncle Toms.
Rose continues to stand by his comments. Understandably, this caused some outrage, particularly amongst Duke's African-American players, such as Grant Hill who has responded to Rose.
In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.

I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.

This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.

Columnist Jason Reed provides further context, mentioning the part of Chris Rock's 1996 "N*****s versus Black People" bit that mentions education:
Comedian Chris Rock tackled the sensitive issue in his groundbreaking 1996 HBO television special, “Chris Rock: Bring the Pain.” In it, Rock does a bit about how some blacks have more respect for people who return home from prison than those who earn master’s degrees.

Obviously, Rock was using hyperbole to get laughs. But he made a valid point about the need for greater emphasis on academic achievement in some segments of black society....But this is about more than Rose’s inaccurate generalization, which he could not possibly support without knowing the background of every African-American player Krzyzewski has recruited during his more than three decades at the school. Rose’s comments stirred thought on a much bigger issue: What constitutes a “true” black experience?

Reed also pulls from his personal experience.
I’m happy my son and daughter live in a two-parent home and that we’re able to provide for them. I take comfort in knowing I have a partner who shares my views on the educational foundation we’re laying for our kids together.

I don’t think that makes me any “less black,” though, than I was when I watched in amazement at how hard my mom worked as a single parent to send three sons to college. I still feel as black as I did when I lived next door to abandoned buildings and held my brothers at night when they were scared by gunfire.

My children won’t have those experiences. But to imply that because of that, their racial identity is somehow compromised is insulting — not only to them but to all of us who know how our skin color has shaped our lives.

A Lesson for the Town's Educators (and Parents)

Justin Katz

Not surprisingly, a majority of Little Compton parents would prefer to keep the town's students flowing through one of the state's best high schools, in Portsmouth, rather than move them over to Tiverton's facility right next door. I've explained why I would feel the same, were I among them, but the number of reasons that the parents gave makes for a stunning rebuke to Tiverton and its leadership:

Some factors favoring Portsmouth are its 13 Advanced Placement classes. Middletown has 11 and Tiverton has nine, respectively. Portsmouth also offers 74 extracurricular activities and sports. Middletown offers 28 and Tiverton offers 22, respectively.

Portsmouth scored 70 percent proficient on their New England Common Assessments Program tests. Middletown scored 69 percent proficient and Tiverton score 63 percent proficient, respectively.

For the 2012-13 tuition, Portsmouth offered Little Compton $9,000, while Middletown offered $9,602. Crowley said Tiverton could not provide a cost, but instead, a range of $14,187 to $15,954. For the 115 slated pupils to attend high school during that first year, with tuition at a 3 percent annual increase, Portsmouth was the lowest. Middletown's would have increased approximately $69,000 and Tiverton’s approximately $596,000. ...

Another parent said one can’t ignore Tiverton High School's 827 suspensions, while Middletown has 252 and Portsmouth has 85.

Perhaps most stinging is the impression of one Little Compton School Committee member that Tiverton High School, alone among the three, lacks a "sense of community."

Joining the most limited offerings with the highest price (by far) is not a winning combination. One wonders why Tiverton tolerates that which Little Compton looks likely to decline to accept. Yet, scarcely a word can be heard or read from Tiverton parents demanding better results from the town's public schools.

Drug Dealer... Not a Stretch for Rhode Island

Justin Katz

I've admitted before that I'm more or less ambivalent about the legality of marijuana, but as usual, Rhode Island's method of operations layers in an unseemly and suspicious twist to the process:

All told, that's $3.5 million in new tax revenue over two years. The Health Department is expected to announce on Tuesday the names of operators for up to three dispensaries. They will be chosen from a list of 18 applications. ...

The future of the state's caregiver system is unclear. Last month, two bills were introduced in the General Assembly that would require all medicinal marijuana to be grown and sold through dispensaries — a move that would for all intents and purposes end the caregiver program.

To put some totals on this sequence of legislation, the governor is expecting medical marijuana to be a $60 million business in Rhode Island, and the General Assembly may make the law of the land such that all the money filters through three entities hand-picked by the state. That's an instant $20 million business facilitated by the Department of Health. Looks like another instance of corruption by design, in Rhode Island.

If Rhode Island is to shift this slice of the illegal drug industry into the legal category, it should follow either the pharmacy model (if the pretense of medical benefit is to be maintained) or the liquor store model. Making the State House a den of pot kingpins is not the way to go.

(The applications submitted by the three newly selected dispensaries are linked here. There are no names as blatantly indicative of inside dealings as, say, Bill Lynch's, but that's hardly a mitigating factor when the potential for corruption is baked into the legal regime.)

The Prayer and the Regent

Justin Katz

My patch column, this week, joins two topics related to education in Rhode Island:

The connection is indirect, to be sure, but the controversy over an old prayer banner in Cranston High School West brings to mind the Chafee administration - and not (only) because Rhode Island's new governor has me so worried that I think a school-system-wide prayer initiative might be beneficial.

Rather, what connects the items, in my mind, is an aspect of newly confirmed Board of Regents Chairman George Caruolo's not-so-surprising hesitance to embrace the reforms that Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist has been pursuing with such zest.

March 15, 2011

The Providence Substitute Situation and Demanding Negotiations to Correct a Mistake

Carroll Andrew Morse

Justin's post from yesterday mentioned that Providence Mayor Angel Tavares' decision to send dismissal notices to all current Providence teachers relates directly to the cost of substitutes. According to data available from the Rhode Island Department of Education website, Mayor Tavares has picked a reasonable area for reform, as the per-pupil costs of substitute teachers in Providence have for the past decade been significantly above the state average…

YearProv. Per-Pupil
Substitute Teacher Costs
Rest-of-RI Per-Pupil
Substitute Teacher Costs

In terms of total dollars, this amounts to between about $6 million and $9 million more being spent by Providence per-year than would be, if substitute costs were at state average…

Year Prov/RI Difference in
Substitute Teacher Costs
Number of
Providence Students
Annual Prov. Cost
Above State Average

Putting things into a budgetary perspective, if Providence's substitute costs had been reformed in the first year of the Cicilline administration (humor me here) and brought into line with the state average, and all other school costs were held equal, the Providence education budget could have been expanded from its FY2003 level to its FY2009 level (the last year for which data is available) with less-than-1% annual increases.

This problem is more than just fiscal. Paying two to three times the state average for substitute teachers is not an "inefficiency"; it is a mistake. It makes public services more costly without doing anything to improve their quality. A school administration shouldn't have to "give something back" in order to correct an outright error that provides no value and only costs to the public.

There can be little doubt that the repeated drawing of lines in the sand by union leaders, behind which everything about a job intransigently is placed -- including practices that in no way serve the public interest -- has contributed greatly to Mayor Tavares' decision to send dismissal notices to the entire Providence faculty. His drastic, across-the-board action is no less likely to bring about change than would an effort to get union cooperation on an isolated issue, where a union is inclined to protect its economic benefits, despite no one else benefitting in any way from the current situation.

In theory, it doesn’t have to be this way. Public-sector unions could realize that their special position within government monopoly systems for delivering public services entails some responsibility for considering the public interest when determining acceptable "negotiating" goals, and that certain options that lack discernable public value need to be closed off. But I don't know that this theory will ever match up to reality.

Stephen Beale has more information on substitute teaching policies in Providence, at GoLocalProv.

Funding Formula: Dollars per Student

Marc Comtois

New Warwick School Committee member Eugene Nadeau has been quoted in the ProJo and stated this morning on the WPRO Morning News that he is against the new School Funding formula:

Eugene Nadeau, a member of the Warwick School Committee, said the formula is a “sweetheart deal” for Providence, which he said will receive five times as much aid as his school district.

“We have to subsidize the Pawtuckets and the Providences,” he told about 30 colleagues from around the state. “We’re being short-changed. It’s an abomination.”

Based on the latest information I could gather from various sources, here is the per pupil state subsidy for Rhode Island public school students using the new formula:

DistrictTotal StudentsFY 2012 FundingPer Student
Central Falls2848$41,811,218 $14,680.91
Providence23573$182,710,182 $7,750.82
Woonsocket6110$44,999,994 $7,364.97
Pawtucket8886$63,214,367 $7,113.93
West Warwick3520$19,047,703 $5,411.28
Bristol Warren3474$18,410,883 $5,299.62
Burrillville2460$12,590,521 $5,118.10
Newport2037$10,231,545 $5,022.85
Glocester584$2,874,344 $4,921.82
Foster274$1,236,720 $4,513.58
East Providence5638$24,725,686 $4,385.54
Foster-Glocester1296$5,374,297 $4,146.83
Chariho3528$13,705,701 $3,884.84
North Providence3278$12,163,986 $3,710.79
Middletown2407$8,867,743 $3,684.15
Exeter-West Greenwich1805$6,599,824 $3,656.41
Coventry5311$18,623,507 $3,506.59
Warwick10261$33,718,511 $3,286.08
Johnston3083$10,033,085 $3,254.33
Cranston10738$33,589,074 $3,128.06
Tiverton1906$5,201,024 $2,728.76
Cumberland4846$12,654,496 $2,611.33
North Smithfield1764$4,551,639 $2,580.29
South Kingstown3527$8,579,666 $2,432.57
North Kingstown4409$10,710,031 $2,429.13
Lincoln3301$6,795,044 $2,058.48
Smithfield2467$4,812,133 $1,950.60
Westerly3098$5,975,377 $1,928.79
Scituate1628$3,081,712 $1,892.94
Portsmouth2796$5,132,335 $1,835.60
Narragansett1479$1,457,333 $985.35
Little Compton309$275,529 $891.68
Jamestown492$382,657 $777.76
Barrington3498$2,467,090 $705.29
East Greenwich2398$1,436,872 $599.20
New Shoreham128$65,960 $515.31

Here is the per student subsidy for Charter schools:

DistrictTotal StudentsFY 2012 FundingPer Student
Trinity34$708,398 $20,835.24
Met School650$12,027,542 $18,503.91
Davies C&T 816$13,960,522 $17,108.48
Blackstone Valley256$3,849,492 $15,037.08
Segue Institute140$1,746,233 $12,473.09
Times 2 Academy650$6,981,187 $10,740.29
Learning Community471$5,054,820 $10,732.10
Textron213$2,271,088 $10,662.38
Paul Cuffee559$5,904,155 $10,561.99
Blackstone164$1,589,968 $9,694.93
Highlander282$2,682,140 $9,511.13
International312$2,934,630 $9,405.87
Beacon224$1,880,544 $8,395.29
Greene School81$654,585 $8,081.30
NE Laborers218$1,728,789 $7,930.22
Kingston Hill179$727,305 $4,063.16
Compass153$616,322 $4,028.25

The state has different obligations (ie; basically foots the entire bill) for some charter schools and, for instance, Central Falls, largely because the formula takes into account a variety of factors related to the economic makeup of the district/student population (PowerPoint).

SOURCES: Providence Journal Funding Formula Chart, RIDE Statistics, Schoolfinder at (Textron and Times 2 student population), (NE Laborers Academy student population).

The Tax List

Justin Katz

Perusing the list of items that Governor Chafee wishes to move from tax-exempt to taxable, I came across this peculiar item, sure to help grow the economy:

Employment agency services

Sure, employment agencies are arguably unnecessary middlemen in employment chain, but they're a halfway step for businesses looking to ease into hiring. And they're now going to have to add 6% to the cost of the transaction or just absorb it.

I also like this item, on the 1% list:

Transfers or sales made to immediate family members

Don't forget to file the appropriate form Ma and Pa! Uncle Linc is watching.

State Labor Board: Prosecutor and Judge (twice)

Marc Comtois

I guess I'm not as up on the workings of the State Labor Board as I should be. I was unaware that the State Labor Board could "issue a complaint" against someone, then hold a hearing to determine if that same complaint was valid in the first place.

The state Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist for “creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation” at the state Department of Education during the tumult in Central Falls last year. The board is holding a hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday at its Cranston headquarters....After an investigation that included testimony from both sides, the Labor Relations Board issued its complaint in January....Both sides will be asked to testify under oath Tuesday.

After the hearing, the state Labor Relations Board will determine if the complaint should be upheld or dismissed at the next board meeting.

This sounds like a process problem or, dare I say, inefficiency, to say the least. Basically, regardless of the merits of the complaint, is it really the most efficient (not to say unfair) system that has the same individuals hearing the same issues by the same people two times for the sake of...what? Possibly changing their minds? Does that actually ever happen?

Like a Profession, or Something

Justin Katz

The specifics could be adjusted elsewhere, but the general attitude that Julia Steiny describes at Blackstone Valley Preparatory Charter School, although there's no revolutionary "paradigm change," as the education academics like to contrive, seems like a profound shift. Note, especially, the handling of the teaching professionals:

... at Blackstone Valley the two-teacher classroom [with more students] is the beginning of a leadership-development continuum designed to grow each teacher's responsibility, autonomy, compensation and personal goals. New or "fellow" teachers plan and teach, but also learn alongside an experienced "lead" teacher. As lead teachers become even more practiced, they might become grade leaders for common planning time, or run professional development, or research a new technique and teach it to the others. Eventually, master teachers could become a Head of School. ...

So everyone in the organization has goals. Chiappetta says, "Some of our people want to be lifelong classroom teachers, so we'll support them becoming master teachers. Others say, 'I want to go to med school in a few years and be a pediatrician, with teaching experience under my belt.' Right now, three teachers leave early to take classes for their graduate degrees, and make up the time on Saturdays. We want to help you invest in yourself and move forward."

Gone is the rigid put-in-your-time factory model of public schools in general. At least by the impression that Steiny gives, the school hires the best candidate for each position, and being human beings, they're each potentially approaching the job from different backgrounds and with different plans. The administrators keep the project on track and are accountable for their results, because if their faculty doesn't succeed, students won't sign up.

March 14, 2011

An Invitation to Michele Bachmann

Carroll Andrew Morse

On behalf of no recognized or legitimate authority whatsoever (i.e. staying true to my blogging roots), I invite United States Congresswoman and possible long-shot Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann to round out her knowledge of New England history by paying a visit to my neighborhood, the Edgewood and Pawtuxet sections of Cranston and Warwick, Rhode Island, during the second weekend of June, where she can watch the annual reenactment of the burning of the HMS Gaspee -- sometimes referred to as "the first blow for freedom" struck by the American colonies against the British -- and perhaps meet a few folks who will be able to convince her that not everyone in New England outside of New Hampshire is part of a monolithic political culture (although we understand how non-New Englanders might sometimes see it that way time), and that there's still much life left in Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that New England is the home to the closest thing to the democratic (small-d) ideal that the modern world has ever seen.

Suprise! Most of Government Stimulus Stimulated Government

Marc Comtois

The ProJo tried to figure out where the $1.9 billion in stimulus money that has been spent in Rhode Island has gone (funds can be spent as late as 2015). The ProJo included a chart of the "Top stimulus winners in R.I.", insofar as what it could determine (apparently, not all entities--such as Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment--need to report their stimulus take).

State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education - $306,120,869
Gilbane Building Co. - $166,864,104
State Department of Transportation - $142,258,998
State Department of Administration - $59,613,259
Clean Water Finance Agency - $45,814,600
State Department of Public Safety - $37,905,163
Brown University - $36,602,898
Rhode Island Public Transit Authority - $34,246,658
The Rhode Island Quality Institute - $27,194,787
Quonset Development Corporation - $26,188,000

Basically, according to the ProJo, at least half of the money (conservatively) has gone directly to government and quasi-government agencies. When it didn't, it went to private enterprises doing government work (Gilbane Building Co. and Brown University). When combined with the unreported numbers, pretty much all of the stimulus went to maintaining or enlarging government expenditures.

Yesterday it was Rhode Island, Today it is Michigan Deciding that those Pesky Democratic Practices Get in the Way of Governing

Carroll Andrew Morse

Michigan is on the verge of enacting a law that, at least as it is described in the CBS News account, will be very similar to Rhode Island's "municipal fiscal stabilization law", i.e. it will allow the executive branch of state government to replace an elected municipal government with a single individual who assumes full authority in all areas of municipal governance (h/t Drudge). In Rhode Island, this law has been used to replace the elected mayor and city council of Central Falls with a state-appointed "receiver", though a case on the acceptability of this law under the Rhode Island constitution is pending.

Democrats in Michigan are attempting to draw a parallel between what is happening in their state and what is happening in Wisconsin. The parallel, beyond being unimaginative, is inappropriate.

In Michigan, the Governor and legislature are working to roll back democratic governance, there's no accurate way to describe it other than that, by allowing major municipal fiscal and policy decisions to be made by an official unaccountable to the people most impacted by the decisions. In Wisconsin, on the other hand, it is the Governor and legislative leaders who have been trying to act democratically, while groups who disagree with their policies are insisting that they have fiscal and policy prerogatives that must restrict the choices allowed by the democratic process. There is no comparison.

If anyone from Michigan wants a head start on explaining why the idea of a municipal dictator is a bad idea, we've been working on that subject for a while now here at Anchor Rising; here, here, here, here and here, for starters.

Finally, from a detached political-sciencey perspective, there is one area of comparison between Rhode Island and Michigan worth monitoring: will Michigan's "emergency fiscal managers" claim the same outrageous compensation as Rhode Island's have -- or will it turn out that the acceptance amongst the political elite of municipal privateering as a respectable career choice is something unique to Rhode Island's political culture?

What Elected Officials Have Negotiated For

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising readers are already familiar with the explanation of the problem basic problem with public-sector unions in a democracy that Andrew Klavan offers in the following video, but it's worth a watch nonetheless:

This article describing why Providence Mayor Angel Tavares had to give teachers termination notices, rather than layoff notices, provides excellent evidence of the results of the tilted system:

If they are laid off, teachers are placed on a recall list. Those teachers who do not wind up with full-time jobs by the beginning of the school year are placed in the group of "regulars in pool." By agreement with the union, these substitute teachers have to be called in to fill temporary vacancies before any other category of teachers. ,,,

"Regulars in pool" are the most-expensive substitutes because they are paid at their full step. In addition, regulars in pool can also receive family health-care coverage, a longevity bonus and an advanced-degree bonus, depending on how many days they work. ...

But here's the real reason why regulars in pool are more expensive than the other substitute teachers, according to Clarkin:

"The district calls in the most expensive [subs] because they have to pay them anyway," Clarkin said. "If you need a sub, they get brought in first."

So teachers who are laid off tend to stick around in the system at full pay even if they don't work. Typically, not enough teachers would be laid off to fill up the substitute list, but with school closings, that outcome is likely next year.

Any one of high salary, lavish benefits, or job security would be tolerable if school committees had negotiated with one of the others as a priority. But the push back against unions is occurring because they've managed to transform negotiations into a process of moderating the rate at which they get all three.

The Biggest Tax Increase... and on Whom?

Justin Katz

Here's a point worth restating throughout the current session of the General Assembly (emphasis added):

By broadening the general sales tax and levying a new 1 percent tax, Chafee's budget would raise about $165 million in new tax revenue — even after taking into account the drop in the general sales tax rate. That would be one of the biggest tax increases in state history — if not the biggest, according to Gary S. Sasse, former state revenue director and now distinguished professor of public policy at Rhode Island College.

Whether Governor Chafee's manages to improve the state's ranking when it comes to taxation schemes, his solution to balancing the state's budget is to raise taxes on a population that's already heavily taxed. And it's not a neutral increase; there's a shift in burden involved. Consider (emphasis added):

Rep. Thomas Winfield, D-Smithfield, said that when he stopped for coffee at Fast Freddie's, in Greenville, a crowd of angry people objected to applying sales taxes to such a long list of items. When asked how he'd respond to the Fast Freddie's crowd, [Chafee Director of Administration Richard] Licht said that lowering the sales tax rate from 7 percent to 6 percent would save people money on big-ticket items, so they'd "pay a little more for their haircut but they'll save on their car."

Frankly, my family can no longer afford "big-ticket items." Chafee's revenue increase, in other words, leverages my basics to subsidize somebody else's luxuries. Would it be too cynical to discern the policy's hidden objective as making sure that Rhode Islanders have nowhere to hide from the taxman, even during times of economic hardship?

Yea or nay, the effect is once again that Rhode Island would turn the screw even more tightly on those who are struggling to get by and striving to advance.

March 13, 2011

In Point of Fact, Not Much Good Comes of Losing An Hour

Monique Chartier

... like we did last night when we "sprang forward" at 2 am. The most interesting item in this John J. Miller column of six years ago is that re-setting clocks one hour ahead every year is not beneficial even to the party commonly cited as its impetus: farmers.

... but when the first DST law was making its way through Congress, farmers actually lobbied against it. Dairy farmers were especially upset because their cows refused to accept humanity’s tinkering with the hands of time. The obstinate cud-chewers wanted to be milked every twelve hours, and had absolutely no interest in resetting their biological clocks–even if the local creameries suddenly wanted their milk an hour earlier.

Upon reflection, this bovine indifference to our attempt to artificially redefine the day is perfectly understandable.

Miller also cites a study which found an increase in traffic accidents as a result of daylight savings-related sleep lose. All in all, perhaps its time to reconsider our semi-annual tinkering with time.

And while we're on the subject of pointless rituals which may or may not be vaguely related to nature, it's never too early to start getting psyched for Earth Hour, which this year falls on March 26. Please plan to participate fully by turning on all of the lights and appliances in your house at 8:30 pm in this global effort to drive out evil carbon spirits. (Tip: by turning on both heat and air conditioning, you can get the maximum effect with the minimum of discomfort.)

... Or possibly I am misinformed as to what constitutes officially sanctioned Earth Hour activity.

Re: Quoth the Meter

Justin Katz

To be clear about my description of the PolitiFact process, as it's been described to me in limited detail, I have to adjust Monique's paraphrase.

My understanding is that a board exists to determine what facts should be examined and what the Truth-o-Meter should read. Presumably, those two decisions are not made at the same time. It's an assumption on my part, but I take it that the board assigns a statement to a reporter to research and then, with gathered information in hand, judges its truthfulness and tells the reporter what conclusion to justify for publication.

Of course, evidence of the final results is suggestive of a practice in which the intervening research tends to affirm the a priori political preferences of the board, but declaring that to be the case goes a bit beyond the insight that I've been given.

Medical Mary Jane - Cure-all for what ails ya?

Marc Comtois

I'm sympathetic to those who believe and have experienced the benefits of medical marijuana. Yet, I still have serious reservations about the way the law was rushed into being here in Rhode Island. There still seem to be a lot of gray areas. And the examples put forth by the ProJo's in-depth look at Colorado's medical marijuana landscape don't do much to alleviate some of my suspicions regarding those who actually, really do need it and those who are, well, taking advantage of the seemingly inherent benevolence of the new system. For instance, the piece opens with a sympathetic look at 67 year old Richard Collins, who we're informed was a "Marine Corps veteran" who "never had a brush with the law."

But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who smokes more marijuana than this Montana native. He tokes “all day, every day,” to ease a host of ailments including depression, back pain, headaches and arthritis.
Then there's young Steve Horowitz, owner of the Ganja Gourmet who:
grew up on Long Island, started smoking pot at age 17. He said it helped him cope with attention deficit disorder.
First we heard of the benefits of marijuana when it came to helping alleviate the nausea associated with chemotherapy and the like. Then we heard of its benefits regarding the mitigation of severe pain. Well, I can believe that. But now, we learn that it is being prescribed to help with arthritis, depression and ADD. I wonder what is more dangerous: a person with ADD driving a car who is taking his regular medicine or one who smoked a little pot to, you know, get more focused. Regardless, it seems like we have a genuine wonder-drug here, folks. Either that, or people might, just might, be abusing the system.

Quoth the Meter, "Neverwrong": Once Rated, "The Truth" Cannot be Corrected

Monique Chartier

So, yesterday, in addition to highlighting a much needed new website, PolitiFact Bias, and announcing A.R.'s excellent new subject category, Justin revealed that, at the ProJo, a sort of Truth Board is in charge of determining PolitiFact "Truth"-O-Meter ratings participates in the selection of statements for the "Truth"-O-Meter as well as the determination of its rating after reviewing evidence gathered by a reporter. After making a determination, only then does the Board send forth a reporter to gather evidence for the pre-determined rating, in what appears to be an upending (conclusion first, gather evidence second) of the proper way to search for Truth. [Justin advises that I stretched his description of the role of the Truth Board. I am pleased to "rehash"; i.e., correct, my original conclusion.]

Under that post, former RI rep and Congressional candidate John Loughlin describes yet another aspect of PolitiFact's loosie-goosie attitude towards the truth: their inability to correct a rating when indisputable evidence emerges that it was wrong.

Politi-Fact has no credibility with me what so ever.

On July 20, 2010, I was given a "pants-on-fire liar" rating for relaying the information given to me by Arizona law enforcement that those being human trafficked across the US / Mexico board are often force to carry narcotics as a price of passage. It is extremely difficult to prove this, however this is what I was told by law enforcement on the ground in Arizona (Governor Jan Brewer said the same thing). Subsequent to piece's publication it was reported in the same Providence Journal that 72 Guatemalans were gunned down by the cartels for refusing to carry the drugs. Then the Interior Minister of Mexico made a speech outlining that the human traffickers were being forced to carry drugs.

I presented all of this exculpatory evidence to Politi-Fact and was told "well, we already covered that story so we don't want to go back and re-hash it." These low-lifes called me a liar and didn't have the guts to go back and correct their error. I can only conclude it was because Politi-Fact is agenda driven journalism at its very worst.

Brown's One-sided Immigration "Symposium"

Marc Comtois

Let me start with the caveat that I didn't attend Brown's immigration symposium convened to discuss a poll (that I've already touched on) and am relying on this morning's report from the ProJo. That out of the way, stepping back, it really is remarkable, if unsurprising, that a supposed institution of higher learning would hold a symposium on such a hot-button issue as immigration--illegal and otherwise (as is standard "immigrant" advocacy practice, they conflated the two in the poll, too)--and offer only one side of the argument. According to the article, here's a sample of the wide-ranging views represented at the conference:

[Bishop Thomas Tobin] urged that people recognize that immigrants, “regardless of the status of their paperwork, are children of God and our brothers and sisters in the human family.”

Brown history professor Evelyn Hu-Dehart called the term “alien,” as applied to illegal or undocumented immigrants, “a very problematic word” used to distinguish “between good and bad immigrants...I ask you to think about that word — alien not only as a stranger, but dangerously different and undesirably opposite of the warm and fuzzy feeling we conjure when we think of the [American] melting pot.”

Nasser Zawia, dean of the graduate school at the University of Rhode Island, said that as a Muslim, Arab and member of the Yemeni community, “I guess I’m the ‘enemy alien.’ I’m also part of the community in conflict with the United States. I’m always, the ‘other.’ ”

Symposium organizer Alexandra Filindra, of Brown University, said she was heartened by the survey results showing 68 percent of Rhode Islanders favor extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools.

Was it really that one-sided or did the ProJo simply not report on the alternate views (if any) that were expressed? I'm not sure, a closer look at the 5 members on the Symposium's panel seems to confirm the suspicion. In addition to the aforementioned Dr. Hu-Duhart, here were the other 4 members on the "Expert Panel on Immigration":

Dr. Michael A. Olivas - President of the American Association of Law Schools and Professor of Law at the University of Houston. Olivas is an advocate for allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

Dr. M. Daniel Carroll, Professor of the Old Testament, Denver Seminary has his own blog. He approaches the issue from the same moral Christian perspective as Bishop Tobin.

Dr. George Borts, Professor of Economics, Brown University is a Club for Growth cited advocate of Free trade. Borts has written an op-ed calling for immigration reform and denouncing the labels of "alien" and the rise of what he calls "nativism".

Dr. Cynthia Garcia Coll, Professor of Education, Brown University seems to center her research on immigrant children and often turns up at rallies (for instance, the DREAM act rally) that support immigrant--illegal and legal--rights.

Now, there is certainly some generality here given the rudimentary research I did, but I think it's safe to believe that all of the above could be considered sympathetic to illegal immigration. I know that Terry Gorman of RIILE didn't stand a snowball's chance of being invited, but there wasn't at least one person with perhaps a different view than the majority of the panel that could have been added? Were 4:1 odds too much? This sounds more like a pep rally than an actual examination of all sides of the issue.

March 12, 2011

Accepting PolitiFact (or not)

Justin Katz

To be honest, I sort of hoped that the PolitiFact brand would drift away after the election. Sometimes, I guess, these contrived media brands are like government departments — more or less permanent. In the interest of public service, I've created a new category for posts to help deepen and broaden the brand, after a fashion.

Part of the impetus for the category was also the proximate introduction to a new site called PolitiFact Bias and a post, on his own blog, by Rhode Island resident and Cornell law professor William Jacobson:

I have written about PolitiFact before, includine the clear bias shown by The Providence Journal in its application of ratings during the campaign by former Democratic Mayor David Cicilline against Republican John Loughlin in my home RI-01 District. I also have noted an analysis of PolitiFact bias against conservatives.

Two recent examples demonstrate that PolitiFact as a brand has serious problems.

Jacobson offers two instances in which PolitiFact, as I've complained before, fails to follow its own criteria for rating the validity of a statement from True to Pants on Fire. In the months between my complaint and Jacobson's, I've actually been offered a bit of inside description of the PolitiFact process: Apparently, we can't attribute all of the blame to the journalists who pen the pieces, because at least at the Providence Journal, there's a PolitiFact board that rules on the statement and tasks the writers with explaining it.

I couldn't get details on the makeup of the board, but the process sounds exactly as the skeptical public already suspected: The analyses back-fill to the conclusions.

A Non-Waiving Waiver of ObamaCare

Monique Chartier

One of the biggest flaws of the federal government's healthcare take-over reform law is its usurpation of the authority and power of the states via a serious overreach of the Commerce Clause. Possibly in anticipation of a Supreme overturning of the law on this particular basis, the Obama administration has now issued guidelines for states to obtain a waiver to the law.

The problem is that the conditions for obtaining a waiver look strangely familiar.

The plan is designed to improve flexibility for states as they implement health-care reform. But the waivers would only be granted if a state can provide coverage that is just as comprehensive and affordable as ACA's new health insurance exchanges. The state alternative must also cover as many people as ACA's plan.

States would also be required to maintain consumer protections that form the cornerstone of the law, even if they obtain a waiver.

"Cornerstone of the law", indeed. These conditions are all cornerstones of Obamacare!

If the conditions for a waiver are a recitation of the components of the law purportedly being waived, is it really a waiver? If it looks, walks and quacks like an onerous federal mandate, isn't it still a mandate and not really a waiver at all??

It is doubtful that everyone, including the Supreme Court, will be as easily duped by this non-waiver as the Obama admin seems to think. This is, after all, the administration that disregarded court ruling after court ruling to lift its offshore oil drilling moratorium under the flimsy cover of claiming - honest! we lifted it! - that it had done so despite their embarassing inability to point to ... you know, any actual drilling permits issued. (The administration has finally begun to end this moratorium over the last two weeks and only because it became clear that the president would take a political hit for not doing so in light of rising oil prices.)

Fortunately, unlike the question of to drill or not to drill, the potential lifting of ObamaCare will not rest quite so exclusively with an administration that seems too often motivated by a highly misguided sense of Doing What is Best for Mankind, no matter how overreaching, suffocating, impoverishing, destructive or unconstitutional that policy may turn out.

March 11, 2011

Once Again Re: The Direction of Imposition

Justin Katz

This started out as a comment to my previous post on the topic, but it began to feel more like a post in its own right.

As usual, our left-leaning readers have got me all wrong. I have absolutely no problem with any religion having an exclusive prayer posted in public schools, even with required recitation each morning provided there is no national policy that prevents the same for other religions. That is, let some community somewhere implement daily Muslim prayers, as long as there is no longer an ACLU veto on Christianity elsewhere.

If God blesses a minority-religion community with smarter, better adjusted, and more economically productive young adults as a result, perhaps the rest of the country would benefit from the example. (Go ahead and argue against that proposition without founding your argument in some article of faith.)

For my own community — that in which I pay taxes and am registered to vote — I would advocate for support (maybe even encouragement) of individual exploration and articulation of beliefs, with all given equivalent rights to public expression, and the added proviso that traditions already in place require the democratic process (not threats of lawsuits or judicial fiats) to change. If there's a banner, if there's a traditional appearance by the Easter Bunny, if there's an annual Hanukkah festival, then the entire community should agree to ending it.

As much as it pains me to use the "m" word with reference to my own stance, you don't get much more moderate than the above. Unfortunately, ideologues have succeeded in convincing a broad swath of people (especially in the Northeast) that their extremism is the default for all right-thinking people.

Wrapping up Wisconsin

Marc Comtois

Now that it's official, here's what they did in Wisconsin regarding public employee unions.
1) "...the bill meant that the state wouldn't have to lay off public employees."
2) "...[took] away the ability of unions to bargain over pensions and health care." Just like the Federal Government employees. This was an attempt to gain flexibility not provided by 3-year (or more) contracts. Health care and pension costs have climbed faster than contracts make accommodation for.
3) "...limit pay raises, which can still be negotiated by unions, to inflation." Of course, if the cap in a collectively bargained agreement is set by CPI/inflation, what's the point in collectively bargaining?
4) "...requires public-employee union members to contribute 5.8% of their pay to pensions". Rhode Island workers would dream of that number.
5) " 12.6% of health-care premiums out of their wages, up from 6% on average". Again.
6) "...eliminates automatic collection of dues by the state". That's a hit to organized union leadership.
7) "...requires each public union in the state to get recertified every year by vote." Again.

As William Jacobsen points out, the rubber will hit the road when:

...tens of thousands of Wisconsin public employee union members...will have the choice for the first time in memory of deciding whether to join the union and pay the union dues, which have been estimated in the $700-1000 per year range.

The public employees will have to make a choice, take a pay increase or pay the union.

I think we know how that vote will turn out, and whether the employees -- once given a choice -- will buy what the unions are selling.

Remember, Government Doesn't Budget Like We Do

Marc Comtois

When we say we're going to cut what we spend on, say, ice cream at my house, that means we either buy less, wait for sales or just stop buying it. So let's say, instead of $5 a week, we'll shoot for $4/week. We just cut the ice cream budget by $1. As Jonah Goldberg reminds us, that's not how governments define a "cut":

By earth-logic, if you got a raise of 10 percent last year, but this year you're only getting a raise of 8 percent, you're still getting a raise. On Planet Washington, that qualifies as an indefensible slashing.

So when the GOP cut $4 billion from the budget last week, the Democrats acted as if it was an involuntary amputation.

Now the GOP wants to cut $61 billion of discretionary nondefense spending from the total budget of $3.7 trillion, and Democrats are responding as if this will spell the end of Western civilization.

But given their terror of forcing a government shutdown, Democrats were forced to counteroffer with a cut of $10.5 billion, or 0.28 percent of the federal budget.

Imagine you have a budget of $10,000 (about 40 percent of it borrowed on a credit card), then "slash" 28 bucks. That's what it's like to be a frugal Democrat....In 2007, the budget was 19.6 percent of the GDP. In 2009, it went up to 25 percent of GDP. That's where the Democrats would like to see it stay.

What happened? The financial crisis, of course. But as many of us suggested at the time, one of the Democrats' real motives behind the stimulus was to inflate the "baseline" budget so that huge increases would never be reversed, thanks to the DC logic that a cut in growth is a cut.

Back to the ice cream. Let's say we spent $4/week in 2009 and $5/week in 2010 and expected our budget to increase (following the pattern) to $6/week in 2011. But we re-assessed and decided that, instead of the $6/week we projected, we would "freeze" our spending at $5/week. Hence, in government speak, we just cut our bill by $1/week. Even though we did nothing.

New Taxables

Marc Comtois

Ted Nesi has put up a list of newly-taxed items being proposed by Governor Chafee. I've copied it after the jump. As a commenter to Ted noted:

...the fact Rhode Island has so many sales tax exemptions is interesting in and of itself. The state has a total of 82 exemptions, 20 of which have been added over just the past 19 years, according to the Chafee administration.
Special deals? Naw.

I. Goods and servies to be newly taxed at 6%

* Prewritten computer software delivered electronically
* Corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses
* Nonprescription drugs including medical marijuana
* Newspapers
* Insurance proceeds from destroyed or stolen passenger car as trade-in allowance
* Property or supplies used in the processing or preparation of floral products and arrangements
* Garbage and trash collection including certain waste management and remediation services
* Taxicabs and other road transportation services
* Scenic and sightseeing transportation and support activities and package tours
* Couriers and messengers
* Moving, storage, including warehousing, and freight services
* Photo studios including photographic and portrait photography services
* Pet services except veterinary services including testing laboratories
* Data processing, hosting, and related services
* Facilities support services
* Business support services
* Investigation and security services including locksmiths
* Services to building and dwellings including domestic services, extermination and pest controls services, landscaping services and other support services from commercial providers
Employment agency services
* Personal care services including hairdressing salons and personal grooming establishments, diet and weight reducing centers and other personal services
* Laundry and dry cleaning services
* Recreation and Entertainment to be Subjected to Sales and Use Tax
* Membership clubs and participant sports centers including bowling centers but excluding aircraft rental and leasing without pilots and marinas and boat storage
* Amusement parks, campgrounds, and related recreational services including fitness and recreational sports centers but excluding sales by elementary and secondary schools, tuitions and fees paid to fine arts schools and promoters of performing arts, sports and similar events
* Motion picture theaters including those of post secondary educational institutions
* Live entertainment excluding sports and promoters of performing arts, sports and similar events and independent artists, writers, and performers
* Spectator sports except elementary and secondary schools and promoters of performing arts, sports and similar events
* Museums, historical sites, zoos, parks, art galleries and libraries
* Motor vehicle including car washes
* Audio-visual, photographic and information processing equipment
* Electronic and precision equipment
* Commercial and industrial equipment except for manufacturers
* Recreational and sports equipment except for boats
* Furniture, furnishings, and floor coverings
* Household appliances
* Clothing and footwear repair, rental and alterations
* Watch, clock and jewelry repair
* Professional association dues except for alumni associations, parent-teacher organizations, booster clubs, scouting organizations, veterans membership organizations, political organizations, athletic associations, regulatory or administrative associations, property owners’ associations, condominium and homeowners’ associations, tenant associations, and cooperative owners’ associations

II. Goods and services to be newly taxed at 1%

* Agricultural products for human consumption
* Air and water pollution control facilities
* Aircraft, including aircraft rental and leasing without pilots, and aircraft parts
* Banks and Regulated Investment Companies interstate toll-free calls
* Boats or vessels brought in exclusively for winter storage, maintenance, repair or sale
* Boats or vessels generally
* Boats to nonresidents
* Building materials used to rebuild after a disaster
* Casual sales
* Clothing and footwear
* Coffins, caskets and burial garments
* Coins
* Commercial fishing vessels in excess of five net tons
* Commercial vessels of more than 50 tons burden
* Compressed air
* Containers
* Dietary supplements
* Educational institutions rental charges
* Electricity, steam and thermal energy from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.
* Equipment for research and development
* Farm equipment
* Farm structure construction materials
* Flags
* Heating fuels used in the heating of homes and residential premises
* Horse food products
* Jewelry display product
* Manufacturers’ machinery and equipment
* Precious metal bullion
* Promotional and product literature of boat manufacturers
* Purchases used for manufacturing purposes
* Renewable energy products
* Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation project status designees
* Rhode Island Industrial Facilities Corporation Lessees
* Sales by writers, composers and artists
* Sales in municipal economic development zones
* Sales to charitable, educational or religious organizations
* Sales of trailers ordinarily used for residential purposes
* Supplies used in on-site hazardous waste recycling, reuse or treatment
* Textbooks
* Total loss or destruction of a motor vehicle within 120 days of tax payment
* Trade-in value of boats and private passenger automobiles
* Transfers or sales made to immediate family members
* Transfers or sales related to a business dissolution or partial liquidation
* Water for residential use

Re: The Direction of Imposition

Justin Katz

I've been at a loss as to how to respond to the comments to my post this morning about the Cranston school prayer banner, because those who advocate for the removal of the banner are so extreme in their beliefs (even those who are typically reasonable and moderate in their approach) that they appear to lack any sense of proportion or capacity for compromise on this issue. Fortunately, Mangeek has phrased the position in a way that facilitates my response:

I'm an atheist dues-paying member of a conservative Christian church (figure that one out).

It would be one thing if there was a prayer/religious group in the school that met weekly and put something like this up in their 'wall space', but it's not. When a school itself puts a banner up that starts with 'Heavenly Father', it's an overt endorsement of religion, and it gives people like me the willies.

I've also been omitting the (recent) McCarthyist addition of 'Under God' line from the pledge since I was twelve. When I was a scout leader, I made an effort to drop the 'God stuff' from our various daily oaths and sayings. I also allowed my scouts who weren't religious to stay back at the campsite during mandatory 'religious hours' at Yawgoog so we could engage in somber, silent reflection of the week's successes and failures.

Keep in mind, I'm in no way anti-religious, I'm anti-authoritarian, and putting 'heavenly father' banners up, adding 'God' to a pledge spoken at the opening of school, and mandating religious service attendance at camp all fall under the 'authoritarian' category for me.

You want religion in school? Fine, have it from students on the same terms that groups meet to discuss the environment or school governance, but keep it firmly separated from school administration.

By what conceivable measure is it possible to see the first of the following as more authoritarian than the second?

  • A local school committee, with the apparent backing of a majority of town residents, keeping in place a banner that has been with the school since the very beginning, even though it hails from a time when it was acceptable to urge prayer in public
  • A national advocacy organization (and certain commenters from Pawtucket, Providence, Arizona, and other places that are not the town in question) trying to use the expense of legal action as a means of bullying the district into taking the banner down on the grounds that a handful of residents do or might object to it

I'm especially confused about how Mangeek could choose the former as more authoritarian because he also believes it's authoritarian for a religiously founded private group (the Boy Scouts) to require prayers and attendance at some kind of religious service).

The Direction of Imposition with Cranston Prayer

Justin Katz

The debate over a banner with a prayer in a Cranston public school — which the ACLU attempted to bully the district into moving with the threat of a lawsuit and which the school committee has voted to defend — makes very stark the contrast of the sides. On one side is the fact that public statements of religion were once part of the culture, and that this particular prayer is interwoven with the history of the school:

The students picked the school colors and the mascot and, following models from other schools in the district, a prayer and creed.

Originally, Bradley said, the prayer banner and creed were stored in the school building. In 1962, Bradley said, students started reciting the prayer instead of "Our Father" as part of their morning exercises. And, in 1963, when the auditorium opened its doors, the prayer and creed were affixed to the walls of the auditorium as a gift from the first graduating class.

On the other side is the assertion by an aggressive minority that merely being in the presence of such a banner somehow forces them to do something against their religious nonbeliefs:

"This prayer endorses religion. It endorses a specific religion," said [sophomore Jessica] Ahlquist, who is an atheist. The prayer, she says, "is discriminating against us."

For "a majority to say that you can take away a minority right, it's wrong," Ahlquist said. "It's also un-American."

There is no minority right being taken away. Students are not forced to recite the prayer. They are not forced to stand silent while others recite it. They are merely required to acknowledge that belief in God is a significant part of the school, city, state, nation, and civilization's heritage and, indeed, present culture and accept that they have no right to unilaterally erase its markers.

That's what really underlies the broader movement to strike religiosity from the public square: a claim to a special right to forbid the majority from acknowledging its shared faith, even to the degree that historical expressions thereof must be completely erased — wiped out. The zealotry of this movement is so strong that the ACLU will now harm real, present students in the Cranston district, as well as the employees and taxpayers of that community, by forcing the district to pay for a legal defense simply because the most local, discrete tier of government — where the inherent self-definition of democracy should be greatest — refuses to bow to a powerful national cult.

March 10, 2011

Chafee Shows Us Who's Boss

Justin Katz

Another interesting fact emerges when comparing Governor Carcieri's last five-year forecast with Governor Chafee's first. This table shows the degree of change that the former has made from the latter forecast:

2012 2013 2014 2015
Personnel expense -$16.8 M -$12.3 M -$27.9 M -$45.5 M
State operations (including personnel) -$43.7 M -$38.4 M -$53.6 M -$71.3 M
Aid to local governments $13.6 M $69.1 M $100.1 M $139.7 M

So, for 2015, if we find the difference between the amount that Chafee intends to increase revenue ($302.5 M) over and above the amount that he plans to reduce the deficit ($240 M), we get $62.5 M. Add that to his reduction in operations (however fanciful that may actually prove to be), and we wind up with $133.8 M, which is almost the amount by which he's increasing the aid to local governments, most of which winds up in the hands of municipal-level unions, including his biggest supporters, the teachers' unions.

So, tax and fee payers are paying the entirety of Chafee's deficit reduction, and state workers are picking up the bill for a good chunk of the wealth being funneled to their comrades at the local and city level.

National Solidarity, Forever (and Blind) - Coming to Providence

Monique Chartier

GoLocalProv reports exclusively.

The American Federation of Teachers is poised to unroll a $1 million to $2 million ad campaign to fight Providence Mayor Angel Taveras over the mass terminations of city teachers, sources tell GoLocalProv.

The substantial media buy could escalate a standoff that has already seized the national spotlight, making Rhode Island one of the key battlegrounds between unions and budget hawks determined to rein in deficits and unfunded pension liabilities.

“Unions will fight this war on as many fronts as they have to, regardless of whether it’s their ‘home turf,’” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report. “This is a battle about survival to them. It’s just that fundamental.”

People, repeat after me: We're dead broke.

By the way, note the re-emergence of a certain long lost political consultant.

Guy Dufault, a retired publicist who has worked with labor unions, said the situation could escalate into an all-out PR war. “There’s no question the wholesale terminations were an attack on unions. You can’t deny that,” Dufault told GoLocalProv. “From a precedent-setting standpoint, if these terminations are then turned around and used to get rid of senior teachers, I think it would be war.”

Unfortunately, he forgot to update his talking points before coming out of retirement.

He said the real fight is between the haves and the have nots—rich Republicans and the workers the unions represent.

That's rich! Keep talking, Guy; you're a real asset ... to somebody, anyway.

Deficit Hawk... Not So Much

Justin Katz

Sadly, whatever else they might say, people seem to believe Governor Lincoln Chafee's characterization of himself as a deficit hawk. Indeed, following a press briefing from State Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney, which Ian Donnis mentions here, Ted Nesi put up a post titled "Chafee's budget shrinks Carcieri's long-term deficits." And indeed, although Nesi's accompanying chart shows Chafee's deficits increasing over time, they appear to be about a quarter-billion dollars below what Carcieri predicted for the same years.

Of course, as Nesi writes:

... the easiest way to eliminate the deficit isn't through tinkering with revenue and expenditures — it's through healthy economic growth. A growing economy simultaneously boosts tax revenue as employment increases and profits rise while easing demand for social safety-net programs like jobless benefits.

In that context, it's worth noting that Governor Carcieri's last five-year forecast assumed "that recovery in the Rhode Island economy does not take hold until FY 2012, while Chafee's version assumes "that recovery in the Rhode Island economy started in FY 2011." Consequently, Chafee assumes revenue growth of 3.1%, while Carcieri's budget forecast put revenue growth at 2.1%.

So, some of Chafee's hawkishness is facilitated by a sunnier outlook. Carcieri predicted the income of Rhode Islanders to grow at a rate of 4.1% and employment at 2.3%, while Chafee expects 4.4% income and 2.5% employment growth.

Of course, Chafee isn't just sitting still and letting revenue increase because Rhode Islanders are making more money; he's raising taxes. If we compare the amount that Chafee is decreasing the "Carcieri deficits" with the amount that he's proposing to increase taxes over the same period, we get the following:

In the first year for which both forecasts offer data, 77% of Chafee's deficit reduction derives from new revenue, 74% from tax increases alone, 61% from a sales and use tax increase. By the end of the four year span, tax increases will represent 136% of the deficit reduction. In other words, our deficit hawk is finding taxpayer money to be such attractive prey that he's using it to grow expenditures, even as he allows deficits to grow year after year.

Indeed, over the latter four years of his forecast, Carcieri expected deficits to grow by 48%, while during the latter four hears of his own forecast, Chafee's deficit will grow by 227%. And that's assuming he gets all of the concessions that he's looking for from labor and the General Assembly and that his tax increases perform as well as expected. In summary, Chafee moved the economic recovery up a year and increased taxes, and still his deficits catch up to Carcieri's at a rate of approximately $40 million per year.

End Subsidies To Corporate Fat Cats

Marc Comtois

Contrary to what many think, most conservatives actually don't approve of "corporate welfare" (see: GM, Big Agriculture, etc.) and think it's ridiculous when a company receives government subsidies when it pays salaries like this:

• Four vice presidents and producers pulled in more than $300,000 — and another 10 took home more than $200,000 — in pay and benefits;

• 145 of...950 employees — about 15 percent — earned more than $100,000.

• Ex-...president Henry Becton Jr. — now the station’s vice-chairman — made $160,873 in total compensation for working just 24 hours a week.

• Top brass pocketed more than $200,000 in bonuses.

[The] $425,000-a-year CEO, Jonathan Abbott, defended the salaries, saying he hasn’t had a raise since taking the helm in 2007 and that [the company] has to compete for talent with the country’s leading media companies.

“We also benchmark all of those salaries to comparable salaries at media and nonprofit organizations in this area and nationally,” Abbott said. “If you look at my compensation relative to . . . my peers in Boston or in this country, I am . . . paid a fair wage.”

Of course, I'm talking about WGBH, the Public Broadcasting station that "received $11.5 million in federal money this year— about 8 percent of its $156 million operating budget." Obviously, that's a crucial 8%. Keep those pledges comin'!!!!

Naming the Broader Tax Base

Justin Katz

Matt and I talked budget and a "broader tax base" for Governor Chafee's sales tax on Matt Allen Show, last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 9, 2011

RE: Budget Thoughts

Marc Comtois

To fall into a political trap, as Justin suggests I have done, one would first have to take the bait. To stretch the metaphor further, I didn't take the Governor's budget bait--much less get caught in a trap--so much as look at the bait (tax "cuts") and offer a few observations. If anything, maybe I'm guilty of assuming the trap was self-evident (even though I pointed out some of its mechanisms--tax/fee increases, tolls). OK, enough of the metaphor-stretching.

I know what Justin was getting at when he wrote "It is insufficient to go through a budget proposals as if it were itemized lists of distinct suggestions." We agree, I think, that the general thrust of a budget proposal is more important than the sum of its parts in how it tips the hand of a Governor. But, questions of relative importance aside, my post was about "some of those parts" (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk), no more, no less. I didn't call it "A Comprehensive Budget Review" or "Chafee's Budget: A Holistic Conservative Response" or even "On Linc: The Hem-Hawed, un-TelePrompTered Propositions of a Horse-shoeing, Silver-Spoon Sucking Scion". I called it "Budget Thoughts" and offered a few.

I think what we've got here is a difference in style, not substance. So put down your velvet hammer Mr. Carpenter Man ("temperamentally conservative"...I see what you did there...soften me up then "thwack"..."fair-minded" ie; give the Guv a pass..."thwack thwack") I agree that, taken as whole, this budget is a mess with way too much reliance on vague promises of "things to come." Finally: we're due for a beer, aren't we?

Health Care: Yes, we have no bananas

Marc Comtois

It's up to over 1,000 entities that have acquired a waiver from adhering to President Obama's national health care law. One is the entire State of Maine, whose motto, Dirigo or "I lead," could be prophetic as other states look to do the same.

Meanwhile, the unintended, but predicted, consequences (h/t) of this hurried health care reform are coming to fruition.

Patients are demanding doctors' orders for over-the-counter products because of a provision in the health-care overhaul that slipped past nearly everyone's radar. It says people who want a tax break to buy such items with what's known as flexible-spending accounts need to get a prescription first.

The result is that Americans are visiting their doctors before making a trip to the drugstore, hoping their physician will help them out by writing the prescription. The new requirements create not only an added burden for doctors, but also new complications for retailers and pharmacies.

"It drives up the cost of health care as opposed to reducing it," says Dr. Chung, who rejected much of a 10-item request from a mother of four that included pain relievers and children's cold medicine....Some doctors, irked by the paperwork and worried about lawsuits, are balking at writing the new prescriptions. Pharmacists and retailers say the changes mean they have to apply a personalized label on some 15,000 different everyday products for customers paying with certain debit cards.

Read the whole thing for more, just on that issue. Aside from that, there are other things:
Health-policy experts predicted that new insurance pools for high-risk patients would attract so many expensive enrollees that funding would be quickly exhausted. In fact, enrollment is running at just 6% of expectations, partly because of high premiums.

A provision preventing insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions prompted insurers in dozens of states to stop selling child-only policies altogether.

And a piece of the law designed to centralize patient care by encouraging health-care providers to collaborate is running into antitrust concerns from regulators.

It's amazing that this could have happened, isn't it?

Re: Budget Thoughts

Justin Katz

I certainly appreciate Marc's fair-minded and temperamentally conservative response to Governor Chafee's budget proposal, but I think he slips into a political trap not unlike the practice of spending budgets on pet projects and then looking to debt to fund such necessities as road repair. It is insufficient to go through a budget proposals as if it were itemized lists of distinct suggestions. It is also arguably the case that general thrust is more important in judging the baseline that the governor puts forth than the specifics.

Recall the process every time Governor Carcieri included some sort of tax increase, new fee, or one-time fix in his budgets. They would give the General Assembly cover, even as the legislature brushed aside attempts at reform, such as mandate relief. The same will happen here, only Chafee has extended the tax-and-fee-increase cover beyond what even some in the General Assembly might have wanted, and he's barely pushing for reforms.

His 1% tax on currently exempt items has morphed into a 1% tax on sensitive items like clothes, heating fuel, and textbooks and a 6% tax on less sensitive items like hair cuts and auto repairs. His pension reforms are more of a request, subject to negotiation, with real changes pending further review, posturing, and tribal dances for a miracle rain. His savings in other areas, such as health and human services, are the typical illusory promise of better efficiency and oversight.

As for the corporate tax, the problem with the combined reporting proposal is that the details remain the very-complicated devil. It's all in how the state figures out its share of a corporation's tax once everything is combined. And with regard to the balance of rates and credits, all one needs to know — all one needs to know for the entire budget, really — is that Chafee wants to increase spending on education and municipal aid while eliminating a quarter-billion-dollar-plus deficit. That can only happen if the total tax and fee burden on Rhode Islanders and its economy increases.

Searching for Justice in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

A result is the opposite of justice if it has the father of a child-killer's victim calling in to a radio show to express such thoughts as this:

It was a shame he only got forty years to begin with. He should have got a life sentence, but stupidly, I allowed the plea bargaining to go so I wouldn't have to put up with agony of hearing all of the events, at that time. I didn't want to hear them, so it was my mistake. You know what, that was my mistake to let that happen, to let the plea bargain happen, and I got myself to blame for that. I got myself to blame for allowing him to be released early, to become a predator to other people — if he's not released in Rhode Island, wherever he is, a predator to somebody else. I'm to blame for all that, and I'll make that right if he's released.

John Foreman is the father of Jason Foreman, a five year old whom Michael Woodmansee murdered in 1975. As the Providence Journal reported on Sunday, Woodmansee, who got off easy with a forty-year sentence, is scheduled to be released after serving only twenty-eight, for good behavior and for holding a job while in prison.

A stronger argument for the death penalty, I've never seen — if only so that authorities could have had the leverage both to spare the family the agony of a trial through plea bargaining and to put Woodmansee behind bars for life. This outcome is a travesty, especially considering that the only reason the killer was caught was that he botched another attempt seven years later.

I'm surprised, by the way, that neither South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia, who was on the show at the beginning of the segment, nor show host John DePetro responded to Foreman's multiple statements of intent to kill Woodmansee by discouraging him from doing so. Honestly, I had related thoughts to Foreman's upon reading the Projo article, but becoming a killer himself won't bring back his son, and it will only prolong the ordeal for everybody else affected by the initial atrocity.

More productive, should Woodmansee find himself on the street, would be a concerted campaign to find and expose him wherever he may go, perhaps by means of legislation that would treat multiple attempts at child murder with at least some of the enforced stigma that follows sexual abuse. Perhaps some vestige of justice would be salvaged if the killer finds freedom to be more restrictive, and less peaceful, than incarceration.

Budget Thoughts

Marc Comtois

After I looked at how other states deal with sales tax, I began to think that it would be a clever move by Governor Chafee to lower the overall rate while expanding its application. It would both increase "revenue"--its a tax hike after all--but also would provide a lower number for the various state tax ranking entities. In other words, I think there's a good chance this move will end up making it look like Rhode Island is more tax friendly to the various tax ranking entities out there. I guess we'll see.

Meanwhile, various fees will increase and medical marijuana will be taxed. And there will apparently be one sector of the real estate market that will expand: toll booths. These measures are classic examples of "not raising taxes" but "raising revenue".

As for combined reporting, I recall that former Governor Carcieri and Gary Sasse looked into it the question and there was no cut-and-dried answer. As reported by John Kostrzewa at the time:

Gary S. Sasse, the panel’s chairman, pointed out that the state Division of Taxation recently studied the issue and found that if combined reporting were required, some businesses would pay more in tax, others less, but most would see no change.

When Carcieri’s tax-reform panel issued its final report yesterday, however, the panel declined to take a position on combined reporting.

That was because the panel could not reach a consensus. “Strong arguments were advanced both for adopting combined reporting or rejecting it,” the panel said in its report.

Now that that's cleared up....Overall, Chafee's business tax reform looks to be positive. Lowering rates is a good thing, even at the expense of a few tax credits. It's the sort of general tax improvement we advocate for around here. However, the belief that removing the movie tax credit will result in $1.6 million in additional revenue betrays a fundamental flaw in tax revenue projecting: You won't raise $1.6 million if no one films here because the tax credit is gone. So strike that one off of the books, folks.

The proposal to raise the pension contribution requirement for state employees to 11.75% caught my eye. Union leaders aren't happy about it, but this is a case of reality catching up with increasingly obsolete and untenable defined-benefit plans. To get what they expect--those defined benefits--current employees are going to have to contribute more at the front end. Are they paying for the sins of the past? Of course, so maybe they should take it up with the retirees. That's the system they've bargained for.

In the end, of course, none of the Governor's proposals really matters. It's up to the Democrats in the General Assembly to craft the budget, no matter what the Governor presents to them. So, ultimately, as tempting as it may be to blame Governor Chafee for whatever budget results, we can't forget that the Democrats in the General Assembly are the ones ultimately in charge.

A Process That Binds

Justin Katz

As an applicant for an interim town treasurer job in Tiverton, I found the process to be peculiar:

One can objectively question some of the more peculiar aspects of the process. For instance, in every blind selection process that I've encountered --- whether for employment or, say, for college admissions --- the identities of the candidates are withheld from the people making the decision. In Tiverton's hiring practice, they are the only people permitted to know who the candidates are.

It is certainly reasonable of candidates to expect some level of public privacy. Indeed, Personnel Board Chairman James Camara related an anecdote about a previous applicant who lost his or her current job after being mentioned in the local press. (Of course, this didn't stop the journalist in the room from publishing my name without seeking either permission or statement.) Still, how can the public have confidence that the Personnel Board isn't applying political litmus tests or stacking the pool of interviewees when they alone have access to the identities of applicants?

That problem compounds into others.

March 8, 2011

Open Thread: Combined Reporting, Good Idea or Not?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has proposed "combined reporting" in his FY2012 budget proposal as a means of raising revenue for Rhode Island. Given this is the most technical of the Governor's major proposed "revenue enhancers", the floor is open for any insights into the details of how and why "combined reporting" is supposed to work.

To Liveblog or Not to Liveblog

Justin Katz

Well, I can find no evidence that there's actually a Tiverton School Committee meeting tonight (except, you know, for the fact that it's been on their calendar all year), so I guess I'll give Governor Chafee's budget address a try...

I'll offer running commentary (if any) in the comments section; feel free to join.

What Inspires Political Activity?

Justin Katz

A recent iteration of First Things' "While We're at It" feature mentioned the Wall Street Journal lament of feminist Erica Jong that breeding and raising children is a fad that just won't die. From the lament:

Unless you've been living on another planet, you know that we have endured an orgy of motherphilia for at least the last two decades. Movie stars proudly display their baby bumps, and the shiny magazines at the checkout counter never tire of describing the joys of celebrity parenthood. Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life's greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary. Professional narcissists like Angelina Jolie and Madonna want their own little replicas in addition to the African and Asian children that they collect to advertise their open-mindedness.

The intellectual problems that Jong evinces are plentiful. (Why, for one, should we criticize celebrities for adopting third-world children in addition to having their own, even as we point to "abandoned children" as a standing problem?) Much of what she writes can be dismissed on purely ideological grounds; that is, if the reader doesn't share the ideology, the points are without sense.

However, the First Things blurb is a little unfair, in that Jong's initial statements of ideological gunk are really just a foundation on which she builds more interesting walls, some of which are certainly reasonable, even insightful:

What is so troubling about these theories of parenting—both pre- and postnatal—is that they seem like attempts to exert control in a world that is increasingly out of control. We can't get rid of the carcinogens in the environment, but we can make sure that our kids arrive at school each day with a reusable lunch bag full of produce from the farmers' market. We can't do anything about loose nukes falling into the hands of terrorists, but we can make sure that our progeny's every waking hour is tightly scheduled with edifying activities.

Our obsession with parenting is an avoidance strategy. It allows us to substitute our own small world for the world as a whole. But the entire planet is a child's home, and other adults are also mothers and fathers. We cannot separate our children from the ills that affect everyone, however hard we try. Aspiring to be perfect parents seems like a pathetic attempt to control what we can while ignoring problems that seem beyond our reach.

In her attempt to connect these dots, Jong joins strange principles that jar discordantly with reality:

... although attachment parenting comes with an exquisite progressive pedigree, it is a perfect tool for the political right. It certainly serves to keep mothers and fathers out of the political process. If you are busy raising children without societal help and trying to earn a living during a recession, you don't have much time to question and change the world that you and your children inhabit. What exhausted, overworked parent has time to protest under such conditions?

If there's a conservative who has advocated "attachment parenting" — which entails parents' effectively binding themselves to their children — I haven't read his or her work. And, moreover, if there's a politically active right-winger who wants to divert devoted parents from the political fight, he or she has wisely learned to keep that counter-intuitive intention quiet.

Perhaps her imagination doesn't reach that far, but Jong need only have brought to mind the conservative's vision of an ideal family... even a cliché version of that vision: One parent able to stay home with the children, neighborhoods full of such nuclear, one-income households and churches full of such families. After all, the kids don't need such close watching when there are parents watching from nearly every house on the block.

And I can't help but wonder, too, what the motivation for political activism is supposed to be (apart from dedicated advocacy for the Special Interest of Me) when children aren't part of the equation.

Reporting on Experts

Justin Katz

Theodore Gatchel notes a perpetual problem facing a public that wishes to be informed:

There are so many experts on virtually every subject imaginable that anyone who relies on them for information is faced with the problem of determining which experts to trust. Unfortunately, almost everyone falls in that category. Investors rely on experts for market information, patients rely on doctors, governments depend on intelligence agencies, and everyone listens to the weather report.

As experts proliferate, so do the differences of their opinions. President Eisenhower once said about the reports he received concerning the French in Indochina, "There are almost as many judgments as there are authors of messages." The problem then becomes one of determining which experts to believe. Eisenhower's complaint is every bit as applicable today as it was when he made it.

Gatchel suggests a report card system for experts to enlighten readers as to how particular experts' "predictions have panned out in the past." The problem, it seems to me, is that any such attempt does little but create another topic on which experts can proliferate.

Consider a generic weekly columnist for a major national newspaper: the number of claims and implied predictions in his work would quickly become so plentiful, with so much of their accuracy subject to legitimate debate, that it would become easy work to distort his overall success by selecting particular predictions and interpreting real-world outcomes in a particular way. The result would be the translation of opinion into ostensibly objective data — like a PolitiFact score sheet for the honesty of public figures.

Maybe the Mistrust Is Indicative of Knowledge, Not Ignorance

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting tidbit from last week's Political Scene. The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which collects dues from the state's municipalities in order to act as their advocate to the state — thus lightening the necessity of representatives and senators to do their job, one suspects — held some focus groups while stratagizing about its legislative agenda:

And Daniel Beardsley, the league's executive director, says he was surprised by what he heard: "I was absolutely shocked at the disappointment, disgust and cynicism that those 30 people, representing a broad spectrum, showed for local and state government," he said during a recent taping of Rhode Island PBS' "A Lively Experiment."

Typical symptom of the problem that he appears to be, Beardsley's conclusion isn't that his organization should strive to help local governments figure out the ways in which they aren't satisfactorily doing their jobs. It isn't to seek legislation that would force local governments to operate in more admirable fashion. Rather, the league is thinking that it might spend the taxpayer money that it collects as dues in order to persuade taxpayers that their local governments are making good use of their tax dollars.

Elected officials would do well to take another approach. A public that does not share an undying love for government might be asking for better execution of public duties — and perhaps a smaller scope of activity — when it expresses "disappointment, disgust, and cynicism."

In related, news, I note that, two items down, Political Scene also mentions four state Representatives who attended a labor union rally at the State House. David Bennett (D, Warwick) said he was there both as a union member and as a government official. "We have to stand up and speak for ourselves," he declared, not apparently hearing the question in the air: Against whom?

March 7, 2011

Interviewing the Candidates for RI GOP Chair

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the meeting of the East Bay Republicans this past Saturday, I was able to do a quick interview with the two candidates for State Republican Party Chairman, Patrick Sweeney and Ken McKay. The new Chairman will be chosen at the statwide party convention on March 19.

Question: If any Republican Party members with a vote at the convention were to read an interview with you at Anchor Rising, what would be your pitch about your bid to become chair?

Ken McKay: "This is a passion of mine and a true belief that this state is at a crisis...if you want to be a leader, you throw your hat in the ring when there's a crisis. I've done it in the past, and I have experience with running campaigns and winning..."Audio: 22 sec

Patrick Sweeney: "I think Rhode Island is at a breaking point, and the party needs to inject some youth and experience and show why Republicans are better for them in the General Assembly than Democrats are...The Governor is out of touch with the constituents and we need to define ourselves as the party for lower taxes, free enterprise and smaller government. "Audio: 38 sec

Question: Change versus continuity with the current party leadership of Gio Cicione -- what needs to be continued, and what needs to be done differently?

Patrick Sweeney: "We're going to go into a transition and witness some new people and some new ideas..." Audio: 19 sec

Ken McKay: "Every organization at points of transition...should review everything it does from the ground up and change what's appropriate, so I'm all for a fresh look at new ideas, but that has nothing to do with the past. That's what everybody should do for the future. I don't liken that to any problem that's existed in the past..." Audio: 36 sec

Question: The get-out-the vote effort is a very important part of running a political party. Does the Rhode Island Republican party need an infusion of money to set up a proper GOTV effort, or is it a matter of organizing the resources that are already here?

Ken McKay: "...the practical part about politics is that you can't get one piece of a political campaign without all of the other pieces can't get the money unless you're marketing the message and you can't market a message without the money, so you have to use what you have. What we have right now is a ton of people who are interested, a lot of energy on the ground, and the question is can we organize them...can we start defining the differences between Republicans and Democrats. I think we can, and once we do, then money will come..." Audio: 1m 8 sec

Patrick Sweeney: "I think it's a matter of organization. We have the technology. We have the individuals. We've just got to execute...we're going to get in there, we're going to make the phone calls, we're going to identify our voters, and that's the only way we're going to be able to change Rhode Island".Audio: 26 sec

Playing the System for Profit

Justin Katz

Gregory Rich, of Cranston, points out the profitability of being a member of Rhode Island's governing class:

Because of [former House Finance Chairman Steven] Costantino's 16 years as a part-time representative, he will only have to work a few years at his new pay rate [as $142,000-a-year secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services for Governor Chafee] to qualify for a pension the rest of his life at his highest year salary.

These are the types of deals that hurt the state pension system, not the state worker who puts in 35 years and retires on a small pension.

I don't think the public pension system is sustainable even without this sort of abuse, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth noting just how profitable it can be to play the government game. This isn't quite what I've meant when I've suggested that the legislature might attract a broader field of candidates if it paid better. Costantino's had the means to accept mostly political influence as compensation for the past sixteen years, and legislators shouldn't have to keep their eyes open for ways to cash in that influence.

Question #4 for David Cicilline on the Category 5 That's Hit Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former Providence Mayor David Cicilline's statements, made to both Scott MacKay of WRNI (1290AM) and Alisha Pina of the Projo, that his administration withdrew funds from the city's "reserves" to address the city's deteriorating fiscal situation is a reversal of the basic position he had previously presented to the public.

Throughout the second half of 2010, Mayor Cicilline and members of his administration repeatedly denied that the reserves had been drawn down by $32 million, as was reported by City Auditor James Lombardi in a detailed report issued in October. On August 6 of 2010 -- before the report was issued, but after the depletion of the reserves had occurred -- Mayor Cicilline wrote this in the Projo…

Restoring the city’s financial integrity has been a top priority of my administration since I took office in 2003, after decades of corruption, waste and mismanagement. We have done that with excellent financial management, produced A ratings from all of the rating agencies, won national awards for financial reporting, built up our reserve accounts, and by tightly controlling spending.
After Auditor Lombardi's report was made public, representatives of the Cicilline administration told various people seeking information; Philip Marcelo of the Projo, Stephen Beale of GoLocalProv, myself, etc. that the reserves had not been spent.

Learning now from Congressman David Cicilline that the reserves were spent raises several questions, relevant both to how he handled his job as Mayor and how he intends to handle the job of Congressman…

  • Given the timing of his statement from the August op-ed, does Congressman Cicilline believe it is possible to "build-up" a fund and spend it at the same time?
  • If Mayor Cicilline believed that Providence's financial and economic situation did justify the use of the reserves, why was he unwilling to be forthcoming with his reasoning until now?
  • Should Congressman Cicilline's constituents expect him to repeat the practice of not revealing policies and spending that he supports, until months after decisions that cannot be reversed are made?

Steyn Back in Action

Justin Katz

It appears that Mark Steyn has returned to his seat in the battleship National Review:

A decade on, Kosovo is a sorta sovereign state, and in Frankfurt a young airport employee is so grateful for what America did for his people that he guns down U.S. servicemen while yelling "Allahu akbar!" The strange shrunken spectator who serves as president of the United States, offering what he called "a few words about the tragic event that took place," announced that he was "saddened," and expressed his "gratitude for the service of those who were lost" and would "spare no effort" to "work with the German authorities" but it was a "stark reminder" of the "extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform are making . . . "

The passivity of these remarks is very telling. Men and women "in uniform" (which it's not clear these airmen were even wearing) understand they may be called upon to make "extraordinary sacrifices" in battle. They do not expect to be "lost" on the shuttle bus at the hands of a civilian employee at a passenger air terminal in an allied nation. But then I don't suppose their comrades expected to be "lost" at the hands of an army major at Fort Hood, to cite the last "tragic event" that "took place" — which seems to be the president's preferred euphemism for a guy opening fire while screaming "Allahu akbar!" But relax, this fellow in Frankfurt was most likely a "lone wolf" (as Sen. Chuck Schumer described the Times Square bomber) or an "isolated extremist" (as the president described the Christmas Day Pantybomber). There are so many of these "lone wolves" and "isolated extremists" you may occasionally wonder whether they've all gotten together and joined Local 473 of the Amalgamated Union of Lone Wolves and Isolated Extremists, but don't worry about it: As any Homeland Security official can tell you, "Allahu akbar" is Arabic for "Nothing to see here."

Brown Concludes RIers "Deeply Divided" on Immigration

Marc Comtois

Brown U. has done a poll on immigration and is framing it as a look at a "deeply divided" RI public (and the ProJo is parroting it). The actual poll numbers tell a different story. It doesn't look like Rhode Islanders are "divided" so much as they are just plain confused. First, it looks like Rhode Islanders want to enforce the current immigration laws (or make them tougher a la Arizona):

Immigrants should change so they blend into American society: a) strongly agree/agree, 70%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 11%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 19%.

Police in our state should be able to check the citizenship and immigration status of all people including citizens: a) strongly agree/agree, 55%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 7%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 38%.

Schools in our state should offer specialized programs for teaching English to children whose first language is not English: a) strongly agree/agree, 83%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 7%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 10%.

How much do you support or oppose the approach that Arizona is taking on immigration? a) strongly support, 32%; b) somewhat support, 22%; c) neither support nor oppose, 10%; d) somewhat oppose, 14%; e) strongly oppose, 23%.

If the Arizona law were enacted in our state, how much would you support or oppose a tax increase to pay for additional police to enforce immigration law? a) strongly support/somewhat support, 54%; b) neither support nor oppose, 10%, c) somewhat oppose/ strongly oppose, 36%.

RIers are also open and sympathetic to immigrants (illegal or otherwise):
Immigrants today have the same values as American-born citizens: a) strongly agree/agree, 59%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 19%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 22%.

Immigrants make our state more open to new ideas and cultures: a) strongly agree/agree, 41%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 20%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 39%.

Illegal immigrant children attending college in our state should be charged a higher tuition rate at state colleges and universities: a) strongly agree/agree, 23%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 68%.

Wanting to enforce or toughen the laws and still being sympathetic to the plight of others aren't mutually exclusive positions to take. However, it appears that many RIers are neither open or sympathetic to immigrants (illegal or otherwise, apparently)
Immigrants today have the same values as previous generations of immigrants: a) strongly agree/agree, 35%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 16%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 49%.

Immigrants strengthen our state because of their hard work and talents: a) strongly agree/agree, 10%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 80%.

That being said, many RIers are also open and sympathetic to immigrants:
Immigrants today are a burden on our state because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare: a) strongly agree/agree, 17%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 21%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 62%.

It is very important that everyone in the United States speaks English: a) strongly agree/agree, 34%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 17%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 49%.

?[Scratches head]. These answers lead me to wonder if; a) there is a misunderstanding of what exactly an immigrant is; b) Rhode Islanders are schizophrenic; 3) there is a problem with some of the questions; or IV) a, b and 3 are correct or; E) perhaps the real problem lay in the polling methodology: "two waves, in November 2010 and February 2011" (I'm not a polling expert, but isn't a 3 month span between data sets significant? Were all of the questions asked during both polling periods? Were the same pollsters involved?)

A Fantasy Compromise

Justin Katz

Earlier, I mentioned Julia Steiny's contribution to the belated march of red flags throughout the Providence Journal. Steiny's piece is interesting because she attempts to draw a line through the ranks of teachers:

... in the shrill, righteous rhetoric, sometimes screamed by both the left and the right, teachers are lumped together as if they are a homogenous group, with the same interests. Good teachers deserve far better. Academically, they're the best allies of the kids. Fiscally, they're our best buy.

Steiny elides the fact that the teachers have effectively assented to this treatment by, first, joining together into a collective and, second, failing to exhibit deep differences of opinion among themselves. It isn't really fair to fault the "righteous rhetoric" when educators present a unified face.

To be sure, Steiny notes that in "pay-to-play states, teachers can refuse to join" unions, but "payback for bucking the union can be ferocious." How much more ferocious things must be in states, like Rhode Island, in which union membership is compulsory. Indeed, I wonder whether it's possible to go from there to a "right to work" scenario in which teachers have a right to form unions but also a right not to participate in them, as Steiny suggests. In Rhode Island, the unions are already formed, which means that teachers would have to break away one by one. That sounds like a recipe for a divided workforce devoting far too much behind-the-scenes energy to the labor battle.

It's actually surprising that Steiny doesn't agree, given other observations in her article:

Unions are private-sector businesses with leaders that make fat six-figure salaries. If they do not give their teachers good customer service, state laws should not keep them in business. A pot of compulsory dues allows unions to ignore dissenting rank and file and use the money to, for example, fight much-needed reforms to professionalize hiring, or to weed out bad teachers, or to extend the school day (which every charter school has already done). Unions cling to hiring by seniority with a death grip, even though it is clearly detrimental to education.

Surely, Steiny has had some taste of the tactics that such vested interests will use against those who speak against them. Is that a battle that we want to impose on our best educators?

For their part, they've arguably already proven their disinclination for the fight by failing to speak out already.

The Line of Awareness Crossed Too Late?

Justin Katz

If the Sunday Providence Journal is any measure, commentators as a class have moved toward greater concern about the effect of Rhode Island's stacked public-sector deck. From Froma Harrop to Julia Steiny to Mark Patinkin. Here's an interesting bit from Patinkin's offering, which imagines the Starship Enterprise reaction:

"But things seem more peaceful and stable than Planet Wisconsin, which I heard was in upheaval over budget issues."

"Au contraire, Captain. The unfunded pension liability in Wisconsin is $252 million. Here in Planet Rhode Island, the state treasurer herself puts it at $5 billion or more. That's 'billion' with a 'B,' Captain." "Impossible, Spock."

The main difference is that peculiarities of Rhode Island politics filled all of the important policy-making seats in the government with people who have proven themselves inclined to ignore problems for as long as possible in order to maintain the status quo. We're already in worse condition than states that are taking steps to solve their budget problems, and we're digging in for a while longer.

March 6, 2011

Question #3 for David Cicilline on the Category 5 That's Hit Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

The next question involves some nuts-and-bolts at the accounting level. Congressman David Cicilline, in his interviews with both Scott MacKay of WRNI (1290AM) and Alisha Pina of the Projo is now saying that his administration did spend a portion of the City of Providence's reserves to help balance the FY2010 budget. (This is a change in the Mayor's position on the use of the reserves and will be addressed in the final question).

What is casually being referred to as the "reserves" by Congressman Cicilline is actually comprised of at least two separate accounts, the "reserve contingency funds cash account" and the "capital assets account", two of the accounts that were prime subjects of Providence City Auditor James Lombardi's October report. According to the City Auditor, both of these accounts had been substantially depleted over the course of Fiscal year 2010. The reserve contingency funds cash account reached the point of being overdrawn and the capital assets account had its balance reduced from $22.3 million to $4.7 million.

Here are the real nuts-and-bolts: the "capital proceeds fund" column of the "combining balance sheet" of the "nonmajor governmental funds" page of the Comprehensive Financial Report for Providence for FY2010 contains a set of numbers that appear to match Auditor Lombardi's description of (and concern about) the capital assets account. Furthermore, it is obvious from tracking this fund across the 4 years of comprehensive reports available on the City of Providence website that a substantial change in the management and utilization of this fund occurred in FY2010:

YearAsset: Cash and
cash equivalents
Asset: Due from
other funds
Total AssetsLiability: Due to
other funds
Total Fund

(Source: Combining Balance Sheets for Nonmajor Government Funds from the City of Providence, Rhode Island, Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports, 2007-2010.)

The questions these numbers raise, in this case questions that can be answered either by members of the former Cicilline administration or the current Tavares administration, are...

  • Was the $17.6 million withdrawn from the capital proceeds fund simply transferred to the general fund, or spent on something specific?
  • Given that $17.6 million was withdrawn from the fund, should anyone be worried that the reported liability "due to other funds" increased instead of decreased?
  • What source is supposed to be providing the money "due from other funds" to the capital proceeds fund and when is it scheduled to be paid?

Buddy C to ABC6: Chafee Will Tap O'Donnell

Monique Chartier

ABC6 reported the following "Breaking News" item shortly after noon today. Assuming this to be true, what do we know about Marshal O'Donnell?

United States Marshal Steven O'Donnell will be named the next head of the Rhode Island State Police.

ABC6 Chief Political Analyst Buddy Cianci says the announcement will occur this week.

O'Donnell, formerly the second-in-command with the State Police, was sworn in as the US Marshal in November of 2009. He had served with the State Police since 1986 and risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Prior to that, he was a patrolman with the North Kingstown Police Department and a correctional officer with the RI Department of Corrections. He is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia. ...


Numerous outlets are reporting that it will be Marshal O'Donnell. Mike Stanton has a lengthy article in the ProJo about events that made a replacement necessary as well as a run-down of the nominee's career. And it looks like WPRO (source: Buddy Cianci again) was the first to report this development yesterday morning.

The Governor's office has called a press conference for today at 3:30 to formally announce the governor's choice.

Question #2 for David Cicilline on the Category 5 That's Hit Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

Reflecting on the early years of his mayoralty, former Providence Mayor David Cicilline told WRNI (1290AM) interviewer Scott MacKay that "from the first time that I took office, there was always a gap between revenues and expenditures" and that he and his administration "began to chip away at that gap".

According to the annual budget figures maintained by the Rhode Island Division of Municipal Finance, the chipping-away began with a major spending increase. In Mayor Cicilline's very first budget (FY2004), municipal spending increased 19.5% over the prior fiscal year, over $40,000,000 in dollar-terms. This was a structural increase as no reductions from one year to the next would occur in the Providence municipal budget until FY2010 (see the table below the fold).

Later in the interview, now-Congressman Cicilline attributed Providence's budget problems, at least in the last couple of years, to "very, very serious cuts from the state", "this incredibly hard recession" and "the loss of federal education stimulus funds". If Congressman Cicilline believes these to be the primary factors which created the shortfall passed on to Mayor Angel Tavares, doesn't this imply that the Cicilline fiscal-management plan assumed that $40,000,000+ of annual spending, over and above the spending already in place when he took office, was going to be covered by state-aid increases and/or economic growth? If not, where was the money to pay for the permanent increase in the budget supposed to have come from?

(Anchor Rising will of course avoid asking any snarky questions about whether Mayor Cicilline planned on using stimulus funds in FY2009 and after to defray costs, when his administration decided to implement the major budget jump in FY2004).

Table: Providence General Fund Expenditure Budgets. Source: Division of Municipal Affairs of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue.

% Change From
Previous Year
% Change From
Previous Year

Cover-Up Collusion by the Fourth Estate? ProJo Endorsed David Cicilline Three Days AFTER the Release of the Internal Auditor's Report

Monique Chartier

In an excellent post at Legal Insurrection entitled "What Did Former Providence Mayor David Cicilline (D-RI) Know, And When Did He Know It?", William Jacobson points out, among other interesting items, that David Cicilline was endorsed by the Providence Journal.

One's initial reaction is, sure, they endorsed him; he was the Dem candidate. And this is certainly a natural reflex. The ProJo has a marked propensity to support and endorse liberal and Dem candidates.

This one is particularly troublesome for the ProJo, however. In their endorsement, they specifically cited Cicilline's "fiscal discipline" and called him "a highly competent public servant". Yet this praise and endorsement came three days after numerous news and media outlets, including the ProJo itself, had reported that Cicilline had failed to make numerous payments to city pension funds, had emptied the reserve fund, had refused to provide numbers and documents to one of the city's own auditors and had baldly lied about all of it.

Doesn't the Editorial Board read its own newspaper? Or did they read about the Internal Auditor's report and unquestioningly dismiss it as someone once again just being mean to poor David?

This is not to dilute or detract from David Cicilline's culpability in the original matter. The ProJo played no role in his egregious budget fixes. By ignoring the Internal Auditor's report (even to the extent of disregarding their own reporters!), however, the Editorial Board did assist the mayor in smothering this disturbing revelation as to the true condition of the city's finances and the corollary matter of any contributory policies of the Cicilline administration. This, of course, helped him preserve the false image of a "competent public servant" just long enough to obtain a political promotion.

In doing so, the ProJo became a watchdog guarding the wrong object.

In the wake of necessary and dire budget steps taken by Providence's new mayor, the ProJo has belatedly started asking questions of David Cicilline, going so far as to publish an unfortunate (from his perspective) exchange between his office and a ProJo reporter seeking answers from the reluctant congressman.

It is to be hoped that, in the future, the Providence Journal undertakes such diligence before and not after a candidate has gained a political promotion - gained, in part, via the dissemination of false information about a vital public matter. This state needs all the (properly focused) watchdogs it can get.

Another Question for David Cicilline on the Category 5: Why Did You Refuse to Give Your Own Internal Auditor Access to Operating Figures, Compelling Him, Incredibly, to Resort to FOIA Requests?

Monique Chartier

Yes, for six months, David Cicilline, you willfully withheld from the City's Internal Auditor financial documents. Yes, James Lombardi - an auditor for the City of Providence, not some meddling outsider - had to file a public information request under the state's open records law (!) in order to obtain from your administration the documents and numbers that he needed to do his job.

Why did you do this, Congressman Cicilline? Why didn't you want this important information brought to light? Weren't a raft of directly involved parties - taxpayers, city employees, the state, the federal gov't - rightfully entitled to this information? So why did you impede a city employee from correctly doing his job and bringing this information to light?

Next, how could you then make very public representations that the city was experiencing "strong fiscal health" while you were deliberately withholding numbers and documents on the very subject of the city's fiscal health? Did you know that those numbers and documents would demonstrate just the opposite of your assertion and potentially interfere with the political promotion that you wanted so badly? Did you feel no obligation to the city that you represented to come to grips with its serious financial problems by, at a minimum, honestly quantifying the extent of those problems? Or did nothing matter at that point beyond your own political aspirations?

If a CEO had committed the same egregious actions to cover up and deliberate misrepresent the financial standing of the corporation, s/he would face serious criminal charges, and rightfully so. I'm trying to understand, Congressman, why an elected official should be exempted from similar accountability.

March 5, 2011

Question #1 for David Cicilline on the Category 5 That's Hit Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

In recent interviews with Scott MacKay of WRNI (1290AM) and Alisha Pina of the Projo, and in material available on the City of Providence website, David Cicilline claimed that he reduced costs by eliminating 445 positions in Providence government during his tenure as mayor.

However, the city's most recent "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report" presents different numbers. Measured between June 30, 2002 (the last data point available in the report from before Mayor Cicilline took office) and June 30, 2010, only 222 full-time equivalents were eliminated. Measured between June 30, 2003 (where the baseline figure would include half of Mayor Cicilline's first term) and June 30, 2010, 247 full-time equivalents were eliminated. How should the official figures be reconciled with Congressman Cicilline's claim that 445 positions have been eliminated?

In addition, also according to the numbers in the comprehensive financial report, the reduction in total number full-time equivalents that occurred during the Cicilline administration occurred solely within the school department. Measured between 2003 and 2010, 278 full-time equivalents were eliminated from the school department, while 31 full-time equivalents were added to the municipal departments. Does the choice by Congressman Cicilline to use the number of city positions as a metric of fiscal and managerial responsibility, along with the actual changes in FTEs, reflect a belief on his part that the City of Providence's fiscal issues are primarily with the school-side of the budget, while the municipal side has been running at near-optimal efficiency?

Table: City of Providence Rhode Island, full-time equivalent employees as of June 30 of each year. Source: City of Providence, Rhode Island, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2010. Page 85.

Year# Municipal
# School
# Total

Cicilline on Defense

Marc Comtois

Rep. David Cicilline is in town and defending his record as Mayor of Providence, explaining to the ProJo that he cut hundreds of jobs, renegotiated benefits and took other steps to mitigate budget deficits, including tapping into the reserve fund.

If you have groceries that cost $500 a month and this month groceries cost $600 and you take $100 from your savings, you don’t have a deficit...You use some of your savings to pay your groceries; you don’t owe the grocery store more money.
Except if you're forced to do that month after month and then your savings runs dry....or if rich uncle Leo (the Federal Gov't) stops sending you the checks...well, you get what we've got right here, and I don't like anymore than you (so to speak).

The fact of the matter is that while Cicilline did take steps to cut costs it was no where near enough to what was required. He's not alone in this. Across the state and nation, political leaders took longer to adjust to the new austerity than was necessary because they hoped for magic bailouts or that things would turn around. It didn't happen and many were voted out of office because of it. David Cicilline got a promotion.

March 4, 2011

UPDATE: RI Future Back On Line

Marc Comtois

It appears as if Brian Hull has maneuvered through the interwebs chaos and got RI Future back on line and functional (it was up earlier, but the links weren't working). An A+ for perseverance to Brian and here's guessing you'll be moving from the "Not" column soon.

On another note, an ISP-centric blog clarifies what really goes on (and takes both Ted Nesi--who already ran with the following--and myself to task):

Liberal blog let its domain name expire on February 24. As is standard practice, domain registrar eNom replaced the DNS for the domain and pointed it to a parked page....
“It will come back,” Hull said. “There’s just some issues I need to try and work out with it.”
“Some issues” means Hull needs to pay his bill. Which isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article.

It’s also inaccurate that eNom now owns the domain through February 2012. The domain is actually in “Auto Renew Period”, which means the .org registry tacked a year onto the expiration date, not eNom.

Another political blog states:

It’s going on 5 days (or so) since was “taken over” by one of those ISP vultures.

Now, that’s not to say that eNom won’t eventually take this domain and keep it in its portfolio. But don’t blame eNom right now — blame the guy who forgot to renew his domain name.

I don't know, still sounds kind of vulturish to me. Anyway, glad this is all straightened out.

An Audit of Popularity

Justin Katz

More news today about Providence's finances under Mayor David Cicilline:

At the time, Mayor David N. Cicilline, who was a candidate for election to Congress, vehemently denied the finding. He insisted about $30 million remained in the accounts, and charged that Lombardi was playing politics. The audit, by Braver Accountants and Advisers, of Providence, said $3.46 million was left. ...

"Because of the popularity of the previous administration, no one was willing to listen to the truth," [City Council Finance Committee Chairman John] Igliozzi declared. Cicilline and his forces "were extremely successful with their political spin machine."

Asked why the council did not do more to head off the problem, Igliozzi said part-time council members found it hard to cope with what he called deception by Cicilline and his top aides and were obliged to acquiesce to questionable labor deals and budgets despite their vocal misgivings.

Whether the accusation concerns a narrow act or a broad state of affairs, we have to acknowledge that Cicilline was only the symptom of the problem. Everybody, from the Providence Journal to politicos to voters failed the city. Too many people put something else too far above good governance — whether it's the ideology of the media, the personal greed of unions, the eagerness of social activists, or what have you. They wanted Cicilline to succeed, and so, as the article begins, nobody cared, even though "the watchdog was barking."

Everything that we're hearing, right now, is so much tail covering, all of it likely to be forgotten by the time the next election rolls around and Cicilline has to stand before the voters once again.

Harvard Brings Back ROTC

Marc Comtois

Unlike at least one of their Ivy League counterparts, Harvard is backing up their previous rhetoric and bringing ROTC (Navy) back onto the campus.

On Friday, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus are scheduled to sign an agreement that will establish the Naval ROTC’s formal presence on the Cambridge campus, the university announced Thursday.

Under the agreement, a director of Naval ROTC at Harvard will be appointed, and the university will resume funding the program, which will be given office space and access to athletic fields and classrooms.

Harvard cadets will still train, as they have for years, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also located in Cambridge, just outside Boston. Currently, 20 Harvard students participate in ROTC, including 10 involved in Naval ROTC.

Harvard is the first elite school to agree to rescind its ban since December, when Congress issued its decision about the military policy on gays.

Faust said the "renewed relationship" affirms the armed forces’ vital role in "securing our freedoms."

"It broadens the pathways for students to participate in an honorable and admirable calling and in doing so advances our commitment to both learning and service," she said in a press release.

Mabus said the agreement would make the military better and the nation stronger because "with exposure comes understanding, and through understanding comes strength."

I get that Vietnam caused a serious rift but always thought that DA-DT was an all-too convenient excuse to keep on, keepin' on with this wrongheaded policy. Regardless of that, Harvard has done the right thing. As for our own Ivy League "installation," Brown students can participate in ROTC at Providence College and there is an ongoing debate over allowing ROTC back on campus.

The Union Rhetoric and Financial Reality

Justin Katz

You know, this sort of talk can only expand the sense of unreality between unions and the general public:

"Something is insane in Providence," [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten said, standing on the steps of City Hall. "On a week where teachers and students were taking a well-deserved break, a secret plan was being hatched in Providence. They thought no one would be there to hear it. Fire everyone — that was their plan."

Maybe it's because my family hasn't been able to afford to go anywhere during vacations since my honeymoon a dozen years ago, but it strikes me as peculiar to assume that February vacation finds full regiments of teachers flying off to vacation spots around the globe. It seems, rather, that a better time to slip secret plans through would be just before they leave or just after they return.

Moreover, Weingarten manages to remind the general public that the protesting horde just wrapped up another full week off — a winter break, not to be confused with the Christmas break or the soon to arrive spring break. Let the kids decompress, by all means, but are Rhode Island's schools running so smoothly that there's no need to fill time out of the classroom with strategy sessions, evaluation of successes and failures, and professional development — all within scope of the enviable employment packages that teachers already receive?

In similar regard, this statement from a parent at the rally emphasizes the point:

"Mr. Mayor," said Maria Almestica, "we don't want 35 kids in a classroom. This is not OK. Our children should be learning, not worrying. You're messing with their futures."

The children shouldn't have to worry that the city in which they live will not remain financially solvent, and they shouldn't have to worry that their state cannot produce adequate employment to allow them to remain within its borders when they enter the workforce. The status quo of the Rhode Island public sector is not sustainable, and at bottom, that is what's messing with students' futures.

March 3, 2011

Not Only Did Cicilline Empty the Reserve Fund To Balance the Budget, He Lied About Doing So

Monique Chartier

When a new audit confirmed last month that David Cicilline had depleted Providence's reserve fund, he defended the action, saying

We had to make some difficult choices, people can disagree with those to accomplish a balanced budget, I believe those were the right choices in terms of protecting services and balancing all the equities.

Then-Mayor Cicilline took rather a different tone in October, however, when he was busted cold and confronted with his action.

"This report was given to talk radio and the media and never even passed on to the City Council," Cicilline said Friday morning. "It's absolutely false. The city has made its [pension] payments according to the traditional schedule that it uses. The reserves are well above what they are supposed to be."

Side note: "well above what they are supposed to be"??? As WRNI points out, that would have been $30 million. But there was only $17 million in the reserve fund even BEFORE Mayor Cicilline raided it!

What happened? What was different in October? Well, the mayor was running for Congress. He had just made the decision to deplete Providence's reserve fund as the final step to balancing the budget. But he was clearly concerned about backlash from voters for this egregious budget fix.

So he lied. He lied about what was in the reserve fund. And he lied about emptying the reserve fund.

Confronted with his action once again in early Feb, the junior congressman, now safely out of Dodge, this time admitted the action but defended it. (Now he's not saying much of anything.)

The congressman presumably believed that this was a righteous (if "difficult") action, otherwise, he would not have taken it. Why, then, was it necessary to lie about it?

Them and Us

Justin Katz

Via Ian Donnis's Tip Sheet comes the news that Brian Hull is increasingly eager to offload RIFuture:

Brian Hull, who purchased the site in 2009, says he's willing to transfer the site to someone for no financial gain.

"What's most important to me is rebuilding the RI Future blog to what it was when I was running it full time. There are a couple people I'm in touch with about running the blog full time, but nothing as of yet. Things are still fluid right now, and my main concern is getting it back live," he said via email Wednesday.

Ian paraphrases that as "he'll hand over the blog for free," which seems to assume more than the text allows — although Ian is certainly in a position to have additional insight.

Essentially, it sounds as if all of the folks who've run RIFuture have determined it to be more work than they've been willing to invest. By contrast, much of my activity over the past few months has been geared toward spending more time on this sort of activity. I let off the requests for full-time funding because (1) the regular pitches don't appear to do much good, and (2) a couple of other opportunities arose that, although not entailing full-time AR work, would have opened up more time.

Those opportunities have not yet borne fruit, though, with one falling away entirely and the other in limbo, so I'll venture the brief comment that it really wouldn't take all that much to get Anchor Rising rolling as an honest-to-goodness media operation. Just a few generous investors could make it happen. It would stand as something of a vindication of our efforts if we managed to go professional at the same time that a site that is ostensibly more in keeping with the state's political culture (and bolstered by union interests) struggles to remain in operation.

In the meantime, I do want to express gratitude to those who've joined our "subscriber" list in recent weeks. Every bit helps, and we're getting to the point that the regular revenue should ensure that Anchor Rising doesn't ever again become host to the young lady currently representing our progressive counterpart.


The penultimate paragraph didn't come out as I'd intended, so I've rewritten it to better capture my meaning. I don't particularly wish RIFuture gone or revel in its struggles. At the same time, the blogs are part of a larger social context, and at that level of competition, our side is hardly dominant.

BREAKING: RI State Police Commissioner Brendan Doherty Resigns

Marc Comtois

WPRO reports that RI State Police Commissioner Brendan Doherty has tendered his resignation to Governor Chafee effective April 1. No surprise, really.

UPDATE: Buddy Cianci and Tim White have both interviewed Doherty since the story broke. Sounds like Doherty will be running for office in the near future (Whitehouse or Cicilline?).

The Shape of the Governor's Solutions

Justin Katz

Governor Chafee isn't giving many clues as to the decisions that he's making as he builds his budget proposal, but some statements that he has been willing to make are telling with regard to his approach, to say the least:

Chafee did describe some specific priorities. He supports proposed federal legislation that would help the states to recoup taxes on sales over the Internet, he said.

As he has since he was mayor of Warwick, Chafee called for the federal government to reimburse state and local jurisdictions for the cost of such mandatory programs as special education.

The governor acknowledged that he’s had "limited success" since the 1990s in seeking federal financing of the federally required school programs. But Chafee said he will keep asking for the money. "I'm going to be like a terrier with a bone," he said.

How apt the dog analogy is. Apart from begging for table scraps from the federal government, raising taxes is a bit like sneaking up and snatching sandwiches from unsuspecting children's hands, a maneuver that many a domestic canine has mastered.

I'd love to be proven wrong, but one suspects that there will be no difficult decisions made by this governor. He'll govern under the same principles of short-sighted budgeting, irresponsible spending, reliance on hand-outs, quick fixes, and illusions that have brought Rhode Island to its current state.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House by Committee, February 15-16

Carroll Andrew Morse
Corporations Committee
Environment and Natural Resources Committee
Finance Committee
Health, Education, and Welfare
Municipal Government Committee


Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5386Licensing of underground utility contractors
H5422Prohibits certain contract provisions between health plans and institutional providers
H5423Regulates propane gas sales.
H5424"A contract for the retail sale of propane gas that offers a guaranteed price plan, including a ceiling price cap plan contract and any other similar plan, must be disclosed in a way to clearly define the terms and conditions of the price plan".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5320Requires auto dealerships to maintain records on vehicle maintenance for a period of five years.
H5381"the health insurance commissioner shall conduct a review of the impact of each proposed state benefit mandate proposed by the general assembly after January 1, 2012".
H5384An auto-body repair shop can lose its license for soliciting on behalf of any tow, auto body, or auto repair business at the site of an accident.
H5385From the official description: "This act would prohibit insurers from requiring optometrists to participate in a subsidiary’s or third-party vision care plan as a condition for participation in the insurer’s participating provider panel".
H5425Requires "every entity providing a nonprofit dental service plan" to notify participating dentists of coverage changes no later the 30 days after the changes come into effect.
H5426Requires insurance policies to contain the language explaining their cancellation rules.
H5427Health care utilization review procedures must follow standards "adopted by one or more national medical specialty practice association"

Environment and Natural Resources:

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5388Restructures the Coastal Resources Management council in a way consistent with separation of powers.
H5390Establishes a commission on clean-energy biofuels.
H5428 The bottle bill.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5321Permits with expirations dates issued by the Department of Environmental Management will be "tolled" until July 1, 2013. Basically, this means that a new expiration date for a permit is calculated, by taking the number of days currently remaining on a permit, and adding them to July 1, 2013.
H5387Mandates specific areas for the Department of Agriculture within the Department of Environmental Management to get involved in.
H5389Permits with expirations dates issued by the Department of Environmental Management will be "tolled" until July 1, 2013. Basically, this means that a new expiration date for a permit is calculated, by taking the number of days currently remaining on a permit, and adding them to July 1, 2013.
H5391Repeals the requirement that "Water suppliers shall formulate and carry out a program for installation of radio frequency reading systems...initiated not later than December 31, 2012".
H5429From the official description: "This act would eliminate the requirement of the department of environmental management approval of an individual sewage disposal system, if the system is designed by a designer".


Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5325Establishes zero-based budgeting procedures for the state budget.
H5330From the official description: "This act would authorize the disability business enterprise committee to determine the fair market price of commodities and services which are contained on the procurement list and which are offered for sale to the government by any certified rehabilitation facility or small disadvantaged businesses owned and controlled by persons with disabilities [and] require the department of administration to issue regulations for awarding contracts to small disadvantaged businesses owned and controlled by persons with disabilities..."
H5393From the official description: "This act would establish the emergency communication and public telecommunication access fund to create an emergency communication program for the deaf and hard-of-hearing".
H5397Repeal of the Caruolo Act.
H5399Creates a separate education aid "funding formula" component for regional school districts (on top of what they get from the new "funding formula").
H5431Establishes an office of Inspector General for Rhode Island
H5437Creates a "mandatory utility bill payment assistance program for low-income residential customers of regulated utilities".
H5438From the official description: "limit[s] any future Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation guarantee to any one entity to ten million dollars ($10,000,000)".

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5322Ends the automatic annual 7.5% increase in "tipping fees" that the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation charges to municipalities for recycling.
H5323Would exempt "horses used in commercial farming operations" and "feed for animals used in commercial farming" from the state sales tax.
H5324Establishes a fund to be "utilized to create emergency communication and public telecommunication access accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. (But other than saying that it may take donations and grants, doesn't provide a source of funding for the fund.)
H5326From the official description: "This act would provide that if a recipient under the Rhode Island works program works a minimum of twenty-five (25) hours per week, then they would be eligible to receive a subsidy for educational or job training programs".
H5327"Debt service that is no longer carried on the books of any regional school district shall not be included in any annual regional school district budget" and "nor shall non-reoccurring debt service" of regional districts shall not be included in maintenance-effort-calculations. I'm assuming there's a specific case motivating this bill. Anyone know what it is?
H5328The General Assembly's health co-pay would be equal to the highest co-pay specified in a contract or collective bargaining agreement.
H5329Raises from $1,600 to $3,500 the amount received in donations to pay for a funeral, that will not count towards eligibility for receiving public assistance for funeral expenses.
H5331From the official description: "This act would subject the recording of attachments, executions and mechanics' liens to a $4.00 surcharge for the benefit of the Rhode Island Historical Records Trust".
H5392Allows communities which did not take the option 95% maintenance of effort in FY2010 or FY2011 the opportunity to do so in FY2012.
H5394The RI Airport Corporation will give the City of Warwick each year an amount of $5,000,000 plus a 3% annual increase.
H5395Imposes a fee of $5 for each EBT card issued for receiving public assistance.
H5396Allows the Board of Regents for Education to increase the number of school days required in a district, if the district does not demonstrate progress.
H5398Orders divestiture of state agencies from Hess Corporation, because of its participation in the Weaver's Cove LNG project.
H5432Adds a one-cent per ounce tax to bottled soft drinks.
H5433From the official description: "This act would provide that bonds for school housing projects could be issued by or from communities with a stand alone investment grade rating of at least 'A'".
H5434Excludes mammography services from the state's 2.0% imaging charges surcharge.
H5435Extends the increased video lottery terminal income received by the Lincoln and Newport by one year.
H5436Increases the share of video lottery terminal income given to Lincoln.

Health, Education, and Welfare:

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5332Total prohibition on "alcohol energy drinks" in Rhode Island. Companion to S0256
H5334Requires calorie-labeling of public school food-service offerings (of course, it's not going to do much until, until the state fixes its system-wide problem with mathematics education).
H5335Total prohibition on "alcohol energy drinks" in Rhode Island (Except for some funky font-spacing, I can't find any difference between this bill and H5332. Why is there a duplicate submission?)
H5401Changes to the medical marijuana law.
H5440Relates to school sports and concussions. Athletes must be "baseline tested" before the season, trainers no longer required to attend a concussion training course, and a "healthcare professional" instead of a physician can clear a player after a concussion.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5333Requires flashing lights on snow-removal vehicles (but only while removing snow, and not including snow blowers)
H5400Prohibits the commissioner of education from adopting any rules and regulations from other state agencies.
H5403Adds methylenedioxymethcathinone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, methylmethcathinone, and methoxymethcathinone and fluoromethcathinone to the schedule of controlled substances.
H5441Seeking a nursing license would require a criminal background check.

Municipal Government:

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5380Changes long-term land use planning requirements imposed by the state.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5373Cities, towns, and state departments that own land within designated Coastal Resource Management Council rights-of-way shall designated a portion of the land that they deem necessary for public parking.
H5374From the official description: "This act would provide that if during any fiscal year the state reimbursement to cities and towns and school districts is insufficient to cover the costs of state mandates as reported by the department of revenue, those affected cities, towns and school districts may cease implementation of state mandates at their discretion up to fifty percent (50%) of the value of the reimbursement shortfall".
H5375Changes to regulations on historical cemeteries. Companion to S0028.
H5376Would allow ordinances to be electronically disseminated.
H5377From the official description: "This act would eliminate the requirement that any community water system serving a population of ten thousand (10,000) or more has to directly deliver a full copy of the consumer confidence report to each household...that receives water from that system".
H5378Authorizes special license plates for the Bristol Fourth of July Committee.
H5379Repeals the requirement that school bus routes be inspected for safety hazards by the Chief of Police prior to the school year.
H5416Officials elected for the first time in 2012 or after are not legible for the state retirement system, as a benefit of their elected office.
H5460Increases to 99 from 75 the numbers of days that a retiree can work for a municipality without forfeiting retirement benefits.
H5461Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, any municipal recreation department may request a background check from their local police department for any employee or volunteer serving their community.


Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5415Exempts state construction projects under $1 million in cases of new construction, and under $500 thousand in cases of alterations or repairs from prevailing wage laws.
H5459The George Nee Economic Development Act.

Bills Introduced to the Rhode Island House (Judiciary Committee), February 15-16

Carroll Andrew Morse

A large number of bills were submitted into the Rhode Island House and referred to the Judiciary Committee, the week before the spring recess. A few of the highlights are above the fold, the complete set is below.

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5347Constitutional amendment for voter initiative and referendum.
H5405The sentence for a second DWI offense will include being ordered to abstain from alcohol and wearing an alcohol-monitoring device.
H5407From the official description: "authorize[s] and empower[s] state and local law enforcement to work together with Federal authorities to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully in the United States".
H5410Constitutional Amendment bringing legislators under Ethics Commission jurisdiction

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5336Extends open meeting laws to "non-profit corporation or other non-profit entity that funded at least twenty-five percent (25%) of its operational budget in the prior budget year"
H5340Requires committee votes to be published on the General Assembly website.
H5341Prohibits state officials in positions that require Senate confirmation from lobbying (Let's call this one "The Caruolo Act, 2.0")
H5368Repeals the estate tax exemption, but replaces it with an estate-tax credit of $25,200 on all estates.
H5456Requires that all roll call votes, including committee votes, be posted on the GA website within 24 hours of the vote being taken.

Significant Rewrites with Statewide Impact

H5338Allows special license plates for EMTs
H5346Creates a process for voter initiative and referendum (depending on an authorizing constitutional amendment)
H5347Constitutional amendment for voter initiative and referendum.
H5359Changes inheritance rules.
H5360From the official description: "This act would permit a trustee who has absolute power to invade principal of a trust to make distributions to a second trust for the benefit of the same beneficiaries".
H5365From the official description: "This would enable wills and trusts executed prior to September 12, 1981, to qualify for the unlimited Rhode Island estate tax marital deduction available after federal estate tax law permitted an unlimited federal estate tax marital deduction".
H5366From the official description: "This act would require the electronic recording of custodial interrogations in their entirety in cases where the potential sentence is one of life imprisonment".
H5367From the official description: "This act would eliminate certain notice requirements to parties in interest in the probate of a will or letters of administration but in no way would limit the discretion of the court to order any notice it deems necessary".
H5404The sentence for a second offense of refusing a chemical DWI test will include being ordered to abstain from alcohol and wearing an alcohol-monitoring device.
H5405The sentence for a second DWI offense will include being ordered to abstain from alcohol and wearing an alcohol-monitoring device.
H5406The sentence for DWI offense resulting in serious bodily injury will include being ordered to abstain from alcohol and wearing an alcohol-monitoring device.
H5407From the official description: "authorize[s] and empower[s] state and local law enforcement to work together with Federal authorities to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully in the United States".
H5409Constitutional Amendment specifying a run-off election, if no candidate for Governor receives a majority vote, and run-off elections for the other General Officers in cases where no candidate gets a majority vote AND we're holding a run-off for Governor anyway.
H5410Constitutional Amendment bringing legislators under Ethics Commission jurisdiction
H5412Requires the Rhode Island Broadcasters association to establish a website for the publication of legal notices, and all members to announce the website at least once per day. Companion to S0248.
H5413Constitutional Amendment adding one legislator to the Rhode Island House, and the requiring that all Senate districts be composed of two House districts.
H5414Constitutional Amendment placing Secretary of State second in-line of succession. (I think this needs another rewrite)
H5445Removes certain restrictions on the make-up of voting districts.

Targeted Changes with Statewide Impact

H5336Extends open meeting laws to "non-profit corporation or other non-profit entity that funded at least twenty-five percent (25%) of its operational budget in the prior budget year"
H5337Child support orders automatically continue after a child with a "severe physical or mental impairment" reaches the age of 18, and until ordered stopped by the courts.
H5339From the official description: "This act would require court permission prior to filing a lis pendens on real estate that is used solely for the purpose of maintaining the health, education and welfare of an individual". Paging one of our readers expert in real-estate terminology...)
H5340Requires committee votes to be published on the General Assembly website.
H5341Prohibits state officials in positions that require Senate confirmation from lobbying (Let's call this one "The Caruolo Act, 2.0")
H5342Proposed constitutional amendment specifying the Gov and Lt. Gov run on a ticket.
H5343From the official description: "This act would eliminate the requirement for police officers to maintain written reports to be kept on file whenever a high speed pursuit occurs".
H5344From the official description: "eliminate(s) the requirement that police departments submit their high-speed pursuit policies to the attorney general".
H5345"there shall be no obligation on the part of a probate court to prepare an affidavit of no real property or record a certificate of descent upon the failure of the fiduciary to do so".
H5348Purchase and sales agreements must include sewer, water, and fire-tax details.
H5349Exempts cities and towns from having to pay the $25 stipend to certified individuals who perform official duties on election day. (The stipend remains in the law, the bill simply says that cities and towns are not responsible for paying it).
H5350Allows electronic posting of notices of school committee meetings on a school committee or municipal website to satisfy notification requirements.
H5351Allows electronic posting of notices Public Utilities Commission Hearings on the PUC website to satisfy notification requirements.
H5352Repeals limits on how voting districts may be structured, e.g. minimum number of people included in a voting district, prohibitions on combining wards, etc.
H5353Handicapped parking placards would be required to include a photograph of the holder.
H5354From the official description: "This act would exempt persons issued a license to carry a pistol or revolver by the attorney general from the seven (7) day waiting period to purchase a pistol or revolver".
H5355Raises the small-claims limits from $2,500 to $5,000, and then provides for automatic increases for inflation.
H5356Makes clear that any party to a civil action who is over 65 years age can request an acceleration of the action. Same as H5259, companion to S0223.
H5357Would allow a bail commissioner to initiate the process to suspend a drivers license for refusing to submit to a chemical driving test (as the law is written, currently it must be a judge).
H5358Requires training and certification of animal shelter employees.
H5361Suspends the drivers licenses of someone charged with driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.
H5362Registrar of Deeds can set document formatting standards, subject to approval by the Secretary of State. Companion to S0066.
H5363Authorizes a special Knights of Columbus Choose Life license plate. Companion to S0254.
H5364Increases the exemption from $300,000 to $500,000, and other changes to the homestead exemption on a "Levy and Sale on Execution"
H5368Repeals the estate tax exemption, but replaces it with an estate-tax credit of $25,200 on all estates.
H5369From the official description: "Provide(s) a cause of action on behalf of any principal or claimant covered under a fiduciary bond filed under a probate court order against the issuing surety for wrongfully, and in bad faith, refusing to pay or settle a claim, or perform its obligations under the bond".
H5370Requires motorcycle parking spots at public buildings. Companion to S0019.
H5371Exempts certain life insurance policies and annuities "from attachment on any warrant of distress".
H5372Allows the creation of zoning "overlay districts" where "standards and requirements may be more or less restrictive than those in the underlying districts". This seems like a bill targeted at something in particular.
H5408Changes community service sentences for the manufacturing or delivering certain drugs from no less than 100 hours to up to 100 hours.
H5411Reduces the amount of unpaid child support classified as a felony from $10,000 to $5,000. Companion to S0023.
H5444Makes violation of the seat belt laws an offense you can be stopped for.
H5446Excludes houses or structures with 5 or more units from the definition of "real estate" in the section of the law titled "Agency Relationships in Residential Real Estate Transactions" (Anyone with knowledge of the real estate industry want to comment).
H5447Class N nightclubs can admit patrons until 1:30 (currently, the law says they have to stop at 1:00).
H5448The majority & minority leaders fix some small details of bills
H5449Makes violation of the seat belt laws an offense you can be stopped for, with expressed language about constitutionality
H5450Establishes voter ID requirements for the City of Woonsocket (All due respect to Rep. Baldelli-Hunt, I doubt different voting qualification for one city will pass Constitutional muster)
H5451Makes renewal of weapons permits automatic, "subject to payment of the fee, and a criminal background check".
H5452Elimination of the master lever I.
H5453Allows adoptees to receive their "unaltered, original certificate of birth".
H5454Elimination of the master lever II.
H5455From the official description: "This act would require certain people who work in child or youth services to apply and pay for a criminal records check from the Rhode Island bureau of criminal identification".
H5456Requires that all roll call votes, including committee votes, be posted on the GA website within 24 hours of the vote being taken.
H5457In civil cases where pecuniary damages are awarded, 12% interest is added "from the date of the filing of the civil action" in all cases, rather than "from the date the cause of action accrued".
H5458Brings "any financial town meeting or referendum to set a city or town's budget or tax rate" under state elections laws.

ProJo Eds Get it Right: "Reject Caruolo"

Marc Comtois

From the Providence Journal Editors:

If George Caruolo’s blatant conflict of interest as a $5,000-a-month lobbyist for a gambling palace does not disqualify him from becoming chairman of the state board overseeing K-12 public education, his dismissal of the need for serious education reform surely should....Mr. Caruolo’s view is that all [of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's reform measures are] too much, too fast. “It’s not as important to get all this work done in the next 15 minutes as it is to get it done correctly,” he said.

In truth, no one has tried to reform schools in 15 minutes and get it wrong. Indeed, this has been an agonizing process, taking years of thought and effort — often in the face of gale-force opposition from economic interests that oppose upsetting the status quo.

As the editors explain, now is not the time for "thoughtful pauses."
But exactly how long should poor and minority students trapped in Rhode Island’s badly underperforming urban schools have to wait? How long should Rhode Island parents and taxpayers put up with some of America’s highest per-pupil costs and teacher compensation, when student performance is generally mediocre, even adjusted for demographics? How many years should Rhode Islanders be happy that their students trail those of other New England states by most achievement measures? How long should the state’s economic competitiveness be damaged by graduating large numbers of students who lack the skills employers require?
I completely agree.

Taveras' Proposal - It isn't just Teachers Taking a Hit

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis has the list of Providence Mayor Taveras' proposed cuts to deal with the budget deficit.

* Effective immediately, the Mayor is taking a 10% pay cut.
* The Mayor will submit a FY12 budget that cuts the Mayor’s office payroll by 10%.
* Effective immediately, 13 non-union positions, including several school administration positions, have been eliminated – resulting in $1.7 million in savings to the City.
* Department Directors have been instructed to submit budgets for next year that reflect at least a 10-15% overall reduction.
* Four to six schools will be closed and a number of teacher positions will be eliminated. On Tuesday, the Mayor published a timeline for the process by which schools will be recommended for closure.
* There will be an immediate review and freeze on all non-essential spending and hiring across City departments. Numerous unfilled positions will remain vacant and will be eliminated from next year’s budget. Moving forward, all hiring decisions must be approved by Director of Administration Michael D’Amico and Chief of Staff John Pagliarini.
* There will be an immediate review and renegotiation of contracts with third-party vendors.
* The City has cancelled its contract with a benefits administration company. This contract cost the City $1.4 million last year. By bringing this service in-house we have created an annual savings of $900,000.
* The City will seek to renegotiate union contracts to produce cost savings.
* The City will negotiate with tax-exempt universities and hospitals to increase support for the City.
* The City will lobby the State to fully implement the Statewide Education Funding Formula.
* The Taveras administration will accelerate the consolidation of City departments and services. This process is underway and next year’s budget will reflect efforts to cut costs while streamlining City services and making it easier for citizens to access government.
* The Taveras administration will actively pursue pension reform.
* Providence will aggressively pursue short- and long-term opportunities to work with neighboring cities and towns to make regionalization of services a reality.
* The Taveras administration will work in close collaboration with the City Council, the State and the community to pursue new ideas for reducing spending.
This makes it pretty obvious that it's not just teachers who are taking a hit. Ted Nesi has more.

UPDATE:More from Nesi summarizing the report (PDF) of Mayor Taveras' financial review committe.

A Regent for One Reason

Justin Katz

Marc's already posted on the topic, and I'm admittedly playing catch-up in my daily reading routine, but having read George Caruolo's declaration of the not-badness of Rhode Island schools (and the consequent no-rushism of the probable chairman of the state Board of Regents), I have to offer additional comment. What's striking, given the prominence of the position for which he's been nominated and the time that has elapsed since he first agreed to take the position, is that he does not, apparently, feel the need to substantiate his controversial opinion:

George Caruolo, a savvy former politician who has been appointed by Governor Chafee to lead the state's top education board, has his own take on the State of Rhode Island's $2-billion-a-year public school system.

It's not that bad, he says. ...

Caruolo, the father of four children, all of whom have attended East Providence's schools, is also not convinced that the demands of a high-tech, 21st-century economy require that students be educated to higher levels than ever before. ...

Caruolo doesn't believe that the state's public schools are in crisis, despite the fact they continue to trail other New England states by most achievement measures. And, while Rhode Island claims among the highest per-pupil costs and teacher salaries, the state lands in the middle of the pack nationally.

The notion of a crisis hasn't been a quick and unsubstantiated whim of public temper. As I've put it previously, Rhode Island joins an average median income with high (budget-busting) public school teacher pay, high private school attendance, low public school SAT scores, and high private school SAT scores. Education researchers regularly give the state poor grades for a variety of reasons, and our comparison with other states on standardized tests is not commensurate with our investment, especially considering that we share many of the regional qualities of the neighboring state, Massachusetts, that regularly tops all of the rankings in which we lag.

Caruolo's one purpose, as a Regent, (and Chafee's main purpose as governor) appears to be to gum up the process of reform so that teachers' unions can find ways to lock in more advantages for themselves and turn back the clock on progress.

Union Rhetoric and Fiscal Reality

Marc Comtois

There was a rally for Providence teachers yesterday and union leaders, who never met a crisis they didn't like to exploit, regaled the crowd with unsurprising rhetoric that served to add heat but shed little light.

AFT Union President Randi Weingarten:

[The Providence teacher dismissal notices are] the most wrong-headed thing I have seen in a season of wrong-headed actions against American workers....Something is insane in Providence...On a week where teachers and students were taking a well-deserved break, a secret plan was being hatched in Providence. They thought no one would be there to hear it. Fire everyone — that was their plan....Mass firings don’t fix the budget. They say, ‘This is a city that doesn’t care about schools.’
Got that? A liberal urban mayor and his staff of like-minded folks were hatching a "secret plan" that no one wold "hear". To seriously think that this is a purposefully malicious act on the part of the Mayor and his staff is ridiculous. Apparently, the best way to keep it secret is to announce it at press conferences and public meetings. Maybe the execution wasn't perfect, but a progressive conspiracy against a bloc of progressive political supporters this ain't. And, for the thousandth time, a notice of potential "dismissal" is a far cry from being "fired."

RI AFL-CIO President George Nee:

You agreed to Race to the Top. And it got you fired. Mr. Mayor, support collective bargaining. Let’s not go down the road with Wisconsin.
Logical fallacy alert. (If one supports reform it doesn't logically follow that one will be fired). Everything that has been done has been done as per the agreement that was collectively bargained. The teachers were dismissed because layoffs wouldn't have allowed for the flexibility required to balance the budget.

This is the new reality and it's not just the Democratic Mayor of Providence who is staring at deficits and proposing cuts. Democratic Governors in New York, Maryland, California, West Virginia, Missouri and Connecticut (just to, you know, name a few) are also proposing job cuts and pensions and salary changes to help balance budgets.

So, rhetoric or reality? Union-busting, secret plans hatched by a liberal Democrat and his staff in the middle of a public meeting and presented at a press conference? Or dealing with budget deficits in one of the few ways available as per a collectively bargained contract?

The Power of Blogs

Justin Katz

I claimed an influence on Providence Mayor Angel Tavares with respect to his handling of education costs on last night's Matt Allen Show. Matt and I also touched on technical difficulties over at RI Future. It didn't occur to me to connect the two topics, but fertile ground for bombastic declarations exists in the fact that RI Futurre's founder is now a member of the Tavares administration. The influence of blogs! Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 2, 2011

When the the Rules Don't Work to the Teachers' Union Advantage, Obviously the Rules Must Immediately Be Changed

Carroll Andrew Morse

In yesterday's Projo, Linda Borg reported that Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith wants Mayor Angel Tavares to reconsider his decision to formally dismiss all of the teachers in the Providence School System...

The Providence Teachers Union president offered the School Board another option Monday night: send out letters that include the possibility of layoffs and terminations....

Smith, who met with Taveras on Sunday, said the mayor offered to recall approximately 1,400 teachers, but Smith proposed another solution: including the option of layoffs in a new letter.

However, as noted later in the story, the conventional reading of Rhode Island law says that it's too late to initiate a change...
After the public comments, School Board President Kathleen Crain stressed that that board’s hands were tied by a state law that says teachers must be notified of their employment status by March 1.
Hold on though -- a group of Democrats at the State House have suddenly decided that March 1 is obviously too early a date for making decisions for the next school year, and have already proposed changing the notification date for layoffs and dismissals (House Bill 5540)...
This act would extend the notification date for the dismissal, suspension or lay-off of teachers from March 1 to May 15.
So as long as Rhode Island legislators have had the epiphany that the March 1 date isn't sacred and can be changed, shouldn't we also be considering moving the notification date past the end of the school year, and at least pretend that this change is not being proposed solely for the of benefit particular union in a particular situation?

Changing the law to create a personnel process less disruptive to education process is deserving of discussion. Changing the law to benefit a single organization in its particular maneuvers is not.


Last month, a bill was introduced to the RI House that would move the notification date to June 1 (H5297). It was scheduled for a hearing that was postponed at the sponsor's request (J. Russell Jackson of Newport). Does this mean that today's bill indicative of some kind of negotiation going on in the legislature about a new date, or is this a routine case of multiple bills being submitted to the RI legislature on the same subject with rank-and-file legislators letting leadership decide which one, if any, will get a vote?

Also last month, Julia Steiny discussed the early notification date and its ramifications in her Projo column, available here (h/t Marc).

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Nesi: Providence Deficit Similar to Central Falls

Marc Comtois

Ted Nesi notes the similarity between the Central Falls and Providence deficits:

[Central Falls'] budget shortfall was also pegged at about 17% when it filed for receivership during its 2009-10 fiscal year. But because of its small size, the actual amount of Central Falls’ deficit was only $3 million – a rounding error compared with Providence’s $110 million gap.
Nesi asked RIPEC director John Simmons his take:
...Simmons cautioned against leaping to any conclusions based on this morning’s sketchy advisory, saying it’s impossible to really understand the Providence projections without knowing how the review panel defined “structural deficit.”

He also said the early numbers released by Central Falls when the city made its first, unilateral receivership filing probably understated its predicament.

Still, while Central Falls is significantly smaller than Providence, Simmons did see “common themes” between the two cities, notably a basic gap between money in and money out. But Providence is ”one of the engines of the economy activity, and having a structural balance in the capital city is important for the state as a whole,” he said.

As I tweeted to Nesi, "Remember: Simmons was Chief of Admin for Providence w/Cicilline before his new gig at RIPEC. Beware of self-serving spin." Simmons replaced Gary Sasse at RIPEC after an initially rocky tenure as Chief of Administration for then-Mayor Cicilline. That doesn't mean we should ignore or doubt Simmons off hand--he's certainly got plenty of relevant experience to call upon. But it's something to keep in mind.

"Democracy" Is Whatever Gets the Special Interest Its Way

Justin Katz

One can only be grateful for the first word in Stephen Fortunato Jr.'s title of "retired Rhode Island Superior Court judge," given his recent equation of voters in voting booths to clansmen in sheets and, implicitly, voting to lynching. (It would seem that fears of a judicial oligarchy are hardly misplaced when the institution is or has been in the hands of such men.)

Even before the jurist slams down his over-sized gavel on the heads of the population whom he was once presumed to serve, though, Fortunato's reasoning is deeply flawed:

NOM's push to put the question of the gay unions on a ballot is a ploy to subvert the orderly workings of our democratic processes. Representatives are sent to the State House to exercise their good judgment after they have heard testimony and been lobbied by all sides. In a case such as gay marriage, testimony will be presented by advocates on both sides, including religious leaders, psychologists, constitutional scholars and statisticians, not to mention a few buffoons. These hearings and debates will be reported in the media, dissected and criticized. The legislators will vote on the issue and then face praise, rejection or indifference from their constituencies.

The anonymity of the ballot box on issues of fundamental rights permits no such discussion, and NOM has capitalized on this in the 30 states, including in supposedly tolerant California, where it has defeated gay-marriage referenda. The outcome has usually been different when the matter has been argued in open and transparent legislatures and courts.

The issue is not that arguments won't be aired in both cases. The distinction is that legislators draw all of the interest in the issue toward a limited number of politicians who will sit through some perfunctory hearings. In the case of a referendum, interested parties will make their arguments as broadly as possible — op-ed pages, television advertisements, and so on.

It's also interesting that Fortunato slips into passive voice when he writes that "representatives are sent to the State House." By whom? Well, presumably by the same voters whom he doesn't trust to vote on same-sex marriage. Of course, when electing a politician, the issue is never as clear as voting according to one's own opinion; not only are politicians able to triangulate across multiple issues, but there's a reason for cliches about dishonesty.

Providence Deficits: The Legacy of Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Everything was so rosy in Providence under former Mayor David Cicilline. Remember? Now we know why. Cicilline's adminstration basically slapped an new coat of paint on a rickety jalopy and called it "new." Earlier this month, we learned that then-Mayor Cicilline's administration paid for the paint by drawing down on the rainy day funds, underfunding pensions and plain old overspending. Now, new Mayor Angel Taveras is dealing with the fallout (h/t Ian Donnis):

The Finances Review Panel delivered its final report to Mayor Taveras late Tuesday evening. The Mayor’s team will make full copies of the report available at 10AM on Thursday morning. A summary of the report is as follows:

• This fiscal year’s structural deficit is $70 million.

• Next fiscal year’s structural deficit is $110 million.

• Without immediate remediation efforts, the City is expected to end this year with a deficit of as much as $29 million.

• These figures all assume no mid-year reductions in state aid.

“The findings of the Municipal Finances Review Panel lay bare the true extent of Providence’s financial crisis,” Mayor Taveras said. “When I took the oath of office on January 3, I made a commitment to be honest with the people of Providence about the problems we face. I also promised that I would not shy away from making tough decisions to put our city back on firm financial footing. We are taking immediate actions to make the tough decisions needed to move Providence forward. Our citizens expect and deserve nothing less.”

Hence, the teacher "firings" and more to come. Thanks Congressman Cicilline.

Welcome RI Future Refugees

Marc Comtois

It's going on 5 days (or so) since was "taken over" by one of those ISP vultures. We experienced a similar thing hereabouts a few years back--in fact, the same pleasant young lady was hawking boats and other maritime gear for us--but we were able to get back up and running in short order. It appears as if the management over at RIF is having a more difficult time than we did.

In the meantime, I'd like to extend a hand of welcome to the RI Future refugees--from commenters to former RIF owners--who've found their way over to us since their home was invaded. We contributors have strong opinions and I'm sure you'll disagree with some or most of them. Obviously, as part-timers, we can't cover every angle, offer every source and rebut every possible argument, but we do what we can and we do it in good faith and without malice. Honest. So give us the benefit of the doubt and we'll do the same.

Here's hoping your natural home is brought back on line in short order. Until then, welcome.

UPDATE: WPRI's Ted Nesi has more info:

International records show the domain name was taken over around 11:30 a.m. Friday by eNom Inc., a Bellevue-based registration service and subsidiary of Demand Media, the infamous content farm that’s one of the major reasons Google is being forced to make large-scale changes to its search engine.

The records say eNom’s ownership of is good until February 2012.

Brian Hull, who bought Rhode Island’s Future in mid-2009, told me Wednesday he’s working on regaining control of the site’s domain name from eNom and is confident he will succeed, although he doesn’t know how long it will take.

“It will come back,” Hull said. “There’s just some issues I need to try and work out with it.”

Another Acronym to Track

Justin Katz

My Patch column, this week, discusses the latest acronym with which active citizens must acquaint themselves:

... OPEB stands for "other post-employment benefits" and, in Tiverton for example, includes health, dental and life insurance covering employees and their families after their retirement.

According to a press release announcing the issuance of the final report from the Rhode Island Senate Municipal Pension Study Commission, the unfunded OPEB promises that cities and towns have made to their employees amount to $2.4 billion. As the Providence Journal highlighted when reporting on the release, this is on top of about $2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that cities and towns have incurred. ...

Eventually, of course, the bills begin to come due. Tiverton currently covers its OPEB responsibilities on a year-to-year, pay-as-you-go basis, amounting to nearly a million and a half dollars annually. For fiscal 2010, the expense was $1,362,886. That's more than 4% of the tax levy, for that year. It's also only 42% of the GASB-suggested payment (technically called an "annual required contribution"), which was $3,222,448. A payment of that size would have been 10% of the levy.

In fact, if Tiverton were to make the "required contribution" to all of its post-employment obligations, it would be storing away about 18% of its tax levy, each year, to keep public employees retiring young.

March 1, 2011

Rhode Island in Top 10 for Public/Private Pay Differential

Marc Comtois

From USA Today, which took a look at compensation (salary+benefits) differences between the private and public sector in each state (using U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis numbers), Rhode Island is in the top ten for total compensation for public employees:

Total Compensation

Rank State Compensation Difference
1District of Columbia $82,607 $457
2Connecticut $77,697 $7,687
3New Jersey $72,007 $6,681
4California $71,385 $7,977
5New York $71,282 $1,699
6Rhode Island $69,284 $17,603
7Nevada $68,785 $17,815
8Maryland $65,947 $6,931
9Massachusetts $62,562 ($4,688)
10Alaska $60,882 $2,764

Where RI really "shines" is the gap in the average compensation between public and private employees:

Rank State Compensation Difference
1Nevada $68,785 $17,815
2Rhode Island $69,284 $17,603
3Hawaii $59,595 $12,243
4Florida $58,749 $9,099
5California $71,385 $7,977
6Connecticut $77,697 $7,687
7South Carolina $52,591 $7,590
8Montana $47,596 $7,396
9Maryland $65,947 $6,931
10New Jersey $72,007 $6,681

That's a pretty substantial gap and, it would seem, indicative of an imbalance, wouldn't you say?

ADDENDUM: For the heck of it, here's the New England breakdown:

State Compensation Difference
Rhode Island $69,284 $17,603
Connecticut $77,697 $7,687
Maine $49,850 $4,912
Vermont $51,503 $5,811
New Hampshire $52,181 ($1,876)
Massachusetts $62,562 ($4,688)

Unions: Cause or Coincidence?

Justin Katz

Thomas Russell of Barrington pushes a logical error frequently confused for an argument:

I am (unfortunately) old enough to remember the state of education before the birth of teachers unions. Teaching positions were treated as patronage jobs, and salaries were so low that many graduates only turned to teaching after they failed to find work doing something else.

It is ironic that so many people seem to want to return teachers to that status even as they proclaim themselves to be champions of education improvement.

Education has so dramatically changed in ways entirely apart from the employment arrangements of teachers that it's nearly got to be a deliberate avoidance to voice Russell's point. Most profoundly, the importance of education is much more frequently proclaimed, and for a broader cross-section of Americans than it was in those pre-union days. That is, society has come to value education (at least in the abstract) so hugely that the value of those who provide it is unlikely to decrease just because they don't periodically go on strike, work to rule, or otherwise bully school committees into signing unaffordable contracts.

Personally, I hope and expect education employment reforms to elevate teachers' status, because they will no longer be associated with such unseemly union behaviors... not to mention union characters who need not be named, here.

Of course, this accepts Russell's statement of history for the sake of argument. I, myself, am too young to remember those olden days, but the statements of respect for teachers that one frequently hears from folks who were their students suggest that his assertion is, at best, exaggerated.

Carruolo II: Pensive Philosophy or Excuse Making?

Marc Comtois

To follow up on last night's post, the full ProJo story provides more insight into the "What, me worry?" philosophy of George Carruolo. For instance:

For his part, Caruolo emphasizes cooperation among all groups — teachers, parents, students and the community — as the critical ingredient for school improvement.

“Everyone will have to make compromises on everything but this: having a system we are all proud of, and a system that works for children,” he said.

“I’ve never seen a turnaround in anything with an alienated work force,” Caruolo said. “And from my viewpoint, I don’t see a lot of talk about poverty and homelessness and family disruptions in the education dialogue, right now.”

Carruolo is correct: for a variety of reasons (often related to the effects of government social policy), families are different than they were 20 years ago. Single-parent families or two working parents are far more prevalent and parental involvement in schools has declined. This affects all the kids in a classroom as teachers have to spend more time catching up. However, I don't know of any education reformer who discounts the role that poverty and family play in education. For example, as Commissioner Gist has traveled the state, she's explained the components that comprise the new school funding formula:
Ms. Gist said that [the new funding formula has a] built in...“core instructional amount,” which creates a per-pupil spending base of $8,333. Another 40 percent ($3,333) is funded for each student receiving free or reduced lunch, an indication of additional funding needs since it costs more to teach a student living in poverty.
Sure sounds like someone who recognizes that poverty affects education, doesn't it?

As for the alienated workforce? Reform skeptics are very good at pointing at all of these outside reasons--excuses--for why reform can't work or is just too hard, too unrealistic, to implement. Yet, instead of looking at new ways to deal with these changing external dynamics, they double-down on the same, old industrial model of schooling. Why? Because even if it has proven inadequate to the task of educating today's kids--especially the poor and disadvantaged--the old system has turned out pretty beneficial for the adults who operate in it. The "alienation" they feel--stoked by hyperbole spouting union leaders--stems directly from the fact that they view reform as an "attack" on themselves and, too often, their own bottom line.

Proving the Unprovable in SLAPP Response

Justin Katz

You may recall the legal battle between Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC) President and current Town Council Member David Nelson and form Town Council Members Louise Durfee and Joanne Arruda. The latest development is thut Superior Court Judge Melanie Thunberg has denied Nelson's request for a summary judgment. According to a Sakonnet Times article, not online:

Lawyers for both sides said in separate interviews that the reason Judge Thunberg ruled as she did was that she believed a key fact was in dispute.

Jeffrey Schreck, who represents Ms. Arruda and Ms. Durfee, said the "critical disputed fact was whether Mr. Nelson knew that what he was saying was false."

Jennifer Azevedo, the lawyer representing Mr. Nelson, said Judge Thunberg believed "there were facts in dispute with respect to whether Mr. Nelson did or did not know that the statements he made were false."

One needn't be intimately familiar with the case to wonder how it could even be conceivably true that Nelson knew the offending statement, which follows, to be inaccurate (if it was, indeed, inaccurate, which is similarly impossible to prove):

Still worse are the efforts of Ms Durfee, Joanne Arruda and their allies, in deliberate cooperation with the Town Administrator to avoid a Town Council vote exceeding the State Tax cap. They have submitted false documentation to the State to facilitate a tax increase of at least 9%.

It is simply beyond debate that Durfee and Arruda worked "to avoid a Town Council vote." And it wouldn't be possible to prove that they weren't, in some way, included in a group of "allies," with Goncalo as the point person, that submitted false documents to the state — much less that Nelson knew that when the events were still fresh.

The concern that Dave has, which I share, is that so immense would be the scope of communications necessary to determine that he knowingly fabricated the cooperation that Durfee, Arruda, and their political allies would gain access during the discovery process to a veritable book of politically relevant communications between Nelson and his own allies.