May 31, 2011

Bravo! The State Takes Ken Block Up On His Offer to Look for Waste and Fraud

Monique Chartier

... in our Medicaid dollars. (Hey, Ken, will you be looking in any other areas?)

By the way, apparently he'll be doing it for free. This is very nice of him but personally, I'd have no problem with the state paying for such a service - a fee based on a percentage of dollars recovered would make sense.

The Barrington resident and business owner says he recently met with DLT Director Charles Fogarty and has met more than once with Health and Human Services Secretary Steven M. Costantino.

Block said he is offering his services free of charge. The challenge, he said, is to come up with a legal framework — perhaps a contract in which the state pays him a token $1 — that allows him access to state data so he can look for cases of fraud.

Block said he still believes Rhode Island could save $100 million to $250 million in its Medicaid programs, based on similar efforts in other states that have uncovered anywhere from 10- to 20-percent waste and fraud.

The Narrative That Never Changes

Justin Katz

Arlene Violet is one of those iconic Rhode Island figures to whom we're compelled to pay some level of attention, but I'd intended largely to ignore her musical about the mob. I'm sure there's some novelty to it, and it's probably well done, but with the Godfather movies, Goodfellas, Casino, The Sopranos, and the long list of movies and television shows, the turf has been very well explored.

The same characterization applies to this pretense related to a particular element of the plot:

At the same time, the tough U. S. Marshal in the show has his bad side, said Violet. In other words, no one in the show is all black or white, except perhaps the son, Renaldo, the aspiring opera singer who is gay. Garzilli called him the show's "moral barometer," the son every mother would love to have.

In most musicals in which there is a gay character, like "La Cage aux Folles," audiences have to contend with what Violet called the "swish factor." She finds that stereotype "counterproductive."

"Maybe if people see a character like the son," said Violet, "it will change the Rhode Island debate over same-sex marriage."

The presentation of homosexuals as the best adjusted characters in a given production has been an entertainment-media cliché at least as far back as Melrose Place in the early '90s. The movie American Beauty placed the well-adjusted gay couple in contrast to a severely dysfunctional neighborhood of heterosexuals. Even without much television in my daily routine, I can point to Glee, Modern Family, and some twentysomething show with a name I haven't bothered to learn, but a plot that leaps off the screen in the time that it takes to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom.

In other words, the attempt to subversively present the one pure and admirable character in a cast as the gay character is not subversive at all, but a Hollywood cultural standard that appears to be layered on top of the multiple mafia standards of the musical. That's fine, I suppose, inasmuch as the intention appears to be to stir up some not-very-original ideas in the still-novel medium of a stage musical. The interesting question that arises is whether it's indicative of Baby Boomers' inability to understand how the world has changed or of the continuing desire to squeeze a little more transgressively tolerant (yet completely safe) perfume from a nearly empty bottle.

That Violet apparently believes general familiarity with homosexuals to be so rare that a positive character in an off-off-Broadway musical might change people's views on same-sex marriage suggests that both possibilities are strongly in play.

C.F. Principal: Ho Hum, Now That I've Enjoyed Seven Months Paid Leave, Guess I'll Ask Why I was Taken Off the Job

Monique Chartier

Presumably, the Central Falls school administration messed up by placing Ms. Legault on leave and then forgetting (or ???) that they did so. And it goes without saying that it would be a rare occurance, indeed, for private sector resources to be squandered in this way.

Elizabeth Legault started out the year as co-principal at the [Central Falls] Calcutt Middle School but was put on administrative leave in October 2010. She has been on leave since then, all the while collecting her full $105,500 salary.

It wasn’t until earlier this month, on May 5, that the school district issued her a formal reprimand letter. Now, since she wasn’t put on suspension or received another more serious punishment, Legault is wondering why she is not being allowed to return to work, according to her attorney, Jeff Sowa. Since the district has not provided a reason, Sowa has filed an injunction in Providence County Superior Court requiring that the district let her back into Calcutt Middle School.

Funny, though, how the co-principal carefully did not ask why she had been placed on leave until AFTER she had enjoyed a seven month vacation funded by the taxpayer. You have to wonder where the pride in professionalism is here. Will Ms. Legault place this seven month leave on her resume? If she does, how will she explain it? The only honest answer - "No one was watching the till so I helped myself" - presumably would not play well, even in an interview for a public sector job.

Two Major Defects in the 195 Redevelopment Commission Bill

Carroll Andrew Morse

The very large bill on developing the land freed-up by the relocation of Interstate 195 in Providence will be heard by the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government today. Since the amended 59-page bill replacing a 26-page original was released on a pre-long weekend Friday and isn't linked at the GA website yet, let's help our Senators with a review of a couple of serious defects in the amended bill that should prevent it from being passed in its current form. All legislative excerpts below are taken from the amended bill, which I will link to as soon as it appears in its proper location on the GA website.

Defect #1. The bill specifically tries to place the "I-195 Redevelopment Commission" -- a body which will be making large dollar land-deals -- beyond the reach of the State Ethics Commission, as well as other portions of state law.

The beginning of the proposed section 42-64.14-5 of the law reads...

The I-195 redevelopment district is hereby constituted an independent public instrumentality and body corporate and politic for the purposes set forth in this chapter with a separate legal existence from the city and from the state...
Got that? The bill says that the Rhode Island state legislature will be creating a new government organ, but one that is not part of state or city government. This highly unusual proposition is intended to establish a claim that the Redevelopment Commission and its employees are exempt from important sections of state law. For the clearest and perhaps most important example of old law that the new law seeks to circumvent, consider how the new law would interact with the definition of jurisdiction contained in the Rhode Island Code of Ethics...
The following persons shall be subject to the provisions of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics in government:

(1) State and municipal elected officials;

(2) State and municipal appointed officials; and

(3) Employees of state and local government, of boards, Commissions, and agencies.

In other words, since the appointed Redevelopment Commissioners are not state or municipal officials -- the law says that in so many words -- the jurisdiciton of the Ethics Commission would not extend to them, nor is it clear that the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction over the employees of boards, commissions and agencies covers the employees of an "independent public instrumentality and body corporate and politic", especially when it is the Rhode Island Court system that would be making a final determination on this question. The proposed law also sets up its own set of very fuzzy ethics definitions to be applied to redevelopment commissioners (warning: this section is a little thick)...
Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, it shall not be or constitute a conflict of interest for a director, officer, or employee of any financial institution, investment banking firm, brokerage firm, commercial bank, trust company, building-loan association, architecture firm, insurance company, or any other firm, person, or corporation to serve as a commissioner...

...nor shall any contract or transaction between the commission and a financial institution, investment banking firm, brokerage firm, commercial bank, trust company, building-loan association, architecture firm, insurance company, or other firm, person, or corporation be void or voidable by reason of that service as director of the commission.

If any commissioner, officer, or employee of the commission shall be interested either directly or indirectly, or shall be a director, officer, or employee of or have an ownership interest (other than as the owner of less than one percent (1%) of the shares of a publicly-held corporation) in any firm or corporation interested directly or indirectly in any contract with the commission, that interest shall be disclosed to the commission and set forth in the minutes of the commission, and the commissioner, officer, or employee having that ownership interest shall not participate on behalf of the commission in the authorization of that contract. Interested commissioners may be counted in determining the presence of a quorum at a meeting of the commission which authorizes the contract or transaction.

The question that supporters of the bill need to answer is why, in order to help effectively dispose of the former I-195 land, does ethics oversight need to be loosened over a group of individuals who are politically connected enough to get appointed to a redevelopment commission, and who will be given the power to create "indirect" benefits for themselves through their work on that commission?

Defect #2: The amended version of the redevelopment bill specifies an electorate within the redevelopment district that is different from the usual definition of electorate under state law...

(e) Electors and elections. The electors of the district shall include electors of the city and/or owners of real property of the city and/or district ratepayers. In the event that exercise of any powers of the district requires approval by vote within the district, the commission shall have the power to organize and conduct such election in a manner consistent with requirements of law and in conjunction with the city, as necessary or appropriate.
I can't find in the amended bill exactly what election the electorate defined above is supposed to take part in, nor have I actually traced the fourteen page description of the proposed redevelopment district on a map (at one point, the legislation describes a segment of the boundary line that is 5.4 inches long), so I am not sure what the exact population of the "redevelopment district" currently is, but assuming that the boundary has been drawn around actually former highway land, there shouldn't be many, if any, current residents there now. This implies that when an "election" is needed to approve something in the early phases of the project, the "electors" are likely to be mostly landowners and rate-payers who were allowed to get into the project early.

The Rhode Island Constitution does specify that elections are needed when the General Assembly wants to take direct action on certain local-impact issues...

The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election...
A question that needs to be asked to Senator Ruggerio and other supporters of this bill is exactly what activities they anticipate needing de jure electoral approval for under their unique definition of the electorate -- a definition which may restrict the "electorate" to just a few developer-type individuals.

A Simple Lesson in the Numbers

Justin Katz

Michael Barone looked at employment and population numbers and came to a simple conclusion:

The lesson of the previous decade seems clear: if you take a previously prosperous and creative state and subject it to high taxes and intrusive regulations, it loses 5% of its private sector jobs; if you take a previously somewhat less prosperous and creative state and govern it with low taxes and light regulation, it gains 9% more jobs, even as the nation’s economy is suffering.

He's referring to California and Texas, respectively, but the lesson carries to other states, as well. That's why Rhode Island will never rise to the level at which its natural advantages ought to place it unless elected officials can find the wherewithal to reduce tax burdens, eliminate mandates (both on lower-tier governments and on the private sector), and ease the reams of regulations under which we live.

Rhode Island ought to be the glimmering jewel of New England; instead, it's the armpit. Incremental changes aren't going to fix things. Tax hikes certainly won't.

All Saints Academy Spring Fair

Community Crier

All Saints Academy, located at 915 West Main Rd. (behind St. Lucy's) in Middletown, is hosting its annual All American Spring Fair on Sunday, June 5, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Northeast Navy Showband will perform from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., with games, crafts, face painting, and food available all day. Children will enjoy an obstacle course by eNVy Gymnastics, of Tiverton, a Touch-a-Truck tour of specialty vehicles, and an inflatable playhouse. Adults can bid on great items in a silent auction and raffle, as well as peruse and purchase autographed sports, music, and entertainment memorabilia. Admission and entertainment are free; various activities require ticket purchases.

All Saints Academy is a Roman Catholic diocesan elementary school offering preschool through grade eight for students from Aquidneck Island and its surrounding communities.

The Northeast Navy Showband is a highly entertaining ensemble that performs jazz, Rock and Roll, and patriotic favorites. Consisting of 17 of the U.S. Navy's finest professional musicians, this versatile group has been a crowd pleaser at public concerts, schools, and major events throughout the Northeast. Under the leadership of Chief Musician Todd Smeltzer, the Northeast Navy Showband personifies the quality and professionalism of today's United States Navy.

eNVy Gymnastics, located at 935 Main Rd., in Tiverton, offers age-appropriate gymnastics lessons and events ranging from non-instructional play with assistance for children five and under to competitive team training.

Auction and raffle items have been donated by a variety of organizations, including (but not limited to) the following:

* Barry's Auto
* Bellevue Car Service
* Flint Audio Video
* Flo's Clam Shack
* Frosty Freez
* Girl Scouts
* Home Depot
* Island Windsurfing
* KJ's
* Newport Athletic Club
* RAM Sports Collectibles
* Staples
* Viking Tuxedo
* West Marine

First Responses to DiPalma Inquiry

Justin Katz

The responses have begun to trickle in to my inquiry about the support that Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport) has expressed for Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of a union pal's son at a very high salary. So far, I've sent (or attempted to send) variations of the following note to members of Tiverton's State House delegation and to town council members from each of the municipalities that DiPalma represents:

As a resident of Tiverton, I've taken a particular interest in statements that Senator Louis DiPalma has made with regard to Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of Stephen Iannazzi. Therefore, I am seeking comment from various organizations and elected officials from towns that Mr. DiPalma represents for publication on (Absence of comment will also be noted.) When the content justifies, I will write a summary essay, which I will submit to every appropriate state and local publication.

If you haven't come across this story, the short version is that Mr. Iannazzi is 25 years old and holds no college degree (with credits in "labor studies" from Rhode Island College), yet he makes nearly $90,000 as a "special assistant" in Mr. Ruggerio's legislative office. Stephen is the son of Donald Iannazzi, a business manager for Local 1033 of the Laborers International Union affiliate, which employs Mr. Ruggerio's son, Charles. Sen. Ruggerio also works for another arm of the Laborers International Union.

In response to an inquiry from Providence Journal columnist Edward Achorn, Senator DiPalma replied as follows:

"Since joining the RI Senate some 2 years ago, I have seen the leadership, with the Senate President at the helm, attract, nurture and retain top talent with extensive capability and capacity," he wrote.

"With respect to Mr. Stephen Ianazzi [sic], I have interacted with him on a regular basis. Stephen has performed admirably on each of his assigned tasks. From the results he has produced . . . Stephen is qualified to serve in his current capacity. I look forward to his continued results-based performance providing real value to the R.I. Senate and all its members. He certainly has a bright future," wrote Senator DiPalma.

My question to you, as an elected public official in a municipality that Sen. DiPalma represents is: Do you believe that such a suspicious hiring requires a more detailed justification?

At the time of my sending the question, the City of Newport's Web site was completely down, and four of the email addresses that Little Compton provides for its council members bounced back.

The first response came from Middletown Town Councilor Antone Viveiros:

All I can do is wonder if Senator DiPalma , as a manager at Raytheon, would hire, then defend his hiring of someone with such qualification/experience, to his superiors, and pay him or her nearly $90,000, without having a job description or having advertized the position, or would refuse to explain the need for such a position, if it was corporate funds, instead of taxpayer funds?

Tiverton Town Councilor David Nelson, who is also president of the local good-government reform group, Tiverton Citizens for Change, was even more pointed:

The hiring was WRONG. No job description, fair posting, screening and interviewing of applicants, or any semblance of fairness. Since this is a publicly funded position, paid for by the taxpayers of RI, we deserve a fair and transparent approach. There are plenty of qualified persons who would do the job for less. Mr Stephen Iannazzi has not earned anywhere near the salary he's been paid, and he does not deserve this, nor has he earned it. The cost of the fringe benefits per RI Department of Revenue is 58%. So with pension contribution, Social Security, health insurance, etc., the cost to the taxpayer for this position becomes $132,000. This is a scam, which in a transparent society would be reversed.

Councilor Chris Semonelli, of Middletown, by contrast, appears to be ambivalent about the hiring:

I am not familiar with the individuals mentioned in the Providence Journal article, in your note below and the potential situation mentioned.

However, I am familiar with Senator Lou Di Palma and have the utmost admiration for his integrity, abilities and accomplishments to date.

Senator Di Palma has been instrumental in developing many efforts to help get our state out of a lot of its historical quagmires.

I have not only been personally impressed, I repeatedly hear from his constituents and colleagues that he has either helped them with his follow through efforts or developed laws to help those less fortunate in the State of Rhode Island as either a Senator or a Town Councilor .

You can see by his track record on record with the state that this is indeed the case.

I feel we are very luck to have the Senator representing the people of Rhode Island and hope that he continues to represent the Great State of Rhode Island for many years to come.

I also want to thank you for your research efforts we do need these ongoing efforts to keep all activities transparent in government and to protect its integrity .

Meanwhile, the president of Middletown's Council, Arthur Weber, was even more ambivalent:

This is a senate issue, no other comments.

Given reductions in state aid to Rhode Island's cities and towns, not to mention the effect that State House spending and policies have on every Rhode Islander, one would think that a council president could at least summon an expression of concern.

Next up will be a table of the responses and non-responses thus far, and I'll be broadening the field of those whom I ask for comment.

May 30, 2011

But What Are They Dying For?

Justin Katz

Honestly, I don't want to sully Memorial Day with politics, but a pair of Mark Steyn posts make me wonder: What, precisely, are we sending our sons and daughters to defend?

First is a post in which Steyn notes USDA investigations of small-time professional magicians, specifically those who are suspected of using rabbits in their shows. As he writes, in his inimitable way:

When the brokest nation in history still thinks it can afford to send federal investigators snooping through the back yards of children's magicians on the off-chance they might be using rabbits on stage, you’ve got to conclude it actively wants to die.

Regarding the European and U.S. ratios of workers to public-benefits recipients, Steyn writes:

The entire Western world is approaching the point at which Wile E Coyote looks down and realizes there's nothing under his feet.

Since a line must be drawn, I suppose that I'm a hair on the hawk side, but I'll say this: If we're fighting for the authority of magician-rabbit regulators and continued freewheeling spending by politicians and bureaucrats, then not another American should risk his or her life. Those who find something in the United States that is worthy of one's life must make very clear that freedom, not centralized regulation, is the principle that they have in mind.

Same Old One-Sided Moralization

Justin Katz

One day, writing for multiple newspapers across the country will require evidence of such thinking as is appropriate of mature adults. That fantasy came to mind upon reading this by L.A. Times writer Neal Gabler:

... over the last 30 years or so, something has happened to reshape the country's moral geography. Everyone knows about the rise of Moral Majority-style Christian evangelicals as a potent force in right-wing politics. It injected a certain aggressive moralism into our political discourse and led to campaigns against abortion rights, homosexual rights, sexual freedom and other issues perceived as and then framed as moral matters. As a result, our politics became "moralized"; they were transformed into a contest of one set of values pitted against another.

This was hardly the first time politics was overtaken by morality. One has only to think of abolition and Prohibition. The difference this time was that as politics were being moralized and polarized, our morals were also being politicized and polarized. The two moral systems that had so long coexisted suddenly became mutually exclusive, oppositional and finally inseparable from the two regnant political ideologies.

His description of those "two moral systems" is sufficient to see where Gabler's thinking goes off the tracks:

On the one hand, there is the Puritan-inflected America of rugged individualism, hard work, self-reliance and personal responsibility in which you reap what you sow, God helps those who help themselves, and our highest obligation is to live righteously. ...

On the other hand, there is also an America of community, common cause, charity and collective responsibility.

Only a liberal intent on maintaining the specious claim of his ideological allies on the principle of "compassion" could pit the nation's Puritan heritage against the notion of community. After all, the first American instance of public citation of Jesus' description of the people as a "city upon a hill" occurred just before John Winthrop actually set foot upon the land.

One's individual moral righteousness, in this view, is to serve as an indication of the moral righteousness of the community. One takes personal responsibility, in short, for the good of the community. Lacking self reliance makes one a burden to the collective, whether (in a religious sense) by attracting the ire of God or (in a secular sense) draining resources and introducing unneeded distractions.

Of course, it isn't necessary to get into such deep political philosophy in order to see the immaturity of Gabler's complaint against evangelicals: The notion that it was an objectionable and new "aggressive moralism" that prompted "campaigns against abortion rights, homosexual rights, sexual freedom and other issues" is self refuting. Only through the blind ideological assertion that abortion and movement toward libertinism are in some sense ideologically neutral can defense against them be termed as "aggressive."

The belief that individuals ought to have free sexual rein without social or legal censure from the community is actually the break in the balance between the "two moral systems" (to the extent that they were every distinct in the first place). The refusal to maintain social norms that fostered the ascension of Western Civilization and the United States transforms self-reliance into self-indulgence and discounts the claim of the collective on the behavior of the individual. We can argue about where that line should be and whether it ought to be enforced in law or in culture, but clearly what we're thereby adjusting is the fulcrum on which our society balances.

What emerges aren't two moral systems, much less a subjective morality versus an objective belief in liberty, but rather two sets of priorities with drastic differences in civic implications. On one side are those who believe that a certain moral framework and self restraint are indispensable to economic and political independence and who seek, therefore, to craft a society that fortifies such a framework so as to enable citizens to be maximally free where it matters. It's a long, slow, and messy process, to be sure, sifting through various aspects of behavior to determine which truly erode what's important and which are negated proscriptions handed down from the past, but that doesn't mean that all proscriptions are arbitrary.

On the other side are those who profess to believe that no judgment should exist when it comes to lifestyle and that a compassionate society will, in turn, mitigate the consequences of behavior through public economic support in exchange for political support of a top-down collective. This is repeatedly proven to be a subjective guide, inasmuch as those who have dogged compassion for the sexually permissive have no compunction about dictating, say, dietary rules. The principle, such as it is, appears to be that people should be free to do things that increase their likelihood of dependency.


Carroll Andrew Morse

From the Massachusetts National Cemetery, Bourne, Massachusetts, May 29, 2011. Flags were placed through a volunteer effort organized by Paul Monti, father of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. First Class Jared C. Monti, killed in 2006 while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

The Sacrifice of the Young

Marc Comtois

Yesterday, Mark Patinkin remembered Holly Charette, killed in Iraq in 2005.


Holly Charette liked make-up, Britney Spears and the Marines. She liked cheesecake, Tinker Bell and the United States of America. She loved her friends and, most of all, her family.

She died serving her country.

She was 21 years old.

As Patinkin noted earlier in his column, the faces of our war veteran's are changing in this country: they are getting younger. For a couple decades we were fortunate in that we memorialized those who had given their lives many years ago: in World War II, Korea, Vietnam. Now, in addition to these, we remember those who are our age or younger. Somehow--not to take anything away from the men who stormed the beaches at Normandy, fought in the Pacific or in winters of Korea or jungles of Vietnam--the youth of these most recent heroes personalizes their sacrifice more. It makes them seem less remote, less like some distant, historical black-and-white newsreel from "the old days." In truth, as we memorialize them today, we are confronted with feelings more consistent with those felt by Americans who have remembered their war dead throughout our nation's past. We mourn our neighbors and friends, not just their--or our--grandfathers or great uncles. As ever, young people have fought and died for their country. Never forget.

May 29, 2011

Nine Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 31 - June 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Underneath the regular countdown of General Assembly bills coming up for committee hearings this week, I am going to post a second, unordered list of bills, also scheduled to be heard this week, whose practical impact is not immediately obvious but might involve some significant changes to the law. There seemed to be an unusually large number of this kind of bill on the committee calendars this week.

Input on anything listed, and indeed on anything expected to happen at the GA, is encouraged and appreciated.

9. S0595: Adds "urban collaboratives" to list of education-aid funding-formula recipients. (Senate Finance, May 31)

8. H5133: Repeals the prohibition against "classified" state employees from running for state office. (House Labor, June 2)

7. H5824: Bans foreclosures on the residences of deployed active duty armed-services personnel. (House Veterans Affairs, June 1)

6. H6177: Consolidates the "the powers, duties, functions, and personnel" of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. (House Finance, June 2); I wonder how many state legislators might claim they are master "consolidators" based on a vote in favor of this bill, at the same time they would vote in favor of S0720, creating a new 21-member Family Engagement Advisory Council "to serve as an advisory body to the governor, the department of education, the board of regents, and to school districts". (Senate Education, June 1)

5. Two commissions related to RI elections: the census-based redistricting commission required to produce an immediate plan (H6096, House Finance, June 1, but why is the bill under the jurisdiction of the Finance committee?) and a study commission on a system for determining "the winner of [an] election by majority vote" including but not limited to "instant runoff voting, approval voting, range voting, and proportional voting". (H6176, House Judiciary, May 31).

4. H5225: Prohibits the state and any RI municipality from requiring an "employer to use an electronic employment verification a condition of receiving a government contract or applying for or maintaining a business license". (House Labor, June 2)

3. H6118: Creates a "care center" demonstration program under the auspices of the state's Medicaid Global Waiver, to provide "primary care benefits to uninsured adults without children whose income is equal to or less than one hundred thirty-three percent (133%) of the federal poverty level". (House Judiciary, June 1)

2. S0114: The Ruggerio Route-195 land-use bill. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government, May 31)

1. S0164: Joins Rhode Island to an interstate compact where the RI legislature agrees to disregard the choice for President made by Rhode Island voters, and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. (Senate Judiciary, May 31)

Six Other Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 31 - June 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

S0353: Creates a business-entity called a "low-profit limited liability company". The snarky angle on this bill would be to wonder why Rhode Island needs a separate category for low-profit ventures. (House Corporations, May 31)

S0855: Projects "to be financed with bonds issued by an issuer that does not have jurisdiction over the location of those facilities" would be require "prior host approval from the governor of the state". This bill is somewhat unusual, in that it assigns a new power to the Governor directly, and not to an executive branch department head. (Senate Finance, May 31)

H5161: Various changes to Rhode Island's campaign finance laws. The official description says "this act would eliminate the additional qualification requirements of independent candidates who wish to participate in the matching public funds program, clarify the time frame in which any candidate may apply for the matching public funds program, eliminate the two thousand dollar ($2,000) maximum annual contributions limit from any individual or political action committee and apply equally the minimum requirements for participation in matching funds for nominated and independent candidates. It would eliminate the requirement for an independent advocate to notify the candidate or political party committee on whose behalf the expenditure or contribution is made". (House Finance, May 31)

H5276: A pilot project for "Patient Centered Medical Homes". This bill appears to be founded on the assumption that system failures created by regulation can be fixed by piling new regulations on top of the broken ones. (House Coroporations, May 31)

H6143: Defines the car tax reimbursement in terms of "a rate that shall be determined by computing each municipalities percentage of the total assessed value of all motor vehicles and trailers in the state". I believe this is intended to smooth out the impact that different community tax-rates can have on how much an individual is reimbursed. (House Finance, May 31)

Coach Cooley: A Role Worth Modeling

Marc Comtois

That Providence College basketball has turned to a native son to turnaround it's troubled program is not new news, but Kevin McNamara's piece in today's ProJo about new PC basketball coach Ed Cooley is one worth reading. He had a tough family life but was lucky to know a family that helped him out. Above all else, though, was his focus and drive.

To ease his mother’s burden, Cooley lived with the Searights off and on from the time he was 10 years old. He says he “never remembers not having a job. I was sweeping the sidewalk in front of Popular Market at Broad and Warrington when I was 9 years old. I helped at the Laundromat next door, too.”

By the time he enrolled at Central in 1984, Cooley was a budding hoop star. His mother had left Elma Street and moved into the Wiggins Village housing project, just around the corner from Central. Eddie moved back in with his mother, brother Timothy and two younger sisters, Margaret and Gloria.

In school, he credits an English teacher, Paula Milano, with steering him to the Upward Bound program at Rhode Island College. In his junior and senior years, he went to RIC for five hours every Saturday for classes and spent six weeks over two summers living on campus.

“Eddie was always focused on his education,” said Mariam Boyajian, the director of Upward Bound. “He was this big basketball player and his friends were all about being cool and the street but he handled all of it well. He found out that if he could do it here with us, he could do it in college.”

He moved onto college and worked his way into the coaching ranks. Now, back in Providence, he's ready to accept the responsibility of turning around the the basketball program. And people are looking to Cooley to do more:
Cooley turns left onto Prairie Avenue, looks out over a wide expanse of playgrounds and says, “All this was projects. It was a tough spot. Roger Williams projects.” Up on the right sits Roger Williams Middle School, now one of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

As he tries to sneak past a group of kids waiting for a bus, the lone adult in the pack waves down his truck, “Cooley, I’ve been trying to get you!” He asks what’s up and she says, “You need to come in and talk some sense into these kids. They all show up to school with a ball under their arms and no books.”

To be sure, in the short term, Cooley is focused on his program. Yet, I think it's safe to assume that Cooley will continue to be more to his hometown than just "Coach."

May 28, 2011

All of This Would Have Been David Cicilline's But He Chose to Violate the Charter Instead

Monique Chartier

Confronted with the "category 5 hurricane" that is Providence's financial condition, Mayor Angel Taveras has had to implement some difficult and unpopular budget measures. Notices of potential termination to all teachers (though a majority+ will not actually lose their job) and the closing of some schools. A 5.25% property tax hike and an increase in various fees. A request that firefighters re-open their newly signed contract. And, most recently, the announcement that 60-80 cops may get laid off if concessions are not secured from the union.

The circumstances which compel these dire budget measures did not suddenly develop in January when Providence's new mayor stepped into office. They existed when the prior mayor, now congressman, formulated his budget last year. But rather than addressing them responsibly, David Cicilline postponed them by stifling the Internal Auditor and illegally raiding Providence's dedicated and reserve funds. By employing such one time - and again, ILLEGAL - budget fixes, Cicilline successfully postponed the tough decisions - and, most importantly, the attendant backlash - onto his successor.

Phrased more bluntly, Providence's current budget mess was David Cicilline's to deal with. But he was afraid that he might look bad and not get elected to Congress if he addressed it properly. So he took the cowardly way out and shoved it off onto someone else.

The congressman has framed this irresponsible budgeting as a set of legitimate decisions with which people might disagree. This is false. He made decisions, yes. But deliberate choices to obstruct a city auditor, illegally raid dedicated funds and repeatedly make seriously misleading statements about the financial condition of the city all in order to obtain a political promotion are not matters for a polite round table about budget policy. They constitute an irresponsible and gross abuse of official power.

... by the way, in the process of all of this, what false representations might then-Mayor Cicilline have made in writing to other parties of interest - the state, for example, or bonding agencies? And if he did, would this be straight forward perjury or would it involve something more because he did so in his official capacity? Just wondering.

Changing Cranston as a Way to Save Providence?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't know if GoLocal Providence's Dan McGowan is tied into some developing behind-the-scenes chatter, or if he is simply trying to think outside-of-the-box, but he offered a regionalization concept in this week's Side of the Rhode column that has not yet been offered elsewhere in public with the potential immediacy of his other examples...

Get ready for more regionalization talk as cities and towns continue to struggle financially. Central Falls and Pawtucket are an obvious pairing, but how about Aquidneck Island, or maybe Providence and Cranston. If everything is on the table, this has to be an option.
This example is a useful one, because it helps make the proposed benefits of regionalization clear: Providence city-hall would get to take money collected from the property taxes paid by Cranston residents, and use it to defray its out-of-control costs brought on by years of Providence mismanagement, while the impact on the services side in what is now Providence would be significantly less, as positions that are now part of Cranston could be cut from municipal government, so that Providence positions could be spared. Cranston residents, in return, would get the satisfaction of knowing the high taxes and service cuts they were experiencing were helping to payoff problems created by Providence politicians.

I don't support radical regionalization in any form, but if I did, I would ask why Cranston/Providence makes any more sense than Cranston/Warwick or Cranston/Johnston or Cranston/Scituate. The question basically answers itself; regionalization supporters aren't thinking about long-term benefits of regionalization in any serious manner, they are desperately searching for ways to give Rhode Island's chronically mismanaged communities an opportunity to grab large sums of money and resources from their better-managed neighbors.

I think the real message of this is that Cranston needs to think about seceding to Kent County, in case one of these pile-driver county-based regionalization plans actually does get passed by the legislature in the near-future.

May 27, 2011

NOAA Run Amuck: Fraud, Waste and Abuse

Marc Comtois

The Providence Business News tipped me off to this story.

The mayors of the region's two leading fishing ports Wednesday said a special master's report on miscarriages of justice by federal fisheries law enforcers described an "un-American" system that presumed guilt, and seemed consistent with a disrespectful view of fishermen they said permeates high levels of the agency.

"The penalties were shakedowns," said Mayor Scott Lang of New Bedford.

"The coercion was remarkable," added Mayor Carolyn Kirk of Gloucester. "It's unimaginable that this could be happening in America."

"Normally," Lang added, "people go to jail, but here they get transferred to a better climate." {as this editorial explains-ed.} ....[NOAA administrator Jane] Lubchenco led an entourage to Gloucester last Tuesday to meet with fishermen, issue an apology for failings of the law enforcement system, discuss a suit of reforms and announce the decision to return $649,527 in fines levied against elements of the commercial fishing industry which had its start here in the 17th century.

According to a CBS News investigation earlier this year:
An investigation by the Commerce Department's Inspector General found the regulations were "unduly complicated." Federal agents "overzealous" and "abusive." Excessive fines including one for $270,000 for "administrative errors."

"We're honest hard-working people," [fisherman Richard] Burgess said. "And we have been treated as common criminals."

The inspector general found the $30 million the fishermen paid in fines went to a NOAA fund with no oversight. The fund was used by regulators to buy more cars (202) than agents (172,) and for trips to fishing conferences in exotic locales such as Australia, Malaysia and Norway. It was also used to purchase a $300,000 "luxury vessel" used by government employees for "fishing trips."

And according to this memo obtained by CBS News while under investigation NOAA officials in Washington had a "shredding party" destroying garbage bags full of documents.

Another related issue is the "catch shares" policy being pushed by NOAA's Lubchenco. Congress stopped funding the program, which rewards bigger fishing operations and penalizes smaller fisherman. But that didn't matter to the NOAA bureaucrat.
As part of its fiscal 2011 Continuing Budget Resolution, Congress earlier this spring voted to bar spending on new catch share systems in the Atlantic and Gulf fisheries through the end of the fiscal year, but in response Lubchenco drew in grants from the Congressionally created non-profit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other foundations to fund future catch share systems.
Who needs legislation. Use the bureaucracy, right?

Body of Proof That Tax Increases Aren't the Way to Go

Justin Katz

Many Rhode Islanders aren't completely sold on the economic benefits of giving away tax credits to TV and movie productions, and some of those who are seem to think the benefit has more to do with notoriety. Still, it's reasonable to count this as high-profile evidence of the effect of attempting to solve the Rhode Island government's financial problems through revenue increases, rather than spending reductions:

ABC-TV has received approval for a $7-million tax credit for filming "Body of Proof" in Los Angeles, the director of the California Film Commission tells the Los Angeles Times. ...

"They have indicated they are moving the show, and will start filming in Los Angeles in mid- to late July," Amy Lemisch, the film commission's director, told the Times in a story published Tuesday. ...

Network TV series like "Body of Proof" can qualify for California's film-tax program only if they are moving to California from another location, the Times said. The show also received tax credits in Rhode Island during its first season, but Governor Chafee's proposed budget — now under discussion in the General Assembly — calls for eliminating the credits.

Even a casual observer of the entertainment industry can assume advantages to setting up shop in California, beyond tax credits, and it's not improbable that the operation came to Rhode Island for a season to test the TV audience and then move to California as an "moving" operation, per the rules of CA's tax credit. Still, the possibility of finding its RI credits evaporating couldn't have done otherwise than eased the decision. More importantly, that it's such an obvious thing for observers to consider as a possible reason illustrates how obvious such factors are for decisions being made across the economy.

May 26, 2011

If Only President Obama Could Have Similarly Interceded for that Poor Housekeeper!

Monique Chartier

Assuming it's not a really clever photoshop, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's defense attorneys undoubtedly shuddered when this International Monetary Fund photograph by Stephen Jaffe went up on The Corner late this afternoon.


Portsmouth Institute Shakespearean Concert

Community Crier

Musicians from New England's most prestigious performing ensembles, including the Rhode Island Philharmonic, Boston Pops, Boston Ballet, and Portland and Vermont Symphonies, will gather on Friday evening, June 10, at 6:15 p.m. to present an evening of orchestral music inspired by the indelible writings of William Shakespeare.

The symphony concert will feature Walton's glorious orchestral suite from "Henry V" and Tchaikovsky's moving "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture." The concert will be conducted by Troy Quinn, music director of the Portsmouth Institute and a prominent young American conductor. Quinn has conducted orchestras and choirs at some of the world's greatest venues, including Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and Southwark Cathedral in London. He has led such notable ensembles as the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and the London Soloists Orchestra, and has upcoming engagements with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra as a conducting fellow. Quinn holds degrees from Manhattan School of Music and Providence College.

The concert will take place during the Portsmouth Institute, a three-day conference being held at Portsmouth Abbey School. The third annual Portsmouth Institute — the topic of which will be "The Catholic Shakespeare?" — will be held on campus from June 10-12. Internationally renowned writers, scholars and commentators will gather to celebrate and explore the life and writings of William Shakespeare. For more information about the Portsmouth Institute, visit:

The concert is open to the public and free of charge; members of the public who are interested in attending the concert should contact Cindy Waterman at 401/643-1244 or

The public may attend the Portsmouth Institute, but registration and a fee are required. To register, please contact Cindy Waterman.

No Place Screws Up the Concept of Fiscal Responsibility Quite Like Rhode Island Does

Carroll Andrew Morse

The bill being heard today by the House Finance Committee that would give municipal bondholders a "first lien" on local government treasuries (H5376), introduced on behalf of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue and already passed by the Senate Finance committee (S0614), should not be passed into law. Peder Schaefer of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, which has taken a position against the bill, relays a key rationale being advanced by its supporters, as offered at the Senate Finance hearing: "A bond lawyer retained by the Department of Revenue testified that the real reason for the bill was in the event of a Federal Bankruptcy in Central Falls. She testified that if this were to occur, bond holders would not have a first lien on city revenues. She believes that the language of the act would improve the credit quality of all municipal bonds in the state".

In other words, the Chafee administration Department of Revenue believes that a community should not be allowed to drastically restructure its finances to deal with a financial meltdown until the bondholders are taken care of. The bondholders come first, and then everyone else can fight over what's left.

But even those who don't believe that full-blown bankruptcy for Central Falls or any other Rhode Island community is likely should be troubled by this bill.

1. Allowing "first liens" on general tax-revenue does damage to the underpinnings of democratic governance. Tax revenue is taken from the income and/or wealth of taxpayers; revenue doesn't magically fall out of the sky, despite what some government officials might believe. To create a bondholder lien on general tax revenue is to create a bondholder lien on taxpayers, i.e. to grant one group of people long-term, legally enforceable claims on the incomes and wealth of another. This is less compatible with modern than with medieval concepts of government and property rights, and I don't think there's any case to be made that we will do any better than our ancestors did under a system where regular citizens can find a portion of their incomes automatically claimed by a class of people who assert their superior position in the order of things.

2. Consider possibile outcomes, short of Federal bankruptcy, in the case of Central Falls. Section 45-9 of RI law (already in place) gives a receiver the power to issue bonds on behalf of his municipality including the power to use them to fund a deficit or to fund pension obligations. (Regular municipal governments are barred from issuing bonds to cover a deficit; the current bill reinforces that a receiver is immune from this limitation). The receiver cannot break collectively bargained contracts, so union benefits are locked in. And if this bill is passed, bond-holding financiers will be locked in too -- which means that it's the people in-between who will absorb the entire burden of government's inability to rationally finance itself, as everyone else will have to be paid first, before regular citizens get anything from government. Except the bill, of course.

3. I know there is a group of people who believe that financial efficiency is the primary issue that needs to be addressed by government, and who aren't much concerned with the undemocratic system being installed for dealing with Rhode Island's financial mess (I think there may be more than a few of these folks in the Chafee administration). But even those who believe in nothing but the brutal efficiency of markets should be troubled by the imbalance created by this bill. If government writes into law that bondholders have a direct legal claim to money in the public treasury, then there is little to no risk of them not receiving their scheduled payments, and every bond covered by the law should be given the highest possible rating with lowest possible interest. Financiers who want to assert a legal claim over a portion of the tax levy and a right to take money through legal compulsion are not assuming true market risks, and should be paid accordingly.

In a special report put out last November, the Fitch Ratings service concurred with the idea that "first lien" bonds involve very limited risk, because people are required to pay whatever amount government demands of them...

Question: Given the strained finances of most state and local governments, and the likelihood of continued difficult times to come, why do Fitch’s ratings suggest confidence in the ability of most to meet their debt?

Answer:...Other commonly issued municipal bonds are secured by a first lien on sales or income taxes, where there is little if any legal discretion for the taxpayer to choose not to remit the taxes owed to the government.

The attitude reflected above, by the way, is why you should never trust the "financial efficiency is everything" crowd to run the government.

Once upon time, in the Western tradition of democracy and self-government, it was understood that government's ability to compel people to surrender a portion of the fruits of their labor was a critical reason for limiting government claims on the property of the citizenry and to err on the side of the taxpayer. Rhode Island is sadly leading the way in eroding this tradition, asserting instead that government power to compel payment of taxes is a valid reason for allowing groups of people favored by the political class to make near-permanent claims on the livelihoods of average taxpayers.

Commentary on "Top Talent"

Justin Katz

Noting that one of the North Providence councilmen who, in the words of U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi, ran the city as "nothing more than a criminal organization" was also among the state legislature's crew of crack employees, Ed Achorn tells readers that he's still waiting for substantive response regarding Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio's hiring of 25-year-old college dropout Stephen Iannazzi to a $90,000-per-year job in his legislative office.

As a resident of Tiverton, I particularly took note of some extremely supportive (of Iannazzi) feedback from Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth) and asked the senator for more detailed comment. In response, he sent me the full text of his note to Achorn:

Since joining the RI Senate some 2 years ago, I have seen the leadership, with the Senate President at the helm, attract, nurture and retain top talent with extensive capability and capacity. This professional staff has been instrumental to the proper running of the legislative body. With the performance-based culture, people are held accountable, being measured and rewarded based on the results produced and not just effort expended.

With respect to Mr. Stephen Ianazzi, I have interacted with him on a regular basis. Stephen has performed admirably on each of his assigned tasks. From the results he has produced prior to leaving the Senate in 2010, and the last several months in his current role, Stephen is qualified to serve in his current capacity. I look forward to his continued results-based performance providing real value to the RI Senate and all its members. He certainly has a bright future.

The Senate President has my full support...

Look, this one ought to be easy. A young man with no clear credentials and apparently embodying the practice of quid pro quo nepotism is making a very high salary. Even legislators who don't want (or don't feel at liberty) to express suspicion ought to be able to muster some variation of: "I can see why this hiring might raise concerns, and I will seek a more full explanation from Senate leaders." That Ruggerio and, now, DiPalma are instead inclined to dig in, pretending that inquiries are in no way justified, is evidence that the ruling class of Rhode Island has no sense of what reasonable ethical boundaries might entail.

I'm in the process of contacting every relevant elected official and citizen group in the municipalities that Sen. DiPalma represents to see if perhaps that sense exists on the lower tiers of government, and I'll report back to you as responses come in.

Endorsements and Blame

Justin Katz

Marc's call in to Matt Allen Show, last night, touched on the Projo's now-laughable endorsement of David Cicilline and Treasurer Gina Raimondo's efforts to blame nobody for the pension mess that she counts as the issue facing Rhode Island. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

May 25, 2011

In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants to be Heard in Committees in *Both* Chambers Tomorrow

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is kind of interesting. According to a Tuesday posting to the General Assembly website, the Rhode Island Senate will hear the in-state tuition for illegal immigrants bill (S0321) on the same day that the House Finance committee does (tomorrow, May 26) . The House hearing (H5245) was posted last week.

Supporters of the bill wouldn't be trying to rush it through just before a long weekend, would they?

Selling Pension Reform: The No-Blame Game

Marc Comtois

When traveling the state and talking to various union groups, it's understandable--politically, yes, but also pragmatically--that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is refraining from playing the blame game (well, except for various "politicians" of the past). She needs unions on board to make reform happen and if the rank and file can understand the scope of the problem and be persuaded that there is no malice in reform, then perhaps union leadership will not resist. So, we have this:

[S]he stressed that politics, not public employees, are to blame for a “broken” pension system that is endangering the security of their retirements, while also threatening to crush taxpayers with billions of dollars of debt.

“If there’s anything to blame, it’s politics,” Raimondo told more than 300 members of Local 580 of the Service Employees International Union gathered at the Cranston Portuguese Club off Elmwood Avenue. “For decades, politics has trumped honest, financial accounting.

“The fault does not lie with you. ...You have done nothing wrong. You have played by the rules,” she said. “The fault lies with a poorly designed [pension] system that has been faltering for decades.”

She's correct in that union members did nothing explicitly wrong in paying into the pension system crafted and promised by their leadership and mostly Democratic politicians. But she's also glossing over things. After all, union members did have a role to play in the "politics" she condemns. They are, at the least, implicitly responsible for the current pension mess for supporting and electing the union leadership and Democratic politicians that crafted this fiasco. The same leaders who don't necessarily play by the same rules.:
Both of the SEIU’s national pension plans issued “critical status letters” to their members in 2009​—​the Pension Protection Act requires such letters to be issued when funds can cover less than 65 percent of their obligations. The SEIU, however, maintains a separate pension plan for its national officers that was funded at 98.3 percent, according to the latest data.
Or actively undermine Raimondo's proposals while standing right next to her:
Frank Flynn, the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, told his retirees that the potential pension cuts that Raimondo outlined a day earlier, including a suspension of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees are “just examples. They are not recommendations at this point,” he said.
For Raimondo, it's certainly easier in the short-term to suggest to people that they are victims than to tell them they are at least partially to blame for the events that have led to their current problem. For union members, it's easier being a victim than confronting the fact that you were naive, duped or made bad choices in trusting who you did with your future.

As for the politics, in the long term, if real reform happens, then this soft-sell tour may not insulate Raimondo from union ire (though it will ultimately be the General Assembly's stamp on the reform). Then again, there is no historical or political reason to believe that the General Assembly will be proactive, so, while I don't doubt her sincerity at all, politically it looks like she'll be able to present herself as a pro-union, "pragmatic progressive" reformer and maintain her future political viability.

Ravitch Takes a Breath & Apologizes to Gist

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports that that reformed education reformer Dianne Ravitch had apologized to RI Ed. Commish Deborah Gist for her actions following their recent meeting (which included a demand that Gist apologize to her). Ravitch issued the mea culpa on her blog after a visit to the Franciscan-founded Sienna College over the weekend. Apparently, the sense of community and the belief that we should treat others fairly impressed itself upon Ravitch.

I was indeed moved by my exposure to Siena. And when I came home, I reflected on a blog I wrote recently about my visit to Rhode Island. In that blog, I wrote harsh words about state Commissioner Deborah Gist. On reflection, I concluded that I had written in anger and that I was unkind. For that, I am deeply sorry.

Like every other human being, I have my frailties; I am far from perfect. I despair of the spirit of meanness that now permeates so much of our public discourse. One sees it on television, hears it on radio talk shows, reads it in comments on blogs, where some attack in personal terms using the cover of anonymity or even their own name, taking some sort of perverse pleasure in maligning or ridiculing others.

I don't want to be part of that spirit. Those of us who truly care about children and the future of our society should find ways to share our ideas, to discuss our differences amicably, and to model the behavior that we want the young to emulate. I want to advance the ideals and values that are so central to the Siena community: compassion, responsibility, integrity, empathy, and standing up against injustice. When Father Mullen presented me with my degree, he said that I am "now and forevermore a daughter of Siena." Although I am Jewish, not Catholic, I will strive to live up to that charge.

Credit goes to Ravitch for the re-set. My major criticism of her has been her stridency and her apparent unwillingness to believe in the sincerity of those with whom she disagrees. It's a trap that many of us fall into from time to time. Some of us live there. But being nice doesn't mean being any less passionate. It's important to realize that this came about because Ravitch had the opportunity to immerse herself in a community such as Sienna (or, say, a few days at a Portsmouth Institute event) that gave her time to reflect upon your outlook. It's a lesson to us all to take a breath every once in a while.

The Social Structure of Socialists

Justin Katz

Glenn Reynolds highlights an article in the New York Post that hits some familiar notes:

For more than 15 years, New York state has led the country in domestic outmigration: For every American who comes here, roughly two depart for other states. This outmigration slowed briefly following the onset of the Great Recession. But a recent Marist poll suggests that the rate is likely to increase: 36 percent of New Yorkers under 30 plan to leave over the next five years. Why are all these people fleeing?

For one thing, according to a recent survey in Chief Executive, our state has the second-worst business climate in the country. (Only California ranks lower.) People go where the jobs are, so when a state repels businesses, it repels residents, too.

Taxes, mandates, regulations... it's the same old story with a plain dramatic conflict: difficulty building the better life to which Americans historically aspire. Reynolds puts it perfectly:

Have you noticed that wherever what Walter Russell Mead calls the "blue state model" is applied, you get a crust of really rich people, jobs for some folks who service them, and then not much employment or opportunity for younger people?

Perhaps it comes down to basic philosophy. To those who advocate for blue-state policies, it is the natural order of things that some are suited to high position and those who are not must be cared for as subjects. Anybody who wishes to move from the low group to the higher without following the strict guidelines for acculturation by which one imitates and reinforces his betters must be a suspicious, greedy character.

Thus college becomes a route to learn the habits of thought and affectations that give weight to elite biases. Thus highly paid union organizers stand as the representatives of the uninitiated in the ruling class. Thus professional advocates work toward a growing class of permanently dependent wards of the state. And thus develops the attraction of regions that allow greater freedom and more independence.

A Comedy of Endorsement

Justin Katz

Thanks to Patrick for mentioning and Max Diesel for finding the Providence Journal editorial board's endorsement of David Cicilline for Congress. Give it a read if you need a morning laugh:

Mr. Cicilline has been an honest, energetic and often innovative mayor of Rhode Island’s largest city. He has cleansed city government of much of its reputation for corruption and hired capable people, most notably Police Chief Dean Esserman. He has looked for ideas on better governance from cities all over the world. And he has brought a level of fiscal discipline (including in relations with the city’s far too powerful public-employee unions) that has not been seen in the city for many decades.

The editorial goes on to explain that its authors share Cicilline's affection for Obamacare and big-government stimulus, and in general, they dislike Republicans' approach to government. Whether the delusion about the Democrat's honesty and discipline as mayor would have overcome the preference for big government had the paper's reporters exposed it sooner, we may have to wait until the election to find out.

Given subsequent revelations, though, the biggest question to me is when liberals will begin to see that the two considerations — in-office performance and ideology — are not distinct issues. Slick, dishonest politicians have a larger playing field on which to profit themselves when the scope of government expands. It may be frustrating that a perfect world would allow us to come together collectively and solve our problems in the most efficient way possible, but the world isn't perfect, which is why we need checks and balances both within and against government.

May 24, 2011

National Popular Vote Bill Being Heard this Week

Carroll Andrew Morse

One late addition (posted Monday for a hearing Wednesday) to this week's House Judiciary Committee agenda is a bill to have the state legislature disregard the choice made by Rhode Island voters in a Presidential election, and allocate RI's electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote instead. In 2009, a similar bill got out of committee, but was defeated on the House floor by a 28-45 vote. It should be noted, however, the current Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has expressed support for national popular vote in the past.

Previous Anchor Rising takes on why NPV is a bad idea are available here, here, and here. The legitimate, and constitutional, solution to a perceived problem with the Electoral College is to increase the size of the U.S. House of Representatives.

And Where Was the Projo?

Justin Katz

One can infer that a politician is on the ropes when he insists that his constituents look to the future rather than the job that he held until six months ago (and for which he can credit his subsequent political advancement):

"This poll reflects some disagreement about some of the decisions I made in Providence, rather than my work as a new member of Congress for the past five months," [David Cicilline (D, RI)] said in a telephone interview. "I intend to continue to work hard every single day to earn the support and trust of the people in my district by doing everything I can to get people back to work and rebuilding our state’s economy."

The problem is that, while Cicilline may be able to escape to Washington, the people of Providence and Rhode Island cannot. Election to higher office is not a born-again baptism:

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has said the city faces a $180-million structural deficit for the current fiscal year and next. An independent auditing firm concluded the Cicilline administration overspent its budget and nearly depleted the city's rainy day account in its final budget year. And a City Council report asserted that the former mayor violated the city's Home Rule Charter, inflated revenue estimates and ignored budget procedures.

So here's the lingering question: Where was the city and state's newspaper of record back when Cicilline was still in the state and in the office? Where was the paper, that is, other than attacking his opponent with bleedingly obvious bias through its PolitiFarce mechanism?

Tight School Budgets Don't Excuse Excuse-making

Marc Comtois

National education reformer Rick Hess recently spoke to a group of RI superintendents and school district business officers about how NOT to respond to shrinking budgets. He outlined four common mistakes:"excuse-mongering"; "imagining that progress only comes with new dollars"; "thinking that any budget cut will be debilitating"; and "countenancing rather than condemning unacceptable employee responses." For each excuse, he offers real quotes from principals/superintendents and then explains their flaw. For instance, regarding budget cuts:

Quote: "It is impossible to make cuts in a district and not have it impact teachers and students. We cut a secretary and many tasks are now falling to teachers. This takes up their precious time to prepare for students. We cut a technology integration person, and now teachers are having to spend more time researching web sites and online projects. We cut a mail delivery person, and now secretaries and paras are having to do curbside pickup and drop-off of mail so the mail can travel on buses." The underlying message is lunacy. By the speaker's logic, no organization--not the U.S. military, not the postal service, not General Motors--can ever make cuts or trim personnel without compromising quality. Well, the reality is that a slew of organizations have made cuts that seemed painful but that ultimately seemed to boost productivity, strengthen the culture, and left them more effective. Obviously, cutting in dumb ways (like by zeroing out music, art, or sports to save negligible dollar amounts) has an adverse impact. But the challenge for leaders is to prune in smart ways, to use rough periods as a chance to cut back so that their organizations will emerge leaner and healthier. To deny that one can do that is to abdicate one's responsibility.
As I said, he offered similar thoughts and commentary on the other common mistakes. So now we know he told this to Rhode Island educators. I wonder if they listened.

Behind the Unemployment Headline

Justin Katz

This is the good news that's we've all heard being touted:

For the fourth month in a row, Rhode Island's unemployment rate dipped slightly in April to 10.9 percent, the first time in 21 months it has fallen below 11 percent.

Additionally, the number of jobs in the state grew by 1,800 from March to April to 462,200, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Labor and Training. April was the third month in a row the number of jobs in the state has grown.

Read a little farther — almost to the end of the article — and you find that "growth" can have strange meanings:

The number of unemployed Rhode Island residents dropped by 900 from March to April to 62,100. That’s 5,500 fewer people who are now counted as unemployed compared with April 2010.

Rhode Island’s labor force equaled 571,100 in April, down 900 from March, and down 5,100 from April 2010.

That is, on the month-to-month basis, the drop in unemployment and the number of people who left the labor force are an exact match. I'll withhold judgment on Rhode Island's pending recovery until such time as the unemployment rate falls because people who weren't working now are. Otherwise, the statement's a bit like declaring the health of our people to be improving because sick people have been dying off.

A Debt You Can Leave Behind

Justin Katz

The top story in Sunday's Providence Journal had to do with the $30,000 that the average Rhode Island household owes in pension and other retirement benefit payments, beyond what has been put aside.

The bill now stands at $13.63 billion — $9.37 billion for pension payments that have been previously reported and $4.26 billion for other benefits, primarily medical insurance, that The Providence Journal has newly calculated from state and municipal financial reports. ...

And that's on top of more than $200 a year from each household to cover new costs accrued each year for pensions and benefits for future retirees.

Struggling families should consider that next time they hear of public-sector employees retiring in their early 50s. Of course, what the article doesn't mention is that Rhode Islanders can settle this debt — at least for themselves — simply by leaving. That's particularly relevant to an accompanying table that shows the unfunded liability for each town. Tiverton's, I note, is $36,172,948. Little mostly-rural Tiverton swings beyond its weight class when it comes to a history of bad governance.

It's at least a mildly silver lining to see what we've been saying around here being stated as explanatory fact:

Each year, through employee and taxpayer contributions, enough money should be put into pension and benefit funds to cover the credits the employees have accumulated, factoring in how much the contributions will earn through investments. ...

The Governmental Accounting Standards Board says the money should be put aside in the year that the employee earns the benefit rather than after the employee retires. Delaying payment, as happens under pay-as-you-go, hides the true cost of the work force.

"Hiding." That's been the objective of Rhode Island's corrupt government, and "pay as you go" continues to be the mantra of people, like Tom Sgouros, who owe their livings to the vast flood of money that rides along with public sector employees. (What savings might the state, schools, and municipalities realize if the labor union infrastructure were cut from the loop?) Pay attention when they argue that there really isn't a pension problem or that people aren't really leaving Rhode Island for reasons related to government. These are the arguments they've never had to make publicly because our elected representatives never pushed them on any of it.

Frankly, if the state has a debt that residents can avoid by leaving, it seems to me reasonable that the state can declare the larger part of that debt no longer owed. After all, taxpayers can leave it behind because taxpayers didn't actually incur it as a debt.

May 23, 2011

Pension Pinch is is Healthcare

Marc Comtois

WPRI's indefatigable investigative team has turned up the fact that RI cities and towns owe a combined $3.6 billion in healthcare benefits (Sen. Dennis Algiere wrote about this a few days ago). From the WPRI report:

The state's municipalities have promised to provide nearly $3.6 billion worth of medical coverage to their current and future retirees over the next three decades, but government financial reports show they've put aside almost nothing to pay the bill – just $27.5 million, or less than 1 percent of the future cost.

To put it in perspective, the $3.6 billion unfunded liability for city and town retiree health care is significantly larger than their pension plans' shortfall of roughly $2.2 billion.

As with pensions, communities do not need to come up with the money for these so-called "other post-employment benefits," or OPEB, all at once. But most have barely begun to grapple with the cost.

"You've heard the general treasurer recently say pension reform for state employees and municipal employees isn't a problem – it's the problem," said Dan Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns. "Well, I would say OPEB obligations and dealing with those obligations is either equal to or just a notch down from the needed pension reform."

WPRI has provided a map for you to check out your city or town's liability. You won't find any info for Hopkinton, Exeter and Richmond: they never promised health care coverage (golf clap). There are predictable and common sense solutions outlined in the piece. Be sure that all will be resisted.

Re: The Raimondo Roadmap

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ted Nesi of WPRI-TV (CBS 12) deserves a line-of-the-day credit for this Twitter entry...

On pensions, Raimondo says "Failure is not an option." I'm pretty sure it is though, just not her preferred one.

The Raimondo Roadmap

Marc Comtois

State General Treasurer Gina Raimondo unveiled her roadmap for pension reform today (ProJo covers here and WPRI's Ted Nesi is live-tweeting). Here's the report (pdf) and a new website, "Secure Path RI". Her report takes a "where we are now and how we got there" approach. Here are some ideas she's floating:

1) Set retirement age at 67.
2) Current accrual rate is in the 1.6 to 3% range (example: a 2% rate leads to a 70% pension benefit). Raimondo mentions that most private funds are 1%.
3) Deal with COLAs.
4) Look at hybrid plans (part defined-benefit, part defined-contribution).
5) Anti-spiking provisions to prevent "end-of-career increases in pension levels."
6) Coordinate with Social Security when determining pensions.

To stress: these are just ideas being floated, not concrete recommendations. A study group is going to be convened prior to the July budget submittal.

One of Few Growing Demographics in RI

Justin Katz

We can't all game the system to retire at any age with a public-sector disability pension, but the Social Security Administration does offer some benefits, and the number of Rhode Islanders receiving them has been growing enormously:

In 2001, there were about 25,000 Rhode Islanders receiving benefits from Social Security Disability Insurance, known as SSDI.

By 2010, the figure had grown to more than 34,000 — a number about equal to the entire population of Cumberland.

Meanwhile, over the same period, the overall number of Social Security beneficiaries in Rhode Island — including those collecting retirement benefits, survivor benefits and disability benefits — grew by only about 6 percent, to 203,660, Social Security Administration figures show.

The "only" in that last sentence seems a bit misplaced when one considers that the state's overall population growth effectively remained nil. Approximately one in five Rhode Islanders are receiving Social Security benefits, with about one in six of them of the disability sort. How is a society supposed to cohere and function with such high numbers of public dependents?

And don't be distracted by the term "disability":

... Because of high unemployment, more people are turning to Social Security disability as a source of income, said Czarnowski, a retired Social Security official who runs Czarnowski Consulting, a Social Security consulting firm in Norfolk, Mass.

In better times, some people worked "despite their impairments because it [made] sense for them economically," he said. But amid the recession, and its persistently high rate of long-term unemployment, many such workers lost their jobs, could not find other work, exhausted their extended unemployment benefits, and turned to SSDI as a kind of last resort, he indicated.

One thinks of the fact that our state's unemployment numbers are decreasing mainly because our workforce is shrinking; how many of those discouraged job seekers have merely opted for a public assistance existence? Moreover, one wonders what extra incentive it's going to take to break the economic inertia that will keep them from reentering the market.

Grading by Ideology

Justin Katz

An interesting tidbit from over the weekend is that college professors appear to grade differently based on political affiliation:

We study grading outcomes associated with professors in an elite university in the United States who were identified -- using voter registration records from the county where the university is located -- as either Republicans or Democrats. The evidence suggests that student grades are linked to the political orientation of professors: relative to their Democratic colleagues, Republican professors are associated with a less egalitarian distribution of grades and with lower grades awarded to Black students relative to Whites.

As you can see by the included chart, Republican-given grades track more closely with what one might expect: lower grades correlating with lower SAT scores and higher with higher. And I'd certainly be willing to believe that Democrats (presumed, in the study, to be liberal) are more apt to boost underachievers and resent overachievers, whom they attempt to humble.

Still, one major consideration that does not appear to have been taken into account (at least as apparent in a quick scan of the research document) is the type of courses involved. Humanities departments, to my experience, have a deeply entrenched and rigid screening process that surely keeps Republicans and (especially) conservatives out, so those Republicans whom one can find on faculty lists are likely to be teaching less mushy, more objective subjects .

Another explanation, apart from the urge to redistribute, could involve Republicans' status as a small minority. Whatever is cause and whatever is effect, professors who feel as if they exist behind enemy lines, as it were, might have a different outlook on testing and grading, making them more likely, I'd wager, to prioritize proven achievement in a competitive atmosphere.

May 22, 2011

As We're Waiting for Godot Gina, the Latest on Rhode Island's Public Pension Disaster

Monique Chartier

So here's where we stand.

> Tomorrow at 2 pm, G.T. Gina Raimondo presents the history and making of Rhode Island's pension crisis, to be followed by a "menu" of remedy options.

> She admits to being on a bit of a crusade. Like that's a bad thing when even a liberal think tank in Washington, the Center on Budget Policy Priorities, is aghast, in an analytical sort of way, by the severity of Rhode Island's unfunded pension liability (the funding level is now less than 50%), concluding that only "radical changes" will solve the problem. (H/T WPRI's Ted Nesi.)

> This summer, the General Assembly will convene a study commission to examine the options presented by the G.T. I know, I know. As Speaker Gordon Fox is talking about making it a BRAC style commision, however, there is hope that, this time, something productive will come of a study commission. Not to mention the urgency involved in staring down the barrel, in little more than a year, of a doubling of the taxpayer contribution (to 621 million non-existent dollars).

> General Assembly leadership have agreed to a reconvening of the G.A. in the fall to take up the recommendations of the pension study commission.

> While acknowledging that the amount is "nowhere near what's needed", the Governor is standing by his recommendation that a 3% raise coming to state employees be channelled to a higher pension contribution. The Senate President agrees with him. I agree with the employees, who are resisting. There should be no increase in anyone's contribution until the pension system is salvaged.

> We would be remiss if we did not mention the rumor circulating that the General Assembly has agreed to a compromise: pension reform gets passed but so do binding arbitration and perpetual contracts. If this is the case, don't bother with pension reform. Better to have the swift financial death of no pension reform than the slow, agonizing end represented by binding arb and perpetual contracts.

> And the last item (for the moment) on pensions: a couple of legislators, who clearly have been residing in a different solar system for the last twenty years, filed a bill that would define pensions benefits as property rights. Hey, chuckleheads. Quit lying to our public employees. You can't create rights to something that not only does not exist but has no hope of coming into existence. The checks WILL start bouncing unless we do more than sit around smirkily passing empty laws.

Coming up in Committee: Eleven Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 24 - May 26

Carroll Andrew Morse

My impression is that the General Assembly is finally beginning to get a little more focused on addressing the fiscal and governance problems of Rhode Island...

11. H5608: Dedicates 10% of state gambling revenue to the payment of debt service on state bonds. (House Finance, May 24)

10. H5368: Replaces the exemption on the first $850,000 of property subject to the estate tax from the estate-tax for estates valued at less than $850,000 with a tax-credit of $25,200. Does anyone know what purpose is served, by changing from an exemption to a tax-credit? (A possible answer is discussed in the comments). (House Finance, May 24)

9. Two bills affecting armed-services personnel; a state income-tax exemption for military pensions for persons 65 and older (S0100, Senate Finance, May 24) and a ban on foreclosures on the residences of deployed active duty personnel (S0703, Senate Special Legislation and Veterans' Affairs, May 25).

8. S0619: A bill clarifying 1) that, once a municipal receiver takes over a Rhode Island municipality, any "powers of the city or town council exercisable by resolution or ordinance shall be exercised by order of the receiver" 2) that the former government of the city or town "shall not rescind or take any action contrary to such action by the receiver so long as the receivership continues to exist", and 3) that in towns where a budget commission, a fiscal overseer, or a receiver has been appointed, elected officials are personally liable for the amounts they overspend. The receiver and any other state appointed officials, of course, are above this last provision of the law -- if the receiver says it is necessary, then it is by definition not overspending! (Senate Finance, May 24)

7. H5736/S0614: Local governments must appropriate money to pay debt service on general obligation bonds and notes before any other item can be appropriated. Local officials who do not carry this out, apparently at either the appropriations or the expenditure stage, can be removed from office by the Superior court. (Note to the state Department of Revenue, who is listed as having requested this bill: if this is supposed to be some sort of best-practices technocratic fix, you shouldn't load up the House sponsorship with a list of crazy left-wingers, which could create an impression that one purpose of this bill is to open the door to local officials being sued, if they refuse to vote for tax-increases). (Senate Finance, May 24; House Finance, May 26)

6. H5245: In-state college tuition for illegal immigrants. (House Finance, May 26)

5. S0189: Freezes the bonus for regional districts in the new state education "funding formula" at a permanent value of 2%. (Senate Finance, May 24)

4. H6095: 4% additional income tax, creating a marginal rate of 10%, on individual incomes over $200,000, and on married-couple incomes over $250,000. (House Finance, May 26)

3. H5840: Eliminates cost-of-living pension increases for any newly hired judges, justices, teachers and state employees. (House Finance, May 24)

2. H6146: Contracts for municipal employees do not expire until a new contract is agreed upon. (House Labor, May 24)

1. H6085: Authorizes a statewide referendum and a local referendum in Lincoln to be held as part of the 2012 general election to approve or reject adding table games to "the facility known as 'Twin River'". (House Finance, May 25)

May 21, 2011

The First Post of an Inevitable Series

Carroll Andrew Morse

Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican nomination for President about two weeks ago and then proceeded to alienate the entire party at record speed, even by his standards. Tim Pawlenty will formally announce his candidacy on Monday. Mitch Daniels, whose stature is at least equivalent to that of Pawlenty (read that any way you would like) has not yet announced when he might make an announcement. Thankfully, Donald Trump has taken himself out of the race, so this is the only sentence I will ever have to write about his Presidential campaign. Herman Cain, who formally announced his candidacy today, is receiving praise for his performance at the first Republican debate (yes, one has already happened). Based on that same debate, there appears to be a possibility that Gary Johnson may cut into Ron Paul’s share of the identity-libertarian vote.

Through the 2008 Republican primary cycle, I bought into the hype that said “this time is different”, and that the Republicans were going to do something different from their traditional practice of nominating “the next guy in line”. I spent some time tracking how a Rudy Guiliani/Fred Thompson dynamic might play out. And then the Republicans nominated the next guy in line (John McCain, in case you’ve already blotted his campaign out of your memory).

So, in addition to any declared candidates, until there is real evidence of non-viability or non-interest, you should keep a political-eye on the two potential candidates who best fit the description of the next [person] in line: Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, even though a conventional wisdom is forming that the Massachusetts health care mandate makes Romney unelectable in a Republican primary. Keep in mind, however, that just before the 2008 Presidential primary season started, John McCain was working as hard as he could to alienate the Republican base on the issue of immigration. Despite this, the Republicans couldn’t stop themselves from nominating the next guy in line.

From a Rhode Island perspective, two other specifics are worth noting…

  1. Mike Huckabee has announced that he is not running. Huckabee received about 20% of the vote in the RI Republican primary in 2008, albeit in an election that occurred after McCain was an almost absolute lock for the nomination, and after Romney had conceded. Still, it’s worth asking in what direction Huckabee’s 20% of primary voters will be looking.
  2. State Representative Doreen Costa is working on bringing possible Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann here to RI for a campaign visit. Could this be the start of a Bachmann boomlet, related to the above item, as Rep. Bachmann pays a visit to the state where the "first blow for freedom" of the American Revolution was struck?

UPDATE (Sunday, May 22)

The Associated Press is reporting that Mitch Daniels sent out an email to supporters last night saying he's not running.

Waivering Health Care Reform

Monique Chartier

About his then residence that had undergone extensive renovations, Dave Barry once observed,

When prospective buyers ask: ''What kind of construction is this house?" I answer: "Spackle."

Similarly, health care reform now seems to be comprised largely of waivers. 204 more companies were granted waivers in the last ten days, 20% of them going to companies located in the district of former (ahh!) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The total number of purportedly temporary (but how easy will it be to grant one year extensions ... year after year after year) waivers issued now tops 1,700.

Just as notable as those issued to companies in CA-8 is the waiver that recently went to everyone's (???) favorite senior advocacy organization. Ed Morrissey at HotAir explains the significance, not to say irony.

No one seems to know what criteria HHS uses to grant or deny waivers to insurers from provisions in ObamaCare. The White House won’t release the names of those insurers and employers refused waivers or discuss denials at all. But maybe, just maybe, we could all agree that organizations that publicly pushed ObamaCare to approval should be ineligible to escape its consequences?

Indeed, why would the AARP be anxious to duck out of a law for which they themselves advocated?


Anthony correctly reminds us that entire STATES - Maine, New Hampshire and, most recently, Nevada - have obtained waivers from ObamaCare.

Forty seven more to go!

May 20, 2011

Fun with Froma

Justin Katz

Longtime readers know that I've never been much of a Froma Harrop fan. People who know her assure me that she's reasonable, but she starts from (what one might call) the flawed premises of the ruling class. Still, when she focused on Rhode Island, at least she articulated a distinct perspective on matters of local concern; now that she's syndicated, she seems in direct competition with other national liberal pundits who are frustrating to read.

Every now and then, though, it's fun to dip into a column and spot the aforementioned premises, as is the case with last month's "The GOP's Third World vision for the United States":

Government programs are sustainable only if you sustain them. That's done primarily through taxes. Years of tax-cutting have helped drive federal tax revenues to a 60-year bottom relative to the gross domestic product.

Of course, as an economy grows — considering that few government programs necessarily scale directly with the prosperity of the nation (indeed, many should go in the opposite direction) — one would expect government to shrink on a relative basis. If we a priori set government as a proportion of the economy, then we'll ever be looking for programs on which to spend the unneeded money, which actually jibes pretty well with political trends of the past half century.

The interesting point, though, is that one could construct an explanation for that "60-year bottom" so as to credit tax cuts with economic growth. Harrop goes on, and I can't help but interject, here and there:

If low taxes are the key to economic growth, as Republicans assert, then why aren’t we doing better? [Because taxes at all levels of government are still too high, because regulations stifle the economy as well as taxes, and because the economy is cyclical without regard to the government.] What explains the phenomenal growth of the 1950s, when the top marginal rate hit 91 percent? [The Baby Boom and the release of pent up demand and production capacity after World War II.] Or the years following the Democrats' 1993 tax hike on high incomes, when the economy boomed, the budget ran a surplus and the rich did better than ever? [Conditions formed in the '80s and the development of new technologies, notably the Internet.] And what explains the mediocre job growth in 2001-2008, as two big tax cuts went into effect? [The dot-com bust and the shift of capital toward investment in speculative real estate, rather than productive enterprise, as a result of government policies making such speculation seem unreasonably safe.] Then came the crash, fueled by deregulation. [And Harropian liberals credit Obama's stimulus for preventing worse, even as they fail to mention the same possibility when it comes to Bush's tax cuts.]

Of course, my rejoinders are arguably as simplistic as Harrop's assertions, but I'm writing as a hobby on a blog, while she's making a healthy living as a professional opinionista. More importantly, her baseline philosophy initiates an error that affects all that she piles upon it:

Public benefits are what divide a rich-country way of life from the threadbare alternative. Let's assume that Americans want the blessings of the former.

To the extent that such a statement is true, it's circumstantial. The European model is pretty much the only "rich-country way of life" by which Americans can measure themselves, and just because Europe does things a certain way doesn't mean that the Continent is providing an objective example of what civilization ought to be.

Acknowledging that leads to the question of what the objective of a civic system ought to be, at which one must consider the longevity with which that "rich-country way of life" can be sustained. On that count, I'd suggest that we'd be much better off pursuing an alternative method of distributing our national prosperity that doesn't measure success by the amount of public benefits (either relative to the economy or in absolute terms), but in the well-being of the individuals who make up the citizenry.

Tax Increases in Warwick

Marc Comtois

As reported by the ProJo, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian's new budget includes significant tax increases (both in the property tax and imposition of the car tax) on the city's residents. Additionally, the Warwick Beacon provided this helpful graphic to illustrate what it could mean for your average, two-car Warwick household:

Avedisian blames the 2010 floods, the bad economy and other unforseen events--like the contracts he's negotiated over the past decade--as well as the by-now common tactic of blaming the school department. He asks for nearly $8 million more in spending (almost a 3% increase over last year) and touts the departmental cuts and layoffs he's made to cut costs. In essence, he argues, it's a revenue problem not a spending problem. The truth, of course, is that while nearly every other line item has been cut, the contractual obligations continue to rise higher than the revenue stream. This can be addressed, if the political will is there.

RIRA "Conservative Comedy Night" PAC Fundraiser on Saturday

Community Crier

The Rhode Island Republican Assembly PAC is hosting a "Conservative Comedy Night" fundraiser, featuring "Conservative Liberal Jewish" Californian Comedian Eric Golub on Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 21, 2011. It will be held at the Manville Sportsmen's Rod & Gun Club, at 250 High Street, in Manville (Lincoln), RI 02838. Check-in starts at 6:30 p.m., with the dinner show set to start at 7:00 p.m.

In addition to our featured comedian, we will also be "lightly roasting" the following local politicos: John Robitaille, Rep. Doreen Costa, Rep. Mike Chippendale, Rep. Dan Gordon, and Sen. Beth Moura.

There will be a great Italian buffet dinner featuring roasted chicken, pasta, salad, and dessert, with a cash bar. The cost to attend this fun event is only $35.00 per person or $60.00 per couple. As May 21st is Armed Forces Day, we will be recognizing U.S. Military Veterans. Veterans can attend for $30.00 each.

Your RSVP and payment in advance would be greatly appreciated for planning purposes. Funds generated from this event will be used to support local conservative Republican candidates in Rhode Island.

As the event will be held this Saturday, payment by mail is discouraged. However, you may conveniently pay for your tickets by credit card or electronic check via the drop-down menu at or by sending funds directly to RIRA-PAC via PayPal to:

For any inquiries about this event or RIRA, you may contact RIRA President Raymond T. McKay at (401) 487-2514 or by e-mail at:

Coffee News to Wake Up To

Justin Katz

Early morning seemed the appropriate time to mention this news report:

Drinking coffee, regular or decaffeinated, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, according to a study by Harvard University researchers.

The study found that men who consumed six or more cups of coffee a day had a 60 percent lower risk of developing deadly metastatic prostate cancer and a 20 percent reduced risk of developing any form of the disease. One to three cups cut the risk of lethal prostate cancer by 30 percent. The findings, published today in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggest non-caffeine elements in coffee may provide the benefit.

Yeah, the researchers stress that there are harmful effects to coffee, as well, and encourage readers not to conclude that they should increase their intake of the beverage. Still, I'll take it as reason to pep up a little before having my regular daily doses.

May 19, 2011

Charlie Hall on the New Beach Parking Fee Schedule

Monique Chartier

Heads up, beach lovers - parking passes for Rhode Island beaches are slated to go up in early June in accordance with the Governor's instruction.


Courtesy Oceanstate Follies.

WPRI Poll: The First Congressional Weasel Loses By Ten Points to [gasp] a Republican

Monique Chartier

The horror.

Congressman David Cicilline would lose to his Republican opponent by more than 10 points if an election were held today, according to an exclusive WPRI 12 poll that finds many voters are unhappy with the first-term Democrat.

The new survey of 300 registered voters in Rhode Island's 1st Congressional District shows Cicilline's 2010 opponent, former state Rep. John Loughlin, would defeat him 47 percent to 35 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

Another Republican, former State Police Col. Brendan Doherty, would beat Cicilline 46 percent to 33 percent, with 20 percent undecided, the poll reveals.

Charlie Sheen as Internet Metaphor

Justin Katz

In an essay that is, unfortunately, behind a subscriber wall, Rob Long casts Charlie Sheen as the harbinger of the entertainment industry's Internet doom:

... Charlie Sheen is the living embodiment of what everyone in Hollywood fears. Leaving aside, for a moment, the creepy prurience of his 2 mil1lion Twitter followers, or the death-watch quality of his viewership, Sheen has taken his insanely valuable network-television scarcity — his take-home was something along the lines of $2 million per episode — and squandered it on freebie Web appearances, hourly Tweets, and low-rent antics. He makes Lindsay Lohan look like Princess Grace. He makes Snooki seem stately. Charlie Sheen has become the lowest kind of celebrity. He has become a reality-television star.

That's what drugs will do to you, of course. But on another level, that's also what unlimited bandwidth — the crystal meth of the media business — is doing to the old Hollywood business model. We are all moments away from cheap, knock-off stardom. Click around YouTube and you'll be astonished at the number of people who regularly post videos of themselves. These are people you and I have never heard of, and yet there they are, talking into the camera, for millions of subscribers.

The analysis brings to mind the Newport Daily News organization's decision to charge more for online content than for the paper itself. The old model worked; the new model doesn't yet make a profit. The Internet may bring a new level of readership, but they don't come with a revenue stream.

In the case of the Daily News, the gamble is that online media organizations won't be able to profit, either, thus building a long-term competitor for news content in the city. The broader news and entertainment industry, however, might not even have that gamble to make. As the media in which their content is delivered converge — that is, as movies and audio become stream-able digital content that can be freed of viewer restrictions and distributed instantly — they are having to compete with the YouTube stars on even turf, not Web versus print.

It's tempting to celebrate the democratization of media (why should Charlie Sheen be famous and not you?), but the reality is that it takes money consistently to create compelling, high-quality content. The only hope may be that technology will reveal some new feature, as the TV, computer, and telephone all become the same device, that opens up a new avenue for revenue and thereby encourages the extra effort of big-budget productions.

Frankly, I don't think Two and a Half Men was very far from Internet schlock to begin with: mainly a vessel for dirty jokes and a long-time star. For that matter, network television created the culture of reality TV. So maybe the first step for Hollywood (broadly meant) is to up its game and use its manipulative influence to raise the bar on what counts as entertainment.

What's Been Earned

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Matt and I talked about fixing the pension system and whether pensions are earned more than private sector income. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

May 18, 2011

Laffey Raises a Point It's Easy to Forget

Justin Katz

This line from Stephen Laffey at the Operation Clean Government event at which he spoke is a helpful reminder:

"It's over for Providence. ... It's over for Rhode Island," he said. "You people have to publicly humiliate your elected officials."

For my part, I know I tend to wrongly assume that people who bear responsibility for such things as driving a city or state into a ditch would be humiliated purely by that fact alone. Of course, self delusion can be a powerful force, especially when abetted more broadly, as Laffey goes on to describe:

He took a not-so-thinly-disguised swipe at former Democratic Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline who is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the early days of democracy, "they used to tar and feather" people for disservice to their government, Laffey said, but "now, they elect people who destroy a city to Congress."


Wouldn't it have been great if somebody worked full time for Anchor Rising and had therefore been able to post video of this event within hours of its completion?

Just saying.

A Change of Tune on Radicalization

Justin Katz

The opening sentence of an article about events in Libya makes deafening the dog that isn't barking:

Mourners vowed revenge and rattled off heavy gunfire in a Tripoli cemetery on Saturday as they buried nine men they said were Muslim clerics and medics killed in a NATO airstrike in mostly rebel-held eastern Libya.

Remember when an army of folks, like Senator Barack Obama, would take to the airwaves to mouth wisdom about how American intervention in Muslim countries would only radicalize the region and breed more terrorists. We haven't heard quite so much from them, and one suspects that the reason isn't just that Libya is sufficiently disconnected from U.S. national interests to make our motives seem pure.

The article goes on make the case that the increasing the risk to civilians is a ploy by dictator Moammar Gadhafi to make focus aggression on the West, rather than himself, but that's nothing new. What's new is that the mainstream media and Democrat operatives have different political motives, these days.

Legislative Alerts from the RI Tea Party, May 18 - 19

Carroll Andrew Morse

Because the RI General Assembly website was down all weekend and then again for at least some period of time of Monday night, I wasn't able to produce my summary of bills on the usual schedule, and a few other commitments this week are preventing me from catching up in a timely fashion, so in order to provide a brief update on what is happening on Smith Hill (beyond the passage of the civil unions bill in House committee last evening) I will pass along the Rhode Island Tea Party's alerts on what's happening in legislative committees this week...

A Bill to lock down retired employee benefits as property rights...[and] end-run around the unsettled matter of law regarding property rights of retiree benefits. (Senate Labor Committee, May 18)

A Bill to Exempt $2 Million from Estate Tax. (Senate Finance Committee, May 19)

A Bill to increase estate tax exemption from $850,000 to $1,500,000 (Senate Finance Committee, May 19)

A Bill to combine corporate tax reporting with other states (House Finance Committee, May 19)

Reform for the Difficult, Too

Justin Katz

Much has been made of the peculiar meeting of flip-flopped-to-union-friendly education writer Dianne Ravitch and RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, but Ed Fitzpatrick highlighted something from Ravitch's latest book that points to a more substantive debate:

In her book, Ravitch raises valid concerns, saying, "The question for the future is whether the continued growth of charter schools in urban districts will leave regular public schools with the most difficult students to educate, thus creating a two-tier system of widening inequality."

I'm not saying it's not, but I wonder what makes Fitzpatrick so sure that concern is valid. My brief experience teaching in a Fall River Catholic school included seeing the school accept children who were struggling in the public school system because it was part of the religious mission to help those in need. Similarly, consider the following, from an article in the Sakonnet Times about former Board of Regents member Angus Davis, who was a key figure in the hiring of Gist:

... he said, the current public schools system is not designed to allow underprivileged, impoverished students to prosper, which Mr. Davis sees at nothing less than a civil rights issue. "Fundamentally, it's so unfair," he said. "Today, low-income children of color have a huge disadvantage in their public school achievement compared to their wealthier peers. If we could close that achievement gap it would be an incredible lift for our nation."

The point is that, given a less rigid system for funding and executing education, there are people who would be driven to help the "difficult students" on moral and charitable grounds. And let's not forget that difficult children can be more profitable, because they're more costly to educate.

It seems to me that Ravitch's complaint might born of fear that only children with the least motivated parents will remain in public schools if better choices become available, which (if accurate) suggests that she should devote more effort to changing the status quo than fighting educational choice. Moreover, others who share her particular concern should reassess a dynamic by which public schools running low on funds tend to attack the extracurriculars and electives that the least difficult students and their families most desire. Perhaps those funds should not be siphoned off for unjustifiable longevity-based pay and benefits.

May 17, 2011

Rough Month for the Fakers: G.T. Raimondo Auditing (Some or All) State Disability Pensions

Monique Chartier

Kicking it all off, of course, was WPRI Tim White's rumbling of the "disabled" weight lifter.

That was followed by Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Pare announcing a week ago that all Providence firefighter disability pensions were being reviewed. (Firefighter Local 799 says, Go get 'em, boss.)

Now it turns out that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo may have beaten everyone to the punch. From the ProJo late this afternoon.

"My office has uncovered a pattern of irregular documentation in the files of disability pension beneficiaries and is taking action to fully understand the matter," Raimondo said in a statement. "As the fiduciary of the pension system, my job is to protect its integrity. Any issues that may weaken the entire system for hardworking employees must be avoided." ...

Raimondo, who took office in January, said the irregularities came to light as part of a review of treasury operations she ordered just after taking office to root out inefficiency and other problems.

To Reform Pensions, Reform Everything

Justin Katz

In the comments to my post on RI Sen. Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R., Westerly), Monique asks a reasonable question:

Is there even one municipality in Rhode Island who can fund the new (HIGHER) contribution specified last week by the state Retirement Board?

To answer, I think it is necessary to begin by saying that there is no policy solution. There is no "how a municipality can fund its pensions"; there is also no "how the state can fund the municipalities' pensions." Yet, there's also no chance that the state will find the will to adjust the benefits sufficiently to make up the gap, or that taxpayers will accept the necessary burden. I'd go so far as to say that there's no combination of these four that is politically workable in the current environment. It's an unsolvable problem on policy (as opposed to political) grounds.

I can certainly see the plain common-sense logic of pushing the pension problem up the government scale. After all, if you can spread the pain, it won't hurt so much, and if you can just get the right group in office, it can force the necessary change. But the latter is a huge if, and the former emphasizes that spreading the pain begins to tilt the scale in favor of those who stand to profit from a salvaging of that which is broken (who will have no change in motivation) and against those who wind up paying (who will have decreasing motivation as the pain spreads).

But I think municipalities can fund their pensions 100%, and here's how:

Year 1: As a political escape hatch, the General Assembly forces municipalities to fund pensions 100%. The average RI community makes some minor adjustments to spending to cover the cost but fills most of the gap with tax increases.
Year 2: Outraged residents begin taking over key roles in local government and/or applying pressure to elected officials in an exponentially greater degree.
Year 3 : Newly motivated people learn the ins and outs of local government and are tripped up by an establishment trick or two.
Year 4: Local elected officials with spine change unsustainable pension promises, refuse to implement any unfunded mandates, demand changes to state regulations that hurt them and their communities, and finally begin to focus on changing zoning and taxation policies in order to encourage economic development and broaden the tax base.

That's a much cleaner process than is likely to happen anywhere, and it's certainly not a sure progression everywhere. But it seems to me that pushing the issue to the state doesn't change the necessity of the steps; it just puts them on a playing field in which taxpayers have a weaker hand and ensures that the delay will be longer and the accumulated pain greater, probably with an end result that the General Assembly waits until enough other states reach the same critical condition to start a movement to push the problem on up to the federal government.

The more things change...

Marc Comtois

Upon reading that advocates were--surprise surprise--lamenting that our safety net wasn't big enough, a paragraph from the 19th century Irish writer/storyteller William Carleton came to mind. The story is the humorous tale, "Phil Purcell, the Pig-driver" and, as Carleton tells it, the events occurred in a time "unaccompanied by the improvements of poverty, sickness, and famine." With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Carleton continues his ironic portrayal of poverty and a few other "improvements" of his day:

Political economy had not then taught the people how to be poor upon the most scientific principles; free trade had not shown the nation the most approved plan of reducing itself to the lowest possible state of distress; nor liberalism enabled the working classes to scoff at religion, and wisely to stop at the very line that lies between outrage and rebellion.

Many errors and inconveniences, now happily exploded, were then in existence. The people, it is true, were somewhat attached to their landlords, but still they were burdened with the unnecessary appendages of good coats and stout shoes; were tolerably industrious, and had the mortification of being able to pay their rents, and feed in comfort. They were not, as they are now, free from new coats and old prejudices, nor improved by the intellectual march of politics and poverty.

When either a man or a nation starves, it is a luxury to starve in an enlightened manner; and nothing is more consolatory to a person acquainted with public rights and constitutional privileges, than to understand those liberal principles upon which he fasts and goes naked.

I'm not sure if we can take solace or be distressed from the fact that something written about 250 years ago seems so similar to the situation we're in today. I guess it's one of those incontrovertible characteristics of human nature: there will always be poor people and there will always be those who know better than the rest of us how to "help" them.

Jobs Saved and Destroyed

Justin Katz

I've long described President Obama's stimulus program as an attempt to insulate governments at various levels from the effects of the recession. The great bulk of the dollars flowed to states and municipalities in order to prevent budget cuts and, therefore, salary cuts and layoffs.

The problem with seeing the "just spend" approach as a means of jump starting the economy is that the government must take its spending money from somewhere, and to the extent that it collects it immediately in taxes, it changes its productivity incentive from making a profit to making busy work. The former is clearly a more efficient way of creating wealth.

And to the extent that government borrows the money that it spends — obligating the country to repay — it is merely shifting money from future productive uses, with interest. Moreover, given the role of investing in the economy (spanning from the stock market to home buying), which is in a sense a gamble about where wealth will be in the future, that money from the future can now no longer be borrowed for more productive uses.

In other words, in principle, there's little difference between taxing and borrowing in this regard, although the degree to which each saps the private economy to benefit the public may differ dollar for dollar. That brings us to an economic study highlighted by PowerLine, finding as follows:

Our benchmark results suggest that the ARRA created/saved approximately 450 thousand state and local government jobs and destroyed/forestalled roughly one million private sector jobs. State and local government jobs were saved because ARRA funds were largely used to offset state revenue shortfalls and Medicaid increases rather than boost private sector employment. The majority of destroyed/forestalled jobs were in growth industries including health, education, professional and business services.

Stimulating the government necessarily dulls the economy, and there appears to be a reverse multiplier effect of sorts.

May 16, 2011

Cultural Economic Potpourri

Marc Comtois

OK, so I'm aggregating a bit, but just today we've had all sorts of cultural economic news. Providence is going to host a professional video game tournament in November (where was this when I scored so high on Donkey Kong on the Atari that the sprites started quivering!) that will bring in 16,000 spectators. (Advice: stock up on Mountain Dew and other snacks and sell them streetside for a quick buck~ahem, with all the proper licensing of course....).

Then we have the U.K. Telegraph calling Providence "New England's coolest city". This seems based largely on the prominence of RISD and it's alumni, especially for the foodee culture. I loved the observation that, "Like Rome, Providence congregates around seven hills." Never thought of that.

Finally, the news is that RI-filmed TV show "Body of Proof" has been renewed--but it won't be filmed in Rhode Island anymore. Phew. Call me a typical provincial Rhode Islander, but now I won't feel as obligated to watch it. Another hour freed up. (Well, more like 40 or so minutes, I DVR everything).

Not Still, but Still, 6 Percent

Justin Katz

Barrie Shore, of Providence, is right to call the Providence Journal out on its inaccurate reference to Rhode Island taxes:

The Journal has perpetuated the myth that Rhode Island higher-income taxpayers are enjoying a reduction in the top rate, to 5.99 percent from 9.90 percent. The truth is that as the top rate has shrunk from 9.90 percent to 5.99 percent, the flat tax at 6 percent has disappeared. That means that the lowering of the tax rate is illusionary. The 6 percent effective tax rate is still 6 percent. Then the Journal and politicians have congratulated themselves on a lowering of the tax rate, which did not occur.

It's actually worse than that, because the flat tax had been sc heduled to drop to 5.5% this year, so judged in terms of what the tax rate would have been without action, the General Assembly and Governor Carcieri actually increased the top effective rate.

Such are the complicated schemes of government that an increase can be proclaimed a decrease.

Heads Up, Federal Retirees, Obama and Geithner are Tapping Your Retirement Fund

Monique Chartier

Nothing to worry about, though, it's a loan and not a confiscation. You have no problem lending your retirement to someone who is over fourteen trillion dollars in debt, right ...?

The Obama administration will begin to tap federal retiree programs to help fund operations after the government loses its ability Monday to borrow more money from the public, adding urgency to efforts in Washington to fashion a compromise over the debt.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has warned for months that the government would soon hit the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling — a legal limit on how much it can borrow. With the government poised to reach that limit Monday, Geithner is undertaking special measures in an effort to postpone the day when he will no longer have enough funds to pay all of the government’s bills.

Still Wary of Consolidation, Even of Pensions

Justin Katz

RI Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R, Westerly) reminds me that I'm wary of consolidation, even when it's meant to resolve the state's pension crisis. The voices of National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh calling for reamortization of the pension system and union consultant Tom Sgouros urging Rhode Island to treat pensions as an annual expense rather than a looming debt keep hovering around suggestions such as Algiere's first point on a list of pension suggestions:

Create one whole-state system that provides state, city, and town workers with comparable benefits.

To the extent that municipal pension programs are struggling, it's because they're more apt to be caught between the unions' demands and the taxpayers' willingness to pay. Consequently, they've been apt to make promises to the former and shirk their responsibility to help the latter understand the real cost (mainly by making them pay it). If final responsibility for public pensions in the state were flipped from the cities and towns to the State House, which side of that coin do you think would be more likely be found facing up?

Some of Algiere's other suggestions, it seems to me, answer the problem without consolidation (perhaps better without it):

* No municipal contract or budget can be accepted if it increases that municipality's unfunded liability.

* A municipality must fund 100 percent of its required contribution.

Don't take the heat off of municipalities; make them face it. Don't move the pension system farther away from the people who must fund it; stop disguising the cost.

The Labor Model Must Change with the Education Model

Justin Katz

Both sides in the debate over educational reform at Hope High School in Providence have made reasonable points. Those associated with the school note improved scores and a vitalized environment when reforms were under way. Those associated with the district cite the need to educate all of Providence's students and a need for consistency across the city. One suspects, though, that the final sticking point was money:

... Supt. Tom Brady persuaded the state Department of Education that the Hope academic model was too costly to maintain. While acknowledging that the school had made dramatic gains, he said that the reforms called for an additional 20 to 30 teachers at a cost of approximately $2.5 million annually — an expense he said the district could no longer afford.

Although governing bodies in Rhode Island have long behaved as if it were not true, the tax base is simply not a bottomless well. Even if a particular reform can be proven to improve results dramatically, the cost is not a negligible factor.

And that, to me, illustrates an underlying problem in the way we handle the education system. Insiders like to pretend otherwise, but there's no point of separation between the education model and the labor model, and the latter allows very little room for maneuvering. Even if the employees of Hope decided that the better work environment and the chance to be part of something revolutionary justified financial sacrifice, they could not have offered it, because labor contracts are district-wide documents negotiated through a statewide union that has its eye on trends and power all the way up to the national level.

If the faculty and staff who so believed in the steps that Hope had been taking had offered to meet former Supt. Brady halfway on the increased total cost, perhaps he'd have gone for it. Those employees would have certainly been doubly invested in making the changes pay off

May 15, 2011

From a State Collapsing to a Country Rebuilding

Justin Katz

I thought it worth taking a moment to note that former RI House minority whip and Congressional candidate John Loughlin left today for a military tour of duty in Iraq, for which he's come out of retirement to help train Iraqis in the political process.

I had a cup of coffee with Loughlin the other day in Providence, at a table directly next to House Speaker Gordon Fox and GoLocalProv founder Josh Fenton. The juxtaposition of the two pairings emphasized what, exactly, John is escaping for the rest of the year.

He'll be back in December, though, with plenty of time to regrow his hair before the campaign season begins in earnest!

Note to the State Retirement Board: It's Not Happening

Monique Chartier

On Wednesday, the Retirement Board ordered that Rhode Island taxpayers boost their annual pension contribution by $266 million in a desperate effort to make up for the decades of underfunding of state and local pensions that were far too generous to begin with. By the way, the unfunded liability of public employees' post-retirement benefits is not included in this amount.

South Kingstown Town Manager Steve Alfred pegged it.

"Unsustainable," he said, summing up the new pension payments in one word. What the retirement board did "with the stroke of a pen," he said, was to saddle current taxpayers with the burden of making up for years of insufficient pension funding. "This does not take into account taxpayers’ ability or willingness to pay," he said.

So let's look at those last two items. Bless him for talking about willingness to pay. But we are well aware that the willingness of and, for that matter, fairness to the taxpayer has rarely entered into the consideration of Rhode Island's elected officials when they contemplate contracts and laws which cater to their pet special interest.

Ability to pay, however, is quite another matter. Certainly, along with willingness and fairness, our elected officials have failed to factor revenue realities into too many of the contracts, laws and promises that they made. Unlike the first two items, however, it is not an element that they are able to overcome simply by executing a contract or passing a law.

Shall we review current budget conditions at the capitol and around Rhode Island?

Even after an unexpected and welcome boost in revenue projections popped up this week, the state's annual operating deficit is still north of $200 million.

Providence runs out of cash in late August. And even that is optimistic in that it is based upon a projection that assumes that the city secures contract concessions from city employees and a wholly new revenue stream from non-profit property owners, none of which is a certainty.

Perhaps the scariest news item I saw this week was the Moodys one notch downgrade of Warwick's general revenue bonds. Freakin' Warwick??? With its miles of commercially taxed properties, I always thought of Warwick as even more fiscally stable than Barrington and EG, 100% comprised as they are of multi-millionaires. (Multi-millionaires can hop on their private jets and relocate at a moment's notice; businesses tend to go and stay where there's revenue.)

With regards to the other thirty seven cities and towns, rather than bore you with a complete run-down, I'll simply ask the question: how many of them are consistently running an annual seven-figure surplus that they can funnel towards the Retirement Board's wishful thinking?

As for the capacity to wring additional revenue from Rhode Island taxpayers, the state already has the fifth highest state and local tax burden and one of the worst business tax climates in the country. Prima facie, we're maxed out on revenue and, in fact, we very much need to reverse course on that front.

It's brutally simple. The largest per capita unfunded pension liability in the country is not going to be solved with an increase in contributions. The choices, accordingly, are stark. Write every current and future retiree a check for the amount that they've got in the fund, as former Mayor Steve Laffey recommended yesterday. Or adjust benefits.

The passage of time is not going to amplify these choices or make them any easier. Anyone - politician or union leader - who says otherwise is either grossly delusional or lying. (Speaking of delusional or lying, who organized last week's teacher rally demanding that Providence hire back all teachers? Can I have some of the drugs you're on? They must be goooo-ooood.)

The state is no longer in a position where it can ignore the problem for political reasons. We are now at the point where we can see that state checks - pension, paycheck or both - will bounce. "Down the road" has arrived for the can; there's no place further that it can be kicked.

Subsidies in the Wind

Justin Katz

Lacking the time to thoroughly confirm Benjamin Riggs's claims, I offer them here mainly as a point of interest:

Wind-turbine projects threaten the already fragile Rhode Island economy with extreme utility-rate increases that will hurt consumers and keep manufacturing businesses from expanding or locating here. Land-based wind turbines depend on subsidies at a rate of more than 12 times those given to the oil and gas sectors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

I do note that this Department of Energy report from 2007 puts wind energy subsidies at $23.37 per megawatthour, while natural gas, on which Rhode Island relies most heavily, got $0.25 and coal saw $0.44. (Oil isn't included in the tables.) I'm not sure if any of this data includes indirect subsidies created when government steps in and enables energy companies to charge a premium for "green" energy, as Riggs writes:

Legislation before the General Assembly sets the reimbursement rates for developers and municipalities at the full retail rate. That triples those electric costs for National Grid (and us), and guarantees that if conventional power costs go up, the cost of wind power will go up with it. And when these wind turbines wear out, they will have to be removed and replaced at an even higher cost.

Unfortunately, the General Assembly's Web site appears to have been down all weekend, so I haven't been able to look up the specific legislation to which Riggs is referring. However, the Environmental Council of Rhode Island does list a few "legislative priorities" that sound related.

It's interesting to note that a key proponent putting his name on these energy bills in the House is Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence). You know, the guy who's forcing us all to subsidize the career of 25-year-old Stephan Iannazzi (son of Ruggerio's union buddy) to the tune of $90,000 plus benefits. It's certainly not the only dynamic of its kind, but it's funny how these pieces all start to come together... the environmental movement, unions, government corruption.

Book on the Way

Marc Comtois

In the first half of the 2000's I attended Providence College and earned an M.A. in History from that fine institution. Finally, after a few years, I've decided to formalize a portion of my studies by publishing a monograph.


It's a historical work that focuses on the Burgundians of the period popularly called The Dark Ages (scholars prefer late antiquity or early medieval). For the Burgundians, it ended up dark indeed. They were crushed between Franks and Goths and, as is usually the case, the victors wrote the history. That's why the history of the Burgundians is truly in the Mist and why I've attempted to reassess their role in the period. Besides the Burgundians, the book also deals with the Germanic people in general, their migration into Western Europe, the Fall of Rome and what came after. While it is full of footnotes, it is accessible to anyone interested in the period.

Thanks to entities like createspace, it is much easier to publish than it used to be. I also plan to release a Kindle version. A sample chapter can be found here. Don't worry, I won't be going on and on about it around here, just giving a heads up. For more updates, check out my personal site. Thanks for your indulgence.

May 14, 2011

Fun at the FTM

Justin Katz

I really hope Tiverton's financial town meeting (FTM) practice disappears with a proposed all-day referendum that townspeople will have the opportunity to approve in the fall. But in the meantime, we have to come out and fight the good fight.

The only striking aspect so far has been the mocking grumbles and sneering looks that I get every time I mention that folks like me have been financially struggling for months and years. So, for example, when the point was made that using a portion of last year's budget surplus (in the midst of the Great Recession) to offset tax increases this year could affect the town's credit rating, I noted the importance of remembering folks, like me, who've been getting daily calls from debt collectors. The question: What about our credit rating?

I really don't care what they think of me, but the reaction of those sitting generally in "school supporter" areas was disconcerting. Even the high school principal appeared to join in. Why is it so sneer-worthy that people who are not doing as well as others in the town have concerns about losing hundreds of more dollars of their resources every year.

May 13, 2011

An Endurance Contest in Futility

Justin Katz

For the benefit of those who've never done so, Harry Staley, Chairman of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, describes the experience of testifying (or trying to) before a General Assembly committee:

Ask anyone, other than a union or welfare-industry lobbyist, who has testified on legislation of major statewide interest in the "people’s house," also known as the Rhode Island State House. It is an endurance contest prefaced by the chairman's notification that, with the exception of two people, the proponent of the bill and one opponent, everyone else will have from 1.5 to 2 minutes to speak. ...

It is common for a hearing that everyone knows will draw an outsized crowd to be convened in a room inadequate to accommodate those who attend. Most people must stand before and during the hearing, and the overflow must stand in the hall outside the room. Among them are the elderly, the physically challenged; everyone must literally "suffer" to be heard. Three hours of standing is an ordeal that drives some to give up and leave. Is it any wonder that there are those who suspect that this is a planned procedure?

Add an observation from former state representative Rod Driver regarding the held for further study mess:

After voting to "hold the bills for further study," many committee members go home. Why waste their time listening to testimony? There may be only four or five members of a 15-member committee still present when citizens who have waited hours to testify for or against a bill finally get their chance.

In the narrow scope, the system is designed to put decisions in the hands of a few legislative leaders, and in the broader scope, it's designed to make voters feel as if they're standing against the inevitable, making participation quaint, but futile. Even advances in transparency — such as videotaping hearings — can contribute to the sense that the public's role is just to watch, not to participate.

What would happen were public disapproval of that fact to swell, I don't know. It'd be nice to think that pressure would inspire change, but as experience with separation of powers suggests, we'd be looking at a decade of intricate political maneuvers just to get minor improvements in the system... that wouldn't be followed for another decade while uniquely interested citizens pursued measures to force compliance. And as the generally high level of apathy illustrates, it'd be surprising if there were a swell over hearings that most Rhode Islanders don't know occur in the first place.

May 12, 2011

Commercial Property Tax Levies and the Non-Profit "Problem"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the first of several charts I will present regarding local taxation in Rhode Island. The data on the charts is based on information submitted to the Rhode Island Division of Municipal Finance for taxes payable in the 2009-2010 fiscal year; the Division of Municipal Finance provided me with the "Assessor's Statement of Assessed Value and Tax Levy", and the "Classification of Tax Roll" documents for each RI city and town.

This chart considers at an oft-neglected distinction here in Rhode Island, the commercial/industrial property tax as separated from the residential property tax collected by each Rhode Island community. This information is needed to begin to answer the question of whether non-profit properties are creating a burden on the communities they reside in.

Before going on, I will make one technical note. Assessment and levy figures are not reported to the Municipal Affairs department by the cities and towns in a uniform fashion. All RI municipalities use the same property classification structure, but the reported totals indicate some variation in what is counted as "residential" and what is counted as "commercial or "industrial" from community to community, for the purposes of calculating the levy.

The charts below the fold show official "residential" and "commercial" property tax levy payable for 2009-2010 reported by each municipality, and then a set of estimates I made based on individual tax-code data to try to group the same set of properties as "residential" or "commercial" in each city or town (including counting "mixed use" properties as residential even though the state officials classifies them as commercial). Adjusted figures are used in this and the related posts. If anyone feels that their community is being slighted, send me an email, and I'll explain the adjustment.

Now, back to the substance...

Municipality Commercial/Industrial
Property Tax Levy
Population C/I Revenue
Per Resident
WestGreenwich $5,045,106 6392 $789
Warwick $59,352,130 84760 $700
Scituate $6,735,672 10853 $621
Lincoln $13,527,283 22049 $614
Middletown $8,604,403 16037 $537
NewShoreham $554,936 1035 $536
Newport $11,902,138 23467 $507
Providence $81,723,975 171909 $475
Smithfield $9,956,735 21205 $470
WestWarwick $12,266,274 29328 $418
EastProvidence $18,275,984 48570 $376
EastGreenwich $4,867,030 13337 $365
Cranston $29,217,892 80126 $365
Johnston $10,390,253 28613 $363
Pawtucket $19,759,204 71953 $275
Portsmouth $4,124,122 16892 $244
NorthKingstown $6,377,864 26654 $239
Westerly $5,545,175 23500 $236
NorthSmithfield $2,716,469 11545 $235
Warren $2,434,303 10897 $223
Foster $941,127 4539 $207
Woonsocket $8,329,958 43372 $192
NorthProvidence $6,271,449 32742 $192
Coventry $6,678,774 34935 $191
Narragansett $2,986,771 16492 $181
SouthKingstown $5,191,768 29195 $178
Richmond $1,267,676 7646 $166
Cumberland $4,747,695 34370 $138
Barrington $2,170,455 16339 $133
Tiverton $1,936,686 14905 $130
Exeter $793,216 6309 $126
Bristol $2,734,674 22306 $123
Hopkinton $931,608 8013 $116
CentralFalls $2,142,752 18716 $114
Glocester $974,415 10552 $92
Burrillville $1,320,805 16576 $80
LittleCompton $244,556 3526 $69
Jamestown $357,338 5473 $65
Charlestown $469,547 8081 $58

Bristol, home of Roger Williams University, is relatively low in the amount of commercial property tax it has to use per-resident, but other private college towns (Providence, Newport, Smithfield) are near the top of the list in terms of per-resident commercial and industrial property tax revenue collected.

You can always make the argument that something not being taxed means that there is another source of money out there to squeeze more more more out of, but there does not appear to be a strong statewide case that non-profits are overly depressing the amount of commercial and industrial property tax dollars being collected by their communities (unless, of course, you are using the progressive "logic" that someone not holding the #1 spot on a taxation list proves that taxes must be made higher).

In the end, if taxing non-profits is the best solution that a financially-strapped community is able to come up with for solving its fiscal woes, it is highly likely that the new revenue will quickly be absorbed into the same poor budgeting practices that created the original problem, and that a new budget hole will soon reappear. No matter how many "new" sources of revenue are added, there is not enough revenue in the world to sustain faster-than-inflation growth forever.

Finally, the results also suggest, much to the chagrin of the pack-everyone-into-cities land-use planning advocates, that strip-mall/big box development (Warwick, Middletown) seems to be very lucrative in terms of commercial tax revenue.

Municipality Official
Residential Levy
Official Commercial/
Industrial Levy
Residential Levy
Adjusted Commercial/
Industrial Levy
Barrington $45,955,559 $2,382,819 $46,167,923 $2,170,455
Bristol $28,369,973 $3,417,059 $29,052,358 $2,734,674
Burrillville $18,130,995 $1,327,259 $18,137,449 $1,320,805
CentralFalls $6,556,719 $2,556,979 $6,970,946 $2,142,752
Charlestown $19,168,253 $654,588 $19,353,294 $469,547
Coventry $47,313,148 $7,730,426 $48,364,800 $6,678,774
Cranston $104,424,922 $38,378,994 $113,586,024 $29,217,892
Cumberland $41,752,797 $5,197,228 $42,202,331 $4,747,695
EastGreenwich $33,017,627 $5,665,567 $33,816,164 $4,867,030
EastProvidence $46,185,485 $23,560,517 $51,470,018 $18,275,984
Exeter $9,685,430 $1,008,298 $9,900,512 $793,216
Foster $8,562,944 $970,387 $8,592,205 $941,127
Glocester $17,502,989 $1,339,663 $17,868,237 $974,415
Hopkinton $13,769,645 $1,173,367 $14,011,403 $931,608
Jamestown $16,651,975 $544,479 $16,839,115 $357,338
Johnston $42,607,948 $10,875,513 $43,093,208 $10,390,253
Lincoln $27,435,864 $14,997,181 $28,905,762 $13,527,283
LittleCompton $8,817,139 $296,978 $8,869,561 $244,556
Middletown $26,799,372 $10,281,855 $28,476,824 $8,604,403
Narragansett $37,272,667 $3,081,649 $37,367,545 $2,986,771
Newport $41,480,624 $16,337,968 $45,916,454 $11,902,138
NewShoreham $6,804,566 $645,953 $6,895,583 $554,936
NorthKingstown $52,114,663 $6,977,775 $52,714,574 $6,377,864
NorthProvidence $40,599,554 $11,935,884 $46,263,989 $6,271,449
NorthSmithfield $17,355,196 $3,688,192 $18,326,920 $2,716,469
Pawtucket $52,024,572 $24,734,726 $57,000,094 $19,759,204
Portsmouth $36,851,797 $3,528,586 $36,256,260 $4,124,122
Providence $128,895,035 $113,190,529 $160,361,589 $81,723,975
Richmond $12,235,933 $1,310,562 $12,278,818 $1,267,676
Scituate $15,407,626 $7,008,646 $15,680,600 $6,735,672
Smithfield $28,057,821 $10,194,444 $28,295,530 $9,956,735
SouthKingstown $53,122,982 $6,538,397 $54,469,610 $5,191,768
Tiverton $26,723,723 $2,504,971 $27,292,009 $1,936,686
Warren $16,053,053 $2,615,058 $16,233,808 $2,434,303
Warwick $111,794,115 $67,943,808 $120,385,793 $59,352,130
Westerly $49,749,172 $6,209,834 $50,413,830 $5,545,175
WestGreenwich $9,354,140 $5,175,052 $9,484,085 $5,045,106
WestWarwick $33,331,160 $13,294,441 $34,359,326 $12,266,274
Woonsocket $28,311,845 $8,704,847 $28,686,734 $8,329,958

Extra Revenue Has to Come from Somewhere

Justin Katz

Maybe the economy is improving in a way that folks like me don't feel. Maybe inflation is tied into the mix — somehow yielding state tax revenue without its actually meaning that the economy is improving. But when I read news like this, I can't help but wonder whether last year's ostensibly revenue-neutral income tax change is responsible, and in a way that bodes ill for the future:

A separate report on revenue collections through the first 10 months of the fiscal year, also released Monday, provided further evidence of an improving economy, with revenues running $76.9 million ahead of projections through April 30. Personal income-tax collections were up $62.1 million, or 7.8 percent, and other sources that were up included taxes paid by insurance companies, taxes on cigarettes and fees collected by state departments.

Accountants and employers are over-withholding income taxes, this year, to make sure their clients and employees are covered when the end of the tax year rolls around. That could mean that increased revenue, now, will translate into a whack at the budget at the tail end of fiscal '12.

Of course, the tax reform also shifted the burden toward working middle-class stiffs, so it could be that "revenue neutral" is turning out to mean an effective tax increase. Whatever the case, I'm with Gary Sasse:

"There is no fiscal justification for the governor’s sales-tax proposal," he said. "Fiscal conditions have changed."

Pension Realities*

Marc Comtois

R.I. taxpayers facing increased contribution to state pensions.

For Men:

...the moves would increase the projected amount that state and local taxpayers are required to pay for these public employee pensions from an overall $308.5 million this year and $358.7 million next year to $621.8 million in the budget year that begins July 1, 2012.
And, as Monique mentioned last night, don't look for any reform before this year's budget is submitted.

For Women:

Meanwhile, as Andrew's invaluable list of bills showed, the unions are making their move to forestall reform--including pension reform--in the state senate by setting the status quo into law. Donna Perry and the ProJo editors noticed.

*First video courtesy of the old MTV program "The Man Show". This is a test to see if eye candy along with pension stories can grab attention. Let me know if it worked in the comments.

A People Beaten Down

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt discussed the hammer that keeps pounding Rhode Island on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Little State, Big Problem

Justin Katz

Rhode Islanders are used to thinking in proportional terms. When state-to-state comparisons are made, we look for the percentages and ratios because absolute numbers typically mean little. Sure, Massachusetts' government spending is many times Rhode Island's, but the question is how much it amounts to per capita.

So, at first glance, one may very well misread the numbers in the following:

The tab comes in at $9.4 billion for the unfunded liability for 155 separate plans run by state and municipal entities in Rhode Island, according to a Providence Journal analysis of pension-plan financial reports.

The total in New York state: $45.8 million, less than 1 percent of Rhode Island's.

That's right: our state of around a million people is talking billions while a nearby state twenty times the size is talking millions. Frankly, Rhode Island can muck with its tax system all it wants — making "revenue neutral" changes that shift the burden from productive people to less productive ones, lowering sales taxes in such a way as to create an actual and massive tax increase, whatever — but the powers who be really must hope that people who might invest in Rhode Island by moving or setting up shop here don't look too much beyond quick-glance FAQs about the state.

As Monique's post inherently hints around the edges, even staring down the throat of this leviathan, Rhode Island's leaders are most likely to do what they've done consistently over the last decade and more: do anything just to get through another year. The main difference is that we've now shifted from one-time fixes to futile hopes that problems will go away.

May 11, 2011

General Treasurer: No Pension Reform This Session. (But Is It Wise to Postpone It To an Election Year?)

Monique Chartier

Turn to 10's Bill Rappleye reported shortly after 6:00 this evening that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo will not submit a pension reform plan for consideration in the next six weeks; i.e., by the end of this General Assembly session. This contradicts a statement by Speaker Fox, by the way, who, give him credit for demonstrating a willingness to tackle the issue, said that pension reform was a possibility before the end of this session.

The Treasurer does not wish to rush such a monumental task and she is correct not to do so. At the same time, if the matter is left to the 2012 session, will it get done? Some legislators will undoubtedly be fearful that, if they vote for badly needed (understatement of the decade) pension reform, public labor unions will still not have learned their lesson, even with the end upon us, and will stupidly primary them in favor of an unscrupulous candidate who whispers sweet pension nothings into their ear. ("Back me. There's nothing wrong with the system. Your pension is safe with me.")

Rappleye further reported that Ms. Raimondo

... said it's possible her office might have something over the summer or in early fall.

That still might work. If the leadership of the General Assembly is serious about making sure that pension checks don't bounce definitively addressing our wrecked public pension systems, they would not end this session next month but, rather, go on summer hiatus and meet again in the fall to address the matter.

This will be the most difficult matter that the General Assembly ever undertakes. It will only exacerbate the task if they are voting on a solution a week before it's time to pull candidacy papers.

Economic Passivity in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

At first, I was just bothered by the passivity evidenced in the first sentence of the following paragraph:

Because Rhode Island's economy is interconnected with the regional and national economies, the slowdown in the national economic recovery in the first quarter of 2011 affected Rhode Island, according to the [Bryant University-RIPEC] report. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased at an annualized rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Why should it just be assumed that Rhode Island will follow the national trend?

But then, I reread the first paragraph of the article:

Rhode Island's economy expanded 1.9 percent in the first quarter of 2011, sustaining about the same rate as in the last two quarters of 2010, according to an economic index to be released Monday.

So, the national growth is actually down significantly from the last quarter of 2010, while Rhode Island's anemic growth is about the same as it was during the last quarter of 2010. Do we only follow the national economy when it's bad to do so? Or were we really expecting a huge non-national surge in our state that was dragged down?

Whatever the case, I still think we need to cut taxes, slash regulations, and eliminate mandates in order to set our state free of economic shackles — whether of our making or the nation's.

Left Holding the Bag

Marc Comtois

The ProJo headlines the $9.4 billion pension liability, but also mentions the $2.4 billion health care liability. That's $11.8 billion in money owed to state and municipal retirees (some of which is funded). They try to soften the blow explaining that an 80% funding level "is considered healthy" for pensions. So that makes it about a $7.5 billion pension obligation (if we include health care--assuming the 80% "rule" applies--the overall would be $9.4 billion). Yes, some pensions are partially funded, but it's still not good.

Most of Rhode Island’s pension plans fall short of the 80-percent funding level, a gap of more than $5.7 billion. Of the 155 plans, more than 100 are less than 80-percent funded.

The 37 plans run by municipalities are in the worst financial shape, with 32 of them not reaching the 80-percent level.

Historically, pension contributions to the locally run plans have often been shortchanged in favor of other municipal services –– such as education, public works and public safety –– when money is tight.

The only solution is massive reform to current pension plans. Some fundamentals seem like no-brainers: move up the retirement age; no more double-dipping; no more buying "good" years. Some will be tougher, like trying to move to a 401K system with current employees (the Laffey idea of cutting them a check and telling them to invest wisely!). This isn't about sticking it to government employees. You were made promises. They have been broken. Let's not forget who did this.

For all of these broken promises were made by politicians who continued and continue to be re-elected. 70 years of Democrats have done this to you, Rhode Island. That's the truth. Don't blame the odd Republican Governor or occasional Republican Mayor for this. It was the Democrats in the General Assembly, on the Town and City Councils, on the "non-partisan" school committees who made these broken promises. This is what letting yourself become beholden and brainwashed into thinking that one party--the party of the "little guy"--would look out for you.

You elected them because they promised you a "good deal". Now you and your kids and grand kids and Rhode Island taxpayers and their kids and grand kids are all left holding an empty bag full of broken promises. All because elected officials, almost all of them Democrats, told you what you wanted to hear and you believed them. It's worked out for them. How's it working out for you?

Four New Faces... Same Old Media

Justin Katz

An interesting feature in Monday's Providence Journal came as four short reports about new legislators in the General Assembly: Rep. Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth), Rep. Doreen Costa (R, North Kingstown), Sen. Nick Kettle (R, Coventry), and Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D, Providence). The way they're framed from the beginning tells readers a great deal about the perspective from which the Projo is written:

  • Reilly is learning how much work it is to be a legislator.
  • Costa is "a bona fide right winger, a Tea Party member who wanted to restrict abortions, preserve traditional marriage and 'cut, cut, cut' the state budget," who is having fun in both the legislative and community-involvement aspects of her new job.
  • Kettle sent a poorly considered email to "Tea Party supporters" concerning a hearing on homelessness.
  • But Blazejewski, ah well, Blazejewski "may well be the House freshman who most bears watching," and he's not a "bona fide left winger," but rather "a self-described progressive Democrat" (which sounds so much more pleasant and less extreme."

Frankly, I'm tempted to agree that it's worth watching Blazejewski, albeit in a different sense than that intended by reporter Randal Edgar. One of the featured bills on which he's a lead sponsor (PDF) would unionize any group of public employees without secret ballots if 70% sign authorization cards. Query: Why would nearly three quarters of a workforce sign authorization cards even when 50% plus 1 won't vote in secret toward the same end? Perhaps unions prefer their odds when they can intimidate.

Be that as it may, based on these four articles, I find the other three more interesting. Consider Reilly's excellent response to Governor Chafee's "show me a better budget" challenge:

"I'm not a huge fan of them saying, 'Well, we've done our job, now you come up with the rest of it.' As if we have the resources to do these studies. I wasn't elected governor."

The real story of the Journal's series, although the reporters don't emphasize it, arises in a cross-article fashion from Costa to Kettle. Regarding a bill that Costa supported to eliminate "held for further study" from the GA leadership arsenal:

"This is not really going to change too much," she said as she summed up her argument. "It's just going to give us a chance to get the bills voted on quicker and get them to the House floor quicker."

The Kettle article illustrates what, precisely, would change were "held for further study" no longer a technicality by which every piece of legislation gets its legally required committee vote:

About four months into the session, Kettle says he regrets having voted for Democrat M. Teresa Paiva Weed for another term as Senate president, a move that he hoped would earn him at least a committee hearing on some of his proposed legislation this year.

To date, none of the eight bills Kettle has submitted — including one that would eliminate the state’s $500-minimum business corporation tax — have been subject to a public hearing. Those hearings are generally granted at the discretion of the Senate leadership. "Clearly, that did not pan out as I hoped," he says.

In stark contrast to the Providence Journal, Andrew Morse has done an excellent job following and explaining how it is that the "further study" trap door transfers power from individual legislators to House and Senate leaders. With the power to control legislation in hand, the Senate president and House speaker can extract votes and favors, as Kettle illustrated with his assumption that backing the right president would increase his odds of legislative success.

That concentration of power isn't going to go away unless the next wave of new legislators willing to challenge the status quo is much larger than the last one.

May 10, 2011

Open Thread #3: In the Matter of Ravitch v. Gist

Carroll Andrew Morse

Education reformer Diane Ravitch (mentioned in recent Anchor Rising posts here, here, and here) is publicly asking for an apology from Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist (h/t Jennifer Jordan)...

Last week, I went to Providence, R.I., to give a lecture. Before my arrival, I was invited by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to meet privately with him. Thirty minutes before my hour with Gov. Chafee, I learned that state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist would join our meeting. As it turned out, I had 10 minutes of private time with the governor, then 50 minutes with Gist and leaders of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.

I mention all this because of what happened during the 50 minutes. Gist is clearly a very smart, articulate woman. But she dominated the conversation, interrupted me whenever I spoke, and filibustered to use up the limited time. Whenever I raised an issue, she would interrupt to say, "That isn't happening here." She came to talk, not to listen. It became so difficult for me to complete a sentence that at one point, I said, "Hey, guys, you live here all the time, I'm only here for a few hours. Please let me speak." But Gist continued to cut me off. In many years of meeting with public officials, I have never encountered such rudeness and incivility. I am waiting for an apology.

The article mentions that a request for comment from Governor Chafee -- presumably on whether he would characterize Commissioner Gist's behavior as uncivil -- had not been returned at the time it was posted.

Open Thread #2: Coming Up In the Senate Labor Committee

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Tea Party provides a late-breaking update on several state Senate bills, posted on Monday, coming up for hearings in the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday (h/t Lisa Blais)...

Senate Labor will entertain yet again bills to extend terms of unaffordable and unsustainable contracts, legislate an end-run around the unsettled matter of law regarding property rights of retiree benefits and consider card check that strips people of the right to cast private ballots when voting for or against union representation.

Please attend these hearings, Senate Labor Committee. Let them know what you think!

S0404: A Bill to allow perpetual contracts for firefighters.

S0423: A Bill to allow card check for public employees.

S0789: A Bill for evergreen (perpetual) police contracts with binding arbitration.

S0896: A Bill that locks down retired employee benefits as property rights.

Open Thread #1: A Republican Primary in District 1?

Carroll Andrew Morse

G. Wayne Miller of the Projo is reporting that former state police Superintendent Brendan Doherty will announce his candidacy for Rhode Island's First District Congressional seat on Thursday...

A longtime Cumberland resident, Doherty will make his formal announcement at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday at Imperial Packaging Corp., a Pawtucket manufacturer.
Meanwhile, Ian Donnis of WRNI (1290AM) reports that 2010 Republican nominee John Loughlin is also planning on running in 2012...
“I think I’ve earned another shot at this,” Loughlin says, adding that he plans to gear up after an expected return from Iraq in December.

Hallelujah! Boiler Inspection Reform is on the Horizon!

Monique Chartier

Sure, it's a small matter in the great scheme of things. But it's been a particularly galling one.

The General Assembly may finally have harkened to the outraged voices of business owners about the insanity that comprises our boiler inspection law. Yes, it's only one of many regulations that cause an unnecessary drag on Rhode Island businesses. But as one of the more pointless ones, its elimination would be a good start to ameliorating the state's business climate.

Providence Business News reported the good news yesterday.

The DLT is in the process of changing the payment structure to cut in half the fee that companies must pay for state boiler inspections, from $120 to $60 every two years, according to DLT spokeswoman Laura Hart.

The department for the first time also supports a change in existing law to limit the number of businesses in the state required to have boiler inspections. New DLT Director Charles J. Fogarty, who took over the agency in January, led the drive to revise the fee and the law after hearing continued protests from business owners across the state, many of them in charge of small businesses such as pizza parlors and fitness centers, Hart told Providence Business News.

Ranking Schools: A Matter of Data Shaping

Marc Comtois

GoLocalProv released their 2nd annual school ranking list and, setting aside the specific rankings, the fact that fairly well-off suburban communities rated at the top of the list and urban schools at the bottom is really no surprise. However, the way that GoLocal formulated their rankings by weighting expenditure/pupil and teacher/student ratio more (15% each) as compared to academic scores (10% each) is a debatable approach.

Spending more money (#1 East Greenwich, despite the stereotype, is #33 on the expenditure list) and having more teachers per student (Classical, at #10, has a second-to-worst "high" ratio of 15:1) isn't necessarily representative of kids getting a good education. (For more on this, see this by Fred Hess). Perhaps the "inputs" of expenditure/pupil and teacher/student ratio are more important in determining school quality than the test result/graduation rate "outputs." (To say nothing of that other immeasurable, parental involvement). But I don't think they are 50% more important as they were weighted by GoLocal.

Debt Versus Economy

Justin Katz

Too much can be made by each individual organization's predictions, but there's something disconcerting about this:

PIMCO's Bill Gross, the manager of the world's largest bond fund, raised his bet against U.S. government-related debt in April to 4 percent from 3 percent, according to the company's website on Monday. ...

Gross told Reuters on Friday: "Treasury yields are currently yielding substantially less than historical averages when compared with inflation. Perhaps the only justification for a further rally would be weak economic growth or a future recession that substantially lowered inflation and inflationary expectations."

Still Underpreparing for Pensions

Justin Katz

So, Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Dan Beardsley is warning of the large dollar amounts that state and local taxpayers are going to have to begin paying if the state Retirement Board approves actuarial recommendations:

The Retirement Board, which is chaired by General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, is set to vote Wednesday on whether to accept the new numbers — and the higher annual funding they will require. "My vote's going to be the toughest vote I've ever had to cast in my 20 years on the Retirement Board," Beardsley said.

You'll recall that the board recently voted (pretty much along a union/non-union line) to lower its predicted rate of return on pension investments from 8.25% to 7.5%. Personally, I'm with Konrad Steuli, of Sunderstown, in wondering if even that's appropriately realistic:

... while talented state General Treasurer Gina Raimondo deserves credit for lowering, for planning purposes, the assumed rate of return for pension fund investments from 8.25 percent to 7.5 percent (net of inflation), the latter is still a “junk bond” level of return, and maybe worse.

In other words, we are still kicking the can down the street. Who gets that kind of a return for an appropriately safe investment loaded with the retirement expectations of Rhode Islanders?

As the Providence Journal reported even 7.5% is well above experienced returns, which were 2.47% for the past decade, 6.23% for the past 15 years, and 7.13% for the past twenty years. Surely, we are all hopeful that the American economy will recover and return us to the prosperity to which we've grown accustomed, but given the numbers, it would seem that we'd have to see that and more for our pension system even to come within range of plausibility.

May 9, 2011

No Business like Non-Profit Business

Marc Comtois

Over the weekend, the ProJo editorial board pointed to the apparent dichotomy of non-profit organizations enabling their directors and board members to profit with significant sums of money:

Recently, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts parted ways with its chief executive, Cleve L. Killingsworth, but not before handing him an $11 million severance package. Bay Staters rightly howled; an investigation by Atty. Gen. Martha Coakley is now under way.

Amid the uproar, however, another questionable practice came to light. Blue Cross and other nonprofit health-care insurers have been paying their board members — and well. Last year, annual payments ranged from around $20,000 to more than $80,000 per board member, according to The Boston Globe. They are, in effect, subsidized by taxpayers. In almost no other charity in the state are board members paid at all. In fact, the tradition is for members to contribute money of their own to the organizations they serve. Usually, it is regarded as an honor to “give back.” And, truth be told, members benefit financially, if more indirectly, from the personal ties they cultivate with fellow local movers and shakers on boards.

Hopefully, the ProJo will turn their resources to looking at the same institutions in Rhode Island (instead of relying on Globe reporting) over and above a single story on the new head of BC/BS Rhode Island. That aside, they make a good point:
Whatever happened to just plain knowing better? Amid the search for personal status and enrichment, the purpose of nonprofit organizations seems increasingly lost. This is especially ominous in health care, where rising costs are a signature domestic crisis of our time. Yet nothing can change if attitudes do not change first. The sense of entitlement that has developed among some health-care insurers urgently needs reversing.
The noblesse oblige they're pining for is missing in many more non-profit sectors than just health care. This is no surprise, though, as the term "non-profit" is more a tax classification than a philosophical one. As more people--especially politicians--realize this, there will be increasing support for asking them to "contribute more" (pay more taxes) to the communities who purportedly benefit from their presence.

ADDENDUM: Of course, we don't have to rely on just the ProJo. Last month, WPRI's Ted Nesi confirmed that the board of BCBSRI is not compensated.

RIRA "Conservative Comedy Night" PAC Fundraiser on May 21

Community Crier

The Rhode Island Republican Assembly PAC will be hosting a "Conservative Comedy Night" Fundraiser, featuring "Conservative Liberal Jewish" Californian Comedian Eric Golub on Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 21st, 2011.

The fundraiser will be held at the Manville Sportsmen's Rod & Gun Club, at 250 High Street, in Manville (Lincoln), RI. Check-in begins at 6:30 p.m. The dinner show will begin at 7:00 p.m.

In addition to our featured comedian, we will also be "lightly roasting" the following local politicos: John Robitaille, Rep. Doreen Costa, Rep. Mike Chippendale, Rep. Dan Gordon, and Sen. Beth Moura. Additionally, a great Italian buffet dinner will feature roasted chicken, pasta, salad, and dessert, with a cash bar.

The cost to attend this fun event is only $35.00 per person or $60.00 per couple. As May 21st is Armed Forces Day, we will be recognizing U.S. military veterans, who can attend for $30.00 each.

Your RSVP in advance would be appreciated for planning purposes. Funds generated from this event will be used to support local conservative Republican candidates. Please make checks payable to "RIRA-PAC." To reserve your tickets today, please mail your request and personal check to:

RIRA-PAC, 19 Bakers Creek Road, Warwick, RI 02886

You may also pay for your tickets by credit card using the drop-down menu at or by sending funds to RIRA-PAC directly through PayPal to:

For any inquiries about this event, please contact RIRA President Raymond T. McKay at (401) 487-2514 or by e-mail, at .

Lots of Support for Blowing Your Money Away

Justin Katz

File this — from a story concerning legal challenges to the deal that Rhode Island has constructed for Deepwater Wind and National Grid — under "I'll bet":

"It was really impressive the range of support it had," said Jerry Elmer, staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, who lobbied in favor of the law. "I had legislators coming up to me saying, 'I've never seen the utility and environmental groups on the same side of any issue.'"

Well, look, on the one hand, you've got issue advocates with a preferred cause that will increase the cost of living in an area and is therefore a difficult sell to the general public. On the other hand, you've got a virtual energy monopoly that must acquire government clearance for rate increases. It isn't really surprising that both hands would come together to applaud the government's forcing the public to foot the bill to make them happy, complete with long-term contracts with automatic increases and no mechanism to adjust should circumstances change down the road.

I say that National Grid is a "virtual energy monopoly" because it's currently possible for consumers (mostly those purchasing massive quantities of energy) to buy from other suppliers and pay National Grid only for the use of the infrastructure to deliver it. Of course, the lawsuit currently on the table centers on the energy giant's ability to charge even those who don't use its energy for Deepwater's premium, which comes in several times higher than the current market value.

See, when competitive dynamics look likely to thwart the intentions of activists and big-government advocates, out the window they go... gone with the wind, one might say.

May 8, 2011

The Insanity of A Mileage Tax

Monique Chartier

... has been set aside. But Anthony Watts over at Watts Up With That ominously predicts that this is just a postponement by the Obama administration and not a cancellation.

Today at 10:15AM EST, the story was updated, and now the White House says this:
“This is not an administration proposal,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. “This is not a bill supported by the administration. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not taken into account the advice of the president’s senior advisers, economic team or Cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president.”


…we are shelving the idea until after the 2012 election.

But 2013 is not that far away, especially in the minds of politicians who have lit on a particularly senseless and horrible way to stake a claim on yet more of our money. Accordingly, I have a question. (Everyone is welcome to chime in with theirs.)

Would this law be applied with the integrity and equality of health care reform? In other words, if a mileage tax law is implemented, how long before we hit the per capita equivalent of over a thousand exemptions? At which point, of course, principle has been left far behind and replaced with a favoritism-based political sham that turns easily into an ad at re-election time. ["We passed health care reform!!! (Without inconveniencing our supporters ...)"]

Coming up in Committee: Sixteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 10 - May 12

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are a few of interesting bills scheduled, so far, to be heard by General Assembly committees this week. If any other interesting bills are posted for hearings during the day on Monday, I will run an updated post on Monday evening.

16. S0729: Vehicles with more than two axles may not cross the Pawtucket River or Sakonnet River Bridges, with the exception of a) truck tractors, b) any emergency vehicle, or c) any other state or municipal owned vehicle. Submitted at the request of the Department of Transportation. (Senate Housing and Municipal Government, May 10)

15. S0645: Requires tangible property taxes to be paid, immediately upon the sale of "a major part in value" of a business. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

14. H5790: Requires that "75% of all classes taught at each public institution of higher education be taught by full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty" by the year 2017. (House Finance, May 12)

13. S0348: Statements of apology or sympathy by medical providers would be inadmissible as evidence in lawsuits. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

12. H5804: Increases the (approximate) maximum size of voting districts in RI from 1,900 to 4,000 voters, maintaining the provision that no voting district can include more than one ward. (House Judiciary, May 10)

11. H5264: Adds "cyberstalking and cyberharassment" to the crimes defined as domestic violence. (House Judiciary, May 10)

10. S0644: Allows a law enforcement officer to require a breath analysis of any individual under 21 whom he or she believes to be under the influence of alcohol. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

9. H5785: Subjects colleges, universities and hospitals to a local property taxes "for essential services on a pro rata basis according to assessed property value serviced" of up to one-quarter of their assessed property value. (House Finance, May 11)

8. H5644: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (House Finance, May 11)

7. You thought the annual funding-formula follies had gone away, just because we passed the magic funding formula that would forever be used to distribute state education aid? H5246 would freeze the regionalization bonus in the new state education "funding formula" at a permanent value of 2%, H5399 would require "a separate specific appropriation to each regional school district", H5843 would add "urban collaboratives" to list of funding-formula money recipients, and H5491 and H5492 would make changes related to school housing aid. (House Finance, May 12)

6. H5837: Restores the Rhode Island car tax to its pre-1998 condition, which I think means there would be no state reimbursement and that cities and towns would all be free to set their own rates. (House Finance, May 11)

5. H5596: "Notwithstanding any provision in the general laws to the contrary, the general assembly shall not authorize, award or allow legislative grants. Legislative grants are hereby defined as monetary awards to nongovernmental, or nonquasi-governmental, entities". (House Finance, May 11)

4. H5614: Limits the amount of general public assistance to be paid to an aid-recipient to the amount determined at the initial application for assistance, regardless of the birth of additional children. (House Finance, May 12)

3. S0243: If the Mortgage Registration Electronic Systems appear "in the chain of the title of a mortgaged estate", then statutory power of sale laws do not apply, which means that the party holding the mortgage has to get judicial approval in order to foreclose. Some detail on what MERS is is available here, from the Wall Street Journal. This is a short but specific bill, with some potentially very important property rights ramifications. (Senate Judiciary, May 10)

2. H5849: If a school committee overspends its budget, "authority for expenditure of funds, including the entering into contracts for goods and services and collective bargaining agreements" is transferred to the city or town council for 5 years. (House Finance, May 12)

1. H6103: The civil unions bill. (House Judiciary, May 11)

May 7, 2011

Rhode Island Rate Payers Subsidizing Green Energy on Lon Gisland???

Monique Chartier

The latest development in the proposed Deepwater Wind farm confirms yet again that wind power is a complete non-starter.

Deepwater Wind has offered to sell power to Long Island from a 200-turbine offshore wind farm proposed in Rhode Island Sound at a price far cheaper than what the company would charge Rhode Islanders for electricity from a smaller project that would be built first.

Last year in Rhode Island, National Grid signed a 20-year agreement to buy power generated by a five- to eight-turbine wind farm Deepwater wants to build about three miles southeast of Block Island. The starting price paid by Rhode Islanders would be up to 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

The price Deepwater offered to the Long Island Power Authority for electricity from the larger project, however, would be in the “low teens,” according to Deepwater chief executive William M. Moore.

See, Rhode Island rate payers are picking up Deepwater's start-up costs - for a reason still not fully explained - for the initial, eight turbine phase of this misguided project. ("Initial" applies to Deepwater, not to us; our elected officials have locked us into paying a considerably inflated electric rate for the next twenty years.) Long Island would come in on the second phase for which 200 turbines would be built. So they reap the benefits of economies of scale.

Again, a misleading term: the "economies" are relative. While Lon Gislanders' electric rate would be lower than ours, they would still pay a premium for their Deepwater electricity. And, of course, like us, they pretty much have no choice as to the source of their power. Their elected officials, like ours, have decided that their constituents must pay artificially high rates for electricity.

And this is the rub. In the misguided push to embrace the "green" power of wind, the very high price of electricity generated from this source is inexplicably being disregarded. This cannot be. The economic feasibility of an energy source cannot be set aside because a lofty goal is purportedly involved.

Contrasting Education Reformers

Marc Comtois

Education reformer Dianne Ravitch was in town the other day. Ravitch, a reformed school reformer, claims that the reform ideas she once espoused don't work and, as a result, has risen like the phoenix and hailed by groups in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Expanding charter schools isn’t the answer, she says.

Nor is paying bonuses to the best teachers, or tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and certification.

In fact, she thinks American students are tested too often.

And the real problem plaguing schools is not bad teachers, she says, but the insidious impact of poverty.

In short, Ravitch soundly rejects Rhode Island’s education-improvement plan, which is supported by a $75-million Race to the Top federal grant.

The policies embraced by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and by his ally state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist have demoralized teachers, says Ravitch, herself a former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush. Ravitch once shared their zeal for teacher accountability and market-driven incentives such as merit pay, she says, before she witnessed their damaging effects.

Now is the time to question their logic, she said, and to investigate more closely their ties to philanthropic arms of wealthy corporations that have their own agendas, in particular the Broad, Gates and Walton Family foundations that Ravitch refers to as “the billionaire boys club.”

While she raises several valid concerns, she is no stranger to hyperbole (which, ironically, is what made so many of her current allies inimical to her back in the day). She's flipped sides, but making the same "mistakes" as before. As Rick Hess once explained:
Diane Ravitch charges that accountability and school choice have been ineffective, destructive distractions from real school improvement...she is now making the same fundamental mistake, in reverse, that she made previously. Ravitch’s stance reflects the misguided premise that chartering and accountability are best seen as ways to improve instruction — like a new curriculum or reading program — rather than ways to create the conditions under which sustained improvement is possible....Ravitch is disappointed because she thought accountability and charter schooling were supposed to make schools better, and now sees that they don’t....[she's] missing the central point: These structural reforms are means, not ends. Choice and accountability can only make it easier to create schools and systems characterized by focus and coherence, where robust curricula, powerful pedagogy, and rich learning thrive.
However, perhaps realizing this critique, she has taken to criticizing those who would seek to work outside the system. She particularly has an ax to grind against the role that private foundations--"the billionaire boys club"--are having in education reform. For instance, she writes, how can we trust these free marketers? "This is what I don't understand. The free market nearly collapsed our economy in September 2008". I don't think Ravitch is a socialist, she just saw an opening to score a rhetorical point. That's nothing new. Her hyperbolic style is in contrast to reformers, like Hess, who take a more nuanced approach.

For example, while Ravitch has railed against teacher evaluation systems, Hess explains that the current paradigm--so called value-added--contains concepts that are important when evaluating teachers but he fears that reformers are placing too many eggs in the value-added teacher evaluation approach, explaining:

Today's value-added metrics may be, as I wrote, "at best, a pale measure of teacher quality," but they tell us something. Structured observation tells us something. Peer feedback tells us something, as does blinded, forced-rank evaluations by peers. Principal judgment, especially in a world of increasing accountability and transparency, tells us something. Well-run firms and nonprofits use these kinds of tools, in various ways, depending on their culture and workforce.

This is why I believe value-added metrics should be one useful component, but that "I worry when it becomes the foundation upon which everything else is constructed." My quarrel is not with value-added, but with the assumption that we can and should gauge the validity and utility of all other measures against today's math and ELA value-added results.

While Hess recognizes that there are multiple aspects to evaluating teachers other than test scores, he believes in their utility as a component of the whole (and hopes they don't become the end-all, be-all). Ravitch would throw any type of evaluation out the window. She offers few, if any, new ideas other than blaming the "free market" (which is like red meat for her fans) and throwing more money at the broken system. Who's the real reformer?

May 6, 2011

CEOs Grade the States

Marc Comtois

Yeah, I know, who cares what a bunch of rich CEOs think. Anyway, fwiw (h/t Ted Nesi):

Business leaders graded the states on a variety of categories grouped under taxation and regulation, workforce quality and living environment. “Do not overtax business,” offered one CEO. “Make sure your tax scheme does not drive business to another state. Have a regulatory environment and regulators that encourage good business—not one that punishes businesses for minor infractions. Good employment laws help too. Let companies decide what benefits and terms will attract and keep the quality of employee they need. Rules that make it hard, if not impossible, to separate from a non-productive employee make companies fearful to hire or locate in a state.”

Not surprisingly, states with punitive tax and regulatory regimes are punished with lower rankings, and this can offset even positive scores on quality of living environment. While state incentives are always welcome, what CEOs often seek are areas with consistent policies and regulations that allow them to plan, as well as intangible factors such as a state’s overall attitude toward business and the work ethic of its population.

OK, how'd we do? As Nesi points out, RI is close to middle-of-the-pack at #35 overall. But a closer look at the individual categories doesn't paint quite as bright a picture (in a "hey, at least we aren't the worst!" sorta way).

First, here are the actual stats:

43rd - % GROWTH 2005-09
39th - DOMESTIC NET MIGRATION RATE PER 1,000 (2000-2006)
48th - DEBT PER RESIDENT $ ($8,716)
40th - STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES PER 10,000 RESIDENTS (ranked lowest to highest - 510.84)

Then are the ratings by CEOs (ie; their perception of RI):


Basically, it looks like our unemployment rate and low gov't employee/10,000 residents got us "up" to #35, because every other statistic is pretty much what we expected it to be. Finally, here is how Rhode island and the rest of New England compare in the eyes of the CEO's (it's not good for RI):

New Hampshire (6th)
Maine (38th)
Connecticut (42nd)
Vermont (43rd)
Massachusetts (46th)
Rhode Island (47th)

New Hampshire (6th)
Connecticut (26th)
Massachusetts (27th)
Vermont (37th)
Maine (40th)
Rhode Island (41st)

New Hampshire (8th)
Vermont (29th)
Maine (34th)
Connecticut (36th)
Rhode Island (41st)
Massachusetts (43rd)

Yay, we beat someone! Regardless, the stats aren't important. It is the perception. We need to change that perception so corporate decision makers will change their minds. We can't just say it or believe it to make it so. We actually have to do something.

Sleepy Public Construction Methods

Justin Katz

I've had occasion to drive through the construction site of the new Sakonnet River Bridge in Tiverton quite a bit, lately, and no matter how many times I see it, I never fail to be impressed with the structural inefficiency of the work habits. The other day, I saw three employees gabbing over two who were doing masonry work while two stood nearby to direct traffic in those infrequent instances when a construction vehicle had to cross the sparsely traveled back road and a police officer sat in his car. One wonders if that's where WPRI reporter Tim White's latest catch got the idea that it'd be just fine to sit in his car to eat, read, and sleep for three or more hours per day:

That dozing fellow is Department of Transportation engineering technician Kevin Coulombe, who is responsible for inspecting road and bridge materials. White notes that Coulombe oversaw the Barrington Bridge project "which was $11 Million over budget and took twice as long as expected."

According to Transparency Train, Coulombe's 2008 salary was $50,712, so clearly he's no Stephen Iannazzi. Perhaps if he actually works his full six hour day (or whatever it is) he can reach that high level of extreme competence.

If Supermarkets were like Schools

Marc Comtois

Imagine there was a Shaw's 1 mile away from you but that you preferred to shop at Dave's, which was 3 miles away. Now imagine the government had put a system in place that basically forced you to shop at Shaw's simply because it was geographically closer to you. What a ridiculous system:

Residents of each county would pay taxes on their properties. Nearly half of those tax revenues would then be spent by government officials to build and operate supermarkets. Each family would be assigned to a particular supermarket according to its home address. And each family would get its weekly allotment of groceries—"for free"—from its neighborhood public supermarket.

No family would be permitted to get groceries from a public supermarket outside of its district. Fortunately, though, thanks to a Supreme Court decision, families would be free to shop at private supermarkets that charge directly for the groceries they offer. Private-supermarket families, however, would receive no reductions in their property taxes.

Of course, the quality of public supermarkets would play a major role in families' choices about where to live. Real-estate agents and chambers of commerce in prosperous neighborhoods would brag about the high quality of public supermarkets to which families in their cities and towns are assigned.

Being largely protected from consumer choice, almost all public supermarkets would be worse than private ones. In poor counties the quality of public supermarkets would be downright abysmal. Poor people—entitled in principle to excellent supermarkets—would in fact suffer unusually poor supermarket quality.

And so on. Asinine, isn't it?

But Who Dropped the Anchor?

Justin Katz

RI General Treasurer Gina Raimondo uses an apt metaphor to describe the significance of the state's public pension problem:

"If you remember one thing from me this afternoon, remember this," Raimondo said, speaking bluntly: "fixing this state's pension system is not an issue, it is the issue. Our state retirement debt is an anchor holding our state back and preventing our growth into the future."

She goes a bit far, to my mind, in that state and municipal governments have sunk myriad anchors over the year — of taxation, regulation, mandates, and so on. Pensions are notable because they provide a stark dollar amount of looming debt. How much the state has lost in economic activity because its policies are constructed to pool power in the hands of a few narrow classes (mostly related to tax-revenue-related employment in one way or another) is not so easily calculable.

Perhaps out of political calculation or perhaps because she's not ready to begin discarding the worldview that her progressive supporters recognized in her, Raimondo leans quickly away from the larger problem underlying the state's pension difficulties:

She acknowledged the challenge is complex and emotional. "I am extremely sympathetic to our state employees and our teachers. They did everything they were told. They have paid into the system as they were told. They have worked hard faithfully every year. It's not their fault. And we should not blame employees. The fault is that the system was designed poorly. And if you're looking for a culprit, I believe that culprit is politics."

For some 30 years, she said, elected officials extended benefits for retirees without putting enough money aside to pay for them.

Let's not soft-pedal this. Among the "everything they were told" was voting for particular candidates for political offices at both the state and municipal levels and engaging in such activities as strikes and work-to-rule in order to foster an environment favorable to their side of negotiations. (Indeed, the number of politicians who have been union members over those 30 years is probably too high to count.) With only so much they could give away to labor in the open, those friendly politicians gave away money that wouldn't come due for years to come.

The culprit may be politics, as Raimondo insists, but it has been a politics dominated by and consciously perpetuated by employees and their unions. The current crop of such politicians cannot ignore the pension problem much longer (despite the hypnotic cooing of union propagandists), and although it's possible that they'll change what needs to be changed without naming it, that outcome isn't very likely.

May 5, 2011

The 25-Year-Old Keeping the Senate Together

Justin Katz

To hear RI Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D, Providence) tell it, Rhode Island's legislature is practically run by 25-year-old Stephen Iannazzi (son of the highest-paid union boss in the state... in the same union for which Mr. Ruggerio makes a hefty salary, as well):

Mr. Iannazzi showed extreme competence and was an invaluable asset to the Senate and the people of Rhode Island, whom we serve. While not seeking to give an exhaustive list of Mr. Iannazzi's credentials in this space; it is these qualifications which have come under attack. I therefore find it important to note just how well-qualified Mr. Iannazzi is for the specialized role he has been asked to fill.

Well, if young Iannazzi's "competence" was "extreme," how can anybody argue against his receiving $90,000 of taxpayer dollars in salary? Of course, in the manner typical of hyperbolic letters of recommendation, Ruggerio lists a number of initiatives in which Iannazzi played a role, but doesn't go into detail about the actual tasks that he completed.

For example, Iannazzi helped staff the Senate's Small Business Task Force. Does that mean that he reviewed the experience of every potential candidate and made recommendations, or that he called the assistants of legislators on a list that he was given? He helped draft various bits of legislation (which, having read through many bills, I don't take to be inherently impressive), but does that mean that he did legal research concerning the law to be changed and comparable laws in other states, or that he typed in changes to laws that others had reviewed?

Even so, by what calculation did Ruggerio arrive at a salary? The quarter-century kid wouldn't work for a penny less? Sorry: It still looks like a corrupt transfer of public money to a union pal's son. In keeping with his specific avoidance of details, Ruggerio asserts that "numerous senators and other government officials have voluntarily approached [him] to praise Stephen's ability, work ethic, and knowledge of the issues facing the Senate." Well, let those legislators and officials come out from behind the vague reference and publicly stake their reputations on the capabilities of a young high-school graduate hired at a high-end salary in the midst of a continuing recession and with the state facing massive deficits year after year.

Then let the public watch Mr. Iannazzi and be wowed.

I’ll believe it when I see it

Marc Comtois

I’ll believe it when I see it. So starts the latest post by Seth Godin. It's apropos given the current controversy surrounding the bin Laden death photos.

We have to accept that once we start down the slippery slope of always (or never) believing, we end up in Alice-in-Wonderland territory. Do you have firsthand knowledge that the Earth is round (a sphere)? Really? Have you ever seen the tuberculosis bacteria? Perhaps it doesn’t exist, they might say it’s just a fraud invented by the pharmaceutical industry to get us to buy expensive drugs... Or consider the flip side, the Bernie Madoff too-good-to-be-true flipside of invisible riches that never appear. After all, if someone can't prove it's a fraud yet, it might be true!

Eight things you’ve probably never seen with your own eyes: Buzz Aldrin, the US debt, multi-generational evolution of mammals, an atom of hydrogen, Google’s search algorithm, the inside of a nuclear power plant, a whale and the way your body digests a cookie. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, nor does it mean you can’t find a way to make them useful.

Do governments and marketers lie to us? All the time. Does that mean that the powerful (reproducible, testable and yes, true) invisible forces of economics, history and science are a fraud? No way.

Once you go down that road, you’re on your own, no longer a productive member of a society built on rational thought. Be skeptical. Test and measure and see if the truth is a useful hypothesis to help move the discussion forward. Please do. But at some point, in order to move forward, we have to accept that truth can’t be a relative concept, something to use when it suits our agenda but be discarded when we're frightened or want to score a point....Merely because it's invisible doesn't mean it's true--or false.

I don't think it's that people are skeptical about the death of bin Laden. I think the attitude is more like the Reaganesque "trust but verify", right? But at some point, whether the photos are officially released or not, time will prove that bin Laden is really dead: when there are no more audio or visual releases from him, when his terrorist heirs continue to be silent...or when the photos eventually leak out.

ADDENDUM: Incidentally, don't take the above as giving the Obama Administration a pass on handling the after-action "messaging" or the like. In short, the military--as usual--did it's job. The politicians aren't.

Andrew All Over the Radio

Justin Katz

Andrew talked bin Laden and RIGOP House leadership on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Andrew will also be on WRNI's Political Roundtable tomorrow, airing somewhere around 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. and streamable online thereafter.

May 4, 2011

Looking More Closely at the Plan to Reverse Cuts to Higher Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Gina Macris story in today's Projo discusses funding for public higher education in the always-troubled Rhode Island state budget...

Governor Chafee’s budget would add a total of $10 million to higher education, stopping the decline in state support and sparing Community College of Rhode Island students tuition increases. But the system as a whole will still have to cut expenses, even with the tuition hikes at URI and RIC.
...and in a statement earlier this year, University of Rhode Island President David Dooley emphasized past cuts...
"As you all know (Tuesday) night was quite an occasion for higher education in Rhode Island,” Dooley said during a press conference called by the Governor at URI to discuss his plans to reverse years of heavy budget cuts to URI, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island.
However, despite the references to state budget cuts or expense cuts, the overall public higher education system in Rhode Island hasn't experienced anything resembling heavy budget cuts in recent years.

1. Total expenses for "Public Higher Education" in Rhode Island are listed in this year's gubernatorial budget document...

Public Higher Education
Total Expenditures
FY 2009 Actual$842,410,188
FY 2010 Actual$901,551,465
FY 2011 Enacted$937,802,389
FY 2011 Revised$996,080,552
FY 2012 Recommended$994,958,261

I sense some budget gimmickry going on in the FY2011 and FY2012 numbers, with a budget being set up so that higher-education advocates can claim that they were flat-funded this year -- but not mentioning that the flat-funding year followed a 10.5% increase.

2. The $95 million dollar jump from FY2010 Actual to FY2011 Revised seems to include some Federal stimulus funding. Federal expenditures for public higher education are listed as...

Public Higher Education
Federal Funds
FY 2009 Actual$3,735,333
FY 2010 Actual$3,746,126
FY 2011 Enacted$15,004,667
FY 2011 Revised$32,657,457
FY 2012 Recommended$4,594,756

3. Though some of the stimulus funding might have gone towards capital costs, the portion of the RI public higher education budget classified as "operating expenditures" has not experienced any overall budget cuts, heavy or otherwise...

Public Higher Education
Operating Expenditures
FY 2009 Actual$777,838,168
FY 2010 Actual$838,415,178
FY 2011 Enacted$850,217,635
FY 2011 Revised$887,207,836
FY 2012 Recommended$926,649,575

To put this into perspective, if it is assumed that the $10 million dollar general revenue increase being proposed by Governor Chafee was taken purely away from "operating expenditures", then the public higher education budget would have to get by with "only" a 9% increase spread out over the last two years.

4. Finally, it is interesting to contrast the increase in public college and university operating costs with the "other funds" figure from the revenue-side of the report, which in the case of public institutions of higher education, is mostly tuition. The first column below is operating expenditures, the second column is revenue from "other funds"...

Public Higher Education
Operating Expenditures
Public Higher Education
Other Funds
FY 2009 Actual$777,838,168$667,142,742
FY 2010 Actual$838,415,178$735,958,261
FY 2011 Enacted$850,217,635$758,260,879
FY 2011 Revised$887,207,836$799,919,901
FY 2012 Recommended$926,649,575$816,021,529

From these numbers, it appears that tuition increases have been keeping approximate pace with operating cost increases, and have not been strongly determined by general revenue cuts.

The point is, as is the case in many areas of the Rhode Island budgets, that sources of growth in spending need to be identified and addressed at some point. Government funding of any program, no matter how worthwhile, cannot forever keep pace with faster-than-inflation growth in costs.

Split in the RI GOP House

Marc Comtois

Regardless of which side you fall on, all the maneuvering going on in the RI House GOP caucus has basically split it in two. As tweeted by NBC 10's Bill Rappleye:

Watson, Earhardt, Savage and Gordon upset at Newberry/Trillo maneuvering. Bad blood
Great. Anyway, I think what has become clear throughout this little tete-a-tete is that there are careerists on the GOP side (well, both GOP sides) just as much on the Democratic. Guess we need two phone booths now.

Comparative Budgets

Justin Katz

I don't know Providence finances well enough to quibble with Mayor Angel Tavares's budget proposal, but in emphasis and presentation it stands in stark contrast to Governor Lincoln Chafee. Tavares led with controversial and concrete initiatives for spending reduction, while Chafee led with a massive tax increase. Maybe they'll get to the same place — if the unions and the General Assembly refuse to go along with Tavares's plan, for one possibility — but I doubt it.

The mayor's budget contrasts with others in this respect:

His budget includes raising the tax levy by 5.25 percent—one percent more than what is currently allowed by state law.

That's being touted as a major "sharing of the pain," but from the perspective of Tiverton, it's less than the average annual tax increase over the past decade. It puts things in perspective for me that a city on the brink of catastrophe considers an extreme measure to be less than our business as usual.

I guess those who've run the government, in Tiverton, haven't been as keen on "sharing the pain" as inflicting it.

Group of Republicans Expresses Dissatisfaction with Leadership and asks to Caucus Separately -- in 2005!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Following an unofficial vote of no-confidence in Robert Watson as Rhode Island House Minority Leader, and an official vote to replace him with Rep. Brian Newberry, Representatives Laurence Ehrhardt and Jack Savage have decided to caucus separately from the rest of the Republicans, according to a statement made by Rep. Ehrhardt on this morning's WPRO Morning News.

This won't be the first time in recent memory that House Republicans have split. Back in July of 2005, six Republican Representatives, led by then Representative Bruce Long, sent the following letter to Minority Leader Watson (reported in the Projo by Katherine Gregg) ...

This is to inform you that, though we are, and remain, committed Republicans, we do not choose to remain active participants in the House Republican Caucus. We distinctly differ from the style of your leadership and that of the Whip, especially in the way business is comported on the floor of the House.
One of the Republicans who signed the 2005 letter leaving the caucus was Jack Savage. The other signers were a pair of notable names: John Loughlin and Victor Moffit, and a pair of, um, not-as-notable names: Joseph Amaral and Joseph Scott (who eventually left the Republican party to become a Democrat). On the other hand, both Laurence Ehrhardt and Joseph Trillo stayed in the Watson-led wing of the Republicans in 2005, along with Carol Mumford, Nick Gorham, Susan Story, James Davey, Richard Singleton and William McManus.

I don't understand Rep. Savage's apparent attitude, that he should be able to bolt the caucus on repeated occasions when he disagrees with the leadership, but a majority of members shouldn't replace the caucus leadership when they significantly disagree. And with all due respect to Rep. Ehrhardt, and understanding that there is obviously some backroom politics playing out here, legislative leadership positions do not have to be treated as lifetime appointments in order for a party organization within a legislature to function efficaciously for its members. To his credit, Rep. Watson is publicly expressing a view consistent with this, that his job is to continue to fight for his positions, whether he is Minority Leader or not.

One other note of historical interest -- isn't it quaint to see the scare quotes around the mysterious term "pension reform", at the end of a news article from 2005.

Preference for a More Confident Nation

Justin Katz

There's been some conversation in the comment sections suggesting that there's something contrary to American culture in street celebrations over Osama bin Laden's death, particularly to the extent that they involved effigies and burning pictures. Acknowledgement that a milestone has been reached and justice meted in an individual case is certainly appropriate, but the attitude that ought to underlie it, to my mind, is of steely resolve tinged with regret that the world has come to this. The death of bin Laden will not bring back those lost on September 11 and after, in the war on terror. And it's unlikely that, of itself, it will prove all that significant to the defeat of global terrorism perpetrated by radical Muslims.

This sentence, from an analysis by Liz Sidoti concerning the crass political repercussions of the killing, is downright chilling:

Now, in the early days of his re-election campaign, Obama is in a clear position of political strength as Americans finally are able to savor the death of the man responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

My understanding of America's approach to war was that it was consciously devoid of blood lust. Whether our intention is to pursue dire national interests or help to resolve atrocities (and whether or not one believes the latter justifies our involvement in wars), we view combat operations functionally, as dirty work that must be done.

I think back to the iconic images of ticker tape parades and dancing in the street at the end of World War II, and two key aspects jump out. First, the hardship and austerity of the war were decisively over from that moment, and the troops would be coming home. Neither really applies, in this case.

Second, the emphasis of such celebrations appears through the lens of history to have been "we've won," not "they've lost." Burning images and savoring death are of the latter attitude, and it would be a very sinister development for it to dominate, not the least because it bespeaks a cultural insecurity. A confident nation doesn't need revenge and isn't so haunted by individuals who've done it harm that its people must dispel their ghosts with public rituals.

May 3, 2011

Watson Out as Minority Leader, Newberry In

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steve Klamkin of WPRO radio (630AM) is reporting that Robert Watson has been replaced as RI House Minority Leader by Rep. Brian Newberry.

Coming up in Committee: Fourteen Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, May 3 - May 5

Carroll Andrew Morse

14. S0319: Subjects the appointment of the RI Commissioner of Higher Education to the advice and consent of the Senate. (Senate Education, May 4)

13. S0867: Requires all Rhode Island hospitals to submit "evidence of participation in a high-quality comprehensive discharge planning and transitions improvement project operated by a nonprofit organization in this state" or "a plan for the provision of comprehensive discharge planning and information to be shared with patients transitioning from the hospitals care" to the director of the state department of health. (Senate Health & Human Services, May 4)

12. S0295: Imposes a tax of 1 cent per ounce on bottled soft drinks. (Senate Finance, May 3)

11. H5157: Reduces the state gas tax from 32 to 27 cents per gallon. (House Finance, May 5)

10. S0521/S0524: Increases in the number of hours of instruction required during a kindergarten day. (Senate Education, May 4)

9. S0833: Rewrites Rhode Island's law on sexual offender registration, in order to implement the Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

8. Various traffic law changes, ranging from making use of a non-hands free cell phone illegal when driving (S0269) and not wearing your seat-belt into a primary traffic law violation (S0022), to increased penalties for refusing to submit to a chemical substance-use test (S0028, S0235) and increased penalties for causing an accident that results in bodily injury (S0118). (Senate Judiciary, May 5)

7. H5743: Requires state agencies (RIDE, DHS, DCYF, RI health agencies and hospitals involved with immunizations, and the state police and office of public safety) to "track ethnic communities". The bill then goes on to list certain ethnicities that should be tracked. Why some ethnicities should be singled out in the law is not clear. (House Finance, May 4)

6. S0432: Gives the Board of Regents for Secondary and Elementary education the power to grant waivers from state mandates, when petitioned by local school committees. (Senate Education, May 4)

5. S0827: Creates a new section of criminal law that defines crimes against the public trust. Introduced at the request of the Attorney General. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

4. H5431: Establishes an Inspector General's office in the State of Rhode Island. (House Finance, May 4)

3. S0400: Requires either a photo ID or a document such as a birth certificate, social security card, etc. to be used as a voter-ID at a polling place. In the event that a voter does not have a required form of ID, he or she would cast a "provisional ballot", where a comparison to the signature in the voting record would be used to determine if the ballot would be counted. Introduced at the request of the Secretary of State. (Senate Judiciary, May 3)

2. H5848: Creates a tax-credit for service stations that install alternative fuel pumps. (This is much more important bill than H5847, the excise tax exemption for certain electric vehicles). (House Finance, May 5)

1C. S0415: Standalone bill (see the last two bills on the list, for the context of "standalone") making teachers' strikes illegal in Rhode Island. (Senate Labor, May 4)

1B. S0413: Terms of expired teachers' contract would continue, until a new contract agreement is reached. (Senate Labor, May 4)

1A. S0794: Binding arbitration for teachers contracts on all issues, including salary issues. Also says teachers' can't strike and the unaccountable arbitrator must consider a municipality's "ability to pay". Apparently, in the progressive thought-process, writing into the law fact that the government doesn't have an absolute right to all of the people's income is considered a compromise. (Senate Labor, May 4)

The Case for Israel: Democracy's Outpost

Community Crier

The URI College Republicans and the Narragansett and South Kingston Republican Town Committees, tomorrow night, are screening The Case for Israel, a feature-length documentary film, followed by a Q&A session with executive producer, Gloria Greenfield.

In the film, Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz offers a vigorous case for Israel — for its basic right to exist, to protect its citizens from terrorism, and to defend its borders from hostile enemies. He engages leading political, judicial and academic leaders from Israel and North America in objective and intelligent discourse on the critical challenges facing Israel and the West.

The showing will be on Wednesday, May 4, at 7:00 p.m. in URI's Swan Hall Auditorium, 60 Upper College Rd., Kingston. Suggested admission: $10/public, $5/student.

The Advantaged Class at the Town Level, Too

Justin Katz

Providence Journal reporter Mark Reynolds dipped into the pension situation in Johnston, on Sunday, focusing on this case:

Fire Lt. William R. Jasparro was 41 when he ended his 20-year career as a Johnston firefighter in 1990.

Jasparro's retirement package paid him about $18,255 per year [with cost of living adjustments] — based on half of his final years' earnings. He went to work in construction and later took a job at the state's Central Landfill, which ultimately paid him $80,000 a year.

Most folks would be satisfied with a "retirement" benefit payable for 30-plus years (plus health care coverage for life), assuming he lives to the median age for men and doesn't hand it off to a spouse. Eight years into his retirement (or perhaps "second career" would be more accurate), Jasparro sued to be bumped up to a disability pension, which would have yielded 100% of salary, tax free. At least by the article's description, it doesn't sound as if he had much of a case, but the town settled, giving him 67% of salary, tax free.

It occurs to me that Rhode Island would profit from a town-by-town investigation, with the results aggregated somewhere to give the public a fair sense of just how pervasive such deals are. How many people are collecting retirement benefits while working in another branch of the state's public sector? It'd be interesting to know. For example, another Johnston retiree, 51-year-old former police detective and union president John Nardolillo, is now a police officer in West Greenwich. Whatever his salary is, there, he's taking home $33,982 based on his previous career.

Growing up, I planned to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and adjust my income expectations accordingly. Rhode Island's public sector clearly has more than its share of people whose focus is mainly on working the system. And there's a lot of system to work. As much attention as I pay to such matters, I don't believe I've ever come across this factor, before:

Also, under Rhode Island law, the state pays the tuition for the disabled firefighter or police officer and his or her children to attend any Rhode Island state college.

It'd be interesting to see a total cost of that benefit and have the list of beneficiaries combed for young retirees who go on to second careers or intensive weight-lifting hobbies.

May 2, 2011

Various Thoughts on bin Laden

Justin Katz

1. I've heard from several people the suggestion that the death of Osama bin Laden will boost troop morale. That may be the case, but I can't help but see that as a bit of a shame. Over the past decade, our military has toppled governments, routed terrorist networks out of foreign cities, helped oppressed people rebuild, push a hostile region toward democracy, and (most importantly) kept the fight on distant shores, preventing further large-scale attacks on the United States.

Whether or not one agrees with the policies that spurred those actions, their achievement is nothing short of awe inspiring. Marc likened bin Laden to the Wicked Witch, but that's inaccurate in a very important way: the Wicked Witch instilled fear because she individually had frightening powers; kill and scatter her army and she would still be a formidable enemy. Osama bin Laden was a lanky, sick, and aging rich kid with a network and a lot of hate. It's good that he's dead, but in terms of satisfaction for our nation and its men and women in uniform, he's a bit of an after-dinner mint.

2. And this is where he shivered in fear as his doom approached.

3. It seems an excessive, even reckless, bit of political correctness to invite continuing conspiracy theories and legend making by dumping the body out of reach in the sea.

4. Meanwhile, the World Trade Center has still not been rebuilt.

Open Forum: Osama Bin Laden is Dead

Marc Comtois

Osama bin Laden has been killed. The coward died a coward's death, hiding behind a woman. Thanks to the dogged determination of our men and women in the armed services and intelligence agencies--in places from the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to Guantanamo--and thanks to our political leaders who continued the hunt no matter the political pressure facing them, this embodiment of evil has met his end. It is a symbolic but important milestone. The big Kahuna-head-of-the-crime-family-Wicked-Witch is DEAD. Ding f-n' dong! This doesn't mean the War on Terror is over, by any means. But it let's terrorists know that we won't quit.

The Message of Union Defense

Justin Katz

A whopping 300 union teachers and organizers showed up for a weekend event at URI's Ryan Center to back the opinion stated, as follows, by National Education Association Rhode Island President Larry Purtill:

In Rhode Island, he said, many teachers distrust state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and her aggressive approach to changes that echoes the priorities of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

These include rigorous teacher evaluations, removing ineffective teachers, overhauling the nation's worst-performing schools and expanding public charter schools.

Message: We don't want change! Especially if it means evaluations and targeting those union members who are most vulnerable... because incompetent.

There is, however, one theme that's worth teasing out of the bunch, because it relates to a frequently made point:

Paul Taillefer, president-elect of the Canadian Teachers Federation, noted several key differences between the two countries, including Canada's more robust teacher selection, preparation and mentoring programs, the high regard society has for teachers and a stronger social safety net for students.

"We have medical and food programs that extend beyond the school walls that help students and level the playing field," he said. ...

"Her favorite refrain is, 'We can’t make any excuses,'" [North Kingstown High School history teacher Jay] Walsh said. "Well, we aren't making any excuses. When we ask these questions, we are trying to acknowledge that what we do in the classroom is connected to many other things outside of the classroom."

I don't support pursuing a government as broad as Canada's, but if the problem hindering our students' success lies outside of the education system, then we need to change the way we allocate resources to address that. If teachers aren't the key, then we should decrease our spending on them and target factors that really would help us, as a society, achieve our objectives.

May 1, 2011

A Message Full of Coincidence

Justin Katz

So, as Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice headed toward the climactic "you're fired" of tonight's episode, NBC periodically killed the sound to play a jingle and run ticker text about a pending important message from President Obama. The actual interruption came right as the show built up to a crest.

Apparently, Osama bin Laden has been confirmed as dead. I'm not sure if just happened or at some point today, yesterday, last week, but it sure is curious that this big announcement would have to be made on a Sunday night with only an intense twelve minutes remaining on a show produced by a political competitor of the president's.

I wouldn't take this so far as to imply political motives, but it's also very helpful to Mr. Obama, considering unrest about gas and grocery prices and growing dissatisfaction with his military activities.

10:59 p.m.

The President hasn't come on, yet, but the commentators on NBC are making bin Laden's death out to be much more than it really is. He was a symbol, but whether he's been alive or dead has been largely irrelevant for the past six years. The real success of the decade-long war effort is the lack of additional large-scale terror attacks on U.S. soil.

From the commentary, thus far, the administration has been gathering details all day and has the terror master's body.

President Obama's Conflicted (to say the least) Oil Policy and Pronouncements

Monique Chartier

Strap in; it's a roller coaster ride.

High gasoline and oil prices are bad.

Obama, speaking at a San Francisco event for donors, called rising gasoline prices an economic drain on drivers and said curbing oil reliance is a “national security imperative.”

High gasoline and oil prices (if they are gradual) are good.

I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money in their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more rapidly, particularly U.S. automakers...

Action signaling that the President favors domestic drilling:

the administration has approved 39 new shallow-water permits as well as seven recent deepwater permits and is pushing for more production.

[Way to go, sir! I know that this is coming at a political cost to you which is regrettable.]

Potential action signaling that the President opposes domestic drilling:

A three-inch lizard that thrives in desert conditions could shut down oil and gas operations in portions of Southeast New Mexico and in West Texas, including the state's top two oil producing counties.

Called the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, it is being considered for inclusion on the federal Endangered Species listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

[We don't need to actually use the lizard's tail to drill for oil, as Glenn Beck has advocated. But let's not continue down the path of madness of putting animals ahead of the vital needs of human beings.]

Statement affirming that the level of oil supply globally is adequate.

It is true that a lot of what's driving oil prices up right now is not the lack of supply. There's enough supply. There's enough oil out there for world demand,

Statement strongly implying that the level of oil supply globally is not sufficient.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged world oil producers to lift crude output

Higher oil prices are good if fueled by an expensive, artificial carbon-control mechanism.

In a speech prepared for delivery in Portsmouth, N.H., the Illinois senator said the cap-and-trade plan would be the centerpiece of a wide-ranging set of measures designed to cut emissions of gases tied to global warming and weaning the United States off of dependence on oil. ...

Obama's plan would require all credits to be purchased at auction, rather than allocated by industry -- a move his campaign said would ensure that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions released.

[... and also ensure that all consumers unnecesarily pay more for every joule of energy they need.]

Higher oil prices are bad if driven by capitalism and speculators.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday blamed speculators for driving gasoline prices higher and straining American consumers, saying there was enough oil in world markets to meet demand.

Wheee! That was fun! (... er, does anyone understand the President's stance on oil?)

So Next Month's Field Trip is a Tea Party Rally, Right?

Monique Chartier

Obviously it will be, if the goal really is for Pennsylvania's children to participate in "good citizenship, free expression, fairness and thoughtful deliberation" and not that they are blatantly being used as pawns on an egregious scale to advance a selfish agenda.

On Tuesday, across the state of Pennsylvania, unions and other Left-wing organizations will be boarding buses and heading to the state capitol in Harrisburg to engage in a mass rally to fight for economic and social justice and against budget cuts. The rally, is being organized by the Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues (CLEAR) which is comprised of government unions, such as AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), PSEA (part of the NEA), SEIU, as well as the AFL-CIO, IAFF, UFCW and others. ...

In addition, there will be elementary schoolchildren bused in from all over the state.
In Lancaster, PA, concerned parents contacted the local newspaper with their concerns, which caused one school to cancel the “field trip”:

Plans to have Wickersham Elementary School students participate next week in a rally opposing cuts in the state education budget have been canceled in the wake of complaints from parents. ...

In a letter to parents accompanying the permission slip, James said the trip would provide an opportunity to “model the role of good citizenship, free expression, fairness and thoughtful deliberation.”

“Please join us as we … travel to Harrisburg to let our voice be heard for a responsible budget for public education,” he urged parents in the letter.