— Rhode Island Politics —

March 23, 2013

Sharp and Important Contrast: Republican vs Democrat Handling of Two Election Results This Week

Monique Chartier

In case you missed it, this past week presented an excellent opportunity to watch RI Dems and Repubs handle election results.

> At the State House, Democrats discovered that [gasp] a committee had done its job and actually voted on whether to send a bill to the House Floor, resulting in an 8-0 vote in favor. They dispatched a hatchet(wo)man to nullify the result twenty four hours later.

> During their convention Thursday, Republicans found what was undoubtedly an honest process mistake during an election that resulted in an almost-tie. They commendably refused to certify the results.

Now, party names very much not withstanding, who is better at the "demo" part of democracy?

March 13, 2013

Man Bites Dog: A House Committee Passes Ethics Bill instead of Holding for Further Study

Marc Comtois

UPDATE @ 4:30 PM: Kathy Gregg at the ProJo tweeted out:

Hear that right? Did Speaker [F]ox just publicly remove J Patrick O'Neill from house judiciary after last nights ethics bill coup. Yes.
Thus does O'Neill become the object lesson for what happens when you move to vote a bill out of committee without Speakah Fox's permission. I'm sure Rep. Marcello hopes the "cloud of suspicion" doesn't cover him....

Maybe what Andrew said spurred something? Ted Nesi reports:

Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill got a taste of revenge on Tuesday night.

During what was looking to be an uneventful hearing, the Pawtucket Democrat apparently surprised House Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Edie Ajello and managed to get the 13-member panel to pass a proposed constitutional amendment [pdf] that would restore the R.I. Ethics Commission’s power to police state lawmakers. Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, seconded O’Neill’s motion.

A spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox wasn’t immediately available for comment, and the vote hasn’t been posted online yet. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island and a longtime proponent of the ethics amendment, was shocked and elated by the sudden turn of events.

“They were intending to hold this bill for further study before Rep. O’Neill made a motion to reconsider,” Marion told WPRI.com. “We were caught off-guard, but we’re delighted because now the whole House of Representatives is going to have to vote on the resolution.”

The bill’s sponsor – Rep. Mike Marcello, D-Scituate – was as surprised as anyone; he was actually out of the room when the committee voted.

“I’m happy the bill passed, but I’m somewhat concerned about the manner in which it did,” Marcello told WPRI.com. “But a pass is a pass. I just hope the manner in which it passed doesn’t leave a cloud of suspicion as to whether or not it has the true support of the House.”

"Cloud of suspicion"? Generated by whom? Sheesh, even the freakin' sponsor of the bill doesn't know how to deal with the passage of his own bill without the prior receipt of the proper marching orders from leadership. I'm sure everything will settle down and we'll be back to "further study" in no time.

March 9, 2013

Yowzah: RI Campaign Consultant Arrested for Alleged Campaign Violation

Monique Chartier

The campaign flyer at the center of this allegedly campaign law violation, and its dissemination at the last minute of the 2012 campaign, was such a nasty maneuver that part of me cheered when I heard that it has resulted in an arrest.

(Jim Archer, candidate for the General Assembly, was the target of the flyer.)

[James Archer's] complaint centered on a campaign flier and e-mails that appeared in mailboxes in Smithfield, just before the election. They displayed a police report on Archer’s arrest — along with the nephew of another 2012 Republican candidate — on a years-old vandalism charge involving ripped campaign signs that was dismissed by a judge in August 2007, after a three-day trial.

Archer, in his complaint, said the flier suggested he “lacked integrity.”

However, the nastiness per se of the flyer and its last minute distribution is not illegal. In today's ProJo, Kathy Gregg outlines the prospective violation of campaign law.

[Rob] Horowitz is charged with a misdemeanor violation of a law that says in part: “No person shall intentionally write, print, post, or distribute … a circular, flier, or poster designed or tending to injure or defeat any candidate,” unless the name of the person or organization disseminating the item is “conspicuously” displayed.

Oops, the flyers apparently lacked this information, conspicuously displayed or not. (Kathy helpfully tweeted a link to the law itself.)

At the same time, I'm curious as to what the trigger is for a campaign violation to lead to an arrest. I would have thought campaign law violations would have fallen on the civil infraction, not the criminal, side of the law book. Does this mean that the 237 PACS and candidates who have been hit with fines for not filing, or filing late, their campaign finance reports are all subject to arrest? Can a civil infraction lead to an arrest or did the lack of disclosure itself on the flyer push it into a criminal matter?

I am agog. Consider this an open solicitation for answers on these points.


Thanks to Brassband for pointing to the section of Rhode Island law that makes this omission a misdemeanor, as opposed to merely a civil infraction: § 17-23-3.

In fact, § 17-23-3 makes all of the following violations of Rhode Island's campaign law a misdemeanor.

§ 17-23-1 Signature and labeling of advertising in periodicals. – No person shall publish or cause to be published in any newspaper or other periodical, either in its advertising or reading columns, any paid matter designed or tending to aid, injure, or defeat any candidate for public office or any question submitted to the voters, unless the name of the chairperson or secretary or the names of two (2) officers of the political or other organization inserting the paid matter, or the name of some voter who is responsible for it, with that person's residence and the street and number, if any, appear in the paid matter in the nature of a signature. The matter inserted in reading columns shall be preceded by or followed by the word "advertisement" in a separate line, in type not smaller than that of the body type of the newspaper or other periodical.

§ 17-23-2 Signature of posters, fliers, and circulars. – No person shall intentionally write, print, post, or distribute, or cause to be written, printed, posted, or distributed, a circular, flier, or poster designed or tending to injure or defeat any candidate for nomination or election to any public office, by criticizing the candidate's personal character or political action, or designed or tending to aid, injure, or defeat any question submitted to the voters, unless there appears upon the circular, flier, or poster in a conspicuous place the name of the author and either the names of the chairperson and secretary, or of two (2) officers, of the political or other organization issuing the poster, flier, or circular, or of some voter who is responsible for it, with the voter's name and residence, and the street and numbers, if any.

[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]

March 3, 2013

One of the Few Manufacturing Jobs that We Don't Need: Gov Chafee Manufactures Out of Thin Air a Brand New Business Climate Factor

Monique Chartier

The headline of Governor Chafee's OpEd in today's Providence Journal summarizes his premise:

Gay marriage key to flourishing R.I. economy

But is it? Several analyses have placed Rhode Island at or near the bottom for business-unfriendliness. What criteria did they use to rank the states? Helpfully, in their December, 2012 report [PDF] "A Review of Rhode Island’s Business Climate and Cost of Doing Business Rankings", RIPEC has aggregated much of this information. From the tables on pages four, seven and ten, I compiled the criteria and list them after the jump.

Combing through these lists, nothing comes close to Governor Chafee's purported new criteria to measure a state's business climate.

The question itself of gay marriage leaves me viscerally unmoved either way. Conversely, the sight of Rhode Island's top general officer twisting the truth in the vital matter of the state's fragile economic viability so as to advance a key component of a politically correct but economically irrelevant agenda renders me exasperated and angry.

It is time to address Rhode Island's economy and unemployment rate (lower but still the third worst in the country) by legislatively improving the state's business climate. Creative fiction about what it takes to accomplish this only leads us onto a false and distracting tangent, keeping us further away from our goal - all the more so when the fiction is communicated with the prestige and natural amplification of the state's Executive Branch.

[Monique is Editor of the RI Taxpayer Times newsletter.]

Continue reading "One of the Few Manufacturing Jobs that We Don't Need: Gov Chafee Manufactures Out of Thin Air a Brand New Business Climate Factor"

February 27, 2013

Apathy and Fear in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Most Americans probably know very little about Rhode Island beyond the fact that it is at the wrong end of an awful lot of national economic and civic rankings.

Residents of the state who’ve sought some explanation for its willful decline inevitably come across the concept of "Rhode-apathy." Under the thralls of what force would a state’s electorate allow its deteriorating condition to persist — indeed, to advance — year after year?

Continue reading on The American Spectator...

February 20, 2013

Station Night Club Fire: Tenth Anniversary and A Grotesque Footnote To It

Monique Chartier

Ten years ago occurred the horrific and completely avoidable fire at the Station Night Club in West Warwick.

Far from being held accountable, the person most responsible for the one hundred deaths and two hundred injuries, West Warwick Fire Inspector Dennis LaRocque, was actively shielded by then Attorney General Patrick Lynch for what can only have been vile political reasons. As though that were not outrageous enough, by the way, Mr. LaRocque was subsequently promoted - that's right, the FIRE INSPECTOR on whose watch occurred the fourth worst night club fire in US history was actually promoted - and then retired on a tax-free disability pension. (WPRI's well timed reminder yesterday of the exact nature of Mr. LaRocque's retirement is much appreciated.) Yes, indeed, thanks to Patrick Lynch, the Station Night Club Fire Inspector was held above justice and now is living large on the taxpayer dime.

It is important to note the method by which Patrick Lynch shielded the Fire Inspector and subverted justice. Firstly, he steered the Grand Jury away (scroll down the link) from indicting Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque and then, in a craven act of cowardice and dishonesty, hide behind "their" decision.

"That's what the grand jury returned," said AG Lynch to a query. "I can only do what they say."

Secondly, Attorney General Lynch allowed everyone else involved to plea out (in the process, hanging Judge Francis Darrigan out to dry in a most cowardly fashion.)

See, an indictment of Denis LaRocque or the absence of a plea deal for the others would have led to a trial. And above all, Attorney General Patrick Lynch could not risk a trial of anyone involved in fire because then the truth would have come out and that would have gravely endangered his political protegee, Denis LaRocque.

The result of Patrick Lynch's energetic legal maneuvering on behalf of the fire inspector, however, is that vital questions with regard to the Station Night Club fire remain unanswered:

> Why did Fire Inspector LaRocque fail to uphold Rhode Island's fire code by permitting the highly flammable foam to remain on the wall? Was he not trained properly (doubtful) or was he depravedly careless and indifferent?

> Did he see the foam or not? (Mr. LaRocque gave diametrically conflicting statements on that point to the Grand Jury.)

> Instead of shutting down the night club for this (deadly) code violation and others, why did Mr. LaRocque repeatedly twist and break Rhode Island's fire code so as to increase the "permitted" occupancy of the premises to patently unsafe levels?

Now, we learn from WPRI that Patrick Lynch, he who so successfully fended off truth and justice in the aftermath of the Station Night Club fire, will travel to Brazil to "assist" in the aftermath of the horrendous night club fire in Santa Maria on January 27.

This is surreal.

As Dave Kane correctly notes here and elsewhere, Patrick Lynch's sole expertise in the area of night club fires is obfuscating the truth, coddling the guilty and subverting justice.

Will he now be inflicted on another set of victims? It is to be fervently hoped that Brazilian authorities do not permit this to happen. Let them give him a paper-shuffling job in a back office for a couple of days, have him stand in front of some cameras (his favorite part of any job) and then pat him on the head and send him away. "Nice job, Mr. Lynch! Thanks for your help!"

One set of fire victims victimized again by Patrick Lynch is already too many. Let's not make it two.

February 19, 2013

Dave Kane: The Highly Dubious Assistance of Patrick Lynch

Monique Chartier

In response to my e-mailed inquiry, the following was received from Dave Kane, the father of the youngest victim of the Station Night Club fire.

I promised myself that after the release of the Station fire land to the victims and their families, I would stop writing press releases and go quietly into the night. Then, just when I was ready to get out....they drag me back in. A report from WPRI TV says that former Attorney General Patrick Lynch is going to Brazil to help in the investigation of the Kiss Nightclub fire. Stop laughing. This is not a joke.

That’s right - Patrick Lynch. Gee, what could he do to help? I know. He could give advice to the club owners on how to make a good plea deal. He could advise the Law enforcement officials that the Building and Fire inspectors are above the law and cannot be charged. Hey, maybe he could offer his expertise as a defense lawyer for those responsible for this event.

I believe that Mr. Lynch could better serve this state by coming forward and telling the truth about his own very embarrassing incompetence and malfeasance. He could tell us about the decisions and deals that were made on who to indict and who should be allowed to walk, free. Hey Patrick, when you get to Brazil, stay there!

February 2, 2013

Illegal Immigration: Rep Diaz Reaps A Fine Harvest of Denial From Ample Seeds of Willful Government Ignorance

Monique Chartier

On Wednesday, GoLocalProv published an article that included a round-up of responses on the issue of whether illegal immigration is a problem in RI.

One of the people that they spoke to was Rep Grace Diaz (D-Providence).

“I don’t think it’s a big issue to put a lot of energy to,” she said. “For regular people who are undocumented, it’s hard to get a job, it’s hard to survive and I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t have any documents or anything to prove who they are being able to work in these regular jobs. For that reason, I don’t think that we have something to worry about".

Such a lovely substance-and-fact-free statement. In fact, when it comes to delivering taxpayer funded services of two of the biggest cost drivers of illegal immigration, K-12 education and "free" health care, we - schools, hospitals, doctors, govt officials, taxpayers - do not ask about immigration status. So it's impossible to quantify how much of the bill that the taxpayer picks up in both of these expense categories is racked up by illegal aliens.

But how convenient for the rep and for other proponents of illegal immigration. We pay the cost but don't keep track of it. So, according to Rep Diaz, we have nothing to worry about! In related news, money grows on trees, government doesn't abuse or squander a single tax dollar that it collects and unicorns frolic daily at Roger Williams Park.

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

January 29, 2013

Deepwater Wind: No Need for Fee Waiver - Or For Its Boutique Electricity

Monique Chartier

Deepwater Wind is seeking waiver of a $700,000 fee payable to CRMC. So, in addition to charging two and a half to three times the current market rate for the electricity to be generated, they don't want to pay a fee that they are legally liable for.

Here's an idea. Don't build the project. You won't have to pay the fee. We won't have to pointlessly pay a hefty rate premium for the electricity generated by a boutique, feel-good project. Sounds like a win-win. (Have your people call my people ...)

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

January 23, 2013

Government as Reporters' Parachute

Justin Katz

During the handful of interactions I had with Connie Grosch at the State House, last session, she was friendly and very helpful. Moreover, she did her job taking photographs for the Providence Journal well.

So, I was sorry to see her name added to the list of personnel cuts that the paper has made in recent years, and I'm glad that she's landed on her feet. But the way she's done so worries me.

Grosch has taken a job (perhaps "has been offered and accepted a job" would be better put) as Congressman David Cicilline's press secretary. At Governor Lincoln Chafee's State of the State address, her former media colleagues highlighted her attendance in that capacity.

In the past year, I've also had a few introductory lunches with folks in the Rhode Island media, and a number of them have declined my offer to pick up the bill for their sandwiches. For some, it's apparently company policy. As a matter of risking the credibility of reportage, how a couple of slices of bread with meat between them compares with, say, Providence Journal reporters' largely undisclosed membership in the RI AFL-CIO, I'm not sure.

How it compares with a politician's saving a late-career journalist from unemployment, I'm a little more confident. ...

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

January 21, 2013

General Treasurer's Letter About Gay Marriage: Was State Letterhead Appropriate?

Monique Chartier

As of late last week, the House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on a gay marriage bill tomorrow.

Around ten days ago, General Treasurer Raimondo sent a letter to Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed expressing strong support for the passage of gay marriage in Rhode Island. Anchor Rising obtained a copy of the letter, available here as a PDF. She sent it on the letterhead of the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations | General Treasurer" and signed it as the General Treasurer.

Full disclosure: my personal views on the matter can probably best be described as lame. I neither strongly oppose nor strongly support it. If it goes to referendum, I would most likely vote against the measure, though I don't feel strongly enough about it to write something on the issue itself, rally at the State House or lobby my elected officials on the matter.

Of COURSE, the General Treasurer - and all elected officials - have the absolute right to do what I don't feel compelled in this case to do: to contact Rhode Island's elected officials and express their views about any pending legislation. The issue here is the action of a General Officer of the state expressing his or her view on a matter that does not pertain to his or her office but giving those personal views the weight and amplification of the office by transmitting them on General Office letterhead as a General Officer.

Am I out of line in viewing this as an inappropriate use, possibly abuse, of the power and prestige of an elected office?

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

January 15, 2013

Sakonnet Bridge Tolls? Bye Bye $2.6 - $16 million in State Slot Revenue

Monique Chartier

Several months ago, I contacted Newport Grand to ask what percentage of their visitors came from Massachusetts so that we could project how much tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge would cost them in business - and, by extension, cost the state in lost revenue from the slot parlor. I didn't get very far, leaving messages on two-three occasions but never getting a call back.

Now, the AP and the ProJo report second hand that Newport Grand has provided the answer to the Newport Daily News (behind a pay wall). From the ProJo this afternoon:

CEO Diane Hurley warned of the revenue loss in a letter to the chairman of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority, joining a large number of area residents and businesses opposed to the planned tolls.

The Newport Daily News reports Hurley wrote that tolls could deter many southeastern Massachusetts residents from traveling to Newport Grand and cost Rhode Island's government $2.6 million to $16 million in lost revenue annually from the slot parlor.

Setting aside all of the very good reasons that tolls on the Sakonnet bridge are a bad idea and just sticking to the financials: did the General Assembly factor the loss of this revenue into their decision to toll the Sakonnet River Bridge?

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

December 31, 2012

Leadership and the Missing Rhode Islander

Justin Katz

It took me a couple of read-throughs to put my finger on the eery blank space in Mike Stanton's group interview with Rhode Island's three most powerful politicians: House Speaker Gordon Fox, Governor Lincoln Chafee, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed. Although only the two legislators are officially Democrats — Fox from Providence and Paiva Weed from Newport — for all intents and purposes, the governor is, as well.

But I'm not talking about the lack of partisan diversity. I'm talking about the missing Rhode Islander. You're nowhere in their words and, judging by the policies that they continue to promote, nowhere in their thoughts.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

December 29, 2012

Words of Wisdom About Teacher Pay and the Perils of Binding Arbitration: Guess the Speaker

Monique Chartier

This column by Steve Frias in the Cranston Herald contains, among other things, some fascinating history about the evolution and implementation of public pensions and collective bargaining in RI.

Some quotes highlighted by Frias from the early 1990's in particular stand out, not so much because of their substance, though they are absolutely correct, but because of who uttered them. (I have omitted the town and the candidate from the original text.)

What few may recall is that ..... during a time when XXXXX teachers were striking, candidate _____ spoke of the possibility of "a voucher system or privatization” for education because teachers were “going to price themselves out of the business." He even lobbied state legislators against approving binding arbitration for teachers because the “unions own the arbitrators.”

Can you guess who said this? (Hint: "Speaker" in the title of this post is not "Mr. Speakah" of the RI House but simply "s/he who spoke the words".)

That's right, it was Lincoln Chafee, then running for mayor of Warwick.

If you're also thinking that now-Governor Chafee's views on such matters have ... er, evolved (or possibly devolved, from the perspective of those who pay the bills), you are correct again. That is one of the main points of Frias' column - possibly as much a reminder to the public unions as to anybody.

Below is the text unedited, including more of the original paragraph that contained it. Let the record show, though, that, surprising as it may be, it turns out that there is a moment in time when I agree wholeheartedly with something that (then-candidate) Lincoln Chafee said!

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s call for negotiation over pension reform is consistent with Chafee’s predilection for fickle political maneuvering regarding unions over the course of two decades. Many recall that before signing pension reform legislation in 2011, Governor Lincoln Chafee was supported by public employee unions when he ran for Governor in 2010. What few may recall is that in 1992, when he was running for mayor of Warwick, during a time when Warwick teachers were striking, candidate Chafee spoke of the possibility of "a voucher system or privatization” for education because teachers were “going to price themselves out of the business." He even lobbied state legislators against approving binding arbitration for teachers because the “unions own the arbitrators.” After he was elected mayor by a very small margin in a three-way race, Mayor Lincoln Chafee changed his approach regarding the teacher unions. He circumvented the Warwick School Committee to give Warwick teachers a 19.4 percent pay raise with no health insurance premium co-share. ...

December 27, 2012

Ominous: Gov Does Not Rule Out Tax Hike

Monique Chartier

Over at On Politics, Ian Donnis reports that Gov Chafee will not say whether his upcoming budget will include a tax hike.

Governor Lincoln Chafee is declining to talk specifics about whether his next budget will include revenue increases – a.k.a. tax hikes.

The governor offered this comment during an interview last week (excerpts of which will be broadcast on RIPR Thursday morning):

"The budget will come out in January … we’re still putting it together."

The governor’s latest budget is expected to emerge by January 17.

With a state economy notably on its heels and beleaguered taxpayers who already endure the fifth highest combined state and local tax burden, wouldn't the correct answer to the question be "Hell, no, I'm not raising taxes! That's the last thing this state needs!"

December 26, 2012

"States Doling Out the Best Benefits": Guessez Vous Who Is Number One?

Monique Chartier

Ah, yes. Another week, another undesirable ranking. Rhode Island once again finds itself at or near the top of a category quite disadvantageous to the people who pay the bills.

Thanks to commenter ANTHONY for sharing a link under another post that sent me click-clicking around curiously until I happened across this 24/7 Wall Street analysis posted last week.

... If another recession is not avoided, the need for state assistance, like unemployment insurance and welfare, will grow. Yet not all states provide for their residents equally. Based on a 24/7 Wall St. review of key state entitlements, including unemployment benefits, Medicaid, welfare and education, we identified the states guaranteeing the best and worst benefits.

That's right - cue the triumphant horns - Little Rhody tops the list.

1. Rhode Island

> Average [public] pension benefits: $34,577 (2nd highest)
> Total per pupil spending: $13,699 (9th highest)
> Medicaid payments per enrollee: $8,566 (4th highest)
> Pct. of weekly wages covered by unemployment benefits: 43.4% (2nd highest)
> No. of months of TANF received: 44.5 (6th highest)
> Avg. TANF cash assistance per month: $416 (14th highest)

Rhode Island does more to spread wealth among its residents than any other state. ...

December 11, 2012

Piling On the Taxpayer: 59 Illegal Alien Students Enroll at In-State Tuition Rates

Monique Chartier

The Providence Journal reports.

The Rhode Island Office of Higher Education said Monday that 59 undocumented students are paying in-state tuition rates to attend a state college or university..

This fall, 56 such students enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island, two at the University of Rhode Island and one at Rhode Island College.

Combined, they paid about $93,000 in tuition, compared with $261,000 they would have paid in out-of-state rates. They pay the full in-state rate and are not eligible for any federal financial aid.

I try not to criticize reporters, especially those here in Rhode Island, especially a reporter who appears to have broken this predictable and unfortunate development. But what does Jennifer D. Jordan mean by "full in-state rate"? In-state tuition is a CUT rate. There's nothing "full" about in-state tuition; it does not cover the cost of educating that student - at URI, not by a long shot. Using the term "full" here can only be described as misleading.

Jobs (i.e., the absence of e-verify), social programs (marked by the state's use of an 666 by-pass number), free health care (Medicaid), free primary and secondary education, and now in-state tuition - our elected officials have inexplicably lengthened, not shortened, the list of enticements for illegal aliens to come to the state and, correspondingly, increased the burden on the state's already overburdened taxpayer.

Terry Gorman's OpEd in today's GoLocalProv could not have been better timed.

What Illegal alien worth his salt, seeing all the above benefits, would not be enticed into making Rhode Island an ideal location for his family? How could he/she resist all of the benefits? We already are seeing the chilling effect Illegal Immigration is having on our State budget. How much more can we sustain without going over our own Fiscal Cliff?

The solution that most of us propose to address illegal immigration is eminently reasonable, minimalist, almost passive: implement e-verify for public and private sector employment, screen out unqualified applications for social programs, cease in-state tution for illegal alien students. This will discourage illegal immigration into the state and, correspondingly, begin reducing the involuntary expenses (primary and secondary education being the largest) that are mandated by federal law. The cost of illegal immigration directly impacts - i.e. INCREASES - both local and state taxes; accordingly, the argument that immigration is a federal problem with solely a federal solution rings entirely hollow. It's time that our state officials stop handing Rhode Island taxpayers the bill for policies that advance a political, selfish, quite destructive agenda and begin acting for the larger good - if not because it's the right thing to do, how about because the state is now dead broke despite being taxed to the max.

November 24, 2012

SEIU Local President: Woe Is Us

Monique Chartier

Apparently, the Governor had commissioned a study

of Rhode Island's infamously convoluted structure for hiring, firing and compensating state employees.

In that article from Wednesday's Providence Journal in which she reports that legislative leaders will be briefed soon about the findings of the study, Kathy Gregg also secured this comment from one of the potentially affected parties.

SEIU Local 580 President Philip Keefe is hopeful the effort will result in "a fair system of compensation... that will attract qualified folks into state service and [provide] some motivation for them to stay in state service."

"You know, we've been hit pretty hard over the last several years," he said, "between pay reduction days, increased contributions to our medical insurance, the decimation of our pension system, the elimination of our longevity [bonuses] ... I mean, what's the incentive now for state employees?"

A compensation level that often exceeds the private sector. Unparalleled job security. Excellent medical coverage with a fractional premium co-share. A work week that is usually shorter than most and no question of having to work extra hours, except on overtime. Vacation, sick, personal days galore. A pension or a 401k. (One item that stumps me: can someone remind me when the "decimation" of the pension system took place? To those of us without a pension or a retirement fund, an already generous pension minus COLA's looks like heaven, not decimation.)

It is very difficult, indeed, to visualize how such employment terms could evoke a despairing "How do we carry on???" reaction.

But perhaps I would better understand if I were to walk a ways in the shoes of a public employee. Should the head of any state or local government department have any openings and a desire to promote a better understanding of public employees, please by all means e-mail me. I promise to keep an open mind and try like mad to allow the despair to permeate me as I carry out my new responsibilities in the public sector under such compensation terms.

November 14, 2012

Free Cars!

Patrick Laverty

I'm just amplifying Tim White's latest WPRI report on the use, and possibly, abuse of state-owned vehicles for top politicians, titled "Taxpayer Taxi."

My immediate reaction is probably the same as everyone else's, why the heck do they have state-owned and even chauffeured cars? Seriously? Here are all the people who we are paying to have a car, and maybe all have a driver:
-Governor Lincoln Chafee
-Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts
-Treasurer Gina Raimondo
-Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed
-House Speaker Gordon Fox

Plus, possibly the Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis, but that has not been confirmed as his office has not yet responded to WPRI inquiries.

Wow. Five or six different politicians all need cars. Add to that, the Mayor of Providence also has a car. If you've been around City Hall, maybe you've noticed that the car has its own parking spot.

I try to be fair, so I can understand that maybe the Governor can be so busy that he can actually get work done by having a car and driver. I'm ok with that one and won't argue it too much. But the others? The Lt. Governor needs a driver? The Treasurer? I'm not buying it in the least. Certainly not for the Senate President or House Speaker either.

The article indicates that two cars were purchased for about $60,000. Plus $7,500 a year in expenses. Sure, the approximate $33,000 a year in expenses for those four or five unnecessary cars is a drop in the bucket in the whole state budget, but we're seeing many drops in the bucket. Can these people seriously not find any better use of $33,000 a year?

Add on to that, the article indicates the Senate President was using a Legislative Aide as her driver, who earns $39,000 a year. Is that the best use of a state employee? Is that what this person was hired for? Do we have five people making $39,000 a year to be chauffeurs? If so, that'd be another $160,000 we're spending.

One other part of the article that stuck out to me was Sen. President Paiva-Weed's statement:

"It was a tradition when the vehicle was acquired in 2007, prior to me becoming the Senate president," she said. "If in fact it came time to acquire a new vehicle … I would give some consideration that maybe we no longer need a state vehicle."
I would say that if a leader felt that way, then a leader would end the perk immediately. If she doesn't think it's something that she'd renew, that she isn't seeing the value in it, then why is it continuing? I would think there are only two options here, either she sees the value and she would sign a deal to continue the perk, or she doesn't see the value and should end the benefit immediately and sell the vehicle. It seems rather wishy-washy to tell Tim White that given the choice, you might not continue the benefit. SELL, SELL, SELL! That would show leadership.

Lastly, one other point that needs to be highlighted in Tim's article is one of the last statements he makes in the video, that there are no logs kept of where the vehicles go, what they're being used for, when they're used and who they are used by. Is this merely oversight or are they trying to hide something? Unfortunately and possibly unfairly, when this is the case, we have to assume the worst.

The usual response to reports like this is the people involved just wait and hope that things blow over and it's back to business as usual. I'm guessing that will be the case here, but maybe enough legislators will agree that enough is enough. If they're not willing to cut their legislative grants to plug holes in the budget, maybe they'll agree that these vehicles have got to go. It's time to put an end to this pork.

November 13, 2012

Heads Up, EDC General Assembly: Providence Has Gotten A Non-Surprising Economic Ranking

Monique Chartier

Rhode Island's real Economic Development Corporation, a.k.a., the Rhode Island General Assembly, goes back into session in less than two months. Recently, newly Elected Speaker Gordon Fox pointed to one of his top priorities for the session.

So let's frame this latest ranking, brought to our attention by GoLocalProv,

Providence ranks 94th among all U.S. cities in a new index tracking the economic strength of the nation's largest metro areas. What is worse? Only 102 cities were ranked.

so that it corresponds to this priority: Mr. Speaker, during the upcoming legislative session, can we please work on making Providence - and the entire state - a more economically friendly place for gays to live? We all - gays and straights - would definitely appreciate it.

November 7, 2012

Re: Re: Picking Up the Pieces

Patrick Laverty

In response to Justin's response, I emailed him this below. We figured I should share with all.

We're having separate discussions with a little overlap. It seems his central point is that RI voters are ok with spending like drunken sailors. I agree. We've seen that every two years. I thought to myself a while ago that it seems odd or even unfair that every bond question has at least one advocacy group but there's never anyone telling people the other side of bond issues. Plus, if anyone dares to speak out against the bond issues, the obvious response is that you hate education, you hate seniors, you hate roads, you're not smart fiscally if you can't see how it makes sense to put up $25M to get $225M. It's an easy counter-argument for some people. Our state budget is $8B. We can't find $25M in the budget to pay for the roads and get the other $225M from the feds? That usually draws either crickets or "but it doesn't work that way", at which point I just say that it should. For the state to bond $25M for roads is like charging a $10 meal at McDonalds and they pay it off 50 cents a month. That meal you had enough money to pay cash for is now costing you 50% more and you've needed more meals since then.

So Justin and I are completely on the same page there withe the approval of bonds. That is a huge problem in this state and as I've said, I'm willing to bet that 90% of the people who vote for the bonds also have no idea that they're voting themselves a tax increase. They think it's just the government's money. No big deal. They're spending someone else's money.

I think he also missed my point on grooming replacements. He wrote:

"There will be no farm team for Republicans because Republicans don't tend to love the operation of government that much;"
That's fine, I'm not advocating for the operation of government. There is a government and Republicans want to be a part of that. I'm saying that people like Hinckley, Riley and to a lesser extent, Doherty were in over their heads to just jump right to challenging such experienced and seasoned politicians. Where are these Republicans who rant and rail against the Democrats constantly? Why aren't these people moving up and helping newer, local, conservative-minded politicians?

We have an excellent example right now in Cumberland. In my eleven years in town, our Town Council has been 7-0 for the Democrats, with an occasional 6-1 thrown in for good measure. This year, the town Republicans ran four candidates for the seats and won three. That's a step in the right direction for good governance. All three are starting out politically, and they're doing it the right way. They're starting small and working their way through the system. Now if they had someone to help them along, someone or people that they could call when they have questions or ideas, that'd be a huge help. Someone to introduce them to the right people to help them move up so that if one or all of them someday want to move on to bigger seats, it's not the state's Republicans saying "who are you?" when they call for money or help. I don't see anyone at the state level who is available to help and mentor them, or at least be a sounding board of experience.

That's the system that needs to be in place. However instead, I feel there is a "what about me?" attitude even among some of the state's Republicans when it comes to someone helping.

That aside, I don't think we can really say that the actions of the national GOP and national candidates had no effect on RI at all. That was the central theme of the entire Cicilline campaign. It was "if we elect Doherty then we're electing Boehner." That was a big part of what scared people away. Yes, many national Republicans are smart and fiscally responsible, but the major failure of the Republicans is in defining themselves. They let Obama and the Democrats define them. Doherty let Cicilline define him. While Romney had to focus on the primary, Obama was reminding the country of the Bush Republican years, scaring them. Then when Ryan was picked, they found the worst parts of his budget and then spun it in the wrong ways (or right ways for Democrats).

In GoLocalProv this morning, RI GOP Chairman Mark Zaccaria is quoted as saying the Democrats are simply better politicians than the Republicans. The Democrats are better at campaigning. This year at least, that is true. I believe it's very possible that the Republicans would govern better than the Democrats yet they have to be a better politician first in order to show people how they'd govern better. Fail at step 1, you don't get to step 2. That's a part of the problem. The Republicans are failing at step 1. The Democrats get to fail at step 2.

Maybe the Republicans hate the game, maybe they don't want to learn how to be better politicians, that's fine. But that's like complaining that I want to be a winning baseball team, but I don't like getting better at hitting. "I don't like that part of the game. But I want to win!" Politics doesn't work that way.

I think the bottom line is Justin and I agree on many of the various problems and there is no single reason for the failings of this state. We see many and today we can hope the party will identify them and begin working to fix them.

Re: Picking Up the Pieces

Justin Katz

To be blunt, I think Patrick's analysis relies too heavily on one of the two clichés about Rhode Island politics that ought to be discarded.

Last night wasn't the RIGOP's fault, in any institutional way. It isn't some strategic error that's led to the party's status. It's the society in which the RIGOP has to operate.

Very closely related is the second cliché, touched on here by Ted Nesi in an analysis of last night's results:

The results seem to be another sign of how toxic the Republican brand has become in Rhode Island as the party has moved to the right nationally. The fierce conservatism of the GOP’s leading voices – Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Michele Bachmann – hasn’t resonated with a majority of voters in Rhode Island (or Massachusetts); Obama is on track to match his 63% Rhode Island vote share from 2008 despite all that’s transpired since.

Consider that paragraph in the light of his suggestion, Saturday, that RI Republicans need to invest in a departure from social conservatism. Ryan, McConnell, and Bachmann — especially Ryan — aren't the poster children for social conservatism. They're generally conservative across the board, yes, but that's not what Rhode Island Democrats are leveraging as a bogeyman.

Sure, scaring people about social conservatism remains a well-worn weapon in the Democrats' arsenal, but it is far from the biggest. If you take a frank look at the rhetoric at every level of campaigning, you see that it was fiscal conservatism — that of explaining how the numbers don't work and seeking to get out in front of the entitlement collapse, for example. Paul Ryan isn't a conservative hero based on fiery rhetoric about abortion or marriage. He's a hero for his chart-laden videos about entitlement reform and cutting analysis of ObamaCare.

And then look at non-candidate results. Personally, I found the most disheartening state-level results to be the debt that voters approved. Oh, I fully expected all or most of the bonds to pass, but consider the margins: 66%, 77%, 74%, 70%, 62%. This is the Rhode Island electorate treating it as a no-brainer to handle infrastructure projects in a way that makes it roughly 50% more expensive. This is Rhode Island green-lighting the continued use of the General Fund for discretionary spending while the state borrows for the basics.

Say what you will about the individual proposals, but this does not indicate high demand for fiscal conservatism. (And I don't see any evidence that social liberalism boosts Republican results.) Now ask yourself this: If same-sex marriage had been on the ballot, how would it have compared? It may or may not have won, but if it had, does anybody think it would have been by 70-something percent? Its advocates' aversion to putting it on the ballot suggests not.

That brings us back to Patrick's post. Having watched a political farm team grow in Tiverton, the stresses of this election taught a stark lesson. When you're the advocate for sustainable economic policies founded in individual self-reliance and community action outside of government, being inside government is very, very difficult. It's a constant fight against the political opposition and a constant strain among friends who disagree about what battles to pick and what compromises to make.

Increasingly, the Democrats here range from those who want to expand government for ideological reasons to those who want to be part of the ruling class and are willing to follow the formula. There will be no farm team for Republicans because Republicans don't tend to love the operation of government that much; they don't tend to want to rule much less be rope-pulling participants in the class that does.

So what's the solution? Well, on an individual level, it's to brace against the gathering storm, which in large part will entail reprioritizing our lives. On the social level, last night may have proven that we have to go a step further back, even, than political offices, to small-scope education, almost on the scale of person-to-person conversations, and a concerted effort to increase the number of people who see what we see.

November 6, 2012

2012 Election 10:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[11:19] Matt Allen on WPRO is saying all the major networks all calling the Presidential race for Barack Obama.

[10:58] MN called for Obama by NBC. Obama in OH 50-48, with 2/3 of the vote reporting, and 70% of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) left to report. Obama's Electoral College lead looks pretty solid at this point.

[10:20] Another direct Ted Nesi tweet: "JUST IN: Gordon Fox defeats Mark Binder 3348 to 2472, or 57.5% to 42.5%. A clear victory for the speaker after a tough challenge."

[10:16] Direct from the BoE, with 5 of 5 precincts reporting, incumbent Republican State Representative Dan Reilly has lost to Linda Finn in District 72.

[10:11] Bob Plain is tweeting that Gordon Fox is behind by 54 votes, with 77% of the vote in.

2012 Election 9:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[9:52] Ted Nesi: "Cicilline up by nearly 10,000 votes now with 88% of precincts reporting."

[9:44] Multiple sources reporting that Cicilline is opening up a 3% or so lead.

[9:40] Cicilline ahead of Doherty, 47.3-46.3, 59% percent of precincts in. And there are still a bunch of "delayed" Providence votes to arrive.

[9:36] Multiple sources have called NH for the President. With 45% in, NBC says Obama has a 51-48 lead in CO. Meanwhile, Obama is leading 53-46 in OH (also NBC). If the Prez wins both of those, that just about seals it.

[9:34] 81% in in FL, according to NBC. Romney and Obama separated by 400 votes.

[9:30] ABC says PA goes to Obama (via Haberman). NBC says WI goes to Obama. Not looking good for Romney.

[9:15] 76% in in Florida. Romney/Obama is 50-50.

[9:09] Ian Donnis (and the BoE by the time I finished typing this) reporting that Cale Keable defeats Donald Fox in Burrillville.

[9:06] Bill Haberman of WPRO is reporting that incumbent Republicans Frank Maher and Glen Shibley look like they will lose their Senate races.

[9:05] Looking hyperlocal for some good news; Don Botts has won his City Council race in Cranston.

[9:01] ...but you have to believe the precincts in Providence that are still voting are going to break heavily for Cicilline.

2012 Election 8:00 Ticker

Carroll Andrew Morse

[8:59] Check that; Ted Nesi tweets: "Cicilline, Doherty separated by just over 100 votes with nearly half of precincts in".

[8:55] 29% of precincts in District 1, Cicilline ahead of Doherty 47.8-45.9, from BoE result.

[8:48] Justin Katz, via Twitter, proposes a new state motto.

[8:46] Bill Haberman on WPRO just reported that all 7 RI statewide ballot questions look like they will pass.

[8:39] Numbers have just appeared on the BoE website.

[8:35] Ray Sullivan is tweeting that Lisa Tomasso has defeated Keith Anderson in RI House dist. 29. BoE website is still all zeroes on everything.

[8:30] Obama back ahead of Romney in Florida 51-48, according to NBC with "55% in".

[8:24] Cranston Patch says Frank Lombardi has beat Sean Gately. Also a report that Beth Moura has lost her Senate seat in Cumberland.

[8:23] Multiple reports from my Twitter feed of Jon Brien's write-in campaign in Woonsocket falling short.

[8:19] AP has also called Rhode Island for Sheldon Whitehouse. David Scharfenberg of the Providence Phoenix asks, reasonably, how was that done, given there was no exit polling in RI in this cycle.

[8:15] Now with "51% in", NBC has Romney ahead of Obama 51-49.

[8:12] Reliable sources say the Associated Press has called Rhode Island for Obama.

[8:06] Meanwhile, in Florida with about 41% of the vote in (NBC News), Barack Obama is leading Mitt Romney 51-49. There aren't many likely paths to a Romney victory, without Florida.

[8:01] The Providence Journal Twitter feed is reporting that at least one place in South Providence may stay open to accommodate a long line of people who haven't yet voted.

[8:00] It's official poll closing time in Rhode Island,but...

My Random Election Day Thoughts

Patrick Laverty

I might come back and update this post as the day goes on.

I voted at the same time today as I did on primary day. On primary day, I casted the seventh ballot at my precinct. Today, I casted the 184th. Where were you people?! Seriously. Do you realize that many elections are decided by the primary? That's an embarrassment that people don't vote every opportunity they have. In my opinion, if you miss any election, primary or general, you should need to sign up again before the next election. But that's just me.

I heard on both WPRO and WHJJ this morning that there are some (surprise!) irregularities already. Ballots being delivered to the wrong location. Wrong ballots were sent to South Kingstown and West Warwick and Woonsocket. To the point where voters were being told to go to a different polling location and submit a provisional ballot. My question there is whether it is possible to find out if a provisional ballot is accepted or rejected. But how does this mistake happen anyway? Someone messed up at the Board of Elections and sent to the wrong location. Then the local Board of Canvassers didn't check the ballots to make sure they were correct. Then the local poll workers didn't check to see if they were giving out the right ballots. Even worse, in one location, nine people filled out the wrong town's ballot! If you can't determine that you're filling out the wrong town's ballot, you probably shouldn't be voting! And don't tell me that they were all simply voting for the President.

Some quick messages from the Secretary of State's Office on voting today:
-Bring your ID to vote. Picture ID is not necessary this year, but bring some form of ID.
-Polls close 1 hour early this time. Most now close at 8 pm.
-Never let the poll workers turn you away. You may always at least cast a provisional ballot. If you want to vote, never leave without voting.
-With redistricting, your polling location might have changed. You can look it up here: https://sos.ri.gov/vic/. In the half-hour or so that I was in line, I saw two different people get sent to a different location because of redistricting. Save yourself the time and look it up.
-If you have any other questions or problems today, you can contact your local Board of Canvassers or the Secretary of State's Office, as they oversee the election process.

And if you couldn't tell, I'd really prefer it if you'd connect the line for Brendan Doherty today.

UPDATED: The ProJo tweeted at 9:16 that South Kingstown now has the correct ballots.

UPDATED: Commenter JTR wrote that when you cast a provisional ballot, you're given written instructions on how you can track the status of your ballot.

One theme on the Dan Yorke Show today is that people aren't happy with long lines and the customer service at the polls. In my experience, the workers do their best. It's not like these people do this stuff all the time. They're trained but things come up and their focus is usually on getting it right. If you want to see what it's like to be on the other side, sign up to work at the polls next time. It's a long, long day. You do have to be there for about 15 hours. There are no shifts, they may not leave. Let's cut the poll workers some slack.

Multiple people are reporting the same thing I saw this morning. More people with last names between A and L are voting than people with last names between M and Z. I don't get it. I have to assume that the board of canvassers know how many voters there are in a town and basically broke the list in half, rounding to the nearest letter. My experience was that I was about 20th in line in the A-L line and the people just kept queuing up behind me for about the 30 minutes I was in there. I saw maybe three people come through for the M-Z line. Did someone send a memo that A-L is before noon and M-Z after noon? Seems like a weird dynamic. Any thoughts on that?

November 5, 2012

Yet Another Symptom of One Party Domination: RI Last for Teacher "Attendance"

Monique Chartier

Kudos to WPRI's Tim White for catching this.

Rhode Island teachers were absent from school more than their colleagues anywhere else in the country, according to a report by a national think tank.

The findings – released Monday by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C. – examined data from the 2009-10 school year originally compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study shows 50.2% of Rhode Island teachers were absent 10 days or more in 2009-10, compared with the national average of 36%. Educators in Utah had the fewest absences, with 20.9% of teachers out 10 days or more.

Fourteen percentage points above the national average. And we would be remiss if we did not juxtapose this with the state's ranking - top 20% - for teacher pay.

One party has dominated the state for decades. That party has been notably deferential to certain special interests public labor unions, presumably in part on the theory that, what the hell, it's not my money I'm negotiating with. Accordingly, they can now add poor teacher attendance to the listing of all of the other bad rankings that they have inflicted on the state.

You may want to keep this in mind when you're voting tomorrow. I'm not suggesting that you pull the master lever for the Republican Party. I'm saying that if you pick mostly Republicans, you'll be accomplishing the same thing, except in a thoughtful way. And you'll simultaneously be giving yourself the flexibility to also vote for those good independent candidates who, if elected, will, along with Republicans, bring some badly needed political balance to the state.

November 3, 2012

What Comes Around Goes Around

Patrick Laverty

It's been interesting watching the RI Democratic Party Spokesman Bill Fischer bounce back and forth between arguments for his various clients. For months we've heard him talk about how Brendan Doherty won't talk about the issues and just wants to distract with senseless, meaningless things.

Then lately, Fischer tells us all about the alleged campaign finance violations that Gordon Fox's opponent, Mark Binder is engaged in. Binder is trying to talk about the issues and Fox's record as Speaker, but the Fox team just wants to talk about these commercials that are going out over the airwaves about the Speaker. At first, they weren't identifying who as behind the commercials. That part has been fixed. Then they complained about the lack of reporting these commercials on the financial reports. The Fox team kept reminding us that this kind of dirty politics is illegal and needs to stop.

Then today, I got a political mailer. What timing to get such a thing on Saturday before the election. Perfectly timed so there can be no response. The mailer has right on it a picture of Senator Beth Moura, Curt Schilling, the 38 Studios logo and the tag line: $105 Million Reasons Why Sen. Moura Has To Go. On the other side, it reads, "On Nov. 6th, send a message. No More Insider Deals. No More Moura."

Clearly, this mailer is intended to paint the blame for 38 Studios on Senator Moura. Well, I guess that would be fair if she voted for it. But she didn't. Why didn't she do more to stop it? Why wasn't she more outspoken to get the deal with the EDC killed? Couldn't she have done more? Very easy answer, no. Because she wasn't even a senator when that bill was voted on. Dan Connors sat in the Senate District 19 seat and voted for the bill. But yet, his vote is being used against Moura?

Why are these blatant lies allowed? Why can someone supporting Moura's opponent, Ryan Pearson, be allowed to do these things? I've seen Democrats howling about how Brendan Doherty has dragged his campaign into the gutter by telling the truth about David Cicilline and reminding people of who Cicilline is and what he's done. This mailer isn't even the truth. This is worse than a "Pants on Fire."

Why didn't the Democrats do anything about this? They can't claim to have known nothing about it, as when I did some searching to find out who the "Working Families Coalition" and their chairman Edward Johnson is, I found that they did similar things during the primary. I don't see where people like Ed Pacheco, Gordon Fox or Bill Fischer came out and denounced these actions. But yet when someone wants to tell the truth about their candidate, they get all worked up and start leveling charges.

By the way, I checked the Pearson campaign funding reports and I see no mention of Working Families Coalition reported, similar to what Fox is complaining about with Binder. No, there's no direct tie between the group and Pearson, but that's the case in the "Fox in the Henhouse" ads and Mark Binder.

It makes me wonder how many other campaigns are blatantly lying like this. Additionally, it's these types of lies that are really turning people off to politics. It's quite disgusting.

So Democrats, what say you? Are you going to show some leadership here and file a complaint with the Board of Elections against both the Working Families Coalition for an extremely misleading mailer and against Ryan Pearson for this ad? Or do you only do that when it's against you? Leaders can see past the partisan politics and act like adults. Or like Governor Christie.

ADDENDUM: Today (Sunday), Ryan Pearson released a statement indicating that he had no knowledge of the mailer before it was delivered. Additionally, he claims to have had no contact with the Working Families Coalition.

November 2, 2012

Heading to the Finish Line

Carroll Andrew Morse

I've been told (via various advertisements) that yes votes on ballot Questions 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 will each bring jobs. If it's that simple, maybe Rhode Island should consider adding 10 or 20 more questions to the ballot every two years, since they could all bring jobs too.

In the race for District 4 State Representative, incumbent (and Speaker of the House) Gordon Fox wants a careful review of all monies used in support of challenger Mark Binder (or used in opposition to Gordon Fox). I think Binder spokesman Peter Kerwin is correct to point out that if the Speaker's understanding of where the millions of dollars he helped appropriate to 38 studios was going had been as meticulous as his tracking of a few thousand dollars spent by political opponents, the state would be in better shape at the moment.

And speaking of 38 Studios, the state's Economic Development Corporation has filed a lawsuit involving the $75M loan guarantee made to 38 Studios. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Secretary of State, in consultation with the state's Housing Resources Commission, has sent out voter handbooks telling the voters that $225M in additional matching funds will become available if they approve Question 7, while question 7 advocates have publicly said the matching number will likely be closer to $125M. If the programs that use this bond don't get the additional $100M that they've been promised in the official voter handbook, is someone going to get sued? Oh, that's right, the SoS and the Housing Resources Commission are fully within the government, so they're allowed to make up numbers without consequence.

The Providence Phoenix pulled the Democratic master lever in its endorsements in this week's paper. Here's the beginning of their reason for endorsing incumbent Democratic Congressman David Cicilline...

[I]f Cicilline proved a less-than-ideal fit for an executive position — for a mayor's nuts-and-bolts management — he is well-suited to the legislature; Congress is the place where Cicilline might finally realize his potential.
The question is, what kind of potential is suggested by David Cicilline's eight years as a legislator on Smith Hill, where he voted to increase state spending from $3.5B to $5.4B (B as in billion), by voting for leadership budgets in 7 of 8 years in office and for their overall leadership spending framework in the eighth, when it comes to Federal spending that is predicted to grow from $3.6T to $5.5T (T as in trillion) over the next decade?

Finally, remember that, even if you start your voting by choosing the straight-ticket option, you can still mark your ballot for individuals of the "other" party in individual races, and it's the votes for the person and not the party that count in those races. As that absolutely reliable font of information, the Secretary of State's voter handbook says...

If you cast a straight party vote and also vote separately for an individual candidate or candidates for a certain office on the ballot, only the individual party candidate or candidates that you voted for separately will be counted for that office. The straight party vote will not be counted for that office, but it will still apply in all the offices you do not separately complete.
Be sure to tell a friend!

October 31, 2012

"Sharing" Is Good (?) - Gordon Fox Worked For Default Riddled Providence Loan Agency

Monique Chartier

Heh - ace investigative reporter Mike Stanton is at it again. Looks like 38 Studios is not the first time that Speaker Gordon Fox (D) has mucked around with a bad loan program. At least his own law practice didn't benefit directly from the 38 Studios arrangement. Can't say the same about his involvement with the PEDP.

... by the way, he was brought in by then-Mayor David Cicilline. During his tenure as chairman of the PEDP, Mayor David Cicilline presided over a 60% default rate by that taxpayer funded loan agency. But Cicilline made damn sure he brought in the right person to get a piece of that tax dollar action, didn't he, now?

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox has been a closing attorney for a troubled Providence economic-development loan program recently cited by the federal government for lax oversight and a high default rate.

Fox, a lawyer, has been paid $40,319 since April 2010 in closing fees on loans granted by the Providence Economic Development Partnership to assist city businesses.

In addition, Fox received an undetermined amount of money for handling closings from 2005 to 2010. The partnership says it doesn’t know how much, because Fox worked during that period as a “subcontractor” to the agency’s lawyer at the time, Joshua Teverow.

David N. Cicilline, then the mayor and chairman of the agency’s board, says that he hired Fox after a discussion between the two friends and political allies. Cicilline says he then asked the partnership’s executive director, Tom Deller, to arrange a meeting between Fox and Teverow “to share work at the PEDP.” ...

Whitehouse and Langevin Maintain their Leads in the WPRI Poll

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the other two Federal races in Rhode Island this year, both polled by WPRI-TV (CBS 12), incumbent James Langevin leads challenger Michael Riley 48%-31% (and independent Abel Collins receiving 9% of the vote), and incumbent Senator Sheldon Whitehouse leads challenger Barry Hinckley 55%-33%.

October 29, 2012

Jim Haldeman For House District 35: "I will serve my neighbors and townspeople ..."

Monique Chartier

The Democrat incumbent of House District 35 has been outspoken in his criticism of House leadership. However, in a press release on Thursday, his Republican opponent, Jim Haldeman, points out that the General Assembly leadership does not represent (as it were) the only special interest in Rhode Island politics.


Opponent in District 35 focuses on infighting among statewide power brokers to control the opposition party.

(Wakefield, RI) - The Committee for Haldeman responds to reports of Spencer Dickinson, opponent of Jim Haldeman in House District 35 (Wakefield, West Kingston, Kingston). Mr. Dickinson has spent recent days endorsing and supporting the opponent of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox in District 4.

"I have no interest in the fight over control of the party of my opponent. I have spent the last several months meeting the voters of South Kingstown. They are all that matter” stated Haldeman. He further noted “My service will always be to my constituency here where I live, not the power centers on Smith Hill.”

Spencer Dickinson has openly criticized House leadership. On critical legislation, Dickinson has opposed the Speaker and sided with special interest. Fundraising efforts by the Dickinson campaign indicate a reward for those positions, with $13,515 in PAC contributions from January 1, 2011 through the most recent filing period.

“My opponent portrays himself as a rogue, declining to bow to the wishes of current leadership. But rather than serving his home district, he continues to serve a different master battling to control the state. In contrast, I continue my campaign meeting and earning support of the citizens in District 35. I will serve my neighbors and townspeople, not some obscure master north of the Tower vying to be the dominant power broker of state policy” states Haldeman.

Voters will find Jim walking their neighborhoods or waving from street corners up to and beyond the election.

October 24, 2012

Oopsie, Gotta Declare Those Political Expenditures

Monique Chartier

... even if you're helping a progressive candidate in decidedly left leaning Rhode Island.

In the category of Neither of the Above is the House District Four race, Speaker Gordon Fox versus Mark Binder. Gordon Fox is, of course, a Democrat and his challenger is, if anything, to the left of him. (Cracked me up to see a commenter under this GoLocalProv article call Binder a Republican.)

A group opposing Speaker Fox's candidacy has begun running radio ads on WPRO. Over at On Politics, Ian Donnis has learned something interesting about the group.

Fox’s campaign spokesman, Bill Fischer, says the campaign was unable to find a filing for the group in a review of state campaign finance records. Fischer says he thinks the Concerned Citizens Against Gordon Fox organization is failing to meet requirements for campaign finance filings by political action committees. ...

Fischer says the ad violates state law because, among other reasons, it doesn’t conclude with a “personal audio statement” by the entity CEO or equivalent identifying the entity paying for the advertisement.

That's a no-no.

It would be nice to see a Democrat Speaker toppled (even though such an election result would not contribute to the much needed political balancing of the General Assembly). But everyone's got to play by the same rules. Even if the ends are worthy from a certain angle, the appropriate filings and corresponding disclosures have to be made.

October 19, 2012

"Everyone Knew"

Patrick Laverty

How many times have we heard our incumbent legislators tell us that they had no idea the $75 million addition to the EDC was for 38 Studios? Many times. Even Senator Daniel DaPonte, the Senate Finance Chairman, claimed during his Newsmakers debate that this was done "above my pay grade."

In the first hour on the Dan Yorke Show, Dan is playing audio from the Summit debate between Gordon Fox and Mark Binder. Fox is answering a question about the 38 Studios debacle and even states that legislators are saying that they didn't know, but that it was in all the newspapers. He even said, "Everyone knew."

So there you go. The Speaker is telling us that the General Assembly knew who the $75M was going to be for, in spite of many of them telling us otherwise. Who's lying?

Update: State Rep. Jon Brien called in to deny any knowledge that the legislators were aware that the money was earmarked for 38 Studios, along with a very detailed timeline of the events.

Update: State Rep. Rene Menard called in to also deny knowledge. He added that then-Finance Chairman Steven Costantino was questioned about where the $75M was going to go. Menard said Costantino told them that it was going to be dispersed in one to two million dollars to small businesses.

Update: State Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill called in to also deny knowledge. Said they were merely told that Schilling wanted to bring his company to RI, but there was never any mention of money or amounts. O'Neill claims that Fox was "one of five" people involved in the direct negotiations. Recounted Rep. Larry Ehrhardt offering an amendment to the $75M bill that would have capped the amount to any one business at $10M. Ehrhardt was asked to withdraw the amendment by Keith Stokes, without explanation as to why.

Update: State Rep. Charlene Lima called in to also deny knowledge. Said she questioned who the money was for and where was the transparency. She voted against it in the supplemental budget but then voted in favor of the $75M by thinking that some would go to small businesses in her district.

Update: On Newsmakers, Fox explained that this money was not "earmarked" because that would have been in violation of Separation of Powers. His explanation is the Assembly merely agreed to increase the program by $75M and then it was up to the EDC to decide how it was dispersed. (Starting at 14:00)

Update: Gordon Fox's campaign spokesman Bill Fischer came on to explain that Speaker Fox is not claiming that all legislators knew the $75 million was intended solely for 38 Studios. Fischer additionally stated that not even Fox knew that 38 Studios would get the $75 million. Fischer stated it was up to the EDC to decide what amount that 38 Studios would receive. Fischer announced that oversight hearings will begin during the next legislative session.

October 18, 2012

I'm Paying For What?!?

Patrick Laverty

Apparently I'm paying for the Burrillville-Glocester Youth Soccer Association. Excellent, can my child play there? Or how about the Elmwood Little League, where do I sign up? There's also the History Warren Armory, I've helped pay for that. Maybe I'll stop by the Richmond Community Center for some afternoon activities. And when I'm sick, I'll stop by the Block Island Medical Services. I'm helping to pay for all of those things, as well as a whole lot more. And so are you. If you pay taxes to Rhode Island, a portion of your money goes to these things through legislative grants.

If you're not familiar with legislative grants, here's generally how they work. Our legislators put in a request for an amount of money, from a few hundred dollars to as much as $25,000. Those requests go to the heads of the respective sides of the Assembly. House Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed sit in sole judgement of who gets the pieces of their pie. The lucky legislators are then able to appear in the local newspaper with a large game-show type check for an organization in their district.

To see exactly who got what, you can see it here: House | Senate

Many of us have been hitting on this for a while now. A few years ago, the House Republicans took a vow to never request any legislative grant money out of protest for the system by which the applications are accepted: behind closed doors. Additionally, when cuts were being made to the state budget for the developmentally disabled a couple years ago, Republicans offered to restore those funds, taking the money from the legislative grant program. Of course, that suggestion was denied by the Speaker and Senate President.

The entire budget is a couple million dollars for all of these little checks. But it wasn't an unreasonable question when retirees were asking why their pension was getting cut at the same time that legislators were smiling with their $1,000 check for the local Little League.

Moderate Party Chairman Ken Block put out his own press release today about his disgust over an East Providence State Rep being "proud" of handing out a $500 grant to a town youth softball team.

If the local youth leagues are coming up short of money and they need the extra $1,000, how about they raise rates. How much is that per registration? $4? Maybe five?

In my town, my property tax dollars go to pay for our Senior Community Center. Why do I have to pay for Centers in other towns too? Apparently, those towns don't budget or appropriate enough money to pay for them.

Where's the accountability? How are the decisions being made?

If the Speaker is serious with the promises he made in his letter to get this state moving again and get us back to the top, then this program should clearly be one of the very first things to cut. What do you say leaders? Is it time yet that you agree the legislative grants process needs to go?

October 14, 2012

Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation on Whether and How to Fix Social Security & Medicare

Monique Chartier

The Social Security "trust fund" is expected to run out of money in 2033; the Medicare "trust fund" in 2024.

Last year, Rhode Island finally faced and addressed - okay, only partially addressed ... actually, only partially AND with the inclusion of a trojan horse - the insolvency of its state public employee pension fund. (Insolvent municipal funds remain entirely unaddressed, as the Ocean State Current reminds us.)

This insolvency came about at the hands of decades of elected officials, who promised or reconfirmed unrealistic benefits and then failed to take the steps necessary to either make good on those promises or make the adjustments necessary to prevent the collapse of what was left of the pension fund.

Though aggregate Social Security benefits per retiree do not come close to the amounts of many Rhode Island public pensions (which, for decades, commenced after only twenty years of employment, were calculated upon a base of the highest three years of salary, sometimes bloated by OT and amplified by a COLA that, in some cases, compounded), both Social Security and Medicare are headed down the same fiscal path as some of Rhode Island's biggest public pension funds.

Accordingly, when we ask, "what is Congress doing to address this problem?", the answers supplied by Rhode Island's delegation are of particular interest in view of the state's painful attempt to fix a similar problem on an all but after-the-fact basis.

In August, Anchor Rising asked each member of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation the following questions:

> Does the Senator/Congressman believe that Medicare and Social Security are in good or acceptable fiscal shape long term?

> If not, what is the Senator's/Congressman's plan to fix them?

Below, in order of seniority, are the responses (or the lack thereof). Please note that Anchor Rising has made no evaluation as to the accuracy or adequacy of the proposals put forth.

Senator Jack Reed

Senator Reed declined to answer our questions.

[The contacts made with Senator Reed's office are listed after the jump.]

Congressman Jim Langevin

In response to Anchor Rising's questions, spokesman Jonathon Dworkin forwarded a press release. Below are the sections that seemed to pertain specifically to the questions.

By phasing out the Social Security payroll tax cap that benefits wealthier individuals and building on the future health care savings passed in the Affordable Care Act, we can continue to ensure Social Security and Medicare work for everyone. ...

Additionally, Social Security cannot and has not ever added to the deficit. Instead, the program currently has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Because the impending retirement of the baby boomer generation will strain the system, Langevin has advocated ending the payroll tax cap that allows wealthier individuals to avoid paying into the Social Security on income above a certain level. Legislation the Congressman has cosponsored that includes a change to this effect, the Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act, would ensure the program's solvency for the next 75 years.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

Anchor Rising posed these questions to Senator Whitehouse's Communications Director, Seth Larson. In response, Mr. Larson proffered the last two paragraphs of an August 15 press release.

In order to ensure the long-term solvency of Medicare, Whitehouse has pursued reforms in our health care delivery system that could significantly lower costs for both Medicare and private sector insurers. He is also working to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Medicare system and has cosponsored legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, an action which could save up to $24 billion annually according to a study by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

For Social Security, which is projected to remain solvent through 2033, Whitehouse has cosponsored the Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act, which would raise the cap on Social Security payroll taxes to include income over $250,000. By doing so, the bill would extend the life of the program by an additional 75 years.

Congressman David Cicilline

Congressman Cicilline declined to answer our questions.

[The contacts made with Congressman Cicilline's office are listed after the jump.]

Continue reading "Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation on Whether and How to Fix Social Security & Medicare"

October 10, 2012

Why Democratic Party Discipline May Be Harmful to the Health of Rhode Islanders

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island's Republican candidates for Federal office would like to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, aka Obamacare) with something different. Senate Candidate Barry Hinckley calls for outright repeal on his campaign website; Second District Congressional candidate Michael Riley wants most of it repealed while retaining certain provisions, and First District Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty has said he will support Obamacare repeal if it is coupled with an effective replacement. Rhode Island’s Democratic incumbents feel differently. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said in his first television advertisement that he is proud of having supported the new healthcare law and First District Congressman David Cicilline has made Doherty's willingness to repeal and replace Obamacare a major part of his TV advertising. Given this range of positions, Rhode Island voters need to give some consideration to the narrow range of healthcare options that the Obamacare structure commits them to.

A central feature of the PPACA is a fifteen-member executive-branch body, all members to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, called the Independent Payments Advisory Board (IPAB). Under the current law, IPAB proposals can acquire the force of law under certain conditions (and are expressly exempt from judicial review), unless the President and Congress agree upon alternate means for achieving certain fiscal targets. Functionally, IPAB is supposed to be the major cost containment measure in Obamacare, though at this time, according to the direct text of the legislation...

[IPAB proposals] shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums,...increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.

Congressmen Cicilline and James Langevin have actually voted in favor of having an IPAB not just once, but twice. The first time was during the initial passage of Obamacare, when the measure passed with no Republican votes, at around the time the Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was telling citizens and legislators alike that "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it". The second time was in March of 2012, when both Congressmen voted against a measure that would specifically repeal IPAB while leaving most of the rest of Obamacare intact. IPAB seems to be central to the Democratic vision of healthcare and not something peripheral, and all four members of Rhode Island’s Federal delegation have expressed support for some form of IPAB.

Though the point of IPAB is to contain costs, influential figures within Democratic policy circles have expressed skepticism that it can do so given the current limits on its mandate. Christina Romer, former Chairwoman of Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama, wrote in the New York Times that "even with the law...more steps to contain costs will have to be taken" and that "once [IPAB] has a track record...perhaps it could be empowered to suggest changes in benefits or in how Medicare services are provided". Steve Rattner, the man selected by President Obama to be his “car czar”, went even further in the Times -- scary further -- writing that IPAB could become an appropriate mechanism for rationing (he explicitly uses that term) because too much money is spent in the United States on end-of-life care. People like Romer and Rattner are not fringe academics; of course, they haven't been elected to office either -- but the whole point of IPAB is to put lawmaking power in the hands of people who haven’t been elected to office.

If IPAB in its current form fails to contain costs -- and there's little reason to believe that Chirstina Romer, Steven Rattner and standard economic theory are all wrong about a program of purchase mandates and government subsidies not being effective means to reduce costs -- representatives of the citizens of Rhode Island will likely be asked in the very near future to decide on a either a Democratic alternative to "enhance" IPAB or a Republican alternative to repeal IPAB and Obamacare-in-general and replace them with something else. Voters should be aware this November when making their choices for Congressman and Senator this November, that candidates who uncritically accept the national Democratic party line on this matter are prepared to lock their constituents into a very narrow range of healthcare choices: living with fantasy economics until fiscal calamity forces a change (always a Rhode Island favorite), or giving IPAB the power to implement rationing, or possibly both, to stay safely within the bounds of their political partisanship.

Brown Poll Gives Insight on RI Voter Mindset

Marc Comtois

The latest Brown Poll is full of approval ratings and horse-race numbers. Ian Donnis and Ted Nesi are just a couple of those breaking it down. For me, the most interesting was the contrast between question #15 and #16:

15. Would you describe the state of Rhode Island’s economy these days as excellent, good, not so good, or poor? excellent 0.0%; good 5.2%; not so good 32.1%; poor 61.3%; DK/NA 1.4%

16. Would you describe the state of your own personal finances these days as excellent, good, not so good, or poor? excellent 7.1%; good 54.2%; not so good 25.6%; poor 12.1%; DK/NA 1.0%

Basically, while only 5% of those surveyed say the RI economy is good, 61% say their own finances are either excellent (7%) or good (54%). Yet, they also think the state is going "on the wrong track":
17. Generally speaking, would you say things in Rhode Island are going in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track? right direction 16.3%; off on wrong track 60.9%; mixed 18.1%; not sure 3.7%; no answer 1.0%
So, to summarize, 93% of Rhode Islanders say the state's economy is not so good or poor, 61% say the state is headed the wrong way, but 61% also say they're doing OK. And the latter is the key. It is why we get this:
Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling the economy? approve 55.2%; disapprove 39.5%; DK/NA 5.3%
Despite worries about their neighbors or the state or the state, when it comes right down to it, people vote their own experience and interests. Or at least how they feel about it.

October 2, 2012

Playing with the WPRI Poll: Doherty/Cicilline Raw Numbers

Marc Comtois

Danger, math ahead. I confirmed with Ted Nesi that the WPRI poll breakdown for the 1st Congressional district was 45% Democrat, 40% Independent and 12% Republican. So, I thought I'd delve deeper into the Doherty/Cicilline poll numbers because I thought it could tell me something interesting about District 1 independent voters. It also gave me some perspective by looking at the raw polling numbers.

Basically, according to the poll, 250 voters were sampled in District 1. That left a margin of error of 6.2%, which also is roughly the margin of Cicilline's lead over Doherty. Keep that in mind. If we are to apply the poll breakdown offered by Nesi, above, and apply that to the raw voter numbers, we come up with, roughly, 112 Democrats, 100 Independents, 30 Republicans and 8 "other".

Taking the percentages from the poll for the Doherty/Cicilline race and breaking them down by party ID (including "Independent" but excluding "other"), we find the following:

73 votes for Cicilline
20 votes for Doherty
5 votes for Vogel
12 undecided

47 votes for Doherty
34 votes for Cicilline
7 votes for Vogel
11 undecided

25 votes for Doherty
2 votes for Cicilline (who they hell are they? - ed.)
3 votes for Vogel
0 undecided

Tally it up and you get:

109 votes for Cicilline
89 votes for Doherty
15 votes for Vogel
23 undecided

So by the raw vote, Doherty trails Cicilline by 20 votes in this poll. There are still 23 undecided. That's within the margin of error.

As for my original question? Well, it looks like independent voters favor Doherty, although, by using the voting for/against questions, it is interesting to see that actual Independent "support" for each candidate is tied and the Doherty advantage is provided by those voting AGAINST Cicilline. (30 Independent voters are voting FOR Cicilline and 29 FOR Doherty while the breakdown for AGAINST is 5 against Doherty & 17 against Cicilline).

Things We Read Today (22), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Economic development options, from all-government to government-dominated; the heartless-to-caring axis in politics; Southern New Englanders' "independence"; solidarity between Romney and his garbage man; the media coup d'etat.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

Playing with the WPRI Poll: Doherty/Cicilline

Marc Comtois

The latest WPRI poll (story here) offers some interesting and somewhat confusing numbers regarding the Cicilline/Doherty race. First, we know that the majority of RI voters are either Democrats or Democrat-leaning unaffiliated (ie; independent) voters. Hence, we shouldn't be surprised that David Cicilline leads Brendan Doherty 44% to 37.6% with 10% undecided and 6.4% for independent David Vogel. (Incidentally, Cicilline's lead is just outside the polls margin of error of 6.2%).

But then there's apparently some sort of cognitive dissonance going on when we look at the approval ratings for each. It's reported that Cicilline's job approval is "rated excellent or good by 38% of 1st District voters...while 55% rate his performance fair or poor." So we're to believe that there is a 6 point (negative) difference between Cicilline's approval rating and those who say they intend to vote for him?

Well, I believe it.

Essentially, Cicilline's 6 point lead over Doherty is attributable to voters who rate his job approval "fair or poor", but in actuality, 21.2% of those surveyed gave Cicilline a "only fair" rating. And in this blue-blue state, "only fair" isn't enough of a disincentive for many Democrats ( or those "independent" unaffiliated's) to divorce themselves from the Donkey. So, if I were framing these poll results, I'd say at least half of those rating Cicilline fair will still vote for him. That puts him around 48% (heck, it could even really be 58%).

Comparing Cicilline's "job approval" to Doherty's "favorability" and trying to compare to the poll results for the actual horse race is difficult because the poll choices for them are different. For Doherty, 23% view him very positively, 25.7% somewhat positively, 12.2% somewhat negative, 8% very negative and 31% don't know. These questions create clearer lines of demarcation to my mind. Basically, 48.7% view Doherty positively, 20.2% negatively and 31.1% don't know. I wonder why voters aren't aren't asked "favorability" questions about incumbents, as well as challengers, in this manner? Regardless, one could argue based on the above twisting of the numbers that the race is still neck and neck with each candidate getting about a 48% favorability rating! How's that for spin?

In actuality, the race is probably about where the poll says it is. Doherty has a 10 point deficit with those 60 years old and up and around 13 points among women. But he still has a shot with 10% undecided. 1 month to go.

September 28, 2012

Tiverton Toll Meeting Shows Rhode Islanders Have to Stop Fighting Fire with Paper

Justin Katz

Last night, I attended the first organizational meeting for the Tiverton branch of Sakonnet Toll Oppostion Platform (STOP), a cross-community effort to stop the state of Rhode Island from placing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge.  If I was skeptical about the ability of residents to prevent the tolls before, I'm pretty well convinced that the people of the East Bay will not be able to stop them, now.

The audience consisted of approximately fifty residents, from a broad variety of local groups and interests — many most often seen in heated attacks against each other over the usual slate of issues that face the town.  Even though the only state-level official in the room was Sen. Walter Felag (D, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren), the opportunity should be there, in other words, for some effective leaders to draw on the strengths of the different groups to affect state-level lawmakers.


Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 27, 2012

Brien Claims Primary Opponent Violated the Hatch Act

Marc Comtois

According to Ian Donnis (via Twitter UPDATE: Ian has more), Rep. Jon Brien is claiming his primary opponent, "was ineligible due to a Hatch Act violation" because "Stephen Casey works for a fire department that gets federal funding." Without having heard the specific claims, here is what the Hatch Act says, according to a Federal website:

Hatch Act: Who is Covered?

State and Local Employees

The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. Usually, employment with a state or local agency constitutes the principal employment of the employee in question. However, when an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is generally deemed to be that job which accounts for the most work time and the most earned income.

The following list offers examples of the types of programs which frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government: public health, public welfare, housing, urban renewal and area redevelopment, employment security, labor and industry training, public works, conservation, agricultural, civil defense, transportation, anti-poverty, and law enforcement programs.

Hatch Act provisions also apply to employees of private, nonprofit organizations that plan, develop and coordinate federal Head Start or Community Service Block Grant programs.

State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, administrative leave or furlough.

State and Local Employees – Prohibited Activities

Covered state and local employees may not:

be candidates for public office in a partisan election;

use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination; or

directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, or advise a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency, or person for political purposes.

State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act should note that an election is partisan if any candidate is to be nominated or elected as representing a political party, for example, the Democratic or Republican Party.

A note of caution - an employee’s conduct is also subject to the laws of the state and the regulations of the employing agency. Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state or local laws.

Wikipidia notes that "The Hatch Act bars state and local government employees from running for public office if any federal funds support the position, even if the position is funded almost entirely with local funds." (source). Seems like this wouldn't be the first time a local government employee has run for office. Is this just the first time anyone thought to bring up the Hatch Act?

September 26, 2012

Gay Marriage: Winning by Losing, or Something

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis wonders, "Was Laura Pisaturo’s loss to Michael McCaffrey actually a win for same-sex marriage supporters?"

[A] closer reading of the election reveals a more nuanced outlook — one in which same-sex marriage could have a better shot of passing the Senate in 2013 than widely recognized.

The outlook remains murky, to be sure, even for close observers of that chamber. But consider the following:

– Although McCaffrey beat Pisaturo with 53.3 percent of the vote, the margin dividing them (226 votes) was relatively close for an incumbent with a big war chest who hadn’t faced a challenger in some time.

So does McCaffrey, a potential sucessor to Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, want to face another such challenge? (He didn’t return a call seeking comment.) Pisaturo says she didn’t present herself as a single-issue candidate, yet part of the reason for backing her would fade away if the Senate backed same-sex marriage....

For her part, Pisaturo declines to make any predictions about the fate in the Senate of same-sex marriage legislation. She says it’s too early to know whether she’ll run again in 2014. (Pisaturo says, too, that jobs and the economy, and changing the culture of the Statehouse, were bigger issues in her campaign than same-sex marriage.).

The battleground is in the primary, and Donnis' observation that the pressure felt by McCaffrey this time around may affect his decision to block any such vote in the Senate going forward is a viable possibility. (Though I would note that McCaffrey's war chest, which is still pretty big, was offset by outside help from single-issue--gay marriage, pro-abortion--PACs). But Donnis also quotes Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri who says, in affect, the tide is turning and gay marriage could be passed in 2013. I have my doubts.

A look at the historic election returns for McCaffrey's district in Warwick may provide some helpful context.

YearPrimaryGeneralDiff.Primay OppGeneral OppNote
1994ND4923--Y (3621)Governor
1996156464114847NY (1728)President
2000178664764690NY (1984)President
20121831?-Y (1605)?President

*NOTE: "Governor" and "President" indicates election year coincided with a state- or national election. Opponent vote totals are in ( ) in respective "Opp" columns.

First, it's clear that the 2012 primary between McCaffrey and Pisaturo saw a higher level of turnout than all of McCaffrey's previous primaries. That's to be expected since he's run unopposed since at least 1996 (and possibly 1994, but there was no primary election data at the RI Board of Elections web site for that year). Also unsurprising is that the closest election McCaffrey had ever had--up to the 2012 primary--was the 1994 General Election contest--his first--when he beat his Republican opponent by 1300 votes. Since then? Smooth sailing until this year's primary.

One other item of interest is that, since 2000, McCaffrey has received more primary votes (when he's usually the only candidate running!) during years in which there is a gubernatorial primary (which are "off year" elections) in Rhode Island than during Presidential election years. I wonder if that is the norm statewide? Anyway, since 2002, he's run unopposed in every General election contest and has received anywhere between 7500-9700 votes. In the general elections when he did have a Republican opponent, he garnered 5,000-6,000 votes.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, based on historical numbers, lets say there are around 10,000 likely voters in the district. I think it's a safe assumption to make that the most vociferous and motivated gay marriage supporters (Democrats and unaffiliated) turned out for Laura Pisaturo in the Democratic Primary. In total, around 3,400 Democrats voted in the primary. Less than half of them (1,600) supported a gay marriage candidate.

According to Ferri, we are to believe that the 7,500 or so unaffiliated voters, who are mostly of the same socially conservative, pro-labor union mindset as McCaffrey (and include 1,800 or so Republican/Repulican-leaning unafilliated voters)--and don't include the hard-core gay marriage supporters who already supported Pisaturo in the primary--are on the cusp of pushing for gay marriage. I just don't think so.

In actuality, I don't think many care because it's not the most important thing on their radar right now. That would be the economy. Something our General Assembly should really be focusing on, not this stuff.

September 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Incumbent Conservative Democrats

Marc Comtois

Conservative Democrat Senator Michael McCaffrey won his primary last week. Conservative Democrat Representative Jon Brien lost his primary last week. The difference: union support.

Both have stated they are against gay marriage. Both are (I believe) pro-life. Yet, the NEA, AFSCME, the local carpenters union and others endorsed McCaffrey. Brien lost to a firefighter with union support. Brien didn’t lose because he supported 38 Studios, he lost because he was a Democrat who regularly took on the unions and the unions turned out their vote in a low turnout primary election. That’s the way the game is played. On the other hand, McCaffrey had the support of the unions, who helped him stave off a challenge from essentially a single-issue (gay marriage) candidate who had outside funding that helped to bolster her campaign. Without union support, McCaffrey would have lost. Without union support, Brien did lose.

It’s a lesson that probably won’t be missed by that unique-too-Rhode Island species, the conservative Democrat. You can go against the liberal Democratic/progressive ideals on social issues and still win, so long as you don’t go against the unions.

September 17, 2012

Rhode Island Politics: a Game That the State Can't Win

Justin Katz

People periodically give me incredulous looks when I tell them I dislike politics.  The campaign horse race is a roundabout annoyance of spin, and more importantly, it simply isn’t appropriate to view politics as a team sport.  Depending on the level of government, thousands or millions of people’s lives are directly affected by the policies that result.

Note that I’m saying that the team-sport mindset is not merely inadequate or imperfect; I'm insisting that it is inappropriate.  There’s just no such thing as an objective referee or rules.  Imagine if, over the course of some major sporting event, the winning team were able to rewrite the rules in their favor.  We'd rebel against that even when nothing more is invested than our ticket price for entertainment; how much more ought we to recoil from it in relation to our very communities!

Yet, sports may be the closest metaphor available for us to organize the idea of politics, with its mix of partisans and special interests in competition, into a form that we can get our heads around.  Thus, WPRI's Ted Nesi comments, in his bullet-pointed Saturday column.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Currenet...

September 12, 2012

RE: The Senate District 29 "Bellwether"

Marc Comtois

Just a follow up on yesterday's post regarding the Senate-29 Democratic primary race between incumbent Michael McCaffrey and challenger Lisa Pisaturo, which McCaffrey won by 6% in a low turnout election. A Pisaturo win would have undoubtedly been taken as a sign that the Rhode Island electorate was ready to embrace gay marriage. But what about a loss? It depended on the margin and turnout, I thought. Let's see. Dan McGowan played it straight:

The Senate Judiciary chairman [McCaffrey] got his first real challenge in years, but was able to hold off Laura Pisaturo, who had strong backing from the marriage equality group, Fight Back RI.
David Scharfenberg:
Tonight's Democratic primaries were not kind to gay marriage supporters, who claimed just one of six key state senate races....After tonight, then, it is hard to see a significant change in the balance of power in a state senate where about half of current members are opposed to gay marriage, a third are in support, and the rest are in the toss-up category...The only consolation for advocates is that none of the races - with the possible exception of Pisaturo's challenge to state Senator Michael McCaffrey - can be read as a referendum on gay marriage, which was little mentioned on the campaign trail. Indeed, public polling suggests solid majority support for same-sex nuptials in Rhode Island, which bodes well in the long term.
So the results weren't good for gay marriage advocates but that doesn't matter because only one race (McCaffrey/Pisaturo) really highlighted it....and polling! Okay. Bob Plain went with the "noble loss" theme:
While both Lauara Pisaturo, of Warwick, and Bob DaSilva, of East Providence, lost, they both had strong showings and only lost to powerful incumbents by a total of of less than 300 votes. That doesn’t speak well for Michael McCaffrey or Dan DaPonte, who beat them, both who are committee chairmen and are in the good graces of leadership. Their votes may not change on marriage equality because of the nail-biting victories (though DaPonte was on the fence) others may swing once they see that even powerful incumbents can be vulnerable.
I'm sure they're a-scared now. Interestingly, Plain didn't talk much about how Pisaturo and the other hyped gay marriage candidates got substantial, late-in-the-game funding from what is essentially a one-man evil--no it's not, it's for a progressive cause! Super-PAC, as reported by Scharfenberg:
Tim Gill, a reclusive technology magnate from the Centennial State, is the leading figure in a nationwide network of gay rights activists who have been funding state-level legislative races for years now in a bid to tip the balance on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues. He recently poured $20,000 into a group called People for Rhode Island's Future that is backing six pro-gay marriage state senate candidates.
Finally, Warwick Beacon reporter Kim Kalunian tweeted this from Pisaturo's concession speech:"fear and hate...put into people's minds on marriage equality" created a "backlash".

Conclusion? While six gay marriage supporting Democrats received funds from a single-issue Super PAC, only Pisaturo's race (and maybe DaSilva's) was actually a referendum on gay marriage. Their close losses prove that powerful, connected pro-union but socially conservative politicians--who rely on "fear and hate"--should be on the lookout next time around. Got it?

September 11, 2012

Senate District 29: Bellwether....until it's not?

Marc Comtois

The local media and gay marriage advocates are tabbing Rhode Island Senate District 29 in Warwick as "one to watch" as a mini-referendum on gay marriage in the state. David Scharfenberg sums it up:

Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer who backs same-sex nuptals, is facing off against Senator Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who opposes gay marriage and holds a critical post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the same-sex marriage bill. McCaffrey's re-election could have long-term ramifications since he is considered a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.
Ted Nesi is a good gauge on the local media's conventional wisdom:
One of the most closely watched races in the state. Gay-marriage supporters are gunning for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike McCaffrey, another veteran accused of being out-of-touch with his district. Their candidate is Laura Pisaturo, a self-assured lawyer who’s become the face of Fight Back RI’s push to overthrow the Senate status quo. McCaffrey is clearly in some trouble, but he’s been around for a long time and has union support after sponsoring a bill to give teachers binding arbitration. The ground game will decide his fate, and that’s the strong suit of Pisaturo operative Ray Sullivan; are McCaffrey supporters energized enough to show up, particularly without much else on the ballot?
While reliably progressive Bob Plain observes:
As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, [McCaffery] and Paiva Weed have been close allies in their quest to keep gay couples from enjoying the same marital rights as others. Being popular with leadership doesn’t always translate to strength in the district and Warwick may well be ready for a change. Pisaturo enjoys the support of the progressive community and she’s been working hard to get out the vote. McCaffery, who sponsored the binding arbitration bill, has the support of the NEA. Some handicappers think Pisaturo could squeak out a victory; everyone seems to agree it will be close.
My analysis is based simply on the fact that I live in the district. Both will run strong in their own neighborhoods (Hoxsie, Cole Farm & Conimicut for Mcaffrey; Governor Francis area for Pisaturo), but I think McCaffrey's support is deeper throughout the district than many pundits apparently (or want to) believe. He's a prototypical socially conservative, pro-union Democrat who mirrors his mostly working-class district.

While both Nesi and Plain mention that he has the support of the NEA (no word on AFT, though, which is the union that Warwick teachers belong to), McCaffrey also garnered support of several other unions--Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades Council, Carpenter’s Union Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 57. And believe me, Police and Fire will also support him. While McCaffrey's list of endorsements reads like an alphabet-soup laundry list of unions, Pisaturo's reads like a progressive's dream--National Association of Social Workers, Clean Water Action, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Fight Back RI, The Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood Votes! and National Organization for Women.

Again, as his endorsements indicate, McCaffrey mirrors his district while Pisaturo is reflective of a socially liberal tablet that, to my experience, doesn't really exist in most of District 29. However, there is a "live and let live" attitude and, as in so many other districts, McCaffrey will need both union Democrats and non-affiliated "traditionalists" to come out. He can't count on any Republican cross-overs in a primary. Nonetheless, while it will come down to the ground game, in the end I think McCaffrey wins comfortably.

If McCaffrey loses or it's close (either way), then I think it will be because not enough voters were motivated in the primary (we'll be able to tell by turnout). Thus, a close Pisaturo win in a light-turnout primary won't strike me as any sort of groundswell endorsement for gay marriage, at least in this District. But it sure will be spun that way. On the other hand, if I'm right and McCaffrey wins comfortably, will this race still be considered the gay marriage bellwether that so many progressive have touted? Somehow, I doubt it.

September 9, 2012

Things We Read Today This Weekend, 6

Justin Katz

First, scroll down and read Monique's postings on Rep. Spencer Dickinson. Then...

The topics of hope and hopelessness pervaded this weekend's readings, from absurd labor rules in schools, to the likely outcome of Make It Happen, to Spencer Dickinson's insider view, and then to Sandra Fluke.

Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 3 of 3: “The legislature is designed to perpetuate itself and its privileges, and to cover up problems.”

Monique Chartier

Following is Part Three of the five page letter that Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) sent in the last few days to constituents to make the case for voters to choose him over his Democrat challenger in Tuesday's primary. (Part One. Part Two. Full letter as a PDF.) Beyond partisanship, the letter is a valuable insight both for District 35 and around the state because it offers an eye-opening and disturbing first hand report into the workings of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

So where is the problem?

The problem is with our speaker and the system he employs. A careful observer of our Rhode Island house would note that our representatives are not so much legislators as electors. What they do is select from among themselves the smartest person in the room to be speaker. Then they sit back and allow the speaker to be a dictator.

There are dissenters, but a program of fear and vindictiveness is designed to minimize their number. The others understand they are expected to go along. And many are able to do this. The representatives who sat at my right and left voted invariably - invariably - with the speaker. l also know that what they think sometimes does not match how they vote. At times this can be hard for them, but there are rewards.

The model of speaker as dictator shows itself in the way the committees operate. A lot of what you see on Capitol TV and in the Committee rooms is nothing more than show business. Testimony is taken in front of a camera and sometimes there are questions. There is continuity of testimony but there is little continuity of listening. Members come and go during the meeting. Chair and co-chair seamlessly hand control of the meeting back and forth. But few members hear a continuity of arguments pro and con. They don't bother because it doesn’t matter. There is no deliberation. They will not participate in determining the bill’s disposition.

Committee rooms have become studios and there are TV cameras all over the building. The one place where there is no camera is the speaker’s office when he is talking to a lobbyist. That’s where a camera is needed because that’s where the deliberation takes place and that's where the decisions are made. Weeks or months after a hearing, bills come back to a Committee for a vote. While the hearings may take hours, the meetings where we vote typically take only a couple of minutes. Once there is a quorum, the votes are called in quick succession, usually with no discussion. None needed. The speaker has made his decision. The members are more than happy to go along. But if the speaker is truly the smartest man in the building, why is there a problem?

The problem is that it does not work. The system that has evolved in the Rhode Island legislature is not a functioning model for problem solving. The legislature is designed to perpetuate itself and its privileges, and to cover up problems.

Consider the facts:

- The economy is bad. We are typically first in and last out of a recession.
- The housing market is bad. People can't move to new opportunities.
- We have the second highest unemployment rate.

Continue reading "Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 3 of 3: “The legislature is designed to perpetuate itself and its privileges, and to cover up problems.”"

Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 2 of 3, Redistricting: “the Speaker had identified three [Democrat] representatives whom he was determined to prevent from being re-elected.”

Monique Chartier

Following is Part Two of the five page letter that Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) sent in the last few days to constituents to make the case for voters to choose him over his Democrat challenger in Tuesday's primary. ( Part One. Full letter as a PDF.) Beyond partisanship, the letter is a valuable insight both for District 35 and around the state because it offers an eye-opening and disturbing first hand report into the workings of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

As we began our second year, the big agenda item was redistricting. Looking at the final maps, it was clear that the Speaker had identified three representatives whom he was determined to prevent from being re-elected. One was Rene Menard, a retired Woonsocket firefighter, who, though lacking a law degree, may be one of the best lawyers in the building. His great uncle was speaker, and Rene has served for 22 years. He cannot be bought, is fearless on the floor, and reads every bill. He finds and points out embarrassing defects in what comes out of Committee, and often forces amendments, corrections and delays.

The second was Bob DaSilva, a Pawtucket police officer who lives in East Providence. While he is an imposing man, in many ways he seems just like any other legislator. Anyone can stand up and speak, to voice an opinion, explain a viewpoint. But Bob is different. He has a gift. While Bob is talking, people actually begin to change their minds. This is a threat to the speaker that has caused him embarrassment on a number of occasions. The speaker needed to get rid of these two, not just to take them out of the equation, but to show his power and to set an example. To teach a lesson to other legislators.

The third person on the list of examples, people who had to go, and whose defeat would put fear into others, was me. While I am not happy with the treatment, I am proud and flattered, as a freshman legislator, to be in the company of Rene Menard and Bob DeSìlva.

At first the plan to get rid of me was a simple one. Mike Rice had voiced his intent for a rematch with me just hours after the last primary was over. He had lost the primary because he had let down his guard. Now he believed he could do better. It was no secret that he was in communication with the speaker's office and hoped for some key assistance.

When the possibility of a challenge showed itself, I had no problem with it. It's a free country. He was entitled to a rematch.

As the redistricting issue began to be considered in the fall of 2011, it appeared to me that it would have little impact. My district, District 35, had an excess of about 600 residents. The neighboring district, District 34, was lacking about the same number. Federal law required moving the line to balance the population. Since there were no special problems in neighboring districts, the answer was simple. The first map prepared by the consultant reflected that. It moved the line to shift 600 people. I saw Map A, was not surprised, and took on a false sense of security.

In spite of the usual jokes about gerrymandering, the fact is that federal law does not allow moving district lines for the sole purpose of achieving a specific political outcome.

Continue reading "Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 2 of 3, Redistricting: “the Speaker had identified three [Democrat] representatives whom he was determined to prevent from being re-elected.”"

Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 1 of 3: “the [Speaker’s] chief of staff was a political operative who considered everything of value to be under his control”

Monique Chartier

Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) faces a Democrat challenger in this Tuesday’s primary. In the last few days, he mailed out a five page letter to some, or possibly all, of his constituents, making the case for voters to choose him over his challenger, Councilwoman Kathy Fogarty, at the polls on Tuesday. (Full letter as a PDF.)

While I don’t agree with much of Rep Dickinson’s political philosophy or voting record and Anchor Rising does not customarily offer an extended writing by a Rhode Island Democrat, Rep Dickinson’s letter is quite valuable inside District 35, around the state and beyond partisanship because it offers an eye-opening, first hand report by a Democrat into the workings of the Democrat controlled General Assembly. It confirms the iron political fist that close observers have strongly suspected that the Speaker of the House wields on legislation and provides a fascinating and disturbing behind-the-scenes look at exactly how and why one particularly important legislative matter – redistricting – played out.

For those reasons, I am posting Rep Dickinson’s letter, broken into three parts of unequal length and with added titles for easier reading. The second and third parts will go up an hour and two hours from now respectively. Without further ado …

Dear Neighbor,

Two years ago I asked you to send me to Providence to deal constructively with some issues we all knew were troubling the state.

Now, as I ask for your vote again, I have to report that what l found was very discouraging. The culture of the state house and the problems I encountered were far worse than I thought. What follows is a long letter. To those who read it, I hope it will be of value.

You will learn my story, and you will read things that you don’t see in the newspaper. I will lay the cards on the table, and I will tell you the truth. Not a pretty picture. If, when you’re done, you think there's something that I have missed, or if there is something else you would like to know, then call me. We will talk, and I will answer your questions.

Shortly after I was elected, I was put under intense pressure to support Gordon Fox for re-election as speaker of the house. I had expected some solicitation, but I was surprised by the desperate intensity I was hearing. Having served with four speakers in an earlier career, I thought I knew how the speaker’s office worked. I was surprised to learn that some things are very different now.

I knew that Brendan Fogarty worked for the Speaker. What I did not know, and what Brendan did not tell me, was that he could do nothing on his own, even in district politics, without approval of the speaker’s chief of staff, and that everything had a political price. When I asked Brendan for the favor of stepping aside and allowing me to appoint my own district nominating committee, I viewed him in his capacity as South Kingstown [Democrat] party chair. I did not know that the chief of staff was a political operative who considered everything of value to be under his control.

In my previous time in the legislature, there was never any suggestion that an elected representative would take orders from or negotiate politically with a paid staff member. l was surprised when the chief of staff told me, with Brendan listening, that there was no need for me to talk to Brendan, because Brendan took his orders from him. I was honestly a little embarrassed for Brendan when I heard this. l had thought the question of the district committee could be resolved between the two of us.

By that time, I had already agreed to support Gordon Fox for speaker. I had done this on the advice of friends, and had asked for nothing in return.

I was soon surprised to learn that this was not enough. Much more was going to be expected. I had been operating under the belief that I was working for 14,000 constituents. My compensation was to be $14,000 a year and the satisfaction of knowing I might have accomplished something. Nothing else. No title, no special office space, no job for a relative, no legal fees or contracts thrown my way.

I was prepared to work on issues, build trusting relationships, and find consensus in solving problems. What I was not prepared to do was take orders from an unelected staff member, or anyone else for that matter. I soon saw that I had to make that clear, and I did. Though I did not know it at the time, I think my future relationship with the leadership was defined at that moment.

Some of you may or may not agree with my votes, but I can tell you that with regard to the important ones, they are well-informed and thoughtfully considered. In the case of the pension reform bill, I attended every briefing, every conference, every hearing available. I met with the treasurer’s staff, and with the treasurer herself. On my own initiative, I developed an amendment which was my perception of what a middle ground compromise would look like.

In my first year, 2011, I supported the overwhelming majority of the bills presented to us. There were two or three notable exceptions. These exceptions were not well-received. Even worse, as l was told later, was my willingness to propose workable alternatives or to stand up and advocate for them. The speaker is accustomed to getting what he wants and does not comfortably tolerate dissent.

Cicilline and the "Locked Out" Auditor - PolitiFact Does the Right Thing And Doesn't Shield Him Behind a Technicality

Monique Chartier

Alright, alright, I'll say it! Much as it pains me to admit it in view of their unfortunate record on so many other ratings, PolitiFact did a very good job rating an important and inaccurate statement that David Cicilline's made during the WPRO Dem primary debate Tuesday night.

Below is my transcription of the exchange, which starts at around minute 6:50, with the statement rated by PolitiFact in bold. Kudos to both Anthony Gemma and WPRO's Bill Haberman for eliciting this ... development.

Gemma: "... The fact of the matter is, that he locked out the City Auditor. So, why would you lock out the City Auditor ... when you're not trying to hide something? ..."

Haberman: "Congressman, that auditor issue has come up a lot."

Cicilline: "That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so ... that is absolutely untrue."

An important component of David Cicilline's 2010 congressional bid consisted of a protracted campaign of cover-up and deception about both the fiscal condition of the City of Providence and the steps that he had taken to close a budget gap.

The largest component of this campaign, of course, was then-Mayor Cicilline's deliberate, repeated mischaracterization as to the financial status of the city; i.e., Providence is in "excellent fiscal condition". But critical to that lie ... er, mischaracterization, was a months-long systematic repression, indeed, concealment, of information - information about public dollars and public expenditures, let's remember - that could contradict his rosie statements.

Then-Mayor Cicilline delayed the independent audit of the city by waiting until right around Election Day 2010 to release the requisite information to the auditing firm, thereby ensuring that unhelpful information would not come out until after the election.

And prior to that, then-Mayor Cicilline had refused to give to Internal Auditor James Lombardi (it was widely reported that Lombardi had been locked out of his city computer, a report that I had echoed; this has turned out not to be true) critical data about the true fiscal condition of the city, thereby preventing the release of such information. Mr. Lombardi - incredibly - had to file an Open Records request to obtain this information. (Mr. Lombardi was able to compile and release his report about two weeks before the election and, of course, for many weeks prior, John Loughlin had been talking, at every opportunity and microphone, about the real fiscal condition of the city. But both of these loud alarms proved too late, mainly because Cicilline-infatuated media chose to ignore them.)

As a function of gauging the accuracy of Cicilline's statement of Tuesday night

That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so ... that is absolutely untrue.

PolitiFact spoke to the Internal Auditor, James Lombardi, and learned the following.

Lombardi now says that he was never locked out of his computer. His computer access to city financial records was never canceled, he said, because he never had such access in the first place.

Nor was he ever physically locked out of his office or anywhere else where he tried to get records.

That would mean Cicilline is correct in the strictest sense of the phrase "locked out."

But you can still be figuratively locked out if you are denied access to something you're legally entitled to. ...

Lombardi, whose complaints about his inability to get information from the mayor's office go back to 2004, told us that in this case the problem wasn't that he was denied the information. The problem was the timeliness of the responses he was getting.

A key issue was whether the city's reserve fund -- sometimes called the rainy-day fund -- was being severely depleted. City records show that on Jan. 11, 2010, Lombardi had requested copies of all authorization forms transferring money in and out of the reserve fund in January 2010, which the Cicilline administration was tapping because of its budget problems. ...

He did not get the information until October 2010, according to a report he filed with the City Council. That's nine months.

When we asked the Cicilline campaign about the delay, spokesman Eric Hyers said "there was absolutely not any plan to delay him, to do anything secretly or to stonewall him."

Hyers said Lombardi "had access to whatever he needed. He oftentimes had very unrealistic expectations as to what the turnaround time should be and how soon he should be provided with certain information. At times he assumed that City Hall officials were his own personal staff; they had their own jobs to do."

Hyers said "this constant tug of war over what he was entitled to and when he should have it was not unique to 2010. It started several, several years ago."

We saw two other examples. ...

Really? Anything less than a nine month delay to obtain financial information is a "very unrealistic expectation"?

PolitiFact wasn't buying it, either. They could have gotten hung up on "locked out" but, instead, focused on the actions and intent of David Cicilline. Good for them. (Oooch, ouch, the pain ...)

Former Providence Mayor David Cicilline said that the internal auditor for the city "was not locked out" of access to the city's finances.

The auditor now says that he was not locked out in the usual sense of the word.

But there's a fine line between being locked out and stonewalled.

Cicilline's spokesman emphatically says that "neither of those happened."

But the record shows that Lombardi faced many months of delay in getting information he was entitled to by the City Charter. He was forced to use the state’s open records law to get information and waited months for it.

And key information -- that Cicilline had been tapping the rainy day fund -- wasn’t provided until October 2010, after Cicilline’s primary victory. ...

The auditor was not locked out in the strictest sense. But the inability of the internal auditor to get information that might have led to a timely disclosure of the city's serious financial problems had the same effect.

Because the statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate it Mostly False.

September 5, 2012

Introducing the Concept of Agenda

Justin Katz

A good example of the questionable utility of political debates arose during the Congressional district 1 primary debate on WPRO, last night.  Only the most plugged in voters will have any inkling of what statements are true and which are spun to falsehood — let alone the context in which the facts were playing.

Trying to square his calls for bipartisan cooperation with his attempts to make his race about a "radical Republican agenda," as moderator Bill Haberman put it, Congressman David Cicilline (D, RI) said:

The reality is that there are big differences between what the Republicans, led by the Tea Party, are trying to do to our country, and they have an agenda that is really reflected in the Paul Ryan budget passed in the House...

The political posturing is secondary to my purposes, here.  Rather, what's interesting is the contrast with the Democrat-led Senate, which has not passed a budget since April 2009.  Such a budget would certainly include items that partisans could criticize; it would probably include items with which Cicilline did in fact go on to tar Republicans.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

August 31, 2012

Democrat Independent Lincoln Chafee Speaking At DNC

Patrick Laverty

Ted Nesi reported that Governor Lincoln Chafee will get a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention next week. I think that's great that Rhode Island democrats will finally get some recognition and our governor is being honored in such a way. Wait, what? Chafee's not a Democrat? Then why is he speaking that the Democratic National Convention? Does he want to be a Democrat? In my opinion, he should become one, and that's not just snark, I have an actual reason behind it. I'll get to that part later.

But back to Nesi's story.

Chafee at one point is quoted as to say:

"President Obama has been a friend to Rhode Island..."
Really? What do the people of Cranston think about this "friend" who was in the area at the time of the Cranston floods, when people were losing their homes to the rising waters and our "friend" didn't even have time to come to the state? It's not like he had to go out of his way. He was already in southeastern Massachusetts that day.

"I think he'll talk about the importance of collaboration and working across party lines to govern effectively,"
Which party lines? Shouldn't you have to be a member of a party to work across party lines? And how exactly has he worked across the Republican party lines? If he's going to tout how he's been such an effective governor, I guess I can see why it might only be a seven minute speech. Hopefully there isn't too much dead air time.

But anyway, back to the Chafee as a Democrat thing. Just this morning, Andrew Gobeil from WPRO tweeted:

Gov Chafee with us this morning. Are you going to join the Democratic Party? "Not at this point."
Ok, fair enough, not yet, but maybe eventually. Here's a rational reason why I think he should and will join.

To play defense.

Look at it this way, the Democrats have their "rising stars" and there's much talk about who will be the Democratic nominee for Governor in two years. One, Ernie Almonte has already thrown his hat in the ring and we hear of Angel Taveras and Gina Raimondo possibly also running for the seat. Any one of those people could possibly get the nomination and take out the party-less Chafee.

But what if Chafee does switch up his affiliation and declares himself a proud Democrat? Would the state Democratic party then actually turn their back on an incumbent Governor from their own party? Has that ever happened before? If a member of your party currently holds a seat and wants to keep it, will you actually say "No, this other person is better" and nominate someone else? That really runs the risk of losing the seat to a non-Democrat.

Of course all those people would still be able to run against Chafee in a primary, but would they? My thought is they would not and they'd concede the office to Chafee. This is why in my opinion, the smartest move politically going forward is for Linc Chafee to just complete the transformation and become a full-fledged Democrat.

August 28, 2012

Patrick Lynch on Voter Fraud: Not To Worry, Statute of Limitations Is Only a Year

Monique Chartier

Extending, even out of office, his repugnant legacy of coming to the aid of Rhode Island's political bad guys, no matter the crime or infraction, former RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch helpfully tweeted the following this morning at 7:22 am (re-tweeted by the spokesperson of the current Attorney General).

Rhode Island legal trivia: There is a one year Statute of Limitation for most voter fraud and election offenses. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE …

August 26, 2012

The Gemma Press Conf About Voter Fraud: Questions that Doubters Must Answer

Monique Chartier

Yes, it's true, it appears that Anthony Gemma missed his intended target at his press conference on Wednesday. No evidence was presented that David Cicilline himself participated in carrying out voter fraud (though there is also no doubt that it was his election bid that would have benefited from these alleged efforts).

But in the process, a larger - and far more alarming - revelation emerged: wholly credible testimony of serious, systemic voter fraud in not one but several elections.

Some honest, otherwise smart people have completely missed this point - the dishonest, smart people are simply ignoring it - by allowing themselves to be distracted by the unprofessional aspects of the press conference, the overblown hype that constituted its preview and the fact that the "shooter" did not score a bulls-eye on his stated target. (Matt Allen, we specifically include you in this category of Smart Doubters!)

Let's disregard for a moment the ... intriguing video that the Providence Journal posted on its website yesterday and review only what was offered at Wednesday's press conference.

- A candidate for Congress reading the witness statement, presumably signed under pains and penalties of perjury, of someone describing the extensive voter fraud he or she had witnessed first hand in at least one prior election.

- Three people asserting in the first person that they had witnessed voter fraud in prior elections.

- Other witness statements asserting voter fraud.

[Note to the Gemma camp: Why did you release only a few copies of those witness statements? Are you aware of the invention of a device called the mimeograph machine that could be used by reporters to duplicate and then share those documents, thereby thwarting your inexplicable purpose for making them scarce? Please be aware that while we are whole-heartedly behind your efforts to expose voter fraud and are on the edge of our seats waiting for the next development, the credibility of this effort has been unnecessarily damaged by a list of avoidable missteps to which this mishandling of the witness statements has been added.]

Where were we? Oh yes. Without further ado, here are some of the questions that honest doubters must answer in order to continue clinging to their doubts:

> Are the three witnesses at the press conference lying?

> Is Anthony Gemma a pathological liar willing to sacrifice his not inconsequential reputation in the state by financing and staging an elaborate charade?

> Is the witness statement read by Anthony Gemma a work of fiction? What about the others that he tendered?

Obviously, the point is that all of these would have to be answered "yes" - and if that is your answer, please say so! I promise I'll try not to jump down your throat - for an observer to continue to be skeptical about the information that was presented Wednesday and not to see that there is very good reason to be alarmed about the integrity of our elections, past and current.

August 25, 2012

Proof to Gemma Claims Trickling Out

Marc Comtois

Let me just say this: I'm glad the media has gotten over their (semi-justified, though hyperbolic) derision of the Gemma voter fraud presentation (and all the professional analysis claiming nothing doin') and is looking into his claims. WPRI took the lead, but now the ProJo has some video of a man who claims to be able to bring in numerous mail ballots.

From the story by Zachary Malinowski:

The Journal learned that Robert Cappuccilli, a field operative for Gemma, agreed to wear a hidden microphone and meet with Ramirez behind the campaign headquarters overlooking the Blackstone River and Tolman High School. Cappuccilli did not respond to a request for an interview.

The recording The Journal obtained begins with an investigator setting the stage, with date and time, for the meeting that was about to take place....Cappuccilli brought along a Spanish-speaking woman from the campaign office to help him understand Ramirez, a native of the Dominican Republic who speaks limited English.

During the recording, Cappuccilli and Ramirez have an in-depth conversation about absentee ballot votes and how much the Gemma campaign would have to pay for the service.

In response to several questions from Cappuccilli, Ramirez said he had experience handling absentee ballots for Cicilline and other elected officials — a state representative and a city councilman in Providence. Cappuccilli told Ramirez that he understood the Cicilline campaign paid him $450 a week in cash, an arrangement that Ramirez did not dispute.

Cappuccilli tells Ramirez that the Gemma campaign is willing to hire him to get votes for Gemma, but they want to do it above board, paying him each week with a check, not cash.

Ramirez agrees and provides Cappuccilli with his Social Security number and his driver’s license. They also talk about filling out a 1099 tax form.

Before the deal is completed, Cappuccilli says he wants to make sure that Ramirez can deliver on his promise.

“Do you have mail ballots with you?” Cappuccilli asks. “My neck is on the line with Anthony [Gemma].” They talk about whether he can deliver “300, 400, 500 or 1,000 mail ballots.”

Cappuccilli turns to the Spanish interpreter and says, “Let me tell you something. He has to show me something right now. Don’t take it the wrong way, but I have to make sure he’s not playing both sides.”

Ramirez retreats to his silver compact car and pulls out several absentee ballots. He shows Cappuccilli mail ballots for the coming primary that he said had been cast for Cicilline and Gemma.

Ramirez assures Cappuccilli that he has many “friends” and can coach them to cast their ballots for a certain candidate. He also tells Cappuccilli that he is a notary public and has notarized the ballots himself.

In the recording, Ramirez mentions the names of Latino voters at various addresses and senior high-rises in the capital city.

Keep digging.

August 24, 2012

Uncommon Integrity?

Patrick Laverty

I just can't keep this one to myself anymore. At the risk of giving this campaign any more attention than it deserves, I have to point this out. I also apologize as this is a race that is only for RI Senate District 19 and not a statewide race. But this is the kind of thing that we deal with.

Jim Spooner is a candidate for the Senate District 19 seat and he's running independent of a party. He's been taking out ads in the local newspaper. I don't fault the newspaper, so I won't name them.

He put out an ad a couple weeks ago with the text in it:

Jim Spooner
Senator Elect
Yeah, that's all well and good and all except he's not a sitting Senator. He's a candidate. I also get that there's no hyphen between Senator and Elect, so apparently he's trying to play word games and trying to fool the voters into thinking that he's the incumbent.

Well, he did it again. This time I scanned in his ad and posted the image below:

"Your State Senator"? C'mon man. You're not. You're a candidate for Senator. In his ad, he also writes that we need candidates with "Honesty." How are these two ads honest? It seems like he comes right from another Rhode Island candidate's school of honesty with statements like these.

But while we're looking at Mr. Spooner, take a look at his text to the voters.

Most of the younger generation of today communicate very differently than you and I! However it's not the lack of personal contact, it is the lack of respect of people and property!
Before you start thinking "Right on, Jim! Those kids today are punks!" Check out this article about who he considers to be the "younger generation."
Spooner, a retired self-employed real estate broker who has lived in Lincoln for 51 years, agrees that the younger generation thinks differently, but said he believes that is what is wrong with politics.

He originally referred to "all" of the people in the younger generation, but then later changed the group to most people younger than 65.

"They forgot what honesty is, what trust is, what integrity is," he said, not able to name any specific politicians who are exceptions to the rule.

He continued, "The younger generation has probably been given everything by the older generation, so they don't have honesty and integrity. They don't have values."

Wow. So the "younger generation" is people under 65. Plus, we all have no integrity and we have no honesty.

Well, at least we know how Mr. Spooner feels about us before we head to the polls. I'll be honest with him and say right now, I'm not voting for you, Jim.

The Mind-Boggling Debate Answers

Patrick Laverty

Have you been watching these RI Assembly debates put on by WPRI and hosted by Tim White? Fabulous stuff. So far, they've had three. The first was the battle for an East Providence seat where Roberto DaSilva is looking to oust current Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dan DaPonte. You can see the entire debate video at WPRI.com.

The second debate was between Rep. Peter Petrarca and challenger Greg Costantino. Here is the link to their debate.

Most recently was the debate between Senator Michael McCaffrey and challenger Laura Pisaturo. The link to their debate.

I bring these up not only because I thought they were great but also because I'm guessing many people missed them. If so, they missed some interesting things, most specifically, how the incumbents view things is pretty mind-blowing. We often hear that people who live and work inside the Washington beltway have one way of thinking and everyone else has a very different view. This sounds like a similar situation where once you get into office up on Smith Hill, you get trapped into the same thought patterns.

As I watched each debate, there was always at least one moment or one answer that made my jaw drop. "Did he really just say that?" or in one example I'll point out, "Did she really not answer that?" I've taken the liberty of editing out some of these moments from the debate and posting them in their much shorter form. I've attempted to keep the full context of the question and the answers. But if you want the full debate, please go watch the whole thing over at WPRI.com.

I have about five different videos here that I'd like to highlight.

Here's the first example, the only one I have from the first debate and this was probably the craziest line of the whole thing. Senate Finance Chairman, Daniel DaPonte is asked about the decision to back a loan for $75M to 38 Studios and what his knowledge of the situation was at the time. His answer?

Wait, it's above your pay grade? Who's pay grade is it to make those types of financial decisions for the state, if it's not the Senate Finance Chairman? And if you don't have the power to make those kinds of financial decisions, then why are you the Senate Finance Chairman?

Continue reading "The Mind-Boggling Debate Answers"

August 23, 2012

Re: Gemma's "Breaking News": What Did You Think?

Carroll Andrew Morse

While Anthony Gemma didn't present any direct evidence of his charges of voter fraud in Rhode Island, his written remarks from yesterday assert that direct evidence does exist (h/t Edward Fitzpatrick)...

The five statements I have just presented to you represent a relatively small percentage of first-hand evidence developed by TRP. Testimony from these and other witnesses exists in written form and on audio and video tapes -- the product of sophisticated electronic and human surveillance operations that confirm the contents of sworn statements.

Multiple videos contain clear evidence that mail-in ballots have been and are being bought by the Cicilline campaign and by other local, state and federal political campaigns.

Taking this presentation at its word:
  1. Describing something as "sophisticated electronic and human surveillance operations", in any normal usage, refers to something more than "we have recordings of the statements I read today", and
  2. The reference to mail-in ballots raises the question of where exactly it is that ballots can be bought and sold, with the seller's identity as important an issue as the buyer’s.
As with many disputes, direct evidence when available is the quickest way to resolve uncertainties. Especially with regards to the second charge above, if video evidence of illegal attempts to influence this upcoming election exists (note that Mr. Gemma uses the present tense in reference to the mail-in ballots: "are being bought"), neither Anthony Gemma nor his investigators nor the proper legal authorities should feel obligated to wait until after the election has been tainted to present direct evidence they have obtained -- and in the case of the authorities, to tell the public why they felt it necessary to act (or not).

At the moment, the question is whether Anthony Gemma has accurately described the work product of the investigators he hired but that hasn't yet been seen by the general public, or whether marketing has run ahead of substance, in the absence of substance that speaks for itself.

August 22, 2012

Gemma's "Breaking News": What Did You Think?

Monique Chartier

The day previewed last week by Anthony Gemma in a somewhat hyperbolic announcement finally arrived.

WPRO carried the press conference live - their follow-up report here - though they disappointingly cut away from the press conference after Gemma had finished his statement.

An extensive report by WPRI, which includes reaction from various quarters, also names who came to the microphone after WPRO returned to regular programming.

Afterwards, three individuals - Laura Perez, Erminia Garcia and City Councilman Wilbur Jennings - took to the microphone and said they could corroborate his allegations.

Former RI Attorney General Jim O'Neil calls the accusations credible and asserts that the Rhode Island State Police are investigating them but

"..as far as saying there is an individual that says David Cicilline was part and parcel of this on a daily basis,” O’Neil says. “I didn't hear that and neither did you.”

A post by our friend Professor William Jacobson (certainly no fan of David Cicilline) over at Legal Insurrection includes a video of the "breaking news" but also a somewhat wary observation as to its potential impact - or lack thereof - on the race.

But I’m not sure how much more this hurts him, unless more facts come out.

The ethics cloud already is factored into the electorate.

If Ciciline wins, it will not be because people think he’s honest, it will be a combination of scaring Grandma half to death that Republicans will take her social security check from her hands then throw her off a cliff combined with promising federal cash to key constituent groups … basically the Obama playbook.

Personal aside: I'd take umbrage at a comment under the professor's post that characterizes Rhode Island as a suburb of Chicago but I'm too busy nodding in agreement.

Your turn. What did you think of the witness statement that Anthony Gemma read and the way that he presented it? Did the three corroborating witnesses who followed him lend the assertions in the statement credibility?

August 20, 2012

Dog Bites Man: Unions are Top Spenders in RI Politics

Marc Comtois

GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan has the surprising news that organized labor Political Action Committees have led the way in political spending this year:

The majority of the Laborer’s Political League’s spending has gone to the organization’s voluntary fund in Washington D.C., but the PAC has made $1,000 max-out contributions to Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, Senator Frank Ciccone and former Providence Mayor and City Council President John Lombardi, who is now challenging State Rep. Michael Tarro.

The NEA has spent $43,795.83, although that amount includes the approximately $2,700 the union spends on rent and utilities each month. The NEA’s PAC has made $1,000 contributions to Clean Water Action, Ocean State Action, State Rep. Spencer Dickinson, State Rep. candidates Gregg Amore and Mike Morin and State Senate candidates Adam Satchell, Dave Gorman and Lew Pryeor. The influential union has also contributed to each of the 16 lawmakers who voted against the state’s pension reform efforts last year (the 17th lawmakers – Senator John Tassoni is not running for re-election).

Third on the list is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which has spent $28,419.99 this year. The IBEW pays Providence Central Labor Council president Paul MacDonald approximately $1,666 each month for “consultant and professional services” and has contributed at least $300 to Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, Senate President Paiva-Weed, House Speaker Gordon Fox, Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello, House Finance chairman Helio Melo, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Senate Finance chairman Daniel DaPonte.

Remember those names when collective bargaining issues arise. And note that the Labor PACs send money to other, mostly progressive/liberal, PACs, too. It's a big network of PACs. Heck, if you put them all together, you could almost call it....a SUPER PAC, or something.

August 14, 2012

The Joys of Arbitration and Unionized Public Employment: "Fired DPW worker accused of theft gets job back"

Monique Chartier

Ah, yes. And they wonder why many of us are wary of binding arbitration.

A Department of Public Works employee who was fired after being arrested on charges he stole from the city, has won the fight to get his job back and will receive approximately nine months in back pay.

Kenneth Naylor, 48, of West Warwick – a 13-year employee of the Warwick DPW – was terminated in October after his arrest on a larceny charge a month earlier.

The head of the union that represents Naylor said an arbitrator ruled the city should not have fired Naylor because officials had already come to an agreement with the city to suspend him for 20 days without pay. The ruling came down on Aug. 7.

Good work, WPRI's Tim White. H/T the Matt Allen Show.

Mr. Naylor's criminal case is pending. Meanwhile, what will he get from the arbitrator's decision?

[President of Council 94 J. Michael] Downey said he doesn't know how much money Naylor will be paid following the arbitrator's decision but it will cover from the time he was terminated in October 2011 to today, minus the 20-day suspension.

According to a statement from Mayor Scott Avedisian, the city is still calculating how much money they will have to repay Naylor. Records show he made $48,215 in 2011.

So, roughly $36,000. Nice! Should help with the legal fees.

The next question is, what happens to his employment situation if he is found guilty? Will he get back the job he had with the employer from whom he was allegedly stealing?


Dan's comment reminded me of this recent instance of not just licking the trough clean but trying to take a bite out of it.

Six months after an arbitrator ruled that a retired town police officer should not have to pay anything for his medical coverage in his new job as a firefighter, Mayor Charles Lombardi has "reluctantly" paid what the town owes the worker in back payments. ...

In February of 2011, Cardarelli filed a grievance through the Fraternal Order of Police, Local 13, because he objected to paying $16.92 a week for his medical insurance premium, a total of $880 a year.

The arbitrator ruled on Feb. 9 of this year that the town violated the police contract by failing to reimburse Cardarelli for contributions made to the cost of his health insurance. Town officials were subsequently directed to make Cardarelli "whole" for his health insurance payments from the date of the union's demand for arbitration, Feb. 14, 2011, and to reimburse him monthly henceforth for the amounts of his contribution to his health care coverage.

August 11, 2012

EDC: Merely Broken Up and Redistributed Is Inadequate and Pointless

Monique Chartier

The headline of Friday's Providence Journal article

Proposal would disband the EDC

is incomplete. Let's look at a description of the proposal from the article:

The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation would be dismantled and reorganized with three components — one strategic office attached to the governor’s office, one university-led research arm and a reconstitut ed board of directors to administer programs within the private and public sectors, according to a proposal scheduled to be made public on Friday.

So an EDC would still exist, just in a more diffuse form.

We should pause here to note another item in the ProJo article:

As the state is reeling from the collapse of 38 Studios and the failure of a controversial $75-million loan guarantee that encouraged Curt Schilling to move his video-game company to Providence, these suggestions are the first among many that are anticipated in coming weeks as the EDC remains under scrutiny.

Any re-arrangement of EDC, such as described above or ones that yet may be proposed, would address neither the failure of the 38 Studios deal nor the larger problem of Rhode Island's abysmal business climate and corresponding damaged economy.

The principle cause of the 38 Studios loan guarantee going south was the lack of due diligence - by then-Governor Carcieri, Speaker Fox, Senate President Paiva-Weed and the EDC - that didn't prevent it from happening to begin with. A secondary factor still to be sorted out is the lack of oversight by Governor Chafee once the guarantee was in place. Candidate Chafee was quite emphatic, and rightly so, in his opposition to the guarantee. Yet once in office, it appears that he failed to ask any questions or avail himself of the oversight tools provided for in the agreement between the state and 38 Studios. (See, for example, Pages 51 and 52 of the Loan and Trust Agreement.) Had Governor Chafee done so, it is quite possible that the state's losses could have been mitigated.

In view of this, by the way, Governor Chafee's comments of a couple of weeks ago

"This was just not a startup atmosphere in the company, where you really hunker down and have macaroni and cheese - that's what most companies do," Gov. Lincoln Chafee told WPRI.com on Tuesday. "This was very, very different. [It] might not have been caviar, but they were living high on the taxpayer's dollars."

are inexplicable inasmuch as they point directly to his own failure to monitor 38 Studios and their cash burn rate.

As for the larger problem of Rhode Island's very poor business climate, as I've noted, this is the result of decades of bad legislation passed by the real "EDC" of the state: the Rhode Island General Assembly. Under the conditions created by the state's legislature, the EDC is simply shoveling against the tide. Reconfiguring that organization would do nothing to change those conditions.

The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation needs to be disbanded and deep sixed altogether. The many millions spent on their budget are wasted as long as the real EDC continues to choose to make this an anti-economic development state.

August 8, 2012

On State of the State: Getting RI Involved and on Track

Justin Katz

On the latest State of the State with John Carlevale, I discussed Rhode Island's civic scene and how residents can begin to get involved and sort through the system along with Lisa Blais, of Ocean State Tea Party in Action, and Marina Peterson, of East Bay Patriots. Of particular note, related to my habitual role as contrarian, are the discussions of whether we should want elected officials to "work together" and the relative merits of offering comprehensive solutions versus simply increasing economic freedom.


7-26-2012 What's a Citizen to Do to Become Involved? from John Carlevale on Vimeo.

August 7, 2012

Cicilline = Change???

Monique Chartier

WPRO's John Depetro is not wrong to have questioned RI PBS's choice of moderator for "A Lively Experiment".

Dyana Koelsch, moderator of ”A Lively Experiment,“ which is featured Thursday at 7 p.m. and Sunday’s at Noon on PBS, admitted her role as a paid consultant to Congressman David Cicilline to WPRO’s John DePetro.

My impression of Dyana Koelsch, former WJAR television reporter, has always been that she is an honest, genuinely nice, non-scummy person. That opinion has not changed even though she is working for a candidate who possesses none of those qualities.

One item in her remarks to WPRO's Dee DeQuattro struck me, however.

For years, Koelsch worked as an investigative reporter for WJAR-TV but now she says she is allowed to have an opinion. “I want to be able to be working for change in our state,” Koelsch told DePetro.

This time only, we'll skip lightly over David Cicilline's highly questionable, in some instances, borderline criminal, actions as the mayor of Providence in deliberately locking out the Internal Auditor, raiding dedicated and reserve funds to balance the budget and postponing the release of city budget numbers until he was safely past the November, 2010, election and focus on Ms. Koelsch's stated reason for working for the Congressman's campaign.

As a politician who 1.) is a Democrat 2.) supports ever bigger government 3.) is averse to lowering taxes or rolling back regulations and 4.) fails to see the need to use the power of his office t o strengthen our economy by making the state more business friendly, does David Cicilline really represent "change" in the heavily Democrat, thoroughly taxed and regulated, abysmally un-business-friendly state of Rhode Island?

August 1, 2012

Legality of Executive Implemented In-State Tuition for Illegal Alien Students: Why Is the RI Attorney General Sidestepping One of the Specifically Delineated Obligations of His Office?

Monique Chartier

Let me preface this post by saying that I applaud Attorney General Peter Kilmartin for moving to have Rhode Island participate in the Secure Communities Program. He had to be correct in that regard because it earned him a dubious rating on the (smirk) "Truth"-O-Meter.

In late September of last year, the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education

approved a measure that would allow students who immigrated to the United States illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island's public colleges and universities after the General Assembly declined to take up the issue.

Note that last clause: the Board of Governors, a division of the Executive Branch, implemented a policy that the Legislative Branch had refused to vote into law.

In a letter dated February 9, 2012, twenty three Rhode Island senators submitted the following request to Attorney General Kilmartin.

As members of the Rhode Island Senate, we respectfully request that you provide us with an advisory opinion about whether the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education ("the Board of Governors") has the legal authority to adopt a policy that appears to be in direct violation of both federal law and the will of the Rhode Island General Assembly or whether the adoption of such a policy constitutes an unlawful or ultra vires act.

Eventually, after two follow-up requests from the senators, the office of the Attorney General responded. Quoting directly from the letter dated April 19, 2012 sent to Senator Marc Cote by Deputy Attorney General Gerald J. Coyne,

The provision of legal advice is one of the roles of the Attorney General. In doing so, it is important to remember at all times that the "client" of this office is the State of Rhode Island, rather than any particular office, agency, officer, or employee.

Among the ways in which legal advice can be provided is the issuance of an advisory opinion. This office responds to requests for advisory opinions received from the head of a state agency. For the purposes of this policy, this office will issue an advisory opinion from the Senate if received from the President of the Senate, or the House of Representatives if received from the Speaker.

Really? "For the purposes of this policy, this office" will decide who gets to make the request for a legal opinion? Does Rhode Island law as it pertains to the Office of Attorney General back up this stance?

Except as otherwise in the general laws provided, the attorney general, whenever requested, shall act as the legal adviser of the individual legislators of the general assembly, of all state boards, divisions, departments, and commissions and the officers thereof, of all commissioners appointed by the general assembly, of all the general officers of the state, and of the director of administration, in all matters pertaining to their official duties, ...

Oops, no, it doesn't.

A group of Rhode Island lawmakers has sought the legal advice of the Attorney General. Rhode Island law clearly states that supplying this advice is one of the duties of the office of Attorney General. Why is the Attorney General deliberately declining to do so?

This post is entirely the result of the diligence of the Executive Director of RIILE, Terry Gorman, and of the well-founded concerns of twenty three state senators about the legality of the Executive Branch implementing such a significant policy. RIILE, Terry Gorman and many, many other people, citizens and legal immigrants, share the bewilderment and consternation of yours truly at the refusal of our elected officials to address the problem of illegal immigration via the two eminently reasonable and minimalistic measures of enforcing existing laws and withdrawing enticements (such as in-state tuition!) to breach our sovereignty, our borders and our budgets.

July 26, 2012

Talking Teen Unemployment and the Minimum Wage on the Dan Yorke Show

Justin Katz

630AM/99.7FM WPRO has posted my appearance on the Dan Yorke show, Tuesday, in two segments. The first is the initial half hour introducing the research from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and touching on some conclusions. For the second hour, Economic Development Corp. board member and VIBCO President Karl Wadensten joined us in the studio for a broader discussion.

July 22, 2012

One Legislator's Pay Raise = A Mini Legislative Grant Program?

Monique Chartier

For those possibly unfamiliar with it, the Legislative Grant program is a tax dollar slush fund controlled by General Assembly leadership from which tax dollars are distributed solely by and at the discretion of leadership to benefit those legislators who have been, in the eyes of leadership, good legislative Do-Bees.

We need to clarify that being a "good Do-Bee" in this case does not mean voting in the best interest of the legislator's district and the state overall. It means voting as leadership wishes. Those who wonder how much the two overlap only have to look at the current condition of the state to realize that, for decades, the best interest of the state has not had too much to do with the best interest of the G.A. leadership.

The beneficiary legislator invariably requests that said grant be distributed to an organization or charity in his or her district. The legislator often personally and publicly delivers the check - to reiterate, drawn on the taxpayers' checkbook - to the recipient organization. This, of course, makes that legislator look good and helps him/her at re-election time. (Click here for a good article by GoLocalProv about Legislative Grants and who gets them.)

So what does this have to do with legislators' recent 3.2% [corrected] pay raise? As you probably heard, many legislators are declining the raise, correctly perceiving that, though it is a comparatively small amount in the state budget, the concept itself is quite inappropriate for a number of reasons, most of them relating to the condition of the state's economy.

Some legislators, however, are not actually declining the raise but are accepting it and "disposing" of it on their own initiative. And this is where we start to creep into questionable territory.

Of these legislators, some are donating their raise to charity. This is probably fine if the legislator does not realize that s/he can simply decline the raise. However, the cynical among us would ask, will the legislator then take a tax write-off? If so, doesn't that ultimately accomplish the same thing as a raise - and still at taxpayer expense?

Then we come to what Rep Lisa Baldelli-Hunt intends to do with her raise. And that's when we cross from questionable to promotional.

From her press release of July 13 :

Rep. Lisa Baldelli Hunt plans to donate the 3.2-percent raise she will get as a legislator this year to local organizations and charities, she has announced. ...

That increase this year was 3.2 percent, which amounts to $453.95 that the representative will be divvying up among worthy organizations in her district.

She hasn’t yet decided exactly where she will donate the money, but said she will choose groups based on where she thinks the need is greatest and where the money will do the most good.

“We’re getting this raise because the cost of living has gone up, and that’s causing a lot of hardship in my community, where costs are rising but income isn’t for most people. I think the best thing to do with this money is to pass it on to organizations that help the people in my district and city,” said Representative Baldelli Hunt (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket)."

So now we return to the title of this post: other than cutting out leadership, how exactly does this differ from a Legislative Grant disbursement?

Let's be clear. Legislators are perfectly within their right to accept or decline or dispose of their raise as they see fit. At the same time, a legislator in that third category does not deserve the applause that we give to legislators who decline the raise outright if his or her chosen method of "disposal" bears a striking resemblance to an existing sleazy practice on Smith Hill.

July 18, 2012

Bain, Cicilline, Reed and Whitehouse

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island First District Congressman David Cicilline was quoted yesterday in a WPRO (630AM) blog item yesterday on the subject of Bain Capital's relevance to the 2012 Presidential campaign...

“I think it is pretty clear that Governor Romney was at Bain Capital and that was a key part of their strategy to be outsourcing American jobs. I think it is a fair question to be asked during this campaign,” said Congressman David Cicilline.
But if Congressman Cicilline has determined that the Bain business model is fundamentally wrong, does he intend to return the sizeable campaign contribution he accepted from a Bain Managing Partner and Chief Investment Officer...
Jonathan Lavine, Bain Capital: Cicilline Committee contribution, $2,500, 6/27/2011.
...or are there times when Congressman Cicilline doesn't find anything wrong with Bain's business practices -- like when he's cashing a check from one of the firm's senior managers?

The same question can be asked of Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed. He is both a Bain critic in the WPRO post, and has been a recipient of multiple contributions from Bain managers over the years...

Jonathan S. Lavine, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $2,300, 6/26/2007.
Jonathan S. Lavine, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $200, 6/26/2007.
Mark Nunnelly, Bain Capital: The Reed Committee contribution, $2,300, 12/26/2007.
This, of course, is the Rhode Island way. Attitudes of the political class towards a particular business have less to do with the substance of the actual business, and more to do with whether personalities connected to a particular venture are political allies or not.

For the record, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has also been the recent beneficiary of some of Bain management's Rhode Island largess...

Mark E. Nunnelly, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,400, 6/22/2010.
Joshua Bekenstein, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,200, 12/31/2010.
Joshua Bekenstein, Bain Capital: Whitehouse for Senate contribution: $2,400, 12/31/2010.

July 17, 2012

Haldeman for House 35: "allow me to represent the entire spectrum of our citizenry"

Monique Chartier

Below are the first three paragraphs of the column by Jim Haldeman, candidate for RI House District 35, that I tried to poach for Anchor Rising. Haldeman, being a man of honor, tactfully declined my request because he had already committed to another outlet. So you'll just have to finish reading it on GoLocalProv. (In all seriousness, thanks to GoLocal for running it.)

It's a simple question that requires a simple answer...because I have to. I was asked 'why' when I came out of military retirement, left my family and my job, and elected to deploy to Fallujah, Iraq. Quite simply, because I had to. It was my moral obligation to serve my Country. I’m now running for State Representative for the same reason...because I must. It's a difficult endeavor to run and to be elected for public office. I know....this is my 4th attempt. If nothing else, this proves my perseverance and dedication towards succeeding in such an endeavor.

My leadership background attests to the fact that I am well suited for public office. I presently work in a public service industry and engage hundreds of people daily. I have worked under harsh and unthinkable living conditions to promote jobs into a helpless city, worked with Ambassadors under the Secretary of State, worked within multi-million dollar budgets, and negotiated contracts...even for human life itself. I helped inspire and restore the lives of the citizens of Fallujah and redirected their path to bring prosperity, economic recovery and hope toward a brighter future.

And now it is my time to focus my abilities and talents directly to my home here in Rhode Island. The financial path which Rhode Island has taken is unsustainable. Communities within our state are bankrupt. Businesses are closed or have moved to our neighboring states. Our one party controlled state government has failed to provide the very essence of our individual identity and that is in the name of business and jobs.

Continue reading on GoLocalProv ...

DCCC Lies About Doherty & Beacon Mutual Role

Marc Comtois

As reported by GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has a dossier on CD-1 Republican candidate Brendan Doherty that it compiled as opposition research. Creating such a report isn't surprising, nor does it contain anything new, but it does try to re-frame items to put Doherty in the most negative light.

As such, it isn't surprising when those opposed to Doherty start to take items from the report to try to undercut his candidacy. Case in point is RI Future's Bob Plain, who acts more like a parrot then a reporter in recounting some of the talking points from the DCCC report. One in particular caught my eye. According to Plain:

Did you know he was on the board of directors for Beacon Mutual when the insurance company was mired in a scandal for giving price breaks to choice companies?
This was plainly wrong. The DCCC report elides the timeline of Doherty's appointment and the exposure of the scandal (pages 45/46 of the report) with when the problems actually occurred. Doherty was put on the Board of Directors of Beacon by Governor Carcieri precisely because of the scandal. Doherty wasn't "mired" in it, he was brought in to clean it up in February of 2006. In August 2007, the findings of an investigation into Beacon were made public and Governor Carcieri said at the time:
“Last year, I quickly moved to overhaul Beacon Mutual’s leadership by appointing Brendan Doherty, now Superintendent of the State Police, and Sister M. Therese Antone to replace two board members who resigned in the wake of the scandal,” Carcieri said. “I also attempted to remove two other board members who had helped preside for years over Beacon’s mismanagement....I’m satisfied with my original decision to publicly reveal the scandalous behavior of Beacon Mutual executives,” Governor Carcieri said. “I am equally happy that I successfully opposed those same executives’ plans to change state law in an effort to reduce public oversight and to shield their misdeeds from public scrutiny.”

“With this report in hand, it is now up to the Attorney General and the United States Attorney to determine what, if any, crimes were committed and what prosecution might be, or might not be, appropriate,” Carcieri said. “The Department of Business Regulation is providing both those law enforcement officials with copies of all the background material that was compiled during the course of their investigation.”

And who were those board members that resigned? Well, to back up a bit, in June of 2007, Governor Carcieri attempted to sit Adelita Orefice (then the director of the Department of Labor & Training) on the board of Beacon, but he got word that she wouldn't be confirmed by the Senate for political reasons, so he pulled the nomination. Why the opposition? Because it was she who blew the whistle on the Beacon corruption and those she exposed had friends in the RI Senate.
Carcieri accused the Senate of planning to reject Orefice’s nomination in retaliation for her decision in 2006 to disclose the result of a damning internal audit at Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. That revelation led to a number of investigations and the expulsion of several union leaders, including George Nee, from the insurer’s board of directors. Beacon Board members, including Nee, were paid $20,000 per year.

The state labor chief has a seat on the Beacon Mutual board.

The governor vowed that he would not allow union leaders and their Senate allies to exact “political retaliation” against Orefice as payback for blowing the whistle on the illegal activities at Beacon Mutual.

“It is clear that the Senate planned to reject Director Orefice’s nomination as political retaliation for standing up to organized labor and defending Rhode Island taxpayers....This is just another indication that the union leadership is actually in charge of the Rhode Island State House...Unfortunately, the people responsible for the corruption at Beacon Mutual are using this confirmation vote to exact revenge,” Carcieri said. “In the last few days, we understand that George Nee — who lost his seat on the Beacon board in the wake of the scandal — has been actively lobbying against Adelita’s re-confirmation. He has even gone so far as to personally warn people not to testify on her behalf.”

“Elected representatives should not be taking orders from labor bosses. Senators should not be attacking a good public servant in order to pay off their union allies,” he said.

It was labor ally George Nee who was "mired in a scandal for giving price breaks to choice companies" not Brendan Doherty.

MORE INFO: "Beacon Mutual CEO, Underwriting VP Suspended Following Audit", Insurance Journal, April 16, 2006.

"R.I.’s Beacon Mutual Vows Cooperation With Subpoena, State Auditors", Insurance Journal, April 26, 2006.

July 10, 2012

Rhode Island Faces Imminent Peril, Says the State Board of Elections

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the State Board of Elections, Rhode Island is facing "an imminent peril" to its "public health, safety, or welfare". The imminent peril has forced the Board to call an emergency meeting to "[make] confidential the optional information on voter registrations of voters email addresses, telephone numbers and if interested as working as poll workers, since that information is not required under state law and is meant for the use by the local boards of canvassers".

Without having declared imminent peril to Rhode Island, the Board would have to "provide 30 days notice of its intended action", "afford all interested persons reasonable opportunity to submit data, views, or arguments", and demonstrate need, before adopting the new administrative rule.

However, by declaring an "an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare" of Rhode Islanders, the Board of Elections will try to immediately put into place its new rule that would make confidential the optional information on voter registrations, "for a period of not longer than one hundred twenty (120) days".

By the way, the next general election in the state of Rhode Island is one hundred eighteen (118) days away from the date of tomorrow's meeting.

Apparently, in the minds of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, the prospect of challengers to incumbent office holders making use of public information resources that have been regularly available in prior election cycles (the incumbents will still have their info from the last time around) has suddenly come to constitute "an imminent peril" in this year.

July 4, 2012

Oopsie! The Position Was Filled Before the Opening Was Posted

Monique Chartier

Now how is the Chafee administration supposed to fake conduct the nationwide search when this happens??? (Great job exposing this, Kathy Gregg.)

A belated job posting drew 115 applicants for the $88,177-a-year Chafee-administration post held by former Miss Rhode Island Allison Rogers.

Rogers, whose credentials include graduate and under-graduate degrees from Harvard University, was hired May 6 and put to work almost immediately as an executive assistant to Chafee's director of administration, Richard Licht.

Sometime later, the posting went up for an $83,476-to-$96,927-a-year "executive assistant" to the director in the Department of Administration. The application period: June 18-27.

It is the same job. ...

June 30, 2012

Sorry, Speaker Fox, You Cannot Plead Ignorance About the 38 Studios Loan Guarantee

Monique Chartier

Kudos, by the way, to Anchor Rising Readers Poll winner Newsmakers (WPRI 12) for landing this interview.

"Did I know Curt Schilling was interested in coming to Rhode Island? Absolutely," Fox said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12's Newsmakers. "Did we mandate that he get $75 million? Never! Never, never, never. Did we vet any of his financials? I wouldn't know if Curt Schilling would have qualified for a dime, for nothing, or for $125 million."

As prescribed by the state's Constitution, the Speaker of the Rhode Island House is an enormously powerful position legislatively. The result is that, with rare exception, a bill simply does not become law in Rhode Island without the Speaker's consent.

Making law can, in some ways, be compared to diving into a pool or body of water. The big difference is that if the water diver misjudges, it is almost always he alone who suffers the consequences. When the RI Speaker dives into a legislative pool, however, he is often taking (sometimes dragging) one million people along with him.

Speaker Fox's choice of verb - did not "mandate" that Schilling get $75 million - is interestingly inaccurate. No, the legislature did not mandate the $75 million loan guarantee to 38 Studios. But the legislature, with Gordon Fox at the helm, most certainly authorized it, facilitated it and turned a blank check over to the Executive Branch for taxpayer-backed loan guarantees up to $125 million.

As with almost every other bill that has become law in RI, the 38 studios loan guarantee would not have happened without the consent of the most powerful person, politically, in the state. To invoke and amplify a legal adage, ignorance of the law is not an excuse, not when you break a law and especially not when you make the laws. That Speaker Fox failed to properly apprise himself of the depth and the danger before diving into this particular legislative pool only amplifies his responsibility, it does not mitigate it.

June 27, 2012

Deadline to Declare for Public Office is Today

Patrick Laverty

Just a reminder that you're going to run for public office this year, today is the deadline to formally declare. To do that, head on down to your local Board of Canvassers or to the Secretary of State's office and fill out some papers. Next, you'll have to get a certain number of signatures to appear on the ballot, and that's when the fun part starts, the campaign.

Also, the Secretary of State's office sent out a reminder that they again have a page up on their site that will show you who has declared for each seat. It is great information to see get updated frequently and as the signature forms get returned over the next few weeks, I plan to analyze some of the upcoming races.

Keep in mind that just because someone has declared for office, it doesn't mean that they'll be on the ballot until they return at least the correct number of valid signatures. Let the fun begin!

June 20, 2012

Which Office Should I Run For?

Patrick Laverty

Well, I'm not even considering running for office, but quite a few other people are right now. I'm also guessing that many of them have their mind made up as to what seat to try to win. Some will decide to run for a seat in the General Assembly as they're either tired of the performance of their legislator or they're tired of seeing their legislator run unopposed. Both are perfectly valid reasons to run. But I'm also unhappy with the Red Sox' performance this year, but that doesn't mean I can just head to Fenway, suit up and help out. I'd be out of my league, literally.

Unfortunately, that is also the case for some that will run for a seat in the General Assembly. When you run against an incumbent General Assembly member, they have a huge advantage. They often have more money, they have some number of experienced people willing to help and they have name recognition.

Let's take a minute to analyze the options here. Plus, let me say again that I think it's great any time someone gets involved and is willing to put their name on the line to run for office. That takes a great deal of time, money and effort. But it's also a matter of whether you've chosen the right office to run for. If you live in a district where the vast majority of voters are affiliated Democrats and you plan to run as a Republican or Moderate, you better have some incredible plans or at least some photos of your opponent hanging out with OJ Simpson or Jerry Sandusky. It's going to be a big uphill climb. Plus, there's the money. Some will say that to be competitive for a General Assembly seat, you must have at least $5,000 ready to spend and maybe even upwards of $15,000. Lastly, when you head out to the local Dave's Marketplace or the CVS, do people say hi to you by name? Are you recognized in the neighborhood? In all likelihood, your incumbent opponent is.

So what's the alternative? You want to get involved, you're sick of what's going on in politics and you're ready to do something. Here's an idea. Start local. There's no shame at all in running for your local town council. We do need smart and conscientious people running the town. Very often in some towns, those seats go unopposed. Basically, one person signed their name on the line and that got them the seat. Plus in many towns, you're one of seven making big decisions for your own community. In the General Assembly, you're one of 75 in the House or one of 38 in the Senate. Additionally, many local councils are non-partisan. So that straight ticket voting isn't going to affect you as badly if you don't choose to run as a Democrat. Running for a council seat still isn't cheap, but often it needs less funding than a General Assembly run.

Another area to consider is that in many towns around the state, the largest part of the town's money goes to the schools. In my own town, a little under 80% of the entire budget funds the schools. Are you upset about the way your town taxes you or how it spends the money? Maybe consider a run for your local School Committee.

A seat on your local Council or School Committee isn't the "junior varsity". It's not a step down from the General Assembly. If you really want to affect change in your town, often serving on one of these committees will be able to do more than going to Smith Hill. Plus, if you really do have your sights set on getting to the General Assembly some day, but you see it as a long shot this year due to some of the things I mentioned, then why not start local? Work hard, walk your district, knock on doors, meet people and get them to know you and what you believe in. Then over time, you'll have the same advantages as the incumbents in Providence. You'll get the name recognition among the voters, you'll have the groups of people to support you and you'll have a database of people that you can call on for fundraising.

I think what I'm saying is too often, people see themselves as a sacrificial lamb one year, thinking that this will be the practice run, you'll get your name on the ballot and people will remember you in two years when you're really ready to make a run at it. If that's the case, you can get all the same benefits by staying local, and like I said, you can often even do much more locally, than you can at the State House.

Whichever way you decide, best of luck to you, do what's best for the people in your district, get a good campaign treasurer and don't miss any deadlines. The deadline for declaring with the Secretary of State is next week.

Anchor Rising Readers Poll: Favorite Political Roundtable Show

Marc Comtois


The second question in our Readers Poll deals with favorite Political Roundtable Show* (TV & Radio). The requirements for being put on this list were: 1) Had to be a show based in Rhode Island (so no Boston-based shows); 2) Had to focus primarily on news and political analysis with multiple viewpoints represented.

So without further ado, here are the choices (listed alphabetically):

What is your favorite political roundtable show?
pollcode.com free polls 

*Note that RI Public Radio's political roundtable show is actually called Political Roundtable. Clever marketing!

Here is the schedule of polls:

Tuesday, June 19th (today) - Favorite Radio Political Talk Show
Wednesday, June 20th - Favorite Political Roundtable Show
Thursday, June 21st - Favorite Local Electronic Media News Team
Friday, June 22nd - Favorite Local Media Investigative Team
Saturday, June 23rd - Favorite Radio News and Info Talk Show

All polls will be closed by next Tuesday, June 26th (yes, that means unequal polling time length, but live with it!).

ADDENDUM: Most of the above media organizations do a terrible job of highlighting these shows on their websites and often don't even point to the shows even if they have a "Politics" category listed (WSBE did provide a link to their schedule where you can easily find the show). Of course, you sure can find the weather!

June 19, 2012

Anchor Rising Readers Poll: Favorite Radio Political Talk Show

Marc Comtois


This is the first in a series of polls that I'm putting together this week to find out who our readers turn to for their news and political analysis in the Mainstream Media (that means no bloggers or website-based organizations <--I changed my mind in a couple areas...stay tuned).

UPDATED: Here is the schedule of polls:

Tuesday, June 19th (today) - Favorite Radio Political Talk Show
Wednesday, June 20th - Favorite Political Roundtable Show
Thursday, June 21st - Favorite Local Electronic Media News Team
Friday, June 22nd - Favorite Local Media Investigative Team
Saturday, June 23rd - Favorite Radio News and Info Talk Show

All polls will be closed by next Tuesday, June 26th (yes, that means unequal polling time length, but live with it!).

First up are the local radio political talk shows. The requirements for being put on this list were: 1) Had to be a daily show based in Rhode Island (so no Boston-based shows); 2) Had to focus primarily on news and political analysis (WPRO Morning News didn't qualify--they'll be in another category); 3) I had to be able to hear their signal in my car (which eliminated the shows on the Woonsocket Radio station. Sorry guys!).

So without further ado, here is the first poll questions (listed alphabetically by last name):

What is your favorite local political talk radio show?
pollcode.com free polls 

June 7, 2012

Who's Flying Now? (And Why?)

Marc Comtois

Ted Nesi posted an interesting graphic from the Tax Foundation that shows that:

Rhode Island posted the 18th-fastest growth in high-income taxpayers between 1999 and 2009.

While the total number of Rhode Island taxpayers grew by just 4% during that period, the number with adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 jumped 63%, for a net gain of 58.9% at the top end, the biggest in New England.

This prompted the NEA's Pat Crowley to chime in with a by-now familiar bit of rhetoric:
Vindication once again. The “flight of the earls” myth that was used as a justification to cut taxes on the elite in the middle part of the last decade is, once again, shown to be untrue.
Well, as I responded, whether you believe in the "flight of the earls" theory or not (and setting aside that it's a bit of a strawman set up by Crowley anyway), the Tax Foundation chart and data doesn't really prove or disprove it at all because the data only compares the beginning and end of a time period in which RI cut the capital gains tax and enacted the flat tax (around 2006), which were aimed at keeping/attracting high earners. It’s just as possible that the "earls" were "flying" until the 2006 reforms and then we saw an influx. We’d have to see yearly data to more accurately determine causation/correlation. So let's do that.

First, even though what follows is a more robust way to look at the trend of higher income taxpayer migration, it is by no means comprehensive. It doesn't take inflation into account (though, as the Tax Foundation points out, their percentages are relative so that affect is mitigated in their analysis), which is why the relative increase in $200K wage-earning households when comparing 1999 to 2010 may be exaggerated. Additionally, the multitude of effects that the economic recession has had on wage-earners aren't adequately accounted for in this simplified manner.

I turned to the IRS's Statistics on Income data from 1999-2010 and tallied up the number of + $200K taxpayers. (Yes, I thought I'd look at 2010, too).


Further, thanks to a timeline provided by Justin, we can compare the implementation of tax policies that were meant to impact high wage earners.

2002: capital gains tax phase-out passed to begin in 2007
2006: flat tax reduction begins
2007: capital gains tax phase-out begins with 2/3 reduction; then it's frozen
2010: capital gains tax increased to personal income level
2011: Flat tax rate reduction frozen

Keeping these dates in mind, let's look at the effects on + $200K wage-earning households. In 2000 there were 9,013 such taxpayers and this dropped to 8,259 in 2001, which, if memory serves, may have helped serve as an impetus for the tax policies that followed.

In 2002, when the capital gains tax phase-out was passed (to go into effect in 2007), the number of + $200K wage-earners went up to 8,500. From 2003 thru 2005, the numbers continued to increase, from 9,252 to 10,798 in 2004 to 12,376 in 2005. In 2006 the flat tax reduction begins and the climb continued to 13,387. In 2007, the capital gains tax phase-out begins with a 2/3 reduction of the previous level and the total + $200K wage-earning households climbed to 14,737. That year the General Assembly voted to freeze the capital gains tax (so the other 1/3 reduction did not occur) and the number dropped to 13,475 in 2008 and 12,416 in 2009. In 2009, the capital gains tax was set to be increased by matching it to personal income level in 2010. The number of households earning over $200K dropped to 11,117 in 2010. In 2011 the Flat tax rate reduction was frozen and we'll have to wait to see what happened.

When looking at the data for both "upper" middle-class and (I guess) "regular" middle-class, it looks like there is no relation between these tax policies and the number of wage earners.


For myself, I've been more of a "flight of the squires" kind of guy than "flight of the earls", believing that it's the middle-class who is suffering--and fleeing Rhode Island--more than the wealthy. As the above charts show, maybe that's wrong.

What I think this does show, however, is that there is a link between capital gains and flat tax policies and the impact they have on the number of high wage earners. During the time that these taxes were reduced, the number of + $200K wage-earners increased. After these taxes were frozen or raised, the number of + $200K wage-earners decreased.

ADDENDUM: The freeze/increase occurred before the economic downturn of 2008/2009 and, it looks like, the "earls" were already fleeing. It also looks like a lot of the "earls" became, um, "counts"(?), as the number of upper middle class wage earners seems to to be continually increasing, perhaps because some earls stayed in RI but dropped an income category. Also, the upper middle class is also being continually refreshed by regular middle class wage-earners moving up. In other words, it's important to remember that these classifications don't necessarily cover the same households.

May 29, 2012

One Question: Who has benefited from 38 Studios Mess?

Marc Comtois

Curt Schilling's interview with the ProJo is a must read because it provides insight from another angle into the 38 Studios mess. Thus far, to paraphrase what seems to be the current Rhody Conventional Wisdom, Schilling (along with "Caaarcheeeri") made a backroom deal to fleece the state of millions and both have pocketed the dough (somehow, though we haven't found it yet...we will!). The truth is a little more complicated, and quite a few more people were involved.

According to the 38 Studios founder, the State made and then broke promises that would have helped the company get through a tough financial spot. You may or may not believe Schilling regarding "potential" investors who backed out or promises that were made to him by the EDC or others. But his side of the story brings up many worthwhile points to consider and is an important addition to the narrative so far.

Schilling explains that the company needed short-term cash to keep going, so they met with the state and asked for $8.7 million in 2011 film tax credits to tie them over and submitted paperwork to get the credits. Some of the EDC members knew of the plan. Things looked to be moving along, then things got weird:

38 Studios was dealing with Keith Stokes, then-EDC’s executive director, and David Gilden, the EDC’s lawyer. On April 30, Schilling says, the company talked to Stokes about deferring the $1.12-million payment that was due the next day, May 1, and using the money for the May 15 payroll. But the company also said that if the tax credits were issued in time, 38 Studios wouldn’t need the extension.

...The company missed the May 1 payment. As a result, on May 4, the EDC issued a notice that 38 Studios had defaulted on its state loan agreement, making the company ineligible for the film-tax credits that it needed to stay afloat.

Schilling says the company was blindsided by the notice. Under terms of 38 Studio’s original agreement with the state, he says, the company should have had 30 days to address the missed payment before being declared in default.

That touched off frantic negotiations among 38 Studios, the EDC and Chafee. By the end of the following week, the word had begun leaking to reporters. Then, on Monday, May 14, Chafee said publicly that the state was working with 38 Studios to keep the company “solvent.”

...Meanwhile, Schilling says, the EDC’s Stokes and Gilden had agreed to a deal in which 38 Studios would pay the $1.12-million fee and then EDC would facilitate the release of the tax credits, by certifying that 38 Studios was no longer in default.

The night before it was to go through, company director Thomas Zaccagnino says, he learned that the embattled Stokes, who was drawing heavy criticism for the 38 Studios deal, had resigned. Since Stokes had been a point person in talks with 38 Studios, a worried Zaccagnino texted Gilden, “Please tell me that this won’t affect our agreement.”

Responded Gilden: “it will not.”

But the next day, when 38 Studios tried to pay the $1.12 million with money from a tax-credit investor, executives say they found themselves in an embarrassing scene in which Chafee announced that 38 Studios had sent a bad check with insufficient funds.

Richard O. Wester, 38 Studio’s chief financial officer, says he went to the EDC’s offices at 5 p.m. that day with a check. Meanwhile, 38 Studios’ controller was back at the office, waiting for the funds to be wired from the buyer of the tax credits into 38 Studios’ account. When that happened, Wester would receive the green light to give the EDC the check.

But the tax-credit buyer, whom 38 Studios declined to identify, backed out –– because the EDC lawyer Gilden would not provide a state guarantee to the buyer. When Wester learned that, he says, he never handed over the check.

Fifteen minutes later, he says, he saw a news story on The Providence Journal’s website, quoting Chafee’s spokeswoman that the company had given the EDC a bad check.

The next day, Friday, May 18, another tax-credit investor wired the $1.12 million directly to the EDC. But the state did not release the tax credits to 38 Studios, and still hasn’t ––raising doubts about how that investor will ultimately be repaid.

The rest of the story is well known. Schilling is critical of the way Governor Chafee portrayed the situation publicly, especially with the Governor portraying the first game, Reckoning, as a failure as well as how the Governor gave out closely held secrets like the release date of Project Copernicus and the so-called “burn rate” of the money 38 Studios was spending monthly. According to Schilling:
“We made it clear in EDC meetings how damaging it was, what was happening to our company. [My workers] are sitting there, busting their [humps] without a paycheck, we’re grinding through this, and then he’s press-conferencing on a daily basis, saying this company is a failure, our games are a failure, this was a mistake –– over and over and over again.
Schilling believes these comments undermined a potential $35 million deal that would have seen a sequel to "Reckoning" published and another $55 million deal for further financing on Copernicus. Again, believe Schilling or not, but the way the Chafee Administration publicly handled that first missed payment to the EDC is worth examining. Why did they state 38 Studios had defaulted while negotiations were still going on? I keep going back to the question: who has benefited from all of the negatives surrounding this problem? It isn't Schilling or Carcieri, or members of the EDC or the General Assembly or RI taxpayers. No, the only person who benefits--politically--is Governor Chafee.

Chafee has been saying "I told you so" without actually saying "I told you so" since the story broke (instead, he's been saying things like "throwing good money after bad", or that "no criminal wrongdoing [has been found]...yet"). And while it's true that we often ascribe malice and conspiracy to people when ineptitude may be the best explanation, Governor Chafee has shown a sort of passively-aggressive malice in his frequent press availabilities over the last couple weeks. Is it possible he facilitated this crisis? I'm not ready to go that far. But he sure seems to be the sole beneficiary of it. At least, until now.

May 26, 2012

(Lack of) Monitoring - What Happened to IBM's Monitoring Reports Once They Hit the EDC?

Monique Chartier

First of all, I agree with the leap-off point of Travis Rowley's column this week: vilification of Kurt Schilling is completely misdirected.

Responsibility for the 38 Studios mess - "mess" as in, who is to blame that taxpayers will probably end up paying $90-100 million hard earned dollars with nothing to show for it - does not rest with Kurt Schilling but with our then-elected officials (G.A. leadership and the Governor; not rank-and-file legislators). Kurt Schilling - and any other businessperson - was perfectly within his rights to come to Rhode Island for a loan guarantee. It was up to us to properly evaluate and then either approve or reject the request. It is not Kurt's fault that our elected officials apparently failed to carry out - or disregarded the results of - due diligence on our behalf.

So state officials failed miserably on advance due diligence. What about diligence and monitoring once the project was underway? From the AP.

The EDC and 38 Studios signed a monitoring agreement in November 2010 under which IBM would provide 38 Studios with an initial assessment of "Project Copernicus" — the development of the company's second game — and quarterly "milestone verification" reports, according to a copy of the agreement.

The initial assessment was to include a review of project plans, financials and financial management as well as an analysis of risks and recommendations on how to mitigate them. Subsequent reports would essentially be progress checks, which IBM suggested would include a review of the project's financial status and a list of results "relevant to Rhode Island's interests."

The agreement said 38 Studios would provide to the EDC copies of all materials prepared by IBM and invite EDC to attend all discussions between 38 Studios and IBM.

But in August, the EDC and 38 Studios signed a "modification and waiver" to the agreement saying that, instead of being provided with IBM's actual reports, the economic agency would agree to briefings from IBM on the findings. This came at the request of 38 Studios.

Observers have pointed out that Governor Chafee has been restrained in not crowing about the failure of a tax-payer backed arrangement which he so vigorously opposed. He has been wise to do so and not just for the sake of decorum but because two of the major questions that have emerged from this mess pertain to his administration:

1.) Who in Governor Chafee's EDC agreed to with 38 Studios' request that IBM switch from written to verbal reports and why did they do so?

2.) What happened to that information once it reached the EDC? Who at the EDC was receiving those reports, written and subsequently verbal? Did those reports contain information that foreshadowed the events of the last two weeks?

May 21, 2012

38 Studios: Why Wasn't the Result of the EDC's 2010 Risk Assessment Properly Circulated?

Monique Chartier

A fascinating and eye-opening article by Mike Stanton in yesterday's Providence Journal describes how, to paraphrase Stanton, the state jumped into the game business.

We learn, for example, that the decision to provide 38 Studios with a $75 million loan guarantee from the taxpayers of the state was definitely a joint one reached by then-Governor Carcieri and legislative leaders,

One week later, the new executive director of Rhode Island’s Economic Development Corporation, Keith Stokes, said that both Carcieri and Fox, the House speaker, told him in separate conversations that he should meet Schilling.

On March 16, Stokes and Fox met Schilling and 38 Studios director Tom Zaccagnino at the downtown Providence law office of Michael Corso, a friend and campaign supporter of Fox’s who was working with 38 Studios, sold tax credits, and had helped rewrite Rhode Island’s historic-preservation tax credit law

and not a solo venture by the Executive Branch. [Note to Pat from Cumberland who called the Helen Glover Show this morning and tried to pin responsibility exclusively on Carcieri and the Republicans: HA! Repubs only WISH they had that kind of power.]

We also learn from Stanton that IBM was hired as the third party monitor. But now, IBM

has declined to provide The Journal with any details of the agreement. When the newspaper asked for copies of IBM’s written reports, the EDC said there are no written reports, just verbal updates.

No written reports by the third party monitor: was that to facilitate deniability for our officials should it be needed down the road?

Perhaps the most troubling item that emerges from Stanton's article, however, is that something went seriously wrong with the communication of the results of EDC's risk assessment, which did not come back entirely rosy.

Meanwhile, analysts hired by the EDC rushed to assess the viability of 38 Studios, and warned of the high risks of an unproven company in a competitive market. 38 Studios’ attempts to develop a massively multiplayer game, one analyst wrote, “is analogous to an ‘all in’ hand in poker.”

Now the question is, who was aware of these conclusions and why did they remain silent? Certainly the EDC had to be aware. Yet it appears that then-Executive Director Keith Stokes actually implied the opposite.

Responding to criticism from Democratic Rep. Charlene Lima of Cranston, Stokes wrote her that the EDC has gone to “great lengths to safeguard Rhode Island taxpayers.” ...

Stokes said the deal had been carefully vetted by the EDC board, which included Rhode Island’s “top business, labor, higher education and civic leaders,” and that a “lengthy and comprehensive due diligence” had concluded that 38 Studios was “a sound company in a high-growth interactive entertainment market projected to reach $124 billion by 2013.”

Was Governor Carcieri aware? Had then-Speaker Fox been apprised of these troubling conclusions about the risk of the loan guarantee to 38 Studios?

How about House Finance Chair Steven Costantino? If he wasn't aware that a risk assessment had been undertaken or the results, why was he making representations as though he were in the know?

Costantino countered that defaults were rare. The EDC, he said, “has been very, very successful in reducing the risk to the state…. They go through a very intense risk assessment.”

In GoLocalProv today, former Rep John Loughlin describes the 38 Studios loan guarantee as a

pie-in-the-sky, Hail Mary deal

But the EDC's risk assessment provided specific information at the time that this might be the case. The critical question is, who had this information and failed to disseminate it, thereby preventing a properly informed decision from being made about the $100+ million tax dollars at stake?

May 16, 2012

Shut Down the E.D.C. So That We Have an Unobstructed View of the Real E.D.C.

Monique Chartier

... though not because the Schilling deal, facilitated by the Economic Development Corp, might leave taxpayers on the hook for upwards of $100 million.

By almost any measure, Rhode Island has a very poor business climate. High taxes, too many fees, too many regulations, many of which were intended to protect consumers but, in reality, treat them like dull children. This condition has nothing to do with "irrational negativity" on the part of some residents or commentators but was legislated into existence on Smith Hill by some well-intentioned and badly misguided law-makers.

Patrick points out that this climate compels the state to occasionally turn to "gimmicks" like loan guarantees to entice businesses to come here. But gimmicks and one-off tax arrangements do not constitute an economic development strategy. The solution is to ameliorate the state's business climate. Only one body can do that and it's not the R.I.E.D.C.

The charade is over. It's time to disassemble the false-front E.D.C. so that the real E.D.C., its actions and, more importantly, its inaction, can come clearly into focus.


I'm happy to re-state and amplify, at Russ' request, that my views about abolishing the E.D.C. for the indicated reason long pre-date this week's development in - or deterioration of - the 38 Studios arrangement. Said deterioration simply posed an opportunity to comment on the larger issue of Rhode Island's poor business climate and exactly who is responsible for it.

That Governor Donald Carcieri might have made a bad call with 38 Studios (and definitely made a bad decision with regard to the They-Think-We-Have-Deep-Pockets-For-Blowing-In-The-Wind-Energy project ... er, with regard to Deep Water Wind) does not change my high opinion of him as governor. Far more importantly, it does not change the reality of the poor economic conditions that made such a "gimmick" seemingly necessary or shift responsibility away from those who created those conditions over the last three to four decades.

May 14, 2012

Questions About 38 Studios' Solvency?

Monique Chartier

John Depetro alluded to it earlier today. But it looks like WJAR/NBC10/Turn to 10's Bill Rappleye got what can only be viewed as a confirming quote from Governor Chafee.

State officials have been meeting with the video game company owned by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Gov. Lincoln Chafee told NBC 10 on Monday.

"We're always working to keep Rhode Island companies solvent, and that's what we're doing with 38 Studios," Chafee said.

Potentially at stake, of course, is $75 million tax dollars, as WPRI's Ted Nesi and Steve Nielsen point out.

The R.I. Economic Development Corporation gave 38 Studios a $75 million taxpayer-backed loan in 2010 with the strong backing of EDC Executive Director Keith Stokes and then-Governor Carcieri.

Let the record show that Governor Chafee was strongly opposed to this arrangement from the beginning.

It is to be hoped that these reports are overblown and 38 Studios will successfully navigate some purported rough seas. Nevertheless, it is hard not to hear and read these reports and come to one inexorable conclusion: however small these loan guarantees are compared to the total of economic activity in the state, this is not a realistic approach to economic development. Taxpayer capital cannot begin to substitute for a good (or even just neutral!) business climate. This, in turn, can only be created at the General Assembly by legislators who are willing, in the words of small business owner Roland Benjamin, to

look at the small business community as a growth engine in the economy, not a tax revenue source

I would only quibble by omitting the adjective "small". Big and small; we need them all.

May 13, 2012

Rhody Confirmation Bias: An Anecdote

Marc Comtois

This past Friday, Justin wrote a piece for The Current about Rhode Island's business-unfriendliness (worst in the nation). Not that causation=correlation or anything, ahem, but he ended the piece with this bit:

The page for Rhode Island also presents data and rankings based on the U.S. Census. Notably, the state had the second worst debt per capita in 2011 ($9,113) and the highest Democratic voting percentage (61.1%). (emphasis mine)
Earlier in the week, I heard a couple people in the office talking about how Governor Chafee's stance regarding the Pleau case was nuts and how they were very disappointed in him. In the past, they (like most of us) have complained about how bad things are in the state. As for Chafee, they had liked him as Mayor of Warwick, after all (and they like Avedisian, too!), but they don't know what happened to him. They even voted for him when they usually vote Democrat (though, of course, they're "unafilliated")! Just goes to show that they get screwed whenever they vote for someone who's not a Democrat, I guess. Right? Right?

It's no wonder some of you (and I'm getting there...) think this place is hopeless.

May 9, 2012

Still Nothing From Sen. Felag

Patrick Laverty

As you might remember, I sent a few questions to State Senator Walter Felag on April 30. I guess Hummel was right when he showed us that members of the Assembly do not respond to non-constituents. More than a week later and no response from the Senator. I guess I shouldn't hold my breath, but it's just another example of how the don't feel accountable to the taxpayers and voters of Rhode Island.

May 4, 2012

AFL-CIO: Don't Fund Partisan Org's w/Taxpayer $'s!

Marc Comtois

As Bob Plain reports:

Writing on behalf of the 80,000 members of the AFL-CIO, union leaders George Nee and Maureen Martin sent a letter to every member of the legislature asking that ALEC memberships not be funded with taxpayer money.

“If the views and priorities of ALEC align with your personal beliefs, then by all means remain a member,” they wrote in the letter. “We only ask that the Rhode Island taxpayer not be responsible for paying your membership dues to a right-wing, business backed lobbying group, just as no one would ask the taxpayer to be responsible for paying any members dues to liberal organizations such as Ocean State Action, Emily’s List, or MoveOn.org.”

No word on how the AFL-CIO feels about compulsory dues being paid to their organization by unionized public employees whose salaries are funded by taxpayer dollars. I guess that one-degree of "separation" is enough. Or something.

April 30, 2012

A Few Questions About ALEC

Patrick Laverty

I was reading Phil Marcelo's story in the Providence Journal today about the state legislators who had joined ALEC but weren't too familiar with the organization. One thing near the end that stuck out was Sen. Walter Felag looking into canceling his membership. I decided to steal a page from Andrew's book and send Senator Felag some questions about this. I know state legislators don't like to answer questions from non-direct constituents, but hopefully we'll get a response.

In the meantime, here were the very simple questions:
1. Why did you become a member of ALEC?
2. Why are you looking to terminate your membership?
3. Are you a member of any other organizations and are you keeping your membership with those?
4. Because you are looking to terminate your membership, are you willing to reimburse the state for your membership dues?

I just sent these tonight, so with the Assembly back in session for the next few days, I'll look forward to a response.

April 29, 2012

Rhode Island's Presumptive New Historian Laureate Testified Against Separation Of Powers

Monique Chartier

On Friday, Governor Chafee signed the bill that created the unpaid position of state Historian Laureate.

Per the ProJo,

... the presumptive candidate-in-waiting has been the controversial lawyer, historian and developer Patrick T. Conley.

Let's not forget that in the mighty battle to bring separation of powers to Rhode Island, Dr. Conley testified at length against the measure - and as an "expert", at that. (Thank you, Common Cause, for the record.)

April 9, 2003

More expert testimony is heard against the Gorham bill. The only expert witness who testifies this evening is a former professor of history at Providence College Patrick T. Conley, the author of Democracy in Decline, a study of the history of Rhode Island’s first constitution as well as other scholarly books and pamphlets.

At the request of Governor Chafee, the position of Historian Laureate will

... be merely "honorific" and not confer "official status" to any of the laureate's statements.

Nevertheless, it will be reflective of all that has been and gone wrong for decades with a state that has a constitutionally muscular legislature if the state's first Historian Laureate vigorously opposed even the modicum of balance between the executive and the legislative represented by separation of powers.

April 14, 2012

RI Assoc of Firefighters Re Municipal Relief Package: We Will Litigate

Monique Chartier

Justin live-blogged the Senate Finance Committee hearing of Governor Chafee's Municipal Relief Package for Ocean State Current.

Justin's coverage of hearings on Smith Hill are a treat for us followers of Rhode Island policy and politics because he includes many interesting and enlightening details and macro items. This time is no exception. Therefore, with great restraint, I'll focus on just one item for this post: remarks by Paul Valletta, a firefighter and lobbyist for the RI State Association of Firefighters.

Says the cost of Flanders et al. has been more than the cities and towns needed to avoid bankruptcy. “We’re in this mess because of the pensions,” and we all know it was a matter of mismanagement. “We would like just once for the leaders of this state” to take the blame and ask for help, and we’ll help. ...

He’s going through the bills, saying they’ll all be challenged through grievances, and he’s confident that the unions will win. ...

Valletta is particularly against changes to the Firefighters Arbitration Act.

One point and one question.

Firstly, receivers' fees have come nowhere close to the debt racked up by the borderline criminal budgeting of decades of Central Falls' highly irresponsible, could-give-a-damn-less elected officials. (Speaking of criminal, can we get an update on the investigation of Mayor Charles "Board-Up" Moreau?)

Secondly, before publicly committing them to a legal fight against this legislative package, did Mr. Valletta made it clear to his fellow firefighters, current and retired, that most of their pension plans fall somewhere in a range between underfunded and close to busted and that absent reform, pension checks will bounce?

April 11, 2012

Wednesday Political Roundup

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made a campaign appearance in Warwick today. Justin liveblogged the event at the Ocean State Current.

Anthony Gemma announced a Sunday announcement "regarding his political intentions that will positively impact the political, economic, and cultural fates of Rhode Island and, by extension, the United States of America for the foreseeable future" (via Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio). I'd offer a remark on this announcement being slightly overblown, but they've already all been taken.

First District Republican Congressional Candidate Brendan Doherty offered a response to Congressman David Cicilline's expression of regret for having described Providence as being in excellent financial condition (via GoLocalProv).

Given all of this other stuff that was going on, Mike Gardiner picked kind of a bad day to officially announce his second-time bid to win the GOP nomination for RI's Second District Congressional seat.

April 5, 2012

Expungement and Ciccone's Arrest Record: Because If It's Expunged, It Didn't Happen

Monique Chartier

Yes, as Andrew notes, Ian Donnis points out at On Politics that Senator Ciccone has an arrest record.

State Senator Frank A. Ciccone, under fire for threatening comments allegedly made to Barrington police during a road stop last week, was arrested twice in the early 1980s and testified under immunity against the late former state Supreme Court chief justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua during his 1986 impeachment trial.

In his article, Ian is careful to credit the source of this information: not the state judiciary's defendant database but the Providence Journal.

ProJo stories describing Ciccone’s past are behind the newspaper’s pay wall, which could help explain why the information hasn’t surfaced until now.

More specifically, these reports are in the ProJo's archives. I can provide no link to them, however, because, as Ian pointed out in an e-mail this morning, their archives were placed behind a pay wall long before the paper was.

What was illuminating was Senator Ciccone's reaction when Ian brought up this ... history.

Asked about the arrests, Ciccone — in an apparent reference to how the charges were expunged — said, “Show me the arrest records … Show me the arrest records.” Senate aides stepped in to end the interview as yesterday’s session was being called to order.

The Senate session was starting. Yeah, that's the ticket. Aids had to step in because the Senate session was starting, not because Senator Ciccone had given a patently Tommy Flanagan answer.

Gee, Senator, we can't show you the arrest records. They were expunged, remember? But much as you and/or the victims might wish it otherwise, that doesn't mean that the crimes weren't committed.

April 3, 2012

From Spaccone To Surreal: Senator Ciccone Had Proposed Letting The Senate (Ethically) Police Itself

Monique Chartier

How did I miss Item #3 from Ted Nesi's most recent "Saturday Morning Post"? (Thanks to a friend for pointing it out. H/T John Depetro for invoking an excellent Italian word to describe the senator's now notorious actions last week.)

... The majority leader’s arrest report was released Wednesday morning by Barrington Police Chief John LaCross, who has another official role in public life: LaCross was appointed to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission a year ago by Governor Chafee. And who’s fought hardest to make sure LaCross and his fellow commissioners don’t get back the power to police lawmakers’ ethics? Senate President Paiva Weed, Ruggerio and the rest of the chamber’s leadership. In fact, Ciccone himself drafted a proposal to let senators police themselves.

That's right, "let senators police themselves". Take it, Kathy Gregg (two years ago).

The Senate Rules Committee is considering a proposal to let the state Senate adopt its own conflict-of-interest rules, and police the behavior of its own members. ...

Not everyone is enthralled with the idea.

"Common Cause opposes any plan to have the Rhode Island Senate police itself,'' says John Marion, executive director of the citizens' advocacy group. "Historically efforts by legislatures to monitor their behavior internally have been unsuccessful. One need look no further than the U.S. Senate, whose Ethics Committee has fallen into a partisan stalemate,'' Marion said. ...

Maselli said there is no written proposal yet, but Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, is working on one ...

You know, some people would say the reason that the Rhode Island Senate shouldn't have their "own internal conflict-of-interest rules" is because they are not capable of policing themselves. The incident involving Senator Frank Ciccone last Wednesday is a great opportunity to prove them wrong. That night, as Dan Yorke phrased it well yesterday, Senator Ciccone used the power of the Senate chamber as a weapon to intimidate. Is the Senate going to stand for that? Or perhaps the Senate would prefer to go the criminal route and ask A.G. Kilmartin to press charges against Senator Ciccone for obstructing a police officer in the conduct of his duties?

To use an expression of one of my favorite interviewers, "What say ye, Madame Senate President?".

April 2, 2012

The Slippery Governor

Patrick Laverty

One skill that you can learn by watching the local politicians is a nice way to evade any tough questions. Simply don't answer them. I don't mean you just sit there and stare at the questioner, but you answer the question you want to answer.

On this weekend's Newsmakers, Governor Chafee was the guest and early on, Arlene Violet seemed to have Chafee backed into a corner. She smelled blood kept the blows coming. Being the experienced politician that Chafee is, he clearly knew that she had him stuck and he was left with two options, either don't directly answer her question or be caught in an easily disproven lie. He seemed to choose the former. Check the video for yourself.

After the commercial break, Ted Nesi asked a question about a campaign pledge that the then-candidate Chafee offered up. This was not a pledge that someone asked him to take, this was something written on Chafee's campaign web site. Nesi first read the pledge and then asked about it:

"Make no mistake, I will oppose any change to our taxes without first reforming our spending, particularly the mandates."

And we've now had two budgets in a row where you've proposed significant tax increases. I know you've said why you think those are necessary, but isn't that breaking that campaign pledge?

The Governor responded with:
No, the reforms are always a part of any revenue package and as a candidate I've appeared before the Finance Committee urging reforms that now I have as part of my legislative package. So even as a candidate, going up and urging reforms, Massachusetts called "No revenue without reform" when they put in their sales tax increase. And I feel the same way. We're not just going to throw money at a problem. We want to fix it structurally.
Huh? Chafee gave an excellent answer if the question was an attack on reform. It's as if Nesi asked him why he's offering some reform in his proposal. But that's not the case at all. We understand that part. The point of the question was why has Chafee proposed any tax increases at all if the reforms are not in place yet? Remember what Chafee had written,
I will oppose any change to our taxes
I guess what should I expect from someone who later in the Newsmakers episode was asked about why he is endorsing David Cicilline for re-election and responded with:
A lot of the criticism leveled against Congressman Cicilline in his time as mayor is unfounded because he suffered $30 million in cuts.
But then Tim White redirected the point and reminded Chafee that the criticism to Cicilline was because Cicilline wasn't honest about Providence's financial situation. Chafee's response:
Maybe there's some legitimate criticism there. He should have been more forthright in the devastation of these cuts.
"Forthright." Yes, a very interesting choice of words. Maybe it's also time to start evaluating the Governor's statements a little more closely for their own forthrightness.

March 27, 2012

"Take Action": E-Verify (Both Public & Private Sector) To Be Heard Today in House Labor

Monique Chartier

... as Andrew noted on his list, though you wouldn't know it from the General Assembly's Bill Status page (which still has both 7315 and 7927 "scheduled for hearing and/or consideration" on March 19).

If you very reasonably object to a major enticement - employment - to illegal immigration; if you would prefer private and public sector jobs go to legal immigrants and citizens; if you'd like the burden on state and local budgets lessened, the indefatigueable folks at RIILE are asking that you attend the hearing this afternoon, set for the Rise of the House (around 4:30 pm) in Room 135. If you cannot attend, they have pointed us to the handy-dandy "Take Action" form on RISC's website so that you can contact your elected officials.

March 20, 2012

Almonte First into the Democratic Gubernatorial Void?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo's Randal Edgar reported last evening that former RI Auditor General Ernest Almonte is considering running for Governor of Rhode Island as a Democrat (h/t Ted Nesi via Twitter)...

Former Auditor General Ernest A. Almonte said Monday that he is "seriously considering" a run for governor in 2014.

Almonte, who stepped down in 2010 after 15 years as auditor general, said he is talking with friends and associates about the possibility and expects to make a decision later this year....He said he would most likely run as a Democrat.

I know it seems tres early to be discussing the 2014 Governor's race, but one unknown that is going to significantly impact the fate of pension reform in Rhode Island and the state's fiscal health in general is the question of who's going to be the Democratic candidate for Governor in 2014.

If Governor Lincoln Chafee maintains about the level of support for pension reform that he has shown so far (though with all due respect to Jim Baron, I want to see the final version of municipal legislation he proposes, before giving him full plaudits for tackling the issue) and runs for a second term as an I or a D, and either Ernest Almonte or Gina Raimondo becomes a credible gubernatorial candidate on the Democratic side, it will make it significantly harder for opponents of the current version of pension reform to propel someone into the top tier of candidates. And if there's no Rhode Island Democrat willing and/or able to push a don't-worry, the system can be fixed with higher taxes and reamortization message in the Governor's race, chances increase of the changes currently being put into place taking hold.

The question accelerated by a potential Almonte candidacy is whether there is anyone from the traditional spend first, figure out how to pay for it later wing of the Democratic party in Rhode Island with the stature to run for Governor of Rhode Island.

March 16, 2012

Got a Spare $30,000?

Patrick Laverty

According to 630wpro.com, former US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be in Rhode Island next week to headline a fundraiser to benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Also mentioned as possibly being in attendance is our own Congressman, David Cicilline, along with co-sponsors Gina Raimondo and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

This sure sounds like one heckuva great night and could be fun for the whole family. I'm sure this will just lift the spirits of the middle class Rhode Islander that we hear David Cicilline working so hard for. So what exactly is the cost to attend such an event for us middle class, working Rhode Island folk?

The event with the former speaker is carrying a hefty price tag with attendees being asked to contribute at least $1,000 per person or as much as $30,800 a couple.
I'm not sure I even want to know what I'd get for more than $30,000 for the evening. I wonder if they'll take a check.

Chafee Reforms Take on Union Fundamentals

Marc Comtois

Governor Chafee's municipal reform and relief plan (link to a PDF) contains many items that have long been considered in the "good idea" category by those of us around here (as Matt Allen posted on Facebook, "I think the blind squirrel found a nut!"). As Ted Nesi writes, a lot of it was promoted by Governor Carcieri who, while getting hammered for cutting money to cities and towns, doesn't get credit for also trying to persuade the General Assembly that the cuts and reforms went hand in hand. Instead, the General Assembly went with the politically expedient cuts and left the politically difficult reforms--reforms that organized labor opposed--by the wayside.

Just look at how some of Chafee's mandate relief proposals touch upon some union sacred cows:

* Reduce Accidental Disability Pensions for Public Safety Employees to between 50% to 66 2/3%.
* Remove the requirement that expired public safety contracts stay in place throughout arbitration.
* Suspend requirement that school Nurses also be certified Teachers.
* Suspend requirement that school buses carry bus monitors.
* Allows retiree health plans to be aligned with active employee plans. ie; no more Blue Cross Blue Shield classic.
* Suspends teacher step increases for determining pay based on seniority.

According to the ProJo, the RI Federation of Teachers lobbyist James Parisi "said giving certain cities and towns the ability to freeze annual salary increases for teachers and change medical benefits were particularly offensive..." State Association of Fire Fighters lobbyist Paul Valletta Jr. considers these proposals an "insult" and the RI AFL-CIO's George Nee called them a "fundamental assault" on the Rhode Island labor movement.

Then we have the lukewarm statements from Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed and House Leader Gordon Fox, "We look forward to a thorough vetting of Governor Chafee's proposals regarding cities and towns through the committee process. The Senate and House are committed to continue working with the administration to address the financial challenges the cities and towns face." A thorough vetting, huh? Is this an election year?

Finally, just to note, it looks like the Rhode Island labor movement continues to learn that supporting Lincoln Chafee in no way guarantees he'll have your back when push comes to shove. Just ask John McCain and the national Republican Party.

March 12, 2012

Bill to Allow State Employees Serve in Assembly

Patrick Laverty

How's this sound on the face of it? A bill sponsored by Senators Jabour, Crowley and Pinga would remove the restriction that prevents state employees from running for election for a state seat. So a state employee could run for the General Assembly or any of the other General Officer seats. It sure sounds like a conflict of interest, doesn't it? In face, according to boston.com, the restriction was put in place in 1939 to eliminate at least this possible conflict of interest. I guess "only in Rhode Island" would the politicians look to add more conflicts of interest.

One can see the point though, why should anyone be restricted simply due to their place of employment? We already have other potential conflicts at the State House. How many lawyers vote on bills that can affect them? How many others are members of unions in the state and bring forth bills that would directly affect the unions? How many voted on pension reform when they themselves receive a pension? However, simply because there are other issues shouldn't be an excuse to add more.

You have to think though, and I don't see it in the bill, wouldn't it be interesting for someone to be elected to be their own boss? What if someone with a job in the Governor's Office were elected Governor? Can he keep his job and his salary on top of the Governor's? How about in the Attorney General's office? Can someone effectively do both jobs? How about being employed by the Speaker of the House while serving in the Senate? What kind of mixed loyalties might that cause? It'll be fun to find out.

Unrelated, how funny is it that the Boston Globe even tries hard to link to the sourced article in the Providence Journal and is blocked out. Gotta love being required to get local RI news from the Boston Globe.

Bill to Allow State Employees Serve in Assembly

Patrick Laverty

How's this sound on the face of it? A bill sponsored by Senators Jabour, Crowley and Pinga would remove the restriction that prevents state employees from running for election for a state seat. So a state employee could run for the General Assembly or any of the other General Officer seats. It sure sounds like a conflict of interest, doesn't it? In face, according to boston.com, the restriction was put in place in 1939 to eliminate at least this possible conflict of interest. I guess "only in Rhode Island" would the politicians look to add more conflicts of interest.

One can see the point though, why should anyone be restricted simply due to their place of employment? We already have other potential conflicts at the State House. How many lawyers vote on bills that can affect them? How many others are members of unions in the state and bring forth bills that would directly affect the unions? How many voted on pension reform when they themselves receive a pension? However, simply because there are other issues shouldn't be an excuse to add more.

You have to think though, and I don't see it in the bill, wouldn't it be interesting for someone to be elected to be their own boss? What if someone with a job in the Governor's Office were elected Governor? Can he keep his job and his salary on top of the Governor's? How about in the Attorney General's office? Can someone effectively do both jobs? How about being employed by the Speaker of the House while serving in the Senate? What kind of mixed loyalties might that cause? It'll be fun to find out.

Unrelated, how funny is it that the Boston Globe even tries hard to link to the sourced article in the Providence Journal and is blocked out. Gotta love being required to get local RI news from the Boston Globe.

Held For Further Study, or We Were Told Not To Vote On This

Patrick Laverty

Andrew has been banging this drum for a while now with a post earlier this year on bills being held for further study as well as his great explanation last year of how our elected leaders could put an end to the practice. Justin has also been live-blogging from some of the hearings and from what I can tell, he might as well just write "Held For Further Study" at the beginning of each bill discussion.

However, Andrew's explanation of how to block the practice requires two people. Two people with the guts to rock the boat and upset the people who fear a committee vote and possibly a floor vote on a bill. One easy way to keep legislators from having to vote on a tricky bill is to bury it in committee. Once a vote takes place and is on the record, voters and opposing candidates can use that against the incumbent. Or the opposite can happen, a legislator can simply tell people "I would have voted for that, but it never made it out of committee."

I can understand the need for "Held For Further Study." Not all bills are perfect, some require some edits, rewrites and even looking up statistics and data. That's a perfect use for the decision. But sometimes, there's nothing more to do.

One such example is the "Master Lever" bill, or Straight Ticket Voting. This bill has been submitted for the fourth straight year this year, all four years never making it past the "Held For Further Study" status. The bill even has the support of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis. But last week during the Senate Judiciary Hearing that Justin attended, the bill was held yet again. Why? What else is there to study? What is the more data that they need to know?

Here's my solution. If a committee is going to hold a bill for future study, they need to explain why and what they need to know. Then give it a vote when that information comes back, or simply repeat the process. If a bill needs to be studied more, then study it! Come back with results. Stop throwing bills into the trash with this political trick.

So Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey, what do you want studied about that bill, what more do you need to know? Let's get you that information and get your committee voting. Whaddya say?

Held For Further Study, or We Were Told Not To Vote On This

Patrick Laverty

Andrew has been banging this drum for a while now with a post earlier this year on bills being held for further study as well as his great explanation last year of how our elected leaders could put an end to the practice. Justin has also been live-blogging from some of the hearings and from what I can tell, he might as well just write "Held For Further Study" at the beginning of each bill discussion.

However, Andrew's explanation of how to block the practice requires two people. Two people with the guts to rock the boat and upset the people who fear a committee vote and possibly a floor vote on a bill. One easy way to keep legislators from having to vote on a tricky bill is to bury it in committee. Once a vote takes place and is on the record, voters and opposing candidates can use that against the incumbent. Or the opposite can happen, a legislator can simply tell people "I would have voted for that, but it never made it out of committee."

I can understand the need for "Held For Further Study." Not all bills are perfect, some require some edits, rewrites and even looking up statistics and data. That's a perfect use for the decision. But sometimes, there's nothing more to do.

One such example is the "Master Lever" bill, or Straight Ticket Voting. This bill has been submitted for the fourth straight year this year, all four years never making it past the "Held For Further Study" status. The bill even has the support of Secretary of State Ralph Mollis. But last week during the Senate Judiciary Hearing that Justin attended, the bill was held yet again. Why? What else is there to study? What is the more data that they need to know?

Here's my solution. If a committee is going to hold a bill for future study, they need to explain why and what they need to know. Then give it a vote when that information comes back, or simply repeat the process. If a bill needs to be studied more, then study it! Come back with results. Stop throwing bills into the trash with this political trick.

So Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey, what do you want studied about that bill, what more do you need to know? Let's get you that information and get your committee voting. Whaddya say?

March 1, 2012

Just Politicians After All: Raimondo and Taveras Throw Support Behind Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Recent polls show that General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras enjoy broad-based, multi-partisan support in the state, particularly for their willingness to take stances that are politically unpopular amongst their natural consistencies. These "pragmatic progressives" have thus benefited from some good press and good feeling that, perhaps, they were a different sort of politician.

They have both just undermined that line of thinking by their avowed support for unpopular Rep. David Cicilline. Mayor Taveras set aside the apparent irony of throwing his support behind a man who contributed to the "Category 5 Hurricane" he inherited by saying it didn't happen "overnight" and we need Democrats in Washington, D.C. For her part, Raimondo tried to walk back any impression that she had formally endorsed Cicilline, but such a stance is too cute by half.

General Treasurer Gina Raimondo confirmed her position in the host committee for a fundraiser for Congressman David Cicilline but when asked if was an endorsement she replied, “no.”

A spokesperson later clarified that Raimondo, while supporting Congressman Cicilline, has not formerly endorsed him.

“I’m part of that host committee for that event and I am supportive of the congressmen,” said Raimondo.

It's hard to walk a line that isn't there, Treasurer. As WPRO's Dee DeQuattro tweeted, "She has officially become a politician..."

Both have allowed their ideological instincts to trump their "pragmatic" political ones and may have made a political miscalculation in supporting such a polarizing figure as Cicilline. It will chip away at the bi-partisan political capital they have both earned--particularly amongst dispositionally skeptical independents and conservatives--and serves to confirm that, by supporting a prototypical politician like David Cicilline, they, too, are typical RI politicians after all.

February 29, 2012

It's (Not) the Economy, Stupid!

Patrick Laverty

With all due respect to Governor Chafee and to the position of RI Governor, the title of this post is in reference to a 1992 Clinton presidential campaign theme first coined by James Carville. However, I found it surprising, if not laughable that the Governor attributes his low approval ratings to the current economy.

Chafee said he thinks he is suffering in the polls because he is the governor and people are looking to blame someone. “Anytime the economy is bad the governor is going to be the lightening rod and that is just the way it is.”
Just like Cicilline doesn't seem to get it that his race is more than just about what he (not) done in Washington for the last two years, Chafee doesn't get the reasons either. Sure, it's very easy to blame the economy for the Governor's low poll numbers. On the surface, that might even make sense. But let's drill down a little further. As bad as the state is doing as a whole, is there anyone doing worse? Aha! There's this little town that most might have heard of called "Providence". Providence sure isn't looking too good lately on many economic scales. Something about "bankruptcy" as a possibility. If the economy is the cause of low approval ratings, let's take a look at the Providence chief executive and what his poll numbers are. A 59.8% approval rating for Mayor Angel Taveras. One of the highest in the state.

So, maybe it isn't the economy and maybe it actually is due to policy decisions like trying to increase taxes by taxing nearly everything? Plus then trying to raise the meals tax by 25%? Or maybe it is because Chafee courted union support before his election and then had the same unions claiming he broke a promise to them when he signed the pension reform bill.

Maybe it's time for the Governor to look in the mirror and realize who is the reason for his low approval numbers. Part of the reason that both Taveras and Gina Raimondo have such relatively high approval numbers is because while they might not be making popular decisions, they are making decisions that are necessary for the state and city to survive and have any chance at flourishing again. People respect that.

Leap Day Musings

Marc Comtois

Why are unemployment numbers always "revised" towards the negative? Could it be the current political climate induces a need for optimism such that it is reflected in somehow too-rosy estimations? I don't know.

Today, Occupy Providence will be protesting in....Connecticut? Makes as much sense as anything else they do....

Former WPRO online journalist Bob Plain has taken over the helm of RI Future, making him the 4th owner of RIF since its inception. Good luck to Bob as he attempts to "monetize the site" and best of luck to Brian Hull as he moves on.

Polls, schmolls....I'll believe incumbent Rep. David Cicilline can't win CD-1 when he actually doesn't win CD-1. Yes, he's in trouble, but never underestimate the seemingly genetic pull that the "D" lever has on the minds/psyche/sense-of-self-worth of too many RI voters.

On the other hand--even though we've got a few years to go--if there isn't another 4 person race for Governor in 2014, I don't see how Governor Chafee isn't a one-and-done. But maybe I'm being optimistic.

My former home state of Maine is in a bit of shock with the announcement that Senator Olympia Snowe has decided not to run for re-election. This relatively late announcement has the state in a scuffle--especially the Maine GOP--as there are only 2 weeks left before candidates can collect signatures and declare for the race. Snowe is a moderate Republican who says she has become frustrated with too much partisanship in the Senate and is throwing in the towel. On a personal note, then Representative Snowe nominated a certain kid from a small town in Maine to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy way back in 1986. While I certainly don't agree with all of her politics, I'll always be grateful for that.

Finally, like it or not, has there ever *really* been any doubt that it was going to be Mitt all along? The media has tried mightily to keep it a race (and a complicit GOP helped by scheduling 17000 freaking debates) and it seems like many conservative pundits have been so desperate for anyone-but-Mitt they've projected Reagan into one-after-another of Mitt's also-flawed competitors. A proper cynic would observe that Mitt was, is and always has been the best of a bad lot.

February 28, 2012

Tuesday Political Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Polls from Brown University's Taubman Center and WPRI-TV (CBS 12) say that Congressman David Cicilline is in serious electoral trouble.

The X-factor impacting his near-certain use of a standard medi-scare campaign is that Brendan Doherty can counter with "David Cicilline will leave Social Security and Medicare in the same condition he left Providence -- and the Democratic Party is alright with that".

To which Barry Hinckley can add "...including Sheldon Whitehouse".

According to the same polls, Governor Lincoln Chafee is not very popular. State Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras are. Yet, somehow I doubt that this will impact how self-proclaimed "realists" insist that accountability to the electorate is the problem, rather than how elected pols approach the citizenry, when difficult decisions need to be made.

Michigan and Arizona vote in Republican Presidential primaries tonight (where delegates will actually be awarded).

The conventional wisdom is that the near-frontrunner attention that Rick Santorum attracted over the past two weeks, in conjunction with his lackluster performance in the most recent debate, will probably drag him under. If that's right, everything is in place for Mitt Romney to win the nomination as the traditional Republican next-guy-in-line. If it's wrong, we may have finally reached truly uncharted territory.

February 25, 2012

You Don't Like Your Politicians Much, Do You?

Patrick Laverty

Wow, more than a few of our elected leaders can't be too thrilled with the results of a recent Brown University poll.

For starters, just when you thought that David Cicilline's numbers couldn't get much worse than the 17% approval rating that he put up last year, he did get worse in this, an election year. He's now polling at 14.8%. Herculean feats like that are unheard of. Dan McGowan suggests that it might be the worst approval rating ever for a RI politician. Even Ed DiPrete had an 18% rating. Imagine that.

So hey, how was your rush hour commute around Providence and Warwick Thursday night? Hope you didn't have dinner reservations anywhere as I-95 northbound was closed from Warwick to Providence so the Vice President could attend a fundraiser for Sheldon Whitehouse. I can't even imagine the anger that stewed in some of those cars that were lined up for miles, so it shouldn't really be any surprise that Whitehouse only received a 29.6% approval rating for the job he's doing in the Senate. When you co-sponsor things like SOPA and fly in the Vice President at rush hour and things don't seem to be getting much better in "Road" Island, that's about the rating you get. On the bright side Senator, you almost doubled Cicilline's score.

Our Governor can't be feeling too comfortable either. He was elected with a 36.1% plurality, yet since then, the numbers have been dropping. He's moved from 32.1% shortly after the election, to 27.4% back in December and sits at 22.1% today. I can't quite understand why people in the state would be unhappy with Chafee. A year ago, he presented a budget that called for taxing many more things in the state and then this year, he wants to raise taxes on one of the things that Rhode Island seems to have going for it, its restaurants. Luckily for Chafee, it's not an election year.

When people in the State Assembly see numbers like 62.9% believe RI is "on the wrong track" and 95.5% responded that RI's economy is either "not so good" or "poor" and only 3.3% rated it as "good", isn't that really a time when you can push for some radical change? Isn't that the time when you really start looking at the way things have been done for decades and then decide, "let's start doing the opposite now?" One great start would be to enact the "Right to Work" legislation that is up at the State House this year.

Another part that I wanted to take a look at after hearing Matt Allen talk about it the other night on the radio was where responders were asked if they were in favor of certain tax increases and what they thought about the Governor's suggestions for cutting some state run programs. Of course, very few ever want to have their taxes raised. But when you look at the questions, I can clearly see how people are answering those. You have the people who will say no to any increase in taxes, but there are of course some people who said yes to these increases. Clearly, those are people who would be unaffected by the increase, or at least that's their belief. 34.4% support tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge. Hey, I don't use that bridge at all, so why not. 71.1% support a four cent increase on the cigarette tax, already the highest in the nation, but that number is probably pretty close to the percentage of non-smokers. 38.6% support an increase in the hotel tax. How many Rhode Islanders stay in a Rhode Island hotel? Sure, tax those tourists...if we still get any. 18.1% support the increased restaurant tax. Ok, now this is one that hits more Rhode Islanders in the wallet. Thus, the lowest number. It's ok to tax everyone else, just don't tax me is what I see in these results.

But back to Matt Allen's points. 48.2% oppose vs. 33.6% support cuts to UHC and NHP health insurance plans. Don't hurt my medical coverage! 42.8% oppose taking away free dental coverage for adults. I honestly didn't even know that was an option in this state. And all this time, I've been paying for my dental insurance. 44.7% oppose cutting funding to RI PBS. We need our Big Bird and Elmo, even though anyone with cable can still get WGBH in Boston. 64.2% opposed cuts for child care support. It is interesting to see numbers like this and hear people saying that they want services that they don't want to pay for.

I think the big takeaway from this study should be that Cicilline and Whitehouse should be a little nervous in their re-election bid and it should be advertising fodder for Brendan Doherty and Barry Hinckley in their campaigns against the incumbents. Also, with the numbers further trending downward, this should serve as a notice to the leaders on Smith Hill to try something different, to try a different direction than they've gone for the last 40-50 years. Maybe they shock the state back to the right direction.

In the meantime, Waterfire season will be coming soon. At least that's a great thing about Rhode Island, right?

February 16, 2012

Rep. Edwards's Legislation Against Local Civic Participation

Justin Katz

Rep. John Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) has submitted legislation (H7060) that — in attempting to add ballot-question sorts of direct democracy to the list for campaign finance disclosures — would erode Rhode Island's already apathetic civic participation.

Political candidates receive votes, ultimately, based on the decisions that they will make in the future, and voters determine likelihood through a mix of history and an understanding of the foundations of the candidate's opinions. It is therefore relevant who has used campaign contributions as a means of purchasing special consideration when elected officials go on to enact and execute laws and to spend public dollars. Moreover, transparency with respect to politicians' large donors is not prone to strategies of intimidation because, one, candidates have broad mixes of policy positions with which supporters can agree or disagree and, two, seeking the attention of powerful people is so understandable as to be intrinsically built into our political system.

The dynamics of "campaign" contributions in direct democracy are entirely opposite.

A ballot question is, itself, a decision. There is no potential for future corruption based on contributions, and the policy enacted (or not) is on the ballot for all to research, consider, and decide. Money spent in support of one side or the other is not to curry favor, but to ensure that a particular set of arguments is broadly known. Yes, it would be interesting to know who helped to fund one side's most vocal advocates, but it would also be interesting to know the advocates' religious affiliation, gender, race, sexual orientation, divorce history, financial history, and any other factor that might directly or indirectly have contributed to their strong beliefs about the matter in question. The voting public can speculate about all of these things, but in the end, voters must decide the merits of the proposed policy, which is bare there before them.

In the case of individual candidacies, it is also true that the campaign seeking contributions can be expected to have an organizational structure in place to ensure that rules are followed. In the case of ballot questions — especially those of local scale — grassroots activists (better characterized as engaged citizens) may very often be political novices. Requiring them to navigate the complexities of campaign finance laws, with the specters of fines and public ridicule over technical errors, can be a strong barrier to participation.

Most importantly, as has been illustrated across the country, direct democracy is absolutely prone to strategies of intimidation. Not only is the bright focus on a single issue, but intimidating potential contributors is a direct means of ensuring that a particular set of arguments is not broadly known. It is, in other words, a means of silencing the opposition. Worse still, voters can thus be shown the likely consequence should their own votes ever become public by leak or by slip.

A local issue that was surely among the inspirations for Edwards bill provides a perfect example. The issue was whether to abandon Tiverton's Financial Town Meeting, at which residents annually determined the town's budget and taxes in public view at the high school gymnasium. While raising their hands for yea or nay, parents could not ignore the watchful eyes of their children's teachers lined up high in the bleachers, and senior citizens felt the palpable presence of the town's emergency personnel standing in the back of the room. Speakers could expect loud jeers and angry glares, often accompanied by unfair attacks from the public officials on the dais at the front of the room.

With the newly implemented Financial Town Referendum, this dynamic more or less goes away. A handful of dedicated advocates will have to step forward to make the argument for a particular budget, but the secret ballot will free residents to vote their conscience. To be sure, the opposition (particularly those whose financial interests are directly at stake) would find it beneficial to force as many people as possible to raise their hands in public, as it were, but their motives are surely contrary to democratic principles and the healthy operation of our civic sphere.

January 31, 2012

Superior Court Ruling On Perpetual Blue Cross: Without It, Retirees Could Be Forced "to choose between other necessities and forgoing medical treatment"

Monique Chartier

So yesterday, Judge Sarah Taft-Carter issued a temporary injunction against the City of Providence rolling public retirees into Medicare once they hit 65. The trial to determine whether the injunction should be made permanent starts in May.

The city had to demonstrate a compelling public "emergency" in order to do so; the retirees had to show "irreparable harm" if it happened. The judged found the latter to be the case, saying

“The transition to Medicare is more than an entity change,” the judge wrote. “It is a unilateral alteration of a vested benefit…. Absent an injunction, the police and fire retirees stand to incur potentially thousands of dollars in new health-care costs to retain insurance — expenses that could force them to choose between other necessities and forgoing medical treatment.”

Really? Huh. In that case, I can't help but wonder about the plight of the balance of that demographic - the great unwashed private sector out there (count me, in due course, definitively in their ranks) at retirement age if not actually retired. Not only are we expected to incur the very same thousands of dollars in health-care costs to retain our own insurance, not only are we are expected to do so often without a generous pension, public or otherwise, from which to pay those costs, but on top of that, we are also expected to pick up the cost of someone else's Blue Cross premiums (not to mention pensions).

That decades of indifferent, duplicitous politicians reaffirmed those benefits, as the judge pointed out sans my derogatory, accurate adjectives

... Providence has been providing these costly health benefits for years, she said –– even as former state Auditor General Ernest Al-monte warned repeatedly against it.

“Despite this, the city continually entered into CBAs [collective bargaining agreements] wherein it expressly promised the retirees that it would provide them with health insurance from Blue Cross. The city, therefore, cannot claim to be taken by surprise at the present state in which it finds itself,” the judge said.

might confirm their legality but does not change the fiscal reality that they represent: whether pensions or Blue Cross, there is simply not enough money to pay these retirement benefits.

Accordingly, perhaps the most alarming aspect of this and prior court rulings is where they are driving municipalities and their retirees. By failing to recognize the very real prospect of bankruptcy as a compelling public “emergency", the only alternative will be to turn the prospect into a reality, with the corresponding decimation of both retirement benefits and property values. At that point, of course, the situation will be utterly beyond the retrieval of all the court orders in the world, however legally sound and well-intentioned.

January 27, 2012

Redistricting Battles and No Transparency

Patrick Laverty

I've asked before, why does the state's redistricting process need to be done this way? The state hires an outside consultant who takes some of the data, draws a map, shows it to some people, gets feedback, draws another map and the process continues until finally a few of them agree that they've created a fair map. Then they present it to the others who it affects. And then the whole mess starts.

In recent editions of the Providence Journal (again, a source I'd love to link to, but they don't make it possible, so umm, if you want to check some of the statements I use, head to your local library and ask for back issues), some of the lawmakers at the State House have not been very happy about the process.

[Rep. Larry] Ehrhardt, not satisfied, asked Brace whether he had taken the pockets into consideration in December when he proposed the House districts in the bill, to which Brace said no. Ehrhardt also asked Brace “who were you trying to please or satisfy” by making the change, but committee Chairwoman Edith H. Ajello interrupted.

The Assembly has budgeted more than $800,000 for lawsuits from the process. A sum that Ehrhardt might force the state to use:

“This is a high school dance that’s about to break out into a fistfight,” he said. He declined to say afterward whether he might file a lawsuit.

House Minority Leader Brian Newberry asked what factors went into creating certain parts of his district, and the response wasn't well received.

Brace said that “there were a lot of different factors,” but he did not offer specifics.
Newberry said the answer “reflects very poorly” on the redistricting process.

Earlier in the process, State Rep. Joe Trillo asked questions about the process and what was behind it:

Brace said he was doing his best at following orders—making sure politics played a role in the process of redistricting

It would seem that complaints are only coming from the Republicans, but there are Democrats who had their own objections as well.

Charlene Lima said the state redistricting commission's "road show" of meetings across the state was nothing but a "fraud show."
And another Democrat:
Rep. Rene R. Menard, a Lincoln Democrat whose territory includes both districts, says the motivation for the change is purely political.
“People who weren’t in the good graces with leadership got punished,” the veteran lawmaker said.
And another:
The House map drew criticism from Rep Lisa Baldelli-Hunt, D-Woonsocket, and Burrillville Republican Donald R. Fox, who said the changes proposed in their respective districts appeared to have been politically motivated.

Sour grapes or "where there's smoke, there's fire"? When you have multiple people, on both sides of the aisle, all saying the same thing, it sure leaves a sour taste toward your government.

Also according to the Journal: "Rhode Island is paying a consultant $692,420 and has budgeted another $807,580 for legal fees". Doesn't this $1.5 million seem outlandish? I know others have mentioned that the federal government offers a free option, and our Assembly made us the only state in the country that chose to not use it. They claimed that it's not exactly "free" that there are other costs in using it.

But as I've suggested before, there's an easier and cheaper way. Ever seen a post-election ballot re-count? It's wide open to the public and extremely transparent. So why isn't the redistricting process? Who would think it to be a good idea to do an election recount at the State House in the closed-door offices of the Speaker or Senate President and then they just tell us how it turned out? That's what this redistricting process is like. So instead, I have a better way.

First, actually put all the data together, unlike this time when we have maps being created and being discussed and possibly even voted on before all the data is even submitted (what's the point?). Create a committee consisting of all parties and independents, put them in a big room with the Capitol TV or Cox Public Access cameras on. No work can be done unless the cameras are on, and then as long as it takes, that committee draws the maps, based on the publicly-available data.

Yes, we'll still have some sour grapes coming out of the committee, but at least it will be fair and likely less politically driven. No more considerations will be given to pitting incumbents against each other, no more special favors. Make it about Rhode Island and what is best for the state and its voters. After all, isn't that really what government is supposed to be about?

January 14, 2012

The Court Rules Against Pawtucket and Another Bale of Straw Is Thrown Onto Everyone's Back

Monique Chartier

Thanks to WPRI's indefatiguable Ted Nesi for the heads-up.

Rhode Island’s largest public-sector union declared victory Friday in a lawsuit against Pawtucket, just hours before the mayor revealed the city is running an unexpected $2.3 million deficit.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled Jan. 5 that Pawtucket cannot force retired teachers to start sharing the cost of their health insurance premiums because they are entitled to the benefits stipulated in the contract that was in effect when they retired, according to Council 94.

The contract guaranteed all retired teachers age 58 or older family health insurance coverage from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island until they became eligible for Medicare at age 65.

This, of course, sets the precedent (if it is not appealed) for similarly situated municipalities around the state.

It's clear from an e-mail exchange that I had with a kindly attorney regarding another recent court ruling that I am not capable of judging the legal merits of such cases. The judge might well have reached the technically correct conclusion here.

What I do know is that this is another item on the long list of unaffordable goodies which duplicitous politicians have for decades been promising to public employees, politicians who happily took campaign contributions from these employees and their union PACs while doing absolutely nothing to ensure that their promises could be kept.

Last week, the Pawtucket Times' Jim Baron joined the chorus of those of us expressing concern for the threat to democratic processes posed by Rhode Island's newly minted municipal receivership law.

The thing that flabbergasts me is that so many people seem to think that having communities be ruled by an unelected receiver is a good idea and want more of it. John DePetro on his WPRO radio show has talked several times about the idea of having someone step in to fiscally troubled communities and taking control to straighten out their finances. ...

Last week at Governor Chafee’s news conference after he convened with municipal executives, a fellow member of the press corps rhapsodized about how Central Falls is “a perfect example of where somebody comes in with a sharp knife and decimates the way things used to run, and now all of a sudden they don’t have as much of a financial problem as they used to have.” ...

Yes, democracy can be messy, and inefficient, and things will not always go the way you want them. But if they don’t, you have the opportunity at the next election to change the people who are calling the shots.

Wielding a sharp knife and decimating the way things used to run may seem like a good idea, but what happens once the guy with the knife starts doing things you don’t like? By then it is usually too late. Rulers who wield sharp knives usually have a few extras to take care of people who start to make trouble.

Not wrong. At the same time, Rhode Island voters have steadfastly declined (in sufficient numbers) to take advantage of

the opportunity ... to change the people who are calling the shots

for a variety ("Bush lied, people died"; "My parents always voted democrat"; "Republicans are only for the rich"; "We have to preserve a woman's right to choose") of stupid or wildly unrelated reasons.

The results of the electorate's refusal to "change the people who are calling the shots" has been disastrous to local and state budgets. Us camels have begun to stagger under the weight of the goodies that decades of brain-dead and unscrupulous elected officials so glibly promised or reaffirmed. It is understandable, then, that the guy with the knife hacking away at our burden looks real good to us - all the more so when a court chimes in to confirm that part of the very heavy burden must remain upon our backs.

January 10, 2012

Redistricting - Charlie Hall Pinpoints Who Benefits From

Monique Chartier

... and who is disadvantaged by the 68,000 voters to be gratuitously moved from RI-2 to RI-1. (It's a "compromise", dontcha know.)


January 5, 2012

"Medicinal Marijuana" Is Already Legal (In Pill Form) - Why Are We Trying to Re-Legalize It?

Monique Chartier

Last month, Governor Chafee

petitioned the federal government on Wednesday to reclassify marijuana as a drug with accepted medical uses ...

Last week, Speaker Fox added his voice to the effort by appeaing to the law enforcement side.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox says he’ll personally petition the U.S. Department of Justice to seek a way for Rhode Island to open the medical marijuana dispensaries that advocates have long sought.

"I plan on going to the federal government to ask them: what do you need it to look like?” the Providence Democrat said Tuesday.

What has bothered me all along about the medical marijuana discussion is the question of whether cannibis is already available as a legal drug. I asked this of Sean O'Donnell, who has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (and is a registered Republican). This is his response.

I think the greater debate about legalizing marijuana is legitimate. A few years ago, National Review covered both sides of the argument in consecutive issues. I can respect each argument and probably favor not legalizing it. I guess my Conservative side slightly wins out on this one with due respect to the Libertarian case.

I think the case being made for "Medical Marijuana" is much, much weaker than the honest argument to legalize marijuana across the board.

I do believe that smoking marijuana can give some measure of pain relief, does work to some degree to suppress nausea and stimulate appetite. All of these qualities can be clinically beneficial. However, I believe the oral form (dronabinol capsules) of marijuana is just as effective as smoking the leaves. I also strongly believe there are a wide, wide array of other prescription medications available that work as good (and in many cases much, much better) for pain, nausea and weight gain (sometimes needed for chemo patients and other weight wasting ailments).

In short, I think the clinical case for "Medical Marijuana" is a ruse.

Sean also provided some informational links about Dronabinol - available after the jump.

Continue reading ""Medicinal Marijuana" Is Already Legal (In Pill Form) - Why Are We Trying to Re-Legalize It?"

Unpaid Campaign Fines

Patrick Laverty

A new report on the unpaid fines from the RI Board of Elections (BOE) is out (h/t Dan McGowan) and it is five pages of names and the amount they owe. Some of it is a who's who of Rhode Island politics.

So first, how does someone get fined by the BOE? Once a person, committee or PAC has registered with the BOE, they are responsible for filing campaign finance reports according to the BOE's published schedule. From personal experience, I can say that these deadlines are not hard to find. They are posted on the board's web site and they mail the schedule to the head of the campaign and the listed campaign treasurer. Back when many of these fines were incurred, someone had to get paper over to the BOE by the deadline. Today, they have dramatically improved things with their ERTS system of online reporting. So missing deadlines today should be much harder to do when filing a report can be done from a computer.

When someone misses a deadline, what is the fine structure? From the BOE's Summary flyer:

$25 Fine for Late Filing
A filer who fails to file a required report by the report due date shall be fined $25.

Daily Fine of $2 for Failure to Respond to “Notice of Non-Compliance”
A filer who fails to file a report and remit payment for a fine assessed within 7 days of receipt of a “Notice of Non-Compliance” shall be fined $2 per day from the date of receipt of said notice until the date the report and remittance have been received at the Boardof Elections.

Ignore your fines for years and the total will add up.

Am I going to call out individuals listed on the report? Absolutely. But first a disclosure. I have had to pay this fine once before. I served as the treasurer for a town committee and missed a deadline by one day. I submitted the report the next day and paid the fine.

There is no way of knowing exactly who the people are in the report, it isn't crosslisted with the seat they ran for. Plus, in RI, we have many people with the same name, so I'm not going to definitively say who the person is, in case I were to mix them up with a relative or someone else by the same name. Unless there's no question as to who they are.

Some of the bigger fines on the list include, Patrick McDonald, a State Senator from 1996 to 2002 owes $114,618. Others who share the same name as someone who ran for the General Assembly were Michael Rollins, $77,226, Kevin Johnson, $76,573 and Daniel Grzych for $53,909. That list can goes on with many others who owe five-figure fines.

It isn't just office-holders and candidates who owe, it's also local committees. The Foster Democratic Committee owes $4, 283, North Kingstown Democratic Committee owes $290 and the Central Falls Democratic Committee owes $754. However, they may be simply following their leader, as someone with the same name as the state's Democratic Party Chairman, Edwin Pacheco, is on the list of fines as well.

To be fair, Republican committees made the list as well with the East Greenwich Republican Committee owning the biggest fine at $1,661 and the House Republican caucus owes $318.

However, the big star of the list, the one that seems to stick out most glaringly is someone who shares the name with our Congressman from the second district, James Langevin owes $31,750.

With some of these fines going back as far as 2004, it really makes me wonder what's the point? Why bother assessing the fines if you have no means of enforcing them? Some of the people on the list are still in office but many of them were people who ran for a seat, lost and then abandoned all their responsibility to the system. Maybe they were initially unaware of the full process, but that is a responsibility of a candidate to know the process, to cross ts and dot is. Plus, they were informed of their fine and had seven days to clear the issue up, and chose not to.

These fines shouldn't be held in any different regard than any others in our society as the sources of campaign funding needs to be a transparent process. The Assembly has no problem instituting new fines/fees/taxes or increases to make a couple bucks here or there. Putting some real teeth into the campaign finance reporting laws so the state can collect what it is owed would tap into yet another revenue stream for the state.

ADDENDUM: In the comments section, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry adds that the House Republican Caucus mentioned on the list and in this article is actually now officially listed as "inactive" with the BOE and is unrelated to the current committee that he oversees.

January 4, 2012

The Dogs That Didn't Bite in Pension Reform

Justin Katz

Two aspects of this Monday editorial in the Providence Journal, lauding Central Falls Superintendent Fran Gallo for progress in her school district are interesting.

For one, multiple Projo columnists have compared Democrat General Treasurer Gina Raimondo favorable with Republican reformers in other states, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasick, on the grounds that union intransigence illustrates that the Republicans' method of reform wasn't sufficiently collaborative. Yet, here we have Gallo receiving the full union-thug treatment (short of physical violence, which even the thugs must have seen to be a losing proposition against a diminutive older woman), and the editors hailing the "cooperative efforts."

More pointedly, the editors detail some union-friendly legislators' efforts to bully Gallo in order "to disrupt public-spirited efforts to improve Central Falls High School." The essay also mention's last year's conspicuously high absenteeism among teachers. It ought also to have mentioned the aggressive campaign of threatening nastiness that Gallo experienced when things were at their roughest.

What's interesting about that is how it compares with the relatively light touch of the unions and their members during the supposedly radical pension reform. Sure, they held a fun evening rally one warm evening. Sure, some paid union leaders made some silly statements and issued threats of electoral defeat. But where was the real heat?

Reform was necessary for both Central Falls schools and for the state pension system. In both cases that was and is impossible to deny. In both cases, union deals had to be pushed back. Yet, there's a marked difference in the tone of the response, with the smaller of the two skirmishes sparking a higher degree of venom. What could account for that?

December 30, 2011

Surprise -- Governor Chafee Considering Tax Increases to Balance Next Year's Budget

Carroll Andrew Morse

On the last weekday of 2011, David Klepper of the Associated Press writes what could be the least surprising news story of the year (h/t WPRO News)...

As he prepares for his second year in office, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is looking for ways to spur the state's frail economy, rescue its struggling cities and eliminate another year's budget deficit -- possibly through additional taxes...

Chafee estimates that the state will face a $120 million deficit in next year's budget. While that's an improvement over the $300 million deficit lawmakers eliminated in the current year's budget, Chafee says the red ink will be difficult to erase through cuts alone. He wouldn't offer specifics but said he's weighing the possibility of recommending some form of tax increase.

Let me take this opportunity to remind readers that both during the 2010 Rhode Island Gubernatorial campaign, and immediately after the election, I asked Governor Chafee through his campaign/transition team if he would be willing to answer a set of questions that included this one...
4.The combined state and municipal budgets for Rhode Island have grown steadily (adjusted for inflation) over the past 10 years, a period of time which includes September 11, 2001 and its immediate aftermath, the end-of-the-financial world as we knew it in 2008, and the relative lull (at least domestically) in between.

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

The response I received, the second time I asked, was...
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.

December 27, 2011

A Touch of Chicken or Egg? - Does State Intervention Accelerate Municipal Receivership?

Monique Chartier

Last week, the state escalated its involvement in East Providence's budget problems by putting in a Budget Commission. It did so only one month after sending in a Fiscal Overseer. Observers have correctly pointed out that this was three full months earlier than called for by the procedure outlined in the so-called Fiscal Stability Act of 2010.

This action, of course, followed upon Moodys' downgrading of East Providence bonds to junk status. In fact, the timing was so perfect - just days apart - that one wonders if the Moodys' downgrade precipitated the state's accelerated action.

What we don't have to wonder about is one of the factors that was specifically cited by Moody's for their further downgrade.

“The downgrade reflects the city’s ongoing financial strain, compounded by the growing accumulated deficit in the school unrestricted fund; a heavy reliance on cash flow borrowing; and increasing fixed costs related to pension and OPEB [other post employment benefits] liabilities,” reads the summary rationale of Moody’s report.

The downgrade also incorporates the recent appointment of a fiscal overseer by the state, which signals the severity of the city’s fiscal challenges.”

So the state accelerates its intervention after Moodys downgrades EP bonds the second time. And Moody's had downgraded the second time in part because of the state's initial step of intervention.

The effect? With this second downgrade by Moodys, the city's ability to borrow on reasonable terms has been substantially hindered, further exacerbating its cash flow and overall fiscal issues.

No doubt, East Providence started out with serious problems. One term of good government by the Carcieri/Larisa/Cusack crowd was not going to solve the fiscal problems generated by decades of union puppet rule. So the state has not flexed the so-called Fiscal Stability Act in EP solely as a giddy exercise of power.

At the same time, the state needs to tread more carefully. There are clear indications with the East Providence experience that the state, in stepping in under the Fiscal Stability Act, not only contributed to a vicious circle but possibly accelerated a downward spiral. This would certainly contradict both the name and the intent of the law under which the state took action.

December 22, 2011

Taking Over Municipalities: The Governor's New Toy

Justin Katz

Somehow, I thought the state would go a bit more slowly when it came to using its new "tool" for taking over governance of Rhode Island municipalities:

Again raising the sense of urgency and severity, Governor Chafee appointed a financial commission to oversee East Providence on Tuesday. The decision makes the city the state's first municipality to receive such intervention, renders the City Council a mere advisory board, and stunned city officials. ...

East Providence officials were bothered and offended by the governor's decision and dumbfounded by how it was delivered. They said they first learned of the news in a TV report Monday night on Channel 12, when Chafee reported being "very close" to appointing a financial commission.

No review, negotiations, or appeal. No judge, no legislative approval. Just the governor, invalidating the votes of the city or town. I can't help but wonder what effect this will have on that famous Rhode-apathy.

December 17, 2011

Landfill Study Commission Sets a Land Speed Record for Issuing a Bad Recommendation

Monique Chartier

Looks like a load of political garbage has arrived at the Central Landfill.

Co-Chair of the [General Assembly Study] commission tasked with investigating the odor emanating from the Johnston landfill, Stephen Ucci, called for the resignation of Executive Director of RI Resource Recovery Michael OConnell.

Ucci made the announcement at a public hearing held at Johnston High School Friday night.

We know who so stinkily dropped the ball here.

... Broadrock Energy LLC, the company charged with drawing gases out of the Central Landfill ...

But when local officials met with Broadrock representatives, Polisena said, "they appeared not to have any reasonable explanation" for why the gas emissions have not stopped.

"Their response was 'Let's see where we are in 6 to 10 weeks from now,'" Polisena explained. "Totally, totally unacceptable —

So why is Senator Representative Ucci gunning for exactly the wrong target? Could it be that Director O'Connell was brought into RIRRC by the wrong party? Or is the senator representative merely engaged in brainless and extreme scape-goating?

Either way, it is notably unresponsive and unhelpful to the situation. Close up this study commission, Mr. Speaker. The people of Johnston and the patrons of the landfill (i.e., the entire state) need solutions, not knee-jerk inanities.

December 16, 2011

Congressional Redistricting: Why Plan F instead of Plan C?

Carroll Andrew Morse

An interesting tactical question regarding the current state of Rhode Island's Congressional redistricting process is why "Plan F" instead of "Plan C". At the municipal scale of resolution, Plan C and Plan F (unveiled last night by the Rhode Island Redistricting Commission) are based on the same concept: Move Burrillville from CD1 to CD2 and redraw the line that splits Providence between districts. Plan F involves at least one "compactness" laugher -- it connects South Providence to the rest of CD 1, literally, by a jump across the water via the Point Street Bridge or points south. (assuming, of course, that what is indicated as the Point St. Bridge on the pre-Iway maps being used by the redistricting commission really is). Plan C created a much more contiguous CD 1, by moving some downtown area north of Point St from CD2 to CD1 to make a geographically firmer connection between South Providence and the rest of CD1. Also, Plans C and F use different schemes for swapping areas around Smith Street between CD1 and CD2.

Perhaps it is folly to expect rational efficiency from a government process -- especially once the consultants get involved -- but it is worth asking why "Plan C" wasn't put forward as the first recommendation by the Redistricting Commission, if "Plan F" is where we could end up.

December 13, 2011

Redistricting Mess a Clean Win for Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Question: does the money spent on redistricting get counted as campaign contributions for Rep. David Cicilline? The ProJo reports that Rep. Jim Langevin (among others) isn't happy about this:

Rep. Jim Langevin is accusing fellow Democrat David Cicilline of trying to use congressional redistricting to aid his re-election.

A redistricting plan unveiled Monday night would transfer Republican-heavy districts in Burrillville, Smithfield and North Smithfield from Cicilline's district into Langevin's. Cicilline would pick up Democratic-leaning districts in Providence now represented by Langevin.

Campaign spokesmen for Republican candidates John Loughlin and Brendan Doherty say officials crafting changes to the districts appear to be favoring Cicilline.

The freshmen Democrat says he has not tried to influence the state's redistricting efforts to his advantage. Langevin's district director, Kenneth Wild, says Cicilline's claim is "blatantly disingenuous."

There can be little doubt of that. From Ted Nesi:
A whopping 125,000 Rhode Islanders will switch congressional districts next year despite a population shift of just 7,200 if the state’s redistricting commission approves a new map unveiled Monday to the dismay of Congressman Jim Langevin and local Republicans.
That's a lot of movement for a little change. As with the other models, this one benefits Rep. Cicilline. The fix was, is and will be in.

December 1, 2011

Welcome to Congressional District 2, Burrillville. Other Proposed Changes Up in the Air

Carroll Andrew Morse

Common Cause has posted three proposed maps of potential new Congressional Districts released by the Rhode Island Redistricting Commission. With that caveat that it is difficult to tell whether the new district lines and certain city/town lines are exactly contiguous on certain portions of the maps...

  • There is a proposal to move most-or-all of Providence into District 1, while moving all of Newport County (and Burrillville) to District 2 (Plan A),
  • There is a proposal to move most-or-all of Providence and Johnston to District 1, while moving Burrillville, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Cumberland, Lincoln and Jamestown to District 2 (Plan B), and
  • There is a minimum-disruption plan that changes the line that splits Providence, and moves Burrillville to the 2nd District (Plan C).
One reminder: You don't have to live in a Congressional District, to run for the Congressional Seat in that district. Normally, not living in a district is an insurmountable PR barrier for a candidate running for Congress to overcome; however, that factor might be obviated, when some high-profile Gerrymandering after candidates have announced is involved.


Not so fast, even for Burrillville. Ian Donnis of WRNI (88.1 FM) is reporting that the office of Rhode Island Second District Congressman James Langevin, working from data that says balancing Rhode Island's two Congressional Districts should only require moving 7,000 voters, has proposed a plan that moves district lines only in Providence.

One might surmise that Congressman Langevin isn't so keen on having all of Providence moved to District 1, to give a boost to Congressman David Cicilline's election hopes.

November 30, 2011

Redistricting Proposals for the State Legislature are Available

Carroll Andrew Morse

Various redistricting proposals for General Assembly seats are available for examination at the Rhode Island Resdistricting Project website. In case anyone was worried, the "oversight" where state Rep. Joseph Trillo was drawn out of his district appears to have been corrected (h/t Rhode Island Common Cause, who has been attending & tweeting all of the public meetings).

As far as the Congressional Districts are concerned, Common Cause reports...

They've only made them available in paper form so far. I'll ask when they're going online.

Another interesting tweet from Common Cause...

Another public member says Congressional plans gerrymander out two announced candidates in CD 1. Has anyone looked at that yet?

Would Roger Williams Have Called it a Holiday Tree?

Marc Comtois

First, they didn't have Christmas Trees in 1663 Rhode Island, so the answer to the post title is "No." I'm also pretty sure that, by now, as he looks down upon us, Roger Williams has gotten used to people calling upon his founding authority to help make the case against religion in the colony he founded based on religious freedom. This time, it's Governor Chafee using Williams to justify the use of the "Holiday Tree" (a practice, Nesi Notes, that has been in place for a few years now):

Recently, some controversy has arisen regarding the holiday tree in the State House Rotunda -- a tree that stands mere feet from the Royal Charter that, more than three centuries ago, granted 'a full liberty in religious concernments' and 'the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights' to the inhabitants of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
This continues the ironic, but expected, practice of using words meant to encourage the practice of religious freedom to justify the removal of religious meaning. That was hardly the original intent of the 1663 Charter. The Governor has gotten his history wrong as a reading of the entire Royal Charter of 1663 reveals. Let's just focus on the famous section from which these convenient quotes are pulled. (The quotes cited by the Governor are in italics; I've underlined some important contextual phrases as well):
And whereas, in their humble address, they have freely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.

Now, know ye, that we, being willing to encourage the hopeful undertaking of our said loyal and loving subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects and to preserve unto them that liberty, in the true Christian faith and worship of God, which they have sought with so much travail, and with peaceable minds, and loyal subjection to our royal progenitors and ourselves, to enjoy; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colony cannot, in their private opinions, conform to the public exercise of religion, according to the liturgy, forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalf; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as we hope) be no breach of the unity and uniformity established in this nation:

Have therefore thought fit, and do hereby publish, grant, ordain and declare, that our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others, any law, statute, or clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm, to the contrary hereof, in any wise notwithstanding. And that they may be in the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties, against all the enemies of the Christian faith....

The Charter also mentions proselytizing the Narragansets: "whereby our said people and inhabitants in the said Plantations, may be so religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as that by their good life and orderly conversation, they may win and invite the native Indians of the country to the knowledge and obedience of the only true God and Saviour of mankind". Historical context is important. It is clear that the religious freedom granted was specifically the freedom to practice other forms of Christianity, particularly if not of the Church of England "brand".

Further, the granted freedoms did not mean that those exercising those rights could cause "civil injury" to others who conformed to more traditional religious mores. Over time, such religious freedoms were properly extrapolated to mean tolerance of other, non-Christian religions or for those who practice no religion at all. Unfortunately, as the Charter warned against, religious liberties have been taken and, it can be argued, "civil injury" has resulted as religion, even something as innocent as a Christmas Tree, has been taken from the public square for fear of "offending" other or non- beliefs.

November 29, 2011

"I'm not here to talk about the past"

Patrick Laverty

To steal a line from Mark McGwire, the baseball slugger who was called before Congress to talk about steroids in baseball but would only answer questions with "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to make a positive impact".

David Cicilline is looking to take the same tack and tell people to forget about the past. It's the past, no need to revisit that, let's move forward.

Earlier in the week, John Loughlin campaign spokesman, Michael Napolitano called for a federal investigation about what happened with Providence's finances, budgeting and information during the Cicilline era as mayor.

Remember those public statements about the strong fiscal health of the city, those statements that all the reserve funds were at their required limits, those debates between the candidates when Loughlin exposed Cicilline for who he is? Remember when Cicilline blocked Providence's own auditors from seeing the necessary accounts information to do their job?

Napolitano referenced the bad check written by Cicilline’s brother, John, and the allegations of former city tax collector Robert Ceprano that Cicilline ignored the issue. He also referenced the high default rate of loans granted by the Providence Economic Development Partnership, a problem that was exposed by WPRO's Jim Hummel, and the most recent incident that has come to light with the Providence Community Action Program. (ProCAP)

So yesterday, the Cicilline camp fired back.

“The Loughlin campaign wants to rerun the last campaign but David Cicilline is now in Congress and working to create jobs and to save Medicare from efforts by some in Mr. Loughlin’s party to privatize or virtually eliminate it,” Kayner told WPRI.com.
Wait. Back up for a second. What'd she say? David Cicilline is working to save Medicare from efforts of privatization? This is the first time I've heard this claim. I remember Cicilline's television commercials scaring the seniors that he'd protect Social Security but nothing about Medicare. Why the switch to Medicare now? Does the Cicilline campaign finally agree that no one is trying to "privatize Social Security" least of which for seniors? It seems they finally agree that he may not have been as forthcoming as he might have liked. But I guess here comes the next step, Republicans are going to kill Medicare. We're not here to talk about Social Security, that's in the past, now we need to save Medicare. Great.

We saw how well McGwire's strategy worked for him. It didn't. He was widely mocked and ridiculed. Similarly, I don't think everyone in Congressional District 1 will also be so swayed by it and many will remember not only what Cicilline did do while Mayor of Providence but also what he hasn't gotten done as our Congressman. By the way, does anyone have a Hall of Fame Coin set?

November 23, 2011

A Limited Snapshot of Next Governor's Race

Justin Katz

Teasing an hour-long pension special, Ian Donnis breaks this interesting tidbit:

A poll of 400 likely voters, commissioned by the National Education Association Rhode Island, shows Republican John Robitaille narrowly beating Governor Lincoln Chafee and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo in a hypothetical matchup for the governor's office.

Walsh says the poll conducted by Abacus Associates of Massachusetts shows Robitaille with 30 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for Chafee, and 22 percent for Raimondo.

I'm not sure what this illustrates in real-world terms. It'd be interesting to know who'd win if it was either Chafee or Raimondo against Robitaille. And what might the Moderate Party do to the mix?

Of course, I suspect NEARI's intention was to show that Chafee and Raimondo have been hurt, politically, by pension reform, and it really doesn't look like this poll supports that conclusion.

November 22, 2011

The Dangers of Pension Credulity

Monique Chartier

In his post, Justin correctly points out that

First, Rhode Island's pension reform is simply not sufficient to solve the problem

Many observers have marvelled at the scope of the reforms to the state pension system that just passed. The problem, the context that they miss is that the extent of the reforms are eclipsed by the size of the problem. Rhode Island had an unfunded pension liability that was one of, if not the, worst in the country. (By the way, does anyone know where we stand in that regard as of Year One of pension reform? At 60% funded, have we even changed our ranking?)

Yet the solution falls well short of the problem, addressing as it does only 44% of the unfunded liability and taking many years to get to 80% funded (if it ever does).

Where I might differ with Justin is on the matter of premeditation.

What we've seen in Rhode Island wasn't the objective process of lawmaking as it should work; it was the variation of political theater performed when the powerful backers are ultimately getting what they want.

Was the passage of this bill pre-staged "political theater"? Or the actions of pro-labor legislators truly believing that they were doing something noble? I dunno.

Motive doesn't matter, however, to the larger, more dangerous point that he makes.

the payoff, for entrenched powers, will ultimately be greater than the surface sacrifices.

The optimist in me wants to change that to "potential payoff" so as to not assume the worst. There is no question, however, that a raft of hideous legislation could well - in fact, could more easily be passed while the trumpets, pomp and huzzahs of pension reform are still echoing loudly. Even if it is an after-thought and not pre-meditated, even if it is viewed as paying labor back for their "sacrifice", that will not change the damage that such legislation will do INCLUDING, genuine reformers should note, cancelling out what good was wrought by the pension reform bill.

To take two examples purely at random - I have to don a hazmat suit just to discuss them - if binding arbitration or non-expiring contracts are extended to teachers and other public workers, pension reform will be rendered meaningless. It is pointless to (partially) address one exhorbitant recurring expense only to sign up for an entirely new one that eats up the savings realized by the mitigation of the first.

The Horse Looked Desirable; That's Why It Was Deadly

Justin Katz

In a post illustrating why he's risen so quickly to the status of "must read" and why it's so crucial to have intellectually curious people making their full-time livings investigating state-level politics and government, Ted Nesi responds to my incredulity at everybody's willingness to accept the pension reform narrative. This is the most important paragraph of Ted's post:

All of them had different opinions on the best approach to shore up a significantly underfunded pension system like Rhode Island's. But I never talked to anyone who dismissed the changes enacted here — the nation's highest public-sector retirement age; a years-long COLA freeze; a limited reamortization; a hybrid plan for most workers — as fig leaves. These are significant, consequential policy changes. And with big increases in pension contributions looming next year, is that really any surprise?

Much of the difference between Ted and me can be traversed with the reminder that I didn't use the image of fig leaves, but of a Trojan horse. A Trojan horse is dangerous, in the first instance, because on its surface it's desirable enough to lure defenders to bring it within the city walls. A hybrid plan, later retirement, COLA suspensions, changes in the formulas for calculating base pensions... these are all desirable reforms, but the "how much" and "what else" are what matters.

Even by the admission of enthusiastic supporters of the bill, the actual reforms covered less than half of the total liability problem. If one considers that reamortization cost nearly two billion dollars, it's reasonable to suggest that the amount of the problem only shrunk about a sixth or seventh. If one expects the 7.5% assumed return to prove much too optimistic, then this reform will look like a bare minimum to get by in the present.

And then comes the invading army hiding in the belly of the reforms, which Ted neglects to cite in his response: The Retirement Board (7 of 15 members labor appointed) will now dictate legislation for future changes that address the other 5/8, 6/7, 17/18, or whatever of the liability that remains to be solved.. The 5.5% privatization tax and any other post facto concessions from the legislature (such as binding arbitration) are additional legions. Meanwhile, the unions will endeavor to scale back the hit that they've taken, on one front through the courts, and on a second front by whittling in the legislature. (Take note that the NEARI president has "fix this law" first on his agenda for the next session.)

As to whether a reform more to my liking — the main criterion of which would be actually solving the problem — would have passed, I don't know. If it had not come this year, it would have come next, or the one after, and it would have been more likely to come without all of the deadly catches. As I've suggested before, a step in the right direction isn't worth taking if it leads into a fatal trap. I'm increasingly confident that this reform, beyond making the larger pension problem more difficult to solve in the future will wind up thwarting a number of other reforms having nothing to do with pensions and without which Rhode Island will continue to slide toward insolvency.

What To Expect In The Upcoming General Assembly

Patrick Laverty

In today's Nesi's Notes, Ted discusses an email from NEARI President Larry Purtill that was sent to NEARI members. Mr. Purtill talks about how Governor Chafee "lied" to NEARI during the campaign last year. Similarly, in a recent GoLocalProv article, NEARI executive director Robert Walsh said "I can assure you we received promises in writing." Personally, I don't know who to believe between Mr. Walsh and Governor Chafee. If Mr. Walsh were to furnish the document where he claims to have these Chafee promises in writing, I'd certainly give him the nod.

Mr. Purtill shows more distaste and anger for the recently passed pension bill. One thing about the pension bill and especially the 5.5% tax on contractors that I'm still confused by is that the tax was put there to appease the labor side. Then some of the Reps and Senators who look kindly upon the unions, still didn't vote for the pension bill and labor leaders are still angry about it. So why put in a provision for the benefit of labor when it didn't get you anything? Usually you give something to get something. Finance chairs Melo and DaPonte gave the 5.5% tax. They didn't get votes or public support in return.

Later in Nesi's article, we also see what are NEARI's priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session.

When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, lawmakers “need to fix this law, pass binding arbitration, and defeat any and all anti-collective bargaining bills,” he said, including any proposals by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist “that impact collective bargaining.”

“And there are no trade-offs here,” Mr. Purtill added. “ALL OF THE ABOVE NEEDS TO HAPPEN!”

So that binding arbitration thing that we're constantly told by union representatives is to benefit the state and cities? Yeah, it "needs to happen." People like commenter "Dan" have already explained in depth why binding arbitration is a losing venture for the state, starting with how the arbiters are selected.

One other point that Mr. Purtill talks about is opposing any candidate who voted for this pension bill.

“Lawmakers were told by the treasurer and others that if they didn’t vote for this bill, they wouldn’t be re-elected. Our response was and is, ‘you vote FOR this you won’t be re-elected.’ ”
Though Mr. Purtill may turn out to be correct as the general public has much more voter apathy than his union membership, in this case Treasurer Raimondo was correct that the public supports the pension reform and they/we didn't want to see it go untouched. We'll see next November whose threats are more valid.

Lastly, one of Mr. Purtill's comments did give me a chuckle.

“Democrats believe we have to support them because we have no choice,” Purtill wrote. “WRONG – we do have a choice. In fact, a few more Republicans at the State House might actually force Democrats to start behaving as such.”
For one, I have a really hard time believing that NEARI would support a Republican over a Democrat. I believe that if there was a Democrat not to their liking, they'd first send their own candidate against the Democrat in a primary. If they were unsuccessful there, I find it difficult to think that they'd actually financially support and campaign for a Republican. Second, is there a Republican who would happily accept the help of NEARI? Maybe. Then again, politics does make for very strange bedfellows.

November 21, 2011

Pension Reform Bait-and-Switch to Block Broader Reform

Justin Katz

I've placed the 5.5% privatization tax in the context of the General Assembly's history of opposing such money-saving measures and pondered the language of the newly minted statute.

My concern, in brief, is that there really isn't anything limiting the application of the 5.5% "assessment" to state privatization. The only limit mentioned is to the displacement of employees included in General Law 36-8, which establishes the pension system. In other words, it appears to apply to any government agency that participates in state pensions, whether state, school district, or municipal. Mayoral academies, for example, can opt out of the pension system and so may be threatened with the surcharge. The limiting factor will only be how aggressive the folks who write the resulting regulations wish to be.

Even if the law does wind up limited to employees of the state, reformers should fear its effects on others of their strategies for improving government, notably consolidation. Any function moved from the municipal to the state level will now become permanently "in house."

Frankly, this sort of legerdemain is bound to happen when opposition parties jump on a fast-rolling bandwagon like pension reform.

November 11, 2011

Raimondo's Definition of Leadership

Justin Katz

Gotta love General Treasurer Gina Raimondo's definition for legislative leadership:

Follow the Senate president. Follow Speaker Fox. Be a leader.

Lead by following! That sounds very Rhode Island.

Real legislative leaders should be asking themselves why this whole process appears to be going so smoothly. Sure, the unions are putting on their show, as they could be expected to do no matter what they actually think of the legislation, but look at the lopsided votes: 10-1 in the Senate Finance Committee and 13-2 in the House Finance Committee.

A word of advice for the EngageRI types: when people you've grown to trust to be wrong and/or crooked suddenly appear to be unified in making a good decision, the decision might not be as good as it appears.

This bill will not solve the pension problem, but it will put the ultimate fix in the hands of a union-heavy Retirement Board. Sure, later retirement dates, COLAs tied to fund performance, and a hybrid plan should be part of an ultimate solution, but Raimondo's solution will not get the system to the status at which they'll serve as a resolution. It points in the right direction, but in the same sense that sending a driver into Point Judith Harbor points him in the right direction to Block Island.

Massive tax increases and/or service cuts are going to come before this thing is fully amortized (if it ever is). If the General Assembly passes this reform, all it will have done is what it always does — namely, to kick the can down the road at considerable cost.

November 8, 2011

A Referendum to Thwart Dishonest Politics

Justin Katz

So, today Tiverton voters will have the opportunity finally to do away with the financial town meeting (FTM) that has allowed a relatively small group of very motivated people to double taxes in the past ten years and ensure that they would continue to climb even during the worst economy that most of us have ever experienced. Not surprisingly, the ringleaders of that relatively small group are in a panic to stop the referendum from becoming a reality, with an astonishingly dishonest last-minute surprise from Budget Committee Chairman Chris Cotta, who is a veritable picture of the Rhode Island Way.

Cotta, who is so Rhode Island that he achieved #34 on GoLocalProv's list of the state's 50 highest-paid staffers, appears to have sent a series of questions regarding the financial town referendum (FTR) to Suzanne Greschner, chief of the state Division of Municipal Finance, signed in his capacity as Budget Committee Chairman. My understanding is that he did not call a meeting of the Budget Committee for these purposes and, moreover, that he did not express his concerns to the local committee charged with creating the referendum despite being asked on multiple occasions.

I haven't been able to get a copy of Greschner's reply, but even through Cotta's spin, it appears that she essentially confirmed that the process for reviewing budgets, in particular with respect to the state property tax cap, will remain as it has been. Here's Cotta:

Of great concern was the proposed concept of permitting elector budgets on a ballot without being vetted and approved by the Office of Municipal Finance. The ballot question and related charter changes offer ballot access to electors without following the same stringent taxpayer protection reviews or notice requirements that the municipal budget must endure. It is now clear through the response that the Department of Revenue will approve only one budget and one tax levy for the town of Tiverton whether such budget exceeds the statutory tax cap or not. The Department of Revenue will not approve several budgets from the town as addressed in the charter change proposed.

What this means is that any budget supported by a tax levy that has not been preapproved, heard and advertised in accordance with state laws can and will be challenged by any aggrieved taxpayer in the town. This has far reaching consequences both legal and financial for the town.

Plainly put, this is bull. Under the FTM, the only budget and levy that receives public notice and state review is the Budget Committee's. That means that the School Committee's proposed amendment, if different, is not thus vetted, that the Town Council's proposed amendment, if different, is not thus vetted, and that the three amendments permitted out of thin air at the FTM are not thus vetted. The fact that voters will have advance notice of all such budgets prior to voting at an FTR allows for more scrutiny and transparency (not to mention dishonest spin such as Cotta and his allies are sure to offer), not less.

Compounding Christopher Cotta's deceit is the timing of the whole thing. According to Town Council President Jay Lambert, Cotta's letter, which (in his words) urged the council to "provide notice to the public that Ballot question No. 2 does not meet the legal standards required for taxpayer protections required under State Law," did not arrive in the Town Clerk's office until 11:26 a.m. Thursday morning. Conspicuously, that timing just makes the deadline for election-related letters to the editor in the Newport Daily News, which paper appears to have published a missive from Cotta complaining that "to date, the Town Council has taken no action."

Curiously, Cotta's public letter to the editor appeared on the opinion pages of the Fall River Herald's Web site at 1:56 p.m. It appears that Cotta submitted his letter to the Town Council calling for action at just about the same time that he sent his letter to local newspapers declaring that no action had been taken in response. Also curiously, the blog for the above-mentioned ringleaders posted Cotta's letter to the council at 1:40 a.m. the previous day — indicating that his intended audience was not, in fact, the elected officials. (Naturally, that blog did not also provide the substantiating letters from the state.)

Look, I realize that to most people all of these fine details seem a bit much, but such is this state's underlying problem: People with extreme self interest in the policies and financial dealings of the state and its cities and towns have constructed a web of fine details that funnels policy toward their preferred ends and taxpayer dollars to themselves and their political allies. What they cannot accomplish through policy, they accomplish through dishonest rhetoric and political tricks.

Thus, they abuse the people of Rhode Island, just as Cotta has been abusing his local elected office. The old FTM plays into this process by increasing the degree to which only those most caught up in the system will exercise their right to vote on the town's budget. The more convenient it is for everybody to vote — and the more notice everybody has with respect to the budgets on the table — the less spellbinding the Rhode Island Way will be.

November 7, 2011

Political Donors as the Judges of Right and Wrong

Justin Katz

Readers of the Sunday Providence Journal will be familiar with the "In Quotes" column that typically appears on page A2; basically it's a few notable quotes from the week, usually with a picture of the speaker. This week, one in particular caught my eye, because it's from Brown professor Wendy Schiller, and I think it expresses a surprisingly simplistic thought for a political science professional.

On the huge inflow of funds to Gina Raimondo's campaign fund:

If this person who's advocating changing the pension system can attract that kind of support, it is an external signal that she's on the right track.

Actually, it's not. It's a signal that people with big money to devote to politics like something about Raimondo's prospects. No doubt, some of it has been donated in admiration for her pension efforts, but (as I've been suggesting for a while, now) some of it is surely related to her likelihood to be a progressive warrior when she translates her pension caché into a higher office.

It's a bit humorous, though, to read a Brown professor seeing big campaign money as a form of validation. I haven't followed Schiller closely enough to offer this as more than a musing, but I do wonder whether her analysis would be the same were the treasurer likely to be a far-right stalwart once she'd moved on from the pension mess and the treasurer's office.

October 29, 2011

Tossing 80% of RI Seniors Overboard: The AARP of RI Has Become A Pyranha in Sheep's Clothing

Monique Chartier

Even sharpened up, that cliche may not adequately describe the the duplicitious nature and predatory intent of the AARP's testimony this week against pension reform.

... Many have asked why AARP is engaged in this discussion. AARP Rhode Island’s advocacy on this bill fits into AARP’s broader, national campaign to Protect Seniors from fiscal instability caused by cuts in retirement income, Social Security and Medicare. AARP advocates for older Americans nationwide, asserting that we all have a right to be self-reliant and live with dignity in retirement. AARP maintains that modifications to pension plans should have the key objective of holding harmless current beneficiaries and employees, as well as ensuring the retirement security needs of future employees.

So mendacious and misleading. The AARP has 135,000 members in Rhode Island. Yet with this testimony, the AARP is, in fact, advocating only for the 26,000 public retirees who would be affected by the proposed reform. That equates to a maximum of 20% of AARP members in Rhode Island. (Thanks to North Kingstown Rep Larry Ehrhardt for bringing these figures forward on WPRO's Buddy Cianci Show.)

Now for the predatory part. If no pension reform is implemented, taxes will go up even higher than with pension reform. As the AARP is advocating against pension reform, they are pushing for 80% of its members to pay more money for the benefit of 20% of its membership.

How can the AARP claim to be representing its members when it is advocating for something that would clearly be detrimental to 80% of its members?

And that 20% is most likely on the high side. Keep in mind that due to one of the unsustainable terms of state pensions - no minimum age to start collecting - some retirees are too young to qualify for membership in the AARP. So in some cases, the AARP-RI is advocating for non-members against the better interest of its own members!

As of 2000, Rhode Island had the sixth highest population of seniors. Quoting Ms. Connell's testimony, AARP might advocate for "older Americans nationwide". But in Rhode Island, the organization advocates for a special, small group of Rhode Islanders, older and not so much, quite literally at the expense of 80% of the state's older residents.

October 28, 2011

Car Tax Evaluation Committee: Typical?

Marc Comtois

Warwick Car Tax Revolt leader Rob Cote has done a great service to the citizens of Warwick and the state by keeping the heat on our elected officials regarding the car tax. Further to that end, he decided to drop in on the annual Car Tax Evaluation Committee meeting, buried somewhere in the State House Administrative building. What he found was an embarrassment (h/t Dan Yorke Show).

Unfortunately, I suspect this is all-too typical of what goes on with other boards in our state government.

October 18, 2011

2010 Campaign Intrigue: John Loughlin (Yes, Loughlin) Was Asked To Step Aside for Frank Caprio

Monique Chartier

Avid followers of Rhode Island politics are aware that John Robitaille was approached by the Frank Caprio campaign - and, in due course, by a circumspect Frank Caprio himself - about dropping out of the 2010 gubernatorial race so as to avoid the four way race that ultimately got Linc Chafee elected. (Robitaille demurred and wound up finishing second, ahead of Caprio, leading some observers to wonder exactly who should have asked whom to drop out.)

It turns out, however, that the story didn't end there, as Republicans learned at last night's State Central meeting. In March of 2010, Gio Ciccione, then-Chair of the RIGOP, approached John Loughlin, who was running for the First RI Congressional District, and suggested that he step aside so that then-General Treasurer Frank Caprio could have a clear shot at running for the Congressional seat -- running for the seat as an (R), not the (D) that he was.

The guy who got this off his chest - he had hitherto been silent about the incident - was Mike Napolitano, now the manager of John Loughlin's bid for RI-1 next year. (Loughlin will face off against Brendan Doherty in a Republican primary.) Napolitano proffered the incident as an object lesson to close the Republican primary in the state, which was the thoroughly debated subject of last night's meeting.

(While this behind-the-scenes drama was not publicized at the time, its denouement was, naturally, well known: Loughlin declined the suggestion and stayed in the race.)

October 16, 2011

US Rep James Langevin Visits Occupy Providence

Patrick Laverty

Tonight, US Rep. James Langevin visited the protesters down at Occupy Providence. I wonder if the protesters are aware that he is one of the very people they are protesting against. No, he's not the CEO of Bank of America or Goldman Sachs. I understand they're protesting against corporate greed, especially the greed that is perceived on Wall Street. However, who makes the rules that those banks played by? Congress. The members of the House and Senate. People like Jim Langevin.

Instead, it often seems that the protesters are simply starstruck when the celebrities arrive. Last week, Kanye West and Russell Simmons visited the New York protesters. Russell Simmons, one of the creators of Def Jam Records. I guess that doesn't quite meet the standards of being "corporate". Maybe because he's a music man and not a banker, right? Well, no. He owns a credit card company. But they're all above board and engage in fair trade? Ok, not so much there either.

Subpoenas have been issued to Russell Simmons' Rush Card and four other prepaid card companies by the Florida Attorney General's office who is investigating whether the card companies are forcing their users into paying hidden fees on every purchase.
Personally, I'm not against everything the Occupy people stand for. It just seems their message could be a bit stronger if it was more consistent or if they truly knew who they are railing against.

October 14, 2011

"a completely non-violent movement"

Patrick Laverty

Hopefully I'm not inciting violence by only quoting in part from the Occupy Providence mission statement, but I'm just hoping that the recent actions by the Occupy movement in other cities isn't a sign of things to come here in Providence.

The Providence folks, in their mission statement, wrote

Occupy Providence is a completely non-violent movement
Well, that's great and hopefully it stays that way. However, looking around at New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles, we're not really seeing that so much.

In Seattle, there were fights over tents in the park:

In New York today, after the Mayor agreed to let the protesters clean up after themselves and to not relocate the protesters, things got violent during a march

Police say the protesters were throwing bottles and bags of garbage at officers
And then in Los Angeles, there is the video of one protester on a microphone calling for violence and was cheered by the crowd

(Jump to 32 seconds for violence talk)

So here we go tomorrow with Occupy Providence, with what seem like the best of intentions and hopefully the organizers will stick to their claims.

October 13, 2011

Occupying the Tea Party

Patrick Laverty

It's interesting to see people come out and align themselves with the Occupy movement. Many of these are the same people who call the Tea Party wackos or zealots. By the same token, many people who fancy themselves Tea Partiers, look down their nose at the people attending the Occupy events. But if these two groups would simply take a minute to think about what they really want, they might realize that in some areas, they are one in the same. Both groups are fighting for traction around the country, fighting for any kind of positive media attention. What if they were to actually work together on ideas that they share?

It seems that both groups believe the US government is broken. I would guess the vast majority of Americans would agree with that. Both groups are seeking ways to fix the problems.

The Occupy Providence group released a mission statement where they stated one goal as

to build a society by, for, and of the people. Occupy Providence is a completely non-violent movement that seeks to give voice to the 99% of Rhode Islanders who have been disenfranchised as the economy and governance of our country has been increasingly ceded to powerful corporate interests.
So maybe the language isn't the same as what the Tea Party wants, but it sure sounds a lot like Occupy Providence is also asking for smaller government. Too much entanglement between government and business. They say they want a society by, for, and of the people. That sounds like they want government to get their hands off the people. Again, smaller government.

Now, I'm not saying that these groups are identical in every way, they're not. I'm sure there would be strong disagreement on many issues between them, but if they could simply pick a couple issues that they agree on and get the two groups to work together on those issues, maybe the politicians in Washington would finally be forced to listen, or even better, forced into retirement.

October 12, 2011

Two Headlines, One Question

Marc Comtois

"Raimondo: Politics threaten reform":

State Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo told the Rotary Club of Providence on Tuesday that the biggest potential hurdle to pension reform is “politics, politics, politics: special interests lobbying politicians and telling them, if they pass this reform, they’ll go after them in the next election.”...Look, this is politics. Special interests. You know I briefed the Senate a couple of weeks ago … and there were over a dozen labor union lobbyists in the room. Special interests have money and power, not just in Rhode Island, but in Washington.”

“My job is to balance everyone’s interest. ... My job is to stay strong and not be overly influenced by special interests, and I will do that. But that is why I am saying … they need to hear from you, too, because I guarantee you the special interests have a very loud voice in the State House.”

"Thousands protest cuts in R.I. programs for disabled":
More than 3,500 protesters encircled the State House Tuesday night, waving glow sticks in a “Circle of Hope” to protest $24 million in state cuts that threaten the homes, care, jobs and transportation for people with developmental disabilities.

People in matching neon-green T-shirts started arriving around 4 p.m. They included people with autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, along with family, friends and caregivers. The backs of the T-shirts said “Keep the Promise” or “Stop the Cuts.”

“The promise,” said Thomas Campbell, pushing the wheelchair of William Kwiatkoski, both 44 and both of Providence, “was that we would have community living.”

By 5:30, their numbers had grown to an estimated 2,000. At 6 p.m., protesters were advised to snap their glow sticks and stand near the railing. Organizers said that all 3,500 glow sticks had been handed out.

At 6:20, a helicopter approached from the East Side. Protesters cheered and raised their glow sticks, some twirling them by the lanyard. Organizer Doreen McConaghy, director of PAL, an advocacy organization for families and people with disabilities, said the helicopter flight, along with the services of a photographer to capture the “Circle of Hope” from the air, had been donated. She said PAL, which had once been an acronym for the group Parents and Friends for Alternate Living, reached out to other parent-support groups across the state to organize the event in two weeks’ time.

Will anyone listen? I guess it depends on which special interest is speaking.

October 11, 2011

The Democrats Closed Their Primary

Patrick Laverty

No, the headline isn't a mistake, the Democrats really did close their primaries, as did the Republicans and every other state party. A "closed" primary means that to vote in a primary with a particular party, you must be a member of that party. You cannot be an unaffiliated voter and vote in a primary.

Currently, you don't need to be affiliated for anything more than a few minutes or even seconds, depending on how long it takes you to choose a party, vote and then disaffiliate. Some may think they are an "independent" but that doesn't exist as a party in RI. If you're not affiliated with a party, you're listed as a U or "unaffiliated".

So that's really the question here, how long must you be affiliated with a party in order to vote in its primary. One party, the Republicans, are discussing lengthening the amount of time that you need to be an affiliated Republican before the primary, in order to vote in the primary. Keep in mind that in the general election, not the primary, you can vote for whomever you want, regardless of the candidate's party affiliation and regardless of your own party affiliation.

The whole point of primaries is so the party can choose who they feel is their best candidate to win in the general election. Many people feel they should be able to choose any candidate in the primaries. That's not how it works. Political parties are supposed to be groups of like-minded people who work together to put forth similar-thinking candidates. This isn't supposed to be for any person to just show up on election day and decide who should be the standard-bearer for the party. That's what the general election is for. On the day of the general election is when it is time for everyone to vote for anyone they'd like.

I guess the question I'd ask anyone who has a problem with this is why do you want to choose the candidate for a party that you don't want to be affiliated with? If you don't want to affiliate with a party, why should you be one of the people to choose who to send to the general election? Let me repeat, the general election is different from the primary. Your party affiliation does not matter in the general election, you can vote for anyone in any party in the general election. This is only about the primary.

It would seem that if you don't like what the Republicans are suggesting, you have two choices, affiliate as a Republican or simply wait until the general election and then choose the best remaining candidate for each seat. However, holding the party's decision on a closed primary against the candidate is cutting off your nose to spite your face. I implore you to choose the best available candidate in the general election, regardless of party.

October 3, 2011

Block on the Labor-Social Welfare Crackup

Justin Katz

Moderate Party founder Ken Block has been circulating an interesting letter:

I have been waiting for someone to call out Bob Walsh on his comments in the September, 22, 2011 Providence Journal article "Business Coalition Backs R.I. Pension Reform."

Since no one else has yet taken Mr. Walsh to task, I will now do so.

The article describes how Crossroads RI and Family Services of RI - two prominent providers of social services to the needy - have joined a coalition whose mission is to advocate for thorough pension reform in the upcoming special legislative session in October.

The NEA chief has this to say about about Crossroads' joining the coalition: "They should think long and hard about who is the bigger supporter of social services - the unions or the Chamber of Commerce. Labor is their ally, not the business community."

Mr. Walsh's error in logic is that Crossroads is choosing between 'Labor' and 'Business'. I am fairly certain that Crossroads is looking at the issue as to how the organization can best assure that their funding stream from the State is maintained into the future.

Rhode Island's pension crisis threatens everything that the State government touches. If Rhode Island's pension problems are not fixed, an ever growing chunk of tax revenues will go solely to keeping the pension system afloat - to the detriment of funding schools, building roads and yes, funding worthy organizations such as Crossroads RI and Family Services of RI.

It is time for Labor's union bosses to meaningfully engage in helping to resolve Rhode Island's pension problem - a problem that these bosses have helped to create. Red herrings like selling off Twin River or trying to frame the pension issue as 'Labor' versus 'Business' are attempts to distract an easily distractible public from a simple truth: If we do not fix the pension problem, every aspect of Rhode Island's economy and society will be massively and permanently harmed.

Pension reform is not an us versus them issue. Successful pension reform means a stable and guaranteed pool of retirement monies for pensioners and a kick start to rebuilding Rhode Island's ailing economy. Failed or incomplete pension reform will keep Rhode Island on our downward spiral into the economic abyss.

Perhaps recent cuts to social-service spending at the state level helped advocates for the less fortunate to see the writing that others of us have long seen on the wall. If businesses cannot operate and productive residents continue to leave, there will be no tax revenue to divvy up against the various groups that survive on government revenue. It may be easier for the government-dependent to pretend that they can survive without a thriving economy, but they can't, and ultimately, they'll have to fight over what the government is able to confiscate from the shrinking pool.

The shared interest of public-sector labor and the needy isn't much deeper than a mutual interest in having the government redistribute money, and the pension crisis threatens to absorb more of it than social services groups can afford. What's particularly interesting, though, is that the alliances that have formed like fingers around Rhode Island's throat have created another division: between the members of various groups and their government-class leaders.

The deeper alliance, that is, is between the labor leaders, like Mr.Walsh, and the professional advocates who usually speak for the poor. They represent the core of the left-wing movement, and although a few groups might splinter off, the members who actually suffer by the difficulties of bad governance will have to replace their own leaders before a new paradigm becomes possible.

Mr. Walsh should take note of that fact. Eventually, the teachers who ultimately give him his power will figure out that his interests aren't the same as theirs, much less of the state in which they live and work.

September 24, 2011

In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens: The Misinformation and Non-Responsive Justifications Persist

Monique Chartier

On Thursday morning, a member of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, Attorney Eva Mancuso, appeared on WPRO's John Depetro Show to explain why the BOG was considering extending in-state college tuition to illegal alien students.

Unfortunately, her answers fell short in a couple of key areas.

Asked by her host why the BOG would even consider such a policy, Attorney Mancuso referenced that infinitely elastic yet highly selective quality of fairness. "Infinitely elastic" because there are no end of government policies that could be implemented and tax dollars that could be spent in its pursuit. "Strangely narrow" in this case because fairness is sought only for one group of college-aged students. How is it fair to require out-of-state students to pay a much higher tuition than in-state ones? How is it remotely fair to give such preferential treatment to illegal aliens but not to legal immigrants? Wherever they reside (in state or not), the latter group immigrated here the right way, in conformance with our laws. If it's "fair" to reward illegal aliens with in-state tuition (and it is a reward, however else advocates wish to portray it), on that basis, how much more do we owe legal immigrants?

Asked by yours truly about the substantial tuition shortfall that would be generated by each additional student to receive this benefit, Attorney Mancuso stated that out-of-state tuition would pick up this shortfall.

This is false.

Before describing why it is false, we should pause to note here that, with this statement, it appears that the Board of Governors has changed their position as to the cost of this initiative and is now acknowledging that there would, indeed, be a cost attendant to it.

Now the question becomes, who would pick up this cost?

Returning to Attorney Mancuso's statement, undoubtely, out-of-state tuition picks up a percentage of the current shortfall of in-state tuition. However, state taxpayers also pick up a substantial portion of that shortfall, demonstrating that current receipts from out-of-state tution does not remotely cover the current shortfall.

Does the BOG intends to expand one for one the number of out-of-state students who attend state colleges so as to partially defray each of the new in-state tution paying illegal alien students admitted? Presumably not.

It is safe to conclude, then, that Rhode Island taxpayers would have to pick up 100% of the cost of expanding the number of students receiving in-state tution.

It appears that, in considering and discussing this proposed new policy, for whatever reason, the Board of Governors had failed to sufficiently inform themselves as to its cost and the source of its requisite funding. Now that some of these facts have become clearer, they would be wise to reconsider implementing the policy.

No Record May Be Better than the Record We've Seen

Justin Katz

I've been formulating some thoughts about a question that's been lingering around the aggregate Dan Gordon controversy: How could this happen?

I still intend to put an answer down in writing — although my focus has understandably been on answering the same question with respect to paying my bills. In the meantime, Monique has offered an excellent summary in the comments to Anchor Rising's latest post on the matter (emphasis in original):

... shall we review what seventy years of Democrat rule in this state have given us? Fifth highest state and local tax burden. Academic achievement in the bottom 20%. Roads and bridges near the bottom of the list. THE worst business climate in the country, naturally leading to a lousy economy and high unemployment.

Given all that - all of which was known before the election, unlike Rep Gordon's checkered past - why would Tiverton have voted for a Dem for District 71?

More importantly, why would they vote for one next year? See, that's the problem for you and the Democrat who will run for this seat next year. All the Republicans in the world with the worst pasts you can imagine don't change the damage and havoc that Democrat legislators, even with choir boy pasts, have inflicted on this state.

September 23, 2011

...and Water is Wet!

Patrick Laverty

Newsflash, Lincoln Chafee is not liked by Rhode Islanders! Ok, maybe that's not too surprising, but in a recent GoLocalProv.com poll, Lincoln Chafee has an unfavorable rating of 47%. Well, he could like at the bright side in that he only received votes from 36.1% of the voters and now 45% give him a "favorable" rating.

I never think it's really that fair when people point out that 63.9% of the voters didn't want Chafee to be the Governor, because if you look at it that way, you can make an argument that it was worse for each of the other candidates. Plus, Chafee didn't make the election rules, he simply played by them.

However, even though we've had a Republican governor for the prior 16 years, Rhode Island is typically one of the bluest of the blue states when it comes to voting record. Chafee, bluer than Papa Smurf, should be well-liked with his history of independence, family name and attraction to progressive causes. Instead, he just can't get over the threshold with Rhode Islanders. He comes across as a poor decision-maker. When even the General Assembly thinks you're trying to tax people too much, chances are you've gone way off the deep end. He had a chief of staff that stiffed the taxpayers for $250,000, losing track of his primary residence, and most recently, using a board appointed by him, trying to use back-door tactics to allow non-US citizens to receive in-state tuition to Rhode Island state colleges.

So maybe the really surprising part of the GLP.com poll isn't that Chafee's unfavorable rating is so high, maybe the surprising part is that it's that low.

And Now About the Military Record...

Justin Katz

It looks like the next domino is falling for Rep. Dan Gordon (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton):

Military service records for a Rhode Island lawmaker who has said he sustained combat injuries in the 1991 Gulf War do not list a Purple Heart award or any Middle East deployments.

State Rep. Daniel Gordon's Marine Corps records, obtained by The Associated Press, list him as an aircraft technician who served from 1987 to 1991 in the U.S. and Japan. Gordon has said his leg was injured by shrapnel outside Baghdad.

This could be a paperwork mix-up, I suppose, but if so, the representative has really spectacularly bad luck.

Rhode Islandism on Rhode Islandism

Justin Katz

Mangeek's comment to my post about the very Rhode Island background of the prospective head of hte 195 commission is just too appropriate not to reproduce for additional commentary:

"when Kane's father was a principal of a Providence elementary school"

I had the pleasure of attending that school during Principal Kane's tenure. He was an amazing man who singlehandedly kept order over the students and faculty. If Colin has just 10% of what his father did, then I actually feel better about this commission.

When I was in fourth grade, a bully had pushed me to my breaking point. I chased him through the halls, finally catching up with him at a stairwell. I tossed him down a flight of stairs before teachers arrived and restrained me. Apparently I was so hungry for justice on the little jerk that I sprained the teacher's arm trying to finish what I started.

I was naturally sent to Mr. Kane's office, where he closed the door and told me that what I did was wrong, but he wished he could throw that little bugger over a stairwell himself. He'd take care of the issue with the teacher's arm if I wrote an apology to her.

I think that if the same thing happened under anyone else, there'd be EMTs, police, and union reps involved. I give credit to the guy for caring enough to see what happened for what it was and give me a chance to make things right without resorting to 'the system'.

So, Mangeek's response to a government entity that he might otherwise consider an embodiment of overreach is mitigated because the father of the group's prospective leader once did him a favor. He might protest that this anecdote was merely one of many, but it is the one he mentions, and moreover, transferring respect from father to son isn't inherently justified, and it doesn't come close to legitimizing a specific government action.

Let me say, though, that I agree with Principal Kane's approach to dealing with problems in his school. He assessed the situation with more intimate knowledge than is available in blanket policies; he chose a course of action that wouldn't encourage passivity in the face of bullying; and he prevented a young Boygeek from entering into a web of consequences that can overwhelm healthy development. Most of all, he would ultimately have had to take personal responsibility if Boygeek had taken his spiel as encouragement and stalked the bully home for a final beating with an iron pipe.

That sort of problem solving isn't available in government policy. The consequences for bad public policy take too long to manifest, and they aren't as clear as a boy responding to a bully with a little more violence than is tolerable. Within that lack of clarity is too much room to disperse blame across elected and appointed officials and for elected representatives to stitch together support through completely unrelated actions. In other words, the chain of accountability for land development can disappear in a gauze of personal favors and approval related to social issues, among others.

Yet, individual judgment remains no less important on a big scale than on the individual one in which Principal Kane acted, which is a very good reason to limit the activities of government in the first place.

September 20, 2011

195 Commission Head So Rhode Island

Justin Katz

It's difficult to read the Providence Journal's profile of Colin Kane — whom Governor Chafee has appointed to head the powerful commission addressing the land freed up by the I-Way project — without feeling that strong sense that there are two Rhode Islands: His family's relationship with the Chafees goes back to 1976, when Kane's father was a principal of a Providence elementary school and his mother was PTA President at the Chafee's neighborhood public school. Senatorial candidate John Chafee encouraged Mrs. Kane to run for state representative, and she did, and she won.

Colin went into construction — on the development end — and was an early mover on a policy that essentially pushed some zoning decisions into the state's purview:

The partners jumped into the affordable-housing market before a slew of private developers flooded communities with similar proposals. The change in the law had suddenly made private developers eligible to bypass local zoning regulations –– as long as at least 20 percent of their proposals were affordable-housing units.

He's become known around the State House for advocating for causes that help developers, and his mother wants him to be governor. All of this is fine, as far as it goes, and reading between the lines of the article, I suspect Kane and Anchor Rising readers would agree on a number of issues. This land development panel, however, stinks of the state's usual habits. Consider:

Chafee said 70 people jockeyed for the unpaid spots on the Route 195 commission.

It would be naive in the extreme to think that public spiritedness provided more than a gloss of motivation. This is how Rhode Island sluices around power and influence. It's how the insider club rewards itself, sets its members apart, and constructs public policy to reward them.

September 7, 2011

AARP as Full Subsidiary of Democrat-Union-Progressive Alliance

Justin Katz

Given the popular impression of the AARP, I'd wager that this activity would strike most people as a bit like AAA advocating against a fuel allowance for state workers:

The hand-wringing over Rhode Island's pension crisis has the state chapter of the AARP so worried it has taken out a half-page newspaper ad and booked a radio spot to warn past and present government employees of what is at stake for them in the discussions about to get under way at the State House.

The ads have been timed to run on the Tuesday that state lawmakers are headed back to Smith Hill for the first time since June for a briefing on the $9.4-billion pension-funding gap that threatens to bring the state — and many of its cities and towns — to the breaking point.

Framed as an open letter from the AARP's state director, Kathleen Connell, to Governor Chafee, the newspaper ad draws attention to the "looming threat" that some of the options discussed in recent months by a pension-advisory group pose to "retirees' economic security."

Given the strong union involvement in the pension discussion, perhaps the AARP wishes to lay the groundwork to address surprise developments. Any result that harms taxpayers will be just dandy; any result that changes the terms of public-sector retirements will be the result of shady, non-transparent manipulation.

It's interesting to note that — although the letter/ad tries to raise public-sector pensions to the status of a symbol and beacon for all retirees — AARP Rhode Island expresses no concern whatsoever about the well-being of retirees and future retirees who must pay for those pensions, even as fixed incomes give way to increases in taxes across the board.

One can imagine a strategy meeting of the Rhode Island Left-union alliance at which the AARP was advised to focus on "transparency" and other neutral good-government aspects of the pension-reform process so as not to seem too partisan. Ms. Connel didn't pull it off.

Apparently, it would be a travesty to require Bob the public worker to put in a few more years of work and to have to budget based on a dollar amount that doesn't automatically climb beyond inflation every year. Yet, if Beth the widow from the private sector, has to add a decade of work to her plans or, if she's already retired on a fixed income, to sell her house because the taxes and cost of living leave inadequate resources to eat, she doesn't make the cut for the AARP Rhode Island's vision of "retirement security."

September 4, 2011

The Deleterious Distinctions of a Disability Pension (And Their Dubious Designers)

Monique Chartier

Under Patrick's post, Max Diesel asks

Does anyone know how much this clown's pension was bumped with and without the disability after coming back as chief?

The answer is that, in Rhode Island, a regular pension is taxable. A disability pension is not taxable.

And this continues for the life of the retiree. But why should it? Once the employee hits retirement age, the regular pension should kick in. That provision alone would go a ways to reducing the percentage of public employees who go out on disability pensions, as Tim White illustrates in his excellent 2008 expose of Rhode Island's disability pension problems.

The lowest overall disability rate goes to the city of Pawtucket. The rules there say police and firefighters who get hurt on-the-job collect a disability pension until their 20th year, when they would normally retire.

It then gets converted down to a less-lucrative service pension. As a result, you will find only 6 Pawtucket firefighters collecting a disability pension. No other town we examined has this provision.

Once again, as in so many other matters of fiscal policy, this is a very reasonable adjustment that elected officials on the state and local levels have inexplicably eschewed.

By the way, the Dissembler from the First District gets mentioned in White's report, once again exaggerating an aspect of Providence's fiscal situation.

Providence Mayor David Cicilline says, "It used to be the case that once you received a disability pension that you essentially received it forever."

Mayor Cicilline says an ordinance passed this year [2008] aims to change that.

"We now have a revision that requires an annual certification of your disability," says Cicilline.

So rather than addressing the problem directly by changing the policy (disability pension to be converted to regular pensions at age 65), then-Mayor Cicilline backed a half-hearted step that has done bupkis to cut back on the number of disability pensions issued. It sounded good at the time, though, didn't it?

As for the term that Max uses to refer to Mr. Farrell, I understand that Max is very frustrated - as we all are - at this manifestation of an irresponsible and indefensible policy. It should be noted, however, that the real "clowns" here are the decades of elected officials who took a raft of fiscally criminal measures and turned them into law. Had they not done so, the door would not have been flung wide open, in this and so many other areas, for the Rhode Island taxpayer to be mugged on a remarkable scale.

September 2, 2011

Redistricting from a Narrow Range

Justin Katz

Even putting aside the inevitable corruption and fingers on the scale with the latest redistricting commission — which will help in determining which constituencies are grouped together for the purpose of electing government officials — the membership strikes me as having a conspicuous narrowness of geographic coverage:

  • Rep. Stephen Ucci, Johnston
  • Rep. Grace Diaz, Providence
  • Rep Donald Lally, Narragansett
  • Rep. William San Bento, Pawtucket
  • Ray Rickman, Providence
  • Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan, Providence
  • Felix Appolonia, West Warwick
  • Sen. Michael McCaffrey, Warwick
  • Mary Ellen Goodwin, Providence
  • Beatrice Lanzi, Cranston
  • Juan Pichardo, Providence
  • Francis Flanagan, Middletown
  • Matthew Gunnip, Pawtucket
  • Arthur Strother, Providence
  • Rep. Joseph Trillo, Warwick
  • Rep. Daniel Reilly, Portsmouth
  • Sen. David Bates, Barrington
  • Sen. Francis Maher, Exeter

Granted, our state isn't all that big and the population centers around Providence, but one third of the appointees are from Providence. John Marion of Common Cause appears encouraged "that the commission represents a degree of 'racial and ethnic diversity,'" as reporter Randal Edgar paraphrased, but I wonder whether that's the diversity that ought to be considered of greatest importance.

From my perch in Tiverton, I've found the breakdown of districts peculiar. My state senator's district spans all the way to Warren — two bridges and an inconvenient drive away. My town's other senator draws some of his voting base from Newport, yet neither of them touches down in Portsmouth, the town next door.

I suspect much could be understood of the list above (and the results that those on it will provide as they begin their work) by breaking out recent votes by precinct. It seems to me, though, that for real representation diversity ought to be considered as a matter of where people live and the cultures of each community. For that to be possible, the redistricting commission would have to be such that the geography covered couldn't fit under a "Vote Democrat" coffee cup placed on a standard glove-compartment map.

August 24, 2011

How a State Buries Itself with Wind and Overreaching Government

Justin Katz

Rhode Island had to have a speculative wind project. The General Assembly and former Governor
Don Carcieri effectively castrated the regulatory body that oversees energy policy and forced through the Deepwater Wind agreement that will raise energy costs for all Rhode Islanders in order to guarantee the company profits. Of course, those who use more energy, such as substantial manufacturers (and employers) like Toray Plastics are affected more.

Not to worry, though. Taxpayers can be tapped, yet again, to subsidize green energy:

The Economic Development Corporation board on Monday unanimously approved giving Toray Plastics (America) Inc. $1 million in energy-assistance grants that will pay about half of the company's costs to install 1,650 solar panels at its Quonset Point facility.

The investment of state and federal money is not expected to bring any additional jobs to Rhode Island, company President and CEO Richard R. Schloesser said before the meeting, adding that the solar project is "strictly for the environment — renewable energy."

That won't be all, though. You'll recall that, in its zeal to leap into the wind energy business, the government of Rhode Island explicitly called for energy distributor National Grid to ensure a profit for itself and for green-energy suppliers like Deepwater Wind by charging a premium "to all distribution customers through a uniform fully reconciling annual factor in distribution rates."

With Toray implementing a government-subsidized system to supply some of its own energy, it will be paying a smaller share of that "uniform fully reconciling annual factor," which means that everybody else will be paying more.

This is how a government can bury itself and the people it represents while attempting to react to the negative consequences of poorly considered policies, and Rhode Island's manner of governance is practically defined by this short-sighted dictate-and-dig methodology.

August 22, 2011

Cicilline Event This Evening in North Prov

Monique Chartier

(With apologies to Marc for breaking in with this time-sensitive announcement.)

I've noticed that in the last couple of years, when members of our Congressional delegation hold a public event, little effort is made by their office to publicize in advance such availability.

Accordingly, in a small effort to pick up the slack, below is information about such an event for the benefit of the constituents of the First Congressional District.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (sihs-ihl-EE'-nee) is hosting a neighborhood supper in North Providence.

The event will take place on Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. at North Providence High School.

Cicilline says he plans to discuss a jobs and manufacturing plan for Rhode Island and protecting benefits for seniors, Medicare and Medicaid.

He will also discuss the nation's debt crisis.

Cicilline says the supper will also give residents a chance to learn about the services offered at his Pawtucket office. He says his staff can assist residents seeking Social Security, Medicare and veterans' benefits.

August 19, 2011

The Thought of Too Few

Justin Katz

In a letter to the Providence Journal that doesn't appear to be online, Karin Gorman expresses a feeling that many of us share:

Things became heated [at a recent Operation Clean Government event] when state Rep. Larry Valencia, former president of [the organization], suggested that everyone needs to come to the table to solve the pension problem and increase taxes.

This was a room full of people who actually pay attention. We are tired of hearing that. That statement upset just about everyone in the room. There's been enough talking. Now is the time for action

And that action is not raising taxes, fees, and fines on an over-taxed-feed-and-fined population. Unfortunately, it's difficult to escape the conclusion that not enough of us feel this way to overcome the apathy and vested interests of everybody else.

August 13, 2011

Brien Hasn't Decided Whether To Press Charges; Rainone's FB Status; And More From the Breeze

Monique Chartier

Following upon The Incident, Rep Jon Brien declined various invitations to appear on talk radio.

Since then, however, he spoke to the Valley Breeze - exclusively, it appears.

In the aftermath of an altercation between the secretary of the National Education Association of Rhode Island and Democratic state Rep. Jon Brien on Wednesday, the Woonsocket representative told The Breeze he has not decided whether or not he will press charges.

The Breeze also got from Brien a description of what was going through his head during The Incident.

According to the Plain’s account, NEARI secretary Louis Rainone stepped forward and offered to show Brien “how charming I am.”

Brien told The Breeze that it was at that point where he invited Rainone, who was slamming his fist into his hand, to come into the elevator with him. The state representative said his intention was not to escalate the fight, but the opposite. He said he remained poised to press the button to take them to the first floor where the Capitol Police would be if Rainone decided to punch him.

“But in no way shape or form was I about to get into an altercation in the very building where I practice law,” he said. “I would have rather been punched and handed him over to the Capitol Police than get into a physical altercation. Would never do it. I respect that building way too much.”

By contrast, the Secretary of NEA-RI declined to make any comment to the Breeze, preferring, apparently, to save it for his Facebook page.

[Louis] Rainone did not return The Breeze’s attempts to contact him on Friday, but on Thursday at around 4 p.m., he posted a status update on his Facebook: “I’m so misunderstood ! I think I need help !!!!!!!!!!!!!” In response to friends who commented on the post, he then wrote on Friday: “just kidding about needing help- didn’t like a state rep getting preferential treatment in the court house so i expressed my discust of him loudly- that’s all then of course the media blew it right up.”

August 12, 2011

Splintering the Splintered

Marc Comtois

The RI GOP has been criticized for years (including by me) for not getting its act together and for in-fighting that has undermined its already small base in this blue, blue state. Yes, there are legitimate ideological and political differences amongst the ranks and leadership of any political party. Chafee v. Laffey is perhaps the most prominent, and the Doherty v. Loughlin race in CD-1 appears to be a case of "state level" (whatever that means) old guard RI GOP (Doherty) against more active, local conservatives (Loughlin). These are natural tensions. What is unfortunate is when there are power struggles inside the party that only serve to diminish its overall political effectiveness. The repercussions of the Chafee/Laffey race come to mind.

Ground-up political groups can also suffer from internal disputes. And by suffer, I mean break-up. It happened recently at the Ocean State Policy Institute and now it appears to have happened at the Rhode Island Tea Party.

Such breakups and reconstitutions aren't unique to Rhode Island conservatives, to be sure, but the conservative movement in Rhode Island seems too small to have so many different groups--and leaders--running around. (That being said, for the most part, the various conservative groups do seem to cooperate fairly well. It's just when we get to the "who gets credit" portion of our program....). Perhaps worse, there is only so much money out there that will support conservative causes. I'm not sure that adding yet another group to the mix--and dividing already sparse resources--is a good idea.

For its part, the Tea Party originated as a grass-roots, decentralized organization and was instrumental in helping to stop the binding arbitration legislation (among many other things) in the recent legislative session. However, no matter how decentralized an organization tries to be, someone has to speak for the group and guide its direction. It sounds like there was a disagreement on both fronts within the RI Tea Party. So, in the wake of a little success, I suppose it's only natural that as the stakes get bigger, so do the egos. Everyone who has a stake in something believes they know what is the correct path to follow, after all. Human nature.

I have no inside info on any of this, but in both the RI Tea Party and OSPRI cases, the stated reason for the changes have to do with philosophical differences or the like. That may be true, but I suspect that's another way of saying that egos got in the way and people wanted to do things their way instead of hashing it out and working together. Hey, it happens. But it doesn't have to (just look at us at Anchor Rising!).

August 11, 2011

"Cognitive Capacity" in a Court Elevator

Monique Chartier

Kudos to Bob Plain, WPRO's Digital Reporter. He was quick on his feet and got the near dust-up yesterday between Rep Jon Brien and Louis Rainone, Secretary of the NEA-RI, on tape ... er, digital media, as both were exiting the John Leidecker trial proceedings.

What amused me (perhaps unduly so) about the incident was Brien's response to Rainone's insults.

Brien: Just that? I'm an [expletive]?

Rainone: Yeah.

Brien: Oh, okay.

Rainone: Oh, you know what? You're a big [expletive].

Brien: Oooh! That's very... that's very enlightened of you - very enlightened of you. Shows that your cognitive capacity is superior to most.

August 8, 2011

He'll Come When the Little People Deserve Him

Justin Katz

Sometimes, when assessing the political field based on available information, a commentator rightly worries that he presumes too much. And sometimes the politicians are quick to add evidence that he does not. For example, in the midst of early bantering in the RIGOP primary for the first-district Congressional race, over early support for John Loughlin among local Republican groups, we get this from Brendan Doherty spokesman Dante Bellini:

Bellini said he saw no value in getting into "attack mode" this early. Bottom line, he said: "The colonel wants an opportunity to personally engage with these people and make a formal presentation to them, not a chitchat about coming to a fundraiser or a quick hello at a sparsely attended Republican get-together."

One gets the impression that Mr. Doherty isn't but so concerned with winning support among actual Republicans — at least those who might be said to be active. Even "sparsely attended" events present a good opportunity to persuade your ostensible base that you're sincere, and not just looking for an easy route to a prominent job. Those few attendees tend to be the most active members of their parties (often elected officials) and proceed to spread out across the state and do such things as write letters and talk to the media.

August 7, 2011

The Governor's Funders

Justin Katz

No doubt, all but the most underdog victors of high-profile political campaigns will have similar lists of interested campaign donors (and whether they are evil sneaks or righteous activists is mainly a matter of perspective), but it's always good to know whose calls Governor Chafee is likely to take:

They included: Democratic Sen. Frank Ciccone ($250), a top official in the Rhode Island Laborers District Council; former Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino ($500); one-time Senate Majority Leader John Revens ($250); long-time Democratic political consultant William Fischer ($750) , whose firm did work on his fundraising invitation; former state GOP chairman John Holmes ($250); former West Warwick mayor and casino promoter J. Michael Levesque, now working for O. Ahlborg and Sons ($1,000), and former Harrah's casino lobbyist Terence Fracassa ($750) who, more recently, has been involved in efforts to open Rhode Island's first medical-marijuana dispensary.

The list also included a number of past and present applicants for judgeships, state contractors and lobbyists.

Almost one out of every $5 he raised came from the political-action committees. The majority have union ties, including: the Central Falls Teachers Union ($250), IBEW Local 99 PAC ($250), the International Union of Painters ($500), Iron Workers Local 37 ($250), IUOE Local 57 ($500), the Lincoln Teachers Association ($250), Local 2881 PAC ($500), the Rhode Island AFL CIO PAC ($500), the Brotherhood of Correctional Officers ($1,000), the RI Federation of Teachers COPE ($500), RI Public Employees Education ($250), the RI Troopers Association ($1,000), the RI chapter of the United Auto Workers ($1,000), and United Nurses and Allied Professionals ( $500).

What Hath RI Democrats Wrought

Monique Chartier

Hal Meyer, Citizen Critic and former Rhode Island resident, has compiled an excellent website, RI Democrats, outlining the all of the damage that seventy years of a Democrat super-majority has inflicted on the state. Below is a selection of the evidence that he presents.

My view is that, from now on, every voter should be required to carefully review this website before stepping into the voting booth and then quizzed as to motive if they still plan to vote (D) on the state or local level. If they respond, "Because George Bush said there were weapons of mass destruction" or "Because Dick Cheney got Halliburton a no-bid contract to drill for oil in Iraq" or any similar, fatuous, completely non-Rhode-Island-related answer, their ballot would be gently but firmly confiscated.

Additional screening for such answers as, "Because my cousin has a state job", "Because it's the party of the working man" (see Matt Allen for the proper intonation of this phrase) or "Yeah, most of them are bums but my guy is okay" would be phased in during the following election year.

Rhode Island second-worst state in the U.S. for business and careers - October 14, 2010. From PBN.

There Really Is Something Rotten in the Justice Department - September 7, 2010. From The National Review. "Many counties in states such as Alabama and Rhode Island also show a similar miracle — no voters were removed from their voter rolls for having died."

R.I.’s foreclosure rate is #1 in New England - August 31, 2010. From The Providence Journal.

One in 7 now gets food stamps in RI - August 30, 2010. From WPRI TV.

R.I. among the most financially distressed states in the nation - August 27, 2010. From Providence Business Journal.

August 2, 2011

Rhode Island Doesn't Need More Bureaucratic Garbage

Justin Katz

I'm happy to see that this legislation (H5888)didn't make it to the governor's desk:

As part of a broader plan to shift some of the burden of waste disposal onto private companies and away from state and local government, Governor Chafee's administration has introduced legislation that would require national and local manufacturers to pay for the collection and disposal of mattresses, paints and medical needles and syringes.

Even if such legislation wouldn't make Rhode Island (already among the most business-unfriendly states) only the second in the nation to adopt such legislation, even if it wouldn't give retailers at across our border yet another price advantage, this insidious provision would still be cause for concern:

[Dept. of Environmental Management staffer Elizabeth] Stone said the proposal builds on existing state laws regulating the disposal of automobile mercury switches, mercury thermostats, and electronics such as computers and televisions. A 2010 law, for example, requires that manufacturers of mercury-added thermostats submit plans to the state for collecting old thermostats containing mercury and requires that the devices to be recycled at the expense of the manufacturers.

"The thought was, instead of going back to General Assembly each year on a new product, let's pass one particular law that gives the Department of Environmental Management the authority, by regulation, to put product stewardship programs in place," she said. "In essence, it removes the product-by-product dialogue that the General Assembly has been wading through every year and gives us regulatory authority to move on certain products."

"Certain products"? Anyone who reads far enough into the legislation will discover that DEM would have the authority to add products to its list without returning to a single elected official for final approval. Add this power grab to the list of legislative items that is sure to rise again like an undead bureaucrat.

As we enter election season, residents should seek candidates who will pull the state in the opposite direction with respect to regulating business and handing the legislative function over to unelected members of the ruling class.

July 31, 2011

Generous Benefits Attract Those Who Need Them

Justin Katz

When PolitiFact found Gary Sasse to be truthful about Rhode Island's 52% premium for human-service programs, as compared with the national average, it offered a bit of broader speculation:

The 52-percent figure could mean that the state is being overly generous with its benefits.

Or it could mean that the characteristics of Rhode Island's population require us to spend more to give the same level of service that other states provide.

Or it could mean that the national average is depressed by states that are declining to provide some of the "optional" services, such as hospice care for the poor, that some Rhode Islanders might regard as anything but optional.

I'm not sure that the "or" conjunction is entirely appropriate, in the sense that finding a high percentage of people eligible for benefits would minimize the possibility that the state is too generous. Obviously, more expansive benefits will apply to a greater number of people. Also obviously, greater benefits will attract people who would be eligible for them.

As for the third quoted option, other states' "declining to provide" certain services is merely the flip side of Rhode Island's deciding to provide them.

Whatever the case, considering Rhode Island's position on the wrong side of one national listing after another, from employment to business friendliness to welfare benefits, it ought to be general policy to strive at least for the middle of the national pack when it comes to government spending and pervasiveness.

July 27, 2011

On School Budget Confusion and Arbitrary Authority

Justin Katz

Trying to follow public policy debates — particularly those having to do with the transfer of government money — is like trying to make sense of an incoherent dream. Whenever you hear or read that there is "confusion" or "ambiguity" related to a particular law, it's a reasonable assumption that one or more parties are doggedly asserting false conclusions based on irrelevant information. Such appears to be the case with a recent disagreement between the Warwick School Committee and City Council concerning legislation that allowed towns to reduce their contributions to their schools during the recession.

Normally, towns must follow "maintenance of effort" provisions in the law that require at least the same amount of local money to be appropriated for the schools each year, with some allowance for reduction based on shrinking enrollment. In 2009, the legislature added the following language to the relevant statute:

Provided, that for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 each community shall contribute to its school committee in an amount not less than ninety-five percent (95.0%) of its local contribution for schools for the fiscal year 2009.

The clear and plain reading of that language would allow a town to hold the schools to 95% of their 2009 local contribution for 2010 and 2011 without regard to the rest of the statute. The fiscal 2012 requirement brings back the requirement to contribute at least as much as "the previous fiscal year." Careful reading of the article (which is confusing, and which, for some reason, doesn't cite the relevant law) suggests that Warwick allocated $123.9 million in local funds for schools in FY10 but took the legislature up on its offer to reduce that amount in FY11, to $117.7 million.

The Warwick School Committee is asserting a legal right to at least the FY10 amount for its FY12 budget. Since the law makes no mention of reverting back to 100% of older budgets, however, it is clear that "the previous fiscal year" (FY11) would be the new baseline. That is, the Warwick City Council is entirely within the law to hold to the $117.7 million, and the leaders of both chambers of the General Assembly have chimed in to confirm as much.

School Committee Chairwoman Bethany Furtado cites a letter from Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist justifying the schools' position and, no doubt, in true Rhode Island fashion has some behind-the-scenes assurances from the Department of Education. Although I can't find the text online, having read a few such "rulings," I'd expect it to be the legal equivalent of mumbling in one's hand before asserting an arbitrary decision. Unfortunately, these things aren't decided by the clarity of the law, but by the willingness of the parties to keep rolling the dice at each successive stage of legal review, up through the Department of Education and then the judiciary.

That's all pretty standard, though. The disturbing aspect is what tends to get lost in these narrow debates and, through accumulation, in civic discourse more generally:

"She is the commissioner of education and she's our boss," Furtado said. "I honestly don't know where we're going to find the money; we're already down to the bone."

Deborah Gist is not the boss of the Warwick School Committee; the people of Warwick are. Too often, elected officials join with the education bureaucracy to conspire against their communities' taxpayers. Rather than muddying the legal waters with strained analysis, Furtado and her committee ought to set about finding a way to live within the restraints that they have insisted must be imposed. Many of the people of Warwick are surely "down to the bone," as well, and very few of them have $150 million annual budgets to comb for savings.

July 26, 2011

The Privilege of One-Party Rule

Justin Katz

Throughout the legislative session just ended, the Providence Journal has been checking in with four freshman legislators, one of them being North Kingstown Republican Doreen Costa. This snippet, from the end-of-session iteration, points to one of Rhode Island's major political problems, and the consequence of indomitable one-party rule:

Lesson number two: Don't "question or argue" with the speaker, "privately, or on the floor."

"You just don't," she said. "You know you're not going to get anywhere if you argue with the speaker."

It just isn't right, nor indicative of a healthy political culture, for legislators to feel that way.

July 25, 2011

Two Candidates by the Issues

Justin Katz

I've been approaching with similar skepticism the two new faces to the RIGOP, both running for high-profile national offices based mainly on various news reports. A look at their campaign "issues" pages, however, does point to some distinctions — not necessarily huge distinctions on the stances that they take, but certainly in the extent to which they appear simply to be the anointed representatives of a well-connected political faction.

Congressional candidate Brendan Doherty's page reads like the typical political wave of the intellectual hand. He's for everything good and nothing bad.

  • "I intend to be a strong voice..."
  • "It is imperative that RI leaders work together in a bipartisan manner..."
  • "This must be accomplished in a balanced and measured, bipartisan effort by finding common ground with fiscal responsibility."

And so on. The healthcare riddle will be solved by addressing "fraud, waste and corruption," so only the pro-fraud, -waste, and -corruption crowds need fear the candidate... and them only mildly, inasmuch as he offers no concrete steps. Energy must be "clean and renewable" (and "embraced"). Education reforms must come with a "focus" on "goals and strategies."

Even immigration, which would represent a good place for a law-and-order candidate with a police background to nod toward the conservative base that he would court, comes with the usual "moderate" coloring. Doherty wants to "secure our borders," yes, and remove "criminal aliens and illegal reentries" (emphasis mine), but he advocates a "path to citizenship" for illegal aliens who merely went about chasing the "American dream" in "the wrong way." "Legal immigrants," he asserts, "are the cornerstone of this state and country." What that makes the rest of us, I'm not sure.

On same-sex marriage, he takes the everything-but-the-word approach. On foreign policy, he wants to bring the United States military home. And on abortion, he says simply, "I am pro-life," which would be wonderful except that it doesn't appear to be true — or at least accurate. According to the Providence Journal an elaboration of his position includes the belief that abortion is "a legal right" and that Roe v. Wade should remain in effect. In other words, he's pro-choice.

Based on the above, it is clearly reasonable to be suspicious that Doherty is just another insider going for an easy win of a glamorous job. Senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley is another matter. His bullet points are much more concrete, contain links to his elaborations, and, for the most part, conservative:

  • "I'll work to get Washington out of the way so small businesses can create jobs and economic prosperity for all Americans."
  • "I support a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
  • "I support term limits..."
  • "Repeal Obama Care..."

He goes on, through simplifying the tax code, emphasizing the Tenth Amendment (which asserts states' rights), and "enforc[ing] a plain English law standard." For Hinckley, energy independence doesn't mean embracing popular green alternative fuels, as it appears to do for Doherty, but "exploring America's own abundant natural resources through offshore drilling."

Conservatives will note that Hinckley's foreign policy suggestions mark him as a bit of an isolationist libertarian, but that group remains well within the political right and is at least subject to intellectual debate. Heck, I met him in the audience when John Derbyshire's spoke to the Providence College Republicans. Indeed, the debate between a mainstream conservative and Hinckley would sound a lot like the core debates that our elected officials would be having if our politics were sane.

Abortion provides an excellent example of what I mean. Here's Hinckley:

If I were the father of an unborn child, I would urge my partner to NOT terminate the pregnancy. However, I respect and support a woman's right to make this choice for herself and I support existing Rhode Island law on this issue.

One does wonder what sort of "partner" Hinckley might impregnate, but at least he acknowledges that the existence of an unborn child would make him a father. What he does not state might be more important, inasmuch as it leaves open the possibility of cooperation at the national level: namely, that Rhode Island law isn't the main problem; it isn't even all that relevant to the abortion debate. Given his emphasis on federalism, elsewhere, it's possible that pro-lifers wouldn't necessarily have to count Hinckley as opposition in an effort to push the matter back to the states.

Of course, the statement that women have the right to kill their unborn child ought to raise the usual concern about libertarianism's incomplete nature. From whence does Hinckley believe all of the individual rights that he espouses derive? In the absence of the principle that all people are "created equal" and endowed with unalienable rights to "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," libertarianism is mainly a philosophy by which the advantaged can claim their Darwinian due.

Human life is unarguably "created" at the point of conception, and if a mother and her doctor may arbitrarily end that life — if one's life is not an inherent right — then the basis of all subsidiary rights must come into question because they necessarily derive not from the person simply on the basis of being a person, but from the political will of a majority of voters.

But that's a matter of legitimate debate. The point with which I'll close is that at least one of the two new Republican candidates in Rhode Island has developed a clear political philosophy that he's willing to lay out at the word "go," permitting voters to judge whether to support him or not. The other seems mainly just to want the job.

July 21, 2011

The Signs of RI's Doom

Justin Katz

Matt and I discussed the forces affecting Rhode Island's politics on last night's Matt Allen Show. I expressed skepticism that the General Assembly will actually do much to reform pensions, referring to the four horsemen of Rhode Island's apocalypse — that is, the four groups that have locked in power in RI, and which the General Assembly must strive to appease to maintain the current balance. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

July 19, 2011

The Latest Wave of RI Republicans

Justin Katz

Somehow I don't find this surprising:

He is running as a Republican, but most of former State Police Colonel Brendan Doherty's biggest supporters are major Democratic donors, according to a GoLocalProv review of his first campaign finance report, filed last week. ...

* Nearly two thirds of the donors did not donate to a single Republican statewide candidate in the 2010 election cycle.
* Of the remaining third that did, all but a handful poured much more money into Democratic campaigns than Republican ones, donating to one or two token GOP candidates.
* About a third of the donors backed Democrat Frank Caprio in his bid for governor.

Add in this:

Barry Hinckley, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, has a new — and for now, unpaid — press secretary: Nicholas Cicchitelli, of Jamestown.

Cicchitelli, interestingly, comes with some Democratic credentials: he was an executive assistant to former state General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio and volunteered on Caprio's failed bid for governor last year. Before that, he volunteered on then-North Providence Mayor A. Ralph Mollis' successful 2006 bid for secretary of state. Farther back, Cicchitelli says, he interned in the D.C. office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.

RI's Republicans will have to take careful looks at their candidates during primary season.

July 17, 2011

Not One But Two Rhode Island Cities Make List of "14 Cities That Are Being Eaten Alive By Public Sector Workers"

Monique Chartier

Business Insider compiles the latest national list of dubious distinction to contain Rhode Island - in not one but two spots. This is especially not good when the list is only fourteen finalists long.

Public employee costs account for a large share of municipal budget woes. While worker compensation accounts for just 30% of state spending, personnel costs tends to eat up between 70% and 80% of local government funds.

Skyrocketing employee costs — the result of overly generous union contracts, an aging workforce, and bad pension investments — are now pushing several municipalities to the brink of fiscal ruin. Without union concessions or substantial reform, these cities will edge closer to insolvency while residents pay higher taxes for deteriorating public services.

Paging down, I expected to find Centrals Falls on the list, inasmuch as the direness of its fiscal problems is such that the city was recently the subject of national coverage in the AP, the New York Times and NPR. But coming also upon Providence was a bit of a shock.

Here's a partial list of the reasons. (The article cites a Ted Nesi post from June as the source of the info, by the way.)

A large part of Providence's structural deficit is caused by city retiree costs, which eat up 50% of the city's tax revenues.

The city-run pension system is only about 34% funded and has an unfunded liability of at least $829 million. The city has made its full annual pension contribution only three times since 1995.

No wonder Providence Mayor Angel Taveras was way out on a political limb Friday, along with Mayor Scott Avedisian and Mayor Allan Fung. From a Barbara Polichetti article in yesterday's Providence Journal with the headline, "3 R.I. mayors agree: Current retirees must be part of pension fix".

“The truth is that unless we address existing pensions, we’ll be back in this situation shortly,” said Taveras. Otherwise, he said, the cost to taxpayers and current public employees still paying into state and local pension plans will be “unsustainable.”

“The retirees have to be impacted,” Fung said. “It’s a fundamental fairness question. We cannot keep putting [pension costs] on the backs of our current employees and the taxpayers.”

Their remarks came as part of a special pension forum held for alumni and guests of Leadership Rhode Island Friday morning in the auditorium at The Providence Journal.

(Side note: a scheduling conflict prevented the mayor of Central Falls from attending the forum: he was busy giving a seminar entitled "Board-Up Bonanza: How to Rip Off Property Owners While Your City is Flying Off a Fiscal Cliff" ...)

July 12, 2011

Coincidence or Cause? SK Teachers Union Returns to Table When Binding Arbitration is Taken Off It

Monique Chartier

Let's not allow this little turn of events to go unnoticed as we transition from the crazy last days of the legislative session to a lovely, hazy summer.

South Kingstown's teacher contract expires in August; accordingly, the School Committee and the NEA-SK have been working on a contract renewal. When binding arbitration got cranked up towards the end of the GA's 2011, however, and there was a distinct possibility it was going to get passed, the union cancelled three meetings with the School Committee.

We need to pause here to note that one of South Kingstown's legislators - Senator Sue Sosnowski - took the opportunity to helpfully point out how this turn of events demonstrated the "need" for binding arbitration.

"We have a disaster in town, and I was hoping we'd have something like this that would help the situation."

Sosnowski is referring to a dispute over the South Kingstown teachers contract, which expires Aug. 30.

That's interesting because no South Kingstown official agrees with her that binding arbitration would "help the situation". In fact, both the Town Council and the School Committee, along with most (all?) other councils and committees around the state, signed resolutions in opposition to its passage.

Fortunately, they, rather than the senator from District 37, got their way when the House refused to follow the Senate over the cliff. Binding arbitration was dead, at least for this session.

And lo and behold, the NEA-SK has returned to the bargaining table.

Causation or curious timing? We report; you decide.

July 7, 2011

How Does New Medicare-eligible retiree Reform Affect Your Community?

Marc Comtois

WPRO's Bob Plain piqued my interest with his story on how the new law (PDF, pg. 145 of file) allowing cities and towns to shift municipal retirees’ from private health care plans to Medicare will save Providence about $11.5 million.

I haven't heard what sort of savings this could mean for my hometown of Warwick's budget numbers, though a look at the 2012 Warwick City Budget (pg.85 of file) shows that there are approximately $6.88 million earmarked for retiree health care for municipal, police and fire retirees (Warwick schools don't pay for retiree health care). Now, this doesn't mean that all of that money can vanish from the books. There are plenty of contingencies built into the new law:

Every municipality, participating or nonparticipating in the municipal employees' retirement system, may require its retirees, as a condition of receiving or continuing to receive retirement payments and health benefits, to enroll in Medicare as soon as he or she is eligible, notwithstanding the provisions of any other statute, ordinance, interest arbitration award, or collective bargaining agreement to the contrary. Municipalities that require said enrollment shall have the right to negotiate any Medicare supplement or gap coverage for Medicare-eligible retirees, but shall not be required to provide any other healthcare benefits to any Medicare-eligible retiree or his or her spouse who has reached sixty-five (65) years of age, notwithstanding the provisions of any other statute, ordinance, interest arbitration award, or collective bargaining agreement to the contrary. Municipality provided benefits that are provided to Medicare-eligible individuals shall be secondary to Medicare benefits. Nothing contained herein shall impair collectively bargained Medicare Supplement Insurance. {emphasis added}
So cities and towns (ie; mayors and city councils) don't have to do this and current collective bargaining agreements may prohibit them from doing so, anyway. It'll be interesting to see who takes advantage of the new law, who ignores it or who makes excuses.

June 29, 2011

Binding Arbitration Bill Made Public

Marc Comtois

The arbitration bill has been made public (PDF) along with a press release explaining the rationale. A "Last Best Offer - Final Package" model has been added:

The legislation changes the arbitration process to one in which the complete “Last Best Offer” from both teachers’ unions and management is considered in its entirety, as opposed to the current approach in which various elements of proposals are considered individually. It extends matters eligible for arbitration to wages, and changes the manner in which arbitrators are selected. Under the current system, one arbitrator is chosen by each side in negotiations, and the third arbitrator is selected from the American Arbitration Association. The new legislation proposes that the third arbitrator would be selected instead by the Presiding Justice of the Superior Court from a list of retired judges and justices.
The legislation also outlines what the arbitration panel is supposed to consider before making a decision:
28-9.3-9.2.1 Factors to be considered by the arbitration board. – The arbitrators shall conduct the hearing and render their decision upon the basis of a prompt, peaceful and just settlement of wage or hour disputes or working conditions and terms and conditions of professional employment between the teachers and the school committee by which they are employed. The factors to be considered by the arbitration board shall include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) The interest and welfare of the students, teachers, and taxpayers;
(2) The city or town’s ability to pay;
(3) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for other Rhode Island public school teachers;
(4) Comparison of compensation, benefits and conditions of employment of the school
district in question with compensation, benefits and conditions of employment maintained for the same or similar skills under the same or similar working conditions in the local operating area involved; and
(5) Comparison of education qualification and professional development requirements in regard to other professions.
According to various reports, mayors, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, RISC, the Moderate Party, the RI Tea Party and others are against the legislation. For example:
The bill’s opponents say they are concerned that the expansion of binding arbitration would instead place job protections for teachers ahead of sound educational policy.

“The temptation for an arbitrator to look at financial issues — to the detriment of the contract overall — is overwhelming,” said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

“If the union says they are willing to freeze pay and give an additional 5 percent to health care, but insist on no changes to existing language that protects, for example, 30 paid days of teacher sick leave each year, will an arbitrator say, ‘Well it’s a good financial deal?’ ” Duffy said.

“Our concern is, the unions understand the difficult environment for wages right now, so what they will use binding arbitration for is to dig in on the contract language they want to protect....We know teacher unions are worried about teacher seniority and teacher evaluations,” Duffy said. “Binding arbitration is a way of handcuffing the entire education-reform movement.”

The only apparent supporters of this legislation are teacher unions. Why?

Are pensioned and retired judges the best people to assess whether the contract proposals offered by municipalities are a result of fiscal reality? Will communities be more generous than otherwise in hopes of possibly "winning" the "last best offer" showdown? What will inevitably happen is that both union and community proposals will mean more dollars for the unions. Like I said before: binding arbitration = tax hike.

Finally, the whole concept of binding arbitration provides an "out" for our elected officials, making it easier for them to avoid really negotiating when that is a major part of the job that we elect them to do. "It wasn't us, the arbitrator made the decision."

June 28, 2011

Binding Arbitration: Tomorrow's Schedule; Committee Contact Info; a Little Background on the Dangers of B.A.

Monique Chartier

RI Statewide Coalition's press conference is at 3:00 in the State House Rotunda. RISC points out that


RI Tea Party's press conference is at 3:30 on the Smith Street side of the State House. The Tea Party sez

If these bills pass this session, they will decimate any perception that pension reform will save RI!


There is NO compromise that any bill could provide that makes binding arbitration and perpetual contracts taxpayer or student friendly!

Committee hearings (scheduled to be held simultaneously in both Chambers, making it nice and convenie ... wait, how could a concerned party attend both hearings???) start at the Rise of the House - around 4:00 pm.

List of House Labor Committee members. Phone numbers here.

List of Senate Labor Committee members. Phone numbers here.

And, if all of this hasn't convinced you, in a ProJo OpEd late last year, Steve Frias outlines how Cranston, through the joy of binding arbitration, came to have some of the highest property taxes in Rhode Island.

Just as Rhode Island’s textile strikes of 1922 and 1934 altered the course of Rhode Island’s history, so would the enactment of binding arbitration.

Binding arbitration would lead to many of the benefits that Cranston’s police officers and firefighters currently enjoy. In 1975, the firefighters union, through binding arbitration, began receiving longevity-pay bonuses that give employees additional pay raises the longer they work in government.

In 1980, a binding-arbitration decision required Cranston to provide Blue Cross to retiring firefighters for the rest of their lives even though firefighters could retire in their early 40s after 20 years of work. Today, Cranston’s unfunded retiree-health-care liability stands at $50,136,114.

In that same decision, the arbitrator established a minimum-manning requirement for firefighters, which required hiring more firefighters and increased firefighters’ ability to obtain overtime. A year later, in 1981, another binding-arbitration decision required that holiday pay be “included in determining a retiree’s pension.” What the firefighters won through binding arbitration, police officers in Cranston gained by contractual agreement out of a sense of fairness and a feeling of futility in contesting the issues in binding arbitration.

If you believe that history repeats itself, you may just learn something about what could come to pass by reading a little bit of Cranston’s past.

In point of fact, rather than expanding binding arbitration to school contracts, the General Assembly needs to revoke binding arb from the municipal side. It is one of the measures critical to backing Rhode Island's state and local tax burden down from the fifth highest in the country.


And Dan makes a couple of excellent points under Marc's post.

... the entire arbitration selection system guarantees compromises and meet-in-the-middle decisions even when compromises are not the fair and just solution. When a city is bankrupt and a teacher's union demands 8% pay increases, giving the union 3% pay increases is not justice - it is financial madness. Any arbitrator who rules in favor of the city will be blacklisted by the unions and will never be selected as an arbitrator again.

John Ward: Binding Arbitration Makes Local Governance Unaffordable and Nearly Impossible to Fix

Engaged Citizen

Dear Representatives and Senators representing Woonsocket:

I write today to express my strong opposition to the H5961 and S0794, teacher binding arbitration bills to be heard in each chamber's Labor Committee on Wednesday. Representative Phillips and Senator Picard, as members of the labor committee in each chamber, I am asking that you vote in opposition to sending these bills to your respective chambers for a floor vote. To the rest of the delegation, I expect that should these bills be brought to the floor for a vote that you will vote NO.

It should be clear to you all by now that your community has suffered from the effects of the existing binding arbitration statute. Benefits, once granted by arbitrators and not negotiated for, become virtually impossible to negotiate away. It is being rumored that this is a "payback to labor" as part of some quid pro quo. If so, who negotiated that deal on behalf of the taxpayers of Woonsocket? Passage of a bill like this will be the same as passing an unfunded mandate! You will be causing an increase in property taxes and then blaming the local officials for "negotiating away" the benefits that will be granted by someone else! Let's not go there.

The House Commission on Municipal Financial Integrity heard the appeal of local leaders from across the state. The common thread running through their pleas for help was the desperate need to remove binding arbitration from the state law. It has made local financial governance unaffordable and nearly impossible to fix. It has actually been the cause for reduced public safety staffing because of an inability to undo the high cost of benefits granted by arbitrators. It's already tough enough to make ends meet when developing our local budgets, PLEASE DON'T MAKE MATTERS WORSE!

Do not vote on this bill until you have done you duty and called your Mayor to hear first hand about the services we no longer provide because of our financial problems.

I am asking all that I have copied with this email to personally contact their representatives and senators to demand that they vote in opposition to these bills and support the taxpayers they represent.

John Ward is President of the Woonsocket City Council.

June 27, 2011

Belatedly on the budget

Marc Comtois

Real life took me away for the better part of the last week, but major kudos to Andrew and Monique for having the stomach to both watch and blog about the annual 11th hour House budget hearings on Captitol TV. I watched a little of it, but it was late, I was sick and they had it covered. Truth be told, as Justin pointed out earlier last week, it's hard to get excited when the budget "cuts" can only be called such when viewed as relative to the Governor's proposal and not to prior year's spending. The budget was also helped by better "revenue" projections than before. With the exception of the change in medical coverage for state retirees that shifted costs over to Medicare, no major structural reform really happened. I suppose we wait for pension (and OPEB?) reform in the fall. Or maybe we just wait for things to get magically better--or not quite as bad. You know, tolerably bad in the miserable Rhode Island sorta way. That's our General Assembly: marking time, as always.

ADDENDUM: Commenter "RodneyR" reminds me I forgot to mention the ending of longevity and says that should qualify as a "structural" change. Yup (for now).

June 24, 2011

B-Day Bombshell: Casino Article to be Introduced During the Wee Hours

Monique Chartier

With apologies to Andrew for breaking in here.

Just returned from the State House. The House had broken for dinner when I arrived shortly before 8 pm. So, in lieu of watching the budget action on the floor, I had the pleasure of conversing at length with a gaggle of good government types - with good government reps stopping by our group to share battle stories and the latest they had heard about the budget.

A couple of people confirmed that leadership plans to trot out a budget amendment late in tonight's session that would put a casino on the ballot. Not a casino at Twin River, as has been discussed. A casino in Providence on some of the former Route 195 land. [This was wrong; see correction below.]

One of the many unknowns is whether the land would be turned over to the Narragansett for them to operate the casino. This would present a revenue complication for the state because apparently federal law dictates that 60% of the revenue generated by casinos operated by native Americans must go to them. The state is well accustomed to receiving 60%+ of the take at Twin River and Newport Grand.

Stay tuned. If this turns out not to be a crazy rumor, it might explain why there has been a Napoleonic grab on Smith Hill for these twenty acres.


It was a semi-crazy rumor. Casino, yes. Route 195 land, no. See Andrew's post above - it's a gift to Twin River, with compensation to Newport Grand.

Not a Very Republican Thing to Say

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick quotes Brendan Doherty as follows, from the Congressional candidate's initial fundraiser:

Doherty said his campaign theme will be "America First" (which is going out on a limb given the strength of the "Liechtenstein First" lobby).

In emphasizing that theme, he said, "We need to reassess the billions we are spending on other countries — other countries you'd have to find a map to find out where they are." As a caveat, he said, "I understand our special relationship with Israel" and "I understand what is going on in the Arab Spring and the tenets of soft power and smart power and diplomacy." But, he said, "Some of these countries, folks, you may not have ever heard of them, and we are spending billions of dollars there. What about spending that money here in Rhode Island, here in America?"

Or how about not spending the money at all? The federal government spends billions of dollars per day that it does not have. It seems to me that any policy that reduces the government's expenditures in one area should just, well, reduce the government's expenditures.

Obviously, I don't have enough information to know whether Doherty will run on a plank of bringing home the bacon for Rhode Island or he just hasn't spent enough time tracing individual policies and slogans through to his political philosophy (whatever it is). Either way, I'd be more comfortable with his candidacy if he displayed more-Republican instincts.

It doesn't help that he apparently cited Froma Harrop approvingly...

June 22, 2011

Municipal Bankruptcy Accelerant: Binding Arbitration Prowls the Back Rooms of the State House

Monique Chartier

The RI Tea Party sent out the following alert yesterday.

Union leaders are behind the scenes looking for their quid pro quo as a result of the budget freeze on longevity payments. They are lobbying the Senate Labor Committee and all members of the Senate for the passage of binding arbitration on fiscal matters in our school systems as a payback for the freeze on bonuses for seat time! What does this mean? Public sector unions want binding arbitration on fiscal matters when school districts reach impasse with the local union leaders. They want to strip elected officials of their democratic rights to regain control over unaffordable and unsustainable contracts. They don't care that your property taxes will only increase as a result of their ultimate control via an arbitrator. Since when should a private citizen, earning a living as an arbitrator, have the right to set the very cost drivers that suck-up the majority of property tax revenue? Since when has arbitration ever had any positive effects on student achievement?

And this critical point:

There is NO compromise that any bill could provide that makes binding arbitration and perpetual contracts taxpayer or student friendly!

Correct. In fact, on the procedural level, it is misguided compromises like these that have bestowed upon Rhode Island its chronic budget shortfalls, bad economy and anti-business (therefore, anti-worker) environment.

On the macro level. There are some legislative initiatives that continue the state's march towards financial extinction - but slowly. (The poor business climate. Ever more taxes. Refusal to grant cities and towns the tools they need to control their own budgets - actually, that's probably not so slow.) Then there are the fast track proposals: lack of real pension reform. "Perpetual" contracts. And this, binding arbitration.

To trade longevity bonus give-backs for binding arbitration is kind of like a cancer patient getting one chemo therapy session in exchange for a dose of poison. Let us hope that Rhode Island's medical proxy sees the destructiveness of this absurdly disproportionate trade-off. Or better, perhaps the Tea Party is correct and this needs to be specifically pointed out to members of the House Labor Committee.

June 21, 2011

Help Wanted: Dem Opponent for T. Paiva-Weed

Monique Chartier


Someone posted an advertisement on the free classifieds website Craigslist this month seeking to enlist Democratic challengers to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat up for reelection in 2012.

The person who posted the ad was identified only by the e-mail address automatically generated by the website: comm-rmdy8-2436493850@craigslist.org

But the person did offer to financially back any candidate.

“She has done more damage to our state with her total lack of leadership (despite what RI College has said), her self-serving attitude, and her tolerance and acceptance of corruption, than all previous Senate presidents combined,” the ad reads. “If the Senate does not have the chutzpah to do anything about her ... Let’s get her out of office through the election process.”

The ad is still up as of this afternoon.

June 15, 2011

Attention, Rep Diaz: In-State College Tuition Is Not Free (... to the Taxpayer, Anyway)

Monique Chartier

For the seventh year in a row, Representative Grace Diaz (D-Providence) has submitted a bill that would, as the bill language euphemistically phrases it, "exempt" illegal immigrant students "from paying nonresident tuition at Rhode Island public universities, 8 colleges or community colleges". In other words, illegal immigrant students would be permitted to attend Rhode Island colleges and universities and pay tuition at the much lower rate of an in-state resident.

In announcing the filing of the bill in February, Rep Diaz stated that

This does not represent any financial burden to the taxpayers

This is false. The in-state college tuition rate does not cover the cost of educating that student. The shortfall is picked up by the Rhode Island taxpayer.

At Rhode Island's largest state university, this shortfall is considerable. In-state college tuition at the University of Rhode Island represents an unfunded gap of $12,500+ per year which must be picked up by the Rhode Island taxpayer. So we're clear, $12,500 (the actual figure is a little higher) is just the shortfall. Add in the tuition ($9,014 for 2011) that the in-state student pays and you get $21,500+, the total cost of educating a student at URI.

Now, setting aside the larger issue of whether it is wise to create yet another enticement for people to come here illegally, let's go back to Rep Diaz's representation that

This does not represent any financial burden to the taxpayers

A little research quickly determined that this is untrue. Presumably, she did not deliberately lie. So the question is, why would the rep put up a bill and then make statements about its cost to the taxpayer without ... you know, actually checking the facts first?

ADDENDUM - the Info Source

To clarify, the source of this data - that the shortfall of in-state tuition at URI is $12,500+ - is first hand; it came from the Provost of the University of Rhode Island, Donald DeHayes.

June 13, 2011

Zero-based budgeting

Marc Comtois

Looking at RIPEC's state budget projections, Ted Nesi explains how a "budget on autopilot" is untenable no matter what the entity--towns, cities, states, the country. You can also read "autopilot" to mean "assumptions." Yet, the assumptions built into these budgets--3% raises, increase in program costs, etc.--aren't even enough to cover the rate of growth, which far outpace the ability to tax (or "generate revenue").

Nesi provides a nice pie chart showing that 52% of the growth in the budget since FY2002 is from social services and 17.7% of the growth comes from increasing personnel costs (while the growth in personnel costs--particularly in a good economy--are probably about what we'd expect to see, keep in mind that the state workforce has shrunk). Meanwhile, as we well know, aid to cities in towns--ie, money that towns send to cities, some of which filters back to them--has been reduced by nearly 3%, which isn't a lot in the big picture, but hurts each community acutely.

Given our current straits, perhaps it's time to implement zero-based budgeting instead of the current practice of "last year + (at least) 3%". Start fresh. Look at what we spend our tax dollars on and (re)prioritize: infrastructure, economic development, providing important services at reasonable cost, etc. Now, it takes a lot of work, so perhaps we could do a zero-based budget in the first year of each new governor term and then baseline from there. It's an interesting concept, but the chance of it getting implemented is, well, zero.

June 11, 2011

Bob Kerr: Answers about the Iannazzi Hiring as Accurate as Blind Date Pre-Screening Information

Monique Chartier

Those like myself who are obsessed with politics to the exclusion of almost everything else can be excused for passing lightly over Bob Kerr's column yesterday; the headline

The blind date doesn’t seem to be working out

gave the impression that the topic of the column was lifestyle or culture.

Not so.

It’s like a blind date pitch: “Great personality, really funny, gets along with everybody in the dorm …”

The details are, uh, selective. A fondness for guzzling Jell-O shots and jumping on the bar screaming, “I am the love machine” is overlooked, as is the neck-circling anaconda tattoo and a tendency to describe almost everything with an f-bomb. ...

And so it is at the Rhode Island State House, where [Senate Majority Leader] Dominick Ruggerio tried to fix up a guy while going light on the details.

Kerr points out that one of the people trying to get information about this unsolicited, unposted $88,000 salary fix-up with the Rhode Island taxpayer's wallet is his ProJo colleague, Ed Achorn.

Achorn asked questions, such as “Was the job posted?” and “What qualifications does Mr. Iannazzi bring to the job?”

Ah, but such specificity does not usually go well for either blind dates or patronage hires.

Questions always mess things up: “How tall is he/she?” “Has he/she ever been arrested?” “Does he/she tend to scratch a lot?”

Indeed, substantive answers about the Iannazzi hiring either do not exist or apparently would not be flattering to those in charge as Dominick Ruggerio responded in the mode of Anthony Weiner pre-confession.

But rather than answer the questions, Ruggerio went for the redo. Iannazzi, he said on the Journal op-ed page, is “superbly qualified for this position and has a diverse skill set.” He also said that officials at the State House have praised Iannazzi’s ability, work ethic and knowledge of the issues. I think that means he gets along well with everybody in the dorm, er, the State House.

Oh, great - collegiality over qualification and even necessity: isn't that partly why Rhode Island is in so much financial trouble? (Nice job with the column, Bob.)

June 6, 2011

Oh, Great. Now He Can Doze Under Cover of Darkness.

Monique Chartier

Remember that DOT staffer busted by WPRI for sleeping, eating and reading for half the work day? Well, he's back on the job - but during a different shift.

The Department of Transportation worker caught in a Target 12 Investigation spending hours on the clock sleeping, eating and reading novels over several weeks, is back on the job in the same position but now working overnights. ...

Most recently, Coulombe was assigned to inspecting construction materials used in the Barrington River Bridge project, which was the poster child for overdue, over budget state projects. Lewis said he is now assigned in the same capacity but at the Pawtucket River Bridge project.

How is it that we have zero tolerance at schools for various silly infractions by the students yet we readily bestow forgiveness towards serious work transgressions in the public labor sector?

June 5, 2011

En Route to Trouble: The I-195 Redevelopment Act of 2011

Monique Chartier

One larger observation before jumping in. You know, here we are, at the point that we can see the day, in the near future, when public pension checks will bounce. Yet rather than focus on what is the state's biggest crisis in many decades (arguably of the last century or more), Senate Majority Leader Dominick J. Ruggerio is selfishly making a Napoleonic grab on some land in Providence. At least, when the pension checks do bounce and those that he works for (in every sense of the word) demand to know what he did to prevent the catastrophe hitting their retired ranks, he'll be able to answer to them with a clear conscience ...

Now that a Senate Committee (not the full Senate, contrary to the ProJo headline) has passed S0114, the bill that would beget the commission and the district that would develop and sell twenty acres of former Route 195 land, let us review once again (Andrew having taken us skeptically through it here and here) its fatal flaws.

From the jump, you knew that there was something special about this legislation because it

was kept under tight wraps until the hearing began.

Ah, yes, the hallmark of good government policy: it can stand but the barest minimum of public scrutiny. In fact, Thursday's hearing had been postponed from earlier in the week in part because interested parties did not have sufficient time to read the fifty page bill before the hearing began.

The main flaw of the commission, however - and this is the consensus of everyone, literally every party who would not directly benefit from the bill (or is not under orders to pass it) - is that it would be all-powerful yet independent. Now, independence can be good when the purview is sufficiently narrow and (personal prejudice) pertains to the reduction of the size of government - think BRAC. This commission's independence, however, can be categorized squarely as that of a dictator's.

In addition to deciding on all redevelopment plans for the soon-to-be-vacant highway property, the proposed quasi-public commission would have the power to buy and sell land, borrow and lend money, invest money and negotiate tax agreements — all without state or city approvals.

When this complete lack of accountability was pointed out to the committee chair, his response was laugh out loud funny.

Committee chairman Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. pointed out that the commission must make annual reports to the General Assembly.

Oooo, an annual report! They'll be quivering in their wingtips!

Accountable neither to the state nor to the city: other than two parcels to be purchased by Johnson and Wales, the district would be exempt from Providence zoning and development laws, providing the state the ability to give the new owner carte blanche with regard to use of the land, not to mention building dimensions, parking, etc, etc. (Casino? Nuclear power plant? A five hundred unit residential tower with no parking?) Common Cause and many others are correctly concerned about this ... little detail.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin makes a good point: the state already has in place a perfectly good State Properties Commission. Why shouldn't the sale of the land go through it rather than an overly powerful new commission?

One question: does anyone know why Governor Chafee's Director of Administration, Richard Licht, is enthusiastic about this project?

... Licht said it’s “not unprecedented” for other independent state agencies to be able to buy and sell land on their own without oversight by the State Properties Committee. The Economic Development Corporation does not need such oversight, Licht said, nor does the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, except in certain cases.

Umm, these commissions also do not possess the broad powers that are proposed for the Route 195 Commission, Mr. Licht.

An editorial in yesterday's Providence Journal sums up everyone's reservations well.

The overriding state interest in the land is its federally mandated sale at fair-market value. A commission is not required for that. Indeed, a commission may retard both the land’s sale and its development.

Instead, the land should be sold to be developed under existing municipal authority. Let market forces guide its progress. That would be much more efficient than seven commissioners and their train of agencies, lawyers, consultants and other hangers-on. In fact, as of now the bill looks as if it is intended to create the next secure feed bag for the well-connected.

June 3, 2011

Nobody on the People's Side

Justin Katz

Governor Donald Carcieri was limited in what he could accomplish, given the degree to which the Rhode Island Constitution favors the legislature, but at least he offered a different view. This tidbit, from the end of the article to which I linked earlier, is apt to give a taxpayer the hopeless sense that there's nobody on his or her side:

Asked at the time if the entire tax package was dead, House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo said that was not how he interpreted Fox's statement.

More recently, Melo acknowledged the lawmakers were exploring many options, including: how much the state might raise by extending the state's narrow sales tax to items already taxable in Massachusetts, and lowering the 7-percent rate by some amount, though not as much as the 6 percent that Chafee proposed.

Increasing taxes in the current national economy, with Rhode Island and Rhode Islanders experiencing pack-leading pain, should be a non-starter. I mean:

"It seems that almost every bit of data about the health of the US economy has disappointed expectations recently," said [M&G Investments fund manager Mike] Riddell, in a note sent to CNBC on Wednesday.


"Interest rates are amazingly low and that, thanks to Ben Bernanke, is driving everything," [market strategist Peter]Yastrow said. "We’re on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows it.

Meanwhile, indications are that the current crew running Rhode Island are exceedingly unlikely to arrest the state's death spiral.

June 2, 2011

He's Been Gone Less Than Six Months But Cicilline's Raise to the Firefighters is Already Up in Smoke. (How's the Obstruction of the City Auditor Turning Out, Congressman?)

Monique Chartier

First, former Providence Mayor David Cicilline spent seven years carrying out the charade that he was being tough on the contract demands of the Providence firefighters so that he could falsely claim the title of Champion of the Taxpayer.

Then, as the end of his second term approached and it became clear that the lack of a contract would interfere with the political promotion that he badly wanted, he settled with them quicker than you could say "fiduciary responsibility".

The new contract included a phased in retroactive pay increase of 3%. Now, Mayor Angel Taveras, struggling mightily with a hefty budget deficit, has announced that unless the city can reduce the fire department's budget by $6 million - which apparently equates to the amount of the raise and other consideration in the contract - one hundred firefighters will be laid off. (WPRO's Buddy Cianci broke the news this afternoon.)

Once again, the former mayor's misrepresentations about the fiscal condition of the city have been resoundingly disproven, this time to the detriment of a group - public labor - that he purportedly champions. How did it help them to reach a contract that has turned out to be financially unsound?

And once again, Congressman, you are learning that it wasn't such a good idea to obstruct the city Auditor. If you had had accurate numbers as to the financial condition of the city rather than the willful vacuum of information that permitted you to make cheery (false) campaign statements, perhaps you would not have negotiated a contract founded in shifting sand.

Don Carcieri Not Running for US Senate?

Monique Chartier

That's what Ian Donnis is hearing.

If these murmurings are true (and I wouldn't bother to post if someone of less than Ian's credibility had reported it), no one should be more relieved than the Truth Commissioner himself because the former governor's considerable campaign strengths, pointed out by Ian,

Carcieri has some key assets that he could bring to a GOP primary, including name recognition and considerable wealth.

would certainly carry over to the general election.

From Whence the Pension Reform Problem in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn's most recent column highlights how little has changed in the public discussion of pension reform. This snippet, from a 2005 column of his, caught my eye in particular:

"Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, responded to last week’s cries for pension reform by dismissing it all as a partisan plot.

"'Republicans support pension reform. Well, yeah. Where's the story? Where's the news?' he asked."

The photograph of an ostrich accompanying the essay is apt. Ultimately, there are no surprises, in this; it's just that Rhode Islanders have been told to ignore such problems until the checks are literally nearing the point of not being written and then to expect one-time fixes and tax increases. That's the cycle that our current collection of elected officials are likely to pursue now, and it's a cycle that simply has to end.

It was also interesting to come across the name of a politician whom Governor Chafee tiptoed through revolving-door ethics rules to hire, with Achorn describing a 2003 essay:

Many legislators dismissed growing annual pension costs as small potatoes. I wrote: "$20 million-plus is still worth debate in most people's books. And the costs are exploding: Pension contributions for state workers and teachers are slated to go up $60 million in the next year, says Mr. Carcieri. This would seem to present a crisis that cannot be ignored."

(Now, in 2011, of course, the state confronts pension costs growing by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.)

Steven Costantino, then vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, accused the pension reformers of trying to stir up emotions. "You simply can't cherry-pick an issue which is a hot button or a good sound bite," he said.

Frankly, the only hope for Rhode Island is if voters begin teaching politicians that there can be consequences for their actions, which lesson has thus far been left to public sector unions to impart.

Accountability in Politics and Education

Justin Katz

The conversation was of the likely accountability that RI politicians will face for a vote on raising sales taxes and on perspectives on accountability in education during Andrew's call in to Matt Allen Show, last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 1, 2011

This Is Consolidation

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal editorial board highlights a piece of legislation that, while unlikely to become law, illustrates the potential consequences of consolidation for the sake of efficiency and ease:

... Sen. John Tassoni (D.-Smithfield) — a member of the state's AFL-CIO executive board, former business agent for the state's largest public-employees union, AFSCME Council 94, and the publisher of a union newspaper — wants to use his public power to oust Ms. Gallo. He also wants to replace the Board of Trustees that voted to fire those teachers. ...

Clearly, [Tassoni's rhetoric] can be taken with a grain of salt, given that he had not bothered to discuss his concerns with Ms. Gallo, and he has an obvious huge conflict of interest as a union official, elected to public office with the strong financial backing of government unions to promote their economic interests.

Hey, if the state can insert a municipal dictator (popularly known as a "receiver") to oust the elected mayor and make the elected city council less than an advisory body, then why shouldn't it also pass judgment on superintendents and school boards? That's consolidation.

The lesson extends even to less brazen steps. The farther governance moves from voters, as from local development of school policies among neighbors to regional and statewide implementation of policies, the more incentive special interests (notably unions) will have to fill elected positions with the likes of Tassoni. As the Projo editors note, Governor Chafee has already "removed several of the student-focused reformers... from the state Board of Regents," even though large segments of the state did not vote for this governor's election.

May 31, 2011

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 AnchorRising.com. (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 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.

May 26, 2011

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

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.

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.

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.

May 12, 2011

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.

May 11, 2011

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 #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.

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 6, 2011

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 4, 2011

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.

April 30, 2011

Scaring Grandma II - The Cicilline Lie-Apalooza Returns (Briefly)

Monique Chartier

Further to Marc's post about Rhode Island's junior senator going around baselessly alarming seniors, in the other Congressional chamber, Rhode Island's First District congressman was almost exultant last week about Paul Ryan's proposals to modify Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s interesting,” Cicilline said Tuesday during a half-hour interview with WPRI.com in his Pawtucket district office. “During my campaign I was criticized for doing a ‘Scare the Seniors’ tour. This is exactly what I was talking about. This is real!”

Actually, no, it's not real at all, Congressman. Nothing has changed since your Lie-Apalooza last fall when you went around telling seniors that changes had been proposed for Social Security ... without bothering to tell them that they would be completely unaffected by such changes.

Lie-Apalooza 2011 kicked off last week.

Congressman Cicilline will begin his Congressional Seniors Series by discussing the effects of the Republican budget on Medicare and Medicaid. Under the Republican budget, tax breaks for millionaires would be increased while the Medicare guarantee for seniors would end and support for seniors in nursing homes, disabled individuals, and low-income children who depend on Medicaid would be cut.

But, interestingly, it was cut short. Now, whether this was because he has repented about this really sleazy and dishonest way to drum up support or, more likely, because the press was asking good questions about the newest revelations of his budget shenanigans is not clear.

The larger question remains: why are these two elected officials (the junior senator and the junior congressman) addressing and upsetting a constituency about an issue that does not affect them in the least?

April 20, 2011

Do-Nothing or Hide-it Cicilline

Marc Comtois

The report on the Cicilline Adminstration's fiscal inadequacies has dropped. The major findings, according to the ProJo:

-- "The Administration transferred funds from the Undesignated Surplus (Rainy-Day Fund) without approval of a majority vote of the City Council as required."

-- "The Administration did not provide financial information on a timely basis to the independent auditor, the City Council or the Internal Auditor."

-- "The Administration did not provide the City Council with monthly financial statements or with projections of year-end surpluses or deficits."

-- "The Administration prepared budgets based on unrealistic assumptions."

-- "The Administration was not transparent in its use of the City's Capital Assets Account."

-- "Financial reports submitted to the State were inaccurate."

-- "The City Council's checks-and-balances on the Administration were ineffective."

Councilman Miguel Luna is loaded for bear, calling Cicilline a "pathological liar" (as reported by WPRO's Carolyn Cronin):
The City Council will consider a resolution at its meeting Thursday to investigate whether former Mayor David N. Cicilline and his administrators broke laws with financial decisions they made over the years.

Councilman Miguel C. Luna is sponsoring the resolution. It asks the council to hire a lawyer, with a background in prosecution, to "review the facts surrounding all transfers, withdrawals and expenditures of funds from reserve and real estate proceeds accounts" from 2003 to 2010," a draft of the resolution reads...."We can't just focus on the future," Luna said Wednesday. "He [Cicilline] knows what he did. He brought the city down to the knees. He wasn't doing the job of the city."

For his part, Cicilline is boiling mad and full of indignation that Gary Sasse is involved and has apparently decided that the tried-and-true "shoot the messenger" tack is the best one to take. I don't think it'll work.

April 19, 2011

Reducing Obligations

Marc Comtois

No one likes to be though of as hard-hearted. But in an effort to find places to cut--to reduce our "obligations"--we simply need to take a closer look at our Human Services budget, which has $2.1 Billion (federal and state) in "assistance, grants and benefits" alone. Within that budget is the spending requested for the acute Department of Human Services, which has increased about 22% since 2009.

A review of the line items (PDF) shows that $864 million of Governor Chafee's 2012 DHS budget is comprised of money from Rhode Island taxpayers, an increase of $127.5 million over last year. (That's also with the $30.7 million in Veteran's Affairs money going off the DHS' books because the VA was made a new Department).

I suspect that advocates will explain that the increase in state funds is required to make up for the gap in Federal funding (nearly $111 million). This reduction in Federal funding correlates almost directly with a reduction in the Federal money spent on the Medical Benefits line item, where the loss of $111 million in Federal dollars is more than made up for with an increase of nearly $154 million in General Revenue expenditures.

This just points to the problem with becoming addicted and reliant upon the Federal government--or other "one time fixes"--to help smooth over budget gaps. The last Federal stimulus package just served as the latest drug of choice for the government addicts. Now it's going away. No matter what the "heart" wants, the wallet has to be able to afford it. And we can't (sorry, even the "Patriot Tax" doesn't get us there, folks).

Yet, to really get to the nut of the problem, we can't focus on the year-to-year gains or losses: it's time to revisit the basic formulation we use to qualify people for benefits. For instance, with regards to medical benefits, families who make 250% of the Federal Poverty Level can tap into RIte Share, Rhode Island's health care subsidization plan, for $1100 per year. That means taxpayers are subsidizing health care for a family of 4 with an income of $55,000 or a family of 5 with an income of $64,500.

I don't know if the figures are available to determine how many at the top-end are taking advantage of these programs. It can even be argued that this is a good use of our tax dollars: a helping hand for people who will work their way up and out of needing this assistance. I can buy that, but maybe we need to put a time limit on it. Regardless, can we afford to be so generous? I don't think so. But the problem may not be with offering a helping hand to people so close to not needing it.

I, like most Rhode Islanders, have empathy for those going through hard times. They're our family, our neighbors, our friends. We support a safety net. We can't afford to support a safety net "lifestyle." The poor economy brought many "newbies" into the safety net who have learned first-hand how it is abused by the lifers. For too long, Rhode Island, with it's generous benefit qualification "requirements", has taken a "no questions asked" approach (ie; "666" for a SS#) and served as a magnet and safe haven for the safety net careerists. Reform in the cash assistance program helped a little. But any savings have been eclipsed by expenditures in other, non-cash programs like, for instance, the aforementioned medical assistance. Ask doctors and nurses (or EMTs) how many people use 911 and the Emergency Room as a primary care physician, even now with all of the health care reform.

For the system seems to be meant to be gamed. We reward people for having more children (giving them child-care subsidies, for instance, that often go to family members operating a "daycare"), particularly out of wedlock, while working under the table to minimize their reportable income. We need to identify the abusers and other areas of fraud, waste and abuse (a la Ken Block). We need to tighten the qualification requirements and stop being taken advantage of by the safety net industry careerists. We need to help those who actually try to help themselves out of the safety net instead of those who see it as a hammock.

April 15, 2011

Do You Trust Me?

Marc Comtois

Speaker Fox and the various members of the Democratic leadership say the Chafee plan is dead.....Right?

“I’m not going to swear on any Bible about revenue enhancements at this point,” Fox said. “Before we go to the taxpayers and say we need to increase your taxes, we need to build some credibility with them to say that we have turned over every stone, every nickel and dime.”

“We’re still looking at a lot of things,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Helio Melo, D-East Providence. “The speaker did mention that he had major concerns with some of those 1-percent items. But I did not get the impression that he’s taken all of the sales tax off the table.”

Is it over?
It feels over
Don't you trust me?
No I don't

Local Governments Founded in Deception

Justin Katz

One can't call the vote "party line" because Rhode Island's Pension Review Board is technically non-partisan, but as Marc observed on Wednesday, the vote to bring investment estimates closer to what the pension fund has actually been earning nearly fell along what might be called a "union picket line" vote. Basically, the question was about whether to give Rhode Islanders a better sense of just what their elected officials have promised, and that's not a reality that the unions want the public to face.

The perspective of one public figure who often falls on the other side from the unions is very interesting:

With school districts now facing a $55.5-million hike in pension costs in 2012-13, beyond the increases they were already expecting, Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said: "I don't know how local government is going to continue to exist, given all the financial stresses."

If it's true that the pension promises of government amount to a self-inflicted and fatal wound, maybe local officials should lead the way in accepting reality, especially school committees. That's going to mean completely rethinking the way in which they structure compensation. Like countless private-sector organizations, families, and individuals, they're going to have to begin doing much more with much less. If that's an impossibility, as Duffy seems to imply, then local government is a failed experiment, anyway.

April 14, 2011

The Consistent(ly bad) Governor

Justin Katz

Before the news cycle moves on, I'd like to highlight the following, from Philip Marcelo's story on the tax-increase dispute:

One floor up from where business leaders gathered, in a room adjacent to his office, the governor repeated his challenge to detractors: provide an alternative solution, and be specific. ...

Chafee rejected business leaders’ arguments that the tax plan would hurt job creation. "Show me the evidence," he said.

The Chafee administration's attitude is entirely in keeping with the theme that inspired Anchor Rising's very first "Chafeedom" post. You'll recall that, soon after his election, Chafee evinced a pattern of declining to meet with advocates who disagreed with him on their particular issues. Supposedly, he'd already conducted all the meetings he needed and didn't think any more would be constructive. The ban on participation in and denunciation of talk radio soon followed.

Now, those who oppose his tax-increasing ways are called upon to show him evidence and propose solutions that he'll find acceptable. Only, one would be entirely rational to suppose that acceptability is a false hurdle, impossible to clear.

Mixing in the fact that "his administration could not produce an analysis on the potential impact to businesses," it's clear that this guy really doesn't care for discussion and open discourse, as he claims. That's just an illusion (fooling, most of all, the governor himself) accomplished by always insisting that the other side has to do more while one's own view is correct by assumption.

RE: Fox's Statement on Chafee Tax Plan - Room to Wiggle?

Marc Comtois

As Monique noted last night, Speaker of the House Gordon Fox came out against Governor Chafee's sales tax plan. This morning I heard Helen Glover wondering if there was room for Fox to wiggle by keeping the 6% "flatten and broaden". After all, Fox only specifically cited the 1% tax on new items, not the other part of Chafee's plan. Ted Nesi also wonders if the whole plan is dead?

Fox’s statement doesn’t say anything about whether he could support broadening the number of goods and services taxed at 7% (or at 6%, if Chafee’s proposal to lower the rate passes). And the revenue that would be brought in by taxing more items at 6% far outweighs the amount generated by the 1% tax.

“The House will not pass the budget in its current form,” Fox said. “We will instead develop alternatives to this proposal and will continue to work with the governor to amend his budget submission.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen next – all I know is, somehow or other, the General Assembly is all but certain to find a way to eliminate the $331 million deficit and pass a balanced budget for 2011-12.

Tune in at 11:30 PM on June 30th to find out.

The Two Languages of Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Monique's appearance on last night's Matt Allen Show focused on the distance between the people and businesses of Rhode Island and the governor and political class that presumes to lead the state... and are leading it into a ditch. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

April 13, 2011

Bewildered Leaders and a Bewitched Population

Justin Katz

Calling Lincoln Chafee our "bewildered governor" and joking about the national search no doubt conducted before Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio hired the 25-year-old son of his union pal for a $90k job, Ed Achorn puts his finger on the chilling reality:

Until voters hold accountable these leaders — and the legislators who put them in power — they simply will not care if the masses suffer while those with connections gorge at the trough. If you vote those representatives and senators out of office for going along with these raises — or, at least, offer a credible threat that you will do so — you might find these leaders rethinking the question of whom they actually serve.

A few people still hold out hope that such a thing could happen, in Rhode Island, but I can't say I'm among them. The system is simply locked up by people invested in the corruption, which is a polite way of saying that they're bought off. I'd argue that the great majority of them would actually be better off under a fairer, less corrupt government, but few would listen.

In a state where people say that everybody knows everybody, too many folks think knowing somebody should actually be of legitimate value.

April 12, 2011

First Fallout of the Chafee (Not Even Anywhere Near Implemented) Sales Tax: Taco Suspends Expansion Project

Monique Chartier

The Providence Business News broke this a little earlier.

Groundbreaking for a $15 million to $18 million addition at Taco Inc., originally scheduled for the end of April, has been delayed while company officials assess the impact of proposed state tax changes on the manufacturing business.

According to Kyle Adamonis, senior vice president of human resources and legal affairs, the company that manufactures HVAC equipment and employs about 400 workers at the Cranston facility has put on hold plans for expansion of its learning center. All local approvals are in place, she said.

The tax changes proposed by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee include expansion of the sales tax. Depending on what tax changes are put into place, “it could cost us more to do business in this state,” Adamonis said. “We are reviewing the potential costs.” The General Assembly is expected to act on tax changes as part of its work preparing the state fiscal year 2012 operating budget.

The Governor and his admin appears to be laboring under the misapprehension that revenue generated by an expanded sales tax is just money lying around waiting to be grabbed without consequences. As Governor Chafee's Director of Administration, Richard Licht, averred earlier on the Dan Yorke Show, the Chafee administration, remarkably, views this as a tax on consumers, not on businesses.

The administration seems gormless of the reality that the effects of the proposed expansion of the sales tax would not be limited to consumers but would, in fact, become yet another burden to be born by businesses struggling to survive in a state that already has one of the worst business climates in the country.

The Chafee admin may be unaware but, clearly, this fact has not escaped the notice of Rhode Island businesses, as evidenced by Taco's announcement today. One business is already constricting at even the suggestion of a broadening of the sales tax. What would the consequences be if the proposal actually goes into effect?


As Patrick points out, the audio of Dan Yorke's interview with Richard Licht is now available at WPRO.

And tomorrow, John Hazen White, Jr., President and CEO of Taco, will appear on the Dan Yorke Show.

April 11, 2011

Forthright Raimondo

Marc Comtois

As the ProJo profile showed on Sunday, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is in an interesting spot. As a Democrat, she has the support of the various groups that stand underneath that party's umbrella, particularly the progressive wing. Yet, she is viewed with caution by the biggest portion of that group, labor. They are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt--to a point--but they are very wary of what she has in store for their pension future.

Raimondo says she wants to help craft a pension solution that labor can live with, even if it involves sacrifice –– a solution that would avert legal challenges. She is aware that the state’s largest public employee union, Council 94 of AFSCME, is suing the state over pension reductions in 2009 and 2010. And she has said that the issue of pensions as a guaranteed property right is “an unsettled area of the law.”

She didn’t win the endorsement of the NEA teachers union during the campaign because she would not promise she wouldn’t touch their pensions. And while the NEA’s Walsh says her comments about “haircuts” have been alarming, he says that her values and the union’s “overlap.”

“Her heart starts in the right place,” adds Walsh. “We’ll have to see where her head is at.”

That is where she has been successful so far: not coming across as the boogey man to the union. A Republican would have automatically fit that role. Raimondo--due to her roots, contacts and word-of-mouth--has disarmed those who would, in any other time, considered her a fellow-traveler (and probably still do run into her and her friends at the right sort of parties--though to be fair, it doesn't sound like Raimondo has spent a lot of time relaxing lately). It appears that the characteristic that makes up a great part of her appeal and popularity--her honesty--is problematic for them as they try to protect their bailiwick. Dammit, they like her but not what she's saying. How to "personalize" and demonize?!!
J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, said his union endorsed Raimondo, despite not liking her answers on the possibility of cutting pension benefits, because “she was honest.” Downey doesn’t believe the retirement system is as bad off as Raimondo does, arguing that strong stock-market returns following the 2008-09 recession have boosted the fund.

Raimondo disagrees. Addressing a meeting of retired state workers in West Warwick on Wednesday, she was asked if the crisis would have been averted if pension investments had earned 8.25 percent over the past decade, as assumed. Raimondo answers no, not entirely.

“Well, that’s something that’s never mentioned,” the man replied. “All that gets mentioned is ‘the greedy public workers’ and politics.”

To a large degree, Raimondo's success thus far has been in her style and her forthright approach to the pension problem. Like most liberals/progressives, she is skeptical of 401(k) type retirement plans (like the Federal Government offers) and still thinks a more responsible defined-benefit plan can be worked out. I'm not so sure about that. Yet, so far, her willingness to be upfront about the problem, even proposing that current pensioners may have to see a reduction, has been refreshing. When it came to the General Treasure election in 2010, I was a single-issue voter. I voted for Raimondo (with some trepidation and fingers crossed), even though I knew I would disagree with her on some issues, because she struck me as the right person at the right time to deal with the current pension problem. So far, she hasn't disappointed me. But talk is easy. I'm still holding my breath to see what she actually does.

April 10, 2011

On When a Raise is Not a Raise

Monique Chartier

When renegotiating our compensation packages, those of us in the D.P.S. (Dreaded Private Sector) will undoubtedly have far greater success if we are careful to invoke Speaker Fox's definition and ask for a "longevity increase" rather than a raise.

Fox disputes that the pay increases reported by the Journal were all due to raises. In some cases, he said salaries were increased because employees had assumed a new job or moved from part-time to full-time positions. About half of those listed actually received longevity increases rather than raises, according to Fox.

“We provided a complete list to the Journal of all the reasons for the increased pay of every individual, including those due longevity, but the newspaper decided not to include this information in its listings,” Fox said. “Allowing the public to see that so many increases were for longevity would have resulted in a much more accurate picture.”

In the unlikely event that Speaker Fox's approach doesn't work, there's always the sure-fire strategy of the Senate President: your boss will surely give you a raise if you make a point of first leaving the building.

Ruggerio, D-North Providence, confirmed that his aide is the 25-year-old son of Donald Iannazzi, business manager for Local 1033, the Laborers International Union affiliate that employs his own 30-year-old lawyer son, Charles Ruggerio.

You keep characterizing that one as an increase. It was not an increase. He left the building. He’s a new hire,” said Paiva Weed,

April 7, 2011

Full-Time Employee of a Part-Time Legislature: Good Gig If You Can Get It

Marc Comtois

After looking at the raises in the RI House, the ProJo turned it's eyes to the RI Senate and found more raises, which Senate President Paiva-Weed defended.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed says she sees no reason to reconsider any of the raises...As she explains it, the full picture includes: A delayed pay raise. An increase in employee health-care payments. The return to the State House, after a five-month hiatus, of the son of a prominent labor leader who is a “new hire,” not a staffer with a $50,126-a-year raise.

As a starting point, Paiva Weed, D-Newport, said all of the legislature’s employees received the same 3-percent pay increase that all state employees received in January and the same longevity bonuses that all state employees get every five years or so, so in her mind only five Senate staffers got what she considered a raise.

Here's how Paiva-Weed legitimized one such raise:
Fiscal analyst Matthew Harvey’s recent 13.2-percent raise, from $49,399 to $55,895, reflected his promotion to Fiscal Analyst II. “I can give you his résumé,” Paiva Weed said. “An incredible professional and, in order to keep someone like him in these difficult fiscal times, we certainly needed to raise him to the second level of the pay scale.”
Well, that makes no sense. Read it again: "in order to keep someone like him in these difficult fiscal times, we certainly needed to raise him to the second level of the pay scale.” Uh. Since these are difficult fiscal times, my guess is he wasn't going anywhere. Or are there a bunch of hidden fiscal analyst jobs that we don't know about? And if he did go, well, then you just saved some money!

The ProJo also published a couple helpful charts that show the payroll for the Part Time Legislature (which comprises about 85% of it's budget) has increased 21.5% since 2009. I wonder why?

Paiva Weed took particular umbrage as the characterization of Senate staffer Stephen Iannazzi’s 132-percent pay increase as a raise.

A one-time page, Iannazzi’s first full-time job at the State House was as a $35,110-a-year “secretary” in February 2009. He had worked his way up to a $37,986-a-year policy researcher by the time he left last July. He was hired back in December as an $85,546-a-year special assistant to Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, and got a 3-percent raise the following month that boosted his salary to $88,112.

Ruggerio, D-North Providence, confirmed that his aide is the 25-year-old son of Donald Iannazzi, business manager for Local 1033, the Laborers International Union affiliate that employs his own 30-year-old lawyer son, Charles Ruggerio.

“You keep characterizing that one as an increase. It was not an increase. He left the building. He’s a new hire,” said Paiva Weed, on the day this week that Local 1033 agreed to wage concessions for about 900 city workers.

Gotta love lawyer-speak. "He left the building". Yeah, and walked right back in when a 132% raise was put in front of him. Nice little gig the Ruggerio and Iannazzi families have going there, no?

April 6, 2011

The Crapola of Simple Math

Justin Katz

Ken Block comments in response to my post suggesting that the state government that has him considering a move out of state is one that he helped bring about:

Enough of this unsubstantiated crapola about me costing Robitaille the election. He lost on his own accord by doing nothing to appeal to the centrist voter.

I have both anecdotal and polling data that show that my support came from across the political spectrum. Can you show me data that says otherwise?

If anything, Caprio really took the victory away from John by locking up a lot of the business vote early on in the cycle.

You run for election - you do not run away from election.

I ran to keep a fledgling party qualified in one of the toughest states to do so. Along the way, a lot of voters thought I was a pretty good choice.

You propose that Robitaille should have won as the 'lesser of two evils' candidate.

I propose that centrist voters desperately need a better choice than a bleeding heart liberal or a raging core conservative.

Your image of the ideal candidate does not translate to the vast majority of RI voters.

Sorry, Ken, we don't quite have the resources to conduct polls, but we can do some basic math related to the election results. Lincoln Chafee won the election by 8,660 votes. Block earned 22,146. That means that if Block's support "came from across the political spectrum" such that 40% of his vote would otherwise have gone to Robitaille, we might have a different governor. (That's a minimum, of course, which assumes that none of his other votes would have gone to Chafee, but it illustrates that Block's results were significant enough to make a difference.)

That doesn't mean Block didn't have a right to run. It's just the way politics and elections work, and as much fun as Ken might have had building his new party, such are the consequences that people must consider when making their political decisions.

Look, I don't think Block is wholly to blame. Frank Caprio's implosion toward the end of the race surely helped. I'd also argue that the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's endorsement of the Democrat — while certainly proving the stubborn mantra about being nonpartisan and while providing evidence for Block's note about Caprio and the business vote — was also a factor, perhaps most significantly in giving liberal Democrats a reason to look for another candidate. That is, RISC needs to accept some of the blame, too.

But it isn't a relevant assessment to place a "lesser of two evils" position on one side of the ledger and a plea for "a better choice" on the other. For one thing, everything that I read during the campaign indicated to me that Block is, himself, a bleeding heart liberal, just one who thinks he can better manage the left-wing dream government. For another, the positions are different in kind; an activist can want a better choice and work toward that end in a way that doesn't ultimately lead to an outcome that would subsequently drive the very same activist out of the state in protection of his wallet.

It's cute of Ken to paint me as the purist, here. If his comment is to have any logical coherence, his conclusion must be that it is worth risking the collapse of the state (to the extent that he's seriously considering escaping it) in order for him to play the role of pure "centrist" candidate for an election cycle. That's just irresponsible. On election day, only one candidate can win. In a binary race, voters can pick one of two visions. In a broader race than that, their choice must include the degree to which a pure candidate who cannot win is worth a vote.

Moreover, as somebody who lacks the resources simply to up and leave, it illustrates to me the degree to which Rhode Island's problems are a consequence of the games of the rich. It is entirely reasonable to suggest that Ken Block and his Moderate pals chose a chance for same-sex marriage, an easing of immigration law, and other liberal social issue preferences over a fiscally conservative executive who would counterbalance the special interests who dominate the rest of state government.

That's a position that they're certainly empowered to take, but maturity requires that they admit it... or at least the possibility of it. I'd speculate that they cannot because at bottom there is very little room to be fiscally conservative, in a governmental sense, and still hold socially liberal positions in a coherent way. Either government must increase revenue to the extent that it suffocates the economy, or it must limit its activities, and if it limits activities, the culture must do the heavy lifting to create a proper order to society. Merely complaining that corruption and waste seem to go hand in hand with unitary power is like complaining that high expenditures require high revenue.

April 5, 2011

Block Edges Toward the Border

Justin Katz

It seems as if Rhode Island's current government is pushing Moderate Party founder and gubernatorial candidate Ken Block toward an extreme:

Every year at this time, my accountant looks me in the eye and says I'm nuts to own a business in Rhode Island. ...

A 6 percent hit to my bottom line is more than enough to cause me to move my software business out of the state — as fast as humanly possible, taking more than $100,000 in state and local taxes with me when I move a few miles across the border.

I suspect that Mr. Block is far from alone, among those who've striven to improve Rhode Island's governance, in his growing sense of opposition's futility and willingness to turn from fight to flight. Certain groups may find that to be a positive development; most should not.

Still, one cannot touch on this topic without noting that, as Chafee was the far-left independent candidate, many voters treated Block as another choice on the center right. It's reasonable to suggest that, but for the 6.5% of the vote that Block drew to himself, Lincoln Chafee would not now be our governor. In that regard, Ken is fortunate that he has the resources to escape what he helped to bring about, should he so choose.

April 1, 2011

No New Taxes. Period.

Monique Chartier

As the General Assembly begins to consider the governor's budget, Riborn hits the nail precisely under Marc's post:

No increases. Nothing. No new taxes. No new fees. No fee increases. Cut spending. Cut muni employee salaries, benefits, increase their medical insurance %, increase pension contributions of every state and municipal employee.

It isn't just that even one new item covered by a sales tax would open Pandora's Box to ever more more more in future budgets, though that is true and important. It's that what would be viewed as a "compromise" by some at the General Assembly - just implementing some of Governor Chafee's tax increases - is not a compromise at all in light of Rhode Island's current level of taxation: fifth highest state and local tax burden. A real compromise would be a lowering (BUT NO BROADENING) of the sales tax by addressing the real budget problem: the spending side of the ledger.

To quote Donna Perry quoting the hair salon owners,

Governor, on your tax plan idea, please just cut it out.

March 31, 2011

Politics on Voter-ID

Justin Katz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, we learn farther along:

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

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

March 30, 2011

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

Engaged Citizen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, 2011

Cicilline Goes National

Marc Comtois

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

So much for the honeymoon period.

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

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

March 27, 2011

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

Monique Chartier

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

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

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

And they are not alone.

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

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

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

March 26, 2011

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

Monique Chartier

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

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

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

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

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

Monique Chartier

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

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

Oh, the consensus is not quite unanimous.

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

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

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

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

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

March 25, 2011

If Not for the People, RI Would Have Fewer People

Justin Katz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 9, 2011

Budget Thoughts

Marc Comtois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 8, 2011

Maybe the Mistrust Is Indicative of Knowledge, Not Ignorance

Justin Katz

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

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

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

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

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

March 6, 2011

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

Monique Chartier

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

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

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

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

March 5, 2011

Cicilline on Defense

Marc Comtois

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

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

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

March 3, 2011

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

Monique Chartier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2, 2011

Nesi: Providence Deficit Similar to Central Falls

Marc Comtois

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

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

He also said the early numbers released by Central Falls when the city made its first, unilateral receivership filing probably understated its predicament.

Still, while Central Falls is significantly smaller than Providence, Simmons did see “common themes” between the two cities, notably a basic gap between money in and money out. But Providence is ”one of the engines of the economy activity, and having a structural balance in the capital city is important for the state as a whole,” he said.

As I tweeted to Nesi, "Remember: Simmons was Chief of Admin for Providence w/Cicilline before his new gig at RIPEC. Beware of self-serving spin." Simmons replaced Gary Sasse at RIPEC after an initially rocky tenure as Chief of Administration for then-Mayor Cicilline. That doesn't mean we should ignore or doubt Simmons off hand--he's certainly got plenty of relevant experience to call upon. But it's something to keep in mind.

February 26, 2011

The Unvarnished History of Rhode Island's Short-funded Public Pensions, by John

Monique Chartier

Copied below is an excellent analysis compiled by John (under this post). To it, I would append one item - an additional culpable party: decades of elected officials who possessed the power to implement realistic benefits for tens of thousands of public employees and chose, instead, to further their own selfish political ends by making empty, grandiose promises.

Dear teachers and other public sector union members:

Too many of you are undoubtedly looking at each other over drinks these days, and trying to make sense of what our Democratic General Treasurer is saying.

Let me help you out.

1. Your union leadership has, over the years, negotiated some of the nation's best pension and post retirement health care benefits for you.

2. Your union leadership has, over the years, agreed to have you contribute some of the nation's highest percentages of your pay (relative to public sector employees in other states) for these benefits. Given the relative generosity of these benefits, that makes sense. So far, so good.

3. At the same time, your union leadership has, over the years, progressively reduced the power of management in the organizations where you work. This has led to such well known phenomena as parental frustration when their child's good teacher is bumped out by a weaker teacher with more seniority, and the world class service that every Rhode Islander has come to expect at the Registry.

4. This has led to a growing perception over the years on the part of private sector voters and taxpayers (and not a few of your fellow union members) that they are not getting value for money in exchange for the high taxes they pay in RI.

5. These high taxes, as well as our relatively weak schools and anti-business regulatory and political climate have driven businesses from RI. In turn, this process has drastically reduced the number of private sector union employees in RI.

6. In the face of declining union numbers, for the past 20 years or so organized labor in RI has been in a pact with the devil, so to speak -- they have been forced to ally with the progressive wing of the local Democratic Party to retain their hold on the General Assembly.

7. And here is where we get to the crux of the problem. Had your union leadership been looking out for your best interests, they would have insisted that, in the years pension and post-retirement health care benefits were earned by you and accrued as liabilities, they should have been fully funded, not just through your high contributions, but through the State making adequate contributions to pension funds and funds that were not established to provide assets to offset the growing post-retirement health care liability.

8. And what prevented your union leadership from forcing the General Assembly to make these contributions? Their progressive allies had an ever expanding agenda to fund, whether that was RITE Care, expanded programs for immigrants, more special education mandates, or what have you.

9. Up to a point, their failure to look out for the rank and file's interest could be hidden through such devices as unrealistically high assumptions about future investment returns, retirement dates, mortality, and health care cost inflation. However, we have now passed that point, and everyone can now see the Emperor (your future benefits) has no clothes.

10. While we can all hope that the SEC investigation of possibly fraudulent disclosures made in conjunction with the issuance of RI public sector bonds will produce some indictments, I'm not holding my breath. So that leaves a pretty clear choice about what you can do to preserve your future pension benefits: (a) dramatically reduce spending on the progressive agenda, and spit the benefit between reduced taxes and increased pension contributions; (b) dramatically increase taxes, and hope that people don't move away resulting in less not more revenue being collected (but keep in mind there's no guarantee that the progressive agenda won't eat up most of the new tax revenue that comes in); (c) default on the state's bonds, and divert the principal and interest payments into the pension fund. That's it. Those are your choices. The Feds aren't going to bail out RI (or any other state), and there aren't enough state assets to sell to close the underfunding gap. That's why Gina is talking publicly about up to 50% hits for some of your benefits.

Oh, and one last thought: You might want to consider voting out of office the union leaders (and well paid union staffers) who got you into this mess.

February 24, 2011

General Treasurer Raimondo: Some Public Retirees Are Looking at a Pension Haircut of 20%-30%

Monique Chartier

Normally, it would have been big enough news that the magnitude of Rhode Island's unfunded pension liability is such that it made PBS's NewsHour (tonight, best I can tell).

This has been completely dwarfed, however, by some remarkable statements made during the program by Rhode Island's General Treasurer.

[NewsHour Economics Correspondent] PAUL SOLMAN: So, what's the hit that the average pensioner of Rhode Island is going to take? What's the haircut, as it's called?

GINA RAIMONDO: I think it could be a significant hit.

PAUL SOLMAN: Twenty percent, 30 percent hit, it could be?

GINA RAIMONDO: It could be. It could be.

You know, in Rhode Island, we have 105 pension systems. So, for certain sections, the haircut will be significant, you know, 30, 40-plus percent. For other, you know, systems, it will be less.

February 21, 2011

General Assembly Mostly Has Open Meetings....Except for the Really Important Ones

Marc Comtois

Yay, according to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, the Generally Assembly abided by the open meetings law--which they don't think applies to them--abut 90% of the time. Political cover: check. Of course, as the ProJo reports and RI Common Cause's John Marion emphasizes, that's like saying you spent more days in first place even if you ended up losing the division and not making the playoffs.

[T]he report follows a formula established over a decade ago that weighs violations equally, no matter when during the legislative session they occur....Common Cause believes that it is time to create an additional measure, and include it in the report, that takes into account when the violations occur. The bulk of the important votes in committee and on the floor occur in the final days of the session and the public expects the same level of openness on the part of their elected leaders in June as they do in January.

February 20, 2011

Whitehouse & Reed High Speeding Higher Taxes to Rhode Island: Florida Doesn't Want the Long Term Bills But We'll Take 'Em!

Monique Chartier

From the AP via Turn to Ten.

Rhode Island's U.S. senators are asking that part of the $2.5 billion in funding for Florida's high-speed rail projects be redirected to their state after Florida's governor turned down the money earlier this week.

See, there was a reason Florida turned down that money, a reason that the AP, interestingly, left out of their article.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott canceled plans for a high-speed train line between Orlando and Tampa promoted by President Barack Obama, saying Wednesday it would cost the state too much even with $2.4 billion in federal help.

Cost overruns could put Florida on the hook for another $3 billion and once completed, there's a good chance ridership won't pay for the operating cost, meaning the state would have to pump more money into the line each year, Scott said.

Now, Rhode Island's shortfall would probably not reach $3 billion because a Rhode Island rail project would be smaller. But do we have even one dollar in the state budget to spare? It's hard also not to reflect on the point made by a commenter in the Turn to Ten link:

High speed rail through a state which takes 30 minutes to drive through is even more worthless than would it from Tampa to Orlando.

Pork is bad enough. Pork that turns into an unfunded mandate (i.e., higher taxes) down the road is not just bad, it's shortsighted and very misguided. Presumably, the good senators are hoping that, when the bill comes due down the road, voters will have forgotten who was in the picture tendering the oversized, federal check - the check that contained in the fine print a recurring ... "present" for Rhode Island taxpayers.

February 19, 2011

More a Never-Ending Winter than Groundhog Day

Justin Katz

For the most part, I agree with Ed Achorn's sentiment about Rhode Island:

It's not too late. Rhode Island can defuse the pension time bomb, perhaps the way businesses have had to, even though few workers were happy about it — by moving public employees into 401(k)-style plans. The state can move toward competitive taxes and regulations that would give businesses a good reason to start up and stay here. Leaders can show the courage to stand up to special interests on behalf of better schools, instead of handing over to them the keys to public education.

We can do these things, but the politicians must first hear that voters actually care.

Until that happens, it seems, it will be Groundhog Day every day in Rhode Island.

The reference, of course, is to the Bill Murray movie in which he's a TV weatherman trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the aforementioned holiday... over and over with no change except in his own actions. The typical summary of the plot contains some variation of the idea that Murray's character must "get it right," but that's a bit ambiguous. I've preferred to see it as a requirement that he become the type of person whom his love interest in the film could love.

Be shades of interpretation as they may, I'm not so sure it's the apropos analogy for Rhode Island's circumstances. After all, Murray's character didn't know what he had to do to escape his purgatory; there was no remedy toward which he could work, so it was merely a matter of occupying himself each day until he happened to gravitate toward a less selfish preoccupation, as it were.

The more appropriate reference would be, I'd say, to the Narnia of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where it was always winter, but never Christmas. In that case, the unhappy state of the land was imposed by the White Witch, and it could only be remedied by breaking her power. Granted, within the world of the book, such a thing was only possible with the assistance of the messianic lion, Aslan. In the real-life circumstance of Rhode Island, what's needed is broad attention interested residents and a revivication of civic action.

February 18, 2011

Avedisian's Pension Plan and Continuing Problems

Marc Comtois

I noted that Warwick Mayor Avedisian was offering up a pragmatic, if typical, pension reform plan in that it dealt with reforms for future pensions. Avedisian took to the pages of the Providence Journal to explain his plan, but, as Ted Nesi notes, Avedisian tries to get away with shoving the past pension problems aside.

In the 1950s, 1960s, and for most of the 1970s, the City of Warwick did not properly fund its pension plans and make the necessary annual contributions needed to keep them solvent. Some years the city would make proper contributions and in others there would be no contribution beyond the actual benefits paid out. To be exact, if pension payments totaled $500,000, the city leaders funded that amount to pay pensions....in Warwick, the biggest unresolved issue are the[se] original police and fire pension plans. Today, they are funded at only 27 percent of what is needed. So, while people can suggest that the city has failed to do what is right, they instead should be asking the original creators of the pension systems why there was no leadership when the plans were created. Had even a small amount been contributed annually in those years, the unfunded liability today would be very small.
Not so fast, says Nesi (check out his chart for reference):
The question, then, is what Warwick is going to do about the $200 million gap between its pre-1971 plan’s assets and liabilities. It’s plans like those which the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns’ Dan Beardsley suggested to me the other day could be the source of litigation as cities unable to fund them move to take away benefits promised in the past....I suppose we could call up Raymond Stone or Horace Hobbs to ask why they failed to make pension contributions in the ’50s and ’60s. (Actually, we can’t; Hobbs died in 1999, Stone in 2004.) But that’s not going to yield a solution to Warwick’s $200 million pension gap.

Avedisian and his fellow mayors may have inherited this problem – but it’s still theirs now.

As I previously suggested, I don't expect cities to go to court over this, but maybe I'm wrong. One thing that will help is for the public to support pension reform by showing up to city and town council meetings when those items are on the table.

Pension Reform in Johnston

Marc Comtois

Out of necessity (ya think?) they're reforming pensions in Johnston. Stephen Beale reports on why:

One of the biggest problems is with disability pensions. Out of 71 retired firefighters, 34 of them are on a disability pension, earning two thirds of their salary tax free. During the tenure of former Fire Chief Victor Cipriano, 15 firefighters retired—and all 15 went out on disability pensions. Even Cipriano himself went out on a disability pension, earning more in retirement last year than he did while working.

To put the numbers in perspective, just 8 percent of the firefighter pensions in New York City are disabilities. In Johnston, the disability rate is above 40 percent. “Those are unusual numbers,” Rodio said.

Rodio has estimated that 25 firefighter disability pensions are in violation of not one, but two state laws—one that says a retiree cannot earn more than he did while employed by a city or town and another that says those tax-free disability pensions needed to be approved by the state retirement board.

The fix:
A police officer or firefighter who retires on a disability but gets another job will be considered partially disabled and can receive only half of their salary, rather than two thirds.

The ordinance also goes out of its way to define salary as base pay—excluding overtime pay, holiday pay, and other benefits from being used to calculate a disability pension.

In the future, a police officer or firefighter applies for a disability will have their case reviewed by three doctors—two of whom must confirm that the person is actually disabled. Once the disability pension is approved, a retiree has to undergo an annual physical and submit a sworn statement documenting how much they have earned for the year.

The three doctor review panel has been mentioned around here before and basing pension on base salary seems like a common sense thing. As does recalculating disability pension if the pensioner gets another job. However, as usual, this is all "going forward." It's not really clear if existing pensions will be reviewed and modified. Finally, its worth noting that, according to Beale's story, the public came out to lend their support to the proposal while police and fire were silent.

February 14, 2011

No Revolving Door Here....technically

Marc Comtois

"Former majority leader now a lobbyist" blares the ProJo Political Scene headline. Meh says us. What else is new, right?

Little more than a month after leaving the General Assembly, former Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors is back at the State House as a lobbyist.

Asked what he was doing as he exited the office of one of new Governor Chafee’s staffers earlier this week, lawyer Connors said: “Not lobbying.”

Nope, just getting introduced, it turns out. Not that there's anything wrong with lobbying the Governor.
The state’s “revolving door” law bars Connors from lobbying his former colleagues in the General Assembly for a year after leaving office, and the company said his employment contract prohibits him from directly or indirectly taking part in the company’s effort to lobby or engage in any business with the General Assembly on behalf of its clients during his first year of his employment.

But no law stops Connors from lobbying the new Chafee administration.

Seems like that's not quite within the "spirit" of the law, does it? But who's really surprised.

February 9, 2011

Rudderless Rhode Island: National Perception is Reality

Marc Comtois

Steve Malanga at RealClearMarkets gives us the national perspective of what's going on in Rhode Island (h/t Jim Hackett via Facebook):

Tucked in between Massachusetts and Connecticut and overshadowed in Northeastern political discussions by states like New Jersey and New York, Rhode Island is barely noticed these days.

Still, the Ocean State bears watching. Its fiscal problems are, relative to its size, among the worst in the country. And the reform agenda (if you can even call it that) of its new governor, Lincoln Chafee, elected with union support and with only a plurality of the vote, is among the tamest in the nation. In Rhode Island we may get to see how the union version of fixing a state's problems via tax increases and the barest of reforms of government spending and employee entitlements works.

Ouch. Then, the laundry list:
Though smaller than its neighbors, Rhode Island very much bears the stamp of Northeastern politics and governing. It has the third highest level of public employee unionization in the country, 64 percent, behind New York and Connecticut. Its government is among the top 10 in the nation in per capita spending and in the tax burden it imposes on residents, plus the state has one of the least attractive business environments....

Rhode Island's long-term obligations compare unfavorably with just about any other state, and that's saying a lot....

the Daily Beast recently ranked Rhode Island the state most likely to go bust...

Moody's...ranked Rhode Island among the most troubled states on a variety of metrics...

A recent audit revealed that Rhode Island's biggest city, Providence, has been spending more than it budgets throughout the recession and depleting its reserve funds in the process, to the point where the city is almost out of cash....

[A]nother city, Central Falls, is insolvent thanks to $32 million in promised post-retirement health-insurance costs for its employees plus $48 million in pension obligations that the city can't meet on its own....

The burden this spending places on the private sector is significant. Rhode Island is not a state where businesses are investing in the future. An analysis of private sector investment several years ago by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council found investment per employee was among the lowest of any state, 30 percent below the national average. And while the state ranks only 20th in average private sector wage per worker, it ranks 4th in public sector pay.

Yay, us. Malanga also details the non-solutions being offered up by our Governor (and notes that Chafee only won with 36% of the vote). Just not good.

Campaign Taste: Patrick Lynch Goes out in Style

Monique Chartier

Nothing will ever match the depth of Patrick Lynch's monumentally selfish and depraved disdain for justice. But he's sure giving it the ol' college try in a different realm; namely, the use, abuse and disrespect of campaign contributions during the last months of his tenure as AG.

During the final three months of 2010, former state Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch spent $58,000 of his campaign war chest, including thousands of dollars on trips to Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, as well as thousands more at high-end restaurants in the state, according to a campaign-finance report filed with the state this week. ...

Lynch’s final campaign expenses from 2010 also include tabs at some high-end restaurants in Providence: Café Noir ($407); Capriccio ($788); Providence Oyster Bar ($643); Mills Tavern ($500); and The Capital Grille ($788), as well as some chain restaurants such as Johnny Rockets ($211) and T.G.I. Friday’s in Seekonk ($451).

Other big ticket items include liquor ($5,589) ...


Campaign funds are to be expended in furtherance of a candidate's run for public office. Can Rhode Island's former chief law enforcement officer please advise what statewide office he has been running for - AND SPENDING CAMPAIGN DOLLARS ON - since last July when he bowed out of the governor's race?

We'll set aside for a moment the larger matter of whether, during these months, the AG even found time to conduct the people's business in between vacations ("It's Tuesday? Off to the airport.") and remain focused on the "campaign" expenditures. There is a palpable question that arises from all of this free-wheeling spending with no discernable legal goal: are RI campaign laws simply a flimsy cover for someone to collect a bunch of money tax free in order to live high on the hog?

February 7, 2011

Ken McKay Announces

Monique Chartier

... his candidacy for the chairmanship of the RIGOP via this press release dispatched just after noon today.

Republicans are faced with an incredible opportunity to win elections in Rhode Island. We have great