One of the genius things about Gov. Gina Raimondo’s budget is that it seems to make people from all over the political spectrum equally pleased and disappointed with her proposal. Such seemed the case with both John Brien and I, who debated it on NBC10 Wingmen.
By Bob Plain on March 16, 2015
By Will Collette on March 16, 2015
One of the nice things about owning several properties is that when it comes to politics, you have lots of choices about where you can say you live. I’m not talking about the formal definition of legal residence, but “addresses of convenience.”
Having an address of convenience gives you the choice of where to vote or where to run for office. You can shop around to find the most advantageous choice. Not necessarily a legal choice, but one that is rarely ever challenged.
We have lots of examples, such as Republican Kernan “Kerry” King who ran against Gina Raimondo for general treasurer in 2010 even though he was actually a legal resident of Florida and was even collecting a $50,000 a year homestead property tax exemption on his Sarasota County home. He was claiming his Saunderstown house as his legal residence on his campaign declaration.
In my state Representative District (36), we now have a carpetbagger state Representative, a Tea Party Libertarian named Blake Filippi. Filippi claims he lives in his mother’s house on Block Island even though he has listed his mother’s house in Lincoln as his legal address on dozens of legal documents including his Massachusetts lawyer’s license. He told Bob Plain he is currently living in a Providence apartment.
Addresses of convenience. It’s nice to be able to pick and choose. It’s not just Republicans and Libertarians that do it; Democrats also do it.
Take Doug Gablinske, for example. He made a big splash in Rhode Island politics during his two terms in the RI House representing District 68 in Bristol as one of the most vociferous DINOs (Democrat in name only), leading the attack against public workers.
As a result of the 2010 US Census, Gablinske’s district boundaries were changed. In an e-mail to me he said, “I was carefully gerrymandered out of District 68, with the input of Rep. Morrison into the redistricting process, who was afraid I was going to run against him in 2012. The gerrymandering is obvious, as the line moved over one street, to redistrict me out.”
His home at 45 Kickemuit Avenue in Bristol is no longer in District 68, but moved instead to District 69. Gablinske and his wife Patricia moved with the times and changed their voter registration to 44 Greylock Road which is Gablinske’s mother’s house, solidly within District 68 where they have cast their ballots in 2014.
In his e-mail to me, Gablinske asserted that his change in registration had “nothing at all to do with that and everything to do with helping to care for my 86 year old mother, which is where she resides and I own the house with my siblings.”
Despite the change in voter registration, Doug Gablinske kept using his address as 45 Kickemuit Avenue on many campaign contributions he made since re-registering at Greylock Road (example).
There are a dozen major political donations by Gablinske listed in the Board of Elections database for 2014. Gablinske’s residence shows up as Kickemuit on five of those major contributions; his business address on Metacom Avenue is listed on the other seven.
Greylock Road is not listed on any of these donor files.
I asked Gablinske about the checks written from his business address (it is illegal for businesses to make direct donations to Rhode Island political candidates). Gablinske said that he keeps three checkbooks, one for each of these three properties and acknowledged that it would be illegal if he made a donation through his appraisal business.
He added: “For the record, at your request, I reside at both 44 Greylock Road and 45 Kickemuit Avenue and my voter address was changed to 44 Greylock Road, on may May 8th, 2014. My brother Wayne Gablinske, sold his house on Sandra Court, Bristol on February 27, 2015. He has now moved into 44 Greylock Road to care for my mother, so I have returned to 45 Kickemuit Avenue and am changing my voter address back to that address, all of which is perfectly legal.”
Even though he checked his voter registration to Greylock Road in his old district, Gablinske did not make a run to regain his lost House seat in 2012 or 2014, apparently content to run his appraisal business and engage in lobbying. Gablinske said in his e-mail to me, “I have no plans to run for public office…in any district!”
After losing the 2010 Democratic primary, Gablinske started to work with Terrance Martiesian’s lobbying firm, filing reports with the Secretary of State since 2011 that he lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of the RI Mortgage Bankers at no charge.
Although, on paper, Gablinske is lobbying for the bankers for free, Martiesian’s lobbying firm is billing the RI Mortgage Bankers Association $50,000. What Gablinske gets out of the arrangement does not appear to be covered in the reports to the Secretary of State.
Gablinske asserts that he gets nothing from Martiesian and lobbies for free for the Mortgage Bankers Association because he sits on their board and co-chairs their legislative committee. As an appraiser, Gablinske obviously does a lot of work with mortgage bankers but, he says, “you are trying to connect dots, that do not connect.”
If Gablinske decides the time is right to try to return to the General Assembly since he’s apparently not getting rich from his peculiar lobbying practice, it would be interesting to see which address he uses.
Either address – Kickemuit or Greylock – could be challenged by some sharp-eyed voter based on all the conflicting public records and even Gablinske’s own statement that he lives in both places. But any such challenge would have to be filed very quickly.
After Rep. Donna Walsh learned about Blake Filippi’s declaration of residence and filed a complaint, she was told by BOE Director Bob Kando that under the Board of Election’s rules, there is only a 24-hour window to file a challenge to a candidate’s declaration of candidacy.
While the bizarre way the Board of Elections rules are written gives candidates the edge to get away with running for a seat in a District but not living there, there is the matter of state law and voting.
Under the Rhode Island General Laws, it is a felony to vote or attempt to vote anywhere “other than in the…representative district, or voting district in which the person has his or her ‘residence’”…. Gablinske will have to make up his mind where he really lives before the next time he votes.
One added irony about Gablinske’s flexible residency is that during his time in the State House, he was an outspoken supporter of Rhode Island’s voter ID law.
By Peet Nourjian on March 14, 2015
The frat boys from Oklahoma
Long for days when the aroma
Of burning crosses late at night
Made men like them proud to be white
A far cry from my frat house when
We made headlines by being men
Who drank too much and on a dare
Would drop our pants most anywhere
College rules there for the breaking
Morning bongs there for the baking
No ladies allowed in our bunks
Meant cozy love in steamer trunks
Students thrived on bad behavior
Risky capers were our savior
When heavy workloads made us groan
Not to mention the student loan
Today frat boys from Oklahoma
Won’t be earning their diploma
Because tradition in the south
Has left them with a racist mouth
But ask yourself, what steered them wrong
To insult classmates with their song
Like Klansmen did a few years back
Or cops who shoot when they see black?
Read Peet Nourjian’s past poems here.
By Elizabeth McNamara on March 14, 2015
The Everett Company’s “Freedom Project”– which premiered Thursday, March 12, at Brown’s Granoff Center – is a sobering, ultimately soaring piece of theater, incorporating movement, music, video, and real stories to tell the sad tale of mass incarceration in the U.S. It’s a riveting 90 minutes.
Everett has been stretching the boundaries of traditional performance since the 1980s with its work combining science and dance. In “Freedom Project,” the six performers move about the stage with athletic grace – jumping, hopping, twisting, lunging, embracing – using a couple of piles of concrete blocks in clever, transformative ways. Who knew concrete could provide such imaginative launching pads?
Mixed in between the movement segments are video pieces where people talk about their experiences on “screens” that alternate between pieces of fabric held up by a performers, cut out cardboard shapes that just happen to match the head shape of the speaker, and those same concrete blocks.
Performer Ari Brisbane plays the role of standup comic, strutting on stage through every 10 minutes or so with some “jokes.” Only the “jokes” are a series of facts about the prison system in America. You want to laugh – the “jokes” are accompanied by a recorded laugh track – but the facts stop you cold.
Like: “Women are the fastest growing population in prison”
And: “13 million people move in and out of the prison system in a year.”
And: “For every 2 white Americans in jail, 11 black Americans are in jail.”
While many aspects of the performance dazzle, it’s the stories that strike home. About the anonymity of prison life, one speaker says, “I come in here and I’m not a person anymore.” Another person, who comes from a long line of imprisoned family members, “It’s generational recidivism.”
Living up to its name, Freedom Project ends with hope. It’s a simple as a window in a prison cell – “the window does not open yet somehow allows one to breath” – and as fantastical as an homage to “Where the Wild Things Are,” complete with a small sailboat. This is theater worth seeing, in every sense of the word.
Freedom Project is directed and designed by Aaron Jungels. The cast includes Grace Bevilacqua, Ari Brisbon, Christopher Johnson, Aaron Jungels, James Monteiro, and Sokeo Ros.
It will be performed at the Everett Stage, 9 Duncan Ave., Providence, March 20-22, March 27-29, April 3-4, and April 10-12 – Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (Sundays March 22 and March 29 are pay what you can.) You can find out more at EverettRI.org or call (401) 831-9479.
By Bob Plain on March 13, 2015
Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget would cut funding to the poor, fully fund the state education aid formula and create new taxes on high-end second homes and rental properties. You can read her full address to the House and Senate here.
Most significantly, Raimondo seeks to cut about $91 million from Medicaid, socialized health programs for poor people, and has already appointed a high profile task force to “reinvent” the program. It costs $2.3 billion a year, but about half of that is paid for through the federal government. Raimondo has already identified about $45 million in cuts and her budget executive summary says the task force is expected to find another $46 million.
But the poor aren’t the only ones who will pay to balance the budget. So will the state’s beach culture, as she’s proposing a new tax on million dollar second homes and AirBnB-style rentals.
The proposal calls for what has quickly been dubbed the “Taylor Swift tax”- a property tax levied on second homes worth more than $1 million. It will raise $11.8 million in new revenue, according to this briefing.
She’s also proposing an “AirBnB tax” that would raise $7.1 million in new revenue. From the executive summary: “The budget also closes an existing loophole that exempts vacation houses and small bed and breakfasts from paying the sales and lodging taxes. Finally, the budget would apply sales and local lodging taxes to unlicensed rentals, which have increasingly become an alternative to hotels, bed and breakfasts and other licensed lodging.”
Both these taxes will disproportionately affect the touristy areas of Rhode Island – the islands and South County. But Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, of Newport, where untaxed vacation rentals and million dollar second homes are commonplace, didn’t seem to mind.
“I think it’s a bold and brave look across the spectrum,” Paiva Weed said. “Just as she is asking for $90 million in Medicaid savings she is also reaching out to our wealthiest citizens to also assist us in moving forward.”
Even House Speaker Nick Mattiello, who never met a tax he didn’t want to cut, gave some early – though conditional – support to the Taylor Swift tax. “It’s an interesting initiative,” he said. “It seems like something I’d be inclined to support but right now I want to look at the details of it.”
Raimondo also called for statewide all-day kindergarten, and an end to the school construction moratorium. Through refinancing debt, she proposes a $20 million “to create a capital fund to help address school facility needs.”
According to the executive summary, “Lifting the moratorium and setting the annual construction aid appropriation at $80.0 million starting in FY 2017 will create fiscal stability with predictable funding and allows for projects to be prioritized.”
Raimondo would like to see the Earned Income Tax Credit increased from 10 to 15 percent in one or two years, depending on the early summer revenue predictions. Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit is 15 percent and Connecticut’s is 27.5 percent.
Her proposed budget would raise an additional $7.1 million by increase by 25 cents the tax on a pack of cigarettes.
To promote construction, Raimondo proposes, “a package of real estate tax incentives will encourage construction of job-producing projects, with a focus on development near transit hubs and historic structures. The package includes Rebuild Rhode Island tax credits, tax increment financing, and partial assistance for local tax stabilization agreements that will make investing in construction and development in Rhode Island a compelling proposition,” according to the executive summary.
She’s also proposing what she calls the Anchor Tax Credit. “This tax credit incentivizes our largest employers —the anchors of our economy — to attract their suppliers and affiliates to Rhode Island. These employers will benefit from proximity to their suppliers, while the state gains new jobs and develops industry clusters,” said the executive summary.
By Bob Plain on March 12, 2015
Here’s a link to Governor Raimondo’s budget website and below is the text, as prepared, of her budget address to the House and Senate tonight:
Good Evening. It is an honor to stand before you to address how we can work together to expand opportunities for all Rhode Islanders and create jobs.
The budget I present to you tonight is rooted in the core belief that every hardworking family deserves the chance to make it in Rhode Island. Despite starting with a nearly $200M deficit, this budget is balanced, makes significant progress towards eliminating our structural deficit, involves no broad based tax increases, and calls for significant investments in economic growth and education.
From my first conversation with Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed, we agreed that priority one was jumpstarting our economy and creating jobs. I couldn’t ask for better partners in this effort and I’d like to thank you both for the time and support you’ve given me these past few months.
Our biggest problem is that our state’s economic engine is out of gas – we’ve lost 80K manufacturing jobs in the last few decades and we haven’t positioned ourselves for job-creation in advanced industries with higher growth and higher wage jobs. The jobs we are creating are low wage and, as a result, our per capita income is about $47K a year compared to $57K in Massachusetts and $60K in Connecticut. We remain among the last states in the nation in employment and in job growth, and we are one of the oldest states in America because our young people are fleeing to find work elsewhere.
All most people want is the chance to earn a decent living that lets them provide for their family. Parents want the chance to give their children a better life than they themselves led.
That’s what my parents wanted. My mom is here tonight – she and my dad worked so hard to provide stability for our family.
But now, not enough Rhode Islanders have the opportunity to do the same for their children because we aren’t creating enough good jobs, and too many of the jobs we are creating don’t pay a sufficient wage.
Our weak economy contributes to our budget deficit, forcing us into the same crunch every year: not enough jobs means lower state revenue, so we make painful cuts to balance the budget. But some of those cuts have been to economic development or infrastructure, which hurt our economy more. It is time to break this downward spiral and set in motion a virtuous cycle of progress and momentum driven by economic growth.
We need to cut in areas where we are inefficient or spend too much, and then invest in economic growth. Over time, our growth will lead to even more revenue, which will allow for further investments in education, infrastructure, and an adequate safety net.
Our turnaround won’t happen overnight but we have to start immediately because Rhode Islanders are struggling right now.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Warwick Mall reading to kids, and a young mom told me about how she was barely scraping by.
I took my mom shopping and a man who has worked the same full time retail job for more than a decade told me that he can barely sleep because he’s worried about the fact that there’s no money in his checking account.
We need to give a boost to Rhode Islanders who are working hard and trying to provide a decent living for their family. No one who works full-time should be forced to raise their family in poverty.
That’s why I’d like to work with you to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
We need to do more to make work pay.
This budget expands the Earned Income Tax Credit from 10% to 15% over the next two years, putting more money directly in the pockets of working Rhode Islanders. If the revenue forecasts in May improve, I’d love to see us go to 15% this year.
It also eliminates state taxes on Social Security benefits for low and middle income seniors. Social Security is a crucial source of income for these seniors, and we should help them make ends meet. Speaker Mattiello is a leader in this effort and I am pleased to work with him to make it happen.
These steps will help families live a little more comfortably. But they will also stimulate our economy, because we know these folks will spend this money in our local economy.
And as this immediate action takes hold, we must together turn our attention to taking bold steps to create opportunities for Rhode Island.
I propose a bold comprehensive jobs plan that operates in waves with the first wave being the most robust to kick start our effort. We can’t sit back and expect jobs to appear.
This budget sets us on the path to Rhode Island’s comeback by focusing on three things:
First, building the skills our students and workers need to compete in the 21st century.
Second, attracting entrepreneurs and investment.
And third, fostering innovation, including in our state government, to enhance accountability and deliver value to taxpayers.
These principles — and an unwavering focus on creating jobs and expanding opportunity — guided every decision we made in assembling this budget.
Helping people build the skills they need to succeed is one of the best investments we can make.
Since being elected, I have dedicated time every week to talk with businesses, asking them what it will take to add jobs in Rhode Island. The thing I hear most often is that they want a skilled workforce, ready to work. We need to provide people with the training so Rhode Island is a more desirable place for 21st century businesses to invest.
This budget invests in each rung of the ladder – our schools, college affordability, and skills training for adults.
This budget invests record amounts in our K-12 public schools.
This budget also commits the necessary matching funds that allow us to more than triple the number of state sponsored pre-k classrooms in Rhode Island. It’s never too early to put our youngest learners on a path to opportunity.
And we still have almost 2,000 kindergarten students who don’t have access to full-day K. My husband and I know firsthand how much our kids flourished because of all day K and every Rhode Island kid deserves the same opportunity.
Senate President Paiva Weed is passionate about this too and I’m eager to work with her and others to bring universal full day Kindergarten to every school by September 2016. This budget makes it possible.
Teachers want it. Parents want it. And our kids need it. Let’s get it done. But how are students supposed to learn if they’re in crumbling school buildings?
Too many of our children go to school each day in buildings that have outdated heating systems; that lack modern security or technology for 21st century learning; or suffer from general disrepair.
And so, the time has come to lift the current moratorium on school construction.
My budget proposes creating a new School Building Authority to partner with cities and towns to address critical renovation needs. We are seeding it with $20 million this year, and to keep it going, starting next year, we’ll create a long-term and stable source of funds for this purpose.
We’ll put our kids in better schools. And we’ll put construction crews to work, many of whom haven’t seen steady work in years.
Building skills also means making education more relevant and effective. I propose an initiative called “Prepare RI” to empower every high school student across the state who qualifies to take college courses while they’re in high school at no cost to the student. Whether you want to go to college, or start a career right after high school, we want to make your path to a degree or industry certification more affordable and more attainable.
My dad took advantage of the GI Bill and became the first person in our family to go to college. That enabled him to get a good job. One person going to college changed all of our lives. Now more than ever, higher education can be the ladder to the middle class because in today’s economy high wage jobs go to people with high skills.
But for too many a college degree is out of reach because of the cost.
So I propose restructuring our higher education grant programs to create a last-dollar scholarship that begins to tackle the unmet financial need of Rhode Island students. In its first year, this program will invest $10M in students with proven academic performance but for whom the costs of higher education might too high and prevent them from going.
I propose we do this by restructuring and consolidating redundant bureaucracies, specifically moving the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority to the Office of the Post Secondary Commissioner. These moves will enable the state to save money and fund these scholarships for Rhode Islanders. This is the right thing to do – let’s do it together.
Even with these scholarships, we know that college costs are a lot to bear. So we’re establishing a competitive student loan forgiveness program for college graduates who pursue careers in technology, engineering and design. This program will fully cover four years’ worth of student debt for over 100 high achieving graduates per year. We want to stop the brain drain and keep these talented Rhode Islanders in Rhode Island after they graduate, especially in these fields.
Everyone knows that the global economy is changing and to compete we have to provide people access to opportunities to build the skills they need to get a job now.
Soon, I will announce a new approach to workforce training where we partner with businesses to make sure we’re training people for the jobs that actually exist now. This new system won’t require additional money in the budget, but will use existing funds to help Rhode Islanders get jobs, and help businesses get the well-trained workers they need. The difference is that we will put the employer at the center so we’re training people for jobs that are in demand now.
While we are building skills we also have to cultivate conditions to make Rhode Island an attractive place to do business and add jobs.
We’ve already begun addressing our regulatory climate. We are modernizing the way we issue regulations to make sure we’re as business-friendly as possible while still protecting our quality of life, air, water, and public safety. And we’re reviewing old regulations to see what we can eliminate.
We’re clearing away burdensome underbrush in other areas, too. After examining the over 300 licensed occupations in Rhode Island, we have identified about 30 that we can eliminate immediately. Wherever possible we should remove burdensome layers of bureaucracy to promote more economic activity.
The General Assembly to its great credit, recently cut the corporate tax rate to make us more competitive. But it’s no secret that Rhode Island’s taxes remain uncompetitive in some areas. Tonight I propose building on your good work.
To reduce business’s energy costs, I am proposing that we phase-out the sales tax on energy that the state imposes on commercial users. This will provide $5.1 million in tax relief to businesses next fiscal year, and help reduce the burden of rising energy costs.
We also have some taxes that are just a nuisance on businesses and don’t raise much revenue for the state. For instance, we are one of the only states that places special taxes on imaging centers and outpatient health services. To help contain health care costs and promote job creation in the healthcare industry, I am recommending phasing out both of these surcharges over four years.
Despite all this, let’s face it, Rhode Island has developed a reputation as a tough place to do business.
So to get companies to invest and create jobs here, we need to be proactive. This is especially true because so many other states offer incentives and have much more robust economic development efforts. If we want to compete…if we want companies to add jobs here, we can’t put ourselves at such a disadvantage relative to our neighbors.
It is time for our economic development strategy to turn heads, change perceptions, and put Rhode Island back in the game. Now I know we’ve made mistakes in economic development in the past. We must learn from them and never repeat them. We must move forward.
This budget proposes investing to attract high-quality companies, and encouraging the growth of businesses already here.
We are working with the legislature to introduce competitive tax packages that encourage businesses to create well-paying jobs, particularly well-paying jobs in promising industries.
We will implement these credits with rigorous accountability provisions, and won’t spend a dollar of state money until long after the jobs have been created.
There’s so much construction booming in Boston that they say the state bird of Massachusetts is the crane. I want job-producing construction here, so we propose creating a new initiative to encourage more real estate projects. These benefits will only be provided after the buildings are built, and are modeled after similar successful programs in other states.
Small businesses are the backbone of our state, and our comeback cannot occur without ensuring they are healthy and growing. Unlike our neighboring states, Rhode Island lacks a state-backed small business loan fund. So we will create a Small Business Program and an Innovation Initiative to expand access to capital for small businesses enabling them to thrive and expand.
Also, to leverage the businesses we already have, we will implement an Anchor Tax Credit that incentivizes our large employers to attract their suppliers to Rhode Island. These employers will benefit from having more of their suppliers close by, and the state will gain new businesses and jobs. If we are going to turn our economy around, everyone has a role to play, including our largest employers.
I am also proposing a series of steps to grow our innovation economy. Since 2010, over 1 million jobs have been created in America in advanced industries marked by technology and innovation – these industries pay more and are growing faster than most. It’s time Rhode Island got its fair share of these jobs for our families.
It is not the time to be passive or timid. We’re falling behind other states, and unemployed or underemployed Rhode Island families are bearing the brunt. If we succeed in sparking a recovery and creating jobs, everything is possible. If we don’t, nothing else will matter.
Finally, we must reinvigorate state government with fresh ideas and new ways of doing things in order to get better results. This starts with an honest and ethical government that the public deserves.
A key innovation priority this year is reinventing Medicaid.
It isn’t sustainable to have a system that has the second highest cost per enrollee of any state in the nation — a cost that is 60% higher than the national average and where a small percent of the enrollees account for the vast majority of the spending.
We have an opportunity to deliver better health care services to Rhode Islanders, and to make our system more affordable at the same time. To do so, we will have to crack down on fraud and waste; improve quality and coordination of care; and make Rhode Island a leader in health innovation by paying for value not volume.
I recently learned of a story from one of our health centers of a homeless man who was in the ER once a week with substance abuse issues. The health center would treat him, but until the root cause was addressed his cost of care continued to mount.
This is why our work to address Medicaid’s structural problems will continue beyond this evening with our working group.
I realize this working group is different than the way we’ve addressed medicaid in the past, but I believe the magnitude and complexity of the challenges we face requires it. And I am grateful to the General Assembly leadership for their flexibility as we work in partnership to find solutions. We have an opportunity with all the stakeholders at the table to put in place changes that will yield savings for years to come. This budget proposes a 9 percent cut in Medicaid expansion this year.
I intend to deliver a budget amendment to more specifically identify the cost savings that the working group generates. The working group is similar to a successful effort in New York.
Our redesigned system will focus on providing a coordinated system of care that delivers better outcomes, and delivers better value for taxpayers.
It’s also long past time to modernize our antiquated personnel rules in state government.We want to recruit and reward the best people, and ensure that there are incentives in place to encourage employees to be their best.
So this budget includes a proposal to provide state government with greater flexibility in hiring and managing personnel. In addition to a more efficient government, our goal is to achieve savings this year. If the revenue estimates in May are stronger, I would ask the General Assembly to reduce this saving target. We will work collaboratively with state employees to reduce personnel costs in a way that causes the least amount of disruption, avoids significant layoffs and honors the pay increases of the most recent contract. For my part, I am going to start by cutting my own pay by 5% this year.
The General Treasurer and I are working on another innovation — the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank — to put Rhode Islanders back to work, improve our infrastructure, and reduce our demand for energy.
The bank will create a dependable source of capital to complete energy efficiency projects. We will integrate private capital into the mix of existing state funds to ramp up the deployment of clean energy technologies, while at the same time helping to create jobs.
This infrastructure bank — along with the school building authority and full funding for the municipal road and bridge revolving fund – will put people back to work and help our localities keep property taxes stable.
Despite all of our challenges, there’s a lot to love about Rhode Island. We love our neighborhoods, places to eat and shop. We love our beaches and our bay. For my family, a weekend in the summer is never complete without a visit to Sand Hill Cove.
We need more people to experience the things we all love. For too many years, though, we haven’t maximized the effectiveness in our state-funded tourism efforts. Rather than spending the resources in one concentrated way to maximize the bang for our buck, we’ve been sprinkling state-funded tourism dollars among various tourism bureaus around the state.
The time has come to redesign how we market our wonderful state to prospective visitors.
My proposal will restructure our tourism marketing efforts by concentrating resources behind a unified statewide tourism message. I realize that this proposal will cause some initial concern among the local bureaus, and that it is a change from the way we’ve always done it, but let’s work together over the coming months to find a solution. If we do this right, we can supercharge our tourism industry and create thousands of jobs just like other states have and that our families deserve.
The fiscally responsible budget I submit tonight takes a balanced approach to solving our challenges. We started with a nearly $200 million deficit, and we closed it by focusing mainly on spending cuts.
But, we also looked for ways to generate new revenue without imposing broad-based tax increases.
I propose closing a tax loophole on certain real estate transactions. This budget also asks those among us who are most able, to pay a little more. I propose asking those who have second homes worth more than $1 million to pay a modest assessment on those homes. This new revenue source, together with certain other revenue enhancements, is enabling us to invest in creating jobs.
We also have an opportunity now to take advantage of historically low interest rates to restructure some of our outstanding debt. By more actively managing our debt, something other states have done, we will be able to make important investments in job growth to jumpstart our economy.
The funds we will generate through refinancing will not be used to plug a budget hole, but will be part of a long-term plan to jumpstart economic growth and invest in specific economic development programs outlined in the budget.
I look forward to productive discussions and working together in the weeks to come. The truth is the people of Rhode Island are counting on us to because they are struggling and are losing faith in government. They want us to work together and make the right decisions to put Rhode Island on a better path.
I know all of us here tonight are aware of these challenges and want to rise to the occasion. I am asking you to.
Be a part of the team that sparks Rhode Island’s economic comeback. Be a part of the team that restores people’s faith in government by showing that we can get things done. Be a part of the team that restores optimism and confidence in our future. This budget sets forth a path to a Rhode Island full of opportunity, where everyone who works hard has a chance. Now, I know we have a high hill to climb, but let’s start now, and climb it together.
By Elisha Aldrich on March 12, 2015
The Carbon Pricing and Clean Energy Investment Act bill before the General Assembly has two goals. The first is to create a tax on fossil fuels – coal, oil, natural gas, petroleum – during their first point of entry within the state, which would be $15 per ton of carbon dioxide that would be released by the burning fuel.
The second goal is to use the money collected from the tax to set up the Clean Energy Fund. Money from the fund would be used to coordinate and invest in development research and commercialization of different green practices, including energy storage, wind and solar energy, and “other projects that are deemed to be potentially revolutionary breakthroughs in clean energy technology,” as stated by the bill.
Other uses for the Clean Energy Fund would be paying for the administrative costs associated with collecting the tax, funding programs to assist in the installation of clean energy technology, contributing to a green bank in the state, or investing in public transportation. The fund will also provide dividends to households and businesses for the first two months of 2016, in order to avoid financial harm to them because of the carbon price.
Goldstein-Rose stated that the bill presents a unique opportunity for Rhode Island, because it will make the state one of the frontrunners in addressing climate change.
“Rhode Island can be the first state to pass a carbon pricing bill, catalyzing momentum for other states and national legislation to follow – essentially doing what we did for gay marriage, for clean energy,” he said. “We can also make our state a center for clean energy development and sustainable towns, which we’re already starting to do by being the first state to build an offshore wind farm, and which we can go farther with by passing a carbon pricing bill.”
The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Dan McKiernan and Sen. Walter Felag,. Felag said the bill will be heard in Senate Finance at the end of April.
The information session to be held on Saturday is hosted by the Rhode Island Carbon Pricing and Green Jobs Coalition, which is a group dedicated to making Rhode Island a national leader in reducing carbon pollution, as well as strengthening the local economy. It will take place at 1 pm in room 106 of the Urban Environmental Laboratory at 135 Angell Street in Providence.
Posted in Environment, Featured, Rhode Island, State House | Tagged Elisha Kay Aldrich, Environment, government, J. Timmons Roberts, legislation, Solomon Goldstein-Rose, sustainability, Walter Felag Jr. | 1 Response
By Steven Brown on March 12, 2015
The ACLU of Rhode Island has been a constant presence at the State House this legislative session as we testify, monitor, and weigh in on hundreds of bills that could impact your civil liberties. Now, we need your help.
Whether you want to repeal voter ID, end the school-to-prison pipeline, or strengthen privacy rights, your legislators need to hear from you. Join us this Saturday, March 14, at 2 p.m. at the Rochambeau Library for the ACLU Advocate Training Day to learn how you can become an effective advocate for civil liberties and play an active role at the State House. Our policy associate and other local advocates will offer advice on tracking legislation, crafting arguments, meeting with your legislators, writing and delivering testimony, and working with fellow advocates. Afterwards, you’ll be ready to make your voice heard at the State House and to protect the civil liberties of all Rhode Islanders.
The ACLU Advocate Training Day is free and open to all, and no experience is needed to attend. Join us in making Rhode Island a better place for all.
Posted in Activism, Civil Rights / Liberties, Events, Featured, Politics, Providence, State House | Tagged ACLU, Civil Rights / Liberties, General Assembly, Rhode Island, state house | Leave a response
By Steve Ahlquist on March 12, 2015
Rep. Chris Blazejewski introduced House bill 5650, sparking a debate in the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee hearing as to whether or not juvenile defendants should be subject to mandatory life sentences without parole. The American Bar Association, Amnesty International and the ACLU are just three highly regarded civil and human rights groups who have called for an end to this practice.
Juan Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, said, in a recent report, “The vast majority of states have taken note of the international human rights requirements regarding life imprisonment of children without the possibility of release.” And, “life sentences or sentences of an extreme length have a disproportionate impact on children and cause physical and psychological harm that amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.”
According to Amnesty International, in written testimony submitted at the hearing, “The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for crimes committed by people under 18 years of age. All countries except the USA and South Sudan have ratified the Convention. Somalia just recently ratified the treaty in January 2015 and South Sudan has already begun the process to become a signatory to the Convention.”
What a terrible place for the United States to find itself as an outlier.
The United States Supreme Court has been evolving on this issue for a decade. In 2012 the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that “mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders,” yet stopped short of issuing a blanket ban. Judges are simply required to consider the defendant’s youth and the nature of the crime when determining a sentence.
Rhode Island has a historical claim to judicial sentencing temperance, having eradicated the death penalty in 1852. Yet on the issue of life sentences for juvenile defendants, our state is lagging behind. Al Jazeera reports that, “Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have banned life sentences without parole for juveniles.”
Recognizing the potential for rehabilitation, especially of juvenile defendants, is one of the hallmarks of a civilized society. Attorneys general in other states are getting behind similar legislation, according to testimony from Steve Brown of the RI ACLU, yet Attorney General Peter Kilmartin opposes the bill currently under consideration.
Speaking against the bill, Joee Lindbeck, who heads the AG’s Legislation and Policy Unit, brought up the specter of Craig Price, who committed four murders in 1989 while under the age of 16. Reacting to Price’s crimes, the General Assembly “passed a law in 1990 to allow the state to prosecute as an adult any juvenile charged with a capital offense.” Lindbeck maintains that keeping this law on the books prepares us for “worst-case scenarios” like Price.
From a prosecutors point of view, having draconian sentences on the books is important because of the leverage they provide. A kid who committed a crime is much more willing forgo a trial and plead out to a 10 or 20 year sentence if the AG has the power to potentially ask for life without parole. This brings up a question: Should we be empowering the AG with tools to intimidate, or tools to render justice?
Threatening defendants with life destroying sentences seems to save money in the short term, but in long run we have learned that such “cheap justice” is neither.
Posted in Civil Rights / Liberties, Criminal Justice, Featured, State House, Youth | Tagged ACLU, American Bar Association, amnesty international, Chris Blazejewski, Craig Price, Death Penalty, House Judiciary Committee, Joee Lindbeck, Juan Méndez, Miller v. Alabama, Peter Kilmartin, RI ACLU, Somalia, South Sudan, steve brown, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, united nations | 2 Responses
By transportprovidence on March 12, 2015
Atty. Gen. Kilmartn’s recent proposal that vehicular homicide should bring a minimum 30-year sentence strikes me as a bad idea.
People who kill with their cars while intoxicated deserve severe punishment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that higher sentencing guidelines are what will work to prevent deaths. If tomorrow it was announced that I could watch a drunk driver be dangled by his or her ankles from the top of the Superman Building, I’d be out at Kennedy Plaza with my lawn chair to see the debacle. As cathartic as that might be, though, there are better ways to approach the issue.
The Ocean State was a leader in ending the death penalty, and we should recognize as a culture that severe punishment is less important than consistent punishment.
Rhode Island suffers from a serious DUI problem. It’s ahead of its New England peers–in the sense of more drunk driving, not better policy–and needs desperately to do something about the problem. But the U.S. approach of using prison to deal with any social problem is a failed one that we should reconsider. The places that lead on road safety don’t share our views about imprisonment.
In the Netherlands, which boasts some of the safest streets in the world, prison is a last resort. The Netherlands impounds people’s cars much more easily and for much longer periods of time than the U.S. The response to driver offenses is swift and sure in the Netherlands, to be sure: people lose their licenses for much less than vehicular homicide there. What would be considered baseline Rhode Island driving technique–speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians–is considered a serious breech of public safety in the Netherlands and not tolerated. People are arrested for such behavior, but from there the focus is less on competing for longer and longer sentences than it is on keeping irresponsible people away from cars, fining them for their behavior, and moving on.
The Netherlands has such a low imprisonment rate that it’s renting out empty cells to inmates from other Scandinavian countries.
Motor vehicle fatalities declined from 65 in 2013 to 52 in 2014, all time low but still 52 fatalities too many.
— AG Kilmartin (@AGKilmartin) March 11, 2015
I have nothing but respect for Atty. Gen. Kilmartin’s proposal. In Rhode Island, many of our lawmakers treat DUIs as a joke. So much is this the case that we made it to Last Week Tonight for the flippant and disrespectful behavior of State Senators Ciccone and Ruggiero related to a drunk driving and shoplifting incident:
What should Rhode Island do about drunk or otherwise impaired driving?
- Cars should be impounded with a very streamlined process. Driving is a privilege. You abuse it, you lose it. And that doesn’t mean just for homicide, but for offenses like speeding, distracted driving, and failing to yield to vulnerable users. One of the things that strikes me as odd about the 30-year minimum is that it is tied to the act of actually killing someone–a sort of flip of the coin. More modest but more consistent punishments for the act of bad driving itself–with or without killing someone–is more important. A person who doesn’t already consider the 15-year minimum enough to deter their behavior isn’t going to be further deterred by an extra 15 years. The odds have to be increased that a person will be caught, rather than focusing on extreme punishments for the rare cases where someone is caught.
- Drivers should be able to lose their licenses very easily, and for very long-term periods of time. A second moving violation (after first receiving a ticket) should result in temporary license suspension of one year. A homicide or serious injury should result in permanent license revocation. Any incident of intoxicated driving–with or without injury–should also result in permanent loss of one’s license. Failing to submit to a breath test should mean permanent loss of one’s license.
- The state should use suspended sentencing as a means to enforce behavior of convicts, but should focus on placing irresponsible drivers in jobs and treatment and keeping them away from cars. A focus that is less about prison should not mean that people who are irresponsible can’t get prison time. It just should mean that it isn’t our go-to, even for vehicular homicide. In many European countries, even first degree murder is treated with lighter sentences than what the Atty. Gen. is suggesting for vehicular homicide, and while I agree with him that driving drunk is a conscious choice on par with other types of murder, I think we should think carefully about the fact that these other countries are succeeding in every measure of crime prevention that we’re failing at. It’s not about being soft, it’s about being effective.
- The state should make it illegal to operate a bar in a driver-dominated location. I hope that Rhode Island MADD will join the call to fix this design problem. The places which are most successful at combating drunk driving are those which focus on density, transit, walking, and biking as primary means of moving around. Bars do not belong on the sides of fast roads or in low density areas unless they are providing a specific non-motorized way of getting around. Rural or exurban bars can meet this requirement by helping to fund shuttles or safe biking routes for their patrons–this should be a requirement of any liquor license. Municipalities should start placing parking maximums instead of parking minimums on bars–because only a few designated drivers should be expected to arrive by car. In the Netherlands, people drink or even use decriminalized marijuana and then go home safely, because the Dutch don’t build their environments with cars as the first and last option–they’re just as obnoxious as any bar-goer in Warwick but no one is hurt. The owners of bars may respond that providing non-car transportation costs too much in their locations–if that is the case, then they should relocate to denser areas where provision of other options is easier. No exceptions.
- RIPTA should also be receiving additional funding to extend its hours late into the night the way the MBTA, MTA, and SEPTA do.
- I’ve reported in the past on a tip from a RIDOT safety worker who told me that many municipalities do a poor job of enforcing DUI laws because of the amount of time it takes to book offenders for this offense–five hours. The perception in many locations is that violent crime is a higher concern, but cars actually kill far more people than guns in the United States. The Atty. Gen. should work with communities to find out how this institutionalized bias away from DUI enforcement can be fixed.
We live in a culture that sees prison as the first solution to any criminal problem. Prison is a tool, and should be available as an option for offenders who cannot be controlled by other means. But the design of our communities, the consistency of our enforcement, the standards we have for our drivers’ licenses, and other factors are far more important than blustering over large sentences. I encourage Atty. Gen. Kilmartin to take a different route to solving this serious problem.
By Steven Brown on March 11, 2015
Despite decades of progress toward gender equality, in Rhode Island today gender-exclusive student events that are specifically held for girls or boys with the active support of elementary schools help to perpetuate blatant gender stereotypes. Almost invariably, the girls’ events, organized by parent-teacher groups and publicized by the schools, are dances, with another gender-stereotyped event, like a pajama party, occasionally taking their place. By contrast, and just as invariably, the events arranged for boys involve almost anything but dancing, are wide-ranging, and focus on purportedly male-friendly activities like sports and arcade games.
That’s the finding of a report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, based on a survey of 40 elementary schools in 16 school districts. The report, “Girls Just Wanna Darn Socks,” states that the schools’ promotion of these parent teacher association (PTA) and parent teacher organization (PTO) activities reinforces outdated stereotypes of gender roles in Rhode Island’s youngest residents.
“Rhode Island girls, routinely sent to dances, are fed the same tired stereotype that they must look pretty and be social, while boys are given access to magic and science shows and physical activities – their own and others – like PawSox games and trampoline parks,” the report stated. Through open records requests, the ACLU found that during the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, 80% of “girls’ events” at the 40 elementary schools studied were dances. The few other events held for girls generally encompassed pajama parties, yoga nights, and blanket sewing. The activities for boys, on the other hand, were much more diverse, and included attendance at baseball and hockey games, science and magic shows, and outings for laser tag, bowling, and arcade games.
Although these extracurricular activities are hosted by PTAs and PTOs, the ACLU’s investigation found that the schools regularly promote these events in various ways, through posting on school websites, use of school listservs, and by otherwise offering the parent-teacher groups special access to school resources to promote the events. The report argues that the use of these school resources to support such stereotypical and discriminatory events undermines Title IX, the landmark anti-discrimination law that has helped break down the barriers between girls’ and boys’ education over the past four decades.
Great progress has been made by women in education in the years since Title IX’s passage, but girls and women continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. By supporting these gender-exclusive events, the ACLU report argues, “Rhode Island’s schools, however unintentionally, support the sort of stereotyping that helped discourage girls from those fields for so long.”
The report concludes:
In the 21st Century, however, it should be simply unacceptable for public schools to be fostering the notion that girls belong at formal dances, yoga or sewing while boys should be offered baseball games, bowling and science. Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella; many enjoy participating in and attending sports events and playing arcade games. Similarly, not every boy makes sports his obsessive pastime or cringes at the thought of going to a dance. Such gender-segregated programming – based on gender stereotypes about the talents, capacities and preferences of children – is harmful to boys and girls alike, and fails in any meaningful way to provide “reasonably comparable” experiences.
The report called on school equal opportunity officers to halt school support of these types of discriminatory extracurricular events, and instead discuss with PTO/PTAs the need to promote gender-inclusive activities. The ACLU also called on the state Department of Education to intervene by providing guidance to school districts on the illegal nature of their promotion of these gender-discriminatory activities. The General Assembly enacted a law in 2013 authorizing gender-exclusive extracurricular activities, but required them to be “reasonably comparable.” The ACLU and numerous women’s rights groups opposed the legislation.
By Steve Ahlquist on March 11, 2015
The Rhode Island House Finance Committee met to discuss Representative Patricia Morgan’s bill to eliminate HealthSourceRI, and turn the operations of our health care exchange over to the federal government. All the sponsors of House Bill 5329 are Republicans, including Morgan, Dan Reilly, Antonio Giarusso, Justin Price, and Michael Chippendale.
Normally a bill like this wouldn’t attract much attention. It would be dismissed as a cynical statement against a successful social welfare program by right-wing ideologues. But Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a nominal Democrat, has several times suggested that HealthSourceRI is too expensive and that turning the exchange over to the federal government, something that no state has ever done, might be an option.
As Rep. Morgan explained her bill and her reasoning for it, she alluded to the Speaker’s interest, suggesting that the elimination of HealthSource RI might free up money for Mattiello’s pet project of eliminating the state’s social security income tax. Morgan also mentioned that her bill might find the money required to pay for all day kindergarten, a pet project of Senate President Paiva-Weed, perhaps foreshadowing the compromise that will will see both pet projects come to fruition.
As I mentioned, no state with a functioning, successful state-run health care exchange has shut theirs down. So Rhode Island, in choosing such a path, would be charting unknown and uncertain waters. When Rep Deborah Ruggiero asked Morgan, “What is the cost to the state to return [the health exchange] back to the government?” Rep Morgan seemed uncertain, then replied, “Nothing.”
Ruggiero countered that in her discussion with HealthSourceRI director Anya Rader Wallack, the cost to the state to turn over the exchange is actually “somewhere around $10 million.” In addition, said Ruggiero, “we lose control, obviously, because we no longer have the healthcare exchange in our own state,” a point to which Morgan later replied, “Control is overrated.”
Morgan was also unsure of just how many Rhode Islanders benefit from the exchange, claiming that, “on the website it says that 25,000 are actually paying for their insurance through HealthSourceRI,” but when I looked, the number is actually over 30,000.
Right now, the United States Supreme Court is in the middle of deciding King v. Burwell. If the court decides for King, federal subsidies to those states that don’t have their own health insurance exchanges will vanish. According to US News and World Reports, “The likely scenario is a partial or total market “death spiral” like those, respectively, in New York and Kentucky in the 1990s.” Jumping to the federal exchange now seems pretty stupid in light of the uncertainty regarding the Supreme Court decision, but Morgan isn’t concerned.
“In addressing that, I can tell you that the Obama administration is very confident that they will prevail,” said Morgan, “They have four justices already, they only need one more, to win.” That’s pretty weak sauce, since the other side could say exactly the same thing.
Morgan then went the full Scalia when she said, “On the other hand, if King prevails, and the subsidies are only available to the states, I know from reading, and hearing, that the Republicans in Congress are already working on a fix so that people can continue to get health insurance.”
I have to say, when Morgan made this comment, I looked around the room, wondering if anyone else thought her statement was as darkly comic as I thought it was. No one seemed to.
Compare Morgan’s statement with this exchange in the Supreme Court when oral arguments were heard in King v. Burwell:
Justice Scalia: What about – – what about Congress? You really think Congress is just going to sit there while – – while all of these disastrous consequences ensue. I mean, how often have we come out with a decision such as the – – you know, the bankruptcy court decision? Congress adjusts, enacts a statute that – – that takes care of the problem. It happens all the time. Why is that not going to happen here?
General Verrilli: Well, this Congress, Your Honor, I – – I – –
At least people had the decency to laugh out loud at Scalia’s naiveté. Morgan was actually taken seriously.
Meanwhile, House Finance Chair, Raymond Gallison, promises that there will be full hearings along with full fact finding inquiries conducted before any decision is made on the future of HealthSourceRI.
Posted in Featured, Health Care, National News, Republicans, State House | Tagged Antonio Giarusso, Anya Rader Wallack, Daniel reilly, Deborah Ruggiero, healthsourceRI, Justin price, King v. Burwell, Michael Chippendale, Nicholas Mattiello, patricia morgan, Raymond Gallison, Supreme Court | 3 Responses
By Bob Plain on March 11, 2015
In February Blackstone Valley Community Health Care employees organized a picket in hopes of winning a better wage and working conditions in contract negotiations. One month later the SEIU1199 nurses, assistants, hygienists and others are celebrating their new contract which they accepted today by a unanimous vote today, winning their largest pay increase since organizing a labor union in 2004.
“We were inspired to see fast food workers from around the country fighting for $15 an hour. We thought, if they can go for it, we can too,” said Maria Zigas, a patient information coordinator at BVCHC. “So we stood together and we won a really great contract so that we can provide for our families with dignified wages. Every worker should join the Fight for $15.”
According to an SEIU press release, “the vast majority of employees to over $15/hour by January 2017, as well dramatically reducing the cost of family health care for the lowest paid workers.”
The BVCHC employees also negotiated for tuition assistance, increased power in creating their own schedules and more flexibility in using sick days.
BVCHC has been expanding recently, capitalizing on the increase in business the health care provider has received under Obamacare. To meet demand the company has constructed of a new building in downtown Pawtucket for nearly $7 million and purchased another building for $1.4 million in late 2014. The number of patients served by the company has increased to over 15,000.
By Bob Plain on March 11, 2015
Representative Cale Keable, chairman of the House judiciary committee and a landlord in Burrillville, damaged his tenant’s door in an attempt to gain entry against the tenants’ will.
“The incident that occurred over the weekend between my wife and I and one of our tenants is regrettable,” Keable said in a prepared statement. He declined to speak directly to a reporter about the incident.
The tenant, Kerri Pratt, said she asked Burrillville Police for a restraining order and for breaking and entering charges to be filed against Keable and his wife, who was also there. “I want criminal charges brought against him,” she said. “Because of who he is no one will do anything about it.”
Pratt’s teenage son caught the incident on video:
“When the door would not open, I believed it was jammed,” Keable said in his statement. “Once I realized what had occurred, I pulled the door closed and contacted the Burrillville Police Department.” In the video he says, “I leaned into it by mistake.” The teenager mocks Keable for this assertion on video.
At one point in the video, Keable’s wife says to the minor, “You have to know your mother is mentally ill?”
Keable, a Democrat and a member of Speaker Nick Mattiello’s leadership team, says he sent a letter to Pratt asking to show the apartment on Saturday because she is moving. Pratt says she told Keable’s wife in a text that Saturday was unworkable for her.
“I have no problem with her showing the apartment, but I need to be home,” Pratt said. I have two young children, they can’t come in when they are there alone.”
Pratt said Keable and his wife have “are bullies.” Keable said, “My wife handles most interactions with our tenants. I accompanied her Saturday morning because we were expecting difficulty based on two years of incidents where access to Ms. Pratt’s apartment has been difficult for repairs and mandated fire inspections.”
Keable said, “Going forward, I will rely on my attorneys to ensure Ms. Pratt’s move is accomplished as amicably as possible and do not plan on showing the apartment to prospective tenants until she moves out at the end of the month.”
Burillville police declined to immediately comment.
By Jonathan Jacobs on March 11, 2015
The state’s economy is stagnant. The government is shadowed by reports of corruption. The physical landscape is only just showing signs of
what lies beneath the greying piles of snow and ice, and revealing an infrastructure pockmarked by craters in the roads and residual grit and slime from salt and sand trucks that dominate the narrow roads. Has the last year of blame and struggle and polarization and polar vortex broken the spirit of our small and weary state? Or does Rhode Island have what it takes to rekindle the dying embers of hope?
It is so much easier to be cynical than to be hopeful. Cynicism is immediately gratifying and triggers a feeling of superiority. It also hedges one’s emotional wager. If one proclaims expectations of only the worst, one is rarely disappointed. Rhode Islanders have become cynical. All too often, when sifting through the opinion section of a local news source, one reads a commentary on an instance of corruption, written with the air of “Expect nothing less in Rhode Island,” and “Of course so and so did such and such. That’s Rhode Island for you. And nothing will ever change.” It is not long before even those who have demonstrated intentions and actions that are altruistic, honest attempts at being good and true are labeled as foolish, false, and doomed.
This dark cloud is not without merit. The chicken and egg debate of cause versus symptom aside, Little Rhody has more than its share of stains on our white collar. Most recently, the light shed on Gordon Fox’s poor moral and legal decisions has forced the deep-rooted shoots of contempt to grow upward through the frozen ground and the mountains of snow blanketing the state. This comes on the heels of a state representative copping to tens of thousands of dollars in misappropriated campaign finances, a twice-convicted felon running for a third term as the capital city’s mayor, vicious primary and general election cycles, the timeline of the 38 Studios fiasco … the list goes on and on.
Some readers will remember the 1980s. The eighties were also a time of economic decline; of manufacturing abandoning the state for elsewhere and recession teetering on the brink of depression. In 1982, there was an ad that ran on television for Rhode Island: The Biggest Little State in the Union. Some may remember the jingle and the miniature hot-air balloons rising in front of the State House. It was a dedicated campaign to try and instill pride in Rhode Island. It was schlocky. It was self-contradictory. But it was hopeful. The most interesting feature of the ad campaign was that it only ran in Rhode Island. It was not a national tourism commercial. It was an attempt to remind Rhode Islanders how great Rhode Island is. Or, at the very least, remind them to laugh at themselves and spend some Rhode Island dollars in Rhode Island, on Rhode Island-made goods.
This is not to suggest a repeat of the ‘Biggest Little State’ campaign. However, even self-deprecating humor is more productive and less poisonous than angry contempt. Moreover, pure sneering negativity, of the sort spreading like a virus through the social media networks that connect people to sources of news, and subsequent spite, faster than ever before, passes down through generations and hurts the chances of anything ever changing. Repeating the idea that nothing ever changes in Rhode Island, reinforces the probability that nothing ever changes. It is the textbook example of the self-fulfilling prophesy. By passing down a misanthropic and forlorn image of Rhode Island through generations, cynicism is dooming the state.
The economy is not Rhode Island.
The government is not Rhode Island.
The potholes are not Rhode Island.
The people are Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island state flag does not bear the motto “money.” The license plates (nope, none of them) are embossed with the phrase “the know-a-guy state.” The Ocean State flies a flag with the state motto: Hope. Should the state change the flag, change the license plates, or should the state – the people of Rhode Island – change their prevailing sentiment from one of resignation to the worst case scenarios, to one that assumes the overwhelming power of the ocean and floods the population with hope?
A population filled with hope is a population that can attract success, retain success, and create success. While Rhode Islanders most certainly disagree on their definitions of success, most can agree that what Rhode Island is currently experiencing could be better. Yet, the rhetoric reported by so many says it simply cannot. A people who can hope are a people who can also dream, innovate, and change the course of their own history.
“another tradition to politics, a tradition (of politics) that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Rhode Islanders have a right to be upset with politics, the economy, the weather, and each other. But so too do citizens have a choice to either wallow in self-indulgent blame and acceptance of powerlessness, or seize hold of a collective hope for an environment in which generations to come can thrive and proudly call home. Whether one supports the President or detests him, his point in the quoted passage with regard to having a stake in one another is what can give Rhode Islanders hope. What binds us together as citizens of this smallest of states is greater than what drives us apart. There will always be strife, disagreement, crime, and disappointment in Rhode Island. Yet, just as the state’s collective history has built its character, it is how people react to such adversity that reveals character.
Let our character be bound together not by defeatism, but by hope.
By Bob Plain on March 10, 2015
The state Senate’s annual Economic Summit this year focuses on “connecting workforce and higher education,” and is being held Wednsday, 5 to 7:30pm, at Rhode Island College, says a State House press release.
“Business leaders have spoken of the difficulty finding workers with the skills needed to fill job vacancies,” the press release says, “and the Senate has made improving the education and workforce development systems to address the skills gap a priority.”
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriulo will open the forum with remarks. “The forum will include a panel discussion among business leaders, including John Muggeridge, vice president of public affairs for Fidelity Investments, Michal Ryan, vice president of government affairs for National Grid, and William McCourt, executive director of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association,” says the press release.
There will also be two keynote addresses from “nationally renowned leaders in higher education” Joshua Wyner, of the Aspen Institute, and Cheryl Orr Dixon, former senior vice president and chief of staff for Complete College America.
Wyner, according to a bio provided by the State House, has worked on the “Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which strives to reward and shine a spotlight on community colleges that deliver exceptional student results and stimulate replication of successful campus practices, and the New College Leadership Project, which works to strengthen efforts to recruit and professionally develop college presidents who are driven by – and capable of – substantially improving student success.”
Dixon’s bio says she “has more than 25 years of experience in public policy, advocacy and leading initiatives to improve college preparation, access and success.” She has a singular mission, according to her bio: “to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with college degrees and to close attainment gaps for underrepresented populations.”
The Summit is open to the public, in room 110 of Alger Hall at RIC, 5:00-7:30pm, Wednesday, March 11.
By Steve Ahlquist on March 10, 2015
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) by Richard Rothstein titled The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of its Troubles puts some of the recent brouhaha over RhodeMap RI into keen perspective. We all know the story of the police murder of Mike Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO, the high profile demonstrations from the black community in response, and the heavy handed, militarized police reaction. The US Department of Justice released a shocking report of systemic racism and economic exploitation of the black citizens of Ferguson, but the report from the EPI provides insight into how a racially segregated, predominantly low income African-American community like Ferguson can develop in the first place.
Rothstein begins by blaming racial prejudice and racist public policy. “No doubt, private prejudice and suburbanites’ desire for homogenous affluent environments contributed to segregation in St. Louis and other metropolitan areas. But these explanations are too partial, and too conveniently excuse public policy from responsibility. A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises.”
It’s important to understand that the policies Rothstein exposes in his report are not located only in the immediate area of St. Louis, these policies existed across the nation, and even where such policies no longer officially exist, their effects can still be felt today. These policies, according to Rothstein, include:
- Government subsidies for white suburban developments that excluded blacks, depriving African Americans of the 20th century home-equity driven wealth gains reaped by whites;
- Denial of adequate municipal services in ghettos, leading to slum conditions in black neighborhoods that reinforced whites’ conviction that “blacks” and “slums” were synonymous;
- Boundary, annexation, spot zoning, and municipal incorporation policies designed to remove African Americans from residence near white neighborhoods, or to prevent them from establishing residence near white neighborhoods;
- Urban renewal and redevelopment programs to shift ghetto locations, in the guise of cleaning up those slums.
RhodeMap RI was developed with an understanding of many of the problems Rothstein cites. The public review draft of RhodeMap has a section at the end concentrating on social equity that explicitly called on the plan to “implement a new economic model based on equity, fairness, and opportunity.” It is this part of the plan, the part that seeks to undo the kind of problems that plague communities of color like Ferguson, that seems to most bother RhodeMap opponents.
Rothstein takes a shot at offering possible solutions towards the end of his report, writing, “Many practical programs and regulatory strategies can address problems of Ferguson and similar communities nationwide.” For instance, governments might “require even outer-ring suburbs to repeal zoning ordinances that prohibit construction of housing that lower- or moderate-income residents – white or black – can afford. Going further, we could require every community to permit development of housing to accommodate a ‘fair share’ of its region’s low-income and minority populations…”
- Racial injustice vs. property rights: Ferguson and RhodeMap
- Gary Morse stokes suburban fears with racially charged half truths
- Setting the record straight on RhodeMapRI
- RhodeMapRI opponents fear future plans, affordable housing
Rhode Island has something of a fair share law (as part of the Rhode Island Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004 and Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act (Rhode Island General Laws 45-53)) which sets a 10% goal for each of the state’s cities and town to meet—the goal being that 10% of the units in a town are “affordable.”
Most of the pushback against RhodeMap comes from communities that have very little affordable rental housing and are predominantly White. Legislation to undermine existing laws requiring cities and towns to plan for affordable housing is part of that pushback , such as House Bill 5643, which would “eliminate the mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in their comprehensive plans” or House Bill 5644 which “would remove the mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in their comprehensive plans and would provide an opt-out provision regarding any provision in the state guide plan regarding affordable housing and any related land use provisions” are naked attempts to keep affordable housing, and those who need it, out of their communities.
The legislators who are introducing and supporting the bills are all Republicans, or in one case an “Independent” representing primarily suburban and rural communities like Richmond (Note: part of Rep. Justin Price’s district), West Greenwich (part of Rep. Sherry Robert’s district) Coventry, Hopkinton, Charlestown, Portsmouth, Exeter and East Greenwich. Note that Richmond and West Greenwich have made “no progress” and East Greenwich has made “no significant progress” in meeting the 10% goal.
Undoing the damage of decades of racist housing policy and preventing future Fergusons requires a plan. RhodeMap RI isn’t quite that plan, it’s more a collection of guidelines to help communities develop a plan, but it’s a good step in the right direction. Those opposed to RhodeMap like to put on their “free market” hats and declare that any government intervention into housing is some sort of fascist violation of property rights. However, racially segregated housing is the product of just the kind of government sponsored social engineering that RhodeMap opponents complain of, and many of those opponents have also waged fights to prevent construction of affordable rental units in places such as Barrington and East Greenwich.
To be consistent these defenders of the free market should be calling for a repeal of all zoning restrictions in their communities, but of course they will not. Instead, they will zealously guard the status quo by defending zoning laws that the prevent construction of low income housing too close to their safe suburban enclaves. Opponents of RhodeMap object to being called racists, but when their claims of defending property rights are not equally applied to property owners who want to build affordable housing on their land, what else are we to think?
Posted in cities and towns, Class Warfare, Featured, Housing, National News, Race & Racism | Tagged affordable housing, barrington, Charlestown, coventry, east greenwich, Economic Policy institute, EPI, exeter, fair share law, ferguson, Hopkinton, Justin price, Mike Brown, portsmouth, Rhode Island Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004, Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, RhodeMap, Richard Rothstein, Richmond, Sherry Roberts, St. Louis, US Department of Justice, West greenwich | 6 Responses
By Meghan Kallman on March 10, 2015
Last week I discussed Gordon Fox’s guilty plea for bribery, fraud, and filing a false tax return with students in my introductory sociology class at the men’s medium prison. Their reactions were immediate and articulate: one indignantly remarked that he himself had stolen a great deal less money than the former speaker, and yet was serving a longer prison term. Where, he wanted to know, was the justice in that?
“You might expect stealing from a guy like me,” he said, baring his arms covered with tattoos. But Gordon Fox had an extra responsibility to behave ethically, as an elected representative who specifically undertook to safeguard the common good.
Much data has shown that rule of law applies differently to different groups of people. One need only read the New York Times’ coverage of Ferguson, or Michelle Alexander’s award-winning book, should one need convincing. While this is deplorable everywhere it occurs, my student’s point was straightforward: that those who we elect to care for the collective should be held to a higher standard of behavior, not a lower one.
Rhode Island has been the laughingstock of the country for well over a century for our unwillingness confront political corruption. If there was any doubt as to the need for reinstating the state ethics commission’s authority (famously dismantled in 2009), one might think such doubt would be assuaged by this most recent display of selfishness and disregard for Rhode Islanders, our tax dollars, and our intelligence.
We need more than Governor Raimondo’s milquetoast pro-forma comment that, “the situation is unacceptable” or current Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s lackluster statement that he is “disappointed.” We need meaningful action from our leadership. Revisiting the ethics commission would be a good start. A real campaign finance bill would also help. We need for everyday Rhode Islanders to do more than wring their hands and go back to work.
More than that though, our leadership must understand—not just claim to understand—that holding public office is a privilege. Like being a parent or a teacher, it means the onus is always on you to be the “good guy.” You are never off the hook.
Former Speaker Fox should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. His behavior is an insult to all of us who work hard to make Rhode Island a good home and a good example.
By Steve Ahlquist on March 9, 2015
Governor Gina Raimondo announced her support of bills in the General Assembly that would raise the minimum wage in Rhode Island to $10.10 an hour at a press conference held at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 328 on Silver Spring St. in Providence. The location was chosen because Raimondo’s grandfather helped found the union 77 years ago.
“Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty,” she said, even as she acknowledge that raising the wage to $10.10 won’t be enough. That’s why her budget, to be introduced on Thursday, will be “focused on creating more family-supporting jobs.”
Activists from the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC United RI) were present at the press conference and encouraged by the Governor’s support, but “they are also arguing for an increase in the wage of tipped workers who have worked without an increase in base pay for more than two decades,” according to their literature.
In an apparent nod to their concerns, Raimondo has tasked the new head of the RI Department of Labor and Training, Scott Jensen, to head up an investigation into “tipped minimum wage enforcement” and review restaurant labor law compliance after the present legislative session ends.
RI AFL-CIO President George Nee said that “we have to keep the momentum going” on raising the minimum wage, citing the “tremendous problem with income inequality.”
Deborah Norman, owner of the restaurants Rue De L’Espoir and Rue Bis said that “as a business owner I support an increase in the minimum wage to at least $10.10. It would not hurt my business in any way,” a very different message from that presented by the Rhode Island Restaurant Hospitality Association at a recent House Labor Committee hearing held to discuss Representative Bennett’s bill.
Posted in Featured, Labor, State House | Tagged david bennett, Deborah Norman, erin lynch, george nee, Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Rhode Island Hospitality Association, ROC United RI, Scott Jensen, UFCW | 1 Response
By Samuel Bell on March 9, 2015
The central contention of the real Democratic movement in Rhode Island is probably this: Since the right-wing Democrats rose to power under Bill Murphy in 2003, their bad economic policies have driven our economy into the ground. But one niggling alternate possibly has always bothered me. It’s boring and wonkish. It’s also easily checked by looking at the data. And it turns out it’s wrong.
To understand what I’m talking about, we need a little background into the theory of the 2008 economic crisis that’s become broadly accepted, especially among economists affiliated with the Democratic Party.* (Republican economists have some alternate theories, most of which I find pretty kooky.) The basic story is that 2008 was an old-school private sector debt crisis. Private sector debt had risen much higher than public sector debt. (The exact figure depends a lot on how you count.) Most of the debt had piled up in the business sector, especially the banking sector, but there was still an awful lot of debt in the hands of ordinary American families, mostly in the form of mortgages. It was a lot of debt.
Since World War 2, one of the main drivers of aggregate demand in the economy had been an accelerating accumulation of private sector debt. In the 1908s, as public policy grew more conservative, this debt accumulation began to accelerate even faster, supported by an expanding housing bubble.
Unfortunately, the private sector can’t accumulate infinite amounts of debt forever.
When the housing bubble partially popped, households realized their debt loads were too high, and they began paying them down. Instead of spending that money on consumer goods, they paid down debt. This resulted in a massive crash in aggregate demand and a big economic crisis. To make things worse, the federal government hadn’t been providing enough stimulus to support growth, and the economy had been relying on private sector debt to prop it up. So the recovery was pretty slow as the private sector continued to pay down its debt without much help from the government. Now that the private sector has started going into debt again, we’re seeing growth pick up a bit.
Anyway, this is important because it explains why a lot of states had particularly bad experiences in the crash. States like Nevada and California (and to a lesser extent Florida and Arizona) had abnormally high debt loads, and their residents paid down an abnormally large amount of debt. They wound up with abnormally bad crashes.
The textbook case is Nevada. In Nevada, households reduced debt by the most of any state, with the average resident paying down $26,300 from the end of 2008 to the end of 2013. For comparison, the US average was $6,100. Naturally, Nevada’s crash was especially severe, arguably the worst in the country. Now that Nevada’s household debt load has come down to about the US average, and Nevada residents have stopped paying down debt abnormally fast, the state economy is doing a lot better.
Private sector debt, then, can have a big effect on state economies. So I’d always wondered: could Rhode Island have had an abnormally bad crash not just because of right-wing policies but also because of an abnormally high private sector debt load?
When a recent Boston Fed paper mentioned state-level debt statistics, I wrote to the author, Mary Burke, and she helpfully pointed me to a dataset maintained by the New York Fed. Apparently, the New York Fed has been keeping statistics on state-by-state household debt, with the full data series starting in 2004 (before then, they didn’t track student loan debt). Now, they don’t necessarily count all household debt, but they do count mortgage, auto, credit card, and student loan debt, which together cover the vast majority of household debt.
For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to treat the sum of those four sources as total household debt, which isn’t 100% correct but comes close. There’s one other niggle about this dataset. It only counts state by state statistics in the forth quarter of each year, so when I cite years, I’m not talking about a yearly average. The 2014 forth quarter numbers aren’t out yet, so the latest data come from more than a year ago and don’t really capture the recent return to household debt accumulation.
So does Rhode Island have an unusually high debt load? And did we have to pay down an unusually large amount? No and no. In fact, Rhode Island’s peak debt of $48,200 was virtually identical to the national average of 48,100. We reduced debt by only $5,500, which is a little less than the $6,100 national average. So debt cannot explain our abnormally bad crash.
What debt can partially explain is the relatively good performances of our neighboring states. Massachusetts and Connecticut have quite high debt loads, but that at least partially reflects their high per capita income. And relative to the 2008 peak debt, the other states in our region reduced their debt loads a lot less than Rhode Island. This helps explain why our region is doing better than the country as a whole. And it helps explain why we lag behind our neighbors.
But it does not explain why we lag the nation. For that, we really need another explanation. And the right-wing economic policies of the conservative Murphy machine fit the data best.
*The extent to which this theory is fully accepted among Democratic economists is a bit complex. Although it started in a school of thought somewhat to the left of the mainstream, most prominent Democratic macroeconomists have adopted some version of it. The basis of this theory was developed to explain the Great Depression by Hyman Minsky, probably the most important founder of the post-Keynesian school of macroeconomic thought. (Minsky has a bit of a Rhode Island connection. He taught at Brown for a while, and he married a Rhode Islander.) It was later fleshed out by other post-Keynesians, who predicted that the ever increasing private debt would lead to a crash. Broadly speaking, the post-Keynesian movement represents the ideological space to the left of the neo-Keynesians and to the right of the socialists, Marxists, and radicals. Although it’s fully contained within the free market tradition, it tends to generate a lot of scorn from neoclassical economists. Since the crash, however, post-Keynesians have been gaining prominence within the Democratic Party’s policy universe. For instance, prominent post-Keynesian economist Stephanie Kelton was recently appointed the chief Democratic economist for the Senate Budget Committee. Some post-Keynesian ideas remain the subject of fierce debate, but the private sector debt theory of the 2008 collapse has been adopted by more mainstream economists, including Gauti Eggertsson, who is probably the most famous macroeconomist in Rhode Island.