THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS ON VACATION THIS WEEK BUT THE CRAZINESS CONTINUES
The PawSox owners want $120 million, plus a 30 year property tax exemption from Providence, which translates to more state aid from the taxpayer for the city, plus the land, plus ownership in the parking garage and they think they can move the underground utility infrastructure for $5 million.
Where does the insanity end and where does the job creation begin?
By now you've heard about the incredulous proposal from the PawSox team owners. The proposal is beyond what one might have anticipated given that the cost to the state and the City of Providence is astronomical and the consensus among sports economists is that they don't provide any benefit for the taxpayer. And then consider the complexities recently reported regarding the underground systems that must be addressed. Do you think $5 million is a reasonable estimate to move infrastructure?
The Governor and the elected officials of Providence need to attend to the business of basic economics without the distraction of a proposal that appears to be an enormous burden on the state with very little proven economic benefit.
And more importantly, how much more tax burden can Rhode Islanders take on? Not only will state taxes be needed to fund the $120 million project, Providence will be looking for state subsidies if the city exempts the stadium from property taxes for the next 30 years.
Will Governor Raimondo bring more of the same?
The problem is the Governor has indicated that she is interested in looking at it further. A recent GoLocalProv article quotes a sports economist as saying that in general, consultant reports tend to be wildly optimistic. Since the deal must be done before the legislative session ends, presumably by July 1, that doesn't leave much time for in-depth review and analysis. That is something with which Rhode Islanders are all too familiar and we haven't fared very well because of it. And perceived pressure is on because the owners claim they have four other cities wooing them.
Is moving the PawSox from Pawtucket to Providence a good idea? We think so, if the owners pay for it, you know, like a free market driven decision. If it comes with a cost to taxpayers, think 38 Studios. We urge you to email Speaker Mattiello, Governor Raimondo and Providence City Council President Aponte and tell them to just say "no" to any public funding of the ball stadium.
Last Week at the State House.
Six years later and still no Ethics Jurisdiction over the General Assembly.
For six years, our General Assembly has failed RI citizens when it comes to restoring jurisdiction to the Ethics Commission. Again, think 38 Studios, Gordon Fox, and the myriad other unscrupulous back room deals that have taken place in this state.
All the voters want is the opportunity to reaffirm that, 'yes', we want the Ethics Commission to have jurisdiction over the General Assembly, the same way we wanted it back in 1986 when we voted for it.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary committee debated how the legislation should be drafted, but said they support putting a question to the voters. The issue is whether it should be straight forward like Senator O'Neill's bill (S 56), just as it was in 1986, or should the law be changed to allow a de novo trial (which means more appeals and time in determining the end result of a charge against a GA member) as Senator Sheehan's bill (S 173) proposes. The entire committee, made up of mostly lawyers, supported Senator Sheehan's bill.
But, Jason Grammit, lawyer for the current Ethics Commission, believes that the voters in 1986 said what they wanted and that's all Senator O'Neill's bill is asking for from the General Assembly.
Phil West, author of 'Secrets and Scandals' offered significant insight into the history of ethics (more accurately, the lack of ethics) in our state and why Senator O'Neill's bill is important. Of all of the citizens testifying at the hearing, not one supported Sheehan's bill. They all supported O'Neill's bill, including the lead advocacy group, Common Cause, which has studied this issue for years, as well as Operation Clean Government. It is critical that RI have an Ethics Commission with jurisdiction over the General Assembly. For six years, it has been in limbo.
The Speaker and Senate President need to listen to the electorate and pass Senator O'Neill's bill out of committee and allow a full vote on the House and Senate floor. (You can watch the entire ethics bill hearing on Capitol TV).
We urge you to email Senate Judiciary Chair McCaffrey, Senate President Paiva Weed and Speaker Mattiello and let them know you would like to see Senate bill 56 pass out of committee and come to a full vote on the floor in both the Senate and the House.
Providing Balance of Power Between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch.
Line Item Veto was also heard in the same Senate Judiciary hearing last week. It seems like a small process issue that the Governor should have line item veto. But in reality, it would provide a better balance of power in our representative government.
Forty four other states have some form of line item veto for the Governor. If you agree with providing a better balance between these two branches of government, we urge you to email Chairman McCaffrey and let him know your position on this important issue. And, if you haven't done it yet, consider signing the petition to support Line Item Veto.
Healthcare Bill Opens Door for Possible Subsidies to Illegal Immigrants.
We wrote about bill H 5988 when it was introduced, but we were not clear as to its intent. We have since confirmed that the change in definition of eligible individual to 'resident' in the bill means that it would include illegal immigrants residing in the state. Although this bill only deals with private health insurance, we believe it is opening the door for possible future health insurance subsidies to illegal immigrants on RI's insurance exchange. GoLocalProv wrote on the issue. The Providence Journal ran an article over the weekend that highlighted two illegal immigrants receiving benefits from our government. In the past, the General Assembly turned the other way when evidence was provided that illegals do cost the RI taxpayer.This story, publicly confirms that taxpayers pick up the tab for illegal immigrants in myriad ways. The proposed changes in the Healthcare bill will lead to one more way.
Paying For Services In a City Where You Don't Live?
How do you feel about paying for Providence city streets, even if you're not a Providence taxpayer? For the second year in a row, a bill (S 842) was introduced in the Senate to mandate that the State of RI take over responsibility for certain streets in Providence. That would mean, no matter where you live, you would pay for the maintenance of Providence streets.
Since you already pay the full boat for the Central Falls School district and you bailed out that bankrupt cities' retirement system, perhaps you won't mind paying for the streets in Providence. That's what Senators Pichardo, Goodwin, Ruggerio, Goldin and Miller believe. We urge you to email Senate Finance Chair DaPonte and let him know what you think of everyone contributing to maintain streets in our fair City of Providence.
The Pension Deal That Stinks for Taxpayers. And That's Just the Beginning.
We expect that by now, you have understood the ramifications of the pension settlement deal struck recently with Judge Williams at the helm. It is just one more blow to the taxpayer when it comes to public union benefits. OSTPA wrote an article in GoLocalProv this week on the mounting costs of other retirement benefits that have largely gone unaddressed and the new pension reporting requirements that will basically put the state pension back to where it was before the reform. You can read that here.
A Final Word About RI's Economy.
With the legislative session more than half way over, there have been no real steps taken toward fixing RI's economy, no proposals for structural change. For instance the state looks to cut reimbursements to providers rather than root out fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicaid system, similar to that of Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Yet there are more bills to add to the cost of the state and a judicial pension settlement that adds to the debt for future generations. Time and energy has been spent on some pie in the sky dream stadium and other financially absurd projects like the Providence trolley, these on the heels of the 38 Studios debacle.
Please keep in mind the past mistakes the state has made while selling the taxpayer a bill of goods about their future benefits - the Wickford train station that sits empty, along with its costly 1,100 car parking garage, expansion of an airport where ridership is down 40% in the past 9 years, the Interlink that looks like a ghost train, roads to nowhere like the Greenwood Bridge bypass in Warwick and the road to Quonset that are barely traveled. And of course, the infamous Welcome Center that sits empty. A perfect example of the state of our state.
Well known RI economist, Len Lardaro wrote about the precarious economic climate here in the state. OSTPA calls on the General Assembly and the Governor to heed his warning.
"Clearly, the clock for RI is ticking. We can no longer afford to continue meandering along as we have since we became a post-manufacturing economy in the late 1980s. Our state's economy no longer turns itself around. Furthermore, decades of inaction have prevented RI from adapting to the prerequisites for success in this type of economy. And along the way, we apparently forgot how to institute meaningful structural change."
"Without a substantial number of structural changes, what would have allowed us to continue going nowhere will eventually push us over the edge when our fiscal train wreck finally occurs."
When people say that there is so much to love about RI and so many good things to talk about, they are right. Frankly, that is why the people in this organization volunteer their time. But those wonderful qualities simply cannot compare to the massive burden we carry on our shoulders related to the issues above. And worse, these growing burdens will be passed down to our children.
So, you ask, what's a person to do? There is always the option of sticking your head in the sand and running for President of the United States.