Obfuscation In Every Branch of RI's Government.
If you have been paying attention to the discussions on the Governor's newly proposed toll on large commercial vehicles you are witnessing exactly what happens in the late night hours of the budget session. Someone proposes an amendment on the floor, few of the representatives fully understand the implications. Words are thrown back and forth. The bill's sponsor may not be able to fully explain the amendment, yet it passes without further ado. The merging of the two school boards a couple of years ago is the perfect example. Not even seen as a budget item, no one could really answer why the amendment to propose the merger was even considered a budget item, never mind why the merger was being proposed at all. Obfuscation.
So Many Questions. So Few Answers.
Who will be affected by the proposed toll and what federal approval is required?
What were the backroom discussions in the pension settlement and why can't the taxpayer know?
What happened with 38 Studios and why is there no longer an investigation?
What is happening with the PawSox deal and will there be a special session to address it?
Why won't Kevin Flynn provide answers about RhodeMap RI and why is there no movement on the issue in the General Assembly?
No one can know for sure at any given time what is taking place in our government and with the pension settlement, that includes the judicial branch.
We have come to not only expect, but to accept obfuscation in RI's government. Does anyone really know what the Governor is proposing with the new tolls? She herself doesn't seem to know. Or is it just a ruse, in the late part of the General Assembly (GA) session, to get her big ideas passed? Is she simply using the same tactics the GA uses every session, the ones she railed about in DC?
The Quintessential Special Interest Bill.
Think about the time and energy and resources that are spent fighting against our government because taxpayers simply want solutions to our problems, not more special interest favors.
The firefighter arbitration bills (H 5473 and S 533) represent the quintessential special interest bill. The concept is simple. After years of battling with the fire department about platoon structure and work schedules, the RI Supreme Court found that the Town of North Kingstown had the right to manage their own town, including the fire department.
The decision - the town can implement a platoon system and work schedule that fits the needs of the town (keep in mind 2/3 of the country run their fire departments the way North Kingstown wants to run theirs). Speaker Mattiello, the elected official who rents to firefighter unions and accepts campaign contributions across the state, seems to have other ideas. It is readily apparent that the firefighter arbitration bills provide an end run around the RI Supreme Court decision. And these bills are on the fast track for one of those late night horse trades for which the GA is well known.
This in spite of the Mayor of our all-but-bankrupt City of Providence announcing his management decision to use the platoon structure in place in North Kingstown. In both cases, the decision is based on providing significant cost savings for the taxpayer.
More importantly, these bills represent further erosion of our local municipalities' fiscal authority. They give more power to the firefighter unions and significantly reduces the ability of the municipality to reign in the cost of government services. How can passage of these bills be seen as anything other than payback to the firefighter unions for their loyalty? We saw it last year when the GA passed a bill to intervene in the Coventry fire district debacle so it is not unlikely that these bills will pass.
Now, in addition to Providence's call for a change in the platoon system, the Lt. Governor and former Cumberland Mayor, Dan McKee, has written a letter, signed by 13 cities and towns, requesting Mattiello and Paiva Weed to stop the insanity, stop the special interest deals and allow RI cities and towns the ability to manage their finances.
You might ask, well how can the Speaker ignore all of these elected officials who oppose these bills? And how can he interfere when he claimed that, after never having read the WatchdogRI report on the cost of fire service in RI, fire service is a local issue? And how can he pass special interest legislation when he claims that he is not conflicted simply because he rents to the firefighter's union and accepts campaign contributions from firefighter unions across the state? There will be no obfuscation of the issue at the end of the session. One way or another, the answer will become very clear in the next 3 weeks.
Is the Pension Settlement Really A Good Deal For Anyone But the Labor Union Heads?
The pension settlement legislation will be heard in both the House (H 6181) and the Senate (S 876) this week (dates and times listed below). Remember, this settlement agreement is not making the retirees happy at all. Only 1,100 of the 27,000 retirees voted to accept the settlement deal. Judge Taft Carter had 'fairness hearings' and many of the retirees want their day in court, as do many taxpayers.
Taxpayers are concerned over the settlement for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that it will add $300 million to the state's debt and will add more to the municipal debt but allow them to kick the can down the road with the wonderful concept of re-amortization, which really means, mortgaging your children's future. Of even more concern is the potential for this settlement to impact the ability of the GA to make substantive changes to the state-run pension system in the future. The pension benefits are provided in state statute, by the General Assembly, and it would be an injustice if this settlement impairs
future legislators to act on needed pension reform.
While speaking with Dr. William Murphy (read his pension settlement press release here), a taxpayer activist with RI Taxpayers, we talked about some of the open questions:
1 - Speaker Mattiello and President Paiva Weed have satisfied themselves that approval of the pension settlement via legislation won't convert pension benefits into contractual obligations. Presumably, they have received assurances that this will not be the case. Can the taxpayers have the specific source of those assurances and can we have that in writing?
2- Speaker Mattiello and President Paiva Weed obligated the taxpayer to the $100 million 38 Studio debacle without voter approval. Is it constitutional to obligate voters to another $300 million with the pension settlement without voter approval?
3- Speaker Mattiello and President Paiva Weed have done nothing to address the pension assets underperformance compared to the actuarial assumptions. What is the plan to further reform pensions when these accumulated deficits in investment return require revisiting the actuarial assumptions?
And lastly, OSTPA asks why our state government would be so willing to settle when both sides agree that the state has a solid case supporting pension reform's public purpose? Don't the taxpayer and the retiree deserve a final answer on that issue?
Please call or write Speaker Mattiello and Senate President Paiva Weed and tell them the pension settlement is not in the taxpayers' best interest.
Labor leader and Senate Majority Leader Ruggerio has made it clear that he believes the GA should take over management of the City of Providence. Introduced just this past Thursday, bill S 952 is already scheduled for a hearing this Thursday in Senate Finance. The bill would mandate a tax stabilization program upon the city - no property taxes on the I 195 land for the first 4 years and the exemption would be phased out over years 5 through 20. Isn't this something that should be left to the City elected officials since they must live with the financial ramifications of the tax stabilization program?
What's Happening in the GA This Week?
There are a number of bills to be heard this week that would help improve RI's economy. The welfare fraud and abuse bills that prohibit certain purchases with your tax subsidized money - like alcohol, tattoos, gambling, etc - will be heard in both the House and the Senate on Tuesday this week. Perhaps this means there will finally be a vote in both houses on this waste of your tax dollars. There is also a bill that would subject the Coventry fire districts to a maximum tax levy, to which all cities and towns are already subject. It makes sense. The only caveat, all fire districts should be required to live with a maximum tax levy as well.
Assaults against improving RI's education system continue in stereo this week. The bills to require that school committees and town councils approve mayoral academies prior to board of education approval is an overt attempt to stop the alternative school choices parents have demanded. H 5160 and S 87 will both be heard on Wednesday. It will be the second hearing for both bills so that means these bills have legs. Where do you stand on school choice? If you believe students deserve a better education than the one they are currently receiving, let House Education Chairman McNamara know and Senate Education Chairwoman Gallo know that these bills to subvert development of new education alternatives should be squashed. And since they seem to have leadership support, please email Speaker Matteillo and President Paiva Weed.
What's Not On the Calendar?
Where are the Senate RhodeMap RI hearings? More than 1/3 of our cities and towns have serious concerns over the implications of federal intervention into local zoning via the RhodeMap RI plan. The House held hearings the week before last where mostly planners supported keeping themselves employed and therefore supported RhodeMap RI. Others testified to the facts surrounding the commitment made by RI's Division of Planning to HUD that all 39 cities and towns would adhere to federal (HUD) Livability Principles. This cannot be allowed to stand and a hearing on the OPT-OUT legislation must be scheduled in the Senate. After this week, it is expected that there will be only 2 weeks left until the end of the session. At which point, if the OPT-OUT legislation is not passed, cities and towns must amend their comprehensive plans to comport to the Livability Principles provided by HUD and loose all control over local zoning decisions. RhodeMap OPT-OUT provisions must be a priority in the 2015 session if a business friendly environment is the goal for the GA. Please email Speaker Mattiello and President Paiva Weed and tell them the RhodeMap OPT-OUT legislation must come to a full floor vote.
ON THE FLOOR FOR A VOTE.
H 5074 Sub A, a bill to increase the minimum wage for the fourth time in four years, will be on the House floor for a vote on Tuesday. The companion bill, S 194 Sub A, will be on the Senate floor for a vote on Wednesday. A compromise was made to reduce the original $10.10 to $9.60 an hour, so one would presume, the increase will pass. Another nail in RI's economic coffin. Call or email your representative and senator and let them know how you feel about increasing the minimum wage for a fourth time.
Legislative Hearings 6/1/15 - 6/4/15
MON, JUN 1
Senate Finance Chairman DaPonte
Room 313, 3:00 pm
S 876 Makes the changes to the pension system in accordance with the settlement agreement.
Sponsors: DaPonte, Paiva Weed, Ruggerio, Goodwin and McCaffrey
TUE, JUN 2
Room 101, rise (4:30) Chairman Keable
H 5018 Prohibits certain purchases like alcohol, gambling, adult entertainment, guns, tattoos, jewelry, etc. from use with welfare money.
Sponsors: Corvese, Melo, Edwards, Azzinaro and Malik
Senate Finance Chairman DaPonte
Room 211, rise (4:30)
S 47 Prohibits certain purchases like alcohol, gambling, adult entertainment, guns, tattoos, jewelry, etc. from use with welfare money.
Sponsors: Bipartisan - DiPalma, DaPonte, Pearson, Ciccone and Ottiano
S 51 Creates an Inspector General Office to identify fraud, waste and abuse.
Sponsors: Bipartisan - Raptakis, O'Neill, Cote, Sheehan and Kettle
S 108 Gradually makes the separate Coventry fire districts subject to the maximum tax levy, just like municipal governments are required.
Sponsors: Bipartisan - Raptakis and Kettle
S 812 Allows cities and towns to enter agreements to provide shared services.
Sponsors: DiPalma, Coyne, Ottiano, Sosnowski, and Lombardo
WED, JUN 3
House Finance Chairman Gallison
Room 35, rise (4:30)
H 6181 Makes the changes to the pension system in accordance with the settlement agreement.
House Health, Education and Welfare Chairman McNamara
Room 101, rise (4:30)
H 5160 Requires that school committees and town councils approve mayoral academies prior to board of education approval.This bill is being heard for a second time.
Sponsors: Serpa, O'Grady, Casey, Phillips and Melo
Senate Education Chairwoman Gallo
Room 313, rise (4:30)
S 87 Requires that school committees and town councils approve mayoral academies prior to board of education approval. This bill is being heard for a second time.
Sponsors: Satchell, Lombardi, Gallo, Miller and Pearson
Room 212, rise (4:30)
S 761 Sub A Allows the DOL to recover overpayments made due to fraud.
Sponsors: Lombardo, Conley, Lombardi and Archambault
THU, JUN 4
Senate Finance Chairman DaPonte
Room 211, rise (4:30)
S 952 Mandates a tax stabilization policy for the city of Providence as it relates to the I 195 land.
Sponsors: Ruggerio, Goodwin, Miller, Ciccone and Jabour