Stenhouse commentary: Legislative Grants – Cheers to 10 Lawmakers, Shame on You

Commentary: CEO Stenhouse congratulates 10 lawmakers who have resisted immoral legislative grants, and rips the public policy culture they perpetuate.

See the video on The Ocean State CurrentStenSpeech3

Good day Rhode Island, I’m Mike Stenhouse with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity welcoming you to our debate series, “What’s really in your best interests?”. Today we’ll explore the recently publicized and controversial topic of legislative grants. Are lawmakers the only people at fault, or is there a larger, more fundamental problem at play?

Legislative grants hand-out your taxpayer dollars to organizations in an arbitrary, yet highly politicized process. When your local Little League or parade receives such a grant, totaling anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, local lawmakers gets the credit for giving away your money … assuming those lawmakers, of course, are in favor with House and Senate leadership – this is where the internal politics comes in.

Much of the media attention has focused on lawmakers who have applied for such grants in a corrupt process to gain favor with voters. In looking at the other side of the coin, however, I’d like to recognize 10 lawmakers in the General Assembly who have not applied for a single legislative grant this year. In alphabetical order, they are:

Rep Greg Constantino, Democrat, Lincoln

Rep Blake Filippi, Independent, New Shoreham

Senator Mark Gee, Republican, East Greenwich

Rep Robert Jacquard, Democrat, Providence

Rep Karen MacBeth, Democrat turned Republican, Cumberland

Rep Brian Newberry, Republican minority leader, North Smithfield

Rep Jeremiah O’Grady, Democrat, Lincoln

Senator Ed O’Neill, Independent turned Republican, Lincoln

Senator John Pagliarini, Republican, Bristol

Rep Sheri Roberts, Republican, West Greenwich

These 10 lawmakers apparently understand the larger “principle” involved here … that the politicization of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars is simply wrong! I applaud these 10 lawmakers and I ask you to thank them next time you see them.

However, while we give “cheers” to these 10, there is another group who roundly deserve “boos”. The problem with legislative grants is not just the waste of your taxpayer dollars, but it’s the culture they perpetuate. It seems more and more, whether it be 38 Studios, a baseball stadium, the Superman building, local groups, and countless other private enterprises … that far too many individuals and businesses are becoming increasingly dependent on government handouts to survive or to boost their profits.

Just go up to Smith Hill some day. See who’s hanging around outside and inside the legislative chambers, listen to who testifies at the various hearings, and if you’re like me you’ll be sickened by sheer number of people up there demanding they get some of your money … as if it’s their right. No wonder some call it a “Den of Thieves”.

I say shame on you if you’re one of these businesses or groups who come begging to Smith Hill, to your legislators, or to your local town and city council with your hands out; whether seeking tax credits, subsidies, loan guarantees, tax stabilization plans, or, yes, a legislative grant.

If you’re one of these beggars, you are as big a problem as the lawmakers who accede to your demands.

You help perpetuate a special-interest culture of corruption

You help create an unfair playing field that distorts the free-market economy.

Why does your organization have any right to my money?

You are not examples of successful American capitalism  … you are byproducts of insider cronyism.

This overly-politicized “money” culture is immoral and it must stop. If we are to reform this corrupt culture, it must start with you … the people of Rhode Island. Our Center has never taken and never will take a single dime of taxpayer money. We depend entirely on the generosity of private individuals and private foundations.

Stop seeking government handouts … instead, start doing it yourself.

Stop supporting special-interest spending policies … instead, start demanding broad-based tax and regulatory cuts that benefit all of us.

Stop cozying up to politicians in order to curry monetary favor from them … instead, start holding them accountable when they politicize your money.

Friends, together, we can stop this corruption that benefits the insiders and hurts the rest of us. Let’s make a point of congratulating these 10 lawmakers … and among ourselves, let’s pledg to build our futures, on our own, so that our prosperity will be based on nothing more than our own hard work and ingenuity.

This how Rhode Island can be returned to prosperity.
In liberty, I remain at your service. This is Mike Stenhouse, good day.

PolitiFact RI Should be Condemned for Ruling on Center’s HPV Statement

Commentary

PolitiFact RI Should be Sentenced to Journalistic Death

Once again twists truth to support pre-determined ruling

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity calls on the Providence Journal to issue a death sentence to its PolitFact RI kangaroo court.

Time after time, in defending the status quo, the so-called “Truth-o-meter” has used tortuously twisted logic and intellectually dishonest rationale as evidence to support  what are obviously pre-determined, biased rulings.

In challenging the corrupt, status quo politics in RI, our Center recently issued the following statement about the burgeoning HPV vaccine mandate debate:

“Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”

In ruling that our Center’s statement was only “Half True”, PolitiFact-RI not only continued its pattern of seeking to find fault with accurate and honest statements, but one of Politifact’s twisted arguments was that a “requirement” is not a “mandate”. In its zeal to condemn our Center, it may not have been clear to the prosecutor-judge-and-jury-all-in-one writers that, PolitiFact’s ruling contradicted its own newspaper headlines.

On July 29, the day before the Center released its statement, the Providence Journal ran this headline at the very top of its front page:  “Rhode Island to mandate HPV vaccine for 7th graders.” The article itself used the word “mandatory” five times.

Further, in reaching its farcical ruling, PolitiFact purposely attempted to deceive our Center. In its initial inquiry to the Center, PolitFact asked:

“We are asking you to provide evidence to support this statement. There are two elements. First, that Rhode Island is the only state to mandate the vaccine. And second, that no other state has mandated the vaccine in the particular way that you describe.”

As the reader can also see in the entire email thread below, there are three important deceptions to point out:

  1. Politifact itself misrepresented the facts in question, as we never claimed that RI was the “only” state to mandate the vaccine. Nice try.
  2. PolitiFact refused to clarify which aspect of our statement they were challenging, despite repeated requests from our end
  3. Similarly, as has also been their pattern, PolitiFact utilized a bait-and-switch tactic; seemingly inquiring about one aspect of the statement, when, in practice, they base their ruling on a contrived interpretation of some other, more obscure aspect (ie, is this a mandate?)

Pointing out other under-handed tactics, Justin Katz further wrote in a related post in The Ocean State Current:

The brief summary under the “Truth-o-meter” reading “Half True” on PolitiFact RI’s main page emphasizes: “Pretty flexible for a despot.”  That’s a reference to the most weaselly part of Mark Reynolds’s quote-unquote analysis, which reads as follows:

[CEO Mike] Stenhouse labels the policies in Virginia and Rhode Island as mandates. But Jason L. Schwartz, an assistant professor at the Yale University School of Public Health, says you can’t call policies with such liberal exemptions mandates. At best, this is an example of the frequent PolitiFact tactic of finding somebody whose opinion the writer prefers and treating that as the authoritative fact.

One wonders, though, what rating PolitiFact RI would give its own newspaper.

As for the PolitiFact rating, there are three relevant premises:

Rhode Island is only the second state to require the HPV vaccine for students. Even PolitiFact admits this is true.

The requirement is a mandate. This is so true that the supposedly objective journalists at PolitiFact RI’s home paper ran it in the most prominent spot on the paper.

The mandate was implemented without public debate.  PolitiFact’s evidence of “public debate”  is that the professional activists at the ACLU managed to send in a written objection and post about it on Facebook.  Well, then.

The fact that PolitiFact considers the awareness of the ACLU to be “public debate” — as opposed to hearings and a floor debate by the public’s elected representatives — is one of two highly disturbing aspects of Reynolds’s essay.  The other is the latitude that it gives to government officials to adjust the truth to suit their needs.  Days after the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity helped drum up actual public debate and concern about the HPV mandate, the Dept. of Health came forward to assert that the exemptions are so broad that its mandates should really be considered something more like suggestions.

The Providence Journal should end this fraudulent, government-propaganda feature.  It distorts public awareness and undermines the political process.

Finally, PolitiFact refused to publish the official statement our Center provided in response to its inquiry:

“The Center stands by its statement. In mishandling the plainly presented content of our research in PolitiFact’s original inquiry to us, combined with PolitiFact’s past pattern of twisting the obvious intent of straightforward statements, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has lost faith in PolitiFact’s mission to “find the truth” and will no longer participate in a process, where one organization plays prosecutor, judge, and jury in often reaching intellectually dishonest rulings.

The vital components of our statement have been validated by the Providence Journal’s own reporting and in your own emails to us. The Center further invites PolitiFact readers to conduct their own independent online search on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.”

PolitiFact has become PolitFarce. The people of Rhode Island deserve an honest debate about major public policy issues, where each side has a forum to openly present their respective points of view. When the resources of  a powerful organization like the Providence Journal are used to serve as self-proclaimed judge, yet consistently, and likely purposely, corrupts what should be a helpful fact-finding process, it’s time for PolitiFact RI to be sentenced to journalistic death.

THE ENTIRE EMAIL THREAD
—— Original Message ——
From: “Mike Stenhouse”
To: “Reynolds, Mark” <mreynold@providencejournal.com>
Cc: “Justin Katz” <jkatz@oceanstatecurrent.com>
Sent: 8/13/2015 7:34:08 AM
Subject: Re[6]: PolitiFact/Providence Journal
Mark – thank your for your responses, however Politifact’s mishandling of our simple statement, combined with the changing nature of your questions to us, has generated serious concern by our Center about PolitiFact’s capacity to conduct a fair investigation. Below is the only statement our Center will make on this matter, and we ask you to publish it – in full – as our official response to your inquiry:
“The Center stands by its statement. In mishandling the plainly presented content of our research in PolitiFact’s original inquiry to us, combined with PolitiFact’s past pattern of twisting the obvious intent of straightforward statements, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has lost faith in PolitiFact’s mission to “find the truth” and will no longer participate in a process, where one organization plays prosecutor, judge, and jury in often reaching intellectually dishonest rulings.
The vital components of our statement have been validated by the Providence Journal’s own reporting and in your own emails to us. The Center further invites PolitiFact readers to conduct their own independent online search on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.”
Mike Stenhouse
CEO
—— Original Message ——
From: “Reynolds, Mark” <mreynold@providencejournal.com>
To: “Mike Stenhouse”
Sent: 8/12/2015 4:22:30 PM
Subject: Re: Re[4]: PolitiFact/Providence Journal
Hi Mike,
The statement we are reviewing and using for the PolitiFact item is the entire statement we sent originally including the part about Virginia.
It’s the following: “Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”
–MR
On Wed, Aug 12, 2015 at 2:16 PM, Mike Stenhouse wrote:
Hi Mark – appreciate the clarification, but you’ve also raised some new questions. May I ask a question in response?
Will Politifact include the aspects of my original statement that you have since determined to be true as part of your ruling, or is Politifact now focused on the “fiat” and “public debate” aspects as the entire basis to make your ruling?
Regards,
Mike Stenhouse
CEO
—— Original Message ——
From: “Reynolds, Mark” <mreynold@providencejournal.com>
To: “Mike Stenhouse”
Sent: 8/12/2015 12:11:48 PM
Subject: Re: Re[2]: PolitiFact/Providence Journal
Dear Mr. Stenhouse,
Wanted to get back to you on my recent outreach and hopefully provide greater clarity than before about where I am at in this process.
As you recall, I saw two elements, or halves, of the statement.
The first part was: “Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine.” I’ve determined that this part of the statement looks like it’s true. The only other state was Virginia. Also, Virginia enacted legislation for requiring the vaccine. It appears Virginia has some opt out provisions. Some say this raises questions about whether the vaccine is really mandated if students can opt out. Do you have any thoughts about that?
So the second part of the statement was: ” … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”
I now have some information on this. It’s clear that Rhode Island did not enact legislation as Virginia did. I’m told that the director of the Department of Health, Michael Fine, adopted a regulation that actually took effect on July 1, 2014.
This regulation called for requiring all students entering seventh grade to have at least one dose of the HPV vaccine “beginning Aug. 1, 2015.” Also, the Department of Health did have a public hearing on Jan. 16, 2014, prior to the adoption of the new regulation.
I am curious about your use of the word “fiat.” Why did you choose that particular word?  I’m hoping you find this note helpful. Respectfully,
Mark Reynolds
On Fri, Jul 31, 2015 at 2:18 PM, Mike Stenhouse wrote:
Again Mark, sorry, but I’m still not clear what you’re looking for. You state you are interested in only 2 elements, yet there are 3 elements in the statement you cite, including “without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”
Are you asking us to respond to just 2 or all 3 components?
Enjoy your weekend,
Mike Stenhouse
CEO
—— Original Message ——
From: “Reynolds, Mark” <mreynold@providencejournal.com>
To: “Mike Stenhouse”
Sent: 7/30/2015 6:56:44 PM
Subject: Re: PolitiFact/Providence Journal
Dear Mr. Stenhouse,
My apologies for misstating that and my thanks for an opportunity to restate it. The first element is that Rhode Island would be just the second state to mandate the vaccine. To clarify the related question I ask, how do you know that only one state so far has mandated the vaccine?
Let me also be clear that I am formally asking you to provide evidence to support both elements of the statement I’ve referred to, including the second element, which is that Rhode Island, as you put it, would be “the only state to do so(mandate the vaccine) by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”
Respectfully,
Mark Reynolds
On Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 6:25 PM, Mike Stenhouse wrote:
Mark – thank you for your inquiry, however the premise of your question is incorrect:
Among the two elements you suggest, you wrote: “First, that Rhode Island is the only state to mandate the vaccine.” This is not what we stated and is a flat-out inaccurate characterization of our statement. Please clarify your inquiry.
I m copying our research director, Justin Katz, so he can monitor your inquiry.
Thank you,
Mike Stenhouse
CEO
—— Original Message ——
From: “Reynolds, Mark” <mreynold@providencejournal.com>
To: Mike Stenhouse
Sent: 7/30/2015 5:33:15 PM
Subject: PolitiFact/Providence Journal
To; Mike Stenhouse, CEO,  RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity
From: Mark Reynolds, Staff Writer, The Providence Journal/PolitiFact.com
July 30, 2015
Dear Mr. Stenhouse,
My name is Mark Reynolds. I’m a longtime reporter for The Providence Journal assigned to PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking organization.
We recently noticed this statement on the web-site for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity:
“Rhode Island will become just the second state to mandate the vaccine … and the only state to do so by regulatory fiat, without public debate, and without consideration from the elected representatives of the people.”
We are asking you to provide evidence to support this statement. There are two elements. First, that Rhode Island is the only state to mandate the vaccine. And second, that no other state has mandated the vaccine in the particular way that you describe.
This is your opportunity to back up both elements of the statement with evidence such as documents or whatever you based these observations on.
Also, it seems obvious to ask this sequence of questions: The first element of the statement reflects a knowledge that all but two states have not mandated the vaccine. How do you know this? Did you check this in each of the other states. If so, what did you base your determinations on?
Feel free to telephone me at (401) 277-7490 with any questions about this communication.
Respectfully,
Mark Reynolds
Live

2015 Legislator Scorecard – Now Live!

HOW DOES YOUR REPRESENTATIVE OR SENATOR RANK?

Preliminary ratings show RI General Assembly turns state in the wrong direction once again!

[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/rifreedomindex/” target=”_self” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] Interactive Scorecard Here [/button]

Center Signs Letter Urging Executive Office Restraint

Following the President’s 2014 State Of The Union Address, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, announced that it has signed a national letter urging President Obama to respect the separation of powers, a cornerstone of America’s system of government, and forgo his stated plans to implement new laws via Presidential Executive Order. The letter also demands that Congress aggressively fight every encroachment of its constitutionally defined powers.

A copy of the letter, originated by The Liberty Foundation of America, and signed by CEO Mike Stenhouse, behalf of the Center, along with about 20 other state based think tanks, can be viewed here.

Every Rhode Island vote should count

By Mike Stenhouse – as appeared in Providence Journal June 28th, 2013

‘Every vote should count.”

That was the mantra that echoed through the chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly this month as our legislators debated, then passed, the National Popular Vote bill, which would change the way states elect the president of the United States.

The legislators were referring to votes by citizens in national elections. What about votes by legislators on local bills? Shouldn’t every legislator be held accountable for each vote they take? Shouldn’t those votes count too?

Would you be surprised to know that, in passing the NPV bill, our General Assembly just voted to diminish our voice in national elections, as Rhode Islanders, by over 50 percent?

And why should we be surprised? After all, over the past few years, even with the Ocean State floundering near last place in an alarmingly high number of categories, our elected officials continue to pursue policies that further diminish our state’s competitiveness, that encroach more severely upon our individual freedoms, that reduce our opportunities for increased prosperity, and now that would take away over half of what voice we have when it comes to electing our president.

Under the current Electoral College system, thanks to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers to protect small states like ours, Rhode Island enjoys a greater proportion of electors than our population level would otherwise dictate. However, under the NPV compact, Rhode Island’s popular vote impact would be lessened to be directly proportional to its national share of the population.

Here’s the math: The Ocean State’s population of 1 million represents just 0.316 percent of the nation’s 316 million people. Our state’s electoral weight of 4 electors represents 0.743 percent of the 538 national electors.

So, our General Assembly just voted to reduce our state’s collective clout from one-in-134 to one-in-316 — a loss of over 57 percent of our voice!

This same sort of illogic is how our state government has continually voted to keep Rhode Islanders from realizing their fullest potential. Recently, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity released snapshots of our General Assembly Freedom Index that scores both bills and legislator votes in terms of how they preserve or infringe upon our freedoms, which we believe have a direct effect on our chances of achieving prosperity.

To date, we are tracking 551 bills in the 2013 session. Over two-thirds of those bills we marked as “red,” in that they diminish our liberties; with a total negative score of minus 285. Clearly, the wrong direction.

As for individual legislators, not a single state representative or senator scored in the “green,” or with an overall positive score, on our Legislator Scorecard as of the posting of the snapshot.

Think about that. Not one elected official so far in 2013 has an overall voting record that works to your advantage. Your legislature as a whole has put forth a collection of 551 bills that will further diminish your chance to succeed — death by 551 cuts, if you will.

And now, to top it all off, they have just voted to diminish our state’s political standing when it comes to electing the leader of our nation.

Indeed, it appears that the more government tries to do, the more it harms our freedom and prosperity, as well as our ability to determine our own futures and to pursue our own paths to happiness — whether we are individuals, businesses, municipalities or, now, as a state. Once upon a time we called this tyranny. What do we call it today?

When will we learn that as citizens it is our civic responsibility to ensure that every legislator’s vote counts, too, and hold them accountable for their actions?

Mike Stenhouse is a lifelong Rhode Island resident and chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think-tank.

Commentary: Sakonnet Bridge Toll – We All Sleep in the Beds we Make

December 6, 2012

We all sleep in the beds we make. Legislators and citizens alike.

After decades of negligence by the Political Class in mismanaging one of the appropriate roles of government – infrastructure development – Rhode Island ranks last or next to last in multiple major national highway, bridge and general infrastructure indexes.

And now, with tolls planned for the Sakonnet River Bride, the state faces a lose-lose situation; where local residents will face a punishing new ‘tax’ and where the local and state economy will continue to be harmed as a result. Are tolls the only course we should have considered? Will anyone even end up being held accountable for this debacle?

Our elected officials, including those few who are now speaking out against the toll, have systematically ignored our state’s bridges and highways and have continually prioritized spending in other areas where a more tangible political quid-pro-quo can be realized. This total failure of government has brought us to the point where the knee-jerk reaction to impose new taxes and fees on our people was sadly predictable.

But the blame does not reside solely on Smith Hill. Where were those people last spring when the budget and this toll were being contemplated? Where was the East Bay citizenry then that should have been pressuring their own locally elected officials to run around the state capitol to try to kill this toll? It may be too little, too late now.

These citizenship and legislative failures are yet more examples of what can happen when the great responsibility our Constitution places on citizens to remain vigilant and to control the workings of our government is abandoned, leaving a void for special interest groups to eagerly slop up any taxpayer dollars left in the trough.

When will we ever learn?

Back to the matter at hand, according to the Federal Highway Administration, more state and local governments are relying on tolls to build and repair roads, bridges and tunnels as traditional local revenue sources and one-time stimulus funds dry up. But is this the only practical approach? No.

There are alternative solutions we might have considered to fund these much needed upgrades. In order of preference, they are (were):

A) Re-allocation of existing funds: without raising taxes, fees, or tolls – this approach would force officials to make difficult funding priority decisions, and decrease tax and fee burdens on the Rhode Island economy. But who in the Political Class is brave enough to do this?

B) Cut taxes elsewhere, even as we implement the new tolls: this would lessen the negative economic impact on Rhode Island drivers who are tolled as well as on our overall economy. This we can still do.

C) Privatize the upgrades and maintenance: many states are contracting with private entities to maintain infrastructure, collect the tolls, and take the financial and legal risk. The private sector can manage projects such as these at a lower cost and can also provide maintenance and toll-collection services more efficiently. Privatization would also ensure that the tolls are never mingled with the state’s General Funds and re-allocated for whatever new emergency may arise. Further, a private entity can be sued if they fail to meet the terms of their contract in maintaining a bridge or highway. Under a government run system, who can be or will be held accountable? This is where we could have been.

D) Government-run upgrades and maintenance funded by tolls: the big government default mode, which would likely result in higher tolls than the privatization route. This is where we are.

E) Raise general taxes: this approach would affect a broader range of Rhode Island residents, and would have the largest impact on the state’s already fragile economy. Only the most radical socialists would think that this is feasible in Rhode Island at this time.

For failing in their duty to the people by not considering some of these other options, some legislators should lose their jobs.

For failing to remain vigilant in exercising their right of citizenship, it looks like many Rhode Islanders will now pay a dear price.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think tank and the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. With a credo that freedom is indispensable to citizens’ well-being and prosperity, the Center’s mission is to stimulate a rigorous exchange of ideas with the goal of restoring competitiveness to Rhode Island through the advancement of market-based reform solutions.