NEW: Ballot Voter Guide. REJECT QUESTIONS #4-7 over Debt Concerns; APPROVE #2

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 18, 2016
REJECT QUESTIONS #4-7
RI Families, our Children Cannot Afford Increased Debt Burden

Only Question #2 Ethics Reform Recommended for Approval

Providence, RI — In heaping over $321,000,000 of additional debt burden on Rhode Island families, as well as on future generations, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that voters “reject” bond Questions #4-7. Just like families who must tighten their credit card debt and avoid luxuries they cannot afford, voters should reject the exorbitant spending proposed by the state, much of which is earmarked to benefit special interest insiders.

The 2016 Ballot Question Voter Guide, released today by the Center, documents how the state’s ‘interest on debt’ burden has already increased by 90% since 2005, almost four-times as much as the national average and double any other known state.

“The bond questions this year are just more corporate welfare to special interests, while also advancing the RhodeMap RI agenda,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “This is not a popularity contest. Quite simply, Rhode Island families and businesses cannot afford the higher tax burden that approval of these irresponsible spending measures would inevitably lead to.”

Only Question #2 – to amend the state constitution restore Ethics Commission authority – received an “Approve” recommendation from the Center. The Center did not take a firm position on Question #1 or #3.

The voter guide PDF provides a brief discussion of each of the seven statewide ballot questions, with the Center’s final recommendations summarized as:

  • Q1 NO POSITION on the “Tiverton Casino”
  • Q2 APPROVE Ethics Commission “Constitutional Amendment”
  • Q3 NO POSITION on “Veterans Home” Bonds
  • Q4 REJECT Wasteful “Innovation Campus & Higher Ed” bonds
  • Q5 REJECT Corporate Cronyism “Infrastructure” bonds
  • Q6 REJECT RhodeMapRI & Property Takeover “Green Economy” bonds
  • Q7 REJECT RhodeMapRI “Affordable Housing” bonds

2016 Ballot Question “Voter Guide”

 

REJECT QUESTIONS #4–7 AND $321,000,000 IN WASTE

Time for Rhode Island to Exercise Fiscal Restraint… Like Families Do

Rhode Island cannot afford to sink any deeper into debt by passing unnecessary, wasteful, and costly new bond measures. Voters should keep in mind that ballot bonds are not a popularity contest, but rather, by approving any of the five state bond offerings in 2016 (questions # 3–7), voters will be putting the State of Rhode Island into even greater debt.

Ocean State taxpayers already are suffering from the largest “interest on debt” burden of any state in New England, with interest around $550 per year for every man, woman, and child in the state, compared with a $300 average for all states. Since 2005, related interest payments have increased by 90% in Rhode Island, with Connecticut at 25%, and New Hampshire at 10%. The three other New England states actually saw decreases.

ne-interestchained2005-2014-web

Nationally, the average increase is just 25%, while Illinois, considered by many to be the most fiscally troubled state in the nation, saw a 45% increase.

By these measures, Rhode Island’s 90% increase in debt-interest payments dwarfs other states. This level of fiscal irresponsibility by our state’s political class should not be worsened by voters in 2016.

Rhode Island families, who rank just 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index, have long had to tighten their belts when it comes to spending and debt. Approving any of these bond measures would place a future debt burden on our own children!

It is time for the State of Rhode Island to show similar restraint. On November 8, it is up to voters actually to do the tightening by voting to reject state questions #4–7. These bonds, totaling $200,500,000 in new debt — over $321,000,000 including interest payments — will also advance the controversial RhodeMap RI agenda as well as more 38 Studios–style corporate-welfare programs as recommended by the discredited Brookings Institution report.

It is a myth that advancing smart growth and sustainable development boondoggles such as campus innovation centers, subsidized affordable housing, green infrastructure, and government land acquisition programs can produce a positive return on investment. The reality is these programs merely increase the level of government intervention in our lives, while costing millions to taxpayers.

Summary: Voters should decide their own priorities, of course, but for the reasons described below, the Center can clearly recommend to approve only one ballot measure: #2, asking for “ethics reform” approval. Of the five spending bonds, as discussed below, only #3, $27 million for veterans homes, should be given any serious consideration by voters.

FIRST THE REJECTIONS (QUESTIONS #4–7)

#4: Higher Education Bonds

Principal: $45,500,000
Total estimated cost: $72,937,126
Discussion: Not only does this bond increase Rhode Islanders’ debt burden, but it also puts taxpayers, the state government, and college students in bed with private, for-profit companies. The money wouldn’t just invest in new buildings, but it would also fund a new program that helps private corporations use public resources to develop “products, services, and businesses.”

#5: Port Infrastructure Bonds

Principal: $70,000,000
Total estimated cost: $112,210,962
Discussion: This new debt would not only move business costs off of the private businesses that use the ports in Quonset and Providence, but it would also hand 25 acres of Providence real estate over to the government and a non-profit company acting in its behalf.

#6: Property Takeover and Development Bonds

Principal: $35,000,000
Total estimated cost: $56,105,481
Discussion: Of all the bonds on the ballot, this one teaches most clearly the lesson that bonds are not just borrowing for infrastructure, but are policy decisions. Of the total, $8,000,000 will go toward the direct government purchase of land or property rights, some of it for resale or lease at heavy discounts to preferred individuals and businesses. When the Center began investigating the new practice of the state’s purchasing farmland, officials pointed to a bond on the 2014 ballot that had authorized such action. These bonds allow the state government to buy up even more open space, recreation land, and farmland while also creating a windfall for private construction companies and non-profits.

#7: Affordable Housing Bonds

Principal: $50,000,000
Total estimated cost: $80,150,687
Discussion: These bonds would feed what has become an affordable housing industry in Rhode Island, with overlapping interests of construction companies, non-profits, politicians, and government agents. Burdening Rhode Islanders with yet more unaffordable debt is not the way to help us pay our housing bills.

MAYBE, APPROVE, MAYBE (QUESTIONS #1–3)

#1: Tiverton Casino

Maybe
Discussion: The first question on the ballot will essentially allow the state government, acting through the private Twin River Management Group, to construct and operate a casino in Tiverton, on the border of Fall River, Massachusetts. (Tiverton residents will also have to pass their own local ballot question.)

The Center’s emphasis on freedom would generally lead us to support the right of individuals to engage in activities such as gambling if that is what they want to do. On the other hand, our preference for a very limited scope for government leaves us wary of creating a monopoly market for government to enter as if it were some sort of organized crime syndicate. The case for gambling on principles of freedom weakens to the extent that Americans are only able to gamble under the watchful eye — and for the direct profit — of the government.

However, this ballot question does not create that dynamic. Indeed, one could characterize the Tiverton casino not so much as a new operation, but as a new location for Newport Grand, which would be closed if Tiverton opens. Granted, a Tiverton casino will be an expanded casino, but voters may reasonably see the difference as minimal and balance it against an expected relief of pressure to increase Rhode Island’s already-high taxes.

#2: Ethics Commission Authority over the General Assembly

Approve
Discussion: A member of our staff recently received the intriguing question of whether giving the unelected Ethics Commission authority over the elected General Assembly contradicts the Center’s preference for smaller, less-intrusive government. To the contrary, our state and our nation are constructed so as to ensure a balance of powers, and in the case of legislators’ immunity to Ethics Commission investigation, the legislature is dramatically unbalanced.

In offering this assessment, we would stress our skepticism of the Ethics Commission’s execution of its role. With members’ terms extending into decades, even though state law is supposed to limit them to five years, and with the commission’s decisions sometimes seeming to float between arbitrary and abstruse, we aren’t confident that this renewed oversight power will make a great deal of practical difference.

But these are pragmatic considerations, whereas the ballot question would be procedural. A future governor and legislature appointing a different sort of commissioner, with greater turnover, will do the state government more good if those commissioners can address corruption among legislators.

#3: Veterans Home Bonds

Maybe
Principal: $27,000,000
Total estimated cost: $43,281,371
Discussion: As a baseline judgment, we oppose any and all new debt for the state government of Rhode Island at this time. Too often, it seems, voters see bonds as a way to access free money for projects that the profligate spending of the government precludes.

Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the sacrifice and dedication of America’s veterans or the unacceptable treatment that they have received so visibly from our government in recent years. Voters should therefore weigh the practice of borrowing and the implicit boon to labor unions that it represents with the value of developing infrastructure for the benefit of those to whom we owe our freedom.

The 2016 “Sheeple” Index: Alarming Number of Lawmakers Vote in Lock-step with Leadership

Despite polices that have caused the Ocean State to suffer the 50th ranked business climate, the 48th rank in Family Prosperity, and the 47th rank in Jobs & Opportunity, our new 2016 “Sheeple” index demonstrates that there is scant dissent among Rhode Island lawmakers who vote for such policies.

This index ranks how often state Representatives and Senators voted in lock-step with leadership. Even with the 2016 General Assembly scoring a dismal (-54.1) on the Center’s 2016 Freedom Index, there was little opposition as more than half of all lawmakers voted with the House Speaker or the Senate President over 95% of the time.

The 2016 “Sheeple” index is a collaboration between WatchdogRI.org and our Center.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Lawmakers who were not present and missed votes are artificially credited in this “sheeple” index as having not voted with leadership. Please refer to the “missed votes” (or Walker) index here to see how many votes any particular lawmaker incurred.

Of the 2016 House’s 489 bills examined, excluding resolutions and solemnizations: 24 Representatives voted at least 98% of the time with the Speaker, with the worst-five “sheeple” offenders are:

  • John DeSimone (99.8%)
  • Ray Johnston, Jr (99.8%)
  • Michael Morin (99.6%)
  • Brian Kennedy (99.39%)
  • Lauren Carson (99.2%).

Of the Senate’s 487 bills, 11 Senators surpassed the 98% sheeple threshold, the five least independent when it came to casting votes in lock-step with the Senate President are:

  • Susan Sosnowski (99.6%)
  • Dominick Ruggerio (99.2%)
  • Erin Lynch (99.2%)
  • Steve Archambault (98.8%)
  • Hanna Gallo (98.6%)

“In a healthy democracy, there should be a rigorous debate of diverse policies. Sadly, and conversely in Rhode Island, it seems that when leadership authorizes bills to move forward, legislators feel compelled to automatically support them,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The statistics in this report present an alarming pattern of elected officials blindly following the leader. Voters this November must decide if this is how they want their government to be run.”

EXETER top-ranked delegation; NEWPORT last on 2016 Freedom Index

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 16, 2016
Only 3 Towns Scored in Positive Territory; 16 Cities & Towns Below General Assembly Average

Providence, RI — Following yesterday’s release of its annual Freedom Index and Legislator Scorecard, the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity today published a 2016 ranking of the General Assembly delegations from the Ocean State’s 39 cities and towns. The Exeter delegation of House and Senate lawmakers, based on their individual floor-votes, was the highest ranked in the state, while the Newport delegation ranked lowest.

EXETER’s top-rated score of +19.37 by its delegation, consisting of Representatives Price and Costa, and Senator Morgan, was higher than the General Assembly’s overall score of negative (-54.1). During the 2016 legislative session, the Exeter lawmakers generally voted to advance freedom in the Ocean State.

Sen. Elaine J. Morgan (R) of district 34 in Exeter scored a +23.73 overall on the 2016 Freedom Index, while Rep. Doreen Costa (R) scored a +20.8 and Rep. Justin Price (R) scored a +13.60.

Conversely, NEWPORT’s score of (-68.5) by its delegation of Representatives Carson and Abney, and Senators Paiva Weed and DiPalma. was worst in the state in 2016, reducing the freedom of Rhode Islanders.

Rep. Lauren Carson (D, district 75) scored a (-67.8), while Rep. Marvin Abney (D, district 73) scored a (-67.8), Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed (D, district 13), scored a (-68.4), and Sen. Louis DiPalma (D, district 12) scored a (-71.2).

TOP-3, BOTTOM-5. Joining Exeter as the only 3 towns to achieve a positive score was Richmond and Charleston. In addition to Newport, the bottom five towns were Pawtucket, East Providence, Providence, and Jamestown, all of which are part of the 16 cities and town that scored below the average General Assembly score.

On the main RIFreedom.org/FreedomIndex home page, voters have access to a multitude of data and tools, including links to:

  • Legislator Scorecards for 2016 as well as for the prior 4 years
  • Interactive data from 2012-2016 that can be filtered by a number of criteria including city/town, party, lawmaker, year, category, etc …
  • 38 Studios Scorecard, released last month
  • “Walkers” Index, which tallied missed votes by lawmakers over the past 3 years, released in collaboration with WatchdogRI.org

Later this month, again in collaboration with WatchdogRI.org, the Center also plans to release its first-ever “Sheeple Index“, which rates how often lawmakers vote in lock-step with political leadership.

How Does Your Delegation Rank On The 2016 RI Freedom Index?

Based on the 2016 individual floor-votes of each city’s & town’s entire delegation of General Assembly House and Senate lawmakers on bills appearing on the Center’s “Freedom Index”,  a ranking of the 39 municipalities is provided below.

See the 9/16/16 media release here … 

EXETER’s top-rated score of +19.37 by its delegation, consisting of Representatives Price and Costa, and Senator Morgan, was higher than the General Assembly’s overall score of negative (-54.1). Conversely, NEWPORT’s score of (-68.5) by its delegation of Representatives Carson and Abney, and Senators Paiva Weed and DiPalma, was worst in the state.

TOP-3, BOTTOM-5. Joining Exeter as the only 3 towns to achieve a positive score was Richmond and Charelestown. In addition to Newport, the bottom five towns were Pawtucket, East Providence, Providence, and Jamestown, all of which are part of the 16 cities and town that scored below the average General Assembly score.

How Does Your City/Town Delegation Rank?

  1. Exeter  (+19.37)
  2. Richmond  (+18.65)
  3. Charlestown  (+1.20)
  4. West Greenwich  (-4.48)
  5. Hopkinton (-9.57)
  6. Foster (-10.95)
  7. Coventry (-15.96)
  8. East Greenwich (-15.97)
  9. New Shoreham (-28.70)
  10. Portsmouth (-29.86)
  11. North Kingstown (-30.68)
  12. North Smithfield (-34.58)
  13. Scituate (-37.85)
  14. Westerly (-38.28)
  15. West Warwick (-41.62)
  16. Bristol (-42.70)
  17. Burrillville (-42.80)
  18. South Kingstown (-43.86)
  19. Glocester (-48.10)
  20. Tiverton (-51.08)
  21. Cumberland (-52.17)
  22. Narragansett (-53.43)
  23. Lincoln (-53.44)
  24. Warwick (-54.27)
  25. Middletown (-54.35)
  26. North Providence (-60.14)
  27. Cranston (-61.04)
  28. Woonsocket (-62.82)
  29. Central Falls (-63.83)
  30. Smithfield (-64.67)
  31. Johnston (-64.98)
  32. Barrington (-66.00)
  33. Little Compton (-66.20)
  34. Warren (-66.33)
  35. Jamestown (-67.30)
  36. Providence (-67.30)
  37. East Providence (-67.91)
  38. Pawtucket (-68.04)
  39. Newport (-68.85)

VOTER GUIDE: Final Legislator Scorecard & Freedom Index

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 15, 2016

Failed Status Quo Exemplified by Continued Deeply Negative Overall General Assembly Scores

However, real-time ratings led to more positive individual scores

Providence, RI — Loaded with information that may be useful to voters this fall, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity published today the final report for its annual Freedom Index and Legislator Scorecard, as part of its larger transparency initiative.

Led by Representative Patricia Morgan (R, West Warwick) and Senator Elaine Morgan (R, Exeter) only 11 of 113 lawmakers, on a scale of (-100) to +100, earned positive scores: 10 Republicans and one independent; with nine in the House and two in the Senate.

Overall, however, the General Assembly as a body scored a negative (-54.1), continuing its five-year trend deep in red numbers, meaning Rhode Islanders have less freedom than they did last year.

“It is a result of this failed status quo of increased government intervention in our personal and business lives that we believe is why the Ocean State ranks so poorly in so many national indexes,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It is not acceptable that we rank 50th, with the worst business climate in the nation; 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index (FPI); and 47th on the Center’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI). It’s up to voters to review this data and decide whether or not to hold lawmakers accountable for their voting records this November.”

On the RIFreedom.org/FreedomIndex home page, voters have access to a multitude of data and tools, including links to:

  • Legislator Scorecards for 2016 as well as for the prior 4 years
    Interactive data from 2012-2016 that can be filtered by a number of criteria including city/town, party, lawmaker, year, category, etc ..
  • 38 Studios Scorecard, released last month
  • “Walkers” Index, which tallied missed votes by lawmakers over the past 3 years, released in collaboration with WatchdogRI.org

Among other findings:

  • The Exeter contingent of House and Senate lawmakers was the highest ranked in the state, while the Newport contingent ranked lowest
  • House Republicans were the only major party caucus to score in positive territory (+7), while Senate Democrats were the lowest scoring (-68.8)
  • Overall, Republicans moved significantly higher, while Democrats dropped lower, further widening the partisan gap

Also, as a result of its new 2016 policy to post online real-time bill ranking and lawmaker scores, the Center was successful in proactively influencing future votes as opposed to just a reactive scoring of past votes. This can be evidenced by the fact that a number of lawmakers who followed the Center’s recommendations scored in positive territory in 2016, after years of almost no lawmakers scoring above zero.

Later this month, again in collaboration with WatchdogRI.org, the Center also plans to release its first-ever “Sheeple Index”, which rates how often lawmakers vote in lock-step with political leadership.

Walkers in the General Assembly

See responses from General Assembly lawmakers here …

Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI.org

Did you ever wonder how many votes your state senator and representative missed this past year?

I never gave it much thought until the last day of the 2016 Rhode Island legislative session, when the last votes were being cast as the sun was rising after an all-night spasm of deal making and lawmaking. Punch drunk representatives staggered home after casting a mind-boggling 209 votes in less than 48 hours, while our senators cast 141 votes.

WatchdogRI and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity teamed up to analyze the voting records of every incumbent legislator for legislative years 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Center provided raw data in electronic form from their data provider LegiNation Inc., and WatchdogRI performed the data analytics.

After discarding resolutions and marriage solemnizations, we were left with 615 votes in the House and 532 votes in the Senate for 2016.

In the House, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:

  • Thomas Palangio (D, Providence): 536
  • John Carnevale (D, Providence): 356
  • Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence): 263
  • Jared Nunes (D, Coventry/West Warwick): 221
  • Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick): 209
  • John Lombardi (D, Providence): 202
  • Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston): 157
  • Edith Ajello (D, Providence): 142
  • Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston): 126
  • Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth/Middletown): 105

For the Senate, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:

  • Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston): 138
  • Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket/North Providence): 130
  • Edward O’Neill (R, Lincoln/North
    Providence): 118
  • Frank Lombardo (D, Johnston): 115
  • Leonidas Raptakis (D, East Greenwich/West Greenwich/Coventry): 107
  • Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry/Foster/
    Scituate/West Greenwich): 92
  • James Doyle (D, Pawtucket): 91
  • Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls/
    Pawtucket): 89
  • Joshua Miller (D, Providence/Cranston): 77
  • William Walaska (D, Warwick): 77

Representatives Robert Phillips (D, Cumberland/Woonsocket) and Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket) each missed only one vote, joining 23 other representatives who missed fewer than
10 votes.

Senator John Pagliarini (R, Bristol/Portsmouth/Tiverton) did not miss a single vote, joining 15 other senators who missed fewer than 10 votes.

Every representative who understandably decided to go home after midnight on June 18 missed 43 votes or 7% of all votes held for the year. A representative who had a family emergency the last two days of the session would have missed 34% of all votes held for the year.

We all know that the human mind works best well rested, yet 7% of all votes held in the House this year were held after 1:00 a.m. on the last day of the session. Those bills contained 234 pages of legalese. I wonder how many legislators read those pages while most of us were fast asleep?

The practice of pushing most important votes to the end of the legislative session can leave entire legislative districts with no representation. Would you vote for a legislator if you knew he or she would not vote on more than a third of the bills voted upon by the General Assembly in a year? The rules of operation of our General Assembly make it possible for any legislator to miss that many votes if any personal crisis comes up in the tiny 48-hour end-of-session window.

In the seven years that I spent advocating to eliminate the master lever, legislative leadership was fond of explaining away the 50 years it took to get the job done as part of the slow and deliberative legislative process. There is nothing slow or deliberative about the final 48-hour frenzy of last minute bills, amendments, and votes.

Nothing mandates that our legislature operate in such a circus-like manner. Simply passing 10 bills a week over the six-month session would eliminate the end-of-session blitz. Transparency would be increased and legislators would theoretically be better informed about the bills they were voting upon.

The legislature should consider a 25-bill weekly limit (not including resolutions and marriage solemnizations). As a deliberative body, no floor votes should occur after 9:30 p.m. — ever.

Rhode Island needs leaders who are dedicated to changing our political culture. Will we get the leadership we need, or will we be perpetually left with an annual legislative hangover?

***

Click here to see responses from lawmakers who claim there were extenuating personal circumstances that caused their missed votes. 

Scorecard of Lawmakers’ 38 Studios Voting Record Since 2010

Despite johnny-come-lately calls from many lawmakers for the release of documents from the government’s 38 Studios Investigation, 81 of the 113 sitting General Assembly lawmakers graded an “F” on their related voting records. This according to a special edition 38 Studios Legislator Scorecard published today by the  nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which documented and scored legislative votes on 15 related bills, amendments, and budgets since 2010.

“The public is outraged that there has been zero accountability on this issue,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Where the state government has failed to provide any transparency by releasing the 38 Studios documents, our Center is offering its own version of transparency by publishing this scorecard.”

While most 38 Studios votes have occurred in the House, and while many lawmakers have not served long enough to vote on all related bills over the 7-session period, each of the 178 Representatives and Senators who made a 38 Studios specific vote or who voted on a budget that included a 38 Studios bond payment was rated on the scorecard.

THE 19 WORST: With an opportunity to score between (-29) and +29, the worst pro 38 Studios/anti-taxpayer offenders among those with maximum opportunity to vote on such bills, were Representatives Corvese, DeSimone, Diaz, Edwards, Fellela, Handy, Jacquard, Kennedy, Malik, Mattiello, McNamara, Melo, Naughton, Ruggiero, Serpa, Slater, Ucci, Williams, and Winfield – each of whom graded an “F” and scored a negative (-25) or (-24).

THE 3 BEST: With a similar opportunity to score between (-26) and +26, the best anti 38 Studios/pro taxpayer advocates were Representatives Chippendale, Giarusso, and Morgan – each of whom graded an “A+” and scored a positive +24.

Overall, of the 178 lawmakers, 132 graded an F, 10 a D, 8 a C, 6 a B, and 14 an A. Five Senators did register a score, but did not receive a letter grade, because they took no specific 38 Studio related vote, even if they voted on one or more related state budgets or were absent for the initial loan guarantee program vote. Similarly, three 2010 Representatives did not receive a grade, as their only score was based on a single bill that they were not present to vote on.

“Many people might consider it extremely hypocritical for any lawmaker who rated an F or D on this scorecard for their past record to now jump on the band-wagon by calling for the Attorney General or Governor to release the documents,” suggested Stenhouse. “As we approach the November elections, we’re providing voters with the voting records of their elected officials so they can decide whether or not to hold them accountable.”

The full 38 Studios scorecard for all lawmwakers, the scoring and grading methodology, a description of the bills in question, and the bill-by-bill voting record can be reviewed by clicking here.