Rhode Island still held its overall ranking of 47th in the country on the September 2019 third quater Jobs & Opportunity Index.

Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), September 2019: Hanging on While the Country Advances

As the third quarter of 2019 came to a close, Rhode Island still held its overall ranking of 47th in the country on the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) but was basically tied with 48th place Louisiana. Data for all 12 datapoints of the index except federal taxes were updated for this iteration, and RI benefited by the fact that it was finally able to report data for SNAP (foodstamps), which it had not done for two-and-a-half years thanks to the UHIP debacle.

Compared with June, RI improved on most measures. Employment and labor force were up about 0.6% since the first-reported numbers for June, with RI-based jobs increasing a more-modest 0.3%. Correspondingly, Medicaid enrollment fell 0.8%, while TANF (cash welfare) rolls shrank by 8.0%. SNAP enrollment was down 4.0%, although that is from the number as reported ever since February 2017. The Ocean State had 2.3% fewer residents who counted as long-term unemployed and 3.8% fewer who were working only part time because more work was not available. However, the number counting as marginally attached increased 23.7%.

The picture is also mixed when it comes to money. Personal income was up 3.9% on an annualized basis, which amounted to $1.8 billion more income. However, state and local taxation increased 10.5%, or $349 million, resulting not only from the increased income, but also expansive changes to tax policy.

The first chart shows RI remaining last in New England on JOI, at 47th for September 2019. New Hampshire returned to 1st nationally. Vermont and Maine slipped, to 14th and 19th, respectively. Massachusetts remained 37th. However, Connecticut advanced to 38th.

Rhode Island still held its overall ranking of 47th in the country on the September 2019 third quater Jobs & Opportunity Index.

The second chart shows the gaps between RI and New England and the United States on JOI for September 2019, and the third chart shows the gaps in the official unemployment rate.

Rhode Island still held its overall ranking of 47th in the country on the September 2019 third quater Jobs & Opportunity Index.
Rhode Island still held its overall ranking of 47th in the country on the September 2019 third quater Jobs & Opportunity Index.

Results for the three underlying Jobs & Opportunity Index factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (optimism that adequate work is available): RI fell three spots, to 32nd.
  • Freedom Factor (the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI advanced two, to 41st.
  • Prosperity Factor (the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained 47th.

Click here for the corresponding employment post on the Ocean State Current.

alaska-opt-in-form-recommended

Center Recommends Alaska-type Opt-in Form for Public Employees. 1900 Already Opted-out?

R.I. Should Follow Alaska’s Lead With a Clear Union Opt-in Form Process

Center’s My Pay-My Say Campaign Has Already Produced up to 1900 Rhode Island Union Opt-outs

Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that all state and municipal employers in Rhode Island follow Alaska’s lead to protect the rights of public employees by achieving full compliance with the 2018 US Supreme Court Janus v AFSCME decision.

The Center recommends that the various state and local departments should create a new form and related procedures to verify employees’ identity, explain their full rights, and document their clear intent. Not doing so puts government employers in danger of being in violation of workers’ first amendment rights.

“According to the highest court in the land, no public servant should have union dues automatically deducted from their paycheck unless they provide clear affirmative consent with full understanding of their Janus rights,” advised Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Without a union opt-in process that fully complies with Janus, governments and unions may be at risk of legal action by employees who may have been misinformed.”

In the summer of 2018 the Center initiated its MyPayMySayRI.com campaign, which seeks to advise public employees of their newly restored first amendment rights under Janus

Since then, based actual responses to dozens of records-requests, it can be documented that there are 811 more government workers in 2019 who chose not to pay expensive government union dues than in 2018. This means more than 4% of workers opted-out of their unions. Extrapolated across the entire state, it is estimated that there are now 1900 fewer dues- or fee-paying union members than last year.

In late September, Alaska Governor Michael J. Dunleavy, backed by an opinion from the state’s Attorney General, announced the implementation of an administrative order to protect the first amendment rights of State employees by bringing State government into compliance with the 2018 court ruling. Per Dunleavy’s press release:

“In Janus, the Supreme Court held that 1) government employees cannot be required to pay dues or fees to a public sector union as a condition of employment, and 2) no money can be deducted by employers for public sector unions “unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” Public employers, such as the State, cannot according to the court, deduct union dues or fees from an employee’s wages unless the employer has “clear and compelling evidence” that the employee has authorized such deductions. The administrative order only applies to State of Alaska employees currently represented by a union.

The administrative order directs the Alaska Department of Administration to create an initial opt-in program where unionized State employees decide, online or in written form, if they want union dues deducted from their paychecks, which would be revocable at any time.”

NEW REPORT: Collective Bargaining Gives Incentive to Providence Teachers NOT to Work for 37 Days

37 Days: Paid for Not Working in Providence Schools

Collective-bargaining contracts provide a disincentive to teach

Providence, RI –– The collective-bargaining agreement between the Providence Teachers Union and the government of Providence may explain why chronic teacher absences are one of the major problems contributing to the dismal K-12 educational conditions in the capital city. 

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today released a report – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – that highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers. About a quarter of all Providence teachers are being paid for missing 10% (18 days) or more of their vital class time with students. As the union contract actually allows for up to 37 days of paid-time-off per year per teacher, the teacher absentee problem could be twice as bad.

“It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “We should be thankful that more teachers are not taking full advantage of the numerous and counter-productive leave provisions that unions demand.”

The Center’s new report, an expansion of its Taxpayer Ripoff #1 Ghost Workers report in May, discusses the financial and societal costs of these excessive leave provisions and includes a table listing the many ways and days teachers are allowed to not teach and, in most cases, to be paid for not working. 

In the spring of 2019, the Center published a major report – Public Union Excesses – detailing the $888 million per year in excessive costs paid by taxpayers due to overly generous collective bargaining provisions in government union contracts at the state and local levels. With two-thirds of these costs absorbed by municipal taxpayers, property taxes could be lowered by as much as 25% if government services were contracted at normal market rates.

PAID FOR NOT WORKING, COLLECTIVE-BARGAINING TAXPAYER RIPOFF #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence

It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer … Mike Stenhouse

In the spring of 2019, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity published a major report — Public Union Excesses — detailing the $888 million per year in excessive costs paid by taxpayers due to overly generous collective bargaining provisions in government union contracts at the state and local levels. With two-thirds of these costs absorbed by municipal taxpayers, property taxes could be lowered by as much as 25% if government services were contracted at normal market rates.

Societal Costs. The excessive financial costs to taxpayers may not be as troubling as the social costs resulting from government worker unionization in our state. Union officials have propagated a culture in which extracting every possible dime from taxpayers and dues-payers, regardless of the impact on the quality of the services rendered, appears to be the objective, a culture that inevitably has creeped into the workplace. 

Educational Failures. Perhaps no area of government service exemplifies this negative value proposition more clearly than public education. In November 2018, the state released the RICAS student assessment scores, which highlighted the Ocean State’s dismal performance of schools within its public educational system. Furthermore, a July 2018 report showed that Rhode Island schools also suffered from the third-highest teacher absentee rate in the nation.

Connecting the dots, Public Union Excesses clearly lays out the many union contract provisions that provide a disincentive for teachers and other public employees to actually show up for work or perform the vital public services they were hired to conduct at peak levels. 

Teacher Attendance. With a national spotlight shining on the government-run Providence public school system for operating what some have characterized as among the worst schools in the country, the lack of consistent and reliable teacher attendance has been in the news.  Boston Globe journalist Dan McGowan reports that 500 of the city’s teachers (more than one-quarter) were absent at least 18 times, which is 10% of the school year.  That percentage is subtracted from teachers’ 181-day work-year, which is already 21% shorter than the approximate private-sector average work-year of 230.

Parents and interested Rhode Islanders might wonder how this is possible, so the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity took a look at the Providence Teachers Union contract.  Our results are shown in the table below.

In summary, in a standard year, teachers are contractually allowed to take up to 26 days off for a variety of reasons, from sick leave (15 days) to “purposes connected with the welfare of the school and/or community” (2 days).  Unlike in the private sector, unused sick days for teachers are allowed to roll over — in full — from year to year, up to 150 days.  A teacher can use up to 135 paid days off in one year before facing any consequences.

Common life events like weddings and deaths can add more time to the annual total — 11 days for a year with one of each.  Additionally, all teachers are eligible for up to another 11 days for union activities on a rotating and limited basis.  Additionally, a union professional development/mentoring coordinator is relieved of teaching duties for one-fifth of the school year, while the union president is relieved for two-fifths; that’s the equivalent of 36 and 72 days each.  Adding in the other days off available to all teachers, the union president would be able to not do any actual teaching for the equivalent of 101 of the work year’s 181 days.  The Center reported on such absences in our May 2019 “Ghost Workers” report.

On top of this are longer-term and more-rare absences like sabbaticals, quarantine, or job-related-injury leave, which can go for a year or more with pay.  Teachers can also take a year at a time off without pay for a number of reasons.

Of course, when a regular teacher is away for a day or for an extended period of time, a substitute teacher must often be hired at additional expense; in Providence it is estimated that substitute teachers cost taxpayers and extra $7 million per year.

These added costs, combined with the reduced quality of education, are one reason why Providence public schools are performing so poorly.

“PAID FOR NOT WORKING” – COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED, ALLOWED TEACHER ABSENCES IN PROVIDENCE

Number of Days Contract Citation
Standard Year
Sick leave 15 4-1
Personal 2 5-1.4
Superintendent-approved personal 3 5-1.5
Religious observance 3 5-1.2
"Welfare of the school and/or community" 2 5-1.6
Visiting other schools (in or out of district) 1 5-1.7
Subtotal 26
Life Events1
Wedding 2 5-1.1
Bereavement (immediate family) 5 5-2
Bereavement (in-laws) 3 5-2
Bereavement (extended) 1 5-2
Subtotal 11
Union Activities (Limited Number of Teachers)
Delegate to AFL-CIO or other union meetings 5 5-1.3
Negotiating Committee2 1 16-2.2
Union professional development/mentoring attendance 5 8-30-2
Subtotal 11
Total available to any given teacher each year 48
Special Union Positions3
Union professional development/mentoring coordinator4 36 8-30-1
Total available to coordinator 65
Union president5 72 5-6
Total available to union president 101
Other Events
Sabbatical 91 5-3
Compulsory Reserve or National Guard 20 5-7.2
Injured on the job 90 6-1
Assault and/or battery on the job 181 6-2
Government tests & examinations Unlimited 5-8
Court service Unlimited 5-9
Quarantine Unlimited 5-10
Without Pay
Personal 181 5-5.1
Union service 181 5-6
Military leave 181 5-7
Parental/adoption leave 181 5-11
Notes:
1 The “life events” subtotal assumes one of each in a given year.
2 We estimate an average of one day per year in total negotiating time for each teacher on the negotiating committee. Some years, this would be zero, and other years, it could be much higher than 1.
3 The union coordinator and president totals adjust the days available for all teachers so as not to double count their lighter work schedules.
4 The number of days off for the coordinator is the one-fifth schedule reduction applied to the full school year.
5 The number of days off for the president is the two-fifth schedule reduction applied to the full school year.
The Center refutes the unsubstantiated & off-target NEA-RI claims made by two government union officials in publicly responding to our Union Excess Report.

Center Assigns Blame, Calls for Bankruptcy to Help Solve Providence K-12 Disaster

The Government-Union Alliance Has Failed Students
Collective-bargaining savings and immediate private school options are vital

Providence, RI –– The dismal public school system in Providence is clearly the result of a failed and costly government-union alliance, with misplaced priorities, that likely will require new perspectives and city bankruptcy as part of the solution. A state takeover would only be more of the same.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperitymaintains that whatever reforms are eventually implemented from whatever public review process is put in place will not help the tens of thousands of Providence students currently in their critical learning years. 

The Center refutes the unsubstantiated & off-target NEA-RI claims made by two government union officials in publicly responding to our Union Excess Report.

“These kids need a new and better learning environment now, today. They cannot wait,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “In order to provide Providence and all Rhode Island students with a better chance at a brighter future, new players must have a seat at the table and new thinking is required as part of the solution. This dire situation cannot be turned around if the same people that caused the problem – local and state government and teachers union officials – are in charge of developing solutions.”

Historically, faint-hearted politicians and their teacher union allies have blocked educational reform ideas that have been successful in other states. However, if political leaders are honest and serious about their proclamations that all options must now be considered, and are willing to break those historical ties, the Center offers two practical and significant reform items that can have immediate impact:

1. More Educational Choices for Families. Recognizing that the larger school system reform process will take many, many years – if ever – to take positive effect, the Center suggests that thousands of Providence families can be provided with an an immediate escape-hatch from the drowning Providence school system. Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), first introduced in Rhode Island by the Center in 2014, would empower parents with the freedom and funding to select a private school educational path for their children. Extensive research by the Center showed that an ESA program can be immediately implemented – at no additional cost to state or local taxpayers!

Learn more about the Center’s Bright Today Scholarship program at www.RIFreedom.org/EdChoiceRI or read our mini-report here.

2. Bankruptcy & Collective Bargaining Savings to Repair Schools. The top priority of any public school system must be about educating kids, not enriching adults. Decrepit and rat-infested school buildings can be repaired with savings from reworked overly-generous contracts with the teacher and all Providence unions. The Center’s May 2019 Public Union Excesses report estimated that the city of  Providence is paying $110 million per year above and beyond private-sector rates for collectively-bargained services. This amount of annual money could easily fund the physical repair and upgrade of school buildings in Providence in just a few years. 

However, given the newly enacted “evergreen contracts” law, it is only through bankruptcy proceedings, with a capable receiver, that these excessive collectively- bargained funds can be freed up for use in Providence. This is a Providence problem that must be solved with Providence money. It would be unfair for the state to mandate that taxpayers in other cities and towns to be forced to pay for the capitol city’s incompetence.

Instead of honor the law to reduce the state's sales tax, faint-hearted House leaders are instead trying to sneak a repeal without public debate.

Center Calls on Lawmakers to Keep and Honor the 6.5% Sales Tax Promise, and Stop its Repeal

House Budget Seeks to Repeal Sales Tax Cut Statute
Center Calls on Lawmakers to Keep Promise to Taxpayers

Providence, RI — Rather than honor existing state law that specifies a reduction in the state’s sales tax rate, and deal with continued criticism for inaction, faint-hearted House leaders are instead seeking to change the law by attempting to sneak its repeal through the budget without public debate. 

As a sad irony, instead of using the budget process to reduce the sales tax rate for Ocean State consumers, and comply with state law, as the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had previously suggested … the House decided to use the budget process to repeal the law, hoping not to raise any public attention. 

“Clearly, the Speaker and House leaders recognize that our Center has been right all along about complying with this state statute,” said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “So, rather than honor the law, they seek to change the law. This disturbing trend of moving the goal-posts will not bring prosperity to Rhode Islanders.”

Now, the Center calls on rank-and-file lawmakers to stand-up for the promise made to taxpayers years ago and to find a way to keep the law on the books, if not demand that the law actually be followed. 

The original rationale for the law was to relieve Rhode Islanders of the added burden of a sales tax imposed on a broader range of “internet” purchased goods, by easing the overall tax rate. The Center, in its 6.5% Sales Tax policy brief argued that the legal threshold had effectively been met by the continued expansion of the sales tax on internet purchases by remote sellers.

“If the political class breaks this sales tax promise, how can Rhode Islanders ever trust the promise made about not imposing tolls on our cars,” asked Stenhouse. “This loss of hope for our state’s political system is one reason why so many of our family and friends are fleeing our state.”

Suffering from a spate of retail store closings and a depressed jobs market, as compared with other states, the Center has repeatedly made the case that Rhode Island would get an economic boost from a reduced sales tax rate, in addition to providing residents with more cash in their pockets.

In its Zero.Zero report many years ago, the Center’s extensive research and economic modeling calling for a full repeal of the state sales tax, or reduction to 3.0%, as the most effective way to grow jobs. Related legislation in 2013 gained significant legislative interest, but ultimately did not advance.

After 10 years of perhaps the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are not fulfilling their promise to help the average family. Time is running out to stop hurting families and business with high property taxes from excessive government services.

NEW: Center Publishes Municipal Summary of its “Public Union Excesses” Report

Municipalities Across RI are Burdened with $590 million in Excess Costs… Not counting liabilities for paying people not to work!

Providence, RI— The #1 reason why local property taxes are up to 25% higher than they need be, is because of the $590 million in “excessive” costs, shared by municipalities across Rhode Island, for collectively-bargained government services, negotiated by government unions. This according to the landmark report, Public Union Excesses, released by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in early May.

Additionally, these same municipalities are also burdened with a liability not often discussed – payments due to government workers who are allowed to “cash in” on their overly-generous and unused allowed “absences” – sick days, personal days, and other compensated leave time – as specified in their unions’ collective bargaining agreements … another $163 million cost heaped upon local taxpayers. 

To underscore these local costs, the Center today published a 4-page summary of its Public Union Excesses report, which focuses on the municipal costs of collective-bargaining with government unions. All related material can be found at www.RIFreedom.org/Unions.

“This summary report is a must-have reference for all local school committee and city and town council members if they are looking for ways to control the exploding costs of collectively-bargained contracts with their municipal unions,” advised Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “If you would like print copies, just let us know.”

In Lincoln for example, one table on the summary lists the estimated $13.1 million in excessive costs, while another table lists the $4.3 million owed for paying workers not to work. In East Greenwich, the costs are $9.6 million and $.9 million respectively.

A bar-chart in the summary shows that most public sector employees often enjoy 50% more sick days than their private sector counterparts. Compounding the effect, government workers are usually allowed to carry-forward far more of their accumulated sick days – which can be cashed in each year or upon retirement.

They're called ghost workers. State workers paid for not working, and instead enganing in union business. Your property taxes are only getting higher!

PAID FOR NOT WORKING;TAXPAYER RIPOFF #1: Ghost Workers and the Triple-Whammy of Union Release Time

One of the most objectionable schemes of government union collective bargaining process, which excessively drives up the cost of government for taxpayers, in ways or at levels that do not exist in the private sector, is being paid for not working. This issue, along with many others defined in the Center’s report, Public Union Excesses, contribute to an $888 million per year in excessive collectively-bargained costs, responsible for driving up local property taxes by up to 25%.

After looking at examples in just a few cities and towns, municipal taxpayers across Rhode Island may collectively be paying millions of dollars per year for unionized government employees to spend their public time on work for their unions … and not to work on the public services they were hired to perform.

Adding insult to injury, the many collectively bargained provisions that specifically allow for these so-called ‘ghost workers’ may actually be in violation of state law. More on that later on.

As detailed in the Center’s landmark report, Public Union Excesses, there are multiple schemes in which government unions benefit from overly generous provisions in collective bargaining agreements, provisions that hardly, if ever, are seen in the private sector.

One such provision is called “union release time.” Under this scheme, unions across Rhode Island use taxpayers as contractual piggy banks to fund union activities. How many Rhode Islanders know that they are paying for ‘ghost workers’ who are paid by the public, but who do not actually perform a public service for some or all of their official time? Instead, a common provision — found in many government union collective bargaining agreements — mandates that taxpayers pay the salary and benefits for for certain public employees, who spend time working on their unions’ business.

Union ‘ghost workers’ impose a triple-rip-off on taxpayers.

First, there is the direct cost of paying public workers for not working on public issues. Second, compounding the cost, taxpayers are further ripped-off because, often, an extra worker must be hired (sometimes at overtime rates) to fill in for the ghost worker’s shift.  Third, union workers who are paid with taxpayer dollars to work on union issues … are working directly against the very same taxpayers who pay their salaries. As the Center’s Public Union Excesses report breaks down, collectively bargained government union excesses directly raise property taxes by as much as 25% for every Rhode Island family and business.

This union release time scheme is indeed a rip-off for taxpayers, as many of the designated union ‘ghost workers’ are awarded six-figure compensation packages, paid for by the public … but without the public’s receiving a commensurate return.

In its report, Public Union Excess, the Center estimates that taxpayers in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, are wasting over $8,176 per year on ghost workers, 100% of which is considered “excessive” in the report. This figure does not include the ‘replacement’ costs to hire additional staff.

However, the ‘ghost worker’ issue is much more costly in other cities and towns. In the Rhode Island’s capital city of Providence, for example, Maribeth Calabro, a special educator, whose $83,848 salary and compensation package worth well over $100,000 per year is paid for by local taxpayers, is also president of the Providence Teachers union. Per the city’s collective bargaining agreement with her Providence Teachers Union, Calabro is allowed to spend 40% of her teaching time (with full pay and service credit) to conduct union activities, costing taxpayers over $33,000 per year. Add in the cost of substitute teachers, estimated at over $16,000 per year, and Providence taxpayers are being ripped-off to the tune of almost $50,000 per year … just for this one teacher.

In the 2016 East Providence teachers’ contract, high school teacher and local union president Nicholas Shattuck is allowed to spend 40% of his teaching time, as part of his estimated $70,000 salary, on union business. “The President of the Association shall be relieved of all his/her non-teaching duties to take care of Association business. In addition, the President shall be provided the equivalent of two (2) full days per week at no loss in salary or benefits and the Association agrees to pay one-half (1/2) of the cost. Meaning that the School Department pays for one day and the Association pays for one day.” The estimated net ‘ghost worker’ cost of $14,000 per year, plus substitute costs at around $15,000 per year, means that East Providence taxpayers are bearing costs of almost $30,000 per year for this one paid public employees to conduct union business that constantly works against the better interests of those same taxpayers.

In Tiverton, there is a minimum trifecta of ‘ghost worker’ union release time provisions.  Elementary school teacher and local union president Amy Mullen is allowed one teaching period per day (20%)  for “union business.” At a salary of over $75,000 per year, the total rip-off to taxpayers, including the cost of substitute teachers, is likely over $30,000 per year. Provisions in Tiverton’s firefighter and police union contracts are less costly, having mainly to do with periodic conventions and meetings, but still may add over $10,000 per year in ‘ghost worker’ costs to taxpayers.

The above examples do not take into account common provisions that relieve union officers of “non-teaching duties” (for example). We did not attempt to value these activities, but exempting union officers likely has a cost of thousands of dollars, either in lost benefit to taxpayers and constituents or in the increased burden on other employees.

Unauthorized release time. But the rip-off to taxpayers does not end here. While it’s one thing for taxpayers to bear the burden for “authorized” release time as collectively-bargained for ghost-workers, it’s quite another thing for these same ghost-workers to cause “unauthorized” release time for co-workers. For instance, our Center has anecdotally been told by numerous former educators that it is common practice for local union NEA officials, who themselves were on release time to conduct ‘union business’ at the expense of the taxpayers, to simply walk into classrooms and pull other teachers (and fellow union members) out of their classes for meeting on various topics … often leaving entire classrooms unattended. In one instance, the so-called ‘union business’ that the authorized and unauthorized ghost-worker teachers were discussing … was to scheme how to get rid of a school administrator that the union did not like.

On the legal side, state law appears to prohibit these collectively bargained schemes. Under the state Labor Relations Act, Rhode Island General Law 28-7-13 states that “it shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer to” give preference to “any employee organization”:

By compensating any employee or individual for services performed in behalf of any employee organization or association, agency or plan, or by donating free services, equipment, materials, office or meeting space, or any thing else of value for the use of any employee organization or association, agency, or plan; provided that an employer shall not be prohibited from permitting employees to confer with him or her during working hours without loss of time or pay.

Rhode Islanders expect their hard-earned money to be spent to educate our children, protect our homes and businesses, or to provide other vital services. We do not expect that our money will be spent to advance the work of overly politicized unions.

According to our Center’s report and this follow-up post, not only are taxpayers grossly overpaying for government services, but they’re also regularly paying out their hard-earned money to government workers who are not even working! Whether it’s paying for release time where union members are paid by taxpayer for doing union work, overly generous vacation and personal days, paying for public employees on sabbatical, paying for suspended workers, paying for years and years for people out of work on dubious injury claims … or paying unsustainable levels of post-employment benefits …  taxpayers are being ripped off.

If public workers want to assist their unions, the should do so on their own time or be paid out of  the dues of union members … not on public time and certainly not on the public nickel. If we can bring these and other public union excesses into line with the private sector, your property taxes could be reduced by 25%.

Ghost Workers – Government Workers who are Union Officials Paid for Not Working – Drive-up Property Taxes

And it may even be illegal …

Providence, RI— One of the most objectionable schemes of collective bargaining contracts with government unions are provisions not found in the private sector that pay workers for not working, that increase the cost of government, and that unfairly drive up property taxes. Even more egregiously, in this case, public employees are being paid by taxpayers to work for someone else.

According to a post today as follow-up to to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s landmark Public Union Excesses report on the excessive costs of collectively bargained government services, ‘union release time’ provisions that allow for “ghost workers” – public employees paid by the public NOT to conduct work for the public; but rather paid by the public to conduct union work – are a major taxpayer rip-off.

In the post, Paid For Not Working; a Taxpayer RipOff; Ghost Workers and the Triple-Whammy of Union Release Time, multiple examples of contract language, as well identification and cost-calculation of actual ‘ghost workers’are provided.

“Worse, this unfair and unjustifiable practice appears to be in direct conflict with state law,” exclaimed Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. 

For example, in the city of Providence’s collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union, publicly paid special educator, Maribeth Calabro, also the local union president, is contractually allowed to spend 40% of her school schedule (with an estimated $100,000+ compensation package) on union business. Add in the cost of substitute teachers and the total annual cost to taxpayers likely exceeds $60,000 per year.

The full ghost worker post provides other individual examples and also discusses:

  • The ‘triple-whammy’ on taxpayers, once substitute worker costs are added-in
  • State law on what constitutes and “unfair labor practice”
  • Further abuses of unauthorized release time

“If public workers want to assist their unions, they should do so on their own time and on the union’s nickel,” suggested Stenhouse, “and certainly not at the taxpayers’ expense.”

According the Center’s May 2019 Public Union Excesses report, Rhode Island taxpayers dish-out $888 million per year (or $3500 for a family of four) for excessive compensation provisions in collective bargaining agreements with government employee unions, which may drive up local property taxes by as much as 25%.

The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it not a harmful opioid tax.

Testimony: Opioid tax bill would harm families and businesses across Rhode Island

To: RI Senate Committee on Finance
From: Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, Mike Stenhouse
Subject: Written Testimony re. Opioid Stewardship Act (S0798)

Chairperson Conley, Jr. and Committee Members: As CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a non- partisan research and advocacy organization, I would like to provide some background re. S0798, which is before your committee today. As a 501-C-3 organization, our Center is not advising you whether or not to support this legislation. However, we are allowed to discuss our research and perspectives with regard to pros and/or cons of the underlying issue.

For our written testimony, I am submitting, in its entirety, an opinion piece written by our Center’s Chairman, Dr. Stephen Skoly, who has ample medical experience in dealing with pain-killing drugs for his patients.

Thank you. Thank you. If I can answer any questions, please contact me.


Opioid tax bill would harm families and businesses across Rhode Island

By Dr. Stephen Skoly, a maxillofacial surgeon in Cranston, and Chairman of The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

The opioid epidemic is a widespread, complicated problem, and only a collective effort will begin to solve it. The healthcare community and lawmakers need to work in tandem to find policies that effectively lessen opioid abuse while still keeping our state’s economic health as well the health and safety of the patient in mind. It’s unfortunate, however, that Senate Bill S0798, the Opioid Stewardship Act, fails on both accounts.

This bill seeks to levy $7.5 million in annual taxes on the healthcare system for the distribution of prescription opioid medications to healthcare facilities throughout our state, including pharmacies, hospitals, and urgent care clinics. The motivation behind the legislation is clear; legislators seeking to disincentivize use by taxing the products that they believe have contributed to growing rates of addiction and overdose. However well-intentioned, this is a costly approach that misses the mark.

Prescription opioids serve a clinical and legitimate medical purpose. Postoperative analgesia, cancer, trauma, and chronic disease are just a few examples of the many medical conditions and procedures that require opioid- containing medications.

Just like all taxes imposed by lawmakers, there will be reactions as these added costs will somehow be passed onto patients in the healthcare system. Employers that provide health coverage could see insurance premiums rise, while families could experience higher prescription costs; all for an epidemic being fueled by illegal behavior that S0798 would not address.

Those suffering and without adequate insurance would be most impacted, and would be incentivized to seek more dangerous drugs on the underground market.

As a medical professional, I find it morally reprehensible that our lawmakers might inflict economic pain on patients who are suffering acute physical pain; especially at a time when Rhode Island has one of the worst economies in the entire country.

Examples of the real and unintended consequences of taxes on prescription opioids are showcased in New York. In fact, Rhode Island’s Opioid Stewardship Act is nearly identical to a bill recently passed in the Empire State. This New York bill was loudly opposed by patients, healthcare providers, the business community, and other lawmakers, who expressed ire that the bill’s hefty and punitive tax would lead to increased costs or restricted access to care.

I find it confounding that Rhode Island lawmakers would draw inspiration from another state’s misguided legislation. Reacting to a crisis in haste, just to claim you did something, is itself misguided. This legislation represents another example of “not letting a crisis go to waste.”

There is no debate that a robust response to the opioid epidemic is necessary. But when developing policy, Rhode Island legislators need to acknowledge the importance of protecting the affordability and accessibility of necessary medications for our state’s patients and their families. The Opioid Stewardship Act fails to make these considerations. Rhode Island legislators need to understand that opioid prescribing protocol are evolving based on evidence based medicine and recommendation from The American College of Surgeons. Recommend best practices for prescribing opioids in Rhode Island includes accessing the Rhode Island Drug Prescription Monitoring Program (PDMP). Finally, it is important to recognize that addiction is neither a moral failing nor a character flaw. Rather, it is a chronic disease much like heart disease. Even our legislators should be morally offended by supporting a misguided tax on a chronic disease to balance their budget.

Rather than relying on added taxes, our lawmakers should promote more sensible solutions such as supporting efforts by our law enforcement agencies to purge our state of illegal drugs and by encouraging continued education of patients about the potential risks surrounding prescription opioid medications.

This tax would do nothing to address the core problems of inappropriate use and illegal distribution of opioids.

Greedy union bosses have corrupted state government, restricting municipal policymakers from governing their own affairs at the local level closer to the people.

Perpetual Contracts Will Keep Rhode Island in Perpetual Decline

Providence, RI— Statement from Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity on the “perpetual (evergreen) contracts” legislation that was signed into law today by the governor:

“The number one driver of the Ocean State’s declining population and jobs numbers –  are high property taxes. Our Public Union Excesses report clearly connects high property taxes with the excessively high costs of collectively bargained government services. This new ever-green contracts law will keep property taxes ever-high.

We continue to give an unfair advantage to the wealthiest and most connected insiders of the population, and now these special-interest groups come before the Rhode Island people and saying we don’t have enough … and we want more? This is outrageous!

It is clear today, that after 10 years of the slowest economic recovery among all states, Rhode Island’s political leaders are not fulfilling their promise to help the average family. Instead, by heaping more and more favors upon those who help get them elected, politicians have lost the trust of the people.

Beyond the financial costs, there is a more corrosive impact from this kind of political cronyism. People are fed up with betrayals from lawmakers who have forgotten them, who cater to special interest groups, and who make it harder to live and take care of their families and business – and to continue to reside and work in Rhode Island.

Sadly, Rhode Islanders will now have even less hope for our state, with even less trust in their government! In this case, perpetual contracts will make it much more likely that the state of Rhode Island will remain in perpetual decline.”

Public Union Excesses, the largest research report ever produced by the Center, details how Ocean State taxpayers are dishing out an extra $888 million per year as compared with their private sector counterparts; findings that are consistent with previous national studies, including a report by the Center in 2012. Rhode Island property taxes would be 25% lower were it not for the ‘excessive’ costs imposed on families and businesses for collectively bargained government services, in providing up to a 27% total compensation premium for government workers.