Moore: Raimondo’s Old School, Know A Guy Politics
Monday, February 06, 2017
Rhode Islanders from Narragansett to Woonsocket and everywhere in between are disgusted with the fact that government insiders profit from their connections and secure sweetheart deals as well as government largesse thanks to who they know--not what they can do for us.
When Governor Gina Raimondo was running for the state government’s top job, she certainly talked a good game about the need for Little Rhody to clean up its negative reputation. She was telling us that it was “time to move on from the same”, while she was on the campaign trail.
I have this crazy idea that we should remember what politicians say while they’re running for office and then compare and contrast it to what their administration does while they’re in office. I mean, if we’re not going to remember what politicians say before they get elected, why even bother listening and reporting on what they say when they’re running? After all, words should mean something.
Enough is Enough
How has Raimondo’s campaign trail rhetoric compared to the actions of her administration since she’s taken office? They’ve been in an almost direct conflict. Instead of moving on, it’s been the same ol’, same ol’.
For instance, on Saturday, GoLocal reported that Raimondo’s Chief of Staff, Brett Smiley, and his husband, are poised to sell their home to Brown University for just over $1 million dollars. The house’s value with the city tax assessor’s office is listed at $843,600.
Meanwhile, the State of Rhode Island's 195 Commission recently awarded $32 million in state subsidies to fund the Wexford project on the former highway land. Brown is scheduled to lease a portion of the property and will move 85 existing employees into the space subsidized by taxpayers.
So while the state is wheeling and dealing with Brown University, the school is buying a home from the Governor’s top guy, at a price that’s higher than the city’s current assessment.
More of the Same
Can anyone imagine the outrage we’d hear from the progressives in Rhode Island if it was a conservative Republican doing this instead of one of their own beloved so-called progressives? Just imagine if the wheeling and dealing taking place was being done by someone who wasn’t part of the cliquey, cool kids here in Rhode Island!
Yet this isn’t the first ethically questionable action taken by the Raimondo administration. Her first Chief of Staff, Stephen Neuman, was shepherding legislation that would benefit DraftKings, an internet fantasy football company, at the same time his wife was applying for a job at the company--which she ultimately landed.
And who could forget that Raimondo ignored the revolving door statute by hiring former legislator Donald Lally, just a couple months after he stepped down from the legislature? Lally eventually had to resign his position--since it was apparent to just about everyone that the Governor’s appointment didn’t pass ethical muster.
Do these types of actions represent an attempt to “move on from the same?” I think not. If anything, they’re emblematic of the old school, machine style politics that Raimondo supposedly detests.
Time For Change
In any event, Raimondo is right about one thing. It is time for the state of Rhode Island’s government to finally move on from the same old insider politics that’s plagued us for far too long. The problem is, instead of rectifying these issues, the Raimondo administration is part and parcel to the political shenanigans the public detests.
That better change, and quickly. If it doesn’t happen, Raimondo and her top administrators shouldn’t be surprised when Rhode Islanders decide to move on from them in a couple years.
Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers in Raimondo’s FY18 Budget Proposal
Criminal Justice Reform
Per recommendations from the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, the Governor is proposing nearly $1 million in investments such as the public defender mental health program ($185,000), improved mental health services at the ACI ($410,000), recovery housing ($200,000) and domestic violence intervention, in her FY18 budget.
English Language Learners
Under the heading of “promoting 3rd grade reading,” Raimondo proposed adding $2.5 million to make English Language Learning (ELL) K-12 funding permanent. The Governor’s office points out that RI is one of four states that doesn’t have permanent funding.
The suggestion was one made by the Funding Formula Working Group in January 2016, who said that “in the event that Rhode Island chooses to make an additional investment in ELLs, the funding should be calculated to be responsive to the number of ELLs in the system and based on reliable data, and include reasonable restrictions to ensure that the money is used to benefit ELLs — and promote the appropriate exiting of ELL students from services.”
Car Owners - and Drivers
Governor Raimondo wants to reduce assessed motor vehicle values by 30% - a change that would reduce total car tax bills by about $58 million in calendar year 2018. Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, however, has indicated that he might want to go further in its repeal.
In her budget proposal, Raimondo also put forth adding 8 staffers to the the Department of Motor Vehicles to "address wait times."
The “Air Services Development Fund” would get an influx of $500,000 to “provide incentives to airlines interested in launching new routes or increasing service to T.F. Green Airport.” The Commerce Corporation set the criteria at the end of 2016 for how to grant money through the new (at the time $1.5 million fund).
Also getting a shot in the arm is the I-195 development fund, which would receive $10.1 million from debt-service savings to “resupply” the Fund to “catalyze development & attract anchor employers.”
Minimum Wage Increase
An increase in the state minimum wage is part of Raimondo’s proposal, which would see it go from $9.60 an hour to $10.50 an hour. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort in 2016 to bring it up to $10.10 — it was June 2015 that she signed legislation into law that last raised Rhode Island’s minimum wage, from $9 to 9.60.
The state's minimum hourly wage has gone up from $6.75 in January 2004 to $7.75 in 2013, $8 in 2014, and $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business however have historically been against such measures, citing a hamper on job creation.
Like the minimum wage, Raimondo is looking for an increase - in this instance, the cigarette tax, and revenue to state coffers. Raimondo was unsuccessful in her effort to go from a tax of $3.75 to $4 last year. Now she is looking for an increase to $4.25 per pack, which the administration says would equate to $8.7 million in general revenue — and go in part towards outdoor recreation and smoking cessation programs.
The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups have historically been against such an increase, saying it will hurt small businesses - i.e. convenience stores. And clearly, if you’re a smoker, you’re likely to place this squarely in the loser category instead.
As often happens in the state budget, winner one year, loser the next. As GoLocal reported in 2016, “the Rhode Island Hospital Association immediately lauded the budget following its introduction, and addressed that while it is facing some reductions, that it "applauds" this years budget after landing on the "loser" list last year.”
This year, it falls back on the loser list, with a Medicaid rate freeze to hospitals, nursing homes, providers, and payers — at FY 2017 levels, with a 1% rate cut come January 1, 2018.
The taxman cometh — maybe. Raimondo proposed an “Internet Sales Tax Initiative” — which would purportedly equate to $34.7 million in revenues.
"Online sales and the fact that online sellers do not collect sales tax has created a structural problem for Rhode Island's budget — our sales taxes have been flat," said Director of Administration Michael DiBiase, of the tax that Amazon collects in 33 states, but not Rhode Island. "We think mostly due to online sales, we’re able to capture the growth. The revenue number is $35 million dollars — it improves our structural deficit problem. It’s an important fiscal development."
Long Term Care Funding
The Governor’s proposal recommends “redesigning the nature” of the State’s Integrated Care Initiative, by transferring long-term stay nursing home members from Neighborhood Health to Medicaid Fee-for-Service and repurposing a portion of the anticipated savings (from reduced administrative payments to Neighborhood Health) for “enhanced services in the community.” “The investments in home- and community-based care will help achieve the goal of rebalancing the long-term care system," states the Administration.
Cutting that program is tagged at saving $12.2 million; cuts and “restructuring” at Health and Human Services is slated to save $46.3 million.
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