November 27, 2014
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My take on the news
CRMC shouldn't waive fee for Deepwater Wind
Lonnie Barham

THE CASE FOR ELIMINATING STATE INCOME TAX:  An analysis conducted for the American Legislative Exchange Council found that in the past ten years, 62 percent of all new jobs created in America were created in the nine states that have no state income tax - even though those states account for only 20 percent of the nation's population.  Most states with no income tax compensate for lost revenue by raising and broadening their sales tax while ensuring low-income folks are protected by exempting food, medicine and utilities from sales tax and by providing tax rebates for low-income families so their total tax costs don't increase.   It isn't a coincidence that the strong-economy, no-income tax states tend to be Republican dominated while the economy-suffering, job-killing states with high income tax rates are dominated by Democrats and their labor union supporters.  

 DEEPWATER WIND FEES:   Deepwater Wind, the company that plans to build a wind farm off Block Island, is asking the Coastal Resource Management Council (CRMC) to waive its application fee of $700,000.  Our General Assembly has already passed legislation that will greatly reduce Deepwater's operating costs by forcing National Grid to purchase electricity from Deepwater at a rate far above fair market value, a half billion dollar cost National Grid will pass on to all of us.  Waiving the application fee would be another instance of our state government "picking winners and losers" instead of allowing businesses to succeed or fail on their merits in accordance with the proven success of the Darwinian free enterprise model.  Beleaguered ratepayers to CRMC: Don’t waive the fee!  

 GENESIS OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION PROBLEM: The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial last week, reminded us of what caused illegal immigration to become such a problem in the first place.  Few remember the Bracero Program that was so successful in the 1950's.  It allowed the legal flow of labor back and forth across the border to accommodate seasonal employment needs in the U.S.  In those days, Mexicans who crossed the border for temporary work actually went back to Mexico when the work ended.  It was a legal process that was monitored and effective.  Unfortunately, big labor unions lobbied Congress to kill the program in the 1960s.  After that, Mexicans had to cross the border illegally for seasonal work – and they stayed when the work was over. We now have 11 million of them.

President Bush tried to implement a "guest worker" program in 2007 that would have been similar to Bracero but then-Senator Barrack Obama helped the AFL-CIO kill the proposal. President Obama spoke last week in Nevada outlining his ideas for immigration reform, yet he mentioned nothing about a guest worker program.  Without it, our illegal immigration problem will continue unabated - regardless of the reforms we put in place now.   Thankfully, the bipartisan group of senators who have reached agreement on a proposed immigration bill doesn't seem as beholden to organized labor as does Obama and it has included such a provision.  

TIME TO REVISIT MICHAELSON ACT:  Enacted in 1966, the Michaelson Act gave Rhode Island teachers the right to collectively bargain with school committees.  In essence, it created teacher unions.  While legislators contemplated the act would allow teacher unions to negotiate wages and working conditions, they did not intend for unions to supplant superintendents and other administrators as the key decision makers regarding how the core mission of schools - education - was to be provided.  The primary element of providing a high quality education is the hiring and assignment of high quality teachers based solely on their merit and their fitness for a specific teaching assignment.  

The state's "Basic Education Program," in which the General Assembly outlined how schools are to be run and which has the strength of law, says that teachers cannot be assigned solely on the basis of seniority.  Yet school districts continue to use seniority as the sole basis of teacher assignment year after year simply because school committees have allowed such restrictive language into teacher contracts.  The teacher unions contend the Michaelson Act allows such nonsense to be negotiated into contracts.  State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist disagrees vehemently and has now told school committees and superintendents that the practice must stop or districts will face loss of certification and loss of state financial aid.  The unions say Gist's position is "outrageous."  

Is it outrageous for parents to want the best education for their children?  Is it outrageous for parents to believe the best path to a good education is through good teachers?  Having their children taught by a teacher whose primary qualification for the position is how long she has been breathing since being hired - with no nod toward ability or merit, is a travesty that must stop!  Kudos to Commissioner Gist for finally forcing the issue.  However, it is also time for the General Assembly to revisit the Michaelson Act and refine it to make sure it supports the Basic Education Program.   

 CLOSE RIHEA:  Back in 2010, President Obama actually did something right.  He revised the federal student loan program to require colleges to give federal loans directly to students instead of making such loans through state student loan authorities and guarantee agencies.  This move was intended to dramatically cut the cost of student loans by eliminating the cost of middle agencies, thus saving money for students and taxpayer alike.  But many states, to include Rhode Island, have yet to eliminate those middle agencies, even though their missions have disappeared.

The vice chairman of the Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority, William Croasdale, wants to use the agency's $20 million reserve fund to maintain the jobs of the agency's 29 employees while keeping a few auxiliary functions that could easily be transferred to other state agencies.    Fortunately for taxpayers, the agency's chairman, Anthony J. Santoro, understands what needs to happen to an agency that no longer has a mission.  His take, "Ultimately, we have to make plans for what we need to do with this place.  We should not keep the agency afloat just to provide jobs." 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  Sergeant Brendan Marrocco, the young Soldier who lost all four limbs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2009 and who recently received two new arms transplanted from a deceased donor, in an interview showing off his new arms spoke about never giving up, "Life always gets better when you're still alive."  Thank you, Brendan - for your service, for your sacrifice and for your message of hope to all who those who sometimes face life's hurdles with despair.  

 


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