November 23, 2014
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My take on the news
Setting the agenda for our legislators
Lonnie Barham

GENERAL ASSEMBLY AGENDA: There will be few surprises this year as the General Assembly considers new and revised legislation; almost all issues, from same-sex marriage to teacher binding arbitration, have been considered during previous sessions. In the wake of the Newtown school massacre, this session will also feature attempts to add more restrictions to Rhode Islander's Second Amendment rights. Strangely, there seems to be no mention of strengthening our mental health system to better identify and treat those who may have a propensity for gun violence, and no mention of considering any measures to increase school security.
We should all push our legislators to work hard toward ensuring equal rights for all Rhode Islanders and support same-sex marriage. We have to resist attempts to raise the state income tax rate back to 2010 levels since those rates contributed greatly to our anti-business reputation. We must push legislators to help our municipalities with pension reform; otherwise, they will never recover financial stability. We must find ways to further cut spending to address our state budget deficit; our current level of taxing and spending is far too high compared to other, more prosperous states. We must demand that our legislators not bow to union demands to allow binding arbitration for teachers, a move that will take financial decisions away from local officials and from the taxpayers themselves. Most of our municipalities are already approaching financial ruin; binding arbitration could lead to their demise. And, lastly, we must push legislators to consider more than just restricting Second Amendment rights as they consider ways to reduce gun violence in the Ocean State.

KEEPING THE POOR IN POVERTY: The former Medina Village in Providence’s dilapidated and poverty-stricken west end is getting a makeover with $21 million in taxpayer dollars. The renovated old multi-apartment buildings will be renamed Phoenix Apartments and will house 83 families or single occupants. So, the taxpayers are shelling out $253,000 per apartment just to renovate the buildings and will then subsidize rents and pay for upkeep until the buildings again deteriorate into urban blight – which, based on the area's history, will not take long.
The median selling price for a home in Rhode Island is around $205,000. Wouldn't it be far better for the Rhode Island Housing Authority to purchase 83 homes in nice neighborhoods for these low-income tenants to occupy, especially those with children, instead of leaving them in an area that is rife with poverty, crime, and drugs? If the taxpayers are ponying up over a quarter-million dollars per family, let's at least get the families out of an area where the cycle of poverty almost guarantees the children will become poverty-stricken adults. Let's give them an incentive to change their lives by allowing them to live in safe, middle-class neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, we seem content to keep handing out money to keep poor folks in dilapidated, crime-ridden areas. After all, handouts keep such people segregated from most of us and also ensure they will continue voting to keep big spending, big taxing politicians in office.

ALCOHOL TAX REVENUE IN RI: It has come to light that the last General Assembly, in one of its end-of-session attempts to obscure its actions, slipped a provision into the budget that requires all businesses that sell alcohol to report separately their 2012 alcohol sales. The thousand-plus small restaurants, pizza houses and other small businesses whose alcohol sales are secondary to their primary business cannot go back and determine which sales were alcohol vs. other sales.
The representative who suggested the new requirement, Warren's Jan Malik, a liquor store owner, says the purpose is to determine how much R.I. receives in sales tax on alcohol so a decision can be made whether to eliminate the tax, as Massachusetts has done, and thus make R.I. liquor stores more competitive.
Why not make this simple? Rhode Island's population equals 16 percent of Massachusetts’, which says it collects about $97 million per year in alcohol sales tax. This means R.I. is probably collecting an amount equal to 16 percent of what Massachusetts collects, or about $15.5 million. Only dunce legislators and inept state bureaucrats would place on small businesses the onerous task of trying to separate past sales taxes when such a simple alternative solution is available.

DEATH OF A GENERAL: Thanks to the Wall Street Journal for a couple of quotes from General Norman Schwarzkopf who died last week. Warning us that we should be very careful about arbitrary cuts to our military budget because we must remain flexible enough to handle contingencies in unforeseen places, Schwarzkopf said, "If someone had asked me on the day I graduated from West Point, in June 1956, where I would fight for my country during my years of service, I'm not sure what I would have said. But I'm damn sure I would not have said "Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq."
And, on America as the only remaining superpower, "The day I left Riyadh to return to the United States, [Saudi] General Khalid made a statement in a speech that every American should think about. He said, 'If the world is only going to have one superpower, thank God it is the United States of America.' When I think about the nations in the past fifty years that could have emerged as the world's only superpower - Tojo's Japan, Hitler's Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao's China - and the darkness that would have descended on this world if they had, I appreciated the wisdom of Khalid's words. Rest in peace, General Schwarzkopf.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK: Citizens of the historically liberal and religiously tolerant town of Northfield, Mass. are upset that the owner of a 217-acre, 43-building former prep school is considering giving or leasing the property to an evangelical religious organization. One resident stated, "The religious tradition of the area welcomes people of many faiths, belief or non-belief. There is potential conflict with those who follow more restrictive teachings. Another resident, noting the paradox of the situation, chimed in, "We consider ourselves tolerant but we won't tolerate intolerance.
Mimicking liberals and progressives elsewhere, Northfield residents find beliefs worthwhile so long as they are ones they agree with; if the beliefs are held only by others, then they are not only worthless, they are intolerable.


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