Roach: When the Assembly Doesn’t Listen, Rhode Islanders Must Act
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
If I was a betting man, given what I said last week, I’d bet that there isn’t enough concern amongst Rhode Islanders to do something, but I’m feeling optimistic this week for some reason. Maybe it was the nice weather over the weekend. Maybe I’m just a fool believing that change will come someday. Or maybe after I present my case to you, you will be as disgusted as I am and take action. I’m hoping that’s the case.
With the setup out of the way, I am calling on you Rhode Island to sign this Master Lever change.org petition. The petition calls for the elimination of the use of the master lever during our elections. If you’re not sure what the master lever is, let me give you a brief overview. The “master lever” allows for voters to select a straight-party option. For instance, if voter X would like to cast all of her votes for the Democrats she has the option to do so without casting a specific vote in every race on the ballot. There are three problems with this as I see it.
First, in Cranston and other communities there are a number of non-partisan races. We have the school committee so selecting a straight party means that all of those folks’ opinion on the organization the doles out a significant portion of the city budget directly impacting our children’s lives are never counted. The master lever is not omniscient and can’t read people’s minds. This leads to under voting and is silly in the 21st century.
Second, many times people actually cast a vote even though they’ve selected the straight party option. Essentially, this is voting more than once in the same race if the selection isn’t the same party pulled as on the master lever. Just this alone should be reason enough to eliminate the master lever. But there’s more.
Lastly and perhaps most embarrassingly is the prospect of pulling the master lever for a party when that party doesn’t even have a candidate in the race. Moderate Party founder, Ken Block, has been talking over the past year about the over 8,000 voters who pulled the master lever for the Moderate Party during the 2012 races even though there were only 3 – yes, 3 – candidates listed as Moderates. Now that’s just ridiculous and it’s mind boggling how this archaic tool is still in existence today.
But, that’s where you and I come in. Sign this Master Lever change.org petition and let’s tell the State House that they need to address this issue. Just so you know, last week the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on a bill that would eliminate the straight party option. Do you know how the committee voted? They held the issue for further study , effectively killing the bill this legislative season. Yes, they feel that more analysis needs to be done on the bill because the Master Lever is just a new 2014 issue.
If you’re not seeing the sarcasm in my last sentence, this must be the first column of mine you’ve read. You see in 2013 this same committee held this bill for further study. And it seems that over the past year, they’ve either learned nothing new about the master lever or the study they began last year hasn’t completed. Either way, they want more analysis.
Come on, we’re not that dumb. But, if we want to hold the Gotta Study Six (Metts, Lombardi, Jabour, Lynch, Goodwin, & Nesselbush) accountable for holding this bill for further study, then we must sign this petition. So here’s what you need to do.
Sign the Master Lever change.org petition and then tell at least one friend in Rhode Island to also sign it. My goal – 5,000 signatures. That’s a bit crazy but we can do it, if you sign the Master Lever change.org petition and tell a friend. When you tell your friend, ask them to tell one of their friends and so on. I believe that there will be enough people who believe as I do that we need to get rid of this thing, that we should be able to reach the goal of 5,000 signatures. The only reason we won’t reach this goal is because you do not care if our General Assembly makes boneheaded decisions.
Yes, holding this bill for further study falls into the “boneheaded” decision category given the exhaustive discussion and analysis on this issue over the years. And, as I continue to say, if we elect people who make bad decisions over and over again, we only have ourselves to blame when they continue to make poor decisions. Yet, today I want to give you an opportunity to do something different.
Please, I beg you to sign the Master Lever change.org petition and let’s tell the State House that the days of boneheaded decisions without public recourse are over. I’ll post the results of this little experiment next week. Don’t let me down Rhode Island!
Related Slideshow: The Ten Biggest Issues Facing the RI General Assembly in 2014
The latest report by the House Finance Committee illustrates that Rhode Island will start the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2014, with an estimated deficit of $149 million. The report shows the FY 2014 Budget contains numerous overspending problems—meaning that the General Assembly will have to cut costs somewhere.
So where will the cuts come from? Lawmakers will have to examine the state's costliest programs. According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the most expensive government programs in Rhode Island are Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Welfare, Pensions, Higher Education, and Interest on Debt. Click here to view a comprehensive list of the state's costliest government programs.
The state may be two years removed from Central Falls filing for bankruptcy, but 2014 could be the year that other financially strapped Rhode Island communities follow suit—most notably Woonsocket and West Warwick.
With bankruptcy on the table in both 2012 and 2013, this year poses more financial uncertainty for the cash-strapped city of Woonsocket. Earlier this year, the city's bond rating was downgraded due to the city's numerous financial issues—including a growing deficit, increasing unfunded pension liability, and a severe cash crunch.
Similarly, the embattled town of West Warwick faces a variety of financial questions in 2014. With its pension fund set to run out by 2017, the town must address its unfunded liabilities this year if it hopes to regain financial stability. That, coupled with an increasing school department deficit, make West Warwick a contender for bankruptcy.
Look for Woonsocket and West Warwick's elected state officials to address their respective cities' financial issues in the upcoming legislative session.
With the Special Joint Legislative Commission to Study the Sales Tax Repeal set to report their findings to the General Assembly in February, the possibility of sales tax repeal in Rhode Island could become a reality in 2014.
"Our sales tax is killing small businesses, especially those in border communities," said Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), the commission's chair. "How can Rhode Island continue to compete at 7 percent, with Massachusetts already lower than us and considering reducing its sales tax even farther? How can Rhode Island restaurants compete at 8 percent? They can’t. We need to find a way to fix this, and a serious discussion of our sales tax is a discussion we need to have, now, before more small stores close their doors."
In addition to Malik, proponents of sales tax elimination include the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Forbes Magazine.
EDC Reorganization to Commerce Corporation
On January 1, 2014, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation will be replaced with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation—a move which has the potential to impact to adversely affect recipients of federal funding contracts made possible currently through the EDC.
This could include the state's Broadband Initiative, Brownfields program, and other contracts made through the EDC. As a result, recipients will now be required to re-apply for federal funding as of January 1st.
The massive overhaul of the EDC was prompted by the 38 Studios debacle, which is projected to cost Rhode Island taxpayers $102 million. 38 Studios, the now defunct video game company, filed bankruptcy in May 2012 just months after securing a $75 million loan from the EDC.
With the state's marijuana decriminalization law going into effect this past April, Rhode Island may be a candidate for marijuana legalization in 2014.
Legislation to legalize marijuana has been introduced in each of the last three years, but has never been voted on. Earlier this year, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Dist. 3, Providence), who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill in the House. Roughly half of the Judiciary Committee supports the measure.
The bill also has the support of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization focusing on drug policy reform, which hopes to legalize marijuana in ten states, including Rhode Island.
Approximately 52 percent of Rhode Island voters support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in January.
Marijuana is currently legal in Colorado and Washington.
Come November 2014, Rhode Island voters will likely be asked whether they wish to convene a constitutional convention, which involves individuals gathering for the purpose of writing a new constitution or revising the existing one.
Every 10 years, Rhode Island voters are asked whether they wish to amend or revise the constitution. Voters rejected this opportunity in 1994 and 2004. Although rare, Rhode Islanders can vote to hold a constitutional convention and in effect, take control over the state government.
If approved, a special election is held to elect 75 delegates, who then convene to propose amendments to the Rhode Island Constitution. These amendments are then voted on in the next general election.
The likelihood of this occurring highly depends on if the General Assembly does its job to ensure residents that the state is heading in the right direction financially and structurally.
Rhode Island’s last constitutional convention took place in 1986. It proposed 14 amendments—eight of which were adopted by voters.
Education Board Structure
Less than a year after the General Assembly created the 11-member Rhode Island Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education, there are multiple questions surrounding the structure of this newly consolidated agency.
Although lawmakers voted to merge the state's two education boards in June, the Board of Education now wants to split its agency to create two separate councils—one with the statutory authority over kindergarten to grade 12 and another governing higher education.
The Board of Education will present its proposal to the General Assembly during its next legislative session and lawmakers will once again determine how the agency should be structured.
The Board of Education currently governs all public education in Rhode Island.
Sakonnet Bridge Tolls
Rhode Island may have implemented tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge this past year, but they could be gone by 2014.
On January 15, the East Bay Bridge Commission—which was established to allow lawmakers and officials investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge—will report its findings to the General Assembly. The General Assembly is then required to vote on the issue by April 1.
The commission was established in July following the General Assembly's approval of the 10-cent toll.
Located on Westminster Street in Downtown Providence, the former Bank of America Building (commonly referred to as the Superman Building) may be the tallest building in the state, but as of right now, it's just a vacant piece of property.
The building's current owner, High Rock Westminster LLC, was most recently looking for a total of $75 million to rehabilitate the skyscraper—$39 million of which would come from the state.
With the sting of the 38 Studios deal still fresh in the minds of lawmakers, a $39 million tax credit appears unlikely.
The question of what will become of the Superman Building remains to be seen.
Championed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block (while head of the RI Moderate Party), the movement to eliminate the Master Level, which allows voters to vote for all candidates of one political party with a stroke of the pen, is poised to heat up in 2014.
Despite Block's strong push to repeal the 1939 law, the measure did not get a vote in the General Assembly last session.
In October, Block told GoLocal that he believes that House Speaker Gordon Fox is responsible for the General Assembly not voting on the proposal.
“Despite the support of a majority of 42 state Representatives, thousands of emails from concerned RI voters and unanimous testimony of more than 100 people who came to the State House in person to testify that the Master Lever had to go, the Speaker personally killed the bill in the most unaccountable way possible—he did not allow the House Judiciary Committee to vote on the bill,” Block told GoLocal.
Speaker Fox has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the Master Level is a legitimate tool that many voters use.
- Don Roach: 5 Big Stories Facing RI in 2014
- Don Roach: A Moment of Truth for Mitt Romney
- Don Roach: Assessing Blame for the Latest Fiscal Crisis
- Don Roach: Chafee’s Switch Doesn’t Matter… To Anyone
- Don Roach: Fung Gains Cranston GOP Endorsement as Block Falters
- Don Roach: How Will the Next RI GOP Chair Restore Credibility?
- Don Roach: It’s Doherty or Bust for Rhode Island
- Don Roach: Marriage Equality Advocates Don’t Love All Minorities
- Don Roach: Newt Fights Back in South Carolina
- Don Roach: Obama Loses Showdown with Putin
- Don Roach: RI GOP Gun Raffle Shows Moxie
- Don Roach: Super Tuesday, The Day of Reckoning?
- Don Roach: Wake Me When the CD-1 Race Begins
- Don Roach: Will Gemma Knock Off Cicilline?
- Don Roach: 5 Most Intriguing Stories from 2012
- Don Roach: After Iowa, What Next?
- Don Roach: Black History Month Needs to Go
- Don Roach: Cicilline & Gemma Make the Case for Doherty
- Don Roach: GOP Relevancy for Dummies
- Don Roach: Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Obama Diplomacy
- Don Roach: Jim Langevin Should be Very Afraid of Mike Riley
- Don Roach: Megyn Kelly Needs a Serious Reality Check
- Don Roach: Newt Gingrich – Your Next U.S. President
- Don Roach: Obama- A Case Study In Deceit
- Don Roach: RI GOP’s Passionate Pursuit of Mediocrity
- Don Roach: The Buffett Rule is Really the Buffet Rule
- Don Roach: We’re Still Ignorant On Race
- Don Roach: With Santorum Out, Nothing Left to Stop Romney
- Don Roach: Immigration reform appears imminent
- Don Roach: 5 Reasons Conservatives Don’t Trust Romney
- Don Roach: Allan Fung Needs to be RI’s Next Governor
- Don Roach: Black People are Getting Lost in the American Shuffle
- Don Roach: David Cicilline Ruined Providence
- Don Roach: Gay marriage debate at the tipping point
- Don Roach: I Am a Republican…We’re Idiots
- Don Roach: Jockeying for Position in the 2014 Governor’s Race
- Don Roach: Mike Riley can Beat Jim Langevin
- Don Roach: No Significant Need To Wear Your Seat Belt
- Don Roach: Occupy & the Tea Party – Twins Separated at Birth
- Don Roach: RI Politicians Don’t Know Jack About Business
- Don Roach: The Fiscal Cliff and Rhode Island
- Don Roach: Welcome to the Era of Social Media Wars
- Don Roach: You Bet Cicilline is Sorry
- Don Roach: ‘Choose Life’ License Plates Another Win For Tolerance
- Don Roach: 5 Reasons Taxing the Rich is Stupid
- Don Roach: America’s Most Wanted Man Finds No Rest In Death
- Don Roach: Blind Faith in Cicilline is Reckless
- Don Roach: Deborah Gist, You Go Girl!
- Don Roach: Gemma Looks to Expose Cicilline
- Don Roach: I Didn’t Watch the Inauguration
- Don Roach: Just Say No to In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants
- Don Roach: My Education Crusade - An Interview with Deborah Gist
- Don Roach: North Korea’s Napoleon Complex
- Don Roach: Paul Ryan will Not Win Over Rhode Island
- Don Roach: RI Sales Tax Needs to go
- Don Roach: The Power Of Poverty
- Don Roach: What Happened to the Occupy Movement?
- Roach: Bin Laden Brought the Best out of America
- Don Roach: 10 Things I Want for Christmas
- Don Roach: 5 Things We Learned on Election Day
- Don Roach: An Equitable Solution to Illegal Immigration
- Don Roach: Boston Bombing—The Latest Challenge To Our Freedom
- Don Roach: Diversity is Overrated
- Don Roach: Good Intentions Often Lead to Hell
- Don Roach: I Hate Politician Adspam
- Don Roach: Latinos Are The Key to the Republican Revolution
- Don Roach: My Education Crusade - Finding the Secret Sauce
- Don Roach: OMG! The Government Shuts Down!
- Don Roach: Paula Deen, Affirmative Action + 21st-Century Racism
- Don Roach: Religious Freedom isn’t Important to Obama
- Don Roach: There Will Be Blood
- Don Roach: When Is Enough Enough, Rhode Island?
- Roach: My Education Crusade - Why Suspension Stats Don’t Matter
- Don Roach: 2012 Election Predictions
- Don Roach: 5 Things to Watch for in 2012
- Don Roach: Angel Taveras is Losing His Shine
- Don Roach: Brendan Doherty Needs to Up His Game
- Don Roach: Does Anyone Care About Cranston School Secretaries?
- Don Roach: Governornment Loans are Bad Business
- Don Roach: If Cicilline Wins In 2012, Voters Lose
- Don Roach: Let’s Get Ready To Rumble
- Don Roach: My Education Crusade Begins Today
- Don Roach: Obama Campaign Takes Cue from Karl Rove
- Don Roach: Political Things I’m Thankful For
- Don Roach: Rhode Island Needs a Sales Tax Holiday
- Don Roach: Too Many Vacancies in Occupy Movement
- Don Roach: When Rights Collide – Homosexuality and Religion
- Roach: Targeted Providence Schools Should Close
- Don Roach: 2nd Place a Win in New Hampshire
- Don Roach: 50 Years Later, The Negro Is Free
- Don Roach: Are Beautiful White Females The Only Murder Victims We Care About?
- Don Roach: Can We Believe Raimondo?
- Don Roach: Don’t Frisk Me, Bro
- Don Roach: Head-Scratchers From The Past Week
- Don Roach: If Progressives Win, We Lose
- Don Roach: MLK’s legacy is More than Just a Holiday
- Don Roach: NECAP and Gist
- Don Roach: Obama Goes on the Offensive
- Don Roach: President Obama has Failed to Turn Around the Economy
- Don Roach: Rhode Island’s Christmas Carol