December 21, 2014
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A cure for the slippery sequestration slope
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

WHAT LINCOLN WOULD SAY TO OBAMA:  Unless something has changed by time this column goes to print, the much ballyhooed “sequestration” takes effect Friday.  It is not the fiscal cliff we all talked about in late December and early January; instead, it is a “fiscal slope” that will take effect slowly and gives the President and Congress plenty of time to revise it so that spending cuts apply to less important programs but still reduce the deficit the same amount.  Of course, President Obama, in his endless campaign that mimics South American dictators’ never-ending push to incite the populace to override the constitutional discretion of legislators, has been traveling the country tossing around dire and overblown predictions of societal chaos that will result from the sequestration - from such fabrications as airplanes grounded to dangerous prisoners released to the streets.  Instead of working with the opposition party, Obama and the political hacks who parrot his vile scare tactics are trying to shift blame for the woeful results of sequestration to Republicans who simply want the administration to cut back on spending before the nation spends itself into oblivion.  Let’s not forget that it was Obama who proposed sequestration in the first place and it was he who signed it into law.  That notwithstanding, numerous noted economists agree the sequester is “a bad idea whose time has come.”  Yes, it’s bad medicine. But sometimes foul tasting medicine is the only cure for what ails you.    

So, what would Lincoln say to President Obama?  Steven Spielberg’s wonderful film truly tells the story of why President Lincoln was so successful. Instead of trying to incite the public when he wanted opposition support for the 13th Amendment to outlaw slavery, he worked with Congress.  He cajoled, he twisted arms, he threatened, he schmoozed, he sometimes used trickery, and he sometimes compromised.  But, he worked with Congress - both as a body and personally with individual congressmen. He understood that our republic is not a pure democracy where the public votes on every important issue; that, instead, it is a representative democracy where the president has to work with the people’s representatives to advance the common good. What Lincoln lacked, President Obama has an overabundance of - arrogance. And, what Lincoln would tell Obama today is this:  “Work with Congress!  The opposition loves America, too. Don’t use arrogant, reckless rhetoric that is designed to incite the public and antagonize the opposition party.  You’ve had a major tax win already; don’t push it to the point that nothing gets done.  The American people want spending curtailed, but they want it done to programs that are not truly essential to our way of life.  Only compromise can achieve that.” And, what should Americans tell Obama today?  “Be like Lincoln for once and experience what it’s like to drop the arrogance and practice just a tiny bit of humility in order to achieve what’s best for our country!”       

WARWICK SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT:  The Warwick School Committee made a good move in appointing Dr. Richard D’Agostino to the position of superintendent through the 2013-2014 school year; it brings a sense of stability to the school system until a nationwide search can be conducted.  Based on Dr. D’Agostino’s background, experience and qualifications, and assuming he continues to do a good job, he will rightfully be the leading contender for the job beyond 2014.  

In his interview with the Warwick Beacon, D’Agostino emphasized why the school department budget must sometimes be increased during the budget year due to unanticipated expenses - primarily the very high cost of sending special needs students to private outplacement facilities.  Beyond the vagaries of ever-changing state and federal funding, this budgetary uncertainty is caused primarily by such students moving into the district after the budget is already in place. By state law, these students become the financial responsibility of Warwick but were not included in the budget already in place. As D’Agostino indicated, only five severely needy students moving into the district who require outplacement could lead to an unanticipated additional expense of $350,000.  The state law that leads to this annual budgetary instability affects all communities in Rhode Island. 

There is a solution to this mess, however.  All it will take is for the General Assembly to amend the law to require that students who move from one school district in Rhode Island to another after July 1st remain the financial responsibility of the district from which they move until the following June 30th.  The sending district will have already budgeted for the special needs student’s expenses so its budget will not change, and there will be no need for the receiving district to have to upend its budget in mid-year.  This won’t help the uncertainty that comes with students moving in from another state, but most new students who move in during the school year come from within the state.

NON SEQUITUR ON ARREST RECORDS:  The Latin term “non sequitur,” which has become a standard phrase in the English language to describe something that doesn’t follow logically from something previously said or done, is the perfect term to describe the dichotomy that will result if our General Assembly passes a proposed law that will deny employers the right to ask applicants about their criminal arrest records. We’ve come to learn that the University of Rhode Island is allowed to ask about student applicants’ arrest records.  This came to light when it was discovered that URI had failed to ask that question of an applicant whose father happens to be director of enrollment services.  The student was enrolled and placed in a dormitory even though he had been convicted of several felonies and had just been released on  parole from imprisonment for armed robbery.  

The non sequitur?  Should the law be passed that will preclude employers from asking about arrests, we will have a situation in Rhode Island where an academic organization can quiz applicants about arrests but a business organization cannot.  Which is more important, knowing whether a student has an arrest record or whether an employee with access to a company’s money and property has a criminal past?  The question is rhetorical.  It’s just another example of how our legislature insists on keeping our state unfriendly to business.   

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:  “Let’s not allow consortia to breed inertia.”  From Providence Journal columnist Edward Fitzpatrick, who recommended that Rhode Island government start taking concrete actions toward fixing our economy instead of commissioning even more studies, reports and consortia analysis.  Considering the super-abundance of such studies and reports commissioned in the past four years, it looks like state government is always happy to push off decision making by paying for yet another study.  Good column, Edward, but it’s too late - inertia has already infected state government.    


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