November 22, 2014
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Future of voter master lever now hinges on Senate
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

WILL MCCAFFREY LEAD OR KOW-TOW? Warwick State Senator Michael McCaffrey is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee that stopped progress on eliminating the detested master lever from our ballot booths by holding a Senate bill for “further study.” Shortly thereafter, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to rid our election system of the one-stroke master lever.

The House vote has reenergized citizens, politicians, business leaders, and good-government organizations throughout the state to push the Senate to pass the House bill. It has to start with the chairman of the judiciary committee, Senator McCaffrey. Unlike his previous quashing of the Senate bill, he must allow the House bill to come out of study and be moved to the Senate floor for a vote.

The question for voters, especially for Warwick voters who put McCaffrey in office, is: will McCaffrey lead and do what is right and what the vast majority of Rhode Islanders want him to do, or will he once again bury his head in the sand and pretend he can’t hear – hoping the voters will forget that he, in essence, flipped them the middle finger gesture?

HOW NEWSPAPERS IMPACT GOVERNMENT DECISIONS: For the past eight years, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development has granted an exception to its conflict of interest rules to the director of Rhode Island Housing and his wife who directs SWAP Inc., a non-profit organization that receives substantial taxpayer funding from Rhode Island Housing. It has been a clear conflict of interest that HUD chose to ignore, perhaps at taxpayer expense.

Something changed this year. For the first time HUD has opted not to issue an exception to its conflict of interest rules. Why has HUD suddenly decided to do what’s right? Because the Providence Journal exposed Rhode Island Housing’s absurd purchases of practically worthless lots for up to six times their assessed value and its history of passing many of those lots on to SWAP – a clear conflict of interest between the two husband and wife directors.

The press is an agent of the public when it comes to ferreting out government impropriety, malfeasance and mismanagement. When newspapers bring such waste and abuse to the public’s attention, government usually cleans up its act. In this case, the press did its job exceedingly well!

COST OF OUR OBAMACARE EXCHANGE: Christine Ferguson, the director of HealthSourceRI, our state’s Obamacare exchange, is pushing to keep the exchange running even though it will cost Rhode Island taxpayers $4.6 million starting in July and much more in future years.

Forbes magazine analyzed our enrollment costs and found the cost to run our Obamacare exchange is $4,002 per enrollee. The cost to run the federal exchange is only $647 per enrollee. Surely it is time to close down our very costly exchange and do what 32 other states are doing – use the now properly functioning federal exchange.

WHAT ELSE CAN OBAMA MISMANAGE? From the National Security Agency (secret spying on innocent Americans) to the State Department (Benghazi) to the Treasury Department (deficit spending and national debt) to the Internal Revenue Service (targeting conservative political groups), it appears that President Obama can’t seem to exercise decent senior leadership over any of the departments that report to him. His leadership weaknesses and his penchant for remaining disengaged are palpable.

Now comes news that the Veterans Administration has kept two sets of appointment lists for our war veterans, one for public view that shows appointment wait times are reasonable, the other a secret, hidden list that shows many veterans waited an extraordinarily long time for treatment that, in some cases, might have saved their lives. It’s a travesty of enormous proportion!

Is there a single department that Obama and his Democratic appointees can manage properly? Apparently not!

WHY CAN’T WARWICK GET IT RIGHT? In an attempt to determine whether or not its messed up records were accurate, the Warwick Tax Collector sent out 23,500 letters telling property owners they were delinquent on their taxes. Many, perhaps the vast majority, of recipients were not delinquent but the tax collector apparently decided the only way to reconcile his records was for non-delinquent taxpayers to trudge to city hall with evidence that they had paid their bills.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said of the ill-written, ill-advised letters, “The intent was good but the execution wasn’t so good.”

Last year the tax collector sent out numerous tax bills with incorrect addresses, erroneous due dates and failed to apply exemptions for senior citizens. The year before, tax bills were sent out late and didn’t reflect an extended payment deadline, causing city hall to be mobbed with property owners trying to pay immediately to avoid interest charges.

Mayor Avedisian is a very good mayor who has run a “tight ship” in most instances. It’s just baffling why he can’t seem to get the city’s tax collection problems fixed.

WHY WOULD ANYONE BUY A CHEVY? Back when President Obama was eager to shovel tons of taxpayer money to then-almost bankrupt General Motors as part of the costly stimulus bail out program, many citizens and politicians protested saying we should let the automaker go broke. Of course, Obama didn’t listen and ended up pouring billions of dollars into GM. The company has since regained its financial footing.

Based on its quality record, perhaps we should have let GM go broke. Last week the company announced another recall of over 2 million Chevrolets, Buicks, Cadilacs, and Saturns for safety defects. This was on top of the 11 million vehicles GM had already recalled since February because of safety defects, including faulty ignitions that have caused numerous fatalities. GM has now recalled more vehicles this year alone than it sold in the past five years.

Most Americans remember that Ford Motor Company refused to take Obama’s bail out money that cost the taxpayers so much. Because of that, many Americans vowed never again to purchase a GM product and, instead, shift their loyalty to Ford. It looks like Ford not only protected taxpayer pocketbooks with its bail out refusal; it has also protected America’s highway safety by manufacturing quality vehicles. If only GM had the same record.

It just goes to show what happens when government meddles with a market economy. Anytime government pours money into a dying company to prop it up, it defies market forces. If a company’s product and management are weak, stronger companies will edge it out of the market. When government acts to keep such a company alive, we end up with a company that produces shoddy products.

BLUE CROSS SAYS AFFORDABLE CARE ACT NOT AFFORDABLE: Most Americans agree that our country’s healthcare system needed, and still needs, revising to ensure everyone is covered. It just needs to be done in an honest, up-front manner with bi-partisan support to ensure the added cost is supported across the board.

Obamacare, however, was pushed through with presidential dishonesty and with zero support from half the country and with opposition from more than half of Congress.

Even its name, the Affordable Care Act, is dishonest and now Blue Cross has proven it. The giant health insurance company that insures most Rhode Islanders has asked permission to raise its premium rates by a whopping 12 percent.

The Blue Cross justification for the rate increase: “The increasing cost of medical care ... and significant unknowns resulting from implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act ... have the potential to put Blue Cross’s financial stability at risk.”

ONLY IN RHODE ISLAND: With some of the worst schools in the nation, with our student performance scores consistently lower than the other New England states, and our teacher compensation among the highest in the country at over $63,000 per year on average, only here in union-run Rhode Island would the General Assembly consider a bill to virtually eliminate teacher evaluations.

Annual evaluation of teacher performance is critical to effective classroom education and to student success. Regardless, our legislature seems poised to allow teacher unions to strong-arm it into passing a law that will only worsen student performance.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble directed a firm gibe at President Obama’s bumbling Ukraine policy when he commented on a recent poll that found 49 percent of Germans want their country to play a “middle role between Russia and the West,” an indication that half of Germany doesn’t consider itself a part of the West. Schauble said that his government needed to work harder to convince Germans that opposing Russia’s actions in Ukraine was the right course of action and added, “We, of course, need to make clear that we are part of the West. But we’ll be even more successful if the United States understands that it is also part of the West.”


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