November 27, 2014
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Let prisoners pay for their incarceration
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

The Providence City Council is considering a proposed ordinance that would stop convicted murderer Nicholas Gianquitti’s disability retirement payments so long as he remains incarcerated. The Cranston murderer, a former short-term Providence police officer, is currently receiving over $50,000 per year in tax-free payments plus about $15,000 annually in benefits. In the meantime, taxpayers pay the cost of his incarceration at about $180,000 per year.

While the attempt to halt Gianquitti’s disability payments is admirable, there is another solution to the problem of prisoners receiving taxpayer largesse while the same taxpayers are paying for the prisoners’ upkeep. The solution: charge all prisoners for the costs of their incarceration.

Prisoners like Gianquitti, and others who have stocks, bonds, dividend income, retirement checks or other forms of substantial income or assets, would pay immediately for the cost of their imprisonment based on their ability to pay. The only exception would be a minimal amount of income left untouched for family support and certain assets, such as homes, so long as they are required for immediate family support. Prisoners unable to pay their incarceration costs should be billed and, once released, should repay at least 5 percent of their annual income until their debt to taxpayers is eliminated.

TAX FREEDOM DAY IN RHODE ISLAND: Last Wednesday was Tax Freedom Day in Rhode Island, the day on which our state’s citizens finally earned enough money to pay all of their federal, state and local tax bills. The entire amount earned from Jan. 1 until April 23 goes to these three forms of tax in Rhode Island.

The Ocean State was the 39th state to reach the tax payoff day, putting us 12th worst in the country in how much of our citizens’ annual income must be paid out in taxes.

As almost every politician promises but never delivers on, we must get our citizens’ tax burden down to a manageable level while also lowering our corporate tax rate. Otherwise, productive citizens will continue to leave Rhode Island and potential new businesses will continue to locate elsewhere.

MCKAY GETS FREE CAMPAIGN PUBLICITY: Previously unknown Republican Raymond McKay, the telecommunications supervisor who works for the city of Warwick and who wants to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Jack Reed, is fighting the city’s contention that he is forbidden by city ordinance to run for political office.

If the court rules in McKay’s favor, the city will have done him an immense favor by objecting to his political activity. The highly publicized argument has been plastered in newspapers around the state, giving the obscure McKay the kind of name recognition that candidates normally pay dearly for. Perhaps the race will be competitive after all.

WARWICK SCHOOL COMMITTEE MUST ACT: The Warwick School Committee has been extremely remiss in not taking action to consolidate schools as enrollment continues to decline. Its foot-dragging and insistence on more and more expensive, delaying “studies” is costing taxpayers money – up to $23 million by the superintendent’s estimate, costing students educational benefits, and costing everyone paroxysms of anger, frustration and impatience.

Now, Mayor Avedisian has promised that the projected $2.3 million in annual savings the schools will realize through consolidation will remain with the school department – now and in future years. This is an annual budget windfall the schools can use to greatly enhance educational programs.

For years the school department has complained of level funding by the city. Well, here’s an opportunity for the school department to realize a huge increase in its net financial resources. In movie lingo, the mayor has made “an offer the school committee can’t refuse.” If it does, every committee member voting to reject the offer should be thrown out of office in November.

ANOTHER RESPONSE TO CLIMATE CHANGE: With the melting of the arctic ice cap, new sea lanes are beginning to open where maritime navigation was previously impossible. Additionally, the receding ice is exposing new areas of the arctic sea bed. This melting phenomenon, while contributing to global warming, presents new opportunities for nations to extend the reach of their naval forces and project their military power into the Arctic Ocean. And it opens new sea beds to drilling efforts aimed at profiting from the vast oil deposits underlying the arctic region.

The country that controls the newly-opened and emerging arctic sea lanes by projecting its military might into the region will control not only that part of its defensive perimeter, but will also control the region’s energy production – both key elements of national security.

The two countries with both the military capability to control the arctic sea lanes and the capacity to exploit the vast oil deposits beneath them are the United States and Russia. Unfortunately, the only country that is currently prepared to exert initial control of the area is Russia. It has the world’s largest fleet of icebreaker ships and has expressed its willingness to do whatever it takes to establish and maintain naval access to all of the world’s oceans. Its recent annexation of Crimea and its Black Sea naval port at Sevastopol is evidence of its sea power goals.

If the U.S. wants to have Russia controlling the sea lanes and the sea bed north of our continent, to include those in close proximity to Alaska and our ally Canada, we need do nothing – it will happen. However, to protect both our national security and our energy security, our country needs to undertake an immediate initiative to compete with Russia and begin projecting our own military power into the arctic region. Unfortunately, it won’t happen during the Obama presidency.

OBAMA CLEMENCY PROGRAM: Kudos to President Obama for instituting a program that will release from long prison terms some of those convicted only of low level drug offenses.

Publicized restrictions, if followed, will ensure those released have no violent incidents on their records and no affiliation with gangs or organized crime.

A couple of caveats. The program must ensure that prisoners who were arrested for a violent crime but convicted only on a drug offense will not be released. Many times a judge will impose a harsh sentence for a minor crime when there is substantial evidence of a major crime but prosecutors made a deal with the offender to plead guilty to the lesser offense. These prisoners must remain behind bars and not eligible for release under this clemency program.

As described, the program will include some prisoners convicted of other crimes besides drug offenses; yet the administration has not publicized a list of those crimes. While the published parameters exclude violent offenders, let’s hope those released will also not include burglars, con artists, computer scam experts, and others convicted of fraud-related offenses that destroy many Americans’ financial security and severely damage our economy.

SUPREME COURT RULES ON VOTERS’ RIGHTS:  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week in a 6-2 decision with one recusal that American voters have the right to pass constitutional amendments when their state legislatures refuse to pass laws desired by the majority of voters.

In a Michigan case that sought to declare unconstitutional that state’s voter-initiated amendment to its constitution, an amendment that prohibits race, sex, and national origin from being considered in educational admissions and in employment, the Supreme Court ruled that voters have a right to overturn state law by voting to amend a state’s constitution.

The court emphasized that racial affirmative action is neither required nor prohibited by the U.S. Constitution; thus, such programs are up to the states’ laws and constitutions.

Finally, the highest court in our land is beginning to understand that states and their voters also have rights, so long as their actions do not violate the U.S. Constitution or their own constitutions. It’s about time!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It has become more popular to give out fish than teach how to fish.” - Jordan Liner of Coventry in a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal on Sunday. He was referring to the old saying, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats every day.” His implication: money confiscated from productive citizens by tax officials because of our ludicrous tax code should be used to teach job skills and provide incentives to work instead of being used to provide such lucrative handouts that many recipients never “learn to fish.”


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