November 28, 2014
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My take on the news
Running scared, Chafee now playing politics with pension reform
Lonnie Barham

GOVERNOR'S WAFFLING ON PENSION REFORM: Governor Chafee is running scared. Elected in 2010 with only 36 percent of the vote and most of that from public sector union members, Chafee has come to realize that he doesn't have a snowball's chance in August to win another term unless he regains his union backing.

So, he is now playing politics with what was once a unified position between the governor, the General Treasurer, the General Assembly, and the beleaguered taxpayers. It's cowardly politics at its worst!

Due primarily to the leadership of General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, the General Assembly passed a law reforming the state's public sector pension program. It is a good law that respects the state's obligations to its employees and retirees while ensuring their retirement will be funded. It is also fair to taxpayers whose own retirements, for the most part, will be far inferior to those enjoyed by the public servants their tax dollars finance.

It appears this whole thing is a prime example of the unconstitutional overstepping of authority by both the governor and the courts. Once the General Assembly passes a law, the governor can't negotiate it away with those the law is meant to affect. He had the option to veto the pension reform bill; he signed it instead. He now must implement it or convince the general assembly to change it. And Judge Taft-Carter's only constitutional role is to determine whether or not the law is constitutional. She has no power to "make law" by ordering the governor and the unions into negotiations or mediation over a law properly passed by the legislative body. In this case, both Chafee and Taft-Carter are, in essence, trying to usurp the constitutional authority of the General Assembly.

This is an extreme analogy, but is this any different from the nightmare that would have existed in 1964 after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act had President Johnson tried to negotiate it away with the southern states instead of enforcing it?

STATE SUPREME COURTS ILL-CONCEIVED DECISION: The Rhode Island Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the pension reform case when it chose to allow Judge Taft-Carter to continue presiding over the case. Tacitly admitting that a conflict of interest exists because three of Taft-Carter's family members will be affected by her decision in the case, the Supreme Court downplayed the conflict by saying the case is of "incalculable importance to the state's citizens" and its importance outweighs the "economic interests" of Taft-Carter's relatives; and that the most compelling argument to keep Taft-Carter on the case is "a speedy, effective and efficient determination of the case." For a case that is so important to the taxpayers and to state employees and retirees, it seems strange that the Supreme Court's rationale for keeping Taft-Carter as the decision-maker failed to include the three most important reasons for having an impartial judge make the final decision - fairness, justice and constitutionality. Is our justice system giving up its core principles simply for the sake of speed?

FAILED DRUG WAR AND OVERARMING OF POLICE: The public should take notice of two stories in last week’s news that could portend trouble for our society. One was about a conference on ending the "war on drugs," a Brown University hosted event that called attention to the so-called war's complete failure and its adverse impact on our society. The other story was about the Johnston Police Department's apparent quest to become a small army instead of a police department.

Those at the conference talked about how the failed war on drugs has caused a major rift between police and the minority community because of racial profiling and unwarranted searches, and about how the anti-drug effort has caused crime to increase, prison populations to balloon, and has caused incalculable human suffering at the hands of drug cartels and inner-city gangs; and that not one of the war on drug's objectives has been attained. The story about the ever-increasing firepower our police departments feel compelled to obtain is really a mirror story to the failed drug policy story. As the violence associated with illegal drugs becomes more pronounced and as drug sellers and users feel greater need to arm themselves, the police respond with upping the ante on their own firepower.

Any rational person should see that continuing to classify all drugs as illegal, especially relatively harmless marijuana that provides the bulk of drug cartel and gang profits, will only lead to more crime and violence - and to more military tactics by police officers. Neither is good for our society.

BY THE WAY: In a new Gallup Poll, 63 percent of Americans told pollsters the federal government should not enforce marijuana laws in states that vote to legalize the substance. Only 34 percent believe enforcement should continue.

"RIGHT TO WORK" IMMIGRATES NORTH: In a move that will hopefully be repeated in other northern states, Michigan just passed a law that makes that formerly union-run state a "right to work" state. The Michigan legislature had declared there would be no more "closed shops" in the state; no longer will workers be forced to either join a union or pay fees equal to union dues. Finally, a "blue" state has decided that workers' rights (right to work) and their property (forced monetary fees) cannot be forcefully taken from them by state law. Liberty loving people throughout the nation should rejoice.

MORE RECOGNITION FOR RI: Once again Rhode Island is close to the worst in the union in an economic category. "24/7 Wall Street," a national independent government analysis group, just announced that Rhode Island is the 2nd worst-run state in the nation after California. Looks like we just can't catch a break...


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