I’m Paying For What?!?

Apparently I’m paying for the Burrillville-Glocester Youth Soccer Association. Excellent, can my child play there? Or how about the Elmwood Little League, where do I sign up? There’s also the History Warren Armory, I’ve helped pay for that. Maybe I’ll stop by the Richmond Community Center for some afternoon activities. And when I’m sick, I’ll stop by the Block Island Medical Services. I’m helping to pay for all of those things, as well as a whole lot more. And so are you. If you pay taxes to Rhode Island, a portion of your money goes to these things through legislative grants.
If you’re not familiar with legislative grants, here’s generally how they work. Our legislators put in a request for an amount of money, from a few hundred dollars to as much as $25,000. Those requests go to the heads of the respective sides of the Assembly. House Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva-Weed sit in sole judgement of who gets the pieces of their pie. The lucky legislators are then able to appear in the local newspaper with a large game-show type check for an organization in their district.
To see exactly who got what, you can see it here: House | Senate
Many of us have been hitting on this for a while now. A few years ago, the House Republicans took a vow to never request any legislative grant money out of protest for the system by which the applications are accepted: behind closed doors. Additionally, when cuts were being made to the state budget for the developmentally disabled a couple years ago, Republicans offered to restore those funds, taking the money from the legislative grant program. Of course, that suggestion was denied by the Speaker and Senate President.
The entire budget is a couple million dollars for all of these little checks. But it wasn’t an unreasonable question when retirees were asking why their pension was getting cut at the same time that legislators were smiling with their $1,000 check for the local Little League.
Moderate Party Chairman Ken Block put out his own press release today about his disgust over an East Providence State Rep being “proud” of handing out a $500 grant to a town youth softball team.
If the local youth leagues are coming up short of money and they need the extra $1,000, how about they raise rates. How much is that per registration? $4? Maybe five?
In my town, my property tax dollars go to pay for our Senior Community Center. Why do I have to pay for Centers in other towns too? Apparently, those towns don’t budget or appropriate enough money to pay for them.
Where’s the accountability? How are the decisions being made?
If the Speaker is serious with the promises he made in his letter to get this state moving again and get us back to the top, then this program should clearly be one of the very first things to cut. What do you say leaders? Is it time yet that you agree the legislative grants process needs to go?

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Brian C. Newberry
Brian C. Newberry
9 years ago

There are few things that expose the hypocrisy of the Democrats who control the Assembly more than the vote on Rep. Costa’s amendment this past June to cut $2.3 million from the JCLS budget (i.e. the legislative grant fund) and slide it into the line item to restore funding for the Developmentally Disabled.
I cannot tell you how irritating it is to me to see campaign ads and literature by multiple Democrats this election cycle claiming credit for “restoring funding” to the DD community. Nonsense on stilts. Here are the facts:
In 2011 the Democrats made a last minute $24 million cut in DD funding. In 2012 the same Democrats restored $10 million half of which was in the form of federal matching funds. When presented with the opportunity by Rep. Costa to restore another 2.3 million by eliminating the precious grant program they refused.
Then they have the unmitigated gall to campaign as if they are heroes for restoring $10 million. Newsflash: If you raise someone’s taxes by $100 and then cut them by $50 the next year you can’t claim to be a taxcutting hero. Same goes when you cut someone’s budget by $24 million and then add back $10 million. You aren’t doing them any favors. Let’s call this for what it is.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“If the local youth leagues are coming up short of money and they need the extra $1,000, how about they raise rates.”
In Elmwood? Question, Patrick, what’s the median household income in Elmwood? What’s the poverty rate?
I’m not sure it’s always apparent to folks in the suburbs or the East Side what it’s like for at least some of those kids in the city. That’s money well spent.

Kerri
Kerri
9 years ago

I don’t understand why every political discussion boils down to money. Taxes. The role of government is to make people’s lives noticeably better. To make good things happen collectively that couldn’t happen individually. To mitigate the worst in individuals (including greed and selfishness — that’s why Bush’s charity-based support for poor people didn’t work), and bring out the best. Those things that make people’s lives better cost money, yes, they do. Government isn’t in the business of making money, it’s in the business of collecting and redistributing money. Whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, that’s the role money plays in government. $2.3MM in one year is less than $7.50 for my entire household. In one year. Let’s look at the value of that $7.50. My neighbors who aren’t as fortunate as I get to watch their kids play soccer, just like I can. People on Block Island (me, sometime every summer, but also my neighbors, colleagues, friends) can avail themselves of better health care services — avoiding pain and suffering and improving service. Supporting the Warren Armory helps to preserve history that the next generation of Rhode Islanders will remember and benefit from. All these things, and more, for $7.50? If you’re gainfully employed and healthy, it just sounds petty and greedy to begrudge our neighbors a better life, better services, happiness, and less stress, for the annual cost of a burrito lunch. I pay for YOUR kids to go to school. You’re not paying for mine. What do I get out of educating your kids? Why do I pay thousands of dollars a year in property taxes, and I’m not even allowed to walk on school grounds without permission? I get a better, more educated place to live. I get someone who works at the Dunkin Donuts who… Read more »

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – Centralized, top-down resource allocation tends to be less efficient than decentralized resource allocation through markets. This concept has been firmly established in economics for around 100 years now. The 38 Studios bankruptcy is only the most notable recent case in a long line of failures in RI central economic planning illustrating the point. The only difference here is the scale. The incentives these public-private cash flows create are also incredibly perverse and encourage bad governance rather than good. In light of all of these concerns, you need to make a much more compelling case than the “think of the children” siren song to justify legislators doling out novelty checks to this or that group. Even giving needy families the money (i.e., more welfare) to spend on their own priorities would be more efficient and less inherently corrupting to the political process. These public-private financial interminglings are a big part of why Rhode Island is the way it is today politically, so you should really give it more serious thought than you have. What am I saying – you probably like the way Rhode Island is.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

Hi Kerri, thanks for the comments.
My questions to you would include, where is the line on how much should be allocated in the legislative grant system? It’s $2.3M right now. We could do so much more of the good you describe if we increased that ten fold. Even more 100x. Where’s the line? It doesn’t seem that the $2.3M is already too much, but what would be?
Why is the government sending the money in these directions as it cuts things like assisting the developmentally disabled? Which is more important, helping the disabled or making Elmwood Little League $5 cheaper?
Lastly, do you have an opinion on the way the decisions are made? As much as I disagree with the program itself, the way the decisions are made on who gets what is much worse. It’s all done behind closed doors by one person. Why? Is that acceptable? Why do we itemize so many things in the state budget yet we give $2.3M to two people to use at their discretion. Usually, that’s considered a slush fund.

StuckHereinRI
StuckHereinRI
9 years ago

“The role of government is to make people’s lives noticeably better.”
Is it really?
Or is it more to ensure public safety and allow people the freedom to pursue opportunities to make their own lives noticeably better?
I believe this is one of the most significant differences as to how people view government in general.
This is strictly my opinion, but I think that if you could ask the Founding Fathers what their opinion was on this, I think they’d 100% disagree with that statement.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“I’m not sure it’s always apparent to folks in the suburbs or the East Side what it’s like for at least some of those kids in the city. That’s money well spent.”
So in Elmwood, the kid’s little league team is more important than the developmentally disabled but in E.G. the developmentally disabled are more important? Hmmm…and I thought E.G. was more self absorbed. Who knew?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

I think this whole developmentally disabled funding thing is a distraction. Regardless of whether funding for the developmentally disabled is cut by 50% or increased by 200% this year, legislative grants are objectively bad for reasons independent of that situation. Public-private grants and loans, whether large or small in amount, are not the proper role of government. They directly encourage top-down control of the General Assembly, special interest capture, political corruption, and fraud in the private market. They also inefficiently reallocate resources in the economy by usurping the proper role of markets.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Centralized, top-down resource allocation tends to be less efficient than decentralized resource allocation through markets.”
Ah, so fewer kids in Little League in the city is really just a reflection of market forces optimally allocated the Little League experience toward the wealthier suburbs. What a strange context to bring up markets. I can’t think of a better example of where a small amount of public spending can help avoid big problems down the road.
“So in Elmwood, the kid’s little league team is more important than the developmentally disabled…”
Maybe so. I’m not trying to judge. My point is that reaching these kids when they’re young is a lot less expensive than what we’ll pay later if we don’t. I actually coached last year in a LL covering part of the southside, including some of Elmwood.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Russ – Here is a starting list of the highly dubious assumptions you assert as objective fact:
– You know which specific private organizations should receive funding better than your fellow citizens;
– You know how low-income families should prioritize their public assistance better than the individual families do;
– A $500-$1000 investment in a little league will have a positive net effect down the road (how could you *possibly* prove such a claim?); and
– The blatantly corrupting effect these grants have on the political process and economic deadweight loss of top-down redistribution are outweighed by the benefits (again, how could you *possibly* prove this?)

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“The role of government is to make people’s lives noticeably better.”
“Is it really?… This is strictly my opinion, but I think that if you could ask the Founding Fathers what their opinion was on this, I think they’d 100% disagree with that statement.”
I don’t think that’s so at all. Jefferson actually said that the “the full improvement of their condition” was “the first object of human association” (Virginia Protest, 1825). Granted he made the point in arguing for limiting the powers of the federal government.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

I’m not interesting in proving it to you. I know it to be true because I’ve worked with those kids. Ask any coach.
As for the “blatantly corrupting effect” of Little League on society? I think I’ll take my chances.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“I’m not interesting in proving it to you. I know it to be true because I’ve worked with those kids. Ask any coach.”
That’s *fine* as long as the league is being voluntarily funded and attended. But just as you probably wouldn’t like how I might choose to spend your money, I’d rather decide for myself which private organizations I want to support or invest in. I hated baseball as a kid and prefered to play chess and video games instead. I didn’t turn into a mass murderer because of it, and you can’t prove that my choices were less valid than those who participated in little league, nor is it fair that their activity was subsidized while mine was not. The power of markets is that each of us is best able to make decisions for ourselves, and organizations are funded according to how popular and useful they are to people instead of how politically powerful or attractive they happen to be. Kids and families should be deciding these things for themselves, not Gordon Fox and Teresa Paiva Weed. This is the fundamental disconnect of progressivism: it trusts the few in power to make decisions that individuals can better decide.
Here’s a simple thought experiment for you, Russ: I want a new PS Vita but the total cost of the console, games, and accessories is too expensive for me. If the state bought me a PS Vita for $250.00, it is objectively true that I would buy games and accessories for it in an amount greater than $250.00 (Keynesian multiplier effect). It would also make me a happier, fuller person, therefore society would be better off.
Should the state buy me a new PS Vita? Why or why not?

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“As for the “blatantly corrupting effect” of Little League on society? I think I’ll take my chances.”
Not even in the same universe as what I said, Russ. The legislative grants corrupt the General Assembly by concentrating power in the hands of a few, and they corrupt the public-private relationship through political posturing for the grants. It’s not the little league itself that is corrupting. My god, you are a dishonest debater.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“Should the state buy me a new PS Vita? Why or why not?”
You really should try spending some time with those kids. Why not volunteer? Then tell me your PS is as important. Would that more folks outside the city thought it worth their time.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

“they corrupt the public-private relationship through political posturing for the grants.”
Yes, those Little League board members are quite Machiavellian.
Money does of course corrupt the GA but it’s when it flows the other way. I’m sure the corporate interests expect nothing in return. Public financing anyone?

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Let’s realize what we are looking at. This “fund” is a left over “slush fund” created in the old ward heeler days. It’s purpose is to buy a few votes and get face time for the local pols (I am reminded of the “Godfather” “doing good” and calling in favors). It may have been turned to better purposes, but it is what it is.

Mike
Mike
9 years ago

It is so easy to be a liberal. Just give everyone what they ask for. Ah, I feel so morally superior. Yet the second and third order effects of their actions doom millions to sustained poverty and inaction…
What motivation exists for parents to get off their butts and help their kids if someone else will do it for them? Heck, let’s use that saved energy to make more kids! What’s the point of working if I can sit and score chicks with my free cell phone? The rise of the dependency culture can be laid at the feet of these emotionally generous but cause and effect blind individuals.
Even more ironic is that the liberals are the least likely to give to charities, whose job, Kerri, is to make lives a bit better. Liberals like to do “good” with other people’s money–in general. Yes, Russ, there are exceptions.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

“You really should try spending some time with those kids. Why not volunteer? Then tell me your PS is as important. Would that more folks outside the city thought it worth their time.”
Dodges my question, as usual. Actually, yeah, video games were a passion of mine as a child and they continue to be as an adult. You have no basis upon which to tell me that they are less important than baseball is to another kid. No basis whatsoever except your smug, progressive superiority and confidence that you know what’s best for everyone else.
“Money does of course corrupt the GA but it’s when it flows the other way. I’m sure the corporate interests expect nothing in return. Public financing anyone?”
Another evasive response, but if you really want to get into it, UNIONS donate more in Rhode Island politics than all corporations combined. They are the largest donor group. Yet you have no harsh words for them. Progressives are nothing if not hypocritical.

Russ
Russ
9 years ago

Yes, luxury items for the upper middleclass are quite important. Not sure how I could have missed that. Perhaps you should start a charity in your name and solicit donations. It’s simply the right thing to do.
Me, come next spring I’ll be on the ballfield with those kids. Thank you for such a clear example of the difference between folks like you and folks like me.

Mike
Mike
9 years ago

Ah, yes–the moral superiority card. Perhaps many of us also head out to the fields yet don’t feel the need to brag about it? Rhetoric vrs results…

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