This commentary originally appeared in the Providence Journal on December 19, 2014:
Will the recently adopted RhodeMap RI plan collect dust on a shelf, as Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello suggests? Or will it survive in some form to spawn various pieces of legislation, executive orders, departmental regulations and local ordinances? Nobody knows.
But looking back, there are clear lessons to learn from the controversial process of adopting RhodeMap RI:
-RhodeMap RI is not change; it is just another crony deal.
While proponents say the plan represents much needed change, opponents understand it is just more of the government interventionist policies that have wrecked our state’s economy — on steroids.
This plan adopts the same delusion as Rhode Island’s status quo political culture: that engineering politically-correct or sociological outcomes will somehow lead to economic growth — in this instance, by following “smart growth” and “sustainable development” principles.
As for cronyism, Grow Smart RI, a primary architect of RhodeMap RI, is funded by taxpayer dollars as well as by the Rhode Island Foundation, a founding supporter of this big-government scheme. While not illegal, these financial arrangements make RhodeMap RI look like yet another 38 Studios-style insider, public-private deal.
-Planned inclusion is bad economics. Good economics are themselves inclusive.
With no real cost-benefit analysis for its recommendations, and filled with a multitude of planned social outcomes, RhodeMap RI has little credibility as economic development, despite Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s professed belief that “inclusion” produces positive economics.
In truth, RhodeMap RI and its social mandates would increase burdens on the business community, as Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council have also noted. Tying a nice-sounding social-equity ribbon around this same, tired, government-centric package does not change the plan’s fundamental win-lose character, where the engineered benefit for some is provided at the expense of others.
Win-win solutions are what Rhode Island needs — free-market policies such as tax and regulatory cuts that stimulate growth and produce new jobs and expanded opportunities for anyone looking to improve their standard of living. Everyone, including low-income families, would benefit.
-RhodeMap RI was not “of the people.”
The unelected bureaucrats who adopted this plan were not accountable to the people of Rhode Island; they had little at stake. No program should become adopted if not voted on by the duly elected representatives of the people. The recent national and state trend to implement policy outside the legislative process — by executive order, by commission, or by agency regulation — is bad government and is not of the people.
Neither does conducting sparsely-attended, rigged meetings constitute the “will of the people,” especially when it comes to an agenda as expansive as RhodeMap RI. Intense public scrutiny is required, including experts from all sides, as with our 2011 statewide pension debate.
Any plan funded by a federal government agency that mandates adherence to specific core principles of that federal agency cannot legitimately be called plan of the Rhode Island people. Though its proponents have continually “Gruberized” Rhode Islanders, they are not stupid.
-What is the value of taxpayer-funded organizations?
It is outrageous, first, that Commerce RI would cede economic development to urban planners; then would further support such vague, job-killing mumbo-jumbo; and finally would represent it as a serious economic development plan. This agency, called the Economic Development Commission when it brought us 38 Studios, should be defunded and disbanded.
That the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns voted in favor of a plan that would lead to increases in local property taxes and a loss of sovereignty of its own member local governments, even after eight of those member towns passed actions calling for a halt to the RhodeMap RI vote, is equally outrageous.
What can be the public value of these organizations when they continually support intrusive programs that work against the very same taxpayers who fund them?
-Messing with property rights is politically toxic.
For many in Rhode Island, our homes and our land are the earned result of our hard work and often represent the basis of our families’ long-term financial security. Any agenda that so openly threatens property rights, and fails to expressly safeguard against deterioration of property rights and property values, will continue to fuel the passionate level of public opposition that confronted the state Planning Council meeting on Dec 11.
For low-income families that do not yet own real property, the property tax hikes suggested by RhodeMap RI would drive up their rents, while the climate-change provisions in the plan would surely increase energy and transportation costs.
It would be political suicide for any elected official to support a plan that has generated as much opposition from the voters as RhodeMap RI has.
Many lessons. Clear lessons. Will our political class ever learn?
Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center, earned an Economics degree from Harvard University