Congress

Center Responds to Governor Raimondo’s Federal Healthcare News Conference

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 23, 2017
Governor Does Not Understand Goal of Federal Reforms

Fear-mongering not helpful to legitimate debate

Providence, RI – Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity issued a statement, following a news conference today by Governor Gina Raimondo about her concerns about the proposed federal American Healthcare Act (AHA), which is being advanced in Washington, D.C.

“In conference calls over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak directly with members of the US Congress who are crafting the new federal healthcare reforms. Unfortunately, the Governor and others on the left do not understand the goals of these reforms; they see government-run Medicaid as the end-all, be-all when it comes to health insurance coverage; and they are spreading unnecessary fears about the proposed federal reforms. Even though Medicaid is a taxpayer-costly, low-quality insurance option, no one will be thrown off or defunded from the system.

The American Healthcare Act seeks to responsibly provide more US citizens with higher-quality, more cost-effective private insurance. This will be achieved through a generous new program of tax-credits and/or payroll deductions that will give Rhode Islanders more choices and multiple new options when it comes to purchasing an insurance plan that best fits their needs. This as opposed to the one-sized-fits-all government mandated coverage that American are now forced to purchase.

Further, the state block-grant aspect of the AHA, will give the Governor, other lawmakers, and health care officials tremendous new flexibility to innovate when it comes to utilizing federal funds in a manner that best suits our state.”

Sales Tax Reform

A 3.0% Sales Tax: A Superior Economic Stimulus Than Car Tax Repeal or Free College Tuition

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 20, 2017

Plans by Speaker and Governor Could Cost Jobs and Municipal Revenue Losses
Sales Tax Cuts Would Increase Jobs and Could Pay for Car Tax Reforms

Providence, RI – The nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity today published detailed economic modeling projections and analysis, demonstrating that a cut in the state sales tax to 3.0% would produce far more statewide and municipal economic benefit than would repeal of the car tax, as proposed by the Speaker of the House, or would free college tuition, as proposed by the Governor.

Among the takeaways of the analysis, which projected the impact of both the car tax and sales tax reform ideas, shows that a 3.0% sales tax would:

  • Keep significantly more money in the pockets of Rhode Island families and businesses ($585 million vs $215 million)
  • Produce thousands of new jobs, as opposed to potential job losses with car tax or tuition spending
  • Require lower budget cuts and/or corresponding tax increases than would car tax reform
  • Create a major revenue windfall for municipalities that could go a long way toward funding local “self” phase-out of the car tax, where car tax repeal (depending on how it is paid for) could result in lower municipal revenues
  • Would allow every Rhode Island family to save for any college education

“We appreciate that the Speaker and Governor both want see more Rhode Island families keep more of their hard-earned money. However, if we want to maximize the positive economic benefit for the people, we must conduct the proper due diligence and research to determine which course of action is most beneficial,” advised Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Today, the Center offers well-researched projections from a credible economic modeling tool to add a third concept into this important debate. Any objective analysis of this data shows that sales tax cuts are the superior approach.”

The complete analysis, which can be found on the Center’s website, includes discussion of:

  • Why bold tax reform is needed
  • Budget reconciliation options
  • State spending chart
  • General findings
  • Two tables with multiple and detailed projections of private employment impact and of various “state” and “municipal” revenues

In 2012 and 2013, the Center proposed two major options for sales tax reform, as the most effective and highest value method for creating jobs and boosting the state’s stagnant economy: full repeal of the sales tax; or cutting the sales tax to 3.0%. Links to this expansive past research can be found at RIFreedom.org/SalesTax.

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3.0% Sales Tax: Superior Reform than Car Tax Repeal or Free College Tuition?

Car Tax, Free Tuition Programs Could Mean Loss of Jobs and Lower Municipal Revenues

3.0% Sales Tax Adds Thousands of Jobs, Increases Local Revenues

OVERVIEW:

As taxpayers continue to be asked to fund generous corporate subsidy programs, lawmakers are now dueling over two new spending ideas – reimbursing localities to phase-out the car tax and public funding for free college tuition – each of which would likely further raise taxes and fees on Rhode Islanders.

But would these programs make Rhode Island a better state? Or would the more innovative and bold policy concept of cutting the state sales tax help families become more self-sufficient?

Neither the Speaker nor the Governor have offered research or economic projections on the impact of their respective ideas. The Center, conversely, offers well-researched projections from a credible economic modeling tool.

As will be clearly demonstrated, the Center’s previously proposed 3.0% sales tax reform would help working Rhode Islanders and businesses much more than would car tax repeal or free college tuition. A cut in the state sales tax rate to 3.0% from 7% would :

  • Keep significantly more money in the pockets of Rhode Island families and businesses
  • Produce thousands of new jobs, as opposed to potential job losses with car tax or tuition spending
  • Require lower budget cuts and/or corresponding tax increases than would car tax reform
  • Create a major revenue windfall for municipalities that could go a long way toward funding local “self” phase-out of the car tax, where car tax repeal could result in lower municipal revenues
  • Would allow every Rhode Island family to save for any college education

Funding? Elimination of corporate welfare subsidies and free college tuition funds could go a long way towards paying for the $82.3 million required to dynamically fund a 3.0% sales tax … vs the $229.7 required to dynamically fund car tax repeal.

Regressive? While many view the current car tax play as regressive, a revenue-neutral car tax repeal plan would be further so in that low-income individuals who do not own a car, or who own a car valued under existing exemption thresholds, would be indirectly funding property tax relief for wealthier people. A 3.0% sales tax would disproportionately help low-income families. Similarly the college tuition and corporate welfare plans require lower income families and businesses to pay for benefits that will go, in part, to the more wealthy.

Fairness? The car tax plan would inequitably distribute money to localities, and would reward those cities and towns that imposed excessively high car tax rates.

Business Climate Benefit? The sales tax is a tax on business. Collectively businesses pay almost half-of all sales taxes. A 3.0% sales tax would reduce such costs across the board and improve our state’s last place business climate ranking. Car tax repeal would only impact those businesses that have company owned vehicles.

Municipal Dependency? The car tax repeal plan would make municipalities even more dependent on state aid via its associated reimbursement mechanism. Depending how the policy is implemented, municipalities may simply increase regular property taxes to compensate for the car tax no longer collected, avoiding the state tax cap. A 3.0% sales tax would give new revenues to cities and towns to able to phase-out the car tax on their own, especially when in combination with other “tools”  that could free them from state mandates and regulations.

Ease of Implementation? The car tax plan would require negotiation with low car tax municipalities, given the varying rates and exemption limits set by each municipality. Sales tax reform could be easily and uniformly implemented across the board.

BACKGROUND: Why bold reform is required

Rhode Island is losing the competition to retain and attract families who want to make our state their home-of-choice, where they can work hard, earn a respectable living, and support their families. But many Rhode Islanders feel left out. They are fed up with the status quo of ever-increased spending on special interest causes … and the perpetually high taxes and red-tape that are driving others out of town.

Our state’s stagnant population growth will likely result in the loss of one of our two precious U.S. Congressional seats after the 2020 census. This net-migration problem can be attributed to concerns about present and future financial security. Factors that contribute to this problem are obvious: In 2016 Rhode Island ranked as the worst state business climate in America and ranked just 48th on the national Family Prosperity Index (FPI) and on the Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI)

People want restored hope that government is working for them and to feel that they have not been forgotten. To accomplish this, a bold reform idea is clearly required.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity agrees with the Speaker of the House and with the Governor that Rhode Island families should keep more of their hard-earned income via tax reductions and that a college education should be more affordable. Car and property taxes, as well as college tuitions, are indeed high; they are an irritating or unbearable cost for most families. However, directly confronting those issues, may not be the most prosperous path forward.

The Center also believes that the state needs to  relieve burdens on employers, increase  our state’s consumer and tax base, and create more opportunities for meaningful work for those who want to improve their quality of life.

As such, not all tax and spending programs are created equally, as adjustments to certain taxes and fees will have greater impact on job creation and can be more of an economic stimulus than others. Given our state’s dismal national status, it is vital that Rhode Island takes bold and well-researched reforms to maximize the impact of every budget dollar.

Years ago the Center researched and proposed major cuts to – even repeal of – the state’s nationally high,  job-killing sales tax. A complex economic modeling tool that has been used by dozens of states and major municipalities, STAMP (State Tax Analysis Modeling Program), showed that for the Ocean State, sales tax reform, among all taxes and fees considered, would produce the greatest and most beneficial dynamic* economic impact.

However, neither the House leadership at that time, nor the special commission that was created to study sales tax cuts, were interested in re-configuring the state’s budget to accommodate for the major economic growth projected by STAMP.

But now today, with House leadership and the Governor apparently appreciating that tax and fee cuts would keep more money in the pockets of Ocean Staters, the Center suggests, once again, that reform to the sales tax would produce more benefit to families and businesses than would the Speaker’s or the Governor’s plan.

Not only would sales tax reform keep more money in the pockets of every Rhode Island family, it would reduce costs for every Rhode Island business. It would also spur increased consumerism by both in-state and out-of-state shoppers, and; most importantly … it would create thousands of good, new job opportunities.

The Center further researched which level of cut to the sales tax would produce the most benefit. It was clearly demonstrated that a cut in the sales tax to 3.0% would produce the best value for taxpayers and for the budget by creating a high number of jobs at the lowest budget-cost per job created.

*Based on 2014 figures from STAMP (State Tax Analysis & Modeling Program) developed by the Beacon Hill Institute. Dynamic scoring impact takes into account the “ripple” impact of tax reforms by projecting increases or decreases to other tax revenues and fees.

BUDGET RECONCILIATION METHODS

There are two primary methods to accommodate the budget to account for the impact of any tax cut or new spending program:

  1. Revenue Neutral” approach by raising other taxes to make up for the anticipated lost revenues or higher spending
  2. Spending Cuts” to other budget items

Or, some combination of the two.

To date, neither the Speaker nor the Governor have identified how they will reconcile, or pay, for their respectively proposed programs.

Revenue Neutrality?

The Center maintains that Rhode Island spends too much taxpayer money for the state to quickly break-out of its economic stagnation. No matter how lawmakers slice and dice the many taxes and fees that are imposed on our citizenry, our high level of spending – and corresponding need for high taxation – creates a permanent negative drag on our state economy.

RI State Budget Versus Inflation and Population Growth and Personal Income Growth (2001 Baseline)

In the past two decades, Rhode Island’s spending trajectory has risen far faster than inflation, population growth, or personal income would otherwise dictate.

By comparison, New Hampshire, which consistently ranks near the top of most national rankings, spends almost 50% less per person than does Rhode Island.

In order for any public policy reform to achieve maximum economic impact, it is necessary that budget cuts – without offsetting tax increases – are used to pay for the reform. However, the reality and history of public policy in the Ocean State tells us that lawmakers will likely consider only “revenue-neutral” scenarios, where revenue losses due to cuts in one tax are offset by increased fees or taxes elsewhere. While this practice would minimize or – as we will show – potentially eliminate any economic benefits in some cases, a revenue-neutral policy is seen as the likely political solution … as economically-unsound as it may be.

To be clear, the Center contends, for a state struggling as much as is Rhode Island, that revenue neutrality should not be the goal of bold tax reform … and that both tax and budget cuts are required if we want to generate maximum stimulus to our state’s stagnant economy.

Found Revenues? It has also been suggested by both the Speaker and the Governor, that “newly found” revenues from debt restructuring, casinos, or other sources, might be used to fund their new proposed spending. It is the Center’s contention that such new revenues should be applied to help pay for sales tax cuts.

In order to set the outside parameters for economic impact, the Center created two tables? Each compares the long-term dynamic* scoring of the two tax reform concepts for Rhode Island: 1) phasing-out the car tax; and 2) phasing-down the sales tax to 3.0%:

  • TABLE-1 assumes “revenue neutrality,” with offsetting tax increases, to pay for each policy option
  • TABLE-2 assumes “spending cuts” to pay for each policy option

Any actual implementation of either of these programs would likely fall within these parameters.

Because the governor’s free college tuition plan and the state’s current corporate welfare strategy technically do not qualify as tax reforms, we are not able to effectively run them through the STAMP model. Their economic impact, based on the findings and theory of the model, is assumed and referred to separately.

FINDINGS

Taxpayer Savings and Increased Purchasing Power: The Speaker’s car tax plan would directly save taxpayers $215 million in property taxes, while a 3.0% sales tax would put $585 million back into the pockets of Rhode Island families and businesses, and eventually back into the economy. However, the net dynamic impact would be far less – or even entirely eliminated – if other taxes and fees are hiked under a revenue-neutral approach.

A 3.0% Sales Tax is is the most beneficial reform in terms of jobs, economic stimulus, business climate, and budget value … regardless of whether a revenue-neutral approach is adopted or not.

Car Tax Phase-Out Could Lead to LOSS of Jobs.  Car tax reform, on its own, is a minor economic stimulus at best, as it does little to improve the state’s dismal business climate.

A revenue-neutral car tax phase-out would necessarily increase statewide taxes and fees (relatively) – even while most car owners would pay lower local property taxes – and would lead to a net loss of jobs. This is because the negative economic impact of increased state-level taxes is significantly greater than the positive impact of lowered local taxes.

If a “spending cut” approach is taken, car tax repeal could spur the creation of a limited number of new statewide jobs, but at a significantly lower level, and with far more required budget cuts, than a 3.0% sales tax with spending cuts.

Free-College Tuition Could Also Lead to a LOSS of Jobs. Similarly, using the same STAMP theory, providing free-tuition  would also increase statewide taxes and fees (relatively) – even while some in-state families would have more disposable income due to lowered fees – and would lead to a net loss of jobs. Again, this is because the negative economic impact of broadly increased state-level taxes is greater than the positive impact of more disposable income for a more narrow base.

Under a ‘spending cut’ approach, free college tuition, as car tax repeal, might produce a limited number of new statewide jobs, but at a significantly higher cost per job, than a 3.0% sales tax with spending cuts.

Rhode Island’s Current Corporate Tax-Credit Economic Development Strategy is highly inefficient as it creates relatively few jobs at an extremely high cost per job to taxpayers. Using the same STAMP theory, the negative impact of requiring increased statewide taxes to pay for the credits is presumed to be greater than the positive impact of a few hundred more people working.

Further, this targeted ‘advanced industry’ approach does little if anything to improve the overall business climate, which is necessary if organic entrepreneurial growth is to occur on its own.

EXPLANATION OF S.T.A.M.P. PROJECTIONS (see Tables 1 & 2)

ECONOMIC EFFECTS

Private Employment (or Jobs). Both the Speaker and Governor claim that “jobs” is their top economic priority. Sales tax reform produces significantly more job-growth, regardless of revenue-neutrality, while car tax reform and, as explained above, free-college tuition could lead to a loss of jobs under a revenue-neutral approach.

Investment. The increase/decrease in capital invested in the state due to tax reforms. As with employment, sales tax reform always produces a positive investment, while revenue-neutral car tax and free-tuition programs could produce a negative impact and a reduced investment.

STATE REVENUES:

Sales Tax Revenue: Under a ‘revenue neutral car tax repeal scenario, to partially fund the state’s $215 million in “Transfer” (reimbursements) to municipalities, and in order set the worst-case economic impact parameter, we assume an increase in “Sales tax” revenues. However, because a sales tax hike will negatively impact commerce and the economy, it will dynamically result in less sales tax revenue than the straight-line (or static) calculation, therefore the “Policy target” for sales tax increases must be higher than the needed revenues.

Conversely, under either budget reconciliation method for a 3.0% sales tax phase-down plan, the straight-line (static) calculated sales tax “Policy target” revenue losses are greater than the actual (dynamic) “Sales tax” revenue loss, because the sales tax cuts will spur more sales tax transactions.

Under a ‘spending cut’ approach, car tax reform would produce a very limited increase in “Sales tax” revenues, because of greater disposable income across the state.

The difference between the static and dynamic sales tax revenue projections is portrayed as the “Dynamic difference”

Personal Income Tax Revenue: Similarly, increased “Personal income tax” revenues are also assumed to fund the rest of  revenue-neutral car tax plan. However, because negative dynamic impact will lessen such revenues, a higher income tax “Policy target” is required.

Under the 3.0% sales tax plan, because of the thousands of new jobs created, “Personal income tax” revenues are projected to dynamically rise by between $304 million to $468 million, regardless of which budget reconciliation process is utilized.

Corporate/Business Tax . As with sales and income taxes, the negative statewide impact of a  revenue-neutral car tax plan that includes other tax hikes, may produce lower “Corporate/business taxes”. Under all scenarios, a 3.0% sales tax will always produce positive and significantly higher “Corporate/business tax” revenues.

Cigarette Tax, Other Taxes & Other Sources.  As with the personal and income taxes, the negative statewide impact of a  revenue-neutral car tax plan, may reduce revenues from “Cigarette taxes”, “Other taxes” and “Other sources”. Under all scenarios, a 3.0% sales tax will produce positive and significantly more revenues in these areas.

MUNICIPAL REVENUES: Additional municipal benefits from sales tax cuts will result from the increased retail and overall economic activity .

Business Property Tax. The stimulus of sales tax cuts would see many existing businesses expand and many other new business established. Cities and towns will likely see an expansion of its local commercial property tax base and will result in increased “Business property tax” revenues. While municipalities must comply with a 4% annual tax-levy cap, this larger tax-base will allow localities to reduce property taxes in other areas, potentially including the car tax.

Conversely, under a revenue-neutral car tax repeal plan, municipalities could actually see reduced municipal “Business property tax” revenues, due to the more potent impact of statewide sales and income tax hikes as compared with local property tax cuts.

In fact, the potential new municipal revenues from a 3.0% sales tax – on their own – could fund over half of the cost of statewide car tax repeal.

Municipal Sales Tax, Other taxes and Other sources of revenues:  Similarly, under a car tax repeal plan, municipal revenues in other areas could increase or decrease in limited amounts. Conversely, under any 3.0% sales tax scenario, these revenue areas would increase, potentially in a significant way.

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The “Real” News About Healthcare Reform

The Providence Journal and Rhode Island progressives are doing a disservice to the people of our state by advancing a biased and non-realistic perspective on the federal healthcare reform debate.

There are few issues that are more personal or important than planning for the care that can preserve the health of ourselves and our families. But what governmental approach best helps us accomplish this?

Currently, our state is following the federal Obamacare approach of seeking to insure more people with government-run Medicaid or with a one-size-fits-all government-mandated private insurance plan. This approach is in a death-spiral. In Rhode Island and across the nation, premiums and deductibles have risen beyond affordability; costs to taxpayers have exploded; the supply of doctors, insurance plan choices, and the availability of actual care are all plummeting.This is an unsustainable trajectory.

The U.S. Congress proposed reforms take an opposite approach. The goal of the reforms is NOT to force more people to buy or enroll in expensive government-approved insurance. Rather, the goal is to offer citizens more and lower-priced private insurance options and to let them choose whether or not they want to have health insurance … and what type and level of insurance they believe is best for them.

Compassion should not be measured by how many people are covered by inefficient government insurance or by how much money we throw at the problem. This is the biased, government-centric lens through which the left and the ProJo view the proposed reforms.

As Congress recognizes, there are a number of patient-centric reforms that could significantly reduce premium and out-of-pocket costs, even while expanding consumer choice and improving the quality of care: reducing mandates for services that patients do not want or will never need; allowing inter-state health insurance competition; allowing group purchasing; or encouraging expanded Health Savings Account (HSA) and other payroll deduction programs.

Medicaid, is perhaps the most contentious and misunderstood issue. Medicaid insurance is not necessarily good insurance and it does not always lead to good health care. With many doctors leaving the program because of its stingy payouts, and with enrollment levels continually on the rise, many Medicaid patients cannot get an appointment with a doctor in a timely manner, and when they do, suffer from substandard care.

Again, the new Medicaid reforms seek to reverse these trends. What will not happen is that people will be thrown off the system. What will happen is that Medicaid will be returned towards its original mission of providing health insurance for the neediest Americans; poor children, pregnant women, and the disabled elderly. In recent decades, and especially under Obamacare, eligibility standards have been dramatically expanded to include single and working individuals and families far above the poverty line. Medicaid was not originally intended to be an entitlement for able-bodied, working Americans.

All the while, taxpayers have been asked to bear the burden of this increasingly expensive, expansive, and ineffective Medicaid system.

First, the new reforms would cut the rate of enrollment in Medicaid by tightening the eligibility requirements to serve only the neediest among us. Under these new guidelines, while no one will be thrown off, it is through attrition, as people’s financial circumstances improve, that many will naturally leave the system.

Second, Medicaid reform will protect taxpaying families and businesses from never-ending increases; in effect, putting the system on a much-need budget. This will save money for federal and state taxpayers.

Third, the reforms will give states unparalleled flexibility, via a capped, block-grant type arrangement. With limited funds, based on population, states will be free to innovate and to decide how federal funds can best serve its low-income and disabled populations. For example, not only could enrollment parameters be customized by state, but states may be able to opt for a work-requirement or a co-pay for those above poverty levels. There is even some discussion of a voucher, whereby recipients could have public Medicaid funds instead follow them to a private insurer of their choice. Rhode Island, the trail-blazer when it comes to Medicaid block-grants, should embrace this option.

In summary, the concept of a government-run health insurance market has failed. Rhode Islanders will be better served when they have expanded options to purchase or enroll in one of the many new plans that will best meet their needs at the lowest possible price, and at quality levels.

Levels of money and government-mandated insurance enrollment are not the only standards by which the media, the public, and lawmakers should judge the federal reforms about to be implemented. Freedom of choice, affordability, and quality of care should be the primary metrics.

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Center Calls on R.I. Lawmakers to be Proactive as New U.S. Health Insurance Landscape Takes Shape

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 7, 2017

Lawmakers Encouraged to Plan for New Landscape

Providence, RI – With the initial release last night of the U.S. Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today calls on state lawmakers to proactively consider how to fashion the upcoming budget to deal with the shifting federal landscape on health insurance.

Under the new federal plan, gone would be many of the features that led to the implosion of Obamacare’s government-mandated insurance strategy. Soon to be extinct will be the onerous individual and employer mandates and penalties, the costly taxes, state and federal exchanges, and unlimited expansion of Medicaid.

Remaining are popular features such as pre-existing conditions, dependent children coverage up to age 26, and a new form of cash assistance for private-insurance premiums.

“The new law will mean changes and loss of funds to Rhode Island’s health care industry, including Medicaid,” said Gary D. Alexander, adjunct scholar to the Center, who formerly held the positions of Secretary of Health and Human services for Rhode Island and Secretary of Public Welfare for Pennsylvania. “The state should quickly analyze the impact and begin planning how to change course and move to a more of a market-based system that ensures greater budget certainty, care quality, and affordable access.”

As it warned two months ago, state lawmakers will have to find a way to be smarter with state and federal funds. The Center also accurately projected in 2013 that the Obamacare exchange in Rhode Island, HealthSourceRI, would not meet its original goals and would become a burden on the budget. Under the new federal approach, the state-run exchange will soon become a relic of the past. It appears that some of the market-based approaches the Center then recommended must now be considered in order to best complement the pending new federal law.

The Center suggests that the state, perhaps by forming a legislative commission and/or via a gubernatorial created task-force, should immediately begin planning for a number of likely eventualities:

  • How to save state funds by shutting down HealthSourceRI as soon as feasible and returning health insurance sales to the federal government during the transition period away from Obamacare
  • How to reverse the long-term planned increases in Medicaid enrollment and funding that the state was expecting
  • Proactively allow for out-of-state insurers to compete in the Rhode Island market
  • Determine which state-level health-insurance mandates should be repealed so as to allow insurers greater flexibility to craft a variety of plans and pricing levels that meet the demands of would-be enrollees.
  • How to re-work the core strategy for the state’s broken UHIP computer system so as to not encourage increased dependency on government assistance programs
  • Unclear after initial review of the law were the anticipated “block grant funding” and “cross-state” sales models, although they still eventually may be introduced as amendments to the new federal law. These features would be welcome for conservatives, who believe that added competition effectively reduces costs and that states should determine their own policies as opposed to being forced to comply with federal mandates.

However, conservatives are going to have to accept that the new law is an “entitlement”, and that federal and perhaps state funding for health-insurance tax-credits to many Rhode Islanders are a political necessity.

Likewise, liberals are going to have to accept that not as many people will be enrolled in Medicaid. The Center believes it is necessary to limit the current out-of-control growth of Medicaid, which Rhode Island itself has recently experienced.

It is also likely that “health savings accounts” (HSAs) will become more of the standard. HSAs feature lower monthly premiums that cover major medical problem, but also mean higher out-of-pocket expenses for elective and other diagnostic care.

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STATEMENT: Center Joins National Taxpayer Group to Oppose Carbon Tax Scheme

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 1, 2017

15 Cents per Gallon & other Increased Energy Rates Will Further Harm RI Families, Businesses, and State’s Overall Competitiveness

Providence, RI — The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity supports a letter to Ocean State lawmakers issued today by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the national pro-taxpayer group headed by Grover Norquist, in opposition to the concept of a new state carbon tax on energy; a tax that will kill jobs in Rhode Island.

Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeanine Calkin, Ana Quezada, James Seveney, Harold Metts, and Frank Lombardo (S0365) would place a new tax of $15 per ton of emissions; a tax that will then increase by an additional $5 per year. The bill will be heard today by the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture. The House version of the bill (H5369) sponsored by Representatives Regunberg, Carson, Handy, Keable, and Donovan has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

“This progressive-government kind of interference in the market, which will drive up energy rates for every Rhode Island family and business, is one of the major reason’s why Ocean Staters suffer from the 50th ranked business climate and the 48th rank in family prosperity,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Once again, some lawmakers are placing the advancement of a radical green agenda, ahead of the interests of the people of our state – the forgotten families.”

Already paying some of the highest energy and gasoline rates in the country, Rhode Island families and business could see an increase of up to 15 cents per gallon if this bill were to become law, according to ATR.

Job-Killing, Economy-Busting Proposal? Whether via carbon taxes, green energy mandates, or restrictions on cheaper fossil-fuel based energy production, higher energy costs are a major drag on economic growth. According to a 2016 report by the Center, an extreme green energy agenda, which this bill would advance, could result in dire economic consequences;

  • 4,000 – 6,000 fewer jobs
  • $141-$190 million in total costs
  • a 49-73% increase in the base cost of electricity, leading to
  • a 13-18% increase in electricity rates
  • $670-$893 million extracted from the economy

“Our state economy is simply too fragile to be able to handle this kind of negative hit,” concluded Stenhouse. “And at what offsetting gain?”

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Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), November 2016: A Quiet Entry to the Holiday Season

The final Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to be released in 2016 brings little change, leaving until next year information about how factors such as the problematic Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) will affect Rhode Island’s position nationally.

Of the 13 datapoints used for the index, only five were newly updated for the November report. Employment was down 365 from the previously recorded number, while labor force fell a substantial 1,758, although RI-based jobs increased by 300. (Note that these are calculated with pre-revision data for the prior month.) Medicaid enrollment decreased by 1,369 from August to September and SNAP by 667. The enrollment numbers for Rhode Island’s welfare programs will be a key variable to watch as 2016 data is completed early in the next year. Assuming UHIP doesn’t undermine data reporting to the federal government, the question will be whether increased information finds more current enrollees ineligible than connecting all of the program brings more people to benefits.

The first chart shows Rhode Island locked in the last position in New England on JOI. Although New England experienced a mix of improved and declining JOI scores, no states changed position in the national ranking. New Hampshire remained 1st in the nation, with Maine a distant second, at 20th. Vermont was right behind, at 21st. Connecticut narrowly held its 34th position, with Massachusetts next, at 35th.

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The second chart shows the gap between Rhode Island and New England as well as the United States, with the Ocean State’s lag worsening slightly in both cases. Rhode Island kept pace with New England for the gap on the unemployment rate but lost ground against the national average (third chart).

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Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (measuring optimism that adequate work is available): RI remained at 39th.
  • Freedom Factor (measuring the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained at 39th.
  • Prosperity Factor (measuring the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained at 47th.
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National Study Blasts Politicization of RI Pension Portfolio Management; Center renews Call for Pension Fund Protection Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2016

Special Interest Politics Should Never be Investment Criteria

Providence, RI — A national report released yesterday by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – Keeping The Promise: Getting Politics Out of Pensions – dedicated an entire chapter (p.27) to highlighting a “politically-driven decision to divest from a high performing hedge-fund” by then Treasurer Gina Raimondo. With this incident and others in mind, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity renews its call for legislative action that would end the cronyism and overt politics that has caused instability to the retirement-security of public employees and that has exposed taxpayers to further risk. The mismanagement and politicization of Rhode Island’s public employee pension fund have resulted in sub-standard portfolio returns.

“Enough of the political correctness and insider cronyism. We call on lawmakers to act now to ensure that sound fiscal guidelines are adhered to,” reiterated Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The dismal performance of the state pension fund, under General Treasurers Raimondo and Magaziner, could have been minimized if sound investment practices were followed. Some kind of pension-fund protection act is clearly in order.”

Initial research shows that a number of other states have implemented, or are currently considering, provisions that require specific fiduciary guidelines to making pension fund investment decisions. A Pew Charitable Trusts report to the Committee on Alabama Public Pensions indicates that the National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA) has suggested that pension fund trustees should adhere to “a robust fiduciary standard” in the execution of their duties. NASRA supports the action of setting strong fiduciary standards into law so that the paramount goal of investment strategies should be the financial security of pension assets.

In recent years, conversely, Rhode Island policy has put retirees and taxpayers at increased exposure, because political correctness appears to have been the primary motivation for making certain investment decisions:

  • Treasurer Raimondo announced a divestment strategy in 2013 from high performing “gun” related investments … for political reasons. (In a similar move the City of Providence divested from eight fossil fuel companies.)
  • As highlighted in the ALEC report, Treasurer Raimondo divested in 2014 from the states highest performing hedge fund, Dan Loeb’s Third Point LLC … caving to political pressure from teachers unions
  • Instead, Treasurer Raimondo invested in other high-fee hedge funds … some of which were associated with her former investment company
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced in early 2016 that state’s proxy votes would be used to influence investment vendors to diversify their boards … to meet an arbitrary politically-correct standard
  • Treasurer Magaziner announced last month a “back to basics” investment strategy to divest of most hedge fund investments … bowing to political pressure from third-party critics

“Each of these fiscally-irresponsible decisions has led to deteriorating performance of the pension fund. There’s little reason to trust that Treasurer Magaziner’s new back to basics strategy will not continue be overly-politicized,” added Mike Riley, Chairman of the Center, and an investment and pension expert. “It is obvious now that the General Assembly must act to ensure proper fiscal due-diligence is conducted, devoid of political correctness considerations.”

In order to protect the security and stability of state retirement funds, Riley suggests that legislation should include the following goals:

  1. Ensure that all investment decisions are made solely in the best interest of the beneficiaries
  2. Limit considerations for investment vehicles to measurable economic or fiscal factors only
  3. Ban other non-fiscal considerations, except in the most extreme instances (e.g., Iran-based companies)
  4. Ensure that investment fees and costs are reasonable in relation to the assets of the retirement system

The Center encourages lawmakers to honor the promise made to public employees and to support related pension-protection legislation in 2017.

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STATEMENT: RI & Department of Health Reality Check; Center Renews Call for Inspector General

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2016

State Lawmakers Need to Face the Realities of a Trump Administration

Providence, RI– As it warned four years ago, when it advised against Medicaid expansion and the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity again warns against the ‘business as usual approach’ on display this past week by state officials. The Center suggests that the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the state administration need a reality check with regard to the now epic UHIP computer systems disaster and the recent announcement of more funds planned to be sunk into expansion of the state’s Medicaid infrastructure.

“Newsflash: in seven weeks, Barack Obama will no longer be President. There is a shifting healthcare landscape and state officials need to recognize that unlimited federal support to continue these costly boondoggles is going to end,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “At a time when the federal government will be making dramatic new course changes towards making private health insurance more accessible to more American families, our state, stubbornly, is doubling down on its plans to keep plowing ahead with the failed government-centric approach.”

The Center believes it is irresponsible to plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to expand our state’s Medicaid capacity at a time when the federal government and many other states will be moving in the opposite direction: towards reducing enrollment in the government’s public health insurance offering and, instead, towards increasing private health insurance enrollment through an aggressive offering of premium subsidies and/or tax credits. An even more poignant question is whether or not the new presidential administration and Congress will even re-authorize these funds?

The Center expresses further concern that the hundreds of millions of dollars of planned federal and state spending will do little to help working families and small businesses, who will be expected to pay for this spending, most of which go to enriching insider institutions that are part of the Medicaid system. “For every dollar we spend on this wayward path, that’s one less dollar we can proactively spend on education reform or tax cuts,” suggested Stenhouse.

As it has also maintained for years, the Center continues to warn that the real costs of UHIP have not yet fully materialized. The one-stop-shopping aspect of UHIP will purposely lead to increased enrollment in various government services – resulting in new costs that our state cannot afford and – because of the changing landscape – that the federal government may cut funding.

Based on these examples of government incompetence and the continued hemorrhaging of taxpayer money, the Center renews its call for government checks-and-balances via legislation that would create an Office of the Inspector General. The Center believes it is vital than an independent, non-partisan entity should keep watch over state spending in order to prevent the squandering of taxpayer money as has been seen with the UHIP and DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) computer systems. Similarly, major spending projects in other state agencies, such as the multi-billion dollar RhodeWorks program to repair the state’s crumbling bridges and roads, must also be subject to close fiscal oversight of this kind.

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Center Releases Bright Today School Choice Video to Celebrate Milton Friedman Legacy Day

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 29, 2016

NEW VIDEO: Parents Discuss Why School Choice Would Benefit Their Families as Part of Friedman Legacy Day Celebration

Bright Today Educational Scholarships Would Empower Parents to Choose the Best Educational Path for their Children

Providence, RI —  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) joined in the national celebration of the 10th annual Milton Friedman Legacy Day by releasing a new school choice video, featuring two Rhode Island families. Milton Friedman, regarded as the ‘father of school choice’ , would have been 104 years old today.

SCAs creator of and lead advocate for Educational Scholarship Accounts (ESA) in Rhode Island, the Center encourages families concerned about the lack of educational options available for them to learn more about its “Bright Today” ESA scholarship program, Bright Today legislation, which would empower all Ocean State families with new capacities to choose alternative public or private schools for their children, has not moved in the state’s General Assembly over the past two years.

“Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation and a vital basis for renewed economic growth. Yet very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Just look at the kids in our new video and tell me how we can deny them a better opportunity to improve their chances to go to college, to build a career, and to succeed in life.”

The video, featured on the BrightToday.org website, includes commentary from Gertrude Jones, former President of the Providence School Board and Lifespan Vice President and diversity consultant, who is also an adjunct educational scholar to the Center.

Improving educational outcomes for Rhode Island students is a key component towards improving the state’s dismal 48th place national ranking on the Family Prosperity Index. The Ocean State Current, the Center’s blog and journalism website, also published today a related op-ed – Doing Better by RI’s Children – on the school choice issue.

Over recent year, the Center has partnered with the national Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and with the local RI Families for School Choice to promote the ESA legislation