Without Sales Tax Reform, 2-out-of-3 Ain’t Good Enough

RI’s 2015 includes corporate and estate tax reforms for big biz and the wealthy, but provides no relief for average family or worker. Read this unique commentary that takes a holistic look at the 3 phases of the economic cycle.

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STATEMENT on FY15 BUDGET: Middle Class to Pay for Corporate & Estate Tax Reforms

June 6, 2013
Sales Tax Cut Would Have Larger & More Immediate Impact
Pointing to new broad-based taxes and fees that will especially harm the middle-class, that will also help pay for planned cuts for corporations and high-income individuals, the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity sees little in the budget that cleared the House Finance Committee yesterday that will aid struggling families and small businesses, in a statement released today.
The Center further urges lawmakers to modify the budget so as to make a more immediate and larger impact on job creation. While noting a that a few items in the proposed budget are a small step in the right direction, the Center notes that the budget also takes backwards steps, and argues that much more needs to be done to boost the state’s struggling economy.

“While the modest corporate and estate tax reforms will be helpful over the long term for those constituencies, we then simultaneously turn-around and add to the plight of the average guy, asking them to pay for those reforms by imposing new vehicle fees and gas and use taxes,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Nor does this budget have any bold jobs creation plan. If we also cut the sales tax, we can put money back in the pocket of every Rhode Island family and business, and create thousands of new jobs right away.”

The proposed new gas taxes and fees on vehicle inspections and on good-drivers seeking to clear their traffic records, along with the $2+ million in new sales taxes, will be a direct hit on middle and low income families. The deceptively named “Safe Harbor” for the use tax would impose a new default of 0.08% of adjusted gross income tax on residents’ assumed purchases outside of the state.

The Center does note it as a positive step that the proposed budget did make some cuts that were recommended in its April Spotlight on $pending report, namely: suspension of the historic tax credit program and holding the line on state personnel costs.

The $48 million to pay for a reduction in the sales tax to 3%, that would produce about 13,000 jobs, can be made by eliminating the $12 million payment of the 38 Studio bond, by eliminating the $15 million to the HealthSourceRI UHIP project, by eliminating $11 million in General Assembly legislative and community service grants, and by cutting $19 million in excessive overtime payments, all were recommended cuts in the Center’s spending report.


* Article 12 of the budget increases the real estate conveyance tax that a seller of a home or other real estate must pay at the time of transfer.    The current tax is $4.00 per $1000 of the sale price;  the FY2015 budget would increase this tax by 15% and would become $4.60 per $1000 in Rhode Island, higher than Massachusetts tax of $4.56 per $1,000.

Statement on 3% Sales Tax Hearings

May 8, 2014 — OFFICIAL STATEMENT re. the May 7 House Finance Committee hearing on H8039 to lower the state sales tax to 3%. 

The Center’s testimony regarding a proposed sales tax cut to 3%, yesterday, appeared to generate interest from of a number of House Finance Committee members with the presentation of its “complete solution“, including a fiscal note about the anticipated dynamic revenue increases, which would lower the net impact on the state budget to as little as $47 million, in exchange for a potential increase in jobs of over 13,000. The Center then also showed how to find budget savings for this remainder (Spotlight on $pending report) without cutting any essential programs or services.

It appears that, legislatively, sales tax cuts are being considered along with corporate tax and estate tax cuts in 2014. While the Center supports all three reforms, research indicates that sales tax cuts will produce the largest economic boost and create significantly more jobs, at a lower cost per job, than any other tax reform.

The Center is puzzled by the position taken by the RI Hospitality Association, which testified against the 3% bill. It is almost certain that such reform would significantly increase consumer demand throughout the industry (diners, overnight guests, vendor services), perhaps as much as 20%, create more jobs, and lower the cost of conducting business for each of the Association’s member organizations. In 2012 RIHA actively mobilized support to stop a proposed 2% percentage-point increase in industry sales taxes, yet now is working against a sales tax cut of twice that size. The Center questions if RIHA members are aware of or support this position?

Testimony was also heard on bill to decrease the sales tax to 6% on a reduced number of industry sectors. Again, while a small step in the right direction, this reform would produce only one-sixth as many jobs, at just less than half the cost to the state budget, as compared with the 3% plan.


Managing a Phase-In of Major Sales Tax Reform

The state budget is like a talisman that government officials and special interests raise to ward off the evil spirits of tax reform.  Anything that promises not to raise taxes, or at least not to be “revenue neutral,” is said to be entirely unworkable — destined to eliminate every valued program of government.  And when they’re really stuck, budget protectionists will claim that even a reform that they ought to support for every economic and humanitarian reason is impossible because the budget couldn’t absorb the shock of the first year.  The withdrawals of revenue dependency might kill the junkie.

When it comes to dropping Rhode Island’s state sales tax to 3%, as RI House bill 8039 and Senate bill 2919 would do, the problem is not so dramatic.  To begin with, the companion bills would implement the change at the beginning of 2015, which maintains the higher tax rate through the summer tourist season and the holiday shopping season.  (The latter period on the calendar might also help to reduce the likelihood that people would hold off on purchases in the months leading up to the tax reduction, while also producing a boost during a slower time of the year.)

The following chart, part of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s “complete solution,” shows the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s suggested approach to managing the implementation of this unprecedented tax reform, taking advantage of the state government’s access to two respected economic modeling tools:  the RI-STAMP model used by the Center and the REMI PI+ model used by the state’s Office of Revenue Analysis.


The total height of the column is the governor’s recommended general fund (state) revenue for the next fiscal year.

  • The dark gray block at the bottom is the $3.054 billion that would be under no risk at all, even if the state dropped its sales tax rate from 7% to 3% for the entire year and the reform had no dynamic effect increasing tax revenue somewhat by improving the economy.
  • The silver block is the $134.25 million that the state secures by starting the reform halfway through the fiscal year plus the dynamic revenue that the REMI PI+ model projects for the reform.  (For a variety of reasons, the Center believes these results to be overly pessimistic.  One very substantial reason is that the Office of Revenue Analysis assumed across-the-board cuts to make up for the reduced revenue, which bit into areas of spending that, they claim, have a strong benefit for the local economy and, therefore, the dynamic effects of the reform.)
  • The red block shows the portion of the revenue for which the state should have some plans to reduce spending if REMI’s pessimism turns out not to have been unreasonable.  The top of this block is the budget that the Center recommends that the General Assembly actually pass.
  • The green block represents the added revenue that RI-STAMP projects the state will realize above the Center’s recommended budget.  If legislators wish to minimize the effects of the reform, they can plan for spending and program increases that would go into effect as this revenue actually comes in.
  • The sliver of blue at the top of the column is the $28.9 million that the Center expects the state to have to trim from the governor’s recommended budget as an investment in the 3% sales tax reform.

The light-green block to the left represents the $224.5 million in savings that the Center’s Spotlight on Spending report identified in the governor’s proposed budget (spanning both his suggested revision for FY14 and spending for FY15).  As the chart shows, these potential savings cover all but the most pessimistic $43 million at the bottom of the red block.

The next chart zooms in on the upper part of the column, with some explanation.  Basically, the strategy calls for the state to pass an initial budget (of $3.3 billion in general revenue spending) and then follow the monthly cash flow reports from the Office of Revenue Analysis.  If the dynamic effects of the more optimistic RI-STAMP model are proving to be the case, nice-to-have spending like grants and pilot programs can be phased in.  If the pessimism of the REMI model is proving to be the case, reductions of a more fundamental (but still non-essential) nature can be phased in.



Click here for a PDF of these two charts and the full table of Spotlight on Spending recommendations.

“How Money Walks” out of the Ocean State

Rhode Island needs a major economic boost through a tax cut like reducing the sales tax to 3%!

How Money Walks author, Travis Brown, interviews the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse about how the Center’s sales tax plan might stop the destructive out-migration trend in RI:

According to IRS data compiled by HowMoneyWalks.com:

Between 1992 and 2011:

  • Rhode Island lost over $1.8 billion in ANNUAL adjusted gross income due to out-migration
  • Providence County alone lost over $1.9 billion in AGI
  • Kent and Bristol counties were a minor losers, while Washington and Newport Counties saw gains

Between 1985 and 2011

  • the State lost over 43,314 from state-state out-migration

A 3% State Sales Tax: Updated 2014 Projections

Based on an updated 2014 version of the Center’s RI-STAMP economic modeling tool, new jobs and revenue projections are projected for a proposed across-the-board cut to the state sales tax to 3%, from its current 7% level.

The 2014 projections, based on updated Rhode Island data, show very similar results to the 2013 projections: over 13,000 jobs and over $450 million in new state revenues. plus over $100 million in new municipal revenues are projected to be created from the massive dynamic economic impact that would result; leaving the state with less than $50 million in budget savings to be identified.

The 2014 projections also include:

  • Multi-year projections for the 3% scenario
  • Near-term jobs and revenue projections for modified 1% sales tax scenario (proposed by 3rd party and also under consideration in 2014)

2014 Projections for a 3% Sales Tax

To see the complete 3% sales tax solution, go to our Sales Tax home page at RIFreedom.org/SalesTax .




Fiscal Analysis: Math of a 3.0% sales tax is budget friendly

No Budget Cliff:

A legitimate concern for lawmakers when considering sales tax reform, is avoiding severe revenue shortfalls and managing the state’s monthly cash flow. In considering dropping the RI Sales Tax to 3.0%, creating up to 13,000 jobs and over $100 million in new annual revenues for cities and towns, due to growth in the retail shopping sector and related economic activities, it is important to describe how state revenues – in all categories – would be impacted.

Fiscal Projections:

In fiscal year 2015, it is estimated that the state of Rhode Island will take in sales tax revenue of about $938 million.

A static calculation assumes that no increased economic activity will occur as a result of the decreased sales tax rate, and that a reduction in the sales tax from 7% to 3% would result i a loss of  4/7 of the originally projected revenue, or a loss $536 million.

A dynamic calculation attempts to project the effect of increased activity that is expected to occur (in the first full fiscal year after implementation) and projects a net budget loss of only $47 million, as follows:

-$433 million in sales tax receipts: -$536 million straight-line calculation plus $83 million from new transactions.  It is an economic truth that that increased retail activity would result from the lower consumer costs, producing increased transactions and, therefore, sales tax receipts higher than the static calculation, decreasing the net revenue loss in this category.

+$226 million in income tax receipts: With more economic activity, more taxable income will be paid to RI workers, from a) more people hired, b) more hours for existing workers, and c) higher salaries and pass-through-profits for existing employees or business owners.

+$42 million in cigarette tax receipts: With more people shopping in RI, more cigarettes will be purchased in the state.

+$3 million in alcohol tax receipts: With more people shopping in RI, more alcohol will be purchased in the state.

+$27 million in corporate tax receipts: Increased consumer activity will attract new corporations to the state and would likely lead to higher profits from existing corporations.

+104 million in other taxes and sources of revenue: With greater overall economic activity and population growth, and more money to spend by consumers, it can be expected that the state would realize increased receipts from gasoline, vehicle fees, estate, racing and athletic, bank deposits, tangible assets, realty transfer, health care providers fees, and public utilities taxes, as well as increases in court, university tuition, lottery, and other departmental receipts.


MUNICIPAL IMPACT: +119 million collectively; every city and town is expected to see increased revenue gains, due almost entirely to higher commercial property tax revenues, as a result of new and expanded business formation.

Budget Planning Process:

A number of tools exist for lawmakers to mitigate the budget impact of major sales tax reform. Even if the projected $48 million deficit is overly optimistic, prioritization of spending leaves ample room.

1)      NON-ESSENTIAL SPENDING of over $225 million in non-critical programs were identified in the Center’s Spotlight On $pending report. Lawmakers can choose to prioritize spending so as to create the best opportunity to create jobs and can look at low-hanging fruit in the budget, such as:

  • $23.4 million to return HealthSourceRI to the federal government
  • $12 million 38 Studios annual bond payment
  • $13 million in projected savings from reduced social services demand

2)      ANNUAL BUDGET RECONCILIATION PROCESS, which routinely adjusts the budget in response to changes in revenue that often far exceed the projected sales tax revenue changes.

3)      THIRD-QUARTER IMPLEMENTATION of sales tax reform, beginning the lower rate in the middle of the fiscal year on January 1, 2015 would essentially spread the budget impact over two budget cycles, requiring less savings in 2015 and enabling more flexibility for the 2016 budget.

Monthly Cash Flow:

From the figures above, the dynamic increases in receipts in many categories would occur almost immediately, as more shoppers flow into the state, buying a wide array of products, and more workers are hired. This means that annual, even monthly, gross receipts to the state are not likely to be severely interrupted at any significant level.

To see the complete 3% sales tax solution, go to our Sales Tax home page at RIFreedom.org/SalesTax .

The Complete 3% Sales Tax Solution

Major sales tax reform for RI has evolved from just a good idea into a complete solution.

Lawmakers can now consider: the need for reform, the right policy reform idea, evidence from other states, public support, fiscal notes, budgets savings, and budget management

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Watch the Great Ocean State Debate

The debate was held on Saturday, April 26 on the University of Rhode Island campus.


You can watch the first 1-hour segment of the debate on State of the State cable TV

Part 1: The Economics of Tax Policies

Panelists: Samuel Bell; Justin Braga; Stephen Moore; and Tom Sgouros

Moderator:  Josh Fenton       Host: Mike Stenhouse, Center for Freedom & Prosperity    

Time: 60 minutes The Unleash R.I. Debate Series was produced by The Center for Freedom and Prosperity on April 26, 2014. What’s Really in Our Best Interest? is the first of the debate series. This is Debate Segment #1: The Economics of Tax Policies, which includes (A) Policy Philosophy & Impact in the Ocean State, (B) Specific Policy Ideas for Rhode Island.

Broadcast dates, times and channels

Saturday, May 10 at 11:00 PM on Cox channel 13, Verizon channel 32, and Full Channel 9

Sunday, May 11 at 8:00 AM on Cox channel 13, Verizon channel 32, and Full Channel 9

Monday, May 12 at 9:00 PM on Cox channel 18, Verizon channel 31, and Full Channel 9

Thursday, May 15 at 9:00 PM on Cox channel 18, Verizon channel 31, and Full Channel 9

Note: Cox channel 18 and Verizon 31 are local broadcast in Kent County only, which includesCoventry; East Greenwich; Exeter; North Kingstown; Warwick; West Warwick; and West Greenwich.


An online archive of the entire debate will soon be available for viewing, please check back soon. If you have not already done so, we kindly request that you register and take a short survey, by clicking the button below, prior to viewing the video:

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In the meantime, here’s a brief video overview of the debate …


The Great Ocean State Debate – Registration Now Open

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