Policy Reform: Eliminate Corporate Welfare

 

 

View our “End Corporate Welfare” policy brief here … 

 

38 Studios-style cronyism is not capitalism … and it must end!

When political insiders secure special funding or bailouts for themselves, funded by your taxpayer dollars, it creates an unfair playing field, upsetting the competitive landscape. Wasteful spending by incompetent bureaucrats and legislators and flat-out special-interest favoritism are parts of the corruption that must be curtailed in the Ocean State.

Specific Recommendations:

 A) Formally end the practice of corporate welfare in Rhode Island government.

 B) Defund the capacity of the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to put taxpayer dollars at risk by financially supporting private business endeavors.

View our “End Corporate Welfare” policy brief here … 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Policy Reform: School Choice, Special-Needs Scholarships, and School Grading System

 

Closing The Gap

“Bright Today” education reforms

Every child deserves not just a bright future, but also a bright today. Students will only be young once and cannot wait for long-term education reforms to take hold. Families must have choices in education, and we must close educational gaps now!

Options and Accountability

The State of Florida has blazed a new path for education reform, and Rhode Island should pay attention. Increasing parental choice as well as administrative and teacher accountability in multiple ways has rocketed the Sunshine State closer or beyond the Ocean State by multiple metrics. Florida’s gains among minorities, the disadvantaged, and the disabled cannot be ignored.

Go to our “Closing The Gap” education study home page here …

 

“Bright Today” Scholarship Program for Special-Needs Students:

No student should be condemned to attend a failed school, especially the most vulnerable among us. The best way to serve the needs of a diverse population is to give families the freedom to choose the schools — public, private, or charter — that best fit their children’s needs.

Our Center’s school voucher recommendation for special-needs students is a good place to start in providing choice to Rhode Island families.

Read about our “Bright Today Scholarship Program” here …

 

Straightforward Grading of Schools:

However extensive their access to options, parents need a straightforward grading system to determine how their schools compare with others. This increased level of transparency will provide educators, legislators, and families with greater insight into school performance.

 

Related Information:

Does the RI Dep’t of Education’s School Report Card process give extra credit to schools that don’t have significant minority or special needs student subgroups?  See The Ocean State Current blog here … 

Policy Reform: add market-based reforms to Health Benefits Exchange

Highly Burdensome Federal Healthcare Regulations

Provide more options for more people for affordable, quality, healthcare services!

The expansion of complex government and special-interest control over our highly personal healthcare decisions will not give Americans what they want. Rhode Islanders want access to quality care and the freedom to choose the best plans for their families!
As part of the Affordable Care Act and its Health Benefits Exchange, the state of Rhode Island, its health care providers, civic and community groups, and private citizens should embrace market- and patient-driven solutions to these challenges as part of a “Health Care Freedom Act“, including:
  1. Increase the availability of care for both newly insured and the remaining uninsured by eliminating regulatory obstacles to new, innovative providers of health care services including the “Certificate of Need” law that blocks competition for medical facilities and regulations that stifle ‘retail health clinics’ such as MinuteClinic.
  2. Expand the availability of health care financing to those left out of the Affordable Care Act by allowing consumers to purchase low-cost ‘mandate-free’ policies and insurance regulated in other states, as well as promoting the availability of non-insurance alternatives such as ‘Health Sharing Ministries’ and critical-illness policies.
  3. Build on the Affordable Care Act’s pricing and transparency reforms by adopting and utilizing ‘bundled’ or ‘packaged’ prices for episodes of care and embracing real ‘cash’ prices for consumers purchasing their own health care services from physicians and hospitals.
  4. Transform health care for government workers by embracing consumer-driven plans that lower costs while continuing to deliver high-quality, accessible care.
  5. Renew the state’s innovative Medicaid waiver and modernize it to provide beneficiaries with health care funding mechanisms similar to Health Savings Account for appropriate populations.
  6. Prohibit automatic enrollment in other social service programs via the health benefits portal

The result of embracing these and other market- and consumer-driven policies in health care can make Rhode Island the national leader in delivering high-quality, accessible, and affordable care to its people, helping to create prosperity by relieving the taxpayers and the private sector of the high burden of health care costs.

Read about the Center’s “Healthcare Freedom Act” here …

Go to our Healthcare home page here … 

Read how gov’t bureaucrats are planning to transform the “health benefits portal” into a DEPENDENCY PORTAL …

How RI is creating an Expressway to Dependency

 

 

Policy Reform: Give Rhode Islanders a “Right to Work”

Right To Work = Worker Freedom

Right to Work = FREEDOM for Ocean State workers!

All workers want full freedom to pursue a career of their choice.  Freedom of Association is a core American liberty that should be extended to all Rhode Islanders looking to negotiate their own workplace rules, have full incentives to perform at a high level, and determine whether or not pay union dues is in their best interests.

Enacting Right-To-Work (RTW) policies would give Rhode Island a major advantage over its neighbors by making it the only New England state with RTW protections for its workers — without costing the state a dime in budget expense.

Read our Center’s Right-To-Work policy brief here …

 

 

Policy Reform: Eliminate the Sales Tax

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Rhode Islanders want more financial security and control over their own lives. Increased job opportunities, higher wages, and enhanced job security can all be achieved in a robust economy.

Phase out or immediately eliminate the sales tax. This tax reform policy will produce an immediate boost to the RI economy and will produce more jobs than any other solution on the table, creating 20,000+ new jobs in the Ocean State!

Imagine the renewed sense of security you and your children will feel, knowing that there are more career opportunities to choose from and knowing that your employer is more likely to remain in business, as well as the opportunity to earn higher wages in a more competitive economy.

View the Zero.Zero report here …

Visit the Zero.Zero home page here …

75-38-400  or  68-0.0-5000 ?

Consider the $75 million the state wasted on 38 Studios, chasing after just 400 jobs. Compare that with first year budget cuts of $68 million to pay for Zero.Zero, producing 5,000 jobs that year alone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dependency_Portal_Wide_1614x654

R.I. Creating an Expressway to Dependency

The Issue. Rhode Island is leading the nation in the advancement of a larger entitlement culture via its planned expansion of social services through a health benefits exchange, a component of the controversial federal healthcare law. When collecting detailed personal financial and household information from individuals seeking health insurance support, the state intends to proactively enroll participants in other state programs for which they are eligible. Will this create and expanded culture of dependency?

Statement from CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “This is an extreme case of misguided public policy. The expansion of government and special interest control over our personal healthcare decisions, along with the culture of dependency being freely advocated by this administration, should be viewed as an assault on our deeply held American value of self-reliance.

“Imagine turning to the RI health benefits portal because your employer cancelled your insurance and finding yourself on a government-created expressway to a life of dependency. Wouldn’t we all be better off, instead, if the state encouraged residents to become independent, productive members of society?”

Related LinksMike Stenhouse discusses the ‘Dependency Portal’ on the Helen Glover radio show … click hereDependency Portal Pieces in Place;

What the Center is calling a “dependency portal.”  The dependency portal is a not-so-hidden goal of Rhode Island’s version of the health benefits exchanges described in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, commonly known as ObamaCare).

Although the final design has not been developed in specific detail, the idea of the exchanges is to enable healthcare consumers to use a government Web site to review their available options for insurance and to determine their eligibility for public subsidies.  Most likely, a series of Web-based forms will ask the user for a variety of highly personal information regarding health, income, and family circumstances in order to determine what health plans and public assistance amounts he or she is eligible for.

Whether such information will be requested of all residents who seek to use the site or only of those explicitly seeking subsidies remains an open question.

The exchange will become a dependency portal when other forms of public assistance — from food stamps to cash-payment welfare to child-care subsidies — are integrated into the system and promoted to the exchange user based on information that he or she provides while seeking health coverage — perhaps automatically enrolling people with the merest expression of consent.

At a recent press conference, Rhode Island Health and Human Services Secretary Steven Costantino referred to this “hidden element” of the exchanges as “one-stop shopping.”

Why is that bad? As a free market think tank, the Center is certainly not opposed to practices that encourage efficiency and the use of technology to improve the access that customers and clients have to services. Information technology, in particular, has empowered individuals to accomplish easily and inexpensively tasks that once required expert consultants.

From a business perspective, the Internet and the proliferating technologies that use it, now including smartphones and tablets, smooth the path from a potential customer’s initial interest all the way to final purchase.  Technology enhances businesses’ ability to market and sell their products and services, and they seek to accomplish those ends in order to grow their revenue and expand their market share.

That model is not appropriate to government in dispensing taxpayer-funded services.

In the private sector, bundling of services has become commonplace, and it is easy to understand why companies would pursue the strategy.  Think of the merging technologies of television, Internet, and telephone; it makes sense for a company with an advantage in, say, television, to use various marketing techniques, such as reduced-price packages, cross advertising, and one-stop shopping, to gain an edge in other markets.

However, the public clearly has a sense that these methods can go too far.  Indeed, at the turn of the millennium, the federal government sued Microsoft on the grounds that it was hindering competition by using its operating system dominance (with Windows) to gain an insurmountable advantage in the Web browser market (with Internet Explorer).

In the case of government, all of the same incentives exist for the organization to expand its reach.  The difference is that government has three inherent competitive advantages:

  1. In its ability to simply confiscate money to pay for, or at least subsidize, its services
  2. In the fact that the people whom it entices to its services are not paying their full cost
  3. In its control of the marketplace by means of regulation

Over time, government programs are therefore less and less “public services” that taxpayers agree to support through the people whom they elect and more and more bureaucratic offerings that use the enrollment of some citizens as justification for claiming more authority and confiscating more money from others.

One can see evidence of this intention in the process by which Rhode Island’s exchange was initiated.  In the face of (to be mild) public uncertainty about the PPACA, the Democrat president and Congress pushed it through.  It creates financial incentive for states to build the exchanges (by making taxpayers from other states pay for it), and it hands an astonishing amount of policy discretion to the unelected Secretary of Health and Human Services.

In Rhode Island, Governor Lincoln Chafee broke with common understanding of separation of powers in order to create the exchange by means of executive order, committing the state to pay for the site’s maintenance once it is operational.  Similarly, the state executive branch has simply determined to agree to a related Medicaid waiver, expanding free healthcare services in the state and adding to its expenses.  No legislative input; no public hearings; in short, no public statement of agreement with the programs being developed in the people’s name.

As the government exchanges claim increasing shares of the market nationally, unelected state and federal officers will be authorized to determine everything from minimum benefits to price controls to payment schedules.  The board that Governor Chafee appointed to initiate the exchange illustrates that special interests will have an outsized role, as well.

With the addition of other welfare programs to the mix, it will be even more difficult for the people of the state to change course.

What it means for you. Losing control of activities done in the public’s name may not be the most dire consequence of the dependency portal approach.  Rather, the fatal part of the trap is the fast lane to a culture of universal reliance on government and a pervasive sense of entitlement.

Whenever the topic of welfare arises, conversation turns toward those who “know how to work the system” and thus become the fabled “welfare queens.”  For them, incentives toward good behavior have been reduced or reversed, and democracy has devolved into an exchange of political power for handouts.

The real danger of the dependency portal is that it sets up a chute so that previously self-reliant Rhode Islanders will increasingly fall into an entitlement existence.  Why else would the exchanges offer health care subsidies to a family of four with income of $92,200?

Just as technology has simplified tasks that once required expert consultants, the dependency portal will make “working the system” a simple matter of clicking a few buttons.

Tracing the progress of the portal in Rhode Island. RI Health & Human Services Secretary Steven Costantino, Health Benefits Exchange Director Christine Ferguson, and Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts describe Rhode Island’s nation-leading steps toward the dependency portal (June 28, 2012):

 

Elaboration on why Rhode Island and the United States should resist the pull toward dependency portals:

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity first identifies the dependency-portal dynamic as one reason to reject the health benefit exchange and the Medicaid expansion:

The pieces needed to turn the exchange into a dependency portal are being put into place:

RI officials acknowledge intention to implement Medicaid expansion, without any indication of legislative or public input:

Documents related to the dependency portal begin to reveal the direct connection between those pushing the concept and those involved with Rhode Island’s health benefits exchange:

The dependency portal in concert with eliminated work requirements for welfare may mark the return of the “welfare queen” and a “majority coalition” for big-government activists:

Documents. The federal government and national non-profits describe the dependency portal and the related “express lane eligibility”:

Rhode Islanders must act if they want better life

Do we want to be an Entitlement State or a State of Prosperity?

OpEd by Mike Stenhouse; as published in the Providence Journal (7-29-12)

What kind of state do Rhode Islanders really want? Who will provide the vision and leadership that will lead to renewed opportunities and prosperity for our citizens?

Rhode Island has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, yet our political leaders do nothing about it.

Ours is the worst ranked state in terms of business climate, yet our business leaders do not cry out.

We have one of the highest state and local tax burdens in the country, yet citizens remain silent.

We have dangerously high unfunded pension and benefit liabilities, yet the political class does nothing to help our municipalities.

We are losing population and wealth to neighboring states and throughout the country, yet the defenders of the status quo stick their heads in the sand and say “it isn’t so.”

We have the most burdensome level of health-insurance mandates in the nation, yet the Chafee administration is pushing us towards even more government control of our personal health-care decisions.

We have the highest sales tax in New England, yet our political class actually voted to expand the tax, even to some of the poorest among us.

Soon, research from our center will show that Rhode Island is uniquely positioned in the nation as a failing economic state, yet most members of the local media do not raise awareness or seek accountability from our public officials.

The list could go on and on, but the real question is whether Rhode Islanders really want to continue down the same path that has failed our state so miserably or if we can find the willpower to tear down the barriers that have prevented us from increasing our quality of life.

Do we as a people want to live in an entitlement state or in a state of prosperity? One could reasonably assume, based on the above pattern of apathy, that we collectively want the former. But I doubt that.

So what is a concerned citizen to do? Especially when there is no leadership coming from policy-makers?

With the 2012 election rapidly approaching full campaign mode, the choice cannot be clearer for voters. There are two starkly different visions for our state: one that defends a status quo that tries to centrally engineer our society; and one that promotes bold reforms that restore individual control of our lives and a positive sense of self-determination to our citizens.

Whether you are an average Joe (or Joe-Ann), a business owner or a student, it is important that you understand your duty as a vigilant citizen and that you are empowered to make a difference. First, you can think about and develop a core set of political principles that will guide you. Second, you can become educated about the issues and encourage discussion and debate within your various circles of friends, family and colleagues. Third, you can become actively engaged by supporting organizations, campaigns, or policy initiatives that are consistent with your core principles.

This summer and fall, you can stand up where others have fallen down. Demand of candidates who knock on your door, call your home, or conduct town-hall-type meetings to clearly tell you whether they will defend the status quo or whether they will openly support the bold reform initiatives that our state so desperately needs.

Reforms like: lowering sales, income and corporate taxes; like providing school choice for students condemned to a failing school; like implementing patient-centered health-care reforms vs. government-centered; like constructive collective bargaining reform for government workers.

As a state we can choose to perpetuate our downward spiral by allowing to stand the government regulations that infringe upon our freedoms and limit our capacity to thrive; or, we can choose to begin to rebuild our economy by unleashing the great potential within each of us. The choice is indeed yours — and ours — to make; especially when most everyone else is afraid or incapable of leading!

Mike Stenhouse is the chief executive of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative think tank.

Related Commentary: 2013 Budget Fails to be Bold

ricfp-hoursper100teens-2002-2011

Teen Employment Sinking in the Ocean State

Quick links: to download the printable PDF of this study click here.  See Media Release at end.

Related stories: Research Director Justin Katz discusses the issue on the Dan Yorke Show.

Abstract

Gainful employment is disappearing from the experience of the American teenager (ages 16 to 19), and increasing minimum wages are part of the problem. In Rhode Island, teen unemployment was 28.3% in 2011, more than double its 2007 low of 12.9%, and hours worked per week had fallen from 10.0 to 6.1.

Rhode Island’s minimum wage climb from $6.75 in 2004 to $7.75 for 2013 will have cost 597 teenage jobs. As teenagers’ employment has fallen and their average hours worked per week have decreased, the weekly working hours per 100 teens in the population has dropped 62% — and 79% for those without high school diplomas. Because 70% of working teens are in the retail or leisure/hospitality industries, a bold policy change such as eliminating the state sales tax would be especially beneficial to them.

Getting Teenagers Accustomed to Working

Chores and a lemonade stand become a newspaper route and a summer job in retail, then a professional trade following high school graduation. If college is in the picture, retail transitions to on-campus service work followed by some sort of internship, which lands the young adult at the entrance of a career path, degree in hand. Such is the classic progression of young Americans’ easing into the workforce, with the adventurous and innovative breaking off to build their own companies or invent new industries.

The United States’ extended jobs recession appears to have accelerated a disruption of this pattern. The change has been acutely felt in states that have trailed the nation’s meager recovery, such as Rhode Island. From 2003 to 2011, teenagers’ share of employment in all Ocean State industries fell from 5.7% to 4.3%, despite the fact that their overall percentage of the population held steady.

In 2011, states with minimum wages that exceeded the federal rate tended to have higher unemployment. High minimum wages disproportionately harm teenagers’ employment prospects.  So, not only are young adults in such states operating in dampened economies, but the jobs that they would typically seek are even harder to come by.

Policy Recommendation

With Rhode Island in desperate need of an economic turnaround, and because dedicated and well-rounded young adults will be critical toward that end, the state must reverse the working plight of its teenagers. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that the General Assembly and Governor Chafee:

  1. Set Rhode Island’s minimum wage at the federal rate of $7.25.
  2. Consider a bold economic policy, such as eliminating the state sales tax, that would jolt the overall economy forward with especially beneficial effects for the teenage population.

Minimum Wage & Teen Employment

The effect of minimum wages on unemployment rates is a contentious issue among economists. Until the 1990s, they broadly understood increased minimum wages to harm employment. Since then, various studies have muddied the waters.

Given the myriad variables involved in a modern economy, small-scale policy changes can disappear in the data, and incremental minimum wage hikes may not register. Consensus is still strong, however, that low-skill, low-pay groups like teens are adversely affected by such increases.

Of the 24 states with unemployment over 8.0% for 2011, 11 had set their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 per hour. Of the 26 states with 8.0% unemployment or lower, only six had elevated minimums.  The average unemployment rate for former was 9.0%, compared with 7.7% for those in which the federal rate applied.

That gap doubles for teenagers (16-19 years old).  In states where the $7.25 minimum applied, teens’ unemployment rate was 21.7%. In the elevated-rate states, it was 24.3%. Chart 1 illustrates the point, narrowing the focus to the eight states with minimum wages over $8.00 per hour.

United States Unemployment and Teen Unemployment by State Minimum Wage, 2011

Rhode Island

In 2011, the Ocean State’s teen unemployment was 28.3%, the worst in New England, and more than double its 2007 low of 12.9%. Meanwhile, the weekly hours of the average employed RI teen dropped from 10.0 to 6.1.

Putting Rhode Island in context requires an acknowledgment that it simultaneously has the most-sickly economy in New England and the second lowest minimum wage, in 2011. The $7.40 per hour the state mandated for the lowest-paid employees within its borders was higher than only New Hampshire’s rate, regionally. Increasing the rate to $7.75 this past legislative session pushed the Ocean State past Maine, as well.

At first glance, these comparisons would seem to contradict the notion that high minimum wages are associated with higher unemployment. As suggested above, however, minimum wage is a secondary factor and is not sufficient to save a state economy that is already failing.

In an update for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity of their 2010 study, “The Teen Unemployment Crisis,” economists David Macpherson (Trinity University) and William Even (Miami University) found that Rhode Island’s increase from $6.75 in 2005 to $7.40 cost the state’s teens 397 jobs in 2011. Of that total, 306 were lost to those without high school diplomas. As the Center reported in June, Macpherson and Even estimate that the additional hike, to $7.75 per hour, will cost Rhode Island’s teenagers another 200 job opportunities.

In total, that $1 raise will have cost about 2.7% of employed teens valuable work experience, increasing to about a 7.1% loss among those without high school diplomas.

Table 1 shows the dramatic drop in teen employment from 2002 to 2011. For perspective, the 2010 Census found 66,423 Rhode Islanders 16-19 years old — about 32,663 without high school diplomas.

 

Table 1
RI Teen Employment Trends by Age and High School Diploma
16-19, no diploma 16-19 18-20, diploma
Employment
2002 (%) 38 49 64.3
2011 (%) 19 32.4 49.2
Change (%) -50 -33.9 -23.5
Ave. hours/week
2002 6.7 10.7 19.3
2011 2.8 6.1 13.1
Change (%) -57.6 -43.1 -32.3
Hours/100 teens
2002 254.4 522.2 1,240.20
2011 54 196.5 642.2
Change (%) -78.8 -62.4 -48.2
Note:“Change” percentages may differ due to rounding.Source: Census Bureau & Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Surve

 

Not only are fewer teens working, but those who have jobs are spending less time on them. The weekly hours worked per 100 teens in the total population captures the combined effects of these trends. Employment is evaporating from teens’ experience in Rhode Island.

Massachusetts shows that a high minimum wage doesn’t always correspond with high teen unemployment (see Chart 2). But if Rhode Island insists on imposing a high rate, it must take even more dramatic steps to improve its economy to counter-balance the downward pressure on employment.

U.S., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts Teen Unemployment, with Minimum Wage Changes, 2002-2011

One Solution: Eliminate Sales Tax

In early June, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity proposed its Zero.Zero plan to eliminate the state sales tax in Rhode Island.  Such a policy would be especially beneficial for teens.

The Center found that immediate elimination of Rhode Island’s sales tax would create 23,873 jobs. The data did not differentiate between industries or the demographic qualities of the newly hired workers, but it would be reasonable to predict that teenagers and other low-wage workers would benefit disproportionately and more immediately.

By far, Rhode Island teenagers are more active in the very industries that most feel the effects of the sales tax: retail and leisure and hospitality. Of teens who were working in 2011, 23.5% were in the retail industry, where they accounted for 8.8% of the workforce. Another 46.4% worked in the leisure and hospitality industry, accounting for 17.8% of all employees.

Altogether, 69.9% of working teens were in these two industries. Clearly, the healthier retail and leisure market in a zero percent sales tax environment would benefit the lowest-paid workers first, including Rhode Island’s young adults.

Conclusion

As with all of the challenges that it faces, Rhode Island has a choice between paths: the one we’ve been following and one that shifts decision-making back toward individuals working together in a less-regulated private economy. The first shifts resources under the control of government planners, and the second would allow Rhode Islanders to keep their money and make decisions in accordance with their own interests.

For all of the emphasis that the state has been placing on developing a “knowledge economy,” it has paid precious little attention to the need to foster work ethic and experience in its youth. Meanwhile, lavish public-school funding and special deals toward government-approved economic development have been requiring increasingly high tax burdens — in the form of the incrementally broadening sales tax, of ballooning property taxes, and of expanding licensing requirements and fees.

Instead, Rhode Island’s emphasis should be on getting people, especially young people, back to work, regardless of their field or pay scale.

***

MEDIA RELEASE: July 24, 2012

A 28.3% teen unemployment rate is sinking career building opportunities for Ocean State youth according to a report released today by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. This unemployment rate has more than doubled in recent years to become the worst in New England, and demonstrating even further weakness in the teen sector, the report also highlights that the number of hours worked has dropped by over 40%.

“If our state is to rebound in the long term, we need our working-age youth to learn to become productive. As part of their transition into a career that fosters self-reliance, teens are looking for valuable workplace experience and resume building, in addition to a little pocket change”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Unfortunately our overly burdensome regulatory and tax structure, along with statewide minimum wage increases, are resulting in fewer opportunities for everyone and disproportionately harm our teens. This category would grade-out at yet another F for our state,” continued Stenhouse, referring to the Competitiveness Report Card published earlier this year by the Center.

According to the report, high minimum wage states had a 24.3% teen unemployment rate, compared with 21.7% for states at the federally mandated rate. Further, Rhode Island’s recent minimum wage hikes will cost almost 600 area teenagers a chance at an entry level job. Even for those young adults who were fortunate enough to find work, the average hours worked plummeted to 6.1 per week from 10.7.

As about 70% of working teens are hired in the retail or leisure/hospitality industries, the Center recommends two policy changes: lowering the state minimum wage rate to federal levels; and a phase-out the the state sales tax, which would not only reinvigorate the state’s economy, but would be especially favorable for the retail industry, creating new job opportunities for younger Rhode Islanders.

Today, July 24, is the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage. “The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity categorically rejects this ill-informed policy push. A minimum wage hike is yet another regulation that strangles businesses; our report provides clear evidence of the negative, unintended consequences that meddling in complex economic issues can often bring about,” concluded Stenhouse.

The complete teen unemployment report can be downloaded from the Center’s website at www.RIFreedom.org .

Earlier this year, the Center published a policy brief detailing the negative effects of the state’s occupational licensing policies on opportunities for low income and entry level workers. Another report – Zero.Zero – detailed the positive economic effects of eliminating the state sales tax.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. With a credo that freedom is indispensable to citizens’ well-being and prosperity, the Center’s mission is to stimulate a rigorous exchange of ideas with the goal of restoring competitiveness to Rhode Island through the advancement of market-based reform solutions.

The quid-pro-quo cycle of Cronyism

Center for Freedom Calls for End to Corporate Welfare in RI

38 Studios–Type Cronyism Is Not Capitalism

Introduction

Put simply, crony capitalism is the transfer of public money to businesses and organizations through the peddling of influence. Cronyism gives free markets a bad name, since it can be difficult to determine whether true competition exists or the game has been rigged.

A more appropriate term might be “venture socialism” or the more familiar “corporate welfare.” Whatever its name, the concept involves a less efficient economy — making us all poorer and reducing economic opportunity for our citizens.

Download a PDF of the Policy Brief here.

Unfortunately, cronyism has defenders on both sides of the political aisle because its proponents are on the receiving end of the short-term benefits.  Politicians reward their “friends” with all kinds of publicly provided treasures, from subsidies to exemptions from regulations to loopholes in the tax code. In 2008, we witnessed hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the bailout of major Wall Street firms. A more-recent example of a half-billion dollar investment gone bad has given a name to politically correct green industry schemes: Solyndra.

Given its insulated political culture, Rhode Island is certainly not exempt from cronyist deals and boondoggles. Beginning in the 1990s, corporate giants CVS Caremark and Fidelity Investments have received a bevy of tax breaks and subsidies to build or expand national or regional headquarters.

During the last decade, debates raged about the $300-million-plus ratepayer-funded Deepwater Wind project, a Twin River casino bailout, and the $75 million loan guarantee to Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios. In the past week, Schilling’s video game company has offered a uniquely clear example of the risk that targeted public investments will never produce a positive return on investment for taxpayers.

Taxpayer or ratepayer dollars should not be randomly put at risk to finance politically connected corporate interests. It’s time to replace corporate welfare programs with a broad-based growth program.  It’s time to end the handouts and create a pro-job, pro-business structural environment for economic growth in Rhode Island.

Policy Recommendations

As just one step in reducing the size and scope of government in the Ocean State, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends that the State of Rhode Island:

  1. End the practice of corporate welfare in the General Assembly
  2.  Defund the Economic Development Corp. (EDC), preventing it from spending or putting at risk any taxpayer dollars

One of the great mistakes to which policymakers often fall victim is judging public policy programs by their intent rather than their results. Such an approach minimizes the consideration that serious unintended consequences ought to carry in subsequent policy decisions.

Rhode Island should roll back many of its so-called economic development incentive programs, whether in the form of subsidies on the expenditures side of the ledger or loopholes on the tax side.  Any economic development program that cannot be objectively shown to create jobs that generate more in-state revenue than they cost should be repealed.

The savings from the ended programs should be used to enact across-the-board improvements of state competitiveness by reducing the Rhode Island’s stratospheric tax rates to more-competitive figures. For instance, Rhode Island’s corporate income tax rate and sales tax rate are the highest in New England, putting the state at a serious economic disadvantage.

Furthermore, ending the practice of cronyism will reduce the special interest and corporate lobbying that pervades Smith Hill and will send a message that taxpayer dollars can no longer be traded for political support and campaign contributions.

Background/Overview

A key critique of market capitalism often revolves around the undue relationship between powerful corporations and the government, resulting in policies, legislation, and regulations that appear to benefit the well-connected at the expense of the public.  This critique — though often labeled an inherent failure of capitalism — is a function of an outsized government.

The relationship is intuitive: A government with more power over the economy creates more opportunities and greater rewards for lobbying. In turn, influence over an entity with the power to regulate, tax, and police brings access to competitive weapons not available in a free market.

Indeed, the lion’s share of blame for the current economic crisis can be laid at the feet of connected business interests’ feeding on the fruits of the public commons while pushing the risk onto the public.  National examples are most prominent in our minds.

When the housing bubble popped in 2008, Washington-connected Wall Street firms won taxpayer bailouts and bonus checks while the working Americans who paid the bill received pink slips and empty promises. And by most measures, those same firms are now more profitable than ever; industry data shows that President Barack Obama’s first two and a half years in office have been more profitable for Wall Street than George W. Bush’s entire eight years in office.

This is not simply a crisis of bad banks run amok, but an unsettling symptom of cronyism. Cronyism, by its very definition, implies a situation in which the system (i.e., the government and the institutions it establishes), rather than the choices of consumers, picks the winners and losers.

While Rhode Island’s economic climate is demonstrably bad for business (Rhode Island ranks 45th in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America 2011 index), a number of tax credits, incentive packages, and corporate welfare programs benefit a few chosen firms while the rest are forced to languish within a suffocating structural environment.

Targeted incentives are sometimes viewed as legitimate instruments for economic development, but a genuine program for broader growth would allow the state to close many of these loopholes in favor of broader reforms that ease the economic burden across the board.

The Research

Every day, taxpayer money is being funneled to organizations and enterprises that someone in government has decided are worthy of patronage, whether they need it or not.  Worse, this kind of cronyism is not merely limited to a series of one-off deals, but is systematized on every level in the form of grants, tax credits, sweetheart loans, loan guarantees, and other preferential treatment.

According to GoodJobsFirst.org, a left-leaning economic development accountability resource, Rhode Island taxpayers paid out almost $50 million in related costs for fiscal year 2010, including:

  • Corporate income tax rate reduction for job creation
  • Enterprise zone tax credits
  • Job training tax credit
  • Manufacturing and high-performance manufacturing investment tax credit
  • Motion picture production tax credit

Worse, disclosure and reporting on these programs are well below what anyone would expect in return for $50 million.  In a series of transparency benchmarks measuring program outcomes, data availability, and accessibility, the average Rhode Island program produced a woeful score of only 36 out of a possible 100 points.

These are only a few of the higher-priced programs.  At present, a startling number of programs are on the books to divert taxpayer money to targeted businesses and industries, accounting for tens of millions in additional handouts with little or no objective standards or accountability. Some of the others include:

  • Distressed Areas Economic Revitalization Act and Enterprise Zone Program
  • Jobs Development Act
  • Rhode Island Public Rail Corporation
  • Child Day Care Facilities in Industrial Parks Grant Program
  • Jobs Training Tax Credit Act
  • Urban Infrastructure Commission
  • Mill Building and Economic Revitalization Program and Tax Credits
  • Jobs Growth Act
  • Petroleum stockpiling program
  • Small Business Advocacy Council
  • and many, many more.

While each carries a plausible justification and positive intended outcome (who could be against child care?), they are all simply variations on the crony-capitalism theme.

Discussion

John Stossel, the libertarian journalist of 20/20 fame and program host on Fox Business News, penned a provocative and compelling piece for Reason magazine in March 2004 titled “Confessions of a Welfare Queen.” Rather than documenting now-familiar stories of individual welfare abuse, as the allusion to Ronald Reagan’s famous “welfare queen” quip suggests, Stossel turned his sights on the multilayered fabric of lavish subsidies for the rich and cronyism.

From bizarre payouts to beachfront homeowners to abuses of eminent domain to unfair subsidies for agro-corporations, Stossel explains how these programs are not examples of market failure, but simply the symptoms of the increasing investiture of power into government, especially over ever-greater swaths of the economy.

Americans who decry cronyism as a betrayal of the social contract are correct: The iron triangle linking lobbyist-rich companies and organizations, campaign contributions, and government policy is a burden on our economy and a drag on our democracy. Too often missed, however, is that regulatory solutions just hand over new car keys and more drinkable money to the hooligans who repeatedly steer the economy into a ditch.

The only solution that can work is to limit the government’s ability to mismanage taxpayer funds; that means cutting back on the size, scope, and domain of government. The most vocal opponents of ending cronyism are, predictably, those who benefit most from the system. They, along with well-meaning but misguided allies, will generally contend that targeted systems of tax breaks and incentive programs are useful for directing policy mechanisms toward specific, concerted ends and that Rhode Island needs these incentive programs to be nationally competitive.

Two fallacious premises support these arguments: first, that public policy instruments are the best available means of achieving common ends and, second, that a labyrinth of programs is a suitable way to attract and develop economic activity. These fallacies, in tandem with the frenetic and sound-bite oriented nature of contemporary media, contribute to the idea that most problems have public sector solutions. This is particularly common in the realm of economics, precisely the area over which a market capitalist system would give the government the least control.

Again and again purported plans for “economic development” have been used to justify programs and incentives that ultimately do little to boost economic growth.  But because spending and special-project support create the illusion of forward movement, beneficiaries can brand the efforts as “doing something.”  What corporate welfare actually does, however, is to tip the scales toward the already rich at the direct expense of the poor and middle class.

Ultimately, government remains wedded to the language and practice of inputs — what it gives and does — because it has very little competence generating or measuring outcomes.  Advocates tend to point to inputs as measures of success — the dollars spent, the teachers hired, the police stations built. Then they trumpet or downplay economic trends, educational accomplishment, and as suits their needs.

Tax breaks and incentives may seem like positives from the input side, but their non-anecdotal outcomes show them to be generally a waste of money.

Conclusion

It’s hard to argue against economic development.  Who doesn’t want the economy to “develop”? But the sad truth is that sending public money to politically-connected organizations, interest groups, and companies on the basis of poorly measured and ill-defined goals is more of a handout than a strategy.  If Rhode Island is serious about promoting economic growth, this kind of piecemeal approach should be seen as expensive and insufficient.

Instead of using targeted tax breaks, incentive grants, and other wizards’ tools to trade away taxpayer funds, Rhode Island should focus on creating a growth-oriented structural environment.  That means replacing isolated pockets of preferential treatment with an across-the-board slate of policies to support growth:

  • Reduced tax rates
  • A more nimble and versatile education system to produce a highly trained workforce
  • Eliminated regulations, streamlined when they are absolutely necessary

Any economic development program that cannot be objectively shown to create jobs and generate more in-state revenue than they cost should be repealed. The savings should be allocated to more general improvements, especially lowering taxes.

Rhode Island’s corporate tax rate remains the highest in New England and is tied for third highest in the country, after Washington, D.C. and Illinois.

Rank in New England

Corporate Tax Rate (%)

Rhode Island

1

9.0

Maine

2

3.5–8.93

New Hampshire

3

8.5

Vermont

4

6.5–8.5

Massachusetts

5

8.25

Connecticut

6

7.5

 

Another area in which Rhode Island is uncompetitive is its state sales tax, which is the highest in the region and tied for second in the country. A study to be released shortly by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity will demonstrate that eliminating the sales tax would have the highest “bang for buck” of any reform, creating tens of thousands of jobs and paying for over half of its cost with the increased tax receipts of a larger economy.

Rank in New England

State Sales Tax Rate (%)

Rhode Island

1

7

Connecticut

2

6.35

Massachusetts

3

6.25

Vermont

4

6

Maine

5

5

New Hampshire

6

0

 

These are just a few of the low-threshold starting points for reform. If Rhode Island seeks to distinguish itself as a pro-growth state, it should depart from crony capitalism and unleash the true capitalistic forces in the state.  Fortunately, much of the government cost of the necessary policy changes can be borne by elimination of the special deals and crony-capitalism style programs that infest our state with false promises of a better tomorrow.

To the population more broadly — to the people of Rhode Island — there will be no cost, but rather the benefits of a thriving economy.

Right To Work

Right To Work = Freedom for RI Workers

Freedom of Association for Ocean State Workers

Introduction

Today, in 23 states in America, workers have the freedom under “Right-to-Work” (RTW) laws to decide whether or not to pay union dues. Indiana became the twenty-third state on that list in February of 2012, bringing the workers of the Hoosier State renewed hope in an economy that has seen few glimmers of light.

Rhode Islanders are suffering from a severely weak economy and our state needs to seek every competitive opportunity it can in order to attract and grow jobs. As demonstrated by the Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness[1], by many measures, Rhode Island is excessively uncompetitive in both New England and nationally, when it comes to growing and attracting business and high-paying, sustainable jobs.

One of the single most effective ways to provide the Ocean State with a new competitive edge is passing Right-To-Work legislation. Indiana earned itself a major competitive advantage by becoming the only state in the Rust Belt to enact a Right-To-Work law.

Policy Recommendation

Rhode Island should become the 24th Right-To-Work state as part of a larger agenda to re-invigorate the state economy. RTW would give the Ocean State a major advantage over its neighbors by making it the only New England state with RTW protections for its citizens–without costing the state a dime in revenue.

Rhode Island must act now – while there is still an advantage to gain. New Hampshire is actively considering RTW legislation and the debate has begun in other New England states as well.The Ocean State cannot afford to also lag behind in this vital policy area, which can be a catalyst for job growth… nor can Rhode Island workers wait.

Background

Compared to the rest of New England, notwithstanding the rest of the country, the Rhode Island economy is not competitive. According to our Center’s recently released Competitiveness Report Card, Rhode Island scores an F in five out of ten major categories, including “Tax Burden” and “Business Climate.” The Ocean State can rebound from this extended economic slump, and should begin its recovery by undoing one of the greatest impediments to both progress and liberty: compulsory unionism.

Right To Work States as of Feb. 2012

Despite the anti-worker propaganda from the union leadership who depend on mandatory dues to fund their own multi-million dollar enterprises, passing RTW legislation in Rhode Island will not suddenly ban unions or allow unsafe or exploitative business practices. On the contrary, RTW legislation is not an attack on organized labor, but rather provides a framework that restores the rights of workers to choose whether or not they wish to be in a union.

Simply stated, it allows workers the choice to either affiliate with a union and pay dues, or to opt out of the union system.

RTW legislation typically includes eliminating onerous laws and regulations that pressure workers — overtly or otherwise — to join unions whether or not they feel it is within their best interests. Under a RTW measure, workers would be protected from being fired or harassed if they choose not to pay union dues.

According to Mike Brownfield of the Heritage Foundation:

“It’s understandable that states would want the benefits that Right-to-Work brings, but it’s also understandable why unions oppose it so strongly. When Idaho and Oklahoma passed Right-to-Work laws, union membership fell 15 percent. Likewise, the forced dues payments the unions collected plummeted right along with their membership. Right-to-Work would put money directly into the pockets of private-sector workers.”[2]

RTW is only a danger to unionism as an industry of ‘political’ machinery, not to the idea of unionism itself. And in the process of restoring the basic civil liberties of Rhode Island workers and allowing them to decide for themselves about union membership …

… RTW would make Rhode Island far more economically competitive and will increase economic freedom for its citizens.

Freedom and Prosperity

Most importantly, RTW is about individual freedom. Robert Barro, a professor of economics at Harvard University and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, notes that while unions were originally subject to antitrust legislation in the late 19th century, savvy politicking by organized labor was able to obtain exemptions in the early 20th century. And subsequently, unions were able to use this exemption to negotiate “union shop” laws, which essentially forced workers to join unions.

“From the standpoint of civil liberties,” notes Barro in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “the individual right to work—without being forced to join a union or pay dues—has a much better claim than collective bargaining.”[3]

Depriving workers of their right of association is both undemocratic and economically ruinous. The ability of unions to use their unique and virtually unassailable leverage in states where unionism is mandatory has — as the devastation of the automotive and railroad industries well-underline[4] — extracted such concessions from private industries (and, in some cases, the public) to handicap economic growth, raise unemployment, and stultify necessary technological innovation.

In times of massive capital investments in factories and machinery, these negative effects were small compared to the cost of factory relocation, but in this global and post-industrial economy such assets are essentially portable, and a shift to a lower cost labor environment is viewed as a sound business practice rather than an insurmountable hurdle. That means slower growth and lost jobs.

Multiple studies have confirmed the relationship between forced unionism and negative growth and, conversely, the relationship between right to work and positive economic growth:

Manufacturing Growth: One study found that “cumulative growth of employment in manufacturing (the traditional area of union strength prior to the rise of public-employee unions) in the right-to-work states was 26 percentage points greater than that in the non-right-to-work states.”[5]

New Business Growth: Another study, published by the Office of Senator Jim DeMint (R), clearly shows that despite representing only 40.3 percent of the U.S. population, Right-to-Work states can claim almost 60 percent of new business growth between 1993 and 2009.[6]

Gross State Product Growth: Arthur B. Laffer and Stephen Moore noted in the Wall Street Journal last year, “[o]ver the past decade (2000-09) the right-to-work states grew faster in nearly every respect than their union-shop counterparts: 54.6% versus 41.1% in gross state product, 53.3% versus 40.6% in personal income, 11.9% versus 6.1% in population, and 4.1% versus -0.6% in payrolls.”[7]

Job Growth: James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation found RTW is good for jobs: “Right-to-work states are much more attractive for businesses investment. Unionized firms earn lower profits, invest less, and create fewer jobs than comparable nonunion firms . . . of neighboring counties on state borders with and without right-to-work laws . . . manufacturing jobs in counties in right-to-work states is one-third higher than in adjacent counties in non–right-to-work states. Right-to-work laws attract jobs.”[8]

Migration Gains: Richard Vedder, the Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University, examines the national movement of people and economic growth toward RTW states and concludes: “The proportion of Americans living in right-to-work states has risen noticeably over the years, and only a small part of that is driven by new states adopting such laws. People move in extraordinary numbers to right-to-work states from states where union pressure has prevented the adoption of such laws. Moreover, the greater flexibility for workers and employers offered where right-to-work exists has contributed to higher rates of economic growth rates in the right-to-work environment.”[9]

Wage Growth: W. Robert Reed have found that RTW leads to both greater employment and higher wage growth.[10] [11]

Finally, RTW creates higher wages. According to Paul Kersey at the Mackinac Institute: “Then there is the cost of living, which tends to be lower in right-to-work states. A study by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center found that in 2009, after adjusting for the cost of living, annual per-capita disposable income was $35,543 in right-to-work states, compared to $33,389 in non-right-to-work states. That equates to a $2,154 premium each year for those living in right-to-work states.”[12]

There is no question that Rhode Island could certainly use the clear competitive advantage that RTW would bring–a much needed economic shot in the arm.

Reduces Corruption of the Political Process

Disproportionate union power is not only troubling from the standpoint of individual liberty and economic prosperity, but also when considering the integrity of the political system. Union dues, which are often collected via intrusive anti-worker forced unionization laws, are often recycled through a system that has essentially allowed Big Labor to throw its institutional and financial support to the candidates they choose: inevitably, those that endorse or at least comply with their monopolistic tendencies.[13]

For Rhode Island, which continues to suffer from the extended doldrums of the economic crisis, the business-as-usual approach to public policy needs to come to an end. Making the Ocean State a Right-To-Work state is an excellent way to begin and to improve competitiveness immediately while making great strides for civil liberty and political integrity.

A longstanding majority (in fact, a super-majority for many decades now) of Americans support a worker’s right to choose whether to join a union[14], a fact that is perhaps reinforced by the dwindling numbers of private sector unions. It is illustrative of the money and power at stake in this political debate when we consider that less than half of U.S. states are RTW despite the clear preferences of the public.

Conclusion

Rhode Island desperately needs to initiate comprehensive and fundamental public policy reform if it hopes to regain its competitive status. One of the furthest-reaching and simplest reforms that would not cost the state a dime would be to pass Right-To-Work legislation.

With Right-To-Work comes significant and demonstrable economic benefits — a shot in the arm that the Ocean State economy badly needs — but also the restoration of what is a fundamental civil right of workers … freedom of association.

By nearly every measure shown in our Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness, the Ocean State is not competitive nationally and within New England. However, passing RTW legislation would allow the state the chance to be immediately competitive and worthy of a strong look by businesses and investors looking at the northeast.

The positive impact of worker choice in other states has been clearly demonstrated, and 23 states now see the benefit of worker freedom to their economies. For Rhode Island, the benefits and the urgency is clear: now is the time to do the ‘right’ thing.

* * *

This Policy Brief was jointly developed and co-edited by Giovanni Cicione (Senior Policy Advisor to the Center) and J. Scott Moody (Adjunct Scholar to the Center), with research by Michael Cecire (Policy Analyst for the Center).

Download a printable version of this Policy Brief here …

End Notes


[1] RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, “Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness, http://www.rifreedom.org/2012/02/rhody-fails-report-card/

[2] Brownfield, Mike, “Morning Bell: Right to Work Head to Indiana,” The Foundry, January 30, 2012. http://blog.heritage.org/2012/01/30/morning-bell-right-to-work-heads-to-indiana/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Morning%2BBell

 [3] Barro, Robert, “Unions vs. the Right to Work,” The Wall Street Journal, February, 28, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704150604576166011983939364.html .

 [4] Holcombe, Randall G. and Gwartney, James D., “Unions, Economic Freedom, and Growth,” CATO Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter 2010. http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj30n1/cj30n1-1.pdf

 [5] See: “The Location of Industry: Do States’ Policies Matter? Regulation, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2000,47-50 . http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv23n1/holmes.pdf

 [6] Report from U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, “Right-to-Work States are Winning the Future,” May 2011. http://demint.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=88760fc5-0ac6-4e6c-91b5-6ba8b17fd06e .

 [7] Laffer, Arthur B. and Moore, Stephan, “Boeing and the Union Berlin Wall,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576317140858893466.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop

 [8] Sherk, James, “Right to Work Increases Jobs and Choices,” WebMemo #3411, November 9, 2011. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/right-to-work-increases-jobs-and-choices#_ftn6

 [9] Vedder, Richard, “Right-To-Work Laws: Liberty, Prosperity, and Quality of Life,” Cato Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, Winter 2010, pp. 171-180. http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj30n1/cj30n1-9.pdf

 [10] Reed, W. Robert and Wilbanks, James R., “The Impact of Right-To-Work on State Economic Development: Evidence from Ohio,” Presented at the Western Economic Association Meetings, San Francisco, CA, 2001.

 [11] Reed, W. Robert, “How Right-To-Work Laws Affect Wages,” Journal of Labor Research. http://www.econ.canterbury.ac.nz/personal_pages/bob_reed/Papers/RTW_Wages_Paper.pdf

 [12] Kersey, Paul, “What a Right-to-Work Law Will Mean for Indiana,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy, January 19, 2012. http://www.mackinac.org/16333

 [13] “Organized Labor’s Forced Dues-Funded ‘In Kind’ Campaign Contributions Undermine Representative Government,” Fact Sheet, National Right to Work Committee, March 18, 2003. http://www.nrtwc.org/FactSheets/UnionSpendingFactSheet.pdf .

 [14] “74% Favor Right-to-Work Law Eliminating Mandatory Union Dues,” Rasmussen Reports, January 31, 2012. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/jobs_employment/january_2012/74_favor_right_to_work_law_eliminating_mandatory_union_dues