Center supports Representatives’ call for DEM to reschedule ‘redistribution of land’ meeting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 17, 2016
Center supports Representatives’ call for DEM to reschedule “redistribution of land” workshop
Calls for rigorous public debate on proposed new regulations that could lead to potential ’eminent domain’ abuse.

Providence, RI — As it has forewarned for years about the potential for eminent-domain abuse in its multi-year battle against the RhodeMapRI agenda, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) applauds the call yesterday by Representative Sherry Roberts for the DEM or the Governor to cancel the DEM workshop planned for this evening to review new “Farmland Acquisition” rules.

“We commend Representative Roberts and her colleague in the House Minority Caucus who took heed of our Center’s alert earlier this week and are taking action to protect farmers,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It is an unethical ploy that the public meeting to review these new anti-farmer regulations was scheduled at the exact same time when most farmers would be busy participating in the Washington County Fair. This government-by-stealth approach is not an exercise in good government.”

On the heels of a lawsuit filed against the RI Office of the Attorney General to release documents related to its attempts to criminalize political dissent against the President’s radical climate change agenda, the Center supports the Representatives’ call for a halt to this DEM initiative that would also advance the same climate change or sustainable development agenda.

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Brookings Land Acquisition Recommendation

Part of the RhodeMapRI strategy and consistent with the 2016 Brookings Institution plan for Rhode Island, “the DEM agenda apparently seeks to set the regulations for how it can be authorized to seize farmland from its private owners and redistribute it to others who will develop the land the way the government wants,” continued Stenhouse. “This land grab plan is ripe for abuse, and serious questions must be addressed. This process has to be slowed down to allow for a legitimate public debate that includes all interested parties.”

The Center is alarmed that the “State Farmland Acquisition Advisory Council” appears to be transitioning to become a broker of private property. Further, the Center demands that the DEM clarify in detail how it will interpret and implement its vague standard for seizing private property; currently stated as – “a reasonable probability … (of) farmland in danger of converting out of agriculture”. Such statewide authority could be a back-door to eminent domain abuse and could infringe on what would traditionally be local zoning decisions.

BREAKING: National Media, Federal Lawmakers Support Center’s Research on RhodeMap RI; HUD “Bribes”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 12, 2015

National Figures Express Same Concerns as the Center
HUD Plans to “Bribe” Local Communities into Change Zoning Laws
Constitutionality Questioned

Providence, RI — Fox News and other national media outlets are now reporting on the federal agenda to “bribe” communities into implementing HUD’s “utopian” social equity agenda, as documented by the nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. The Center, which was derided for its research conclusions at a recent Senate Committee hearing, has been a persistent advocate against the statewide RhodeMap RI plan, claiming it is a Trojan Horse to implement a federal agenda.

“Maybe state and local lawmakers and the public will now give more credence to what we’ve been saying for the past eight months,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “There can no longer be any question that RhodeMap RI is a tool of the federal government to supersede the sovereignty of municipalities and to infringe on the rights of private property owners.”

With multiple pieces of bi-partisan legislation currently being considered in the both Rhode Island House and Senate that would provide municipalities with opt-out options, the Center recommends that state lawmakers educate themselves on the true genesis and future agenda of the RhodeMap RI scheme. Rhode Islanders are encouraged to contact their legislators to stop RhodeMap RI via an easy-to-use online tool at The Gaspee Project, a partner organization.

Among the comments from national media reports:

Rep. Mia Love

“The most radical, politically explosive … social engineering of the worst kind.” “An insidious idea … to organize your neighborhood from Washington, DC … will either bribe or blackmail (communities) into changing their zoning policies.” Fox News, The Kelly File, June 11, 2015.

“People being used as pawns in this political game … based on income level, race … ” said Mia Love, US Representative (R, Utah).

“(HUD) would offer grants to municipalities … and in return … the municipalities would change their zoning laws … (HUD) wants to pre-empt local zoning laws … by buying off local(ities) … It’s very questionable from a constitutional point of view.” Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox business News, The Intelligence File, June 11, 2015.

HUD “shouldn’t be holding hostage grant monies aimed at community improvement based on its unrealistic utopian ideas of what every community should resemble,” said US Representative Paul Gosar (R, Arizona) in a Newsmax article. Gosar added in an article by The Hill, “American citizens … should be free to choose where they would like to live and not be subject to federal neighborhood engineering at the behest of an overreaching federal government.”

The Center has published multiple reports and related analysis pieces on RhodeMap RI which can be viewed at RIFreedom.org/PropertyRights.

Media Contact:
Mike Stenhouse, CEO
401.429.6115 | info@rifreedom.org

About the Center
The nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is Rhode Island’s premiere free-enterprise think tank. The mission of the 501c3 nonprofit organization is to return government to the people by opposing special-interest politics and advancing proven free-market solutions that can transform lives by restoring economic competitiveness, increasing educational opportunities, and protecting individual freedoms.

COMMENTARY: State Property Tax Proposal Right out of RHODEMAP RI Playbook

By Mike Stenhouse

We warned you about RhodeMap RI.

While Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed new statewide property tax has already inspired arguments among various constituent groups, there are much larger, more fundamental issues to be concerned about.

Disguised as a wealth tax, the “Taylor Swift tax” is really an assault on private property rights and an infringement on municipal sovereignty, all part of a national agenda. Sound familiar? This tax idea is right out of the RhodeMap RI playbook, and it was probably designed by a nationally prominent sustainable-living, urban-planning advocate.

The month before the governor introduced this controversial new tax, a Feb. 18 WPRI-12 report confirmed that the Raimondo administration was bringing Brookings Institution scholar Bruce Katz to Rhode Island for private meetings and hinted that the state should find a role for him. Also, in 2013, Ms. Raimondo, in conjunction with the Rhode Island Foundation, brought Mr. Katz, a prominent national expert on urban economic development, to the Ocean State. Mr. Katz also has a relationship with Grow Smart RI, the primary architect for RhodeMap RI.

Like RhodeMap RI, the proposed state property tax targets wealthy property owners.

As our center informed the public during last fall’s RhodeMap RI debate, the underlying philosophy of the sustainable living and urban planning movement is that suburban sprawl, manifested largely through development of private single-family homes, is an unsustainable and inequitable ailment in our world.

In their view, such prime real estate would be more beneficial to society by being turned into “common,” “open space” or “high density” use. The goal of these central planners is to make it incrementally less attractive to own private property by making it more expensive (via tax policy) and by limiting development rights (through regulatory policy).

Since this would be politically unpopular at the local level, the strategy of the central planners is to supersede the authority and ordinances of local town governments by creating new regional authorities and statewide laws, such as the governor’s.

This strategy is clearly represented in the language of the governor’s proposed tax scheme, which describes property ownership as a “privilege.” It then takes the extraordinary step of taxing those properties, much like a “sin” tax.

Home and property ownership is not a privilege, nor is it a sin; it is a cornerstone of the American Dream, of our free-enterprise system, and the foundation of our constitutional rights. By demoting private property ownership to a mere privilege, sustainable living radicals can justify eventually restricting or removing that privilege.

Further, with the state exerting control over property taxes, local governments would find themselves with diminished sovereignty to manage real-estate issues. Cities and towns will have less authority to ensure that they remain attractive to in- or out-of-state homeowners and landlords, which are vital to their local economies.

A March 17 Providence Journal article described even more of the rationale, via familiar “sustainable” terms such as “fair share,” property “deterioration” and “stock of … real estate.” Urban planning advocates such as Bruce Katz believe it is not fair that some have the “privilege” of living in exclusive neighborhoods. Property deterioration, or blight, is a common rationale for governments to justify eminent domain seizures to increase the stock of available real estate for open space or high density developments.

Given the timing of Bruce Katz’ visit and the familiar language, there is little doubt in my mind that this ill-founded state property tax concept was originally devised by Mr. Katz. If he were to assume a role in the Raimondo administration, Rhode Island would become the model test-tube state for the sustainable development movement. Last year saw RhodeMap RI’s adoption; with Bruce Katz on board, RhodeMap RI will be on a fast-track for its implementation.

It’s one thing if this tax plan was merely about the Taylor Swifts in Rhode Island. If so, the discussion would be about whether or not it drives real-estate investors to other states and whether your home might be taxed next.

It’s a completely different and alarming matter if this tax is the first-step in a highly coordinated federal-state scheme to diminish municipal sovereignty and encroach on the property rights of Rhode Islanders — a scheme like RhodeMap RI.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a nonprofit free-market think tank.

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RI General Assembly 2014 Session Freedom Index

Download: Freedom Index 2014 Scorecardlegislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings

Go to main Freedom Index page.

NOW LIVE! Interactive Scorecard

2014 Freedom Index Findings

Ninety-nine (99) different pieces of legislation (counting companion bills once) were evaluated.  The Center judged 76 of them as having a negative effect on freedom.

The average legislator index score of -49.4 indicates that the General Assembly moved Rhode Island in the wrong direction, and that Rhode Islanders are less free than they were in 2013. That result does represent a modest improvement from -56.6 the previous year.  (The lowest possible score is -100.)  However, it’s important to remember that it’s only an improvement in that the General Assembly is harming Rhode Island at a slightly slower rate. Actual improvement has yet to be made.

This index underscores our Center’s view that the RI General Assembly continues not to positively address the dire business climate of our state and that a Constitutional Convention may be the only way to move the Ocean State toward growth and an improved standard of living.

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Other findings include:

  • Average House index of -51.0 (up from -58.6)
  • Average Senate index of -46.7 (up from -52.4)
  • Average House Democrat index of -53.8 (up from -63.1)
  • Average House Republican index of -19.1 (down from -7.1)
  • Average Senate Democrat index of -48.5 (up from -56.1)
  • Average Senate Republican index of -38.0 (down from -33.2)
  • Average Regulatory Environment index of -47.1 (up from -67.5)
  • Average Tax & Budget index of -56.4 (down from -37.2)
  • Average Constitutional Government index of -4.8 (up from -61.6)
  • Average Public Sector Labor index of -69.5 (down from -44.0)
  • Average Education Reform index of -23.1 (up from -86.4)

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RI General Assembly 2013 Session Freedom Index

Download: Freedom Index 2013 Scorecard;   legislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings 

The second-annual General Assembly Freedom Index by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity scores Ocean State lawmakers on their level of support for principles of freedom as proven by their votes on the floors of the House and Senate. In response to IRS proposals that would limit the activities of non-profit groups like our Center, the Center released its initial version with legislators names redacted, identifying them only by chamber, party, and district (Read related commentary here). The full, non-redacted version is now released.

The index examines legislators’ votes in terms of their likely effect on the free market, the size and scope of government, the balance of residents’ interests against those of public employees and beneficiaries, and the constitutional structure of a divided government with limited power over the people whom it represents. The Center reviewed every bill that received a roll-call vote by the full membership of either chamber and selected 96 that fit its understanding of these criteria. (Companion bills only count once.)

The resulting scores give a detailed sense of each legislator’s priorities beyond a few high-profile issues.

The Center further divided the bills into five categories:

  • Tax & budget:  bills that affect the tax structure in Rhode Island and/or that relate to government expenditures, just driving or relieving the pressure on taxation
  • Regulatory environment: bills that make it more or less difficult to live and do business in the state by imposing regulations
  • Constitutional government: bills that affect the structure of the government, as well as the scope of government in its authority over residents’ lives
  • Public sector labor: bills related to the relationship between its employees and itself and the electorate
  • Education reform: bills that advance or impede the reform of the state’s public education system, in terms of both cost and quality

Most legislation has implications for more than one of these categories.  For the purposes of this index, we applied our subjective sense of the area of core effect and sorted the bills accordingly.  If, for example, a bill having to do with education seemed to us intended to secure the role of public employees, we classified that bill as Public Sector Labor, not Education Reform.

Download: Freedom Index 2013 Scorecard; legislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings 

2013 Freedom Index Findings

One hundred and sixteen (116) different pieces of legislation (counting companion bills once) were evaluated.  The Center judged 93 of them as having a negative effect on freedom.

The average legislator index score of -56.6 indicates that the General Assembly moved Rhode Island in the wrong direction, and that Rhode Islanders are less free than they were in 2012. What’s more, that result is down from -25.4 the previous year.  (The lowest possible score is -100.)  In other words, legislators aren’t even trending in the direction of the right direction. This index underscores our Center’s view that the RI General Assembly continues not to positively address the dire business climate of our state.

freedom-index-spiral-2013-web

Other findings include;

  • Average House index of -58.6 (down from -24.1)
  • Average Senate index of -52.4 (down from -27.9)
  • Average House Democrat index of -63.1 (down from -32.2)
  • Average House Republican index of -7.1 (down from 28.8)
  • Average Senate Democrat index of -56.1 (down from -36.3)
  • Average Senate Republican index of -33.2 (down from 1)
  • Average Regulatory Environment index of -67.5 (down from -49.0)
  • Average Tax & Budget index of -37.2 (down from -26.0)
  • Average Constitutional Government index of -61.6 (down from -9.1)
  • Average Public Sector Labor index of -44.0 (down from 16.7)
  • Average Education Reform index of -86.4 (there were no bills in this category last year)

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Index Overview

The Center selected legislative bills for inclusion in the Freedom Index if they were deemed to have an effect on free-market, small-government, or constitutional principles, with each bill assigned a positive or negative weighting based on the criteria listed below. Weighted points for each bill were given to each legislator based on his or her roll-call vote on it.

Each legislator’s final Freedom Index was calculated as his or her score’s percentage of the total possible points. A positive score indicates a 2013 voting record that generally protected individual and economic freedoms, while a negative score reflects the opposite.

Disclaimer: It should be noted that the total Freedom Index score generated for each legislator is a direct reflection of the perspective of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity when it comes to the weighting of each bill. The Freedom Index is not an absolute measure of a legislator’s merit and does not constitute any endorsement or individual criticism. The Freedom Index is a tool designed for general research and for accountability, giving voters some quantitative metrics for their own assessments as to their elected legislators’ performance. 

Methodology

1) Determine weighting: Each selected bill received a weight ranging from +3 to -3, as determined by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. Negative weights indicate legislation that creates or expands an agency, government program/function, or tax; creates new regulatory burdens; is hostile to constitutional principles; or otherwise conflicts with the principles that guide the Center. Positive factors were assigned to bills in line with those principles. Companion bills in the House and Senate were weighted identically. To determine the weightings, the Center requested reviews of all chosen legislation from a half dozen engaged Rhode Islanders with similar principles and combined the range of results for a final weighting.

2) Determine vote: Each legislator received a +1 or -1 vote factor, depending on whether he or she voted FOR or AGAINST a particular bill, respectively. If a legislator did not vote on a bill, he or she received a +0.25 if the bill passed or a -0.25 if the bill failed. Legislators who abstained from voting received a +0.75 or a -0.75 vote factor depending on if the bill passed or failed.

3) Calculate weighted vote: Multiplying the weighting factor and the vote factor produced a weighted vote score for each legislator for each bill.

4) Calculate the legislator score:  The cumulative score for all bills for each legislator determined that legislator’s overall score.

5) Calculate Freedom Index: Dividing each legislator’s total score by the maximum possible for the appropriate chamber provided his or her Freedom Index, or a percentage of the best possible score he or she could have achieved. In 2012, the “perfect” scores are 143 for the House and 133 for the Senate.

For example, consider a bill that would increase the regulatory burden significantly in Rhode Island and that the Center therefore weighted as a -2. Legislator A voted for the bill. His or her weighted vote would be calculated as follows: -2 x 1 = -2. Conversely, the weighted vote for Legislator B, who voted against the bill, would be: -2 x -1 = 2.

If Legislator A, in the House chamber, earned a total legislator score of -33, his or her Freedom Index would be calculated as: -33 ÷ 143 x 100 =  -23.1.  If Legislator B in the Senate had a total score of +23, his or her Freedom Index would be calculated as: 23 ÷ 133 x 100 = 17.3.

To rank the legislators, the Center sorted them by their Freedom Index scores and then, in the cases of ties, by their scores in each category, in the following order: Regulatory Environment, Tax & Budget, Constitutional Government, Public Sector Labor, and Education Reform. When legislators’ results were still identical, the Center adjusted them in order of their apparent stature and power within their chambers.

Criteria

In determining each bill’s weighting, the following questions were considered:

  • Does the bill create or eliminate an agency, program, or function of government?
  • Does it give the government new or expanded power to prohibit or restrict activities in the free market? Examples may include licensure and other restrictions on legal business practices.
  • Is it unconstitutional or does it do violence to our concepts of federalism or separation of powers? Does it restrict property, speech, gun, or other constitutionally recognized rights or freedoms? Conversely, does it restore balance between the state and federal government, resume state authority over an issue under the 10th Amendment, or remove restrictions on constitutionally protected rights?

Other considerations were also brought into question:

  • Does the bill redistribute wealth or use tax policy or other incentives to reward specific interest groups with special favors or perks? Conversely, does it eliminate special favors and perks in the tax code or public policy?
  • Does it perform a function that can and should be performed by the private sector or restore functions to the private sector?
  • Does it grow or shrink the regulatory scope of an agency?
  • Does it directly or indirectly create/reduce taxes, fees, or other assessments?
  • Does it increase or decrease control of the private sector through rules, regulation, or statute?
  • Does it increase or decrease long-term debt or override or restore statutory or constitutional protections against long-term debt?
  • Does it give or reduce special benefits for government employees or politicians?
  • Does it promote government transparency and openness or does it restrict access to information that should be in the public domain?

It should be noted that the complexity not only of the law but of political theory in general can make assessments of the sort described above subjective and very difficult. People reviewing the index should consider the results to be the best judgment of the Center, given our collected experience and expertise.

Download: Freedom Index 2013 Scorecard; legislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings 

Each legislator received a +1 or -1 vote factor, depending on whether he or she voted FOR or AGAINST a particular bill, respectively. If a legislator did not vote on a bill, he or she received a +0.25 if the bill passed or a -0.25 if the bill failed. Legislators who abstained from voting received a +0.75 or a -0.75 vote factor depending on if the bill passed or failed.

Commentary: The Full Story, What the ProJo Did Not Tell You About Our Center

Read the subsequent OpEd in the Providence Journal here … 

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 “Is it so unimaginable to our critics that there are indeed many people who volunteer their support to our Center, and who also believe that a limited, transparent government is the best interests of the average Rhode Islander?” …  Mike Stenhouse, CEO.

THE FULL STORY

In recent months, a national smear campaign was launched by left-leaning groups such as Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy to attempt to call into question the increasingly effective work of state-based think tanks like our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

There have been dozens of unfounded allegations from the left, including our own U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, falsely claiming that the groups like ours are “phony” and engaged in “dirty business” and “dirty tricks” in advancing the agenda of out-of-state rich people who supposedly fund our operations and determine the issues we promote. Since then our Center has occasionally been asked about these baseless accusations.

Providence Journal article confirms that Center operates in a nonpartisan manner, and in full-compliance with federal law.

Providence Journal article confirms that Center operates in a nonpartisan manner, and in full-compliance with federal law.

The Providence Journal published a related front-page story this week, after recently requesting that our Center to respond to a number of questions regarding the funding sources of our Center, and whether or not our agenda is influenced by out of state interests. As a Cranston native, and founder and CEO for the Center, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the mission and operation of our organization, and to set the record straight.

As the ProJo article confirms, our Center works in a nonpartisan manner and maintains the privacy of our donors as provided by the IRS and federal law, and as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Other clarification points from the article:

  • Our Center never accepts public funds or taxpayer dollars. Unlike the Economic Progress Institute, one of the local groups compared to us, which has accepted funds from the state and is housed at RI College.
  • Senator Whitehouse’s spokesman was INCORRECT in asserting that our Center makes ‘efforts to influence elections …”. This against IRS rules and our Center has never engaged in such activity.

While our work is often viewed as disruptive to the ‘establishment’, it is an unfounded accusation and a typical ploy of those we challenge to aver that the work of our Center is influenced by any out-of-state interest. Our Center’s staff and Board are comprised of Rhode Island residents, who all believe in the power of free markets and the capacity of free people to create a healthy, prosperous Ocean State.

As supporters and friends of our Center, you deserve to know the full story, not just a portion of it. The ProJo article does not tell the whole story. All of the questions submitted to us by the Journal and all of the responses our Center provided to them are shown below. You can decide for yourself if they purposely omitted certain information.

We are not surprised that just as our Center is establishing itself as an alternative strong and consistent voice in the Ocean State, that our opponents predictably trot out such intellectually dishonest questions, in an attempt to discredit our work, and that certain members of the media oblige them.

Even a recent New York Times article confirms that such smear attacks stem from a national, partisan effort. In fact, in parroting the same false talking points across the nation, the left is once again creating myths: http://m.washingtonexaminer.com/it-turns-out-the-evil-koch-bros-are-only-the-59th-biggest-donors-in-american-politics.-can-you-guess-who-is-number-one/article/2544025?

Also note that our Center operates in stark contrast to groups like Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy who receive hefty gifts from unions, who in turn use coercive tactics to force their members to donate to political causes with which they may not agree.

PROJO QUESTIONS, RESPONSES by the Center

Below are the questions submitted to us by the Providence Journal, along with our complete replies. As you will see, the published story in the Providence Journal omitted most of our comments. 

*  (ProJo) Can you say how much the center received during 2013 in contributions and grants?

(Center) In accordance with IRS rules, our Center will make this information available when we file our annual 990 report in the coming months. Now in our third year of operation, our 2011 and 2012 reports are also publicly available.

* With regard to your donors, your stance is that you cannot reveal them?

 The Center – like almost all IRS designated 501-C-3 nonprofit organizations, including the Red Cross, the liberal Tides Foundation, and Rhode Island’s Economic Progress Institute, and as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court – respects the privacy wishes of its donors, who give freely and voluntarily to support our mission to enhance the lives of all Rhode Islanders. Should individuals choose to make known their gifts to our Center, our Center also respects their right to do so.

* What do you say about the center being an affiliate of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which according to the Center for Public Integrity gets most of its money from Donors Trust. The Center for Public Integrity calls Donors Trust “a vehicle for tax-exempt giving from wealthy conservatives such as billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.” In light of this, is the center largely funded by the Koch brothers and other very wealthy individuals?

 The Center worked with the Franklin Center in identifying and securing a journalist for our online blog and journalism website, The Ocean State Current, in 2012. That employee relationship lasted for six months, ending in December of 2012. Our Center is not aware of the funding sources of the Franklin Center. The Ocean State Current remains in operation because of the voluntary work of a team of in-state bloggers.

 The concept of donor directed granting organizations such as Donors Trust are not endemic to conservatives or liberals, or billionaires or millionaires. They are numerous and diverse in nature, throughout the country, accepting charitable donations from individuals at virtually all income levels to support thousands of charitable causes and nonprofit groups. Organizations such as the United Way and the Rhode Island Foundation serve the same function for a diverse array of donors who wish to maintain their anonymity for any number of reasons.

 I can categorically answer “no” to the question about whether or not our Center is largely funded by Charles Koch, or any out-of-state wealthy individuals. Depending on how you define wealthy individuals, I can confirm that our Center does solicit and accept funding from individuals in Rhode Island who agree with our free-market principles and who have the means to support our mission to enhance the well-being and prosperity of the average Rhode Islander through responsible public policy reform.

 * Some people and groups say organizations such as the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity are simply fronts for the very wealthy who want to avoid paying their share of taxes. What is your response to this?

 I can also categorically state that 100% of the policy decisions our Center makes are determined by our own Board and staff, based on Rhode Island’s unique circumstances, without any influence from any outside group or individual.

 Regarding our policy advocacy, consider the top three issues in which our Center is engaged:

 Our Sales Tax Repeal idea would eliminate a highly regressive tax that will most benefit low-income families, by keeping more of their hard-earned money in their own pockets and providing new job opportunities to enhance chances for upward mobility.

 Similarly, our School Choice campaign will benefit inner-city families most, especially those who have children who are condemned to attend failed schools simply because of their zip code

 Finally, the ideas in our Healthcare Freedom Act provide solutions to many Rhode Islanders who are concerned about access to affordable, quality care. As it is now obvious that tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders will remain uninsured, even after full implementation of the President’s healthcare law and our state’s exchange, our Center recommended multiple solutions that will make access to healthcare a more viable option for the average Rhode Islander.

 Clearly, this is not a tax-break-for-the-rich agenda, but rather, an agenda that will provide renewed opportunities for most Rhode Island families and also provide a boost to our state’s broken economy.

 * Is it appropriate for an advocacy group that won’t disclose its donors to be preparing testimony and research reports to a legislative commission that is considering major changes in state tax policy?

 It is entirely appropriate for our Center, and all similar state-based organizations, to advocate for policies that will help our state, as we best determine ourselves. Virtually all IRS approved C3 and C4 groups also choose to respect the privacy of their donors; there is nothing new or suspicious about this. 

Like virtually all nonprofits, our Center conducts multiple fundraising activities to support our activities, including direct mail solicitations, personal networking with citizens in our state, and competitive grant applications to national and local foundations. Our Center employs a full-time Development Director to manage these efforts. Currently, the Center has almost 300 distinct donors, almost all of whom are Rhode Island citizens who share our belief in economic and educational freedom.

 Is it so unimaginable to our critics that there are indeed many people who volunteer their support to our Center, and who also believe in a limited, transparent government?

* Any other comments welcome.

 It is obvious that those who defend the status quo are not at ease with the work of our Center, which challenges the policy culture that has created the unacceptable economic and educational conditions from which far too many Rhode Islanders are currently suffering.  It is important for Rhode Islanders to know that any implication that our Center’s work is influenced by outside sources is completely unfounded.

Has the Providence Journal asked the same questions of those groups who have raised questions about our Center?

* Is it fair/accurate to say that the center wanted to provide a different voice/perspective than people might have been hearing state policy debates? If yes, can you elaborate?

 Yes. In fact, it is the primary mission of our Center is to attempt to balance and stimulate public policy debates. Through research, analysis, and advocacy our Center provides new and alternative views on important issues for our state. In some cases our views challenge the entrenched status quo mindset, while at other times our ideas are in direct opposition to the highly restrictive progressive/union agenda, which has dominated our state – virtually unopposed – for recent decades.

 It is our opinion that “free market” policies are indeed in the best interest of all Rhode Islanders. Clearly, the big government, special interest approach has failed this state. Our recommended policies offer a fresh, new path forward, based on principles that have a proven record of prosperity and that served as the basis for the founding of our nation.

 * Did the center contact Rep. Malik about sponsoring the no sales tax bill last year, or did he contact the center?

 Representative Malik first approached the Center following testimony we provided at a 2012 House Finance Committee hearing: Around that time we had published our first sales tax report, and he expressed general interest in the issue to me. In November 2012, House Minority Leader Newberry publicly stated that sales tax reform would be one of his caucus’ platforms for 2013. I approached the Leader to offer access to our research, and he suggested that I contact Representative Malik who, as a retailer himself, had been interested in sales tax issues for years. It was following the Massachusetts’ State of the State address in January of 2013, when Governor Patrick proposed to lower his state’s sales tax, that I re-established contact with Representative Malik. He indicated that he was interested in submitting a bill to repeal the Rhode Island sales tax and inquired if our Center would further educate him on the issue, based on our prior reports, and if there was additional research that could be conducted to advance the public debate.

 This is precisely the role our Center is designed play: Injecting new ideas and research into the market and then aggressively supporting debate when related legislative or other advocacy efforts are initiated. We are happy to work with any interested lawmaker from any party.

 Our Center is not a lobbying entity, and had no part in securing any sponsors for the bill. I’m sure that Representative Malik would confirm these details, if you choose to contact him.

 * You mentioned that school choice will be the center’s next big issue. Can you say why the center chose that one?

 Economic and educational reforms are the two issues our board determined should be our Center’s top priorities. Without economic growth that brings new job and career opportunities, and without a properly educated citizenry to fill those positions, Rhode Island will not be able to break out of its stagnancy.

 In selecting major issues to advance, we look beyond policies that nibble around the edges of the massive problems facing our state, and seek to inject well-researched, game-changing ideas into the public policy debate; ideas that can provide immediate and broad benefits to Rhode Islanders. Also, we seek policy ideas that are not only needed, but which have a legitimate chance to advance, given our state’s unique and current political orientation.

 School choice reforms, whether through expanded charter school or tax credit programs, or through a voucher system, would provide immediate relief for families with children condemned to attend a failed school simply because of their zip code. Further, the competition created between public and private schools will likely lead to a higher educational achievement across our entire state. We are working in cooperation with Speaker Pro Tem Elaine Coderre and her son’s new organization, RI Families for School Choice. This organization approached our Center in late 2012 to ask if our Center was interested in helping to raise awareness on school choice. As this issue fit our mission, we have not only engaged, but have since decided to make it a priority for this year.

 Similarly, significant sales tax reform would immediately put money back in the pocket of every family and business in the state, create economic growth, and provide new job opportunities for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders.

 There are dozens of additional reforms that our state must consider in the years ahead, many of which our Center will also attempt to advance. However, we believe that sales tax and school choice reforms are an important first step in putting our state on a new policy path.

“Get Government Out of the Way”: a free-market solution for the RI economy

Related Links: Oct 11 Press Conference Event & CEO Stenhouse Extended Remarks, Prosperity Agenda for RI,
Podcast: ALEC's Jonathan Williams discusses with Dan Yorke on 630WPRO
Video: Mike Stenhouse remarks at Press Conference

Adherence to  Free-Enterprise Principles can Revive the Ocean State’s Economy

The state of Rhode Island requires significant public policy reform to unleash a private-sector economic engine fueled by the creativity, investment, and energy of businesses and individuals. What is not needed are more of the same subjective and politicized tactics that benefit chosen business sectors, favored political constituencies, limited geographical regions, or specific business ventures.

Rhode Island does not have to reinvent the wheel. Three proven steps are required to embark on a new path to improve Rhode Island’s economic fortunes:

1. Embrace the free-enterprise system as the means to restore prosperity

2. Follow and learn from successful economic policies implemented in other states

3. Design and implement public policy reforms reflective of the above, applied evenly and universally

In seeking to provide assistance to too many people, in caving to special-interest-group concerns, and by doling out special favors to the well connected, the state of Rhode Island has created dozens upon dozens of legislative barriers to success. These barriers have restricted economic and individual opportunities and incentives, resulting in the worst business climate in the country, loss of out-migrating taxpayers, a slew of Fs and Ds on the state’s Competitiveness Report Card, and the most dismal jobs outlook of any state in the nation. Prosperity can only be achieved if those barriers are systematically torn down and we move decisively on a new economic path.

That proven economic path is the free-enterprise system. Even President Obama calls it the ‘genius of America’, yet Rhode Island has sharply departed from its principles. Free-market concepts must be re-embraced and recognized as the economic engine that has proven to be the most effective machine ever devised to raise people out of economic misery and into a higher standard of living. This means our state must enact policies that lower taxes, reduce regulations, and cut spending. The benefit will be increased economic activity, more jobs, and positive state-to-state net migration. In contrast, government redistribution polices have failed the very citizens they intend to help.

Before we undertake the task of implementing specific policy reforms that dramatically roll back laws that hinder economic growth, a long-term commitment to economic freedom must be established. Removing certain barriers while erecting others will get us nowhere. Adherence to free-market principles is required. But, as a state, we must also be willing to work through our political and cultural differences.

Contrary to our popular notion of polarized politics, the free-enterprise system is not a political philosophy. It is a well-delineated economic philosophy predicated on a culture of success. As a people, we must overcome our disdain of the successful and resist the temptation for government to serve as referee in tilting calls to favor groups it perceives to be in need. This is not the proper role of our uniquely American form of government; it interferes with the efficient mechanics of the free-market system and it provides disincentives to achieve and prosper.

We must accept that a paycheck is better than a welfare check and recognize that a growing economy that provides job opportunities is far more desirable than a stagnant economy that breeds dependency on government services and impedes upward mobility. We cannot have it both ways. We must also understand that it is a morally preferable that free people should strive to be self-sufficient and maintain the rewards of their own hard work. Government policies should create incentives for the pursuit of individual happiness, not hinder that pursuit.

The main strategy to unleash Rhode Island’s economic revival should be to learn from and follow the successful policy reforms enacted in other states; namely, creating an attractive business climate, with free competition, so that all laborers, entrepreneurs, and businesses can have more opportunities to work, to innovate, to grow, and to prosper.

Our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has researched and developed an initial set of policy reforms that are consistent with these goals – our Prosperity Agenda for Rhode Island: a set of taxpayer-friendly, worker-friendly, and business-friendly reforms that reduce burdens on employers and provide more freedom of choice for individuals; proven reforms, successfully implemented in other states, that will start to move the Ocean State down a new path towards economic growth.

MEDIA

Cranston Herald: Study shows free-market enterprise is path to prosperity in RI

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RI General Assembly Freedom Index

Download: Freedom Index 2012 Scorecard; legislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings ; Click here for the Media Release

Radio:  Stenhouse discusses Index on Dan Yorke radio show ; and on the Helen Glover show (@ the 13:00 minute mark)

The first-annual General Assembly Freedom Index by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity scores Ocean State lawmakers on their level of support for principles of freedom as proven by their votes on the floors of the House and Senate.

The index examines legislators’ votes in terms of their likely effect on the free market, the size and scope of government, the balance of residents’ interests against those of public employees and beneficiaries, and the constitutional structure of a divided government with limited power over the people whom it represents. The Center reviewed every bill that received a roll-call vote by the full membership of either chamber and selected 96 that fit its understanding of these criteria. (Companion bills only count once.)

The resulting scores give a detailed sense of each legislator’s priorities beyond a few high-profile issues.

The Center further divided the bills into five categories:

  • Tax & budget:  bills that affect the tax structure in Rhode Island and/or that relate to government expenditures, just driving or relieving the pressure on taxation
  • Regulatory environment: bills that make it more or less difficult to live and do business in the state by imposing regulations
  • Constitutional government: bills that affect the structure of the government, as well as the scope of government in its authority over residents’ lives
  • Public sector labor: bills related to the relationship between its employees and itself and the electorate
  • Education reform: bills that advance or impede the reform of the state’s public education system, in terms of both cost and quality

Most legislation has implications for more than one of these categories.  For the purposes of this index, we applied our subjective sense of the area of core effect and sorted the bills accordingly.  If, for example, a bill having to do with education seemed to us intended to secure the role of public employees, we classified that bill as Public Sector Labor, not Education Reform.

Download: Freedom Index 2012 Scorecardlegislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings

2012 Freedom Index Findings

Ninety-six (96) different pieces of legislation (counting companion bills once) were evaluated.  The Center judged 70 of them as having a negative effect on freedom.

The average legislator index score of -25.4 indicates that the General Assembly moved Rhode Island in the wrong direction, and that Rhode Islanders are less free than they were in 2011. This index underscores our Center’s view that the 2012 RI General Assembly did not positively address the dire business climate of our state.

Top and Bottom 10

House Senate
Top 10 Bottom 10 Top 10 Bottom 10
1 Costa 59.2 113 Bennett -46.0 1 Kettle 15.5 113 Tassoni -44.8
2 Gordon 58.7 112 Fox -45.3 2 Shibley 14.0 112 Lanzi -44.8
3 Newberry 42.0 111 Ajello -45.3 3 Moura 8.6 111 DaPonte -43.1
4 Chippendale 41.7 110 McNamara -45.3 4 Hodgson 5.2 110 Miller -42.0
5 Watson 33.5 109 Valencia -45.3 5 Maher 4.1 109 Lynch -42.0
6 Trillo 28.8 108 Blazejewski -45.3 6 Algiere -7.8 108 Perry -41.6
7 Morgan 15.3 107 Cimini -45.3 7 Pinga -12.1 107 Ruggerio -41.4
8 Ehrhardt 15.1 106 Silva -45.3 8 Bates -14.7 106 Goodwin -41.4
9 Reilly 13.2 105 Mattiello -44.6 9 Ottiano -17.0 105 McCaffrey -41.4
10 Palumbo 0.5 104 Ucci -44.6 10 Cote -17.7 104 Fogarty -41.4

 

General Assembly Freedom Index 2012 by Party

 

Other findings include;

  • Average House index of -24.1
  • Average Senate index of -27.9
  • Average Democrat index of -33.5
  • Average Republican index of 16.5
  • Average Regulatory Environment index of -49.0
  • Average Tax & Budget index of -26.0
  • Average Constitutional Government index of -9.1
  • Average Public Sector Labor index of 16.7
  • No bills directly related to Education Reform were scored in this index

 

General Assembly Freedom Index 2012 and Category by Chamber and Party

 

Tax & Budget Category, Top and Bottom 10

House Senate
Top 10 Bottom 10 Top 10 Bottom 10
1 Newberry 68.8 75 Silva -67.2 1 Kettle 44.8 38 Pichardo -59.5
2 Chippendale 68.8 74 Bennett -62.5 2 Shibley 44.8 37 Lynch -54.3
3 Watson 68.0 73 Fox -62.5 3 Hodgson 44.8 36 Crowley -54.3
4 Trillo 67.2 72 Ajello -62.5 4 Moura 31.0 35 Tassoni -51.7
5 Costa 66.4 71 McNamara -62.5 5 Maher 24.1 34 Lanzi -51.7
6 Gordon 66.4 70 Valencia -62.5 6 Algiere 17.2 33 DaPonte -51.7
7 DaSilva 54.7 69 Blazejewski -62.5 7 Felag 10.3 32 Miller -51.7
8 Morgan 43.8 68 Cimini -62.5 8 Pinga 10.3 31 Perry -51.7
9 Reilly 43.8 67 Mattiello -62.5 9 Bates 10.3 30 Ruggerio -51.7
10 Lima 43.8 66 Ucci -62.5 10 Ottiano 10.3 29 Goodwin -51.7

 

Regulatory Environment Category, Top and Bottom 10

House Senate
Top 10 Bottom 10 Top 10 Bottom 10
1 Gordon 66.9 75 Mattiello -66.9 1 Hodgson -18.0 38 Miller -76.3
2 Costa 55.2 74 Tarro -66.9 2 Kettle -23.1 37 Tassoni -74.4
3 Watson 52.2 73 Naughton -66.9 3 Shibley  -23.1 36 Lanzi -74.4
4 Chippendale 27.2 72 Corvese -66.9 4 Moura   -23.1 35 Lynch -74.4
5 Newberry 23.5 71 Bennett -64.7 5 Maher -31.4 34 Perry -74.4
6 Trillo 17.6 70 Fox -64.7 6 Bates -33.3 33 Ruggerio -74.4
7 Ehrhardt  15.4 69 Ajello -64.7 7 Algiere  -35.9 32 Goodwin -74.4
8 Reilly 0.0 68 McNamara -64.7 8 Pinga -41.7 31 McCaffrey -74.4
9 Morgan -7.4 67 Valencia -64.7 9 Lombardo -43.0 30 Fogarty -74.4
10 MacBeth   -7.4 66 Blazejewski -64.7 10 Cote -43.6 29 Sosnowski -74.4

 

Constitutional Government Category, Top and Bottom 10

House Senate
Top 10 Bottom 10 Top 10 Bottom 10
1 Costa 61.2 75 Hearn -31.0 1 Kettle 29.7 38 DaPonte -29.1
2 Gordon 38.8 74 Jacquard -25.0 2 Shibley 24.3 37 Perry -19.6
3 Chippendale 36.2 73 MacBeth -22.4 3 Moura 18.9 36 Tassoni -18.9
4 Newberry 32.8 72 Bennett -19.8 4 Maher 18.9 35 Lanzi -18.9
5 Morgan 12.9 71 Hull -19.0 5 Pinga 6.1 34 Miller -18.9
6 Palumbo 6.0 70 Fox -17.2 6 Cote 6.1 33 Lynch -18.9
7 Flaherty 6.0 69 Ajello -17.2 7 Sheehan -2.0 32 Ruggerio -18.9
8 DeSimone 5.2 68 McNamara -17.2 8 Ottiano -4.1 31 Goodwin -18.9
9 Trillo 4.3 67 Valencia -17.2 9 Hodgson -8.1 30 McCaffrey -18.9
10 Schadone 3.5 66 Blazejewski -17.2 10 Algiere -8.1 29 Fogarty -18.9
(Note: Insufficient votes were cast in the Education Reform and Public Sector Labor categories for meaningful comparisons.)

Index Overview

The Center selected legislative bills for inclusion in the Freedom Index if they were deemed to have an effect on free-market, small-government, or constitutional principles, with each bill assigned a positive or negative weighting based on the criteria listed below. Weighted points for each bill were given to each legislator based on his or her roll-call vote on it.

Each legislator’s final Freedom Index was calculated as his or her score’s percentage of the total possible points. A positive score indicates a 2012 voting record that generally protected individual and economic freedoms, while a negative score reflects the opposite.

Disclaimer: It should be noted that the total Freedom Index score generated for each legislator is a direct reflection of the perspective of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity when it comes to the weighting of each bill. The Freedom Index is not an absolute measure of a legislator’s merit and does not constitute any endorsement or individual criticism. The Freedom Index is a tool designed for general research and for accountability, giving voters some quantitative metrics for their own assessments as to their elected legislators’ performance. 

Methodology

1) Determine weighting: Each selected bill received a weight ranging from +3 to -3, as determined by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. Negative weights indicate legislation that creates or expands an agency, government program/function, or tax; creates new regulatory burdens; is hostile to constitutional principles; or otherwise conflicts with the principles that guide the Center. Positive factors were assigned to bills in line with those principles. Companion bills in the House and Senate were weighted identically. To determine the weightings, the Center requested reviews of all chosen legislation from a half dozen engaged Rhode Islanders with similar principles and combined the range of results for a final weighting.

2) Determine vote: Each legislator received a +1 or -1 vote factor, depending on whether he or she voted FOR or AGAINST a particular bill, respectively. If a legislator did not vote on a bill, he or she received a +0.25 if the bill passed or a -0.25 if the bill failed. Legislators who abstained from voting received a +0.75 or a -0.75 vote factor depending on if the bill passed or failed.

3) Calculate weighted vote: Multiplying the weighting factor and the vote factor produced a weighted vote score for each legislator for each bill.

4) Calculate the legislator score:  The cumulative score for all bills for each legislator determined that legislator’s overall score.

5) Calculate Freedom Index: Dividing each legislator’s total score by the maximum possible for the appropriate chamber provided his or her Freedom Index, or a percentage of the best possible score he or she could have achieved. In 2012, the “perfect” scores are 106 for the House and 116 for the Senate.

For example, consider a bill that would increase the regulatory burden significantly in Rhode Island and that the Center therefore weighted as a -2. Legislator A voted for the bill. His or her weighted vote would be calculated as follows: -2 x 1 = -2. Conversely, the weighted vote for Legislator B, who voted against the bill, would be: -2 x -1 = 2.

If Legislator A, in the House chamber, earned a total legislator score of -33, his or her Freedom Index would be calculated as: -33 ÷ 106 x 100 =  -31.1.  If Legislator B in the Senate had a total score of +23, his or her Freedom Index would be calculated as: 23 ÷ 116 x 100 = 19.8.

To rank the legislators, the Center sorted them by their Freedom Index scores and then, in the cases of ties, by their scores in each category, in the following order: Regulatory Environment, Tax & Budget, Constitutional Government, Public Sector Labor, and Education Reform. When legislators’ results were still identical, the Center adjusted them in order of their apparent stature and power within their chambers.

Criteria

In determining each bill’s weighting, the following questions were considered:

  • Does the bill create or eliminate an agency, program, or function of government?
  • Does it give the government new or expanded power to prohibit or restrict activities in the free market? Examples may include licensure and other restrictions on legal business practices.
  • Is it unconstitutional or does it do violence to our concepts of federalism or separation of powers? Does it restrict property, speech, gun, or other constitutionally recognized rights or freedoms? Conversely, does it restore balance between the state and federal government, resume state authority over an issue under the 10th Amendment, or remove restrictions on constitutionally protected rights?

Other considerations were also brought into question:

  • Does the bill redistribute wealth or use tax policy or other incentives to reward specific interest groups with special favors or perks? Conversely, does it eliminate special favors and perks in the tax code or public policy?
  • Does it perform a function that can and should be performed by the private sector or restore functions to the private sector?
  • Does it grow or shrink the regulatory scope of an agency?
  • Does it directly or indirectly create/reduce taxes, fees, or other assessments?
  • Does it increase or decrease control of the private sector through rules, regulation, or statute?
  • Does it increase or decrease long-term debt or override or restore statutory or constitutional protections against long-term debt?
  • Does it give or reduce special benefits for government employees or politicians?
  • Does it promote government transparency and openness or does it restrict access to information that should be in the public domain?

It should be noted that the complexity not only of the law but of political theory in general can make assessments of the sort described above subjective and very difficult. People reviewing the index should consider the results to be the best judgment of the Center, given our collected experience and expertise.

Download: Freedom Index 2012 Scorecardlegislator votes, bill explanations, and rankings