Written Testimony submitted by CEO Stenhouse to Senate Committee on Finance and House Committee on Finance

Center Receives Farm Bureau Award For Anti-RhodeMap RI Work

Center Feted for Raising Awareness about
HUD & Federal Intrusion

November 19, 2015, Alpine Country Club in Cranston, RI

The RI Center for Freedom for Prosperity Accepts the RI Farm Bureau’s 2015 Navigator Award

The award recognized the Center “for being the faithful and undaunting watchdog and protector of freedom and prosperity granted to all Rhode Islanders,” in raising awareness about the federal HUD agenda implemented in RI called RhodeMap RI, which could threaten the property rights and values of farmers throughout the state, as well as other private property owners.

In accepting the award on behalf of the Center’s board and staff, CEO Mike Stenhouse thanked the Bureau for standing with other concerned citizens against the intrusive federal power and land grab by HUD. Stenhouse drew parallels to a topic raised earlier in the evening by a speaker from the American Farm Bureau, about how the federal EPA has similarly been seeking to control more and more local land through its controversial, so-called Clean Water Act, which would further restrict land use for many farmers.

RIFarmBureauAward-MS   … RIFarmBureauAward2        ?

Stenhouse added that private property ownership and rights to develop land are fundamental precepts of America’s free-enterprise system, and that the Center would continue to fight against federal and state mandates that would restrict those freedoms.

Also receiving Navigator awards were: Representative Patricia Morgan (R, D26) for her work in fighting proposed tolls, which would directly impact farm trucks; and Senator Susan Sosnowski (D, D38) for her legislative support of farmer’s issues.

The RI Farm Bureau is the voice of thousands of Rhode Island farmers when it comes to dealing with issues that impact the agriculture industry.

2015 Report Card FAILS to Provide Equal Opportunity for Rhode Islanders

The Center’s 4th annual REPORT CARD demonstrates how RI’s political class continues to cater to special insiders, while depriving other Rhode Islanders of the opportunity for upward mobility, educational opportunity, and personal prosperity.

[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/RIReportCard/” target=”_self” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] 2015 Report Card [/button]

Stop the HPV Vaccine Mandate & Preserve Parental Rights

REGULATORY DESPOTISM? To view our press conference videos, photos, media links, and for more info …

Go to our HPV home page

Statement: SCOTUS Decision, Massive Rate Hike Should Doom HealthSource RI

June 26, 2015
FY2016 Should be Last Year of Continued Taxpayer and Ratepayer Subsidies for Failed Boondoggle
Exchange Can be More Efficiently Operated by the Federal Government

Providence, RI — Based on yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and with statewide health insurance premiums once again set to sky-rocket, the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity suggests that FY2016 should be the last year that Rhode Island taxpayers and ratepayers should be burdened with subsidizing HealthSource RI.

The Supreme Court ruling, which preserved federal insurance subsidies across the nation, effectively removed one of the major arguments of proponents seeking to keep the state exchange funded by Rhode Islanders. Further, based on today’s Providence Journal story that insurance rates could rise by as much as 18% next year, HealthSource RI has obviously failed in its promise to control rate increases.

“There is no longer any legitimate reason for Rhode Islanders to continue to pay for this self-created boondoggle,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It’s time to renew the discussion about sending our exchange to the federal government, where efficiencies of scale can allow it to be operated at a significantly lower cost than we can run it on our own in Rhode Island. And now we can do so without any fear of anyone losing their subsidy.”

Rhode Island is one of just 15 states that fully-funds and operates its own insurance exchange. As the Center has documented over recent years, the Ocean State does not have a large enough tax base or insurance base to justify the related high costs.

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.

2015 RhodeMap RI Related Legislation

RhodeMap RI targets individual property rights

A number of recommendations made by the Center earlier this year in its Legislative Antidotes to RhodeMap RI post, are encapsulated in many of the bills below, which have already been introduced in the 2015 RI General Assembly session. Thank you to PRARI (the Property Rights Alliance of RI) for compiling this legislative list and descriptions.

Recently Introduced Legislation, RhodeMap RI Opt Out Provisions

1. H6040 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H6040.pdf

Prohibits affordable housing program requirements, that exceed those set forth in the general laws of the state, from being included in the statewide planning program. Sponsors: Price, Roberts, Chippendale, Costa and Nardolillo

2. H6041 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H6041.pdf

Allows cities and towns to opt out of provisions in the state guide plan that relate to affordable housing and the related land use provisions, by providing timely written notice of that decision to the chief of the RI Division of Planning.   Sponsors: Roberts, Price, Chippendale, Filippi and Nardolillo

3. H6042 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H6042.pdf

Allows cities and towns to opt out of provisions in the state guide plan that relate to affordable housing and the related land use provisions –by providing timely written notice of that decision to the chief of the RI Division of Planning. Sponsors: Costa, Lancia, Giarrusso, Reilly and Corvese

4. H6043 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H6043.pdf

Repeals the provisions and references to compliance with the state guide plan relative to local comprehensive planning for land use. Sponsors: Nardolillo, Chippendale, Price and Roberts

Other Bills

1. H5643 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5643.pdf 

Eliminates the state mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in the local comprehensive plan and actually prohibits its inclusion in the local comprehensive plan.  (section 45-22.2-6, “RI Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act”) Sponsors: Price, Reilly, Roberts, Costa, and Filippi

2. S653 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0653.pdf (Companion to H 5643)

Eliminates the state mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in the local comprehensive plan and actually prohibits its inclusion in the local comprehensive plan.  (section 45-22.2-6, “RI Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act”) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Cote, Raptakis, ONeill, Gee and Kettle

3. H5644 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5644.pdf

Eliminates the state mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in the local comprehensive plan and provides an opt-out provision for this. It also provides an opt out provision from the state guide plan relating to affordable housing programs.  (section 45-22.2-6, RI Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act”) Sponsors: Roberts, Price, Filippi, Nardolillo, and Costa

4. S654 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0654.pdf (Companion to H 5644) 

Eliminates the state mandate requiring cities and towns to include an affordable housing program in the local comprehensive plan and actually prohibits its inclusion in the local comprehensive plan.  (section 45-22.2-6, “RI Comprehensive Planning and Land Use Act”) Sponsors: Cote, Raptakis, ONeill, Gee, Kettle

5. H5713 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5713.pdf

Requires General Assembly approval of the state guide plan and any amendments to the state guide plan. (section 42-11-10 “Department of Administration”) Sponsors:  Filippi, Costa, Price, Giarrusso, and Morgan

6. S26 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0026.pdf

Exempts Coventry, E. Greenwich and W. Greenwich from all the terms and provisions of 42-64.17-1 entitled “Long Term Economic Development Vision and Policy”. Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Raptakis, Kettle, Morgan, Cote and ONeill. Heard March 10, held for further study.

Bills to Address New Definition of Low and Moderate Income Housing

1. S172 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0172.pdf

Allows mobile homes to be included in affordable housing stock in Coventry. (Section 42-128-8.1) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Raptakis, Kettle and Fogarty

2. H5714 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5714.pdf

Changes what is included in the calculation of affordable housing stock.  (Section 42-55-21.1 “RI Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation”) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Filippi, Hearn, Marcello, Price, and Ackerman

3. S498 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0498.pdf

Allows mobile and manufactured homes to be counted as low and moderate income housing for purposes of compliance with Comprehensive land use plans. (Section 45-53-3 “Low and Moderate Income Housing”) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Fogarty, Ottiano, Kettle, and DiPalma

Bills to Address Eminent Domain

1. H5774 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5774.pdf

Public use is defined as it relates to eminent domain. (Chapter 37-6 “Acquisition of Land”) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Costa, Trillo, Newberry, Giarrusso, and Shekarchi

2. S622 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0622.pdf (Companion to H 5774)

Requires that condemning land cannot include taking for private entity for purpose of economic development. (Chapter 37-6 “Acquisition of Land”) Sponsors: Cote, Lombardo, Archambault, Lombardi, McCaffrey

Bills to Increase the Maximum Property Tax on Qualifying Low Income Property

1. H5328 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5328.pdf

Increases the maximum tax rate on qualifying low income property from 8% to 12% of previous years gross rent. (Section 44-5-13.11 “Levy and Assessment of Local Taxes”) Sponsors: Phillips, Morin, Casey, Bennett, Almeida

2. S32  http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0032.pdf

Increases the maximum tax rate on qualifying low income property from 8% to 10% of prospective gross rent.  (Section 44-5-13.11 “Levy and Assessment of Local Taxes”) Sponsors: Picard, Cote and Goodwin

3. S33 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0033.pdf

Increases the maximum tax rate on qualifying low income property from 8% to 10% of previous years gross rent. (Section 44-5-13.11 “Levy and Assessment of Local Taxes”) Sponsors: Picard and Goodwin

4. S562 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0562.pdf

Allows an increase in the maximum tax rate on qualifying low income property from 8% to 10%  if  LMIH stock represents 12% or more. (section 44-5-13.11 “Levy and Assessment of Local Taxes”) Sponsor: Picard

5. S112 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/SenateText15/S0112.pdf

Allows an increase in the maximum tax rate on qualifying low income property from 8% to 15% when budget commission or court appointed individual involved with city/town. Sponsor: Picard


Bills to Allow State Intrusion on Municipal Property Taxation

1. H5518 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5518.pdf

Mandates that municipalities do not charge impact fees to developers for 36 months or until 1,500 permits statewide. (section 45-22.4 “RI Development Impact Fee Act”) Sponsors:  Shekarchi, Edwards, Solomon, Ucci, and McKiernan

2. H5545 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5545.pdf

Mandates that municipalities do not charge impact fees to developers for 36 months and mandates the reduction of municipal permit fees. (section 45-22.4 “RI Development Impact Fee Act” and section 23-27.3 “State Building Code”) Sponsor:  Jacquard

3. H5550 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5550.pdf

Mandates that permit fees and special fees for new construction will be determined by the state building code commission, not the local municipality.  (Chapter 23-27.3 “State Building Code”) Sponsors: BIPARTISAN – Shekarchi, McKiernan, Trillo, Lima, and Edwards

Bills to Divert Funds To Densely Populated Cities

1. H5552 http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText15/HouseText15/H5552.pdf

Creates an Urban Infrastructure Commission (to include 4 members of a 2,000 per square mile municipality) along with an Urban Renaissance Fund and provide that the state plays a central role in developing and supporting a targeted urban infrastructure program. (Title 42 – “State Affairs and Government”) Sponsors: McKiernan, Shekarchi, Lombardi, Carnevale, and Almeida

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.


March 13, 2015

2016 Proposed Budget Does Not Address Major Problems

No Game Changing Economic Ideas
Does Not Address Long Term Structural Deficits
Continued Special-Interest Spending

Providence, RI — Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed FY-2016 budget plan provides no game-changing ideas to boost Rhode Island’s stagnant jobs market and overall economy and does little to improve the state’s poor-rated business climate or to address long-term structural budget deficits.

By shifting money from certain side funds to the general fund and by borrowing money from the future via risky re-financing schemes, the Center rates the plan as a temporary band-aid approach, instead of major steps towards a long-term solution.

“Despite years of Rhode Island experiencing negative results, this budget continues and expands the state’s practice of assuming that government knows best, and that a few insiders in back rooms can solve our problems better than the rest of us can,” said Justin Katz, research director for the Center. “From tens of millions of dollars in phantom ‘trust us’ savings to millions more poured into slush funds for centralized economic development to a scary new ‘statewide property tax,’ several back-flips backwards overwhelm the few positive policy steps forward.”

The plan’s government-centric approach toward economic development that favors specific industries is merely an extension of the same, failed public policy approach that is responsible for putting Rhode Island into its current economic rut. The Center, instead, recommends broad based tax and spending reductions as the primary means to boost the economy.

Other than vague goals to reduce Medicaid and state personnel costs, multi-hundred million dollar deficits are still projected in future out years.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS. The Center soon plans to publish a policy brief that will povide a more detailed analysis of the budget plan, but today also makes the following observations:

  • The plan gives government more power in attempting to orchestrate economic development, and is a further departure from proven free-market principles
  • The plan continues the practice of new special interest spending programs at the expense of the average Rhode Islander
  • The new state property tax fee is a slippery slope that could lead to this tax being applied to lower valued properties in the future
  • The increased hospital fee and health insurance premium fees will likely result in more costs being passed down to consumers and will likely also lead to health insurance premium hikes
  • The vendor/supplier corporate tax credit idea is a handout to special interest big corporations
  • New pre-K, full-day K, and construction spending ideas are handouts to special interest unions
  • The new rental taxes will be a drag on our state’s vital tourism industry, especially harming smaller entrepreneurs
  • The higher cigarette tax will likely lead to even greater “black market” activity, with the state is unlikely to meet the increased $7+million revenue expectations
  • The increased town tipping fees to RI Resource Recovery could lead to increased property taxes in those towns

Governor’s Minimum Wage Policy Based on Untruths; Union Connection?

March 9, 2015

Minimum Wage Hike Does Not Mostly Benefit Low Income Families 

Most RI minimum wage workers were white, middle-class. Only 14% were sole family income earners.

Providence, RI — Governor Gina Raimondo’s press conference today to promote a hike in the state’s minimum wage will create a negative drag on her own goal to increase jobs in Rhode Island. Further, most of the higher wages will likely go to white, middle-income workers, while potentially harming many of the very families the Governor’s plan seeks to assist.

This according to the nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which re-published findings from prior research reports.

The strong union support of the plan, with today’s press conference to be conducted at a union hall, raises significant additional questions. According to a 2013 Wall Street Journal article, it is common that many union contracts peg their base-line wages to the minimum wage.

“It is disappointing that one of the first major acts of our new Governor is to perpetuate policies that are harmful to our state’s job market and that bend to special interest demands,”said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The great irony here is that this policy will mostly benefit middle-class whites and union workers, as opposed to low-income minority families. The image put forth – that most minimum wage workers are minority family breadwinners – is simply not true.”
FAST FACTS. According to research by the Center, based on 2012 data, of minimum wage earners in Rhode Island:
  • Over 80% were white
  • $61,299 was the average family income
  • Over 71% were part-time workers less than 35 hrs/wk; 30% less than 20 hrs/wk
  • Only 6% were married, as sole earner
  • Only 8% were single parents
  • Almost 60% lived with their parents or some other primary breadwinner
  • About 60% were 25 years old or younger; over 40% 21 or younger
ADVERSE JOBS IMPACT. The Center’s 2013 report also found, that based on the minimum wage and jobs market at that time, a hike to the same $10.10 per hour level now being promoted by the Governor, would:
  • Destroy almost 3500 jobs, including breadwinners from low-income families
  • Be a continuing assault of the state’s economy
  • Be especially harmful to low-income workers who need upward mobility in a robust jobs market
Read the entire 2013 report here, Read other minimum wage studies by the Center.