Lessons from RhodeMap RI

GO TO HOME PAGE re. RhodeMap RI

This commentary originally appeared in the Providence Journal on December 19, 2014:

Will the recently adopted RhodeMap RI plan collect dust on a shelf, as Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello suggests? Or will it survive in some form to spawn various pieces of legislation, executive orders, departmental regulations and local ordinances? Nobody knows.

But looking back, there are clear lessons to learn from the controversial process of adopting RhodeMap RI:

-RhodeMap RI is not change; it is just another crony deal.

While proponents say the plan represents much needed change, opponents understand it is just more of the government interventionist policies that have wrecked our state’s economy — on steroids.

This plan adopts the same delusion as Rhode Island’s status quo political culture: that engineering politically-correct or sociological outcomes will somehow lead to economic growth — in this instance, by following “smart growth” and “sustainable development” principles.

As for cronyism, Grow Smart RI, a primary architect of RhodeMap RI, is funded by taxpayer dollars as well as by the Rhode Island Foundation, a founding supporter of this big-government scheme. While not illegal, these financial arrangements make RhodeMap RI look like yet another 38 Studios-style insider, public-private deal.

-Planned inclusion is bad economics. Good economics are themselves inclusive.

With no real cost-benefit analysis for its recommendations, and filled with a multitude of planned social outcomes, RhodeMap RI has little credibility as economic development, despite Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s professed belief that “inclusion” produces positive economics.

In truth, RhodeMap RI and its social mandates would increase burdens on the business community, as Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council have also noted. Tying a nice-sounding social-equity ribbon around this same, tired, government-centric package does not change the plan’s fundamental win-lose character, where the engineered benefit for some is provided at the expense of others.

Win-win solutions are what Rhode Island needs — free-market policies such as tax and regulatory cuts that stimulate growth and produce new jobs and expanded opportunities for anyone looking to improve their standard of living. Everyone, including low-income families, would benefit.

-RhodeMap RI was not “of the people.”

The unelected bureaucrats who adopted this plan were not accountable to the people of Rhode Island; they had little at stake. No program should become adopted if not voted on by the duly elected representatives of the people. The recent national and state trend to implement policy outside the legislative process — by executive order, by commission, or by agency regulation — is bad government and is not of the people.

Neither does conducting sparsely-attended, rigged meetings constitute the “will of the people,” especially when it comes to an agenda as expansive as RhodeMap RI. Intense public scrutiny is required, including experts from all sides, as with our 2011 statewide pension debate.

Any plan funded by a federal government agency that mandates adherence to specific core principles of that federal agency cannot legitimately be called plan of the Rhode Island people. Though its proponents have continually “Gruberized” Rhode Islanders, they are not stupid.

-What is the value of taxpayer-funded organizations?

It is outrageous, first, that Commerce RI would cede economic development to urban planners; then would further support such vague, job-killing mumbo-jumbo; and finally would represent it as a serious economic development plan. This agency, called the Economic Development Commission when it brought us 38 Studios, should be defunded and disbanded.

That the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns voted in favor of a plan that would lead to increases in local property taxes and a loss of sovereignty of its own member local governments, even after eight of those member towns passed actions calling for a halt to the RhodeMap RI vote, is equally outrageous.

What can be the public value of these organizations when they continually support intrusive programs that work against the very same taxpayers who fund them?

-Messing with property rights is politically toxic.

For many in Rhode Island, our homes and our land are the earned result of our hard work and often represent the basis of our families’ long-term financial security. Any agenda that so openly threatens property rights, and fails to expressly safeguard against deterioration of property rights and property values, will continue to fuel the passionate level of public opposition that confronted the state Planning Council meeting on Dec 11.

For low-income families that do not yet own real property, the property tax hikes suggested by RhodeMap RI would drive up their rents, while the climate-change provisions in the plan would surely increase energy and transportation costs.

It would be political suicide for any elected official to support a plan that has generated as much opposition from the voters as RhodeMap RI has.

Many lessons. Clear lessons. Will our political class ever learn?

Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center, earned an Economics degree from Harvard University

Statement by Center on RhodeMap RI Adoption

OFFICIAL STATEMENT: December 11, 2014 (2:30 PM)

Council Moves Controversial Plan Forward Despite Overwhelming Public Opposition

Unanimous Vote Indicates RhodeMap RI was pre-Ordained Insider Deal

Providence, RI – “Today we saw the danger of un-elected bureaucrats, accountable to no one, becoming involved in major public policy decisions,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, following the state Planning Council’s unanimous vote to adopt the controversial RhodeMap RI plan. “It’s like the public was not even there; not one of the concerns expressed was even acknowledged, let alone addressed by the council. This plan was obviously an insider deal, pre-ordained to be adopted.”

About 100 people attended the Center’s press conference and rally prior to the planning council meeting, while a standing-room-only crowd of over 200 people were in attendance at the meeting. Another 50 people or so were turned away from the meeting because of fire-code capacity restrictions.

As evidence of the insider game, the Center today discovered that GrowSmart RI, the local urban redevelopment advocacy group that served as the primary architect of the RhodeMap RI plan, has been funded in large part over recent years by both the state of Rhode Island and the RI Foundation, each of which has been strongly supportive of the so-called economic development plan.

“It’s ironic that while diversity and inclusion has been the clarion call of RhodeMap RI supporters, it is disturbing to see the lack of thought-diversity among both the consortium and planning council members that created and advanced this plan; with virtually no representation from the private sector, from the center-right, from taxpayers, or from true economic development experts – and was almost exclusively comprised of government insiders and left-wing special interest advocates,” continued Stenhouse. “This is not healthy. The more we learn about this plan, the more it reeks of 38-Studios style cronyism.”

The primary argument expressed by most of those who spoke in opposition to the plan today was that the General Assembly, the duly elected representatives of the people, should be the body that should advance any economic development plan, not un-elected appointed insiders, beholden to a government-centric agenda.

*****

MEDIA ALERT

December 11, 2014 (6:00 AM)
Press Conference & Major Protest Rally Planned Prior to RhodeMap RI Vote This Morning
Statement from Westchester County Executive. Dozens of legislators, governmental entities, advocacy orgs, and taxpayer groups to be represented.

Providence, RI – Following the adoption last evening of the seventh municipality to recommend that the RhodeMap RI process be halted, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity will hold a press conference and protest rally at 8:30 AM this morning, immediately preceding the scheduled state Planning Council vote to adopt the controversial RI plan into the state’s official Guide Plan.

The Center is working alongside the recently formed citizens group, PRARI, to organize the rally, which will include individuals and organizations that oppose the plan. The group will then proceed into the planning council meeting, where public comments are scheduled to be heard from attendees.

It is the position of the Center that adoption of RhodeMap RI will lead to intrusive interference from the federal government. “Washington bureaucrats, who you will never see or meet, want the power to determine who will live where and how each neighborhood will look, said Rob Astorino, Commissioner of Westchester County, NY, who has been battling HUD mandates for years. “What’s at stake is the fundamental right of our cities, towns, and villages to plan and zone for themselves. HUD thinks it can trample on Westchester because it has the misguided notion that zoning and discrimination are the same thing. They are not.” According to Astorino, HUD has categorized Westchester as a “grand experiment”, which the Center does not want to see in Rhode Island.

The rally is expected to attract well-over 100 people – from state and local lawmakers, city and town councils, as well as various taxpayer groups, advocacy organizations, and other concerned Rhode Island residents – who are seeking to stop the RhodeMap RI plan.

Representatives from dozens of state and local groups as well as multiple elected officials are also expected to attend. Among the notable individuals and organizations in opposition to RhodeMap RI, are:

Eight Towns passed resolutions calling for a halt to the process:
Town of Scituate:
Town of Portsmouth
Town of Foster
Town of Tiverton
Town of East Greenwich
Town of W. Greenwich
Town of Hopkinton
Town of Exeter

State & Municipal Legislators:
Mayor Allan Fung
Sen. Lou Raptakis
Sen. Nick Kettle
Sen. Mark Cote
Rep. Mike Chippendale
Rep. Doreen Costa
Rep Patricia Morgan
Rep. Anthony Giarrusso
Sen-elect Mark Gee
Sen-elect Elaine Morgan
Rep-elect Dan Reilly
Rep. elect Sherry Roberts
Rep- elect Bob Nardolillo
Rep-elect Justin Price
Rep-elect Robert Lancia

Formal/State ORGS:
RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity
RI Farm Bureau
RI Tea Party
RI Taxpayers Association
OSTPA
Libertarian Party of RI
Federated RI Sportsmen Club
Manville Sportsman’s Rod & Gun Club
Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights
Alliance for Safe Communities
Citizen/Local GROUPS:
PRARI
CITIZENS Against RhodeMap RI
Bristol Taxpayers Association
East Bay Patriots
NK Republican Committee
Ayn Rand Admirers of RI
Portsmouth Concerned Citizens
North Kingstown Taxpayers Association
Northwest RI Tea Party
Former US Representative Candidates Rhue Reis and Mark Zaccaria

For more information, the Center’s home-page for RhodeMap RI is: www.RIFreedom.org/PropertyRights.

THE PRESS CONFERENCE & RALLY:

WHEN: Thursday, December 11, 2014, Press Conf & Rally at 8:30 AM; public meeting at 9:00 AM
WHERE:William E Powers Building, Dep’t of Administration, Capitol Hill, Providence
WHO: Mike Stenhouse, Representative Mike Chippendale

About PRARI: The Property Rights Alliance of RI is a citizens group dedicated to informing the public about the dangers of RhodeMap RI.

RhodeMap RI Brings Eminent Domain 1-Step Closer

The controversial RhodeMap RI plan, in combination with a 2008 law that seemed pre-sage its creation, would appear to allow for almost unlimited government abuse of the worst kind … the power of governments to seize land from private citizens!

[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/2014/12/rhodemap-ri-opens-door-for-eminent-domain/” target=”_blank” size=”medium”] Read the policy brief here[/button]

 

RhodeMap RI Opens Door for Eminent Domain

With language that appears to have been custom-written for RhodeMap RI, a 2008 law, when combined with the controversial RhodeMap RI plan, may actually throw open the door for aggressive eminent domain property seizures by the government in order to construct “growth centers” as the plan envisions, according to a policy brief by the Center.

In 2008, in response to the momentous  Kelo v. City of New London decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that allowed local governments to seize property from one private person and give it to another, Rhode Island’s legislature passed a law – the RI Home and Business Protection Act of 2008 that ostensibly would limit similar potential abuse in the Ocean State. However, the law specifically allows for eminent domain exceptions when there is a local economic development plan in place.

Read the full policy brief here …

The 2008 act considers that a “government entity” can utilize eminent domain powers if there is a larger plan in place for the area … a plan like a RhodeMap RI growth center plan. The law also specifies other exceptions when eminent domain powers may be used.

It has been theorized by the Center that beginning around 2005, a coordinated legislative, land-use, transportation, and housing strategy has systematically been put in place in the Ocean State, culminating with RhodeMap RI, a so-called economic development scheme.

Given the entities involved in developing the RhodeMap RI plan, there are four potential government entities that could exploit this eminent domain exception to infringe on the property rights of land owners and seize their land:

  • The federal government in Washington, DC, which conceived the RhodeMap RI core principles and funded the plan, with HUD providing funding for the growth centers
  • The state of Rhode Island which will adopt the plan
  • The regional Urban Redevelopment Authority, to be created by RhodeMap RI, unelected bureaucrats who would implement the plan
  • Local municipalities that would aid in planning the growth centers and would raise property taxes to help fund them

Shocking Youtube video – how eminent domain destroyed an entire Illinois neighborhood … seizing private property in order to build new multi-purpose structures.

Will RhodeMap RI Lead to Demolished Neighborhoods in RI?

The San Francisco Bay area regional authority, similar to the “Urban Redevelopment Authority” that the controversial RhodeMap RI plan would create, plans to demolish 169,000 single-family homes, despite the outrage and objections of residents.

[button url=”http://rifreedom.org/?p=13267″ target=”_blank” size=”medium”] Read the full post here [/button]

The SF Bay Area Example: RhodeMap RI could lead to Demolished Local Neighborhoods

SF Bay Area Region: Existing neighborhoods, including 169,000 homes, to be demolished

Supporters of the controversial RhodeMap RI plan claim that there’s nothing in the plan to give local residents and elected officials any concern about a potential loss of their property rights or an erosion of the sovereignty of their locally elected governments.

However, based on research by the Center’s consultant on this issue, John Anthony, the case of the San Francisco Bay area provides the most stark and startling example of how blind dedication to, or forced compliance with a national “sustainable development” agenda, enforced by a regional authority run by unelected ideologues, actually did supersede the will of the local people and their duly elected officials.

Plan Bay Area is a regional development plan operating in conjunction with California state law.[i]  The “Association of Bay Area Governments” (ABAG)[ii] is the regional governing group that manages planning for a 9-county area. The enormity of the planners’ objectives have drowned out local voices.

With the goal of deconstructing existing suburbs in favor of erecting new, hi-density “growth centers”, ABAG is advancing a program that displaces over 1000 middle and low-income residents out of their homes in favor of building low-income housing.”[iii]  So outraged are community members that traditionally conservative and liberal groups are now working together to attempt to stop the planners.  They see this as government abridging the rights of all citizens.[iv]

HomeDemolitionYet, Bay Area residents are having little effect. According to research by the Cato Institute, the regional board continues to push through its plan to demolish 169,000 single-family homes on the questionable claim that by 2040 most residents will prefer multi-family dwellings.[v]

The RhodeMap RI plan, if adopted on December 11, 2014 into the state’s official guide plan, will establish the state of Rhode Island as a similar region to Plan Bay Area, and recommends establishment of an “Urban Redevelopment Authority”, similar to ABAG, with similar powers,as stated in the RhodeMap RI plan itself, to “assume permitting and development control”[vi] over local communities. 

In Rhode Island, “growth center” plans have already been developed for multiple communities. Will existing neighborhoods in the Ocean State be similarly demolished? Will local residents and officials even have a say?

John Anthony is the president of Corporate Measures, a consulting firm specializing in assisting businesses in gaining profitable growth while retaining a productive and enthusiastic workforce. Mr. Anthony founded corporate Measures in 1989.  Recently, he has devoted his time to assisting communities and businesses to understand and navigate the complexities of Sustainable Development planning.

[i] Plan Bay Area and California SB375: http://www.conservationleague.org/advocacy/40-successes/advocacy/309-sb375.html

[ii] ABAG:  http://www.abag.ca.gov/overview/ABAG_Roster.pdf

[iii] Bay area Priority Development Areas: http://www.sfbg.com/2013/05/28/planning-displacement

[iv] http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2013-06-28/article/41209?headline=Plan-Bay-Area-A-Shocking-Theft-Of-Our-Democracy–By-Vivian-Warkentin

[v] Plan Bay Area: http://ti.org/pdfs/ROTonPBA2.pdf

[vi] RhodeMapRI draft plan, p 119; http://rhodemapri.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Economic-Dev-Plan-Full-Draft-for-Public-Hearing-Review.pdf

RhodeMap RI Statements from Mayor Allan Fung and state Senator, Marc Cote

November 19, 2014: Cranston Mayor Allan Fung submits letter to RI Division of Planning recommending RhodeMap RI plan not be adopted

(See the Mayor’s official letter here)

Excerpts:

“I share some of the same concerns … expressed by the RI Public Expenditure Council … Thus, I would ask that the … committee not approve this (plan) … “

“What business would consider locating here (RI) if there are further social equity mandates that would be imposed …?”

December 1, 2014: Senator Marc Cote issued the following statement to the Center about the RhodeMap RI draft plan:

(See the official statement on the Senator’s letterhead, here)

“I have seen first-hand the impact that HUD and state affordable housing mandates have had on creating an imbalance in Woonsocket’s tax base by adding an extra real estate tax burden on non-subsidized commercial and residential property owners in our community,” said Senator Mark Cote, Democrat state Senator, D-24.

“The state mandate to establish a preferential property tax cap on subsidized properties in Woonsocket caused a revenue shortfall. The Woonsocket legislative delegation submitted a bill in 2013 to the General Assembly seeking relief from this mandate, but supporters of the affordable housing/sustainable development movement successfully lobbied to have the bill vetoed by Governor Chafee,” Cote went on to say.

“The prospect of a state run Urban Redevelopment Authority, granted new powers, as envisioned in the RhodeMap RI draft plan is also concerning, in that it could give expanded government control over individual property owner rights.”

“As recommended in the bi-partisan letter I co-signed with concerned members of the House and Senate to the Division of Planning in November, the RhodeMap RI process must be indefinitely postponed. More public scrutiny, comment and potential revisions are required,” the Senator concluded.

(Also, see Senator Cote’s letter to Grow Smart RI staffer and constituent)

CLICK HERE TO GO TO CENTER’S HOME PAGE ABOUT RHODEMAP RI

 

RhodeMap RI: Center Responds to Grow Smart RI Misinformation

Recently, one of the members of the RhodeMap RI consortium, Grow Smart RI (GSRI), issued a statement to counter the heavy public criticism that the RhodeMap RI plan has received in recent weeks from across the state.

It should first be noted, that as RhodeMap RI itself is an outgrowth of a national agenda, that Grow Smart RI is a member of a national organization, Smart Growth America, whose mission is to advance its centralized vision for “smart growth” across the nation.

To break-down and respond to the GSRI statements, the Center has retained a national expert and opponent of sustainable living, John Anthony, who founded the “Sustainable Freedom Lab”, an organization dedicated to informing Americans about how to protect their property and business rights from the pitfalls of smart growth planning and related governmental regulations. Mr. Anthony has studied dozens of sustainable living plans similar to RhodeMap RI from across the nation. 

READ THE PDF RESPONSE HERE …

Response to Grow Smart RI by John Anthony

In their zeal to move forward with their Economic Development plan, Grow Smart RI has attempted to “set the record straight on some of the misinformation that has been presented as fact.”  In doing so, they have created several critical information gaps. The following response seeks to accurately address the concerns of community members.

CRITIQUE #1: The plan would amount to “ceding (Rhode Island’s) sovereignty to federal government agencies.”

GSRI Statement: The plan reflects the thinking of public and private Rhode Island interests. The extent to which it is implemented and what specific strategies will be used will be decided by the Governor, the General Assembly, municipal governments and private businesses and organizations.  Rhode Island did not have the resources to undertake a planning process of this magnitude.  Therefore, the state applied to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities grant program to secure the funding required for the research, writing and coordination of the public outreach effort that went into the preparation of the economic development plan. However, that research, writing and public outreach was managed by the Rhode Island Planning and guided by a Consortium made up of representatives from Rhode Island state agencies and private organizations. 

Furthermore, it is critical to remember that this is a plan.  The fact that it was produced with the assistance of Federal funds in no way enables Federal interests to insert themselves in decisions as to how the various strategies contained in the plan will be implemented.  Those decisions rest with the State Executive and Legislative Branches, with municipal governments and with private businesses and organizations.

What GSRI did not tell you:  While it is fair to say the Governor and the General Assembly can determine specific strategies, they are not free to determine many of the most important outcomes of the Economic Development plan.  When the Rhode Island Division of Planning applied to HUD for a 2011 Sustainable Regional Planning Grant, the State agreed to abide by the contractual obligations contained in the HUD grant notice.  Throughout the HUD notice it makes clear that anyone accepted for the grant must align themselves with the government’s “6 Livability Principles.”  These principles represent a top-down centralized planning concept that has been implemented throughout the U.S. via HUD grants, with varying degrees of success and failure. In many cases the principles have led to homes becoming unaffordable, burdensome regulations and increases in traffic congestion, though their stated goal is the opposite.

Page 63 of the agreement is quite precise as it lists the “Mandatory Outcomes from the Creation of a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development.” Note, these are not choices, but rather they are demands.  Failure to comply with the HUD demands can lead to court action, demands for a return of the grant money or re-direction of the funds.

Throughout the Economic Development Plan Draft there are references to fulfilling “requirements”, “alignment” with the “6 Livability Principles” and the need to dismantle “barriers among and between federal and state programs.” While superficially these terms appear beneficial, they are necessary to bring Rhode Island in closer alignment with federal demands. By virtue of accepting $1.9 million from HUD, the Division of Planning has already ceded much of their planning flexibility and choices.

CRITIQUE #2:  The plan is not an economic development plan.

GSRI Statement: The draft plan was written to comply with a mandate from the General Assembly which directed the economic development corporation and the division of planning to produce a strategic plan that would include:

  1. A unified economic development strategy for the state that integrates business growth with land use and transportation choices;
  2. An analysis of how the state’s infrastructure can best support this unified economic development strategy;
  3. A focus and prioritization that the outcomes of the economic development strategy be equitable for all Rhode Islanders;
  4. Reliance on comprehensive economic data and analysis relating to Rhode Island’s economic competitiveness, business climate, national and regional reputation, and present economic development resources;
  5. Suggestions for improving and expanding the skills, abilities, and resources of state agencies, municipalities, and community partners to speed implementation of the plan’s recommendations; and
  6. The inclusion of detailed implementation plans, including stated goals, specific performance measures and indicators.

The plan, which was written with input from business leaders around the state, outlines six goals for strengthening our economy: provide educational and training opportunities to activate a 21st-century workforce; foster an inclusive economy that targets opportunity to typically underserved populations; support industries and investments that play to Rhode Island’s strengths; create great places by coordinating economic, housing and transportation investments; create a stronger and more resilient Rhode Island; and make Rhode Island a state where companies, workers, and the state as a whole can develop a competitive advantage.

It advocates strengthening the state historic tax credit program; supporting industries and investments that play to Rhode Island’s strengths including the marine, defense, arts and food sectors; better marketing of our tourism brand and assets; regulatory reform / streamlining; and “…setting fair tax policies consistent with those of other states.” The plan also asserts that expanded workforce training and a better education system are important to ensure that Rhode Island’s workforce meets the needs of employers and that the growing minority population in RI is as economically productive and self-sufficient as possible.  This call for social equity has especially inflamed the most vocal critics of the plan, even though it is in the enlightened economic self-interest of all Rhode Islanders.

What GSRI did not tell you: The RhodeMap RI draft plan includes some well-considered ideas for economic development.  As such the plan has drawn on business leaders to identify many of the biggest challenges to business success and attempts to design ways to “streamline regulations”, encourage “entrepreneurship”, and reduce tax burdens, “create an in-state resource” database and more.

However, the plan views economic development as encompassing virtually all social activities from where community members dwell to the number of vehicle miles inhabitants should be expected to travel. The RhodeMap RI plan is but one component of a series of plans. It draws heavily on Land Use 2025 which employs Urban Services Boundaries to enhance the “distinction” between urban and rural areas and growth centers to “coordinate investments in transportation, housing and job creation.  These types of boundaries are notable for artificially inflating home prices to the point of unaffordability.

Rather than streamline those state activities such as infrastructure, taxes and regulations which directly affect businesses, thereby clearing a pathway for creativity and entrepreneurship, the RhodeMap RI plan seeks to be the driver of the economy by developing compact, human-scale networks to effect cultural issues such as “obesity”, “housing choices” and lifestyles.

It is understandable that many community members are concerned when they see that the RhodeMap RI plan goes far beyond the boundaries of economic development and so deeply into social sciences.

CRITIQUE #3: The plan is an “extreme social engineering scheme” that would “block paths to property ownership and infringe on rights of property owners.

GSRI Statement: As noted above, the General Assembly directed that the economic development strategy should “integrate business growth with land use and transportation choices,” and should include “a focus and prioritization that the outcomes of the economic development strategy be equitable for all Rhode Islanders. Responding to those directions, the plan recommends  location of housing and businesses that will promote access to work opportunities. These recommendations do not infringe on the rights of property owners.

What GSRI did not tell you:  For a program intended to help businesses grow, the RhodeMap RI plan spends in inordinate amount of engagement in implementing  “social justice”, designing communities and guiding community members toward smaller homes in mixed-use transit-oriented urban centers.  The plan attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change, using social engineering techniques mandated in the HUD grant that have had nil to adverse effects on communities that have employed them.

In a report I am preparing for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, I will detail specific examples of property rights infringement by similar plans in other parts of the country.

CRITIQUE #4: The plan’s development process did not provide the public and the business community with an opportunity for input. 

GSRI StatementFrom the beginning RhodeMap RI has been characterized by extensive public outreach and many opportunities for public input. Over the last year and a half, public input sessions have been held in every corner of the state.  The public input phase launched with coverage in the Providence Journal, and all sessions were publicized through press releases and social media.  Opportunities for electronic input were also provided. The research and drafting of the economic development plan was guided by a diverse Economic Development Committee with representation from such strongly pro-business and pro growth organizations as the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Builders Association, the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association, and the business funded Providence Foundation. In addition, the Rhode Island Foundation and Commerce RI co-hosted a series of workshops during which over 300 business leaders discussed their needs and identified ways to work together with the state to build on Rhode Island’s strengths.  The State Planning Council held public hearings for the draft Economic Development Plan on October 27 and 28 at which 62 individuals testified. In all, more than 1,000 people have contributed their input.

What GSRI did not tell you:It is unfair to suggest that RhodeMap RI did not attempt to engage community members utilizing a broad outreach program that included events, social media and various forms of traditional media.  It is fair and important to realize that, in spite of best efforts, the outreach program has been an epic failure.  Rhode Island includes in excess of 1 million residents. Yet after a year of outreach, even if every session participant was a unique individual, the program fully engaged less than .3 of 1% of the population and barely 1% participated in surveys and other forms of feedback.  To put  it another way, even though 100% of the community members of Rhode Island will be effected by the RhodeMap RI plan, 99% are either unaware of the plan, unengaged or both.

When the state opts to implement planning interventions that can affect the entire community, making-up of large swaths of Rhode Islanders, as challenging as it may be, it is incumbent upon the state to engage a meaningful percentage of citizens in a transparent awareness program.  That program must allow not only for feedback, but the potential recasting or rejection of the entire program.   It is precisely because of the unique character of individuals and communities that planning choices involving lifestyles are best kept at the local level rather than blueprinted by the state in compliance with the demands of the federal government.

CRITIQUE #5: There is no reason not to delay passage of the Plan in order to allow for further discussion.

GSRI Statement: The draft Economic Development Plan has been developed to comply with legislation passed by the General Assembly requiring that such a plan be developed and that it be submitted on or before October 31, 2014.   In 2013, the RI General Assembly passed a law directing that, “(a) The economic development corporation and the division of planning shall develop a written long-term economic development vision and policy for the state of Rhode Island and a strategic plan for implementing this policy. . . (b) On or before October 31, 2014, the economic development corporation and the division of planning shall submit the written long-term economic development vision and policy and implementation plan to the governor, the senate and the house of representatives.”  The Division of Planning’s standard practice is to submit plans to the State Planning Council for approval and to have the Council hold public hearings on proposed plans. In keeping with that practice, public hearings were held and the State Planning Council vote was scheduled so that the Plan would be ready for submission to the governor, the senate and the house or representatives as close to the October 31, 2014 deadline as The RhodeMap RI Consortium signed off on the plan last week and it now goes to the State Planning Council for final adoption on November 20th. 

What GSRI did not tell you: The welfare of Rhode Islanders is too important to be forced into having to accept a poorly understood and expansive economic program merely because of a state deadline. More than likely, if it benefits the majority of citizens, the legislature could be convinced to reschedule the deadline. This would provide the Division of Planning the necessary time to better differentiate the social engineering aspects of the plan from those of pure economic development and study more fully the consequences of implementing the 6 Livability Principles as a solution for improved health, mitigation of climate change, social equity and improved lifestyles.

Further, a group of five bi-partisan state lawmakers pledged in a November 2014 letter to the Division of Planning that they would provide a legislative time extension so that the concerns about RhodeMap RI could be further vetted in public.

Analysis: RhodeMap RI would further weaken Ocean State’s struggling economy

Go to Property Rights / RhodeMapRI home page … 

Our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, URI Professor Len Lardaro, the RI Public Expenditure Council, Mayor Allan Fung, and many other organizations have been critical of the proposed RhodeMap RI economic development plan for its fundamental lack of basic economics; that despite some worthwhile goals, there is no specific road-map offered to attain those goals. With the credibility of RhodeMap RI already in question as a building-block plan for the Rhode Island economy, upon closer inspection, it appears that RhodeMap RI may actually contain recommendations that would be destructive to family budgets, economic growth, and job creation.

1)      NO COSTS-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

First, RhodeMap RI does not even attempt to address the core cost-benefit analysis that any credible economic development plan should ask: How much will it cost; what are the projected returns?  As the plan itself states on page 178, “With few exceptions, everything in this plan requires funding,” yet it goes on to say “…  this plan does not present solutions to the issue of funding …”  To whom will the funding plan be handed, then, to figure out? Obviously, with no investment levels specified, neither are there any return on investment projections.

2)      MORE GOVERNMENT-IMPOSED BURDENS ON THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY

Second, given our state’s persistently poor national rankings over the years in headline after headline, there can be no question that the government-centric public policy approach – that has dominated our state for decades – has been an abject failure. RhodeMap RI would accelerate this failed approach by inserting government into even more aspects of our personal and business lives, adding new burdens on our state’s already struggling economy.

Appendix A describes the social equity principles of the plan, which, if adhered to, would place new burdens on the business community. This sentiment was echoed by John Simmons of RIPEC at the November RhodeMapRI consortium meeting. Similarly, Mayor Allan Fung expressed similar concerns  in a letter he sent to the planning council. Forcing businesses to comply with new social-equity guidelines would further harm our state’s last-place business climate and would limit business relocation and growth in our state … at a time when we should be tearing down barriers to economic growth, not erecting new barriers.

Subsection B of the Appendix discusses “living wages”, which, if referring to further minimum wage hikes, would actually increase the cost of employment in our state and would further burden employers, leading to fewer jobs for people looking for work. Policies regarding wage rates must be reserved for General Assembly debate, not adopted as a principle in a bureaucratic document outside of the legislative process.

3)      ANTI FREE-MARKET APPROACH

Third, RhodeMap RI’s open disdain for the free-market system should be of concern to every resident in our state hoping to participate in a booming private sector. Subsection C of the appendix is direct in its anti-business nature; “Use public funds for public good, especially for marginalized populations … not private profit … to finance projects that overwhelmingly benefit big business.” Mayor Fung points out the success that he and the City of Cranston have had in public-private partnerships and questions whether smart growth plans would be wise to preclude such partnerships, which could employ hundreds or thousands of Rhode Islanders.

Further, the actual Minutes from the October 16 Consortium Meeting offer more distrust of the free-enterprise system, stating: “The market will never take care of marginalized populations. Consequently the plan has to have sticks (laws/regulations) for things the market won’t otherwise do, as well as carrots (incentives).”

4)      FAMILIES TO BEAR PROPERTY TAX HIKES

Fourth, the sticks and carrots that RhodeMap RI contemplates would manifest via manipulation of local property taxes so that they become a weapon against those who do not live in preferred communities and as a reward to those who obey the plan. Annual property tax caps in municipalities would be wiped away, leading to unchecked residential and commercial property tax hikes, as one means to fund the ‘growth centers’ the plan envisions.

Page 159 of the plan itself  discusses that local property taxes are already too high across most of Rhode Island, yet it is precisely an increase in these same local taxes that the RhodeMapRI plan relies upon. How can this make sense?

Subsection C also recommends creation of “Community Benefit Agreements” that would somehow ensure that “current housing costs” are maintained for people or businesses that may be displaced during development. This rent-control concept is a failed idea from the past and would artificially distort the normal housing and rental markets. Further, someone would have to pay to ensure these price-control guarantees … either landlords or taxpayers … and such unfunded-mandates would result in even greater economic decline for those communities and for our state.

Finally, with local and state taxpayers in mind, Page 141 of the plan discusses “resiliency” provisions that would require significant investment to “increase the state’s resiliency to climate change.” The cost of developing such climate change resiliency infrastructures would certainly be high. The return on investment of such projects is unspecified, and, with recent history as a guide, often produces negative economic impact. Such, costly, unproven, even un-necessary burdens on taxpayers, with high potential unintended costs to state and local economies, is not a risk our state should commit to at considering its present fragile status.

CONCLUSION

It is the position of the Center and most economists, that the free-market capitalist system has raised the standard of living of more people across the world than any other system ever devised by man. RhodeMap RI , with its big government and anti-enterprise approach, would turn this system on its head in the Ocean State.

If our state is to return prosperity to its residents, a new era of public policy, free from oppressive government regulations and taxations … not more of it, per the RhodeMap RI scheme … must be the “rhode” the Ocean State takes. The free-market should be freed to work its ‘invisible hand’, and government should get out of the way. If adopted, Professor Len Lardaro suggested the plan be renamed – TrainWreck RI; we regrettably concur.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and holds an Economics degree from Harvard University.

Heavy-handed HUD in Westchester NY

Requiring that it “acknowledge its legal duty ” to HUD’s housing requirements and “amend its zoning” for county municipalities, the County of Westchester New York is a harbinger for oppressive federal mandates that could be imposed on state and local lawmakers if the controversial RhodeMapRI plan is adopted as the state’s official economic development plan, even without any action from Rhode Island’s General Assembly, the state’s primary legislative body.

In a letter to Westchester County officials by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in April of 2014, the federal agency  resorted to heavy-handed tactics to impose its bureaucratic vision of fair-housing on the citizens of the county, superseding the local zoning ordinances developed by the duly elected representatives of the people, even taking the extreme position of referring to existing county policies as “exclusionary zoning practices”.

If adopted by the state’s Planning Council, RhodeMapRI would pave the way for Rhode Island’s cities and towns to receive HUD grants and, in doing so, become victim of similar arbitrary tactics.