Do you see RI as providing opportunities for prosperity? Families are fleeing from our borders. The equivalent of 11 cities and towns wiped off map as people vote with their feet.

Eleven Towns Wiped Off Map as RI ranks 45th on 2017 Family Prosperity Index

Eleven Towns Could be Wiped Off Rhode Island’s Map As State Ranks 45th Nationally on Updated 2017 Family Prosperity Index

 

Crippling out-migration problem demands a new policy approach. Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”

In this regard, Rhode Island is losing the state-to-state migration competition. Shockingly, since 2004, the State of Rhode Island has lost the equivalent population of 11 of its 39 cities and towns to out-migration. On net, over 80,000 more Rhode Island residents chose to leave our states than residents of other states chose to move here.

While America’s population grows, the Ocean State’s population remains stagnant because of such out-migration losses. Combined with the widely reported fact that the incomes of those coming to Rhode Island are lower than those leaving, Rhode Island’s overall tax base is on an ominous downward spiral. Some would call it a “death spiral.”

Out-migration losses are a contributing factor Rhode Island’s total labor force actually experiencing a decline in recent years. Although labor force decline is a negative factor, counter-intuitively, it has improved the state’s increasingly unreliable unemployment rate metric.

Strong families are the backbone to a free and thriving society. The root of this out-migration problem can best be captured by the Family Prosperity Index (FPI). As the most in-depth research on family well-being ever conducted, the FPI compiles 60 national indexes into 30 secondary categories as part of six major categories: Economics, Demographics, Family Self-Sufficiency, Family Structure, Family Culture, and Family Health.

This out-migration problem was highlighted in the Center’s original 2016 Rhode Island Family Prosperity Index report, where the Ocean State ranked a dismal 48th among all states.

In the updated 2017 FPI , while Rhode Island improved to 45th nationally, up three spots from 2016, the state suffers from a bottom-third ranking in five of six major categories and 16 of 30 secondary categories. The state ranked in the top-third in just six of the 30 secondary categories.

Despite this mild improvement, a more disturbing long-term trend is emerging. In the past five years, Rhode Island’s score in the important major category of Family Self-Sufficiency has declined by 9.8%. Over this same period, the Ocean State also saw declines in Family Structure, Family Health, and its overall FPI score, albeit with increased scores in Economics, Demographics, and Family Culture.

Combined with a separate measure that saddles Rhode Island with the worst-ranked business climate in the  nation, this one-two punch to the gut has been insurmountable hurdles for many Ocean State families and businesses to overcome.

Todd Sandahl family

Todd Sandahl and family

Todd Sandahl is one of those 80,000 individuals who felt compelled to make the difficult personal choice to uproot his family and move to another state that offered more financial security. An electrical engineer by trade, Sandahl couldn’t find meaningful employment in Rhode Island and became tired of his long commute to Massachusetts. He decided to pack his bags and head to Colorado for more opportunities, when he saw no future in the Ocean State.

FPI: a strategic roadmap. Rhode Islanders understand that better opportunities for prosperity can only be realized if more and better businesses create more and better jobs. Connecting the dots, it appears that Rhode Island’s poor opportunity for prosperity is a major reason why more people choose to leave our state than those who choose to come.

Rhode Island’s Family Prosperity Index not only highlights the state’s many specific problems, but the FPI can also be used as a roadmap to reverse these troubling trends. There is no single “silver-bullet” solution to the Ocean State’s many shortcomings. As it took hundreds of pieces of misguided legislation and regulation over recent decades to sink the state into a hole, it will take dozens, if not hundreds, of strategically aligned positive steps to pull us out.

Clearly, a new strategic policy direction is required for our state — a direction that the political class and civil society can largely agree upon. The high levels of taxation and regulation demanded by the state’s budget have led to the subsequent negative impacts on the business community and on family finances, as illustrated by Rhode Island’s out-migration losses. Yet the state’s political leaders continue to adhere to a misguided fealty to a budget that actually harms the very people they are sworn to serve. Indeed the state budget itself, and the policies that support it, could be considered to be the enemy of the people.

The FPI shows us the way. The major lesson of the original 2016 RI FPI report is that strong families lead to a strong economy, and vice versa. The clear, empirical evidence from a detailed analysis of reams of data from government and publicly available private sources confirms that a focus on pro-family outcomes, via policies that promote work and marriage, can lead to improved economic outcomes for the entire state.

By looking to improve each of the 60 FPI indexes, one at a time, the Ocean State can begin to turn its ship around. This focus will be at the core of the Center’s ongoing public policy advocacy and will be the primary mission of the recently formed RI Families Coalition.

 

Wine & Liquor Sales Increased 21.4% After Sales Tax Cut

Report: Government Data Proof of Retail Boom for 3.0% Sales Tax Concept

Wine & Spirits Increased 21.4% After Sales Tax Cut

Providence, RI – Imagine the parking lots of Rhode Island retailers filled with cars with Massachusetts license plates. Actual data from the State demonstrates that this is possible. The same level of economic stimulus – as projected by the Center by cutting the state’s overall sales tax – actually occurred when the same tax was cut on liquor and wine. This, according to a report issued today by the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, based on RI Department of Revenue data.

Among the report’s findings, in the years after the 7% retail sales tax on wine and spirits was repealed (to 0.0%) in 2013:

  • Wine and spirits sales saw a boost of 21.4% over the first two years (during the same time period, all statewide retail sales increased by just 8.3%).
  • The Center’s economic modeling tool projected a comparable 21.2% positive statewide retail impact if the sales tax were to be cut to 3.0%.
  • Current corporate-subsidy schemes claim just dozens or hundreds of new jobs at a budget cost averaging about $80,000/job;
    • Conversely, a 3.0% sales tax would create thousands of good new jobs at a 10X lower rate, or only $7,000/job per job.
  • Over $3,100,000,000 in retail sales growth would result from a statewide sales tax cut to 3%.

“After the wine and spirits sales tax was cut, my store’s overall sales have increased dramatically, in part fueled by more Rhode Island shoppers staying home, instead of crossing into Massachusetts,” said Jan Malik, former state Representative from Warren and current liquor store owner.

“As opposed to the anti-business, job-killing legislation being advanced by the progressive-left, our Center’s pro-jobs, pro-family sales tax plan would keep more money in the pockets of businesses and families and would create new opportunities for Rhode Islanders to improve their quality of life,” explained Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

Representative Robert Nardolillo III (R, D28, Coventry) has submitted legislation (H6105) that would reduce the state’s sales tax rate to 3.0%, from its current 7.0% level.

Representative Jared Nunes (D, D25, Coventry/W.Warwick). with support of Majority Leader, Joseph Shekarchi, has introduced legislation (H6127) for a special commission to study how the state can responsibly reduce the sales tax to 3.0%

Also, as the Center documented in a prior policy brief, “stealth triple sales tax burden” currently imposed on Rhode Islanders and how the sales tax is being used by lawmakers to stealthily take more money out of the pockets of Rhode Islanders in three unfair way ways.

In March, the Center published detailed economic modeling projections and analysis, demonstrating that a cut in the state sales tax to 3.0% would produce far more statewide and municipal economic benefit than would repeal of the car tax, as proposed by the Speaker of the House, or would free college tuition, as proposed by the Governor.

In 2012 and 2013, the Center proposed two major options for sales tax reform, as the most effective and highest value method for creating jobs and boosting the state’s stagnant economy: full repeal of the sales tax or cutting the sales tax to 3.0%. Links to this expansive past research can be found at RIFreedom.org/SalesTax.

Marijuana Legalization: Constitutional Crisis and Increased Costs and Legal Jeopardy for Employers?

Click here to see our previous marijuana statement

Click here to see testimony from CEO Stenhouse

April 5, 2017. Providence, RI — Concerned about the lack of serious debate about the societal impact of legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana use, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today published a policy brief that underscores the high risks that employers would face without adequate statutory protections. The brief follows a statement last month by the Center about the potential negative impact on family culture.

“If we want to increase opportunities for meaningful work for Rhode Island families, we need every employer and every job to remain in our state,” warned Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Imposing new legal risks on the business community, without proper evaluation and accommodation, would be an irresponsible act that would further harm our already last-place business climate.”

With hearings expected on the legislation next week, according to the policy brief, the legalization of recreational marijuana would create a constitutional crisis, whereby increased usage rates, could create major legal jeopardy and new costs for employers:

  • Legal jeopardy and costs for employers
  • Workplace safety
  • Increased drug testing costs for employers
  • Increased workers’ compensation costs and liabilities
  • Difficulty in identifying, recruiting, hiring, and maintaining drug-free employees
  • Loss of employee productivity
  • Increased costs to taxpayers for social services programs for those who become or remain unemployed for marijuana related reasons

“I have professionally dealt with employees who are concerned about their own personal safety when their co-workers are stoned in the workplace,” said Michael Cerullo, an Adjunct Scholar to the Center on the issue of substance abuse. “Increased usage of marijuana will invariably lead to decreased safety and productivity in manufacturing and other work environments, and will create legal problems for employers who seek to maintain a drug-free workplace.”

Cerullo is founder of What’s the Rush RI and is one of the state’s leading activists against marijuana legalization until a more thorough examination of the data from other states can be made. He is a private practice psychotherapist. Cerullo has evaluated and treated hundreds of adolescent and emerging adults involved with DCYF, the Family Court and justice system and with residential rehab programs.

As a more prudent approach, and in order to better understand these and other issues, the Center and Mr. Cerullo support the concept of a legislative study commission to properly vet data from other states and to evaluate the potential impacts of legalization across the board. The Center recommends a two-year commission study and reporting period so as to allow for even more research to be compiled. This approach is in keeping with the prestigious Rand Corporation’s view that it will not be until 2020 that we will fully see what changes take place in use, revenue, black market activity, big marijuana industry behavior and in downstream treatment, public health and safety trends.

Walkers in the General Assembly

See responses from General Assembly lawmakers here …

Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI.org

Did you ever wonder how many votes your state senator and representative missed this past year?

I never gave it much thought until the last day of the 2016 Rhode Island legislative session, when the last votes were being cast as the sun was rising after an all-night spasm of deal making and lawmaking. Punch drunk representatives staggered home after casting a mind-boggling 209 votes in less than 48 hours, while our senators cast 141 votes.

WatchdogRI and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity teamed up to analyze the voting records of every incumbent legislator for legislative years 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Center provided raw data in electronic form from their data provider LegiNation Inc., and WatchdogRI performed the data analytics.

After discarding resolutions and marriage solemnizations, we were left with 615 votes in the House and 532 votes in the Senate for 2016.

In the House, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:

  • Thomas Palangio (D, Providence): 536
  • John Carnevale (D, Providence): 356
  • Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence): 263
  • Jared Nunes (D, Coventry/West Warwick): 221
  • Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick): 209
  • John Lombardi (D, Providence): 202
  • Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston): 157
  • Edith Ajello (D, Providence): 142
  • Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston): 126
  • Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth/Middletown): 105

For the Senate, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:

  • Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston): 138
  • Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket/North Providence): 130
  • Edward O’Neill (R, Lincoln/North
    Providence): 118
  • Frank Lombardo (D, Johnston): 115
  • Leonidas Raptakis (D, East Greenwich/West Greenwich/Coventry): 107
  • Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry/Foster/
    Scituate/West Greenwich): 92
  • James Doyle (D, Pawtucket): 91
  • Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls/
    Pawtucket): 89
  • Joshua Miller (D, Providence/Cranston): 77
  • William Walaska (D, Warwick): 77

Representatives Robert Phillips (D, Cumberland/Woonsocket) and Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket) each missed only one vote, joining 23 other representatives who missed fewer than
10 votes.

Senator John Pagliarini (R, Bristol/Portsmouth/Tiverton) did not miss a single vote, joining 15 other senators who missed fewer than 10 votes.

Every representative who understandably decided to go home after midnight on June 18 missed 43 votes or 7% of all votes held for the year. A representative who had a family emergency the last two days of the session would have missed 34% of all votes held for the year.

We all know that the human mind works best well rested, yet 7% of all votes held in the House this year were held after 1:00 a.m. on the last day of the session. Those bills contained 234 pages of legalese. I wonder how many legislators read those pages while most of us were fast asleep?

The practice of pushing most important votes to the end of the legislative session can leave entire legislative districts with no representation. Would you vote for a legislator if you knew he or she would not vote on more than a third of the bills voted upon by the General Assembly in a year? The rules of operation of our General Assembly make it possible for any legislator to miss that many votes if any personal crisis comes up in the tiny 48-hour end-of-session window.

In the seven years that I spent advocating to eliminate the master lever, legislative leadership was fond of explaining away the 50 years it took to get the job done as part of the slow and deliberative legislative process. There is nothing slow or deliberative about the final 48-hour frenzy of last minute bills, amendments, and votes.

Nothing mandates that our legislature operate in such a circus-like manner. Simply passing 10 bills a week over the six-month session would eliminate the end-of-session blitz. Transparency would be increased and legislators would theoretically be better informed about the bills they were voting upon.

The legislature should consider a 25-bill weekly limit (not including resolutions and marriage solemnizations). As a deliberative body, no floor votes should occur after 9:30 p.m. — ever.

Rhode Island needs leaders who are dedicated to changing our political culture. Will we get the leadership we need, or will we be perpetually left with an annual legislative hangover?

***

Click here to see responses from lawmakers who claim there were extenuating personal circumstances that caused their missed votes. 

Renewable Energy in Rhode Island: Big Cost, Little Difference

RI-CoastlineThe RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has occasionally weighed in over the years on the energy and related regulatory issues facing Rhode Island, finding that “green” policies cost Rhode Islanders both their wealth and their jobs. Already suffering from one of the worst business climates and Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) ratings in the nation, Ocean State families and businesses cannot afford further increases in energy costs or losses in job opportunities.

Click here for the full RI report.

Yet, as the list of legislation at the end of this document shows, Rhode Island lawmakers are poised to make a deteriorated situation even worse.

Existing renewable portfolio energy standards (RPS), combined with an aggressive 2016 energy policy, will take even more taxpayer and ratepayer dollars out of the general economy in order to fund a special interest climate agenda and result in higher energy costs and a negative drag on the state’s economy. As this document shows, the harm done by these costs will all be in the name of a very low-impact, inefficient policy.

Based on this study’s findings, the Center strongly recommends that lawmakers reject all proposed new energy mandates in 2016 and, instead, repeal those that are currently written into law.

Findings

Because of its high dependence on electricity generation via natural gas production (98% of in-state generation), Rhode Island can boast a relatively low carbon footprint. However, to increase its renewable energy portfolio from its current level to its RPS-mandated target of 14.5% by 2019, for only a slight improvement, a massive influx of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars will be required, leading to higher electricity prices and a net loss of jobs.

Rhode Island, despite its ocean proximity, is rated as having a low capacity utilization factor for wind and solar. This means it could be very difficult — and costly — to reach its 14.5% target over the next three years.

Exacerbating this condition, “renewable” energy is considerably more expensive to produce than “fossil fuel” energy, meaning that an increase in the renewable portion of the state’s energy portfolio necessarily means an increase in electricity costs. Rhode Islanders are well aware of this phenomenon with the controversial Deepwater Wind project, which alone is expected to cost ratepayers upwards of $440 million dollars over its first 20 years.

Overall, the high cost of complying with existing state RPS mandates, combined with the low benefit of a minor reduction of our carbon footprint, should lead reasonable lawmakers to conclude that this so-called “investment” does not present a good value for Rhode Island.

Because of this poor cost-benefit “value proposition,” up to five times less than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–suggested standard, Rhode Island should reconsider its existing energy policy approach. Given its highly unfavorable return on investment, the money targeted to meet its RPS goals could be better spent on sorely needed broad-based tax cuts that would benefit every Rhode Islander and actually spur economic growth.

By the numbers, national research by Dr. Timothy Considine comparing projects to a base case without energy mandates finds that if existing RPS capacity targets are to be met, Rhode Island will experience:

  • 4,401–6,068 lower employment levels, despite the few hundred energy jobs created
  • $141–190 million per year in total costs required to raise renewable production to targets through 2040
  • 49–73% as the range for the sustained increase in the cost of electricity from new solar and wind capacities
  • 13–18% as the sustained increase in actual electricity rates expected to be passed on
    to consumers
  • $670–893 million per year extracted from the economy in the form higher electricity rate payments by private sector businesses and families, with the “services” and “construction” industry sectors shouldering the largest burdens
  • $134–205 per ton as the projected cost of carbon dioxide emission reductions for Rhode Island, well beyond the $40–60 cost standard that the EPA itself recommends

The high costs of achieving small carbon dioxide emission reductions using RPS in Rhode Island prove that it is an inefficient means to address global climate change and represents a poor investment for state taxpayers and ratepayers. As in many other states, the costs of carbon reduction in the Ocean State are significantly higher than EPA standards, while the small stimulus from RPS investment is not large enough to offset the negative effects of higher electricity prices.

Click here for the full RI report.

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]