Why a Prosperity Agenda for Rhode Island is Needed

Rhode Island’s 10+% unemployment rate became the 2nd highest in the nation in February of 2012 and is completely out of whack with the rest of New England. Public policy in Ocean State has obviously FAILED and is not serving its citizens … however, there is virtually no leadership in our state that offers a big picture plan to restore prosperity. Our Center for Freedom offers its vision.

Click here to view our “Unleashing Capitalism” initiative

Our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity believes that the Ocean State can be the most dramatic turnaround state in our country! Our positive vision for Rhode Island is meant to restore pride and hope for our citizens.

The status-quo economic and educational systems in Rhode Island have failed. The wreckage from this flawed philosophy of government is now clearly evident almost everywhere: in our state, in our municipalities, at the national level, and throughout the European Union.

Rhode Island is not competitive with other states and as a result, we continue to bleed human and capital resources. Our tax and regulatory polices have resulted in dismal economic performance, as exemplified in our recently published Report Card on RI Competitiveness.

Balancing the state budget should not be the primary policy goal; doing so ignores Rhode Island’s weak competitive standing and is a tacit admission that the current spending polices are worth preserving. The wreckage from these failed policies is now painfully obvious to all Rhode Islanders.

That taxpayers have come to believe that ever-expanding taxation, spending is a naturally occuring phenomenon and that there are no other paths … is a mindset that our Center seeks to change by presenting an alternative approach. Government expansion is not a law of nature, but rather a function of politics and public tolerance.

A dramatic reversal of our prevalent “spending” culture must take hold- both at the legislative and public level. The primary goal of our public policy should be to restore and maintain our state’s competitiveness. In order to regain prosperity for our citizens, we must implement public policy reform that unleashes our great potential that serves to attract and free-up the valuable resources necessary to reinvigorate our economy.

Our state budget, and consequently our onerous state tax burden and regulatory climate, must be reformed if we are to improve our competitive standing relative to other states. As our economy grows and produces more good jobs, our tax base will be expanded and there will be more revenue available for education and to provide for the most needy of our fellow citizens.

This can only be achieved by reducing both spending and taxes.

To reach this goal, a bold new vision that entails deep and broad market-based policy reform is required. Deep in the sense that a dramatically new thinking is required in a handful of high impact policy areas. Broad in the sense that reforms across a wide-spectrum of other lower-impact policy areas are also required, as evidenced by the staggering number of failing grades Rhode Island received on our Center’s recently released Report Card on RI Competitiveness.

In creating a public policy vision for Rhode Island, designed to unleash the capacity that has been bridled by overly burdensome public policy, our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is developing a Prosperity Agenda that includes both deep and broad policy recommendations. This agenda should be viewed only as an initial set of steps, from many possible steps, that will start to turn our economy around and is not meant to reprensent a comprehensive solution. Over the years, our Center will continually modify and add to this agenda.

Our high tax burden, spending addiction, poor schools, and restrictive regulatory structure are driving families, wealth and economic opportunity out of our state. Too many RI citizens are facing severe hardship, yet those who defend the status quo have successfully stopped critical reforms dead in their tracks … reform items that are necessary to enhance our well-being and to change lives for the better.

The path to increased prosperity for Rhode Island is the same path America embarked upon over 235 years ago … freedom. Freedom is indispensable to our well-being and prosperity.

  • Freedom to pursue a path to happiness of our own choosing, relying on our own perseverance and self-reliance, and free of a heavy-handed government
  • Freedom to keep our own property … including our hard-earned wages and personal wealth
  • Freedom to choose the best schools for our children

Our RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has a bold, new vision to restore greatness to the Ocean State. In April, our Center for Freedom will release a detailed “Prosperity Agenda” for Rhode Island: a game-changing agenda, with new solutions, that will return competitiveness to our economic and educational institutions.

Each policy recommendation will eventually be backed by fact-based research that will demonstrate how public policy, based on the principles of the free-enterprise system, is the only way to enhance the lives of our citizens. Our Center’s policy recommendations, if adopted, will remove many of the shackles that have restricted individual and economic achievement … and will serve to unleash the great potential in each of us.

In order to restore growth to our economy and excellence to our educational system, free-market solutions are the answer. When individuals, businesses, teachers, and families have choices, and can freely compete on a level playing field in their respective areas, our economy and our schools will improve.

In short, freedom from overly burdensome government regulations and taxation is indeed indispensable to our well-being and prosperity!


When considering a strategy to restore competetiveness to the Ocean State, there are three primary goals of the public policy recommendations in our upcoming Prosperity Agenda:

1. Tax reforms that encourage growth

2. Spending reforms to decrease dependence on government

3. Regulatory reforms to ensure goals are achieved without undue burdens on human and economic development

In addition, there are multiple policy areas from which these reforms will be derived:

Tax & Budget: the primary tool to stimulate economic revitalization. Rhode Island needs lower spending and lower taxes to increase the Ocean State’s overall competetiveness and to allow our economy to grow and to produce the good jobs required for our citizens to prosper as well as to expand our tax base.

Education: a well educated student population will result in enhanced individual opportunities and will also be attractive to businesses that require a skilled workforce. With a higher employed population, there will be less social services stress on our state budget. More choice, transparency, and competition are needed to spur greater achievement and to maximize the potential of our children.

Health Care: affordable health insurance and accessible health care must be available for our citizens. Implementing market-based, consumer-driven vehicles that expand choice and reduce costs is the only way we can practically care for more people at an affordable cost. Using health insurance exchanges as a vehicle to enlist individuals in other government programs compounds the problem.

Energy: while our state is largely at the mercy of national and international policies when it comes to the cost of energy, there is no reason, during these difficult economic times, that we should increase energy costs by pursuing dubious political objectives. Reforming current regulations that force us to purchase more expensive energy will result in more disposable income for households and for businesses.

Labor: the recent and ongoing pension reform debates clearly demonstrate how undue special interest influence and bargaining monopolies can harm our economic and governmental institututions, and also may inhibit critical reform. Reforms must be put in place that contain the scope of union influence in municipal contracts and that allow workers to choose whether or not being a dues-paying member is in their personal best interest.

Legal: The risk of legitimate litigation as a penalty for negligence is a critical component of a free-market economy. However, when the high risk of litigation from frivolous law suits drives up the cost of insurance or the cost of providing employment or services for businesses, legislative reform is necessary to remove this barrier to operating a business in our state and to enhance our overall business climate.

Regulatory Reform: Overregulation, Unnecessary Programs, and Subsidies to businesses and consumers cost Rhode Islanders money and time each year while reducing economic growth. Reform of some of these programs will reduce taxes, cut prices, and increase economic growth.

Look for specific policy recommendations, as part of our Prosperity Agenda in mid-late April of 2012.

Board of Trustees

  • Mike Riley (Chairman)
  • Dr. Daniel Harrop (Vice-Chairman)
  • Capt. Jay Jacot (Treasurer)
  • James Lynch (Secretary)
  • Thomas Mrva
  • Thomas Sweeney
  • Dr. Ellen Kenner
  • Richard MacAdams
  • Joseph Orlando
  • Maricristina McKendall

Staff – The Center

  • CEO: Mike Stenhouse
  • Research Director: Justin Katz
  • Development Director: Open
  • Advocacy Manager: Lawrence Gilheeney
  • Interns: John McCrillis
  • Editor: Justin Katz

Adjunct Scholars


J. Scott Moody is an economics adjunct scholar with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. Scott has worked as a Tax Policy Economist for over 12 years. He is the author, co-author and editor of over 100 studies and books. He has testified twice before the House Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. Congress. He has been interviewed by countless newspapers and radio and television stations. His work has appeared in Forbes, CNN Money, State Tax Notes, The New York Sun, Portland Press Herald, Hartford Courant, The Oklahoman and Albuquerque Journal. Mr. Moody is currently on the Board of Directors of The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER, formerly ACCRA) and on the editorial board of the Journal for Applied Research in Economic Development co-published by the University of Southern Mississippi and C2ER.


Will Wray is a legal scholar with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. Will practices trial and appellate litigation in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Will has a degree in Middle East Studies
from Brown University, where he was the editor-in-chief of the Brown Spectator. He now litigates at Donoghue Barrett & Singal. Prior to joining that firm, Will was an associate at Brown Rudnick LLP, where he represented clients in state and federal court. Will has interned with both the Honorable William E. Smith, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, and the Honorable Paul A. Suttell, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Will is the President of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Federalist Society.


Gertrude F. Jones serves as an educational community outreach adviser for the Center. An innovative state leader who is recognized and celebrated as a businesswoman and community champion,
Gertrude has led and advocated for educational reform, financial operations, diversity initiatives, community organizing, business development, and marketing for many different organizations throughout the state of Rhode Island, while partnering with others nationwide. Following her post as Vice President of Community Relations of Lifespan, Rhode Island’s top health system comprised of four hospitals, Jones has continued to serve on many boards and commissions, including the United Way of Rhode Island, Johnson and Wales Corporation, Dorcas Place International Institute, Opportunity Industrialization Center of Rhode Island, Roger Williams Day Care Center, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women – Rhode Island Chapter (former President), and the RI Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

While serving as a member of the Providence School Board, Jones was chosen by the Commissioner of Education to represent RI as part of a team of Rhode Island officials to explore innovative educational practices in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Subsequently, she was elected as President of the Providence School Board, forming strong community support from the business, political, and educational sectors of Rhode Island. Jones’s passion for educational reform and child advocacy are hallmark characteristics of her strong leadership and unwavering commitment to equality and excellence. She continues to be involved in many community groups studying issues on education, civil rights, healthcare disparities, etc. Jones has held positions in the financial field including the former Old Stone Bank, Citizens Bank, Metropolitan Insurance Company and Brown University. Jones received her B.S. degree in Business Management from Johnson and Wales University. She currently resides in Rhode Island with her husband and is the proud mother of three daughters.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is an education scholar with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. He is also a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice and the Goldwater Institute and is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and previously served as director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform and coauthored the Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees.


Sean Parnell is president of Impact Policy Management (IPM), a Washington, DC-area full-service public policy firm, and manages political advocacy projects for free market and limited government causes.  He currently operates the web site www.TheSelfPayPatient.com and is the author of the soon-to-be-released book The Self-Pay Patient. Before founding IPM he was president of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on defending the First Amendment. Prior to joining IPM Parnell was Vice President of External Affairs at The Heartland Institute.

Gary Alexander was former Secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and more recently served as Secretary of Public Weflare in Pennsylvania. Gary is the architect of the landmark RI Medicaid “block grant” waiver. Alexander formerly served as policy director for RI’s Lieutenant Gover and as a healthcare budget analyst for the Massachusetts Senate Comittee on Ways and Means.


Rich Danker: Project Director for Economics at American Principles Project, Danker manages initiatives on public employee pension reform and monetary policy. He presented and won approval for model pension reform legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization of nearly 2,000 state legislators. His work on pension issues has appeared in Investors Business Daily, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Washington Examiner, among others. He is a columnist with Forbes Opinions. Danker has a master’s degree in public policy and business administration from the Pepperdine School of Public Policy and Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Eileen Norcross: a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Norcross is lead researcher on the State and Local Policy Project. Her work focuses on the question of how societies sustain prosperity and the role civil society plays in supporting economic resiliency. Her primary research interests include fiscal federalism and institutions, state and local governments, and economic development.

Bob Williams: President of State Budget Solutions, a non-partisan organization advocating for fundamental reform and REAL solutions to the state budget crises. Bob is a former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate and official with the General Accountability Office. Bob is a national expert in fiscal and tax policies, election reform and disaster preparedness. Because of his unique experience and expertise, Bob is a frequent guest on talk radio and at public forums. His commentary on state budget solutions appears frequently in newspapers, journals and online publications.

Williams is the Founder and Senior Fellow of the Freedom Foundation, a public policy organization in Olympia, Washington, dedicated to the advancement of individual liberty. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Pennsylvania State University. Bob worked as a GAO auditor of the Pentagon and Post Office before moving to Washington state where he served five terms in the Washington state legislature and was the 1988 Republican nominee for governor. He is a former certified public accountant. Currently Bob is the private sector chair of the ALEC Tax & Fiscal Policy Task Force.

Jonathan Williams: director of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Prior to joining ALEC, Williams served as staff economist at the non-partisan Tax Foundation, authoring numerous tax policy studies. His work has been featured in many publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes and Investor’s Business Daily. With Dr. Arthur Laffer and Steve Moore, Williams co-authored Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer Economic Competitiveness Index. He has been a contributing author to the Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report and has written for the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In addition, Williams is a contributing author of “In Defense of Capitalism” (Northwood University Press, 2010).

In addition to testifying before numerous legislative bodies across the US, Williams is a frequent guest on talk radio shows and has appeared on numerous television outlets, including the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Fox Business News. Williams graduated magna cum laude from Northwood University in Midland, Mich., majoring in economics, banking/finance, and business management. While at Northwood, he was the recipient of the prestigious Ludwig von Mises Award in Economics.

Jagadeesh Gokhale: a Cato senior fellow, Mr. Gokhale is currently a member of the Social Security Advisory Board. He is recognized internationally as an expert on entitlement reform, labor productivity and compensation, U.S. fiscal policy and the impact of fiscal policy on future generations. He works with Cato’s Project on Social Security Choice to develop reforms for programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Gokhale served in 2002 as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Treasury and in 2003 as a visiting scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He was the senior economic adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland from 1990 to 2003. Gokhale holds a Ph.D. in economics from Boston University.