The Whole Truth

Open Letter to RI Municipalities: Tell us the Truth!


Quick Links: See the OPEN LETTER below, Automated Online Contact Form , Locally-Administered Municipal Pension Plans Evaluations, About the National Pension Task Force

April 19, 2012. Providence, RI – An “open letter” to Rhode Island municipal officials was released today by the national Task Force organized by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity to provide research and analysis on Rhode Island’s underfunded municipal retirement systems. The open letter is in response to the evaluations of locally administered pension plans recently submitted by each city and town.

The letter requests that City officials utilize the same realistic assumptions used in the private sector, when evaluating the true scope of their pension and OPEB liabilities and assets.

“It is obvious that our city’s are using un-realistic methods to determine the true scope of the problem”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. “We urge every Rhode Islander to contact their city officials and demand that accurate accounting figures be put forward. How can a problem be solved if we don’t accurately quantify the problem?”

“We all remember the public outrage when Enron and other corporations were exposed for conducting fraudulent accounting practices … and rightly so. But why should we be any less concerned about accounting malpractice when it comes to our public pensions”, asked Rich Danker, member of the task force and project director for economics at American Principles Project, which is hosting the online form to contact municipal officials.

Citizens are asked to contact in their city and town officials in one of two ways:

1) Copy and paste the open letter below into a personalized email or letter to your own selected officials

2) Contact multiiple officials in multiple municipalities with a version of the same letter by utilizing an automated online contact form


Dear Mayor / City Official,

“Truth in Numbers” was a key theme for the historic pension reforms that were implemented last fall in Rhode Island, and, as a concerned citizen, I am requesting that the same level of transparency be implemented when it comes to dealing with the pension and other post employment benefit (OPEB) problems facing our city. All public officials and citizens need to be made aware of the full extent of the liability as well as the true condition of our public finances in order to be able to make informed decisions about proposed solutions.

We all remember the public outrage when Enron and other corporations were exposed for conducting fraudulent accounting practices … and rightly so. But why should we be any less concerned about accounting malpractice when it comes to our public pensions?

We are all in this together. How our city handles this significant problem will impact each and every resident: from retirees, to municipal employees, to property and vehicle owners, to business owners, to students and to all those who receive city services.

In order to instill honesty in public finances the city should publish the data associated with its retirement system that is comparable to what is demanded of the private sector. This means:

1) The city’s pension liabilities must be valued according to a discount rate that matches the true market value of the debt. Even if this means conducting a second valuation of the liability based on this more realistic rate assumption.

2) An open accounting of the city’s OPEB liabilities

3) The city’s pension assets must be valued on a true market basis

4) The projected total benefit contributions expected to be borne by taxpayers for the next ten years must be based on these more realistic figures

We know the horror stories of how public pension debt may have been dramatically undervalued by state and municipal governments, by as much as a factor of three-to-one. The assets that are meant to support this debt are also not always reported according to market values. Therefore, taxpayers are in the dark about what they owe in terms of pension payouts to government workers and retirees. This impedes an honest discussion about spending and taxes that needs to take place for cities like ours to achieve good fiscal health.

We are asking you to enhance your relationship with your constituents and fulfill your fiduciary responsibility to us, the taxpayers, by promptly disclosing the true scope of the pension data requested above. We deserve nothing short of full “truth in numbers” when dealing with this critical matter of public finance.

Thank you for your service to our community,


RI-STAMP (State Tax Analysis and Modeling Program) was developed by the Beacon Hill Institute and was customized for the state of Rhode Island for the exclusive use by the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity. Various versions of STAMP have been successfully utilized throughout the country as a credible predictor of the effects of tax policy on a state’s (or city’s) economy.


Massachusetts STAMP

In May of 2009, the Beacon Hill Institute used its STAMP model to estimate that the proposed increase in the Massachusetts sales tax from 5.0% to 6.25% would increase sales tax revenue by $1.038 billion annually. The sales tax increase was implemented on August 1, 2009. The state collected $950 million in additional revenue in the first 12 months that the measure was in place. However, during the prior 12 months sales tax revenue was down $220 million from the previous year due to the recession. BHI used a logarithmic trend to estimate that sales tax revenue would have been down by an additional $140 million in the year to July 31, 2010. Thus we estimate that the sales tax increase actually generated $1.09 billion in that period. Thus the STAMP model projection was off by only 5.5% from the actual revenue change.

New York STAMP

STAMP has a strong reputation for accuracy. A quote from a March 14, 2003 article in The New York Sun illustrates the predictive accuracy of STAMP. In discussing the Manhattan Institute’s analysis of a property tax increase, the article states:

A fiscal policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, E.J. McMahon, estimated that it would cost the city 62,000 jobs. He made his estimate based on the State Tax Analysis Modeling Program, which models interaction between economic and tax variables using historical data. It seems that the mayor’s own Office of Management and Budget may have reached similar conclusions to Mr. McMahon’s: Between the mayor’s November financial plan and the January adjustment – i.e. before and after the property tax increase – the administration has revised downward its estimate of the number of jobs in New York City in 2003 by 63,000.

Thus, as predicted by STAMP, the tax increase did cost the city approximately 62,000 jobs.


Since 1991, BHI has constructed STAMP® models for 25 states and three local areas, including New York City. Over the past decade, researchers armed with STAMP® models have successfully fought back tax increases and advocated tax cuts. Here is a partial list of those efforts:

• Massachusetts, 2000. Voters rejected a graduated income tax.
• New Hampshire, 2001. The legislature rejected a proposal to introduce a sales tax.
• Florida, 2002. The legislature rejected an expansion of the sales tax.
• Alabama, 2003. Voters turned down a tax increase.
• Texas, 2005. The legislature rejected a payroll tax.
• Iowa, 2006. The legislature passed a bill to exclude the income tax for elderly taxpayers.
• Michigan, 2007. The legislature vote for and then repeal an expansion of the sales tax.
• Oregon, 2009. The legislature rejected a cap-and-trade regime for greenhouse gases.
• Washington, 2010. Voters reject the imposition of a state income tax.

Background: CGE MODELS

A computable general equilibrium (CGE) tax model is a computerized method of accounting for the economic effects of tax policy changes. A CGE model is specified in terms of supply and demand for each economic variable included in the model, where the quantity supplied or demanded of each variable depends on the price of each variable. Tax policy changes are shown to affect economic activity through their effects on the prices of outputs and of the factors of production (principally, labor and capital) that enter into those outputs.

A CGE model is in “equilibrium,” in the sense that supply is assumed to equal demand for the individual markets in the model. For this to be true, prices are allowed to adjust within the model (i.e., they are “endogenous”). For instance, if the demand for labor rises, while the supply remains unchanged, then the wage rate must rise to bring the labor market into equilibrium. A CGE model quantifies this effect.

Finally, a CGE model is numerically specified (“computable”), which is to say it incorporates parameters that are believed to be descriptive of the actual relationships between quantities and prices. It produces estimates of changes in quantities (such as employment, the capital stock, gross state product and personal consumption expenditures) that result from changes in prices (such as the price of labor or the cost of capital) that result from changes in tax policy (such as the substitution of an income tax for a sales tax).

Because it consists of a large number of interrelated equations STAMP requires the development and application of a sophisticated computer program for the solution of its equations.

About The Beacon Hill Institute:

The Beacon Hill Institute (BHI) is an independent, nonpartisan economic research organization located in the Department of Economics at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. Articles and references to BHI’s work have appeared in leading publications, including the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, State Tax Notes and the Cato Journal. For the last seven years, BHI has been a leader in the development of econometric models for the analysis of state tax policy changes.

The Beacon Hill Institute has developed and built STAMP (State Tax Assessment Analysis Modeling Program) models for 25 states and LAMP (Local Area Assessment Modeling Program) models for 3 cities, including New York City.

The Institute has created a State and City Competitiveness Model and Index. The institute has conducted a comparative analysis of the competitiveness of the US States and 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) and published the results in the form of an annual ranking for the past three years. BHI produces reports for states and cities included in our ranking analyzing the strengths and weaknesses that contribute to its current competitive profile and the steps that need to be taken to improve the competitive posture.

The Institute has provided state revenue forecasts for the Massachusetts and presented them to the Massachusetts Joint Legislative Committee for Ways and Means for the fiscal years.

National Popular Vote – Right or Wrong for Rhode Island and America?

April 4, 2012:

National Popular Vote

Imagine the likely scenario thatRhode Islandvoters will overwhelmingly support the re-election of President Obama, Democrat, this November by the same 63%-35% margin as they did in 2008. Then imagine the possible scenario thatRhode Island’s (4) “Electoral Votes” would instead be assigned to the President’s Republican opponent! In future Presidential elections the reverse scenario could also occur.

Outrageous? Yes, but possible if the National Popular Vote (NPV) initiative is passed inRhode Islandand in a number of other states. This potential sham would clearly not represent the constitutionally guaranteed voice ofRhode Islandvoters.

This Policy Brief summarizes some of the key shortcomings of the NPV compact as well as to list more extensive research and analysis on this subject. Most of the following material was reproduced from a Policy Memorandum previously published by the Center for Competitive Politics[1].

The National Popular Vote (NPV) proposal would represent a fundamental shift in how our nation elects the President. While many well-intentioned individuals and organizations support this cause and compelling arguments can be made in its favor, the NPV plan ultimately represents a scheme that creates more problems than it purports to solve and would largely fail to achieve the outcomes desired by its proponents.

In addition to the scenario presented above, there are six major reasons why the NPV initiative should be of major concern for citizens and policymakers:

 1)     The Electoral College is a critical part of our constitutional checks and balances

 2)     The NPV proposal would remove any connection between a state’s voters and its electoral vote

 3)     The NPV compact would cause chaos if a state attempts to withdraw

 4)     Differing election standards make the NPV plan impractical and confusing

 5)     The National Popular Vote plan would not achieve its main goal

 6)     The National Popular Vote plan may be unconstitutional

The Electoral College is a critical part of our constitutional checks and balances

 The NPV plan would jettison a nearly 220-year-old system for electing our nation’s President. In doing so, it would reject one of the many carefully-crafted checks on majority rule designed by the Founding Fathers to safeguard minority rights. The Electoral College ensures that in order to be elected President, a candidate must appeal to not only a majority or even  plurality of voters, but also to voters from a geographical cross-section of the country. This system requires that candidates for the highest office in the land are not able to simply rely on highly energized, sympathetic, and homogenous voters concentrated in only a few densely-populated parts of the country.

 Instead, candidates must be able to appeal to multiple constituencies, building broad coalitions based on policies that address the needs and interests of Americans across the country. The plan would eliminate the need for candidates to build these coalitions in support of their candidacies, allowing them instead to focus on issues that appeal to and motivate their partisan base. The requirement that candidates appeal to voters across the country and not just in a handful of populous areas is an important check on the power of a narrowly-focused majority to trample the rights of the minority. The NPV scheme would eliminate this important check.

 The NPV proposal would remove any connection between a state’s voters and its electoral vote

 Another important deficiency with the plan is that is severs the intrinsic link between a state’s citizens and a state’s electoral votes. Instead of each state’s electoral votes being determined based on the interests of its citizens, a state’s electoral votes are allocated based on criteria having little, if anything, to do with the interests and preferences of its own citizens.

 Advocates of the NPV plan claim that states have not always relied on citizens’ votes to allocate their electoral votes. For example, early in American history several states gave the power to appoint electors directly to the state legislature. However, even then, the electors were appointed by official that were accountable to the state’s voters, and presumably were required to heed the interests and preferences of their citizens. The NPV compact breaks this vital connection, allowing for a state’s electoral votes to be awarded based on criteria wholly unrelated to the interests and preferences of the state’s citizens.

 For example, if the state legislature can award electoral votes based on election results outside of its jurisdiction, could the legislature also simply delegate the power to appoint electors to a special commission? Could they establish a system of choosing electors that sought to “correct” or “balance out” perceived inequities in the demographics of who votes and who does not? Could they substitute for the recorded totals of nationwide votes an estimate based on how the vote would have turned out if only other states had run “fair” elections?

 By cutting the link between a state’s voters and a state’s electoral votes, the NPV plan would open a Pandora’s Box of possibilities for alternate methods of awarding electoral votes.

 The NPV compact would cause chaos if a state attempts to withdraw

 Abandoning the Electoral College as it presently operated would also create significant opportunities for political gamesmanship as states may seek to obtain partisan advantage for one party or another by entering or leaving the compact (or threatening to do so), if it seems advantageous at any given moment.

 For example, a state legislature may conclude late in the election cycle that a candidate overwhelmingly favored by its voters is unlikely to win a majority or plurality nationwide, but might win the Presidency if the state were to revert to the traditional Electoral College. As state legislators are only accountable to their own voters, and not any sort of national majority, they may conclude it is in their best interest to abandon the NPV plan.

 The temptation to withdraw from the compact under such a scenario would be irresistible to some. One need only recall the partisan maneuvering regarding a Massachusetts U.S. Senate seat in 2004, when a legislature controlled by Democrats stripped a Republican governor of the power to appoint a replacement in the event that John Kerry won the presidency, and again in 2009 when the Democratic legislature restored the power to appoint a replacement to a Democratic governor when it appeared doing so would provide the U.S. Senate with a timely 60th vote for health care reform.

 Because the authority to determine how a state’s electors are appointed is given exclusively to the state legislature, it may well be that a state cannot delegate that power to a body not under its jurisdiction, i.e. the other 49 states. It is thus uncertain whether a state could legally withdraw from the compact even though NPV supporters claim that states cannot. Nevertheless, simply the attempt to do so would spur nationwide outrage and chaos, leading to court battles reminiscent of Bush v. Gore in the 2000 election.

 Differing election standards make the NPV plan impractical and confusing

Concerns over ballot fraud, controversial election management practices, and different recount processes would also create the potential for chaos and conflict. Under the present system, a specific instance of ballot fraud can only impact the state in which it occurs. Thus, only in a handful of states, where the vote is likely to be very close, can election fraud affect the outcome. While still undesirable, the damage is contained to a single state.

 However, under this plan, a fraudulently-cast ballot in any state doesn’t simply affect how that one state awards its electoral votes; it affects how a majority of electoral votes are cast. Thus, a fraudulently-cast ballot in Texas or New York, or rather thousands or even tens of thousands of fraudulently-cast ballots in these or other states, would help to determine how 270 Electoral College votes will be cast; not simply the electoral votes of the state in which the fraud occurred.

Similarly, each state has different sets of election laws, determining who may vote and what process they must follow. Practices such as expunging felons from voter rolls, same-day voter registration, voter identification, and countless other procedures differ from state to state, creating significant problems because not all voters will be treated the same way nationally.

 ConsiderUtahandWyoming, states which have dramatically different policies on voting by felons.Utahbars currently incarcerated felons from voting, but that ban is lifted once they are released.Wyoming, however, permanently bars felons from voting even after release.

 Under the Electoral College system, both states select their electors based on the election rules and standards they have chosen – in Utah, to include citizens with felony convictions in their past and in Wyoming to prohibit such citizens from participating.

But under the NPV plan, both states risk having their electoral votes allocated through processes that they have otherwise rejected:Utahmight see their electoral votes determined without the votes of citizens they believe should be allowed to vote, whileWyomingmight see their electoral votes cast based on the votes of released felons, in contrast to their laws.

 This example and countless others demonstrate how each state has determined, through 50 separate political processes responsive to each states’ citizens, who can and cannot vote and under what circumstances. The NPV compact would instead force states to allocate their electors based on an election process that is contrary to the wishes of that state’s residents.

It’s also important to note that the prospect of a recount would create confusion and outrage in the case of a close election. States have different standards and requirements for triggering recounts and it is not at all clear whether recounts would be held in all 50 states in the event of a close national vote, or only in those states in which the vote was close. If only “close” states go through a recount, voters in other states are not treated equally, and if the recount is nationwide, the nation will endure a crisis equivalent to fifty Florida 2000 recounts.

What if no state recount was automatically triggered because of close statewide vote, but the national vote was exceptionally close?

In addition, standards for recounts vary from state to state, and what is counted as a vote in one state may be disqualified in another. This sparked considerable controversy inFloridaduring the 2000 recount, when standards varied by county. The NPV plan would magnify the confusion and controversy over how to determine valid and invalid votes in a nationwide recount.

The National Popular Vote plan would not achieve its main goal

Finally, the belief of NPV advocates that abandoning the Electoral College will ensure candidates reach out to and address the concerns of more voters is simply not accurate.

 All elections require candidates to make strategic decisions about which voters to reach out to, in what manner, and how often. Because resources are scarce, especially candidates’ time, a presidential campaign under the NPV system would simply require candidates to allocate their scarce resources differently, perhaps choosing to ignore different voters than they do now but inevitably choosing to devote few if any resources to broad swaths of the public.

 In fact, the NPV plan is likely to increase candidates’ time spent on addressing the needs and issues of “base” voters while decreasing outreach to undecided and independent voters. Rather than appealing to a broad cross-section of voters in different states around the country, it would be in a candidate’s self-interest to appeal primarily to well-organized constituencies with large and motivated national memberships.

Candidates are also likely to spend more time in urban and suburban areas, where potential votes are far more plentiful. Whereas, under the current system, doing a Presidential campaign event in smaller, rural communities might make sense in order to garner enough votes to win a specific state’s electoral votes, under the NPV system, there is little reason for candidates to venture outside of densely-populated areas.

 NPV May Be Unconstitutional[ii]

Supporters of the NPV claim that because the Constitution gives state legislatures the power to determine how electors are chosen, the NPV is constitutional and requires no approval by Congress. Such claims, however, are specious. The NPV is unconstitutional because it would give a group of states with a majority of electoral votes “the power to overturn the explicit decision of the Framers against direct election. Since that power does not conform to the constitutional means of changing the original decisions of the framers, NPV could not be a legitimate innovation.”[iii]

 The Constitution’s Compact Clause provides that “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress…enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”[iv] The Founders created the Compact Clause because they feared that compacting states would threaten the supremacy of the federal government in matters of foreign affairs and relations among the states.[v] If states could make agreements among themselves, they could damage the nation’s federalist structure. Populist states, for example, cannot agree to have theirU.S. Senators vote to seat only one Senator from a less populous state.

The very purpose of this clause was to prevent a handful of states from combining to overturn an essential part of the constitutional design. The plain text makes it clear that all such state compacts must be approved by Congress.

By circumventing the checks and balances of Congress, the NPV would risk setting a precedent that states can validate non–congressionally approved compacts as a substitute for a constitutional amendment.

 Further Reading:

 A Critique of the National Popular Vote Plan for Electing the President, John Samples, Cato Institute, October 2008, available at:

 Enlightened Democracy: the Case for the Electoral College, Tara Ross, Colonial Press, September 2005.

 The Importance of the Electoral College, Dr. George Grant, Vision Forum Ministries, August 2004.

 Securing Democracy: Why We Have an Electoral College, Professor Gary L. Gregg, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, January 2008.

[iii]  Bradley A. Smith, Vanity of Vanities: National Popular Vote and the Electoral College, 7 Election L.J. 3, 217 (2008); Samples, supra note 13, at 9

[iv] U.S. Const. amend. XII; 3 U.S.C. §§ 1–21. Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes in January. If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes, the House selects the President and the Senate selects the Vice President, with each state delegation in the House having only one vote; art. I, § 10, cl. 3

[v]  The Heritage Guide to the Constitution 178 (Edwin Meese III et al. eds., 2005).

Center for Freedom presents at RI Hospitality Board Meeting

Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, presented the findings from the Center’s Policy Brief on the Governor’s proposed “sales tax hike” to the Board of Directors of the RI Hospitality Association this morning. Also discussed was the upcoming “Eliminate the Sales Tax” report that the Center hopes to release before the end of April.

The presentation was well-received by the 25 or so Board members on hand. Following Stenhouse’s presentation and a brief Q & A session, the two organizations agreed to seek to work more closely together on issues of common interest.

The Board presentation was requested following Stenhouse’s popular speech at the Anti-Meals Tax Rally held in March., which was organized by the RI Hospitality Association. See the entire speech, photos, and a post-event interview on the Dan Yorke show … by clicking here.

Special thanks to Executive Director, Dale Venturini, and Chairman, Ken Cusson, for inviting our Center to make its presentation.