Center Testifies at Sales Tax Repeal Commission Hearings

Below are copies of remarks from CEO Mike Stenhouse at the Joint Legislative Commission Hearings that began in September of 2013:

October 29 Hearing:  2013-Oct29-Stenhouse-CommissionTestimony3

    • Don Russell “Must See” Video below: how an over punitive sales tax penalty process shut his business down

October 21 Hearing:  2013-Oct21-Stenhouse-CommissionTestimony2

September 29:  2013-Stenhouse-CommissionTestimony1

School Choice Survey in RI: Myths Dispelled

60% of Rhode Islanders give negative rating to RI’s public school system; 56% support school choice vouchers, including 62-63% of parents, youth and urbanites. It is a myth that school choice drains funds or the cream-of-the-crop student from public schools ….

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The School Choice Idea in Rhode Island: Myths, Opinions, and Realities

60% of Rhode Islanders give negative rating to RI’s public school system; 56% support school choice vouchers, including 62-63% of parents, youth and urbanites.

Download Myths & Opinions Report (PDF)

2014 National Survey

Significant Poll Findings, 2013

  • Nearly three out of four voters in Rhode Island (72%) say they pay attention to issues in K-12 education.
  • Only 29% of Ocean State voters would choose a traditional public school as their first their family’s first choice for education
  • 56% of voters support school vouchers, which is significantly greater than the proportion opposed (33%). Even without a definition of any kind, support for vouchers is greater than opposition by a nearly two-to-one margin. (40% favor vs. 23% oppose)
  • The demographics most likely to favor vouchers are school parents (62%), urbanites (63%), Republicans (65%), conservatives (67%), young voters (62%), and low-income earners (63%). Liberals are the least likely to support (49%).
  • There is much higher support for vouchers with universal eligibility (62%), compared to the proportion who supports means-testing (32%).
  • Rhode Islanders are much more likely to say K-12 education has gotten off on the “wrong track” (52%), compared to the one-third of voters (32%) who say it is heading in the “right direction.”
  • Six out of ten respondents gave negative ratings to the state’s public school system. (35% said “good” or “excellent”; 60% said “fair” or “poor”)

Report Introduction

The public policy debate about school choice — about allowing Rhode Island’s children and their families the freedom to determine what educational approach best suits their needs — is coming to the Ocean State in a big way. As the public, the news media, and elected representatives begin the conversation, it is important that they start from a foundation of facts. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity therefore enters into the initial discussion:

  • A review of some of the common myths about school choice
  • A state-specific analysis of results from an opinion poll conducted in cooperation with the Friedman Foundation

The poll data shows that Rhode Islanders are displeased with the state of their education system and, more importantly, support reform policies strongly when they are explained.  Advocates for school choice should therefore be encouraged that many of the detractors’ arguments are myths.

For the complete polling data collected by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in cooperation with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, see here.


Read more about RI Families for School Choice at


Excerpts from Media Release, 10/29/13

Providence, RI — Six out of ten Rhode Island respondents gave a negative rating to the state’s public school system, while support for school choice programs, including vouchers, has broad appeal that crosses political and ethnic boundaries, according to new survey of registered voters in the Ocean State.
“The broad appeal of school choice might best be exemplified by the poll’s findings that the top two groups giving a poor-or-fair opinion of public schools (80% of the black community and 79% of state Republicans) are not normally closely aligned when it comes to public policy”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It must be our responsibility as state to ensure that all families are empowered with the choice to provide their children with a quality education that creates opportunities for a brighter future.”
The poll released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, in cooperation with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, found 56 percent of respondents favor vouchers, which allow parents to use a portion of their children’s state public education funding for private school tuition. Among African Americans, 76 percent support vouchers, while 54 percent of Democrats concur. The survey was conducted by Braun Research, Inc., which has been used by such research firms as Gallup Organization and the Pew Research Center.

Lack of Transparency, Threat of Arrests Continue to Cloud SEIU Unionization Scheme

STATEMENT: November 21, 2013

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity calls on the Chafee Administration to provide transparency during the negotiating process with the 540 newly unionized childcare providers, as well as to hold them and SEIU to their word.
Amid reports that the SEIU has already requested that secret negotiations begin with the Administration, the Center points out, that immediately following the election to accept SEIU representation, union officials and new union members repeatedly told the public that unionization was about professional development and not about pay and benefit increases. The Center, on behalf of taxpayers who would pay for any negotiated benefits, urges the Administration to provide sunlight on the process, in order to demonstrate that the substance of the negotiations is, indeed, restricted to professional development matters only. Administration officials have already indicated that they are not inclined to allow any public scrutiny until after the negotiations are completed.
“After the most secretive and biased election process we have ever witnessed, it is unacceptable to taxpayers that these negotiations will take place in the shadows,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The report our Center issued in September, Taxpayers Beware, discussed the potential costs associated with yet more union benefits, which our already stressed budget cannot responsibly absorb”.
In a related matter, as reported in The Ocean State Current, the State Police admitted that there would have been no justification to arrest taxpayer advocates for merely watching the proceedings of the child-care provider unionization election conducted by the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), which violated its own guidelines in directing law enforcement officers to forcibly keep observers away. A number of citizen volunteers were threatened with arrest if they approached the election venues.”The entire SEIU unionization election scheme, orchestrated by the SLRB, reeks of insider cronyism, secrecy, and, now we know, unjustified heavy-handed tactics,” concluded Stenhouse.

STATEMENT: October 31, 2013

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity questions the results of the election results announced today by the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) regarding the unionization of home childcare providers.
Many Rhode Islanders believe that this entire unionization and election scheme was rigged from the outset. With multiple allegations of fraud with similar votes in other states, the utter lack of transparency and degree of secrecy by the State Labor Relations Board provides zero assurance that a free and fair election was conducted. The disdain towards taxpayers and the public, the armed security, the threat of arrest of citizens, and the fact that union members were brought in to work the polls …  only perpetuate these concerns.
The alleged vote tally of 72% of all eligible voters in favor of unionization is at significant odds with results from many other states, and does not square with the counts that our volunteers reported from the poll venues.
It is in the interest of the unions to create the perception that overwhelming support was achieved so that they can claim they have a mandate to go after the next group they wish to unionize.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  October 27, 2013 

Center Condemns Heavy Handed Tactics and Secrecy of SEIU Unionization Election

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity condemns the heavy handed tactics that unnecessarily led to arrest threats against civilians merely attempting to observe the election to unionize home childcare providers on Saturday in Newport, Kingston, and Lincoln. The Center challenges the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB), the SEIU, and the State Police to follow existing rules and regulations.

“Imagine this: The insiders who colluded to bring this SEIU unionization scheme to a vote – the SLRB, the SEIU, and the State of Rhode Island – are allowed full access as officials of the election; yet the taxpayer, who will bear the cost of the election and the cost of unionization are not allowed anywhere near the polling place, under threat of arrest”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “What are they so afraid of and why has this supposedly democratic process been kept so secret? Something is very wrong here.”

Volunteers organized by the Center who attempted to observe the proceedings were stopped by state troopers and presented with a copy of the SLRB’s General Rules and Regulations (Title 28, Labor and Labor Relations, Chapter 28-7 of the Labor Relations Act, Section 8.02.7 – Prohibited Election Conduct) that prohibits “electioneering” within 200 feet of the polling place or who may “interfere” with the election process.

“Absolutely no electioneering took place; no protests; no signs; no materials passed out; and no volunteer, in any way, attempted to interfere with the election process, yet they were threatened with arrest for just being in the vicinity. Meanwhile union supporters were allowed to wear their purple SEIU scarves all the way inside,” continued Stenhouse. “Since when does the State Police take orders from the SLRB?”

The Center calls upon the SLRB and the State Police to heed the law and allow peaceful civilian observation, specifically calling upon:

  • the SLRB and its administrator, Robyn Golden, to retract its self-serving, broad interpretation of its own rules and regulations
  • the SLRB to provide a full accounting of the costs of the election, and the names of the individuals it authorized to serve as “official observers”
  • the State Police to: a) conduct its own, independent interpretation of the regulations and instruct its troopers to act accordingly; namely taking action only if improper electioneering or interference takes place, and; b) to specify under what authority it can be deputized by the SLRB


ORIGINAL STATEMENT:  October 27, 2013 

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity openly questions the transparency of the scheme that could have significant consequence for taxpayers; namely the process to unionize home childcare providers, which culminates with an election in the next week about whether home child care providers will accept exclusive representation by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Center challenges the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) and the SEIU to provide additional information to the public.

UnionfreelogoThe SLRB has refused to release information about the card signature process; has refused to consider multiple petitions from our Center; and refuses to provide any information to indicate that the upcoming voting process will be fair, transparent, or fraud-free with regard to voter validation, intimidation, and public access.

There is reason to be wary, as there have been allegations of SEIU fraud and intimidation tactics over similar schemes in other states (see SEIU California intimidation video), yet there are no publicly known safeguards in place here in Rhode Island. In Rhode Island, multiple providers have privately confided with the Center that SEIU representatives have lied to them when knocking on their doors to promote unionization.

Other providers, not eligible to vote, because they do not currently serve families on public assistance, feel discriminated against and have questioned the fairness of an election where their voice has been purposely suppressed. If they do accept such families in the future, these providers will be forced to pay dues or fees without ever having had the opportunity to vote on an issue that could significantly affect their business.

“There is real fear and frustration out there. Despite repeated requests from our Center, the silence from the SLRB has been deafening. If the SEIU and the SLRB are so convinced that they are conducting a fair process, why are they afraid of a little sunlight”, inquired Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “There has been no information about how the SLRB plans to ensure that voters will not be intimidated or deprived of free-choice in this election. We challenge them to publicly discuss these matters in order to ensure taxpayers and providers that an open and honest election will take place”.

Most egregiously, the SLRB has refused to acknowledge that recent U.S. Supreme Court and Federal Appeals Court actions, which raise the distinct possibility that similar schemes may be unconstitutional, should have any bearing on its plans to forge ahead with a vote, despite the legal and financial morass the election could create.

The secrecy began from the outset when the SEIU claimed it collected signed cards from 80% of the providers, allegedly indicating that they were in favor of unionization, and submitted those cards to the SLRB in order to begin the election process. Neither the cards themselves, their content, nor the names of the providers who the SEIU claims to have signed them, were provided to our Center or to the public, despite a specific request to the SLRB. Neither was any information provided about the validation process of the signatures, instead choosing to hide behind its own, self-serving rules designed to ensure secrecy. In an informal survey, when our Center called dozens of providers, not a single provider indicated that they signed a card. Proof of fraud? No. Statistically curious? Yes.

Next, our Center formally petitioned the SLRB three times to amend the election process to conform with precedents in other states and very recent federal court actions, specifically requesting:

  • a ballot language change that more accurately reflected the decision providers must make, as has been worded on other state ballots;
  • an open legal response and analysis to a September federal appeals court ruling blocking an almost identical election in Minnesota;
  • to postpone the election until after the U.S. Supreme Court, in October, agreed to hear an Illinois case that may provide legal precedent to the RI process

In all three cases, the petitions were denied, with the SLRB again hiding behind a supposed technicality that our Center, representing the taxpayer, had no standing to make such petitions. However, the SLRB cited no statute to validate this claim.

Finally, with regard to the SLRB’s “Notice of Election” sent to eligible providers, after repeated requests, now 12 days old, the SLRB has refused to respond in any way to a number of questions the Center posed about the election venues. The questions, specifically inquired about:

  • What the SLRB considers as “electioneering?
  • Voter validation process at the polls?
  • How the Center or the taxpayer can become an “authorized observer” at the polls? The state and the SEIU have already been designated as such.
  • Public and media access guidelines at the polling locations?

Since 2004, when the SLRB unilaterally attempted to designate independent child home care providers as state employees for the purpose of unionization, only to be struck down in 2005 in a RI Superior Court ruling, there can be no question that the SLRB and the SEIU are working closely together to critical elements of this unionization process hidden from public scrutiny.

Rhode Islanders should expect more from its government. Our Center demands transparency of this blatant insider scheme.

Statement: Mike Riley (Board member) re. Pension Portfolio Controversy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  October 21, 2013 

Mike Riley and RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity Concerned That Politics May Trump Good Policy

Statement from Mike Riley, board member for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity:

“While questions about corruption and mismanagement of state public employee pension fund portfolios continue to swirl, our Center is concerned about the larger public policy implications.

First, whether or not hedge fund and other alternative investments are a legitimate allocation tool to protect taxpayers and retirees against devastating economic downturns like we saw in 2008: If the answer is yes, it is important that the negative political climate on this topic does not dissuade state and local finance officials from pursuing this course in an open and transparent way.

Second, whether or not this controversy will undermine the positive pension reforms taken by our state in 2011. Rhode Island must continue to move forward with pension reform, not backward.”

Mike Riley is an experienced hedge fund manager and Director of the RI Association of Hedge Fund Managers. He has served on the Center’s board since February of 2013.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. The Center works to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of every family and business in the state through the exchange of market-based ideas and reform solutions aimed at restoring economic competitiveness, educational opportunities and – ultimately – hope for a brighter future.

Report: Moving Forward with Health Reform in Rhode Island

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Even with implementation of Rhode Island’s health benefits exchange under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), HealthSourceRI, close to 100,000 Rhode Islanders may not have adequate options unless additional provisions are made by the state. Access to affordable health care is one of the most important and personal decisions anyone can make.

Previous reports by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity have documented both the financial disincentives created by the ACA when it comes to purchasing insurance and identified and quantified the groups of people who are likely to remain uninsured, perhaps up to 97,000 Rhode Islanders.

Anticipated insurance premium hikes are expected to price many individuals out of the market, notwithstanding the subsidies available through the exchange, and other reasons exist for individuals to elect not to purchase insurance, such as lack of perceived value or concern about paying for controversial services like contraception and abortion. With taxes already at overly burdensome levels, it is critical for Rhode Island to identify and promote alternative programs that will provide many more Rhode Islanders with access to health care, without placing further burdens on taxpayers.

State officials are encouraged to seek additional remedies to address this pending shortfall. The free-market programs recommended in this report by our Center are:

  • Mandate-free and mandate-lite, full-disclosure insurance policies
  • Interstate insurance sales
  • Health care sharing ministries
  • Critical illness and accident insurance

Also included in this report are other program recommendations.

It is our Center’s conclusion that it is not feasible that a government-centric, one-size-fits-all approach via the state’s health benefits exchange can adequately address the needs of a highly diverse population. Only with additional patient-centric, consumer-oriented options can we move toward the goal of ensuring that more Rhode Islanders achieve health care and financial peace of mind.

Read our prior Report: Left Behind by Healthcare in RI

Commentary: PolitiFact Invents Fantasy Arguments to Rule Childcare Unionization Statement ‘Mostly False’

Commentary by Mike Stenhouse, CEO

Earlier this year I commented on how Rhode Island’s political class was living in a land of make believe. Today, we add PolitiFact-RI, the Providence Journal’s allegedly non-biased fact-checking arm, as yet another defender of the failed status-quo that resides in this fantasy world.

landofmakebelieveJennifer Parrish is a home childcare provider in Minnesota that our Center brought to Rhode Island in September to help raise awareness about the broken promises and dangers of unionization for her fellow providers here in the Ocean State. She conducted media interviews and series of ‘Child Care Union 101″ seminars across the state.

Prior to her visit, she published a passionate and thoughtful OpEd in the ProJo, which included the statement: “Six years after unionization, 20,000 fewer children in Illinois were being served by the Child Care and Development Fund program.”

In this past Sunday’s edition, PolitiFact, in analyzing her claim, first admits that Parrish’s statement is indeed accurate, only to then create its own fantasy assumptions, to finally arrive at the ruling that the statement is ‘mostly false’.

At a more general level, we can only guess why PolitiFact would betray journalistic integrity to invent such a torturous process to claim that a true statement is false. Maybe they believe that a charismatic and appealing figure, such as Jennifer Parrish, could pose a real problem if her story and the facts were to be seen as credible? Maybe, in order to defend the union status-quo, they felt someone needed to cut her off at the knees? Whatever their motive, PolitiFact created arguments out of thin air by putting ‘make believe’ words in her mouth, then claiming those fake words were false.

Here’s how they constructed their preposterous ruling:

First, start with a statement that is 96% true (actually 19,200 fewer children were served).

Second, make believe that Parrish intended this statement to apply only to children in home-based care, when in reality, knowing the facts, Parrish purposely meant this statement to apply to children in all kinds of childcare. She never qualified her statement in the way that PolitiFact fantasizes she did.

Third, make believe that Parrish blamed unionization as the reason for the decrease, when in reality she never made any such claim in her opinion piece. Another fantasy, created entirely by PolitiFact.

Fourth, rule that PolitiFact’s own make believe assertions are false.

Finally, apply that guilt to Parrish’s original ‘true’ statement, then rule that the statement now magically has become ‘mostly false’.

Presto, voila … an obviously biased, adverse ruling created entirely out of thin air.

One of the more blatant examples of media activism we have seen.

The obvious question is: who fact-checks the state’s official fact-checker?

REPORT: Moving Forward with Health Reform in RI

With up to 97,000 Rhode Islanders expected to remain uninsured after Obamacare and RI’s health benefits exchange is implemented, our new report recommends free-market policies and solutions to provide affordable health services for many …

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Center Criticizes State Labor Relations Board Decision to Dismiss Request

Providence, RI — In a brief and vague letter, the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) dismissed a request by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity to await the landmark precedent that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely set in early 2014 about whether or not independent home care providers can be classified as a kind of public employee solely for the purpose of unionization. Submitting its request in the interests of the Rhode Island taxpayer, the Center had suggested that no election should be held for the certification of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to represent the providers until the Constitutionality of doing so is clarified.

“It is the epitome of irresponsibility to rush into this election without any public debate and legal analysis of how the Supreme Court’s planned hearings, or the recent federal appeals court ruling, might affect plans here in our state. The highest court in the land has clearly signaled that there may be a constitutional issue with forced unionization”, commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It would be totally unfair to child care providers to conduct an election under this cloud, only to find out in a few months that the entire process may soon be ruled as unconstitutional.”The letter of dismissal, SLRB Administrator Robyn Golden states that SLRB “policy” leaves the Center with no standing to make requests of the government board. She goes on to assert that “it is also not within the Board’s statutory autority to act on your request or any requests of this nature.”

Neither state law nor policy places restrictions upon the parties permitted to petition the board with information relevant to its decisions. Moreover, regulations place no restrictions upon the board in the course of scheduling elections for union representation. According to regulation 8.02.5, “it shall provide that such election be conducted by an Agent of the Board at such time and place, and upon terms or conditions, as the Board may specify.”

“The Rhode Island taxpayer has every right to ask the SLRB to avoid lawsuits associated with potentially unconstitutional laws,” said Stenhouse, “and the board has the authority to take that precaution.”
In authorizing and scheduling an election about whether or not upwards of 680 home child care providers should accept the SEIU as their exclusive union representative, the SLRB would fail to seriously consider the Court’s announcement last week that it will hear a case that will determine whether Illinois home-care providers can be forced into union ranks against their will. Previously, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction to stop a planned election of home child care providers in Minnesota, pending action from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, the Center published a report highlighting concerns that unionization may cause for taxpayers, service providers, and other independent business owners. All related information can be viewed on the Center’s website at .
The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. The Center works to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of every family and business in the state through the exchange of market-based ideas and reform solutions aimed at restoring economic competitiveness, educational opportunities and – ultimately – hope for a brighter future.
OCTOBER 8, 2013

Media Release: Center Calls for Postponement of Child Care Unionization Election

October 1, 2013

Providence, RI — Based on today’s U.S. Supreme Court announcement to hear a related Illinois case, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity is now calling on the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) to cancel the planned election about whether or not upwards of 680 home child care providers should accept the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as their exclusive union representative.

According to a press release this morning by the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, the U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it is granting a writ of certiorari in a case that will decide whether Illinois home-care providers can be forced into union ranks against their will. The Harris-vs-Quinn case challenges a forced-unionism scheme enacted by Illinois Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn on the grounds that it violates their rights to free expression and association by forcing them to subsidize union lobbying.

Earlier in the month, the Center called on the Rhode Island SLRB to merely delay the election until it publicly commented on and evaluated a ruling in mid-September from the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that granted an injunction to stop a similar planned election in Minnesota, pending action from the U.S. Supreme Court. Today’s announcement creates an even stronger argument to hold off on the election.

“Now, with the highest court in the land clearly recognizing that there may be an issue with forced unionization, the SLRB must postpone this election and avoid a potential legal morass until the United States Supreme Court makes its final ruling next year”, insisted Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “With area unions publicly stating that it is their plan to force unionization upon even more independent business owners and contractors in our state, it is even more important that the SLRB does not move forward with a process that my soon be ruled as unconstitutional.”

Earlier this month, the Center published a report highlighting concerns that unionization may cause for taxpayers, service providers, and other independent business owners.

Stenhouse discusses issue on WPRI-12 NewsMakers …