Center Launches Anti-Tax Campaign

Center Opposes Tax Increases Proposed by Progressive and Union Groups


Providence, RI – Already hemorrhaging people and wealth because of its existing harsh business climate, Rhode Islanders cannot afford additional taxes of any kind to try to plug massive projected budget deficits. As the state’s premiere advocacy organization for pro-growth economic policies, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today launched a counter-campaign to the government-union led effort to raise taxes in the state. 

The campaign, #RaiseSailsNotTaxes, reminds lawmakers that raising taxes during an economic crisis will lead to even more job losses, more business closings, more out-migration, a slower and longer economic recovery … and more poverty. 

Conversely, Rhode Islanders can look to a more prosperous future if lawmakers instead take the wiser path of reducing spending, as most families and businesses have been forced to do due to the government-mandated shuttering of our economy. 

Only with more and better jobs created by more and better companies can more Ocean Staters can enjoy a better quality of life, perhaps even able to own a sail-boat. Rhode Islanders can learn more about the benefits of a free-market economy and can take action at the website: www.RaiseSailsNotTaxes.com . 

With the worst business climate in America, pre-pandemic Rhode Island was already suffering a chronic relative loss of population, below average jobs recovery, and stagnant economic growth due to excessively high taxes and regulations. Our state is now among the hardest-hit states when it comes to unemployment and GDP loss, post-pandemic. 

“How tone-deaf can the political class be? We have been crushed by this pandemic in so many ways, and now they want to stomp government’s boot even harder upon our backs,” questioned Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “It’s time for government to live within its means, just like we all had to.” 

Facing a near-billion dollar revenue shortfall for 2020 and 2021, government unions along with left-wing advocacy groups and progressive lawmakers, have put forth a bevy of proposals to increase debt and to impose new or higher taxes and fees on a dizzying array of products and services, including: 

  • The re-imposition of sales taxes on wine and liquor 
  • A carbon tax that would raise the price of gasoline, home heating fuel, and propane products 
  • A TCI Gas Tax that would add a further 17-24 cents per gallon 
  • Close to one BILLION dollars in new bonded debt, that will force general tax hikes upon all of us today, and also upon our children and grandchildren in the future 
  • A new tax on high-income earners, which will reduce business investment and drive more people out of our state 
  • A halt to the car-tax phase-out 
  • New taxes on deliveries 
  • Increased building and permit fees 
  • New taxes on hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting

Two of the Center’s coalition partners, The Gaspee Project and the Gaspee Business Network are offering action items for lawmakers and voters. Gaspee is tracking all 2020 General Assembly and federal candidates who promise not to support tax hikes by taking the Taxpayer PROTECTION Pledge. GBN is hosting the Taxpayer ELECTION Pledge, where voters promise to support candidates who oppose tax increases. All citizens are encouraged to take the pledge. 

“Political leaders have made no signal that they are preparing to face reality, instead they hope and pray that the federal government will bail them out. Worse, unless citizens and employers step up and take action … in addition to tax and fee increases, these politicians, unbelievably, are suggesting massive new bonds to keep status quo spending levels and to fund special new projects that will dive our state into even deeper debt,” warned Stenhouse. 

If your association, chamber, or business group would like to be listed as a coalition partner, please send an email from your org’s email address to: info@rifreedom.org or call 401-429-6115.

Union Political Spending

NEW REPORT: Union Political Spending – a Web of Corruption

Report Exposes Hyper-partisanship and Radical Agenda Funded by Government Union Political Spending

Providence, RI – Not every teacher, first-responder, clerk, or other public servant considers themselves to be Democrats or part of the “progressive-left” movement in Rhode Island. Yet every employee who is member of a government union in our state is paying dues that directly support this extreme political agenda … along with the corrupt quid quo pro that comes with union political spending.

A new report released today by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity – RI Political Spending: A Web of Corruption – lays out research of union political spending in Rhode Island in the 2018 election and since 2000. The report also provides multiple examples of what it calls a “web of corruption” where quid pro quo political favors coincided with union political cash.

“Most people don’t realize that the partnership between the progressive-left, government unions, and the Democratic party, which has created an iron triangle of cronyism and insider politics, is actually funded by each and every taxpayer in the state of Rhode Island,” commented Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “This money merry-go-round is destroying our state: Taxes paid by residents fund the salaries of government employees, whose dues fund union activities, which in turn are contributed almost exclusively to one political party and to support just one, radical political ideology, who then work together to advance more pro-labor policies.”

Over $411,000 was spent by public employee unions to influence the 2018 elections :

  • 97% of government union campaign contributions went to Democrats
  • SEIU contributed about $150,000 to Democrats, who that year gave the union a major legislative victory that opened the door for the unionization of home care workers
  • 96% of recipients of NEARI PACE donations were Democrats
  • 95% of recipients of AFT (RI) donations were Democrats
  • 99% of recipients of the RI Brotherhood of Correctional Officers donations were Democrats
  • 98% of recipient of the RI Association of Firefighters donations were Democrats
  • 96% of recipients of the RI AFL-CIO PAC donations were Democrats
  • Over a half-million dollars was spent by unions on lobbying and related legislative outreach.

Nationally, and in addition to direct political contributions, for example, the National Education Association of Rhode Island’s (NEARI’s) parent organization, the NEA, alone gave out grants exceeding $100 million to far-left advocacy groups across.

Other specific examples of union-money corruption and cronyism are detailed in the report, including features about union executive and State Senator, Valerie Lawson, and union head, George Nee

The full nine-page report can be viewed here.

Lisa Camuso

BREAKING: Rhode Island DOH Holds Retaliatory Hearing Against Whistleblower Lisa Camuso, Get More Than They Bargained For

Lisa Camuso, her attorney and her union representative, made mincemeat of the incompetent RI Department of Health senior staff who called a meeting in mid-July 2020 to discipline Camuso, a legally-protected government whistleblower. 

Yet, unbelievably, as a result of our Center’s In The Dugout video interview between CEO Mike Stenhouse and RI Department of Health Whistleblower, Lisa Camuso … instead of the conducting more investigations into alleged abuses and neglect at RI nursing homes, the RI Department of Health has decided to retaliate against Lisa, whose was trying to do right by raising awareness about this horrid situation at senior care facilities, where about 80% of all China-virus related deaths in our state emanated out of congregate living centers.

On Friday, July 17, Lisa Camuso was placed on “administrative leave” following a sham disciplinary meeting with senior DOH staff and the RI Attorney General’s Office … to review bogus allegations made against Ms. Camuso in a seven-page letter sent to her earlier in the week.

This is the 2nd time Ms. Camuso has been placed on leave. The first time, following her “whistleblower” lawsuit filed against the state and the DOH in 2017 and that is still ongoing. 

Read the 7-page Pre-Disciplinary Letter. here

The full audio recording of that meeting can be heard above. Below is a summary of Mike Stenhouse’s views on the highlights of the meeting along with timestamps for you to follow along with the audio recording. 

The most powerful highlight of the meeting occurred at the very end, at the 25:15 mark, when Lisa Camuso stated (paraphrased): “I work with the public … I am not allowed to do the job I love … do what you’ve got to do – I’m not going away … if I had any trust, I would have come to you but you’ve shown me you all have zero integrity … you’re willing let people die … truth is coming … families will find out … you’re disgusting letting people die!” 

At the beginning of the audio,  and as a smart way to protect herself from false accusations, Ms. Camuso states that she will record the meeting and will make everything said – public. 

She next inquires why a DOH senior executive, who has nothing to do with the events leading up to the meeting, and who also happens to be a defendant in her whistleblower lawsuit was copied on the July 14 letter and the notice for the July 17 meeting. No one in the meeting can give her a straight answer so Lisa concludes that it was cruely done merely so the executive could celebrate the pending retaliation against her.

Why was the State Office of the Attorney General on the call? Was to intimate Ms. Camuso? 

At the 6:30 mark, the DOH staffer leading the meeting claims she had no knowledge of Ms. Camuso’s pending lawsuit. Either this is completely dishonest or these people are completely ignorant. 

At the 8:30 mark, Ms. Camuso’s lawyer clearly states that the DOH has provided no proof of misuse of state resources, as claimed in the letter; nor does it provide any substantiation of the claim that Lisa misused her time on the job. 

Camuso’s lawyer then strongly countered the letter’s third claim of “Breach of Confidentiality”, noting that Lisa removed all personal information before sending images of the abuse and neglect claims discussed on the In The Dugout interview. The lawyer went on to say that general information about complaints made to the DOH are valid to publicize under a whistleblower action, per RI state law 28-50-3. Nobody can prove information is confidential”, by citing any statute or rule, argued the lawyer, further stating that these complaints should become public knowledge. Ms. Camuso stated she did nothing in violation of HIPPA. The senior staff in the meeting could not cite anything to substantiate their claim of ‘confidential’ information. 

Regarding allegations by Ms. Camuso of a systematic backlog of uninvestigated complaints and a DOH cover-up – Ms. Camuso’s lawyer argued that a good public servant, in trying to do the right thing and let the public know, should do so “all day long”; that Lisa was not trying to be malicious in raising awareness … but instead was trying to do the right thing by the public

Regarding Lisa’s claims on her In The Dugout interview that positively tested patients were roomed with other non-positive patents, along with other claims of neglect during the interview, are the “absolute right” of a whistleblower to make public matters of public concern. 

At the 13:52 mark, discussions about lack of appropriate DOH investigations begins. 

At the 14:05 mark, Ms. Camuso passionately states that “People are Dying”; that based on her years of experience fielding complaints at the DOH, it should be the practice that serious cases of complaint that are properly triaged … would be flagged for priority investigation. Ms. Camuso boldly stated that in reality, by not conducting this kind or triage, it may be the RI DOH itself that may not be complying with federal Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) rules and regulations per the CMS manual, itself. 

OUT OF TOUCH AND INCOMPETENT. Next, comes one of the most amazing examples of incompetence by an out of touch staff. In a prior meeting with Ms Camuso, in the letter, and in the July 17 meeting the issue arose about the use of the official RI DOH “emblem”, or logo, was raised. Utterly confused about how the Center’s use of RI DOH logo the In The Dugout interview with Mike Stenhouse, the DOH staff could think of no other explanation other than that Ms. Camuso improperly stole and then used them when she must have personally created the Power Point slides used during the interview. Said one person in the July 17 meeting, “any fool” can get the RI DOH emblem (off their website) and copy and paste the image in into the Power Point that Stenhouse’s staff created. I agree, but I  object that I or my staff are just “any fool” … LOL.

Next, Camuso’s team blew away DOH claims that Lisa did not follow proper whistleblower procedures, when in reality Lisa could prove she did. Lisa proved that on May 15, she followed whistleblower procedures and directly contacted the Department of Justice regarding a lack of PPE and positive-testing residents being roomed with others, despite the Governor public claims to the contrary … when she produced in the meeting a  phone bill documenting 16-minute call with DOJ, as is prescribed by RI General Laws 28-50-3. I am “disgusted with the State,” exclaimed Camuso.  

Cited publicization of a complaint that was not on the Dugout interview. 

At the 18:15 mark, Ms. Camuso flipped the script on the DOH. “Talk about violating privacy,” she said, claiming that in the DOH seven page letter to her more personal information was put forward than what Lisa revealed in her interview with Mike Stenhouse. The letter, which had been widely circulated, then made public by our own Center, makes public far more private information than did the In The Dugout interview. 

Next the question arose about whether Ms. Camuso conducted ethics and integrity violation of a related Governor’s Executive Order (#15-01). Lisa’ lawyer countered that just because she is a state employee does not mean that Ms. Camuso does still not retain her 1st-Amendment right to speak out generally against their government, especially when it comes to the well-being of our most vulnerable senior citizens … and especially when there is proof and increasing public discussion about why 80% of Rhode Island’s coronavirus related deaths have come from nursing home and other senior care facilities.

The lawyer went on to say the first line of defense for nursing home residents are their family members. These are their natural advocates, their family, who were not allowed access to see their beloved parents because of the shutdowns, even sometimes not allowed phone calls. Without Lisa, who is boldly stepping forward, who else is there who was going to speak for on the behalf of these vulnerable seniors?

Ms. Camuso then discussed recrimination to past employees who attempted to support her in the workplace during the period when she filed her lawsuit. Lisa protected her current “good supervisor” by keeping her out of this process because, as she recalled, years ago how the state reprimanded and retaliated against her past supervisor who supported her after her lawsuit.

The lawyer astutely asserted that the DOH’s actions against Lisa are “costing you what little credibility you have with respect to nursing homes”.

A the 24:10 Lisa began her final comments, stating that there have been “crimes committed” and “Dr. Scott (and others) is involved in the cover-up”

Then came Lisa’s final, passionate plea … described at the beginning of this review.

The meeting ended with Lisa Camuso being put on administrative leave. Lisa Camuso commented that at least this time there were no police present to escort her out of the office like they did years ago. 

Center Applauds US Supreme Court Ruling on Educational Freedom

Center’s Policy Idea Enhanced by SCOTUS Ruling
See the Catch-Up ESAs Policy Brief here

Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity applauds yesterday’s decision by the US Supreme Court that empowers school choice families to be able to freely select faith-based private schools for their children’s education. 

The Court’s ruling is a major win for educational, parental, and religious freedom … in that government can no longer place restrictions on a child’s future just because of a school’s religiosity.


The SCOTUS ruling would apply to the the Catch-up ESAs, proposed in a policy brief last week by the Center. These one-time Educational Savings Accounts would be available to all qualified students in the state and would immediately fill major gaps in the five-year Providence schools reform plan by addressing current student needs. 


These ESAs, which would tap unspent federal CARES Act funding in Rhode Island, have earned support the of prominent minority advocate, Ray Rickman, during a recently taped episode of In The Dugout with Mike Stenhouse, a new video interview series by the Center. Rickman heads Stages of Freedom, a nonprofit that works with hundreds of minority families.

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Jobs April 2020

Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), April 2020: A First Glimpse of the Chasm

The unemployment chart from this snapshot gives a sense of the shock that April brought to the country’s economic system, but delays in the other data points that make up the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) make this just a taste of the full bitterness. Rhode Island dropped one spot in its overall ranking to 48th in the country, but that was arguably due to weakness at the end of pre-COVID 2019. Data for 10 of the 12 datapoints of the index except TANF and federal taxes were updated for this iteration.

Jobs based in RI fell a whopping 19% from the originally reported number for December, and employment fell 18%, nearly 100,000 in both cases, and the labor force fell 5%. Medicaid enrollment (as of January) increased about 0.7%, while SNAP (foodstamp) enrollment was down 1.8% (as of February). Because the COVID-19 hit came all of a sudden, the Ocean State managed to improve on long-term unemployment (as of March), but experienced a 4% increase in marginally attached workers and another 18% increase in those working only part time because more work was not available.

Perhaps of more concern, because it reflects data from December, personal income in the state fell 1.0% on an annualized basis (a little under $500 million). At the same time, state and local taxation increased 1.7%, or $63 million.

The first chart shows RI remaining last in New England on JOI, at 48th. New Hampshire slipped two spots, to 3rd nationally. Maine fell three, to 20th, while Vermont managed to hold at 21st. Connecticut overtook Massachusetts by maintaining its 37th place while the Bay State plummeted five spots, to 41st.

The second chart shows the gaps between RI and New England and the United States on JOI, and the third chart shows the gaps in the official unemployment rate.

Results for the three underlying JOI factors were:

  • Job Outlook Factor (optimism that adequate work is available): RI fell nine spots, to 36th.
  • Freedom Factor (the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI fell three spots, to 44th.
  • Prosperity Factor (the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained 47th.
We Want Our Summer Back!

MEDIA RELEASE: Center Launches #WeWantOurSummerBack Campaign – with catchy new Jingle!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 21, 2020

Citizens Encouraged to Take Action to Save Summer
Governor Had No Legal or Data Basis to Cancel Group Fun
Listen to the #WeWantOurSummerBack Jingle here 

Providence, RI – Responding to overwhelming feedback from Ocean Staters angered about the Governor’s unjustified summer shut-down, and who are asking what they can do … the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity answered the call and today launched its #WeWantOurSummerBack campaign.

The campaign, which includes a home webpage and a catchy new jingle, initially provides three action steps citizens can take to raise public and legislative awareness:

  • Submit for website posting, the event or family activity that the Governor has cancelled for you or your family
  • Contact your lawmaker to encourage them to reconvene, and utilize their power to end the Governor’s over-cooked declared state of emergency
  • Sign an online petition to fully #ReOpenRI, as all businesses and jobs are essential

“This Governor’s arbitrary summer lock-down is not supported by the data and was not even legal,” declared Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Many Rhode Islanders feel that the Governor unjustifiably shut-down our summer fun.  The General Assembly can be heroes and give us our summer back.”

Imagine no graduation parties!

The #WeWantOurSummerBack campaign is premised on two critical claims:

  1. The Governor provided no data or scientific justification for shutting down group summer activities. To drive home this point, Stenhouse yesterday published a detailed video analysis of the state’s Covid-19 data.
  2. In April, the Governor exceeded her 30-day limit on emergency powers when she canceled parades, weddings, and other traditional summer time activities. A legal analysis by the Center’s Flanders Legal Center for Freedom clearly makes this point.

Words to the #WeWantOurSummerBack 20-second “jingle” include:
We want our summer back… the WaterFire, the Fourth of July, the Gaspee parade, the Del’s at the beach… 

Recovery for Rhode Island

10 More Rescue Policy Ideas To Aid Recovery From The COVID-19 Crisis

Lawmakers Can Help Pave the Way for Economic & Health Recovery

Elected officials do not have to sit helplessly by and rely on federal aid

Providence, RI – Suggesting multiple reforms that are being enacted in other states, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, the state’s premiere free-market research and advocacy organization, offers state lawmakers 10 more proactive policy ideas that can help Ocean State businesses and families survive the Covid-19 crisis, while also paving the way to economic and health security.

With the crushing impact on our state’s business community, and over 100,000 Rhode Islanders out of work and suffering anxiety about both their medical and financial well-being, the Center updated its prior Covid-19 Public Policy Solutions brief that provides lawmakers with positive legislative ideas that can help provide relief.

“By giving individuals and businesses a little more freedom and flexibility, state lawmakers can provide rescue legislation as counter-measures to the crisis,” suggested Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Our political class must not sit helplessly by and rely solely on federal aid. Other states are taking proactive action; our Ocean State must not fall further behind.”

While Rhode Island may benefit in many ways from various federal rescue packages, the Center recommends that state lawmakers must also do their part and focus on what they can control as well as to find a way to fulfill their legislative responsibilities for recovery during this crisis.

Adding to its #GovernmentDistancing initiative, the Center has added 10 new  “emergency” policy ideas to its original March 25 list, designed primarily to keep more Rhode Islanders at work and financially solvent and healthy in the coming recovery months. Included in the 10 new suggested measures are:

  • Allow businesses to fully expense capital investments to encourage recovering businesses to invest in machinery and equipment
  • Institute reciprocal licensing to make it easier for professionals licensed in other states to work in RI
  • Freeze all state and municipal taxes to ensure already distressed individuals and business are not further burdened
  • Temporarily suspend prevailing wage laws to decrease pressure on government budgets and lessen the need to increase taxes
  • Expand access to tele-medicine services

The full-list of 20 policy ideas and brief explanations can be viewed here.

One of the Center’s ideas was enacted last month, when the Governor ordered that alcoholic beverages could be sold by restaurants as part of take-out orders. Another idea of the Center, to temporarily suspend Internet sales taxes, was previously highlighted in a separate policy brief.

The Center expects to regularly add to its growing list of rescue policy ideas, many of which have been implemented legislatively or by executive order, or are being actively considered in other states.

Rhode Island Covid-19 Help

Rhode Island COVID-19 Crisis: 30 Public Policy Solutions to Restore Financial and Health Security

In these trying times, with over one-hundred thousand Rhode Islanders recently laid-off, and unemployment rates that could soon reach 30%, common-sense public state-based policy can help mitigate the destructive economic impact of the Rhode Island Covid-19 crisis … and can help restore a sense of normalcy and financial security.

See the list below for the Center’s policy suggestions.

In response to this health crisis that is impacting our lives in so many ways, our state government’s actions to shut down commerce across many industries is inevitably having a crushing impact on small businesses, jobs, and family budgets… creating anxiety and fears among our populace.

On top of the major disruptions to our daily lives, our individual and societal peace of mind has deteriorated, with many Rhode Islanders concerned not just about their health, but also worried about their financial well-being. 

However, leading national voices from across the political spectrum – The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Governor of New York, and the President of the United States – have raised awareness about the need to restore economic activity as part of our nation’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis. 

As the federal government considers various assistance programs, it is vital that Rhode Island’s political leaders also play a positive role in restoring prosperity. It is a historical fact that economic depressions kill people, too… we must not let our Ocean State’s circumstances come to that.

Governor Raimondo has asked the business community for more time and patience as our state’s health care system is strengthened, before the “temporary,” yet major, restrictions on the private sector are lifted. 

The public policy solutions recommended in this paper include a number of smaller, “temporary” solutions that can be implemented – beginning now, while the larger state mandates remain in place – and that should remain in place until our state’s economy is fully recovered.

While the governor asks for the public’s trust, state leaders, likewise, must place trust in the power of the American people – business innovation and individual consumerism, guided by the free-market system – to be the driving force in lifting Rhode Island out of this severe economic crisis.

Specifically, the General Assembly must find a way to convene and govern –  and to consider emergency rescue legislation that balances the need to address the state’s budget with the need to bolster the budgets of families and businesses.

Rhode Island COVID-19 Recovery by #GovernmentDistancing. To aid in Rhode Island’s economic survival and eventual recovery – and to restore confidence about our future among the populace – the Center suggests that there are many ways our state government can take important and symbolic actions in alleviating some of these concerns about our individual and overall financial security. 

The common-sense ‘crisis recovery’ policy ideas recommended in this paper are designed to free-up individuals and employers in the private sector to be able to speed back to the peak employment and income-levels that we saw before the COVID-19 crisis. These solutions are especially beneficial to a state economy that is suffering catastrophic job losses as we have seen in Rhode Island.

Many states across America are aggressively taking or considering similar steps, and Rhode Island must not lag behind. By temporarily suspending certain taxes and regulations that hold back economic growth, by practicing what we call “government distancing,” political leaders can separate unnecessary government burdens from those suffering the most distress … and help clear the way for rapid economic recovery.

In late March, our Center published 10 initial pro-active policy recommendations. The Center continues to add to its list of policies, and we’re now up to 30. The newest suggestions are in bold, and policies that have been implemented are italicized. Explanations of the policies follow the list.

Business operations

  • Eliminate any state or local inspections required before re-opening a business that was temporarily closed due to COVID-19.
  • Allow businesses to fully expense capital investments in machinery and equipment.
  • Extended deadlines for commerce-related licensing.
  • Temporarily extending the deadlines for businesses to remit collected sales taxes to the state.
  • Temporary suspension of the corporate minimum tax.

Consumer assistance

  • Repeal bans on single-use plastic bags.
  • Repeal the ban on flavored vaping products.
  • Temporarily suspending Internet sales taxes.
  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order.

Regulatory reform & occupational licensing

  • Relax all state and local regulations, including zoning, that would interfere with the ability to operate businesses out of the home.
  • Institute temporary “reciprocal” occupational licensing.
  • Eliminate sales and hotel taxes on people who offer short-term rentals.

Labor

  • Implement a three-month moratorium on the deduction of government union dues, leaving more money in the pockets of state and local employees.
  • Temporarily suspend prevailing wage laws.
  • Temporarily reducing Rhode Island’s minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 per hour (with a temporary increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Civic

  • Develop a forum for public education, debate, and study of the state and federal constitutions and the response of our state and local governments to the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps as a precursor to a state Constitutional Convention.
  • Temporarily limit legal liability for volunteers and charitable organizations.

Budget

  • Implement a state Savings Reward Programs to reward state employees for saving taxpayer money through innovative or reengineered government processes.
  • Freeze all government hiring, even in cases of retirement and resignation, reallocating employees where they are most needed.
  • Eliminate all government positions that were vacant for at least six months prior to the COVID-19 shut-down.
  • Freeze all taxes, state and municipal, at current levels.

Infrastructure (Legacy and Future-Ready)

  • Adopt “dig once” and “one-touch make ready” policies. Implementing policies that increase cooperation between Internet service providers (ISPs) and state and local construction planners would enable the Ocean State to expand broadband communications more cheaply and quickly.

Education

  • Begin the process of comparing and analyzing districts’ effectiveness in implementing remote learning in (in and out of Rhode Island) for the development of best practices and other lessons learned.
  • Review state and local budgets to determine what money has been saved by closing school buildings and limiting services in order to create a fund to assist families with education-related expenditures.

Healthcare

  • Expand access to telemedicine services.
  • End surprise billing for patients.
  • Expanded scope-of-practice allowances.
  • Remove insurance laws that discourage the sale of short-term health insurance plans.
  • Waive regulation to allow medical professionals licensed in other states to practice in RI.
  • Repeal certificate of need laws.

Explanations

Already in Rhode Island, one of the Center’s early common-sense recommendations has been enacted:

  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order. This will help many restaurants to maintain cash flow and better serve their customers.

For small businesses and their employees, it will be important to get as many people back to work at their normal shifts as soon as possible. However, the ramp-up to normal business conditions, and the associated revenues, may not be as fast the shut-down was. Therefore, as a short-term measure, the Center suggests:

  • Eliminate any state or local inspections required before re-opening a business that was temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Whether the inspection would have been due or overdue anyway or is related to the pandemic, Rhode Island needs its existing businesses to get up to speed, while adapting to new realities, as quickly as possible. Red tape does not make the cut.
  • Allow businesses to fully expense capital investments in machinery and equipment as they seek to rebuild, providing them with potentially critical 2020 tax relief.
  • Extended deadlines for commerce-related licensing by the Department of Business Regulation and other state agencies that have a hand in stringing red tape for businesses would help ensure existing small businesses remain legally operational.
  • Temporarily extending the deadlines for businesses to remit collected sales taxes to the state. This option would give many businesses additional near-term cash flow when it comes to compensating their employees, paying their rent, or covering other vital overhead expenses.
  • Temporary suspension of the corporate minimum tax, which imposes one more burden on individual looking to start a new business, or maintain their existing small business – for instance, as sole proprietors or limited partnerships – even if the businesses loses money.

Rhode Island consumers have been cooped up inside, often without their regular income. The state should help our families be as active as possible while giving businesses the benefit of their commerce:

  • Repeal bans on single-use plastic bags and other items. The COVID-19 virus and other germs can live on re-usable bags for many days, Rhode Island should repeal all state and municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, straws, and other items. (Maine, New York, and New Hampshire have taken action to roll back similar laws.)
  • Repeal the ban on flavored vaping products to restore choice to Rhode Island adults and to help this industry hire back the workers it was forced to lay-off in 2019.
  • Temporarily suspending Internet Sales Taxes. In March of 2029, the Center published a policy brief with a policy idea that would provide a financial incentive for Ocean Staters to work, shop, and eat at home as much as possible, as the government has either mandated or recommended. To encourage online commerce as a form of social-distancing, the Center recommended this policy. Consideration should be given as to whether this suspension should only apply to in-state purchases and deliveries.
  • To allow alcoholic beverages to leave restaurants when sold with a food take-out order. This will help many restaurants to maintain cash flow and better serve their customers.

Regulatory Reform & Occupational Licensing. For entrepreneurs or individuals looking to start a new career, or to engage in the “gig” economy, and to encourage them to re-enter the workforce as quickly as possible, it is vital that our Ocean State be a welcoming state in support of their desire to engage in meaningful work:

  • Relax all state and local regulations, including zoning, that would interfere with the ability to operate businesses out of the home. Even in the best of times, we are skeptical about the justification for imposing restrictions on people who are trying to advance our economy, improve our society, and support their families. In a time of economic crisis, our tolerance for restrictions should go way down.
  • Institute temporary “reciprocal” occupational licensing, so that licensed professionals in another state, who may be moving to our state to help with the crisis or to establish a new career, can immediately and legally work in their licensed field of expertise.
  • Eliminate sales and hotel taxes on people who offer short-term rentals, independently or through online services like AirBnB. This will encourage home-owners to develop new revenue streams for their households and will make our Ocean State a less expensive tourism destination for many during the vitally important upcoming summer season.

Labor Reforms. To decrease pressure on municipal and state budgets and to lessen the urge to increase taxes on Covid-19 devastated families and businesses:

  • Implement a three-month moratorium on the deduction of government union dues, leaving more money in the pockets of state and local employees. However important labor unions were in helping workers gain some of the benefit of economic booms in the last century, they represent another layer of bureaucracy in our economy. At the same time, the public sector has to share some of the burden of the oncoming recession. At a minimum, removing the government’s implicit subsidy of automatic dues deduction would allow state and local employees to make their own decisions about how their income can best be utilized during these unprecedented times.
  • Temporarily suspend prevailing wage laws that artificially drive up the cost of contracted services by state and local governments by requiring open-shop vendors to pay labor rates significantly higher than they normally would.
  • Temporarily reducing Rhode Island’s minimum wage to the federal level of $7.25 per hour. Our state’s hourly wage mandate of $10.50 is scheduled to rise to $11.50 on October 1st. By providing employers with more flexibility in hiring back their workforce, more Rhode Islanders can more quickly be put on the road to economic recovery. Consideration should be given to limiting this wage-suspension to apply only to newly created or revived positions.
    • Additionally, with government assuming further responsibility for aiding low-income families as we recover from this crises, the state should temporarily increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

The experience of the pandemic, and officials’ response to it, have put a spotlight on just how profound the decisions are that our society must make. Therefore, the state should encourage increased civic participation and development of voluntary civic organizations so neighbors can help their neighbors through these difficult times.

  • Develop a forum for public education, debate, and study of the state and federal constitutions and the response of our state and local governments to the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps as a precursor to a state Constitutional Convention. An educated population with a direct line for debate that will actually make a difference in how our state is governed will give Rhode Islanders an opportunity to determine the direction of their own state, articulating the assumptions under which our government was set up and determining which may no longer apply or have fallen by the wayside.
  • Temporarily limit legal liability for volunteers and charitable organizations that may wish to provide a helping hand during this crisis.

Regarding the 2021 budget process, and given the unpredictability of how quickly our state economy and government tax receipts will recover, it is vital that government live within its means, without placing additional burdens on an already distressed private sector. As New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, recently stated … his state government is not going to be able to deliver all of the services and programs it did before the crisis, and can only begin to do as actual government “receipts” dictate.

  • Implement a state Savings Reward Programs to reward state employees for saving taxpayer money through innovative or reengineered government processes. We know our state government is filled with smart, dedicated people, and they are in the best position to see how things can be changed for the better. Unfortunately, our system as it stands creates incentive to resist change, not advocate for it. This incentive structure must be reversed.
  • Freeze all government hiring, even in cases of retirement and resignation, reallocating employees where they are most needed. The governor has already prepared Rhode Islanders for difficult decisions in the coming months and years. One broad decision that can be made now is to reduce the size of the government that taxpayers must support.
  • Eliminate all government positions that were vacant for at least six months prior to the COVID-19 shut-down. If Rhode Island was getting along without certain government positions in good times, we cannot afford them during bad times. For those tasks that are more necessary in a crisis than they were before, existing personnel should be repurposed.
  • Freeze all taxes, state and municipal, at current levels to ensure that families and businesses, who have faced major income cut-backs of their own, are not forced to shoulder the burden of non-essential government spending.

For people to be able to get back to work and to create an economy that will be more resilient the next time there is a crisis, Rhode Island needs to improve its infrastructure, both in the old sense of roads and bridges and in the emerging sense of digital connectivity.

  • Adopt “dig once” and “one-touch make ready” policies. Implementing policies that increase cooperation between Internet service providers (ISPs) and state and local construction planners would enable the Ocean State to expand broadband communications more cheaply and quickly. The Ocean State has no resources to spare. As we spend money repairing and modernizing our roads, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to advance the infrastructure of the future in a way that can adapt to changing technology.

With families’ learning the ins and outs of “distance learning,” our community has a new level of hands-on experience with education. We must take this opportunity to ensure that our struggling education system reforms to create an informed, job-ready, and resilient population.

  • Begin the process of comparing and analyzing districts’ effectiveness in implementing remote learning in (in and out of Rhode Island) for the development of best practices and other lessons learned. It is not to early to start gathering information from the districts and analyzing it to understand what has worked and what hasn’t.
  • Review state and local budgets to determine what money has been saved by closing school buildings and limiting services in order to create a fund to assist families with education-related expenditures. Our emergency response in education has, on the one hand, created a large network of school and administrative buildings that are not being operated for use and, on the other hand, shifted a substantial amount of the burden for education onto families, themselves. Our state should work to move resources from where they are not being used to where they can make the difference between keeping up and falling behind.

On the health insurance front, many people who have lost their jobs may also have lost their private health care coverage. Currently, Rhode Island’s onerous insurance regulations makes it impossible for provider to offer “short term” insurance plans, either forcing newly uninsured people into much more expensive government-improved plans, onto Medicaid, or to risk living without insurance (and subsequently being penalizing with a fee.)

To help individuals who may be in employment transition during this crisis, Rhode Island should:

  • Expand access to tele-medicine services by having RI file an 1135 waiver with the federal Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) to allow Medicaid patients the same access to tele-health services as Medicare recipients
    • Repeal any existing regulations restricting access to tele-health services
  • End surprise billing for patients by enacting a Georgia-type reform that prohibits medical providers from using third-party collection agencies to collect medical debt that was not informed up-front to patients
  • Expand scope-of-practice allowances for nurses, pharmacists, medical technicians, medical students, and childcare providers … such that they can perform necessary medical testing or care in their field of expertise or for which they may have received training [FL]
  • Remove insurance laws that discourage the sale of short-term health insurance plans, so that patients can be offered lower-cost insurance options from a broader array of providers.

Other health related policy ideas include:

  • Waive regulation to allow medical professionals licensed in other states to be licensed to practice or conduct tele-health services in Rhode Island as was done in Missouri.
  • Repeal Certificate of Need laws that restrict healthcare providers from acquiring advanced technologies, such as medical imaging devices. Such protectionist-driven laws must not become a barrier to Rhode Islanders receiving the the quality care they deserve.
COVID-19

Public Policy and Civic Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis

Government-Distancing Can Help Keep Rhode Islanders Safe and Working During COVID-19 Crisis

To enhance the medical and economic health of Rhode Islanders dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity recommends two initiatives: one by government and one by the private sector. During these trying times, we have a patriotic responsibility to mitigate the many negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

Government-Distancing: Suspend Internet Sales Taxes. To further incentivize people to follow government mandates and guidelines — to work, eat, and shop at home — especially the most vulnerable, and while the COVID-19 virus is still among us, the Center recommends a temporary suspension of the state’s Internet sales tax.

Medical Benefit: To help prevent the physical spread of the COVID-19 virus, social-distancing has become the accepted model for citizens who interact with each other at home, at work, or in public. Similarly, to help prevent the economic malaise that is already spreading among small businesses and individuals, the Center calls for government-distancing to also be practiced, to remove government-imposed barriers that might prevent our people from practicing healthy social-distancing.

By suspending Internet sales taxes and separating itself from the shopping habits of Rhode Islanders, our government can create economic incentive to shop at home, which will lessen the frequency of the community spread of COVID-19. We all know that people will drive over state lines just to save sales tax dollars, so there is little question that people will also not drive away from their homes if it means saving money.

Individual Financial Benefit: A second benefit of suspending Internet sales taxes is that Rhode Islanders will be able to keep more of their hard-earned money. These savings could be very important to the many people who at this time are suffering a loss of income — due to a loss of jobs, loss of working hours, or even the loss of their businesses — partly owing to the government-mandated shut-downs and restrictions and partly to the social-distancing already being practiced.

Budgetary Factors: In a 2019 brief asking lawmakers to honor their commitment to reduce the sales tax rate when Internet sales taxes began, the Center estimated annual revenue of $57 million to be derived from online taxes. At less than $5 million per month, waiving the Internet sales tax for three months could easily be paid for by reducing $18 million in annual corporate welfare or cutting $14 million in unpopular legislative and community service grants gifted to political insiders yearly.

At the end of the legislative session last year, the state refused to reduce the sales tax rate to 6.5% as promised when Rhode Island started collecting Internet sales taxes, meaning these collections have been over and above what Rhode Islanders should have been paying.

Enhancing the Right to Earn. In addition to this one potentially important legislative initiative, the government can further distance itself from being a barrier to getting Rhode Islanders back to work by implementing some of the occupational-licensing reforms the Center recommended in its major 2018 report, The Right to Earn a Living.

Civic Responsibility. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our Ocean State economy, and many small business owners and employees are our neighbors or members of our families. For those who are able, it is the civic responsibility of each and every Rhode Islander to help keep our in-state businesses … and our state … economically healthy, while we sacrifice to keep ourselves medically healthy.

Purchase Gift Certificates and Take-Out Orders: For many small businesses, whose services have been shut down or severely curtailed by government mandates or lower demand from people voluntarily staying at home, short-term cash flow is vital to their survival, to be able to pay their employees, to pay their rent, to purchase the raw materials they need, or just to conduct necessary business operations.

Gift certificates, purchased by individuals and businesses who have the near-term financial capacity, can be a critical way to infuse much-needed cash into businesses today with 100% near-term net cash flow, while delivery of their goods and services, and the associated expenses, can be delayed into the future, when normal business conditions return. This simple activity by thousands of Rhode Islanders would mean cash IN now, with expenses OUT later, and extend the lives of many businesses and jobs in our state. Purchasing take-out orders from food and beverage and other establishments can also keep cash flowing into businesses during this critical period.

A Call to Chambers and Other Private Institutions: While individuals can engage in the above-recommended activities on their own, an even more positive impact can result if business groups and other civic organizations help promote these concepts. We encourage all public, private, and civic organizations to actively do their part in raising awareness about how their members might help small businesses in this way:

  • Local Chambers of Commerce
  • Statewide business associations
  • Churches and other charitable organizations
  • Rotary, K of C, Kiwanis, and other civic clubs