Rhode Island Covid-19 Help

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

In these trying times, with over fifty 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.

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, within the past week, 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 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.

Already in Rhode Island, one of the Center’s early 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:

  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Last week, 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:

  • Temporarily suspending Internet Sales Taxes. Consideration should be given as to whether this suspension should only apply to in-state purchases and deliveries.

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:

  • 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.

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
Rhode Island will weather the Coronavirus crisis. We must hold true to the core American values that were the basis for the founding of our nation.

CEO Mike Stenhouse: My Message Of Hope During This Coronavirus Crisis

During these times that “try men’s and women’s souls” and that are causing such upheaval in our lives, we are all left to wonder how we will cope. I pray for your health and for the safety of everyone in your family. 

May I also offer why I am personally hopeful and confident that America and Rhode Island will weather the Coronavirus crisis. In our hearts and minds, we must hold true to the core American values that were the basis for the founding of our nation and for its unprecedented prosperity … our true north. 

I have often publicly stated that the divisiveness we are currently experiencing in our country is fundamentally due to a growing lack of faith in our country and a lack of trust in God. But for those of us who do share these values, like you and me, I believe we can find great solace. 

I personally have great trust … because of America’s capitalistic society and the remarkable strength of our economy before the Coronavirus crisis … that despite any financial pain we are feeling now, and may feel for some time to come, that our economy will rebound very quickly and will minimize the long-term negative effects.

For me, my faith in knowing that millions of people of God have joined with me in praying for our world, has been highly comforting in believing that my family and loved ones will end up OK.

But we all know that many, many others will indeed suffer – health-wise and economically. That is why today I am encouraging you to be generous with other credible charitable organizations that offer direct assistance to those in need of medical and financial assistance. Americans are the most charitable people in the world, and it is this noble virtue that will help the most needy of our neighbors to weather the storm.

I ask you to join me in keeping the faith with our core values and in proactively seeking to help our sisters and brothers in distress.

RI Women For Freedom

Center Announces New Women’s Group to Counter Progressive-Left

RI Women For Freedom Logo

New Group Gives Voice to the Silent Majority of Ocean State Women
Learn more at RIWomenForFreedom.org

Providence, RI – The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today announced the launch of a new women’s initiative, designed to attract moderate and conservative women who do not feel that the state’s progressive-left groups speak for them.

The mission of the new group, RI Women for Freedom & Prosperity, is to empower and give voice to the silent majority of pro-liberty women in our state; to be heard and to effectively become involved our state’s political process and in society by providing them with the information, education & training, and motivation to confidently engage in civil public discourse and to become a trusted leader in the civic and business arenas.

“I have had so many women approach me over the years who appreciate the work of our Center, but still feel that an organized counter-balance to our state’s progressive women’s groups is needed,” commented Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “So, we put together a great leadership team and a program that women will truly appreciate.”

Susan Wynn, RI Women For Freedom & Prosperity

RI Women for Freedom is currently accepting memberships at just $10 per year and is expected to soon engage in important issue debates and to announce its initial training and educational events. 

One focus of the new group is to provide the ‘other side’ of the debate in many of the important policy and societal issues that arise … by representing the views of mainstream women … and to do so in a bold, yet civil and respectful manner. 

The women’s group executive committee is headed by Susan Wynne, a long-time advocate in the state and former President of the RI Tea Party. “Our goal is to give voice to the silent majority of moderate and conservative women in our state as a common-sense contrast to the extreme-left views pushed up at the statehouse,” said Wynne.

From its RIWomenForFreedom.org website, the group has already enlisted a broad diversity of women supporters and members who do not view themselves as victims in need of special protections, as they are often portrayed by far-left women’s groups.

Legislation that placed a tax on the legal use of opioid perscriptions in Rhode Island has resulted in unintended consequences and should be repealed.

Center Calls for Repeal of Opioid Stewardship Act in Open Letter to Leadership

Letter Cites Unintended Consequences of Opioid Tax
Center’s Chairman Predicted Such in 2019 Opinion Piece

Providence, RI – As was predicted by the Center’s Chairman last year, the 2019 Opioid Stewardship Act, enacted legislation that placed a tax on the legal use of pain-killers, has resulted in unintended consequences that have disrupted supply chains and placed additional financial burdens on patients. 

Today, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity sent an open-letter to General Assembly leadership, calling on them to repeal the Act. 

Cited in the letter from his 2019 Providence Journal opinion piece, Dr. Stephen Skoly, a maxillo-facial surgeon, with long experience in prescribing legal pain relief medications, wrote – “when developing policy, Rhode Island legislators need to acknowledge the importance of protecting the affordability and accessibility of necessary medications for our state’s patients and their families.” 

The Center believes the time is now to correct last year’s mistake.

occupation licensing

Center Submits Testimony on Omnibus Occupational Licensing Reform Bill

Written Testimony on Bill to Reduce Regulatory Burdens On Occupation Licensing Law
Commends Leadership from Department of Business Regulation

Providence, RI – Encouraged that reforms continue to move forward based on its 2018 report on the heavy burdens of “occupation licensing” laws in the state, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity yesterday submitted written testimony to the House Committee on Small Business.  

The omnibus legislation, H7892, seeks to reduce occupation licensing burdens across multiple occupational areas, and in passing this bill, Rhode Island would join the increasing national trend – both at the state and federal level – to reduce roadblocks that may prohibit certain individuals from engaging in meaningful work. 

“I would like to commend the Department of Business Regulation, led by Elizabeth Tanner, for their leadership in crafting this legislation, which will help to improve our state’s poorly-ranked business climate,” commented Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “There is much more we can do to make Rhode Island a more hospitable state to build a career.”

Last year, another recommendation from the Center’s Right To Earn report, common-sense legislation long-time supported by the Center, to remove onerous regulatory burdens for natural hair-braiders … was finally passed by the General Assembly and enacted into law. 

In the testimony, Stenhouse offered committee members to review the Center’s list of other occupational licensing reform solutions that can enhance Ocean Stater’s right to earn a living of their choice.

A PDF of this testimony, the Center’s report on licensing reform, and other related information can be found at RIFreedom.org/RightToEarn.

issue advocacy lawsuit

Update on Lawsuit Against Unconstitutional State Campaign Finance Law

Brief Filed Against State’s Motion to Dismiss the Lawsuit

Pro-liberty Attorneys Press Forward With Strong Defense of 1st Amendment

Providence, RI – As part of its new strategic litigation initiative, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity announced today that the attorneys at its partner firm, the Liberty Justice Center (LJC), filed a response brief to the State’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit the Center helped bring last year against an unconstitutional donor disclosure law in the Ocean State, described by LJC as “among the most stringent, invasive, disclosure requirements in America”. 

The lawsuit challenges a Rhode Island law, R.I.G.L. § 17-25.3-1, which requires information about donors who support nonpartisan, issue advocacy organizations to be disclosed to the government when the group engages in issue-advocacy during certain time periods.

The Attorney General of Rhode Island, representing the defendant, the Rhode Island Board of Elections, last month filed a motion to end the case currently pending before Judge Mary S. McElroy in federal district court. Attorneys for the Gaspee Project and Illinois Opportunity Project, two nonprofit organizations challenging the law, are pushed back with a strong defense of the First Amendment in their response, filed yesterday.

“The attorneys at the Liberty Justice Center pressed the case for a federal judge to vindicate the free-speech rights of nonprofit groups in Rhode Island,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Issue-advocacy is a private and protected First Amendment right, regardless of when that money is spent. This invasive and unconstitutional law exposes citizens to possible retaliation and harassment for simply exercising their free speech rights.”

In their brief, the LJC attorneys looked at the historical tradition of our nation, which respects the right to speak in the public square without government registration and regulation, starting with the founding fathers and the Federalist Papers.  The brief also draws on several U.S. Supreme Court cases from the Civil Rights era establishing that nonprofit organizations enjoy a constitutional guarantee of privacy for their members and supporters. Taken together, LJC attorneys trust their arguments have a strong foundation for success with the judge.

Per the brief, politicians are unconstitutionally seeking out “sensitive, private donor information, knowing there are those who will seize upon it to target, embarrass, and harrass citizens and corporations that engage in or support issue advocacy.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are The Gaspee Project, a 501(c)4 nonpartisan advocacy organization in Rhode Island, and the Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)4 social-welfare organization. The Gaspee Project et al. v. Mederos, was filed in November 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. 

Similar disclosure requirements in other states have faced considerable scrutiny. As a result of challenge brought by the Liberty Justice Center in New Jersey, the state is currently blocked from enforcing the measures.

View the brief and the original complaint and to learn more about this lawsuit and the Center’s strategic litigation initiative at www.RIFreedom.org/Litigation.

Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), December 2019: Signs of Growth Foretell a Revision

The final report for 2019 of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) found Rhode Island still with its overall ranking of 47th in the country. Data for all 12 datapoints of the index except federal taxes were updated for this iteration, and the only negatives, compared with September, were a slight increase in marginally attached workers and a more-significant increase in state and local taxes.

Employment and labor force were up about 0.7% and 0.6%, respectively, since the first-reported numbers for September, and RI-based jobs increased 0.5%. With the national economy continuing to improve, Medicaid enrollment fell 3.2%, while TANF (cash welfare) rolls shrank by 24.0%. SNAP enrollment was down 0.3%. The Ocean State had 16.5% fewer residents who counted as long-term unemployed and 7.8% fewer who were working only part time because more work was not available. However, the number counting as marginally attached increased 2.1%.

When it comes to money, personal income was up a modest 0.3% on an annualized basis, which amounted to $161 million more income. However, state and local taxation increased 1.4%, or $50 million, resulting not only from the increased income, but also increases in taxation after recent legislative sessions.

The first chart shows RI remaining last in New England on JOI, at 47th. New Hampshire held the 1st spot, nationally. Maine improved its standing two spots, to 17th, while Vermont continued to slip, to 21st. Massachusetts moved up a step to 36th, and Connecticut advanced to 37th. 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 advanced five spots, to 27th.
  • Freedom Factor (the level of work against reliance on welfare programs): RI remained 41st.
  • Prosperity Factor (the financial motivation of income versus taxes): RI remained 47th.

Click here for the corresponding employment post on the Ocean State Current.

Virginia Valentine: TCI Compact Crumbling as Virginia Gives Love, Says No to New Gas Taxes

Virginia Gives Some Valentine’s Day Love to Old Dominion Motorists

Providence, RI – Families and businesses in the state of Virginia were given a dose of Valentine’s Day love this week, when political leaders announced that the state would not join the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) compact this year, saving Old Dominion motorists from paying up to 17 cents more per gallon of gas.

Additionally, because of the work of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity and its partners in the #NoTCItax regional coalition to raise awareness in their respective states, New Hampshire had previously withdrawn from the compact, while the governors of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont have also expressed opposition to new carbon taxes. In Rhode Island, the Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, along with 24 other lawmakers, have publicly stated their opposition to the TCI Gas Tax cap-and-trade system. In Massachusetts, lawmakers are reported as considering less intrusive alternatives.

And now in Virginia, its Secretary of Natural Resources, Matt Strickler, is on record saying his state won’t even consider joining TCI for at least another year. Yet despite the crumbling support from northeast states, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondodoes not appear ready to give up on this unpopular scheme. 

“The Governor will instigate a major political and legal fight if she attempts to impose a major new gas tax by bypassing the General Assembly by taking unauthorized executive action,” said Mike Stenhouse, the Center’s CEO. “Ocean State families and businesses should not be punished for driving their personal cars and business vehicles.”

In December, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity joined 17 other free-market organizations in sending an open letter to Governor Raimondo and Ocean State lawmakers asking them to reject this TCI gas tax scheme. In January, the entire group met in Boston.

Last month, the Center published a TCI Question & Answer document on the proposed TCI gas tax. The TCI Q&A, the TCI Open Letter, the TCI Gas Tax policy brief, and other related information can be found at RIFreedom.org/NoTCITax.

Center’s Work with Regional Coalition Has Backed TCI Proponents Into a Corner

Center Participates In Regional Meeting Involving 10 States to  Oppose the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI)

Providence, RI – It is not by accident that the proposed Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) is losing support among many of the states it has targeted … to the point where some proponents are considering a Plan-B.

Last week, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, traveled to Boston to meet with other organizations from east coast states who oppose TCI, a regional compact targeting 12 states and Washington DC that seeks to impose a 5 to 17 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, with the intent of forcing Rhode Island to drive less often and into more costly and less convenient electric vehicles and public transportation options.

Because of the work of the #NoTCItaxcoalition to raise awareness in their respective states, New Hampshire has already withdrawn from the compact, while the governors of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont have also expressed opposition to new carbon taxes. In Rhode Island, the Speaker of the House, Nicholas Mattiello, has publicly stated that he is opposed to the TCI Gas Tax. In Massachusetts, lawmakers are reported as considering less intrusive alternatives.

Alongside our New England colleagues from the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, Ethan Allen Institute, Maine Heritage Policy Center, Yankee Institute, Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire, and Maine Policy – as well as a number of organizations in other northeast states – Stenhouse participated in a downtown Boston press conference where each organization  had the opportunity to outline why TCI is a bad idea for their state and why we believe it will ultimately fail. 

Check out the Boston Herald’s coverage of the press conference here.

At the event, covered by about 8 members of the Massachusetts media, Stenhouse stated that Rhode Islanders should not be purposefully punished for for driving their personal autos or business vehicles in the normal course of their lives.

In December, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity joined 17 other free-market organizations in sending an open letter to Governor Raimondo and Ocean State lawmakers asking them to reject this TCI gas tax scheme.

Last week, the Center published a TCI Question & Answer document the proposed TCI gas tax. The TCI Q&A, the TCI Open Letter, the TCI Gas Tax policy brief, and other related information can be found at RIFreedom.org/NoTCITax.