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Individual Property Rights in the Cross Hairs in the Ocean State

Homeowners, businesses, and other property owners should be aware that a series of bills under consideration in the Rhode Island General Assembly would undermine or erode their individual property rights — the foundation of the U.S. Constitution and the free-enterprise system.

In the name of vague environmental resource benefits, three bills in particular would systematically give the state, or new state and local agencies, authority to infringe upon the rights and freedoms of local property owners.

It appears that the state is seeking a larger role in centrally planning, mandating, or influencing how local land or property may or may not be utilized. The plans are so invasive that Rhode Islanders may be left wondering whether they own their land or merely lease it temporarily from the government.

1) House Bill 6099 would create a new, quasi-public statewide Ocean State Regional Water Authority, with a board consisting of a majority of members appointed by the mayors of Providence, Cranston, and North Providence, ostensibly with the goal of ensuring that enough water is available to communities throughout the state.

Perhaps most egregiously, the new Water Authority would have the power to enter without permission onto any property in Rhode Island to examine the land and drill and dig into the ground. It would also have powers of eminent domain, to take land that the board determines it needs for current or future use. It would also set rates for water and have authority to place liens on properties of delinquent customers, as well as to shut off their water.

The bill further allows the state to purchase or lease from the Providence water system or other local organizations that currently operate such systems and to bring in water from out of state. The purchase or lease price would not be not subject to Public Utilities Commission (PUC) or Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) approval or proceedings, and the costs would be passed on to water customers via increased rates.

“(c) Notwithstanding anything in the general laws to the contrary, and without limiting the provisions of section 46-32-11 set forth above, neither the Rhode Island public utilities commission nor the Rhode Island division of public utilities and carriers shall have any jurisdiction, authority, or other power to approve, reject, review, or in any way affect any acquisition or the terms of any purchase and sale agreement or lease agreement.”

Going even farther, the legislation explicitly prohibits the PUC and DPUC from requiring that the water authority’s purchase or lease payments “benefit, directly or indirectly… the water ratepayers.” In this case, the question of ownership is broader: In publicly held water districts, the taxpayers and ratepayers are responsible for the liabilities of their systems, but under this legislation, they would not likewise be recipients of any of the benefits of ownership.

2) House Bill 5633 and Senate Bill 696 would use state grants and matching funds to pressure cities and towns to create “community preservation committees” (with a majority vote from residents), which would research and implement land purchase and development deals in keeping with ideals of sustainable development. The legislation would allow cities and towns to impose up to an additional 3% tax (renamed as a “surcharge”) on local property that would not be counted in any calculations or limits on the property tax levy.

The state would provide matching funds up to 100% of the additional surcharge, with the money coming from (among other places) an additional $20 fee on all real estate recording instruments (e.g., deeds).

In creating these new local committees, these bills would provide a new path for “affordable housing” or other “green” projects to be approved and funded locally. This presents two potential issues for existing property owners.

First, it is not unusual that the resulting subsidized developments are taxed at lower rates than most others — while existing property owners are subject to higher rights, even surpassing existing caps. This tax level disparity would make it significantly more expensive to live in unsubsidized areas.

Second, these committees, in furthering their preferred land purchase and development deals, may exempt projects from local zoning ordinances.  In contrast, the way the legislation is constructed, the state government could impose requirements that the towns would have to follow. (One example already in the bill is a ban on “artificial turf.”)

While existing local governments would technically have to pass related projects and mandates, it isn’t clear whether the legislation permits them not to do so.

Unelected officials, coordinated and trained via a statewide infrastructure with its own agenda, would have new powers to determine local land use that would create disparate and inequitable tax structures. That all Rhode Island property owners would be forced fund this questionable activity via fees on standard transactions and new, renamed property taxes is clearly a program that infringes on property rights.

3) House Bill 5801 would require any “greenhouse gas emissions source” (as defined by the state Dept. of Environmental Management) in or doing business in Rhode Island to increase its tracking and reporting to the state, as well as impose direct fees on them for use of the DEM. The legislation would also make greenhouse gas emissions a focus of state economic development activities.

By charging commercial property and business owners additional fees or causing them to incur unnecessary expenses for conducting or reporting normal business activities, the state would be infringing on the rights of those owners.

Further, the idea that restricting or charging for greenhouse gas emissions can somehow be considered a serious part of an economic development activity is preposterous. Such fees would only be a further detriment to an already weak state economy that has been hampered by similar dubious statutes in the first place.

Center Assembles Expert Panel for Sales Tax Hearing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  May 13, 2013 

Providence, RI — Hailed as the largest tax cut and economic stimulus plan the state of Rhode Island has ever considered, an expert panel has been assembled by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity to testify at Wednesday’s hearing of the “Sales Tax Repeal Act of 2013” (H-5365) in front of the RI House Finance Committee on May 15, at 1:00 pm in Room 35 at the RI State House.

The panel is comprised of: Scott Moody, the national economist who authored the original Zero.Zero Sales Tax report in 2012, which inspired the bill sponsored by Rep. Jan Mailik (D-67); Paul Bachman, from the Beacon Hill Institute, which developed the STAMP modeling program that produced the job and revenue projections used in the Zero.Zero reports; the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse; and the Center’s research director, Justin Katz.

The updated 2013 Zero.Zero report showed that as little as $105 million in budget savings could put the Ocean State on the path towards 25,000 new jobs and a re-invigorated economy, if the state were to repeal its onerous sales and meals tax.

“This is the only game-changing reform idea out there for a state economy that desperately needs a game-changing idea”, said Stenhouse. “This is a reform that would immediately save money for every family and business, and that would attract out-of-state shoppers to our state. Because of the regressive nature of the sales tax – and eliminating it would help low-income families most – we are seeing support from across the political spectrum. We invite all members of the public to attend the hearing and see how this plan can put Rhode Islanders back to work.”

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy think tank, is the state’s leading free-enterprise advocacy organization. With a credo that freedom is indispensable to citizens’ well-being and prosperity, the Center’s mission is to stimulate a rigorous exchange of ideas with the goal of restoring competitiveness to Rhode Island through the advancement of market-based reform solutions.

Center Provides Testimony on Key 2013 Bills

The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity submitted the following pieces of testimony to the appropriate House and Senate committees regarding proposed 2013 pieces of legislation.

As an IRS approved, 501-C-3 nonprofit organization, the Center is not allowed to openly advocate ‘for’ or ‘against’ a specific bill, however we can provide testimony with regard to research and perspective relative to the underlying issue contained within the bill. 

HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE:

May 15 (H5365) – Stenhouse, Katz and expert panel present the entire case to bring the sales tax to Zero.Zero%

Capitol TV Video of the Hearing (Stenhouse @ 18:00 mark; Katz @ 56:00 mark) .

Stenhouse-Written Testimony-H5365

May 8 (H5751 & H5805) – Justin Katz on proposals to raise state income tax rates. Written testimony and live excerpts at the ehearing. katz-testimony-housefinance-taxtherich-050813; See video from the hearing (19:25 mark)

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:

May 8 (H5321) – the Center on proposals to modify Rhode Island’s litigation laws to ensure that defendants are liable ONLY for their percentage of fault. Written testimony only LegalClimate-H5321

Zero. Zero 2013

Eliminate the state sales tax to create jobs. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity proposes the elimination of Rhode Island’s sales tax as a means of high-impact economic development.

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Rhode Island General Assembly Freedom Index

The first-annual General Assembly Freedom Index by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity scores Ocean State lawmakers on their level of support for principles of freedom as proven by their votes on the floors of the House and Senate.

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Minimum Wage’s Cost in Jobs: 432 at $8.25 and 3,466 at $10.10

Profile of minimum wage worker is NOT of a low-income, family bread-winner.

Related Links: WJAR-10 TV Story; GoLocalProv Story; Pew Research Center: national data backs up our findings; CBO – nonpartisan federal agency echos job loss projections (2014)

2014 Wall Street Journal story confirms Center’s position

Video by FEE: The Truth about the minimum wage …

As an update to prior studies of the effect of increasing the minimum wage on Rhode Island’s employment situation, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity estimates that proposed increases could cost the state hundreds or even thousands of jobs.

Legislation passed the General Assembly in 2014 that will increase the minimum wage in 2015 to $9.00 per hour, from its current $8.00, which was itself a new increase from $7.40 2 years ago. When all is said and done, this jump from $7.40 to $9.00 will wind up costing the state hundreds or thousands of jobs, the lion’s share affecting teenagers.

Additionally, legislators in the U.S. Congress are advocating for an increase to $10.10 per hour or higher.  That change, we estimate, would destroy 3,466 Rhode Islanders’ jobs.

Minimum Wage Changes in Rhode Island

The very next session after the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to increase the minimum wage from $7.40 to $7.75, the legislature will consider bills moving it up again, to $8.25.  The elected officials who made H5079 and S0256 among the earliest legislation to hit the State House, this year, surely see the move as a campaign to help struggling families. But the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity sees it as a continuing assault on the state’s economy and especially those most in need of upward mobility.

Last July, the Center found that Rhode Island’s move from $6.75 to $7.40, from 2005 to 2011, likely cost teenagers in the state 397 jobs.  The increase to $7.75 destroyed an estimated 200 more.

Based on the work of the economists who performed that study, David Macpherson (Trinity University) and William Even (Miami University), with a review of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey for 2011 and 2012, the Center estimates that, overall, the move from $7.40 to $8.25 will eliminate 432 jobs, 204 of them among teenagers.*

Who Is Affected?

According to the study, 24,846 Rhode Islanders currently have jobs that pay them at a rate of $8.25 per hour or less.  The “typical” profile — using the highest percentage by each demographic quality — is of a white non-Hispanic high-school graduate, 21-years-old or younger and with no college experience, who lives with his or her parents and works 20-34 hours per week. The following chart shows how dominant each of these qualities is in the under-$8.25 population.

Rhode Islanders Earning $8.25 or Less per Hour by Demographic Category

Simply put, the image of low-income families struggling along at minimum wage is mostly false. The average family income of Rhode Islanders who make $8.25 per hour or less is $61,299.  For these families, the minimum-wage job provides only supplemental income. As the following table shows, even two full-time minimum-wage incomes would barely amount to half of this average.

Annual Income Earned for Different Minimum Wages by Hours Worked per Week ($)

$7.40

$7.75

$8.25

20 hours

7,696

8,060

8,580

34 hours

13,083

13,702

14,586

40 hours

15,392

16,120

17,160

Notes: The percentages of minimum-wage-earning Rhode Islanders in each hours category is as follows:

  • Fewer than 20 hours: 30.2%
  • 20 to 34 hours: 41.6%
  • 35 or more hours: 28.2%

Results assume 52 weeks of work per year.

Source: U.S. Census, Current Population Survey, 2011 and 2012

The following chart illustrates that only a small minority of families rely entirely on a minimum wage income for support, even among households with some minimum-wage income.

Living Situations of Rhode Island Households with a Member Earning $8.25 or Less per Hour

What’s the Effect?

We estimate that the increase of the minimum wage from $7.40 to $8.25 per hour will result in a loss of 432 minimum wage jobs in Rhode Island. This total assumes a lower effect on better educated and older workers.  That’s a 1.74% reduction of employment available to people currently earning less than $8.25. Of those losing jobs, 204 will be teenagers.

The focus of advocates for higher minimum wages is very often on the plight of people striving to live on such low salaries, but most workers at that pay rate do not fit the profile.  Most of them are bringing in relatively small amounts of supplemental income — many as discretionary spending cash for teens and young adults who are still largely supported by their parents.

In the view of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, the loss of employment opportunities for Rhode Islanders in this group outweighs the relatively small increases in take-home pay.  At young adults’ formative age, the connections, habits, and general experience that come from working at any pay scale are vastly more valuable than the small increases that legislators are able to mandate through minimum wage laws.

At the National Level, a Bigger Hammer

This morning, Rhode Island’s two representatives in the U.S. Congress, Jim Langevin (D) and David Cicilline (D), jointly announced their support for the “Fair Minimum Wage Act.” The act would increase the federal minimum wage — and, therefore, Rhode Island’s minimum wage — to $10.10 per hour.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity estimates that this move would result in a loss of 3,466 jobs for Rhode Islanders, or 4.1% of the total number who currently work at or below that rate of pay.  Moreover, even with this broader net, the number of affected families that are subsisting on minimum wage income alone would still be just 17% of all households with at least one member earning that amount.

 

* Going back to the prior minimum wage rate of $7.40 was necessary because measuring the change from the current rate of $7.75 to $8.25 produced insufficient sample sizes.