Urgent and innovative steps to jumpstart Rhode Island’s economy
The Goals: Make our assets work for us, establish an honest budget policy, and end cronyism and corruption.
Today I am proposing a specific set of steps that can be implemented in the first 100 days of my administration.
My plan is to work with existing assets, help bring the state budget under control, and expunge the corruption and cronyism that has been a dead weight on our economy for far too long. Our priority must be to focus on ripe redevelopment opportunities at Warwick Station, the Providence Jewelry District, Quonset Point, and Newport’s North End. Clustering our economic development strategy will allow us to create a critical mass for growth. In addition, we can target major infrastructure improvements, such as super high-speed Internet connectivity, that will attract businesses just as traditional transportation systems attract business. This new infrastructure is critical in enabling Rhode Island to compete with Massachusetts and other communication hubs for high-tech industry and related high-paying jobs.
Unemployment hit 11.8 percent in August — the worst in New England. I intend to take prompt and decisive action to reverse policies that have not created jobs, not been kind to small businesses, and have slashed funding to state colleges and universities at the very time that public investment in education and workforce development is most critical.
I have six years of experience in the manufacturing sector, including four years building submarines at Electric Boat. I have faith that with honest leadership, wise decisions, and hard work, we can bring Rhode Island’s economy back.
I have a vision for our state’s future, and it is in the spirit of Samuel Slater and Rhode Island’s leadership role in America’s first industrial revolution. I see modern high tech manufacturing hubs, a leader in production and innovation in the fields of health care, defense, energy, and in business tourism. Investment thrives because the state has controlled its budget, is investing in infrastructure and has instituted transparency in its decision-making. We nurture our small businesses, and see them as the key to our future prosperity. Our natural, cultural and historic resources are renowned as contributing to a very high quality of life. Our economy will be strong.
Today I offer a new strategy as the first step to rebuild Rhode Island’s economy and create good jobs for Rhode Islanders. I will take a leadership role in planning and marketing the state’s most critical growth centers. Instead of offering huge windfalls to large out of state corporations, my administration will enact new policies to help Rhode Island’s existing small and mid-sized business grow. We will take action to simplify the business tax system and plan for a sustainable state budget. We will not shortchange higher education, the key to our economic future.
In my first one hundred days as Governor, I will take the following series of concrete steps:
First: We will protect and expand our assets:
1. I will take the lead in driving growth in Rhode Island. I will make the governor’s office the center for planning and marketing exciting new development opportunities in Rhode Island’s key growth centers, especially the 20 acres in Providence’s Jewelry District opened up by the relocation of I-195, the new Station District at TF Green Airport in Warwick, Quonset Point Industrial Park in North Kingstown and 30 acres abutting Naval Station Newport next to the Newport Bridge.
I will designate one member of my senior staff to report directly to me to coordinate all activities of all the agencies relating to development in these districts.
The taxpayers have invested heavily in opening up these new areas for major new private construction projects, which means good jobs. As Governor I will take a leadership role in investing in infrastructure to attract quality development that will bring high tech industry that will employ Rhode Islanders and strengthen our tax base.
These or any other substantial economic development projects involving state resources should include an investment in developing the ultra high speed internet connectivity that can put Rhode Island in the forefront of the technological revolution.
2. I will instruct the director of the EDC to develop a small and medium size business service plan within 30 days. We will create a library of information to allow small businesses to have access to the same information large businesses have in making business decisions. In other locations, this has doubled the number of jobs and tripled sales tax revenues in similar businesses.
3. I will prefile legislation to make RI the most independent worker friendly state in the nation. I will ask the General Assembly to enact act on legislative initiatives dealing with independent workers in the first 100 days.
Independent workers make up 30% of the nation’s workforce. They are freelancers, consultants, independent contractors, temps, part-timers, contingent employees, and the self-employed. Many are recent college graduates who are just starting out in their careers, finding it difficult to find a job, and are just starting out on their own. Others are advanced in their careers and would be attracted to the opportunity to work for themselves. Most freelancers can’t access affordable insurance, are taxed more than traditional employees, and have limited access to protections such as unemployment insurance, retirement plans, and unpaid wage claims.
I will present legislation that will make group health benefits available to independent workers, as they are in New York, and will give those workers access to Department of Labor and Training (DLT) procedures to enforce wage claims. I will also create an Independent Workforce Council within DLT to ensure that all government programs fairly address the needs of this growing segment of the workforce.
We will also work with community education and meet-up groups such as Providence Geeks to promote the inherent entrepreneurial spirit of Rhode Islanders.
4. I will protect our educational resources. I will submit a budget proposal to start protecting our higher education assets. We will stop the dramatic reductions in funding to CCRI, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island. The last eight years have seen a serious decline in statewide funding for public higher education.
Funding for higher education has declined more sharply in Rhode Island than in any other state over the last three years. We need to reverse this course, and make our colleges and universities key engines in our economic development program. We need to work to exploit the creativity and new discoveries of our colleges and universities the way many other state systems have so successfully done.
The sad fact is that our flagship institution, the University of Rhode Island, is no longer really a state university in practice – it is in reality now properly called a state assisted university.
5. I will develop a new Middle College Program. I will work with with the RI Board of Governors of Higher Education and the leadership of CCRI to establish a Middle College Program to create a skilled trained workforce. This program will be modeled on successful middle college programs in place in a number of other states including California, Colorado, Michigan, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
This program will give many more students, especially those enrolled in career-oriented trade schools, the opportunity to attain a quality education and full employment.
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Second: We will have an open and honest budget process:
6. I will hold a budget summit. I will hold a budget summit with all stakeholders within the transition period. We will squarely face the projected $300-$400 million deficit. We will eliminate the practice of deferring difficult and critical decisions. We will draft a “pay as you go” budget template, which helped the federal government achieve surpluses in the late 1990’s. I intend to be guided by ideas such as the RIPEC proposal for a longer view in addressing our budget issues.
7. I will initiate a program to ensure business tax fairness. We will adopt policies to ensure that no one segment of business, large or small, is unfairly burdened by the corporate tax structure. I will mandate an annual review of the corporate tax code to ensure continuing fairness.
8. I will conduct audits of all economic development tax deals. We need to stop the bleeding of state resources through tax credit programs that have no discernible impact.
The more than two dozen tax credits the EDC promotes come at a major cost to non-qualifying firms, restricts the tax base and increases compliance costs. The Rhode Island Division of Taxation recently reported that the state cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of nearly $40M business tax credits given away in 2010 and $82.2M in 2009. At the same time, a University of Massachusetts economic study asserts that such tax credits and business subsidies are less effective at spurring growth than spending on public works projects and public education. Despite this evidence, some candidates for Governor are proposing yet new job creation tax credits, which tend to benefit only those firms that would hire anyway.
I will demand an immediate evaluation of each of these programs from the ground up. We will then eliminate the ones where there is no evident economic value.
In the past we have focused on large projects and major employers, often offering them extraordinarily generous deals to come to or stay in Rhode Island. Some of these deals can be so generous as to possibly negate much of the job creation value of the arrangement.
The EDC has not been able to even keep track the recipients of these generous deals to determine if they have, in fact, kept their bargain. As Governor, I will initiate an audit of every job development deal made in the last eight years to ensure that the business partners have kept their end of the deal. If they have not, we will use the full weight of state government to ensure that, however belatedly, they do so.
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Third: We Will Root Out the Cronyism and Corruption that Hobbles Job Creation:
9. I will issue a strong executive order on ethics on my first day of office.
I will attack the culture of corruption and cronyism that hinders job creation starting on my first day in office. I will demand the highest standards of appropriate behavior. This executive order will designate one individual as the contact person for all state and municipal employees, as well as private citizens, to contact with concerns about unethical behavior involving state and local government.
We will attack the ‘soft corruption’ that is as corrosive as illegal conduct is over the long term. We will insist that every employee ask themselves two questions: Is it legal, and is it ethical? If there is any doubt, I want every employee to ask a person who knows the answer. I will tolerate nothing but the highest standard of behavior from every employee.
10. I will utilize E-government to give Rhode Islanders a more transparent and accountable State House. We will make Rhode Island the most responsive state government in America. This will benefit everyone from people trying to start a business to those trying to navigate the division of motor vehicles. This will allow state purchasing more accessible for vendors and for those seeking to do business with the state. The transparency of the system will further reduce opportunities for the cronyism people believe permeates state government.
Our current state website provides valuable resources but makes them difficult to find and use. We will upgrade RI.gov to ensure that citizens can take full advantage of available public services. The upgrade will include placing every possible government online.
11. I will introduce legislation to reform and redirect the $125 million Loan Guarantee Fund. I have previously announced a comprehensive proposal to recreate an open and transparent loan guarantee fund. I want EDC to begin conducting a national search for innovative job-creating proposals, take aggressive efforts to encourage RI start-ups, partner with colleges and universities, and establish order, transparency and competitiveness to the process.
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Linc Chafee is a tested leader of unquestioned integrity and a strong independent voice. As Governor, he will work hard to create new jobs, rebuild our economy, solve our chronic budget problems, end corruption, and forge a new way forward for Rhode Island.