Saturday, August 09, 2008

State Senate, Dist. 12 Candidate

As we are all too well aware, Rhode Island faces significant budget challenges. The state’s 2008 budget required a supplemental appropriation and will inevitably result in an ever-increasing deficit. The state’s 2009 budget deficit is expected to be in excess of $425 million and growing.

National economic problems are responsible for some of Rhode Island’s financial woes, but we are significantly worse off than most states. We can, and must, do better.

The state’s unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, second highest in the nation. We should all be outraged. According to “official” estimates, we are not “technically” in a recession. This is small solace for Rhode Island residents who have lost their jobs and are paying more than $4 a gallon for gas. We can only imagine what home heating oil will cost this winter; it is estimated to be around $4 a gallon as well, further compounding an already difficult situation. Where and when will it end? When will Rhode Island emerge from recession and, most importantly, what can be done?

Most assuredly, the $7 billion budget passed by the General Assembly will not help. It is essentially a stopgap measure that avoids a deficit, as required by our state constitution, and it is essentially based on hope — which is never a plan. It does not increase taxes, which is a good thing, but it inevitably will require a supplemental budget in 2009, which is not a good thing.

First, we need more taxpayers. We certainly do not need more taxes. We need to grow our economic base by focusing on the things that Rhode Island does best. A lot has been said about making Rhode Island business-friendly, and we need to do that. But we also need to make it resident-friendly.

A friend of mine recently talked to his financial adviser, and the one piece of advice he was given is: “Don’t die in Rhode Island!” We don’t need to be scaring retirees out of the state. A critical element to achieving this objective is the development of focused, strategic and sustained economic development, including “green” industry and ocean technologies. Rhode Island can certainly lead and reinvent itself as it initially did some 200-plus years ago, led by Samuel Slater, the father of the Industrial Revolution.

Second, we need to focus on good governance. The governor once promised a “great audit” of state government. It never really happened, perhaps because the idea was too ambitious or simply not executable. We need to find a way to review every function of government to make sure it is efficient, well-managed and responsive to the citizenry.

If one examines the budget process over the past 10 years, a common theme quickly surfaces: Every budget was balanced with one-time revenues. Prudent budgeting processes must never incorporate one-time revenue sources to address balancing a budget. We need to be able to say — with a straight face — that Rhode Island is the best-governed state. This is clearly in the realm of possibility, with the appropriate vision, strategy, plan and metrics to measure our progress to achieve the desired end.

Finally, and most important, we need to embrace change as a fundamental way of doing Rhode Island’s business. We cannot afford to continue to do things as we have, simply because “it’s always been that way.” We cannot be afraid to experiment, to innovate and to change. Regional collaboration for common problem-solving is a critical component to addressing this challenge. We need a new perspective and workable solutions to solving complex problems. These approaches can and must be leveraged from what is employed in business on a daily basis. To continue with past practices is a certain prescription for budgetary and governmental disaster.

I, for one, love this state far too much, appreciate its uniqueness too greatly and believe in our future too strongly to allow that to happen. But it will take work and the involvement of our citizens — apathy simply will not do.

What Rhode Island needs now is change — real, transformational change. I am convinced that we cannot hope to solve, or even relieve, an ever-increasing tax burden, education funding inequity, development and environmental pressures and health-care problems by continuing to apply the solutions of yesterday.

We are all in this together — and we will all need to change. Waiting for tomorrow is too late. A new direction is needed now.

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