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Donna Perry: The Expanding Reform Movement in RI

Thursday, August 02, 2012


The taxpayer movement in Rhode Island is growing up. It will mark ten years this winter since a small group of residents in Westerly started a citizens’ taxpayer watchdog group headed by Harry Staley and his family. But what began as a small group in 2003, calling itself the Shoreline Coalition and examining only local issues, has grown into a statewide taxpayer advocacy force with a recognized communications apparatus, a centrally located headquarters office, professional staff, and several thousand dues paying taxpayer members who reside in communities that run north to south from Woonsocket to Westerly and across the state from western pockets to numerous East Bay towns.

That growing taxpayer movement will take center stage this Saturday as the annual RISC Summer Meeting is presented jointly by RISC and its sister organization, the RISC Foundation. It will be formally unveiled that the newly energized Foundation has attracted statewide public policy heavyweights who will lead it as a new taxpayer oriented research and public policy entity. Partnering with the long running RISC taxpayer advocacy engine, the newly designed Foundation will be headed by Judge Robert Flanders as Chairman, and seasoned government finance analyst Gary Sasse, as Research Advisor. It comes from the recognition that advocacy alone can’t transform the state’s present dismal condition and that research based data and public policy shaping are the next needed steps in order to build a platform for true reform that could create a roadmap for credible solutions.

But as the search for solutions gains momentum from a number of pockets within the state’s wider public arena, the role of the advocate watchdog will become as vital as it has ever been. What has made RISC a critically important voice on the public policy landscape for nearly a decade has been its fearless instincts to cast light on the darker inclinations of elected officials statewide, especially from within the ranks of the General Assembly, to conduct legislative business that works against the best interests of business, local communities, and the state’s taxpayers. It should be noted RISC has equally doled out praise and support across party lines many, many times when lawmakers have recognized taxpayer interests, resisted attempts to undermine existing reforms, and improved government transparency, among many other issues.

RISC believes it’s the partnership between research and public policy development --with the advocacy—that offers the best hope to enact true change for the state. Elected leadership will continue to need to feel the eyes, the ears—and yes, when needed, the wrath—of the watchdog as the search for credible solutions takes hold. We applaud efforts to seek economic development solutions on the scale of what the RI Foundation will launch next month as it assembles an intense, across the board, two day forum aimed at crafting a roadmap for economic resurgence for the state. We also know that ultimately, it will require the engagement, and importantly, the buy-in of elected leaders to turn proposals that may emerge into reality.

It has always been, and likely always will be, the ultimate uphill battle to enact real reform in Rhode Island. The growth and expansion of organizations across the reform landscape, including the Ocean State Tea Party in Action/OSTPA; the long standing Operation Clean Government (OCG); and think tanks like The RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity are making important contributions to the multi-sided debates over how to make the state more affordable, more ethical, and more attractive as a place to run a business, educate children and raise a family.

RISC approaches a decade since its founding as a realist but also fully energized as it unveils partnership goals in the days ahead with its redesigned Foundation. An overarching goal is to ensure that though Rhode Island may currently appear down, its people deserve that it can never be counted out.

Donna Perry is Executive Director of RISC, RI Statewide Coalition For information of the Annual Summer Meeting, visit http://www.statewidecoalition.com


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