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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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Comment #1 by nandinejera John on 2012 08 02

We should always be suspicious of calls for reform that do not explain what that "reform" entails.

Comment #2 by Samuel Bell on 2012 08 02

RISC won recognition from the American Society of News Editors for its work urging the state General Assembly to improve its vote reporting system.
They were a major player in pressuring the state Legislature to pass the first ever state cap on annual hikes to property taxes. The act, first enacted in 2008, placed a yearly tax increase cap of 5.5%, dropping .25% each year until it reaches 4.00% IN 2013.
Played a key role, in the 2011 legislative session, through statehouse hearings, release of news media statements and other communication coordinating activities, to help defeat a controversial plan for a 6% sales tax increase on business and numerous personal transactions.
They led the fight in 2010 and 2011 to prevent the teachers unions from obtaining binding arbitration, a “win-win” for the unions and a disaster for the taxpayer.
RISC filed an amicus brief on the appeal from an adverse Circuit Court decision allowing the Narragansett Indian Tribe to take land into trust for potential development of a Casino in Charlestown. The RISC brief was cited in the majority opinion of Justice Thomas and the victory has prevented a Casino in Charlestown.
And finally was the first R.I. voice to demand a new Commissioner of Education for the state’s school system. Within one year, R.I. introduced the new, trailblazing reformer, Commissioner Deborah Gist, and a revised Board of Regents.
Much work has been done over the ten year period and much more needs to be done BUT without the support of the taxpayers of this state, the road back from the economic abyss this state finds itself will be long and hard. Reform is needed in many aspects of government in this state - we have too much of it and is no longer affordable.

Comment #3 by Lance Chappell on 2012 08 02

Mr. Bell: In this sense, reform means the opposite of the current situation in this State. it means changing the composition of the GA, and changing the outlook of State Government to one that is more oriented towards taxpayers, and is also more friendly to business.Got it?

Comment #4 by Michael Trenn on 2012 08 02


Comment #5 by Kerry Lassiter on 2012 08 03

Come on, reform movement?

RISC is a bunch of angry people who are likely members of the Tea Nuts Party. Sasse was a disaster at both RIPEC and as a Goofball Carcieri appointee. Flanders? He's a walking, talking example of how low the bar is set in RI that such an egotistical and incompetent fool could be appointed by --- yuu, Goofball Carcieri --- the state supreme court. And Perry's brother is that religious nut on local radio. These people are all conservative Republican whackjobs. Just like George W. Dunce did to the nation, so do these people do to RI. They destroy it!!!

Comment #6 by Kerry Lassiter on 2012 08 03

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