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Greco: Why I Disagree with Hinckley’s Approach to Economic Recovery

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Gregory Greco

As a lifelong Rhode Island resident and someone who cares deeply about the future of our state, I always welcome ideas about how to best move our state forward. And as almost anyone who has spent even a scant amount of time in this state knows, we need a lot of ideas.

Aside from having the highest unemployment rate in the country, Rhode Island ranks well below its New England neighbors in many quality of life factors. Clearly, we need new, innovative ideas on how to move our state forward. This is why Barry Hinckley’s column, emblematic of so much of conservative thought these days, is so frustrating and disappointing.

Read Barry Hinckley's Column: 4 Things RI’s Government Can Do to Improve the Economy, But Won’t

To understand, however, why Mr. Hinckley’s 4 Things RI’s Government Can Do To Improve The Economy, But Won’t are not the answer. One needs to look at conservative ideas over the past forty years. In the 1970s there were a variety of problems the country faced. After forty years of new deal prosperity, the country began to decline is some key areas. There was a general feeling that inflation, crime, and taxes were too high and that we needed a vigorous defense against the iron curtain. Conservatives came up with a variety of solutions to these problems that led to electoral and (to a lesser extent) policy success.

The problem, however, is that while many of these concerns have dissipated over the past forty years and new concerns have arisen (rising health care costs, income inequality, immigration, education, an out of control financial sector, and a turbulent and ever changing world), conservative ideas have failed to address these growing problems in any meaningful way. They are still addressing problems that the country had forty years ago. This is why many conservatives are confused when words like high taxes, government spending and regulation do not carry the same outrage today than they did in the 1970s. It is also why millennials are rejecting conservative ideology in droves, as the most recent Pew poll demonstrates.

The solutions Barry Hinckley points us towards (lower taxes on the wealthy, tort reform, vouchers and school choice) are not new ideas. They are the same ideas that conservatives have been trumpeting for the past forty years. In fact, in addition to deregulation, starting wars, drilling for oil, and building a border fence, they are pretty much the ONLY ideas conservatives have provided over the past forty years. This would be fine, of course, if these ideas had a proven record of success.

The last two decades have told us that they don’t. All these ideas were implemented during George W. Bush’s eight years in office, and proved to be an unmitigated disaster. We doubled the national debt, increased income inequality, fought an unnecessary and unpopular war, and crashed the economy. Bush had a 25% approval rating the day Obama was elected. Barry Hinckley’s ideas would bankrupt the state, decimate the safety net that Bush’s reckless fiscal policies have made necessary, and provide little boost to the economy. These policies are nothing more than the same trickle down economic policies that have proven to expand income inequality and crush our already tenuous state budget. They do not address Rhode Island’s concerns. The state needs real ingenuity and creativity; not discredited ideas that have failed us in the past.

Although my political leanings are unquestionably progressive, I believe that we need both market and government solutions to solve the myriad of problems we have on the state and national level. The conservative movement’s failure to address the issues facing us today, choosing to cling to the failed policies of the past, has done both this state and this country a disservice. All Barry Hinckley’s column does is put an exclamation point on it.

Greg Greco has been a teacher for sixteen years, and is active member of the Religious Society of Bell Street Chapel and a progressive activist. Greg has been a lifelong resident of Rhode Island and is deeply invested in the future of the Ocean State.


Related Slideshow: The Ten Biggest Issues Facing the RI General Assembly in 2014

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The Budget

The latest report by the House Finance Committee illustrates that Rhode Island will start the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2014, with an estimated deficit of $149 million. The report shows the FY 2014 Budget contains numerous overspending problems—meaning that the General Assembly will have to cut costs somewhere.

So where will the cuts come from? Lawmakers will have to examine the state's costliest programs. According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the most expensive government programs in Rhode Island are Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Welfare, Pensions, Higher Education, and Interest on Debt. Click here to view a comprehensive list of the state's costliest government programs.

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Bankrupt Communities

The state may be two years removed from Central Falls filing for bankruptcy, but 2014 could be the year that other financially strapped Rhode Island communities follow suit—most notably Woonsocket and West Warwick.

With bankruptcy on the table in both 2012 and 2013, this year poses more financial uncertainty for the cash-strapped city of Woonsocket. Earlier this year, the city's bond rating was downgraded due to the city's numerous financial issues—including a growing deficit, increasing unfunded pension liability, and a severe cash crunch.

Similarly, the embattled town of West Warwick faces a variety of financial questions in 2014. With its pension fund set to run out by 2017, the town must address its unfunded liabilities this year if it hopes to regain financial stability. That, coupled with an increasing school department deficit, make West Warwick a contender for bankruptcy.

Look for Woonsocket and West Warwick's elected state officials to address their respective cities' financial issues in the upcoming legislative session.

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Sales Tax

With the Special Joint Legislative Commission to Study the Sales Tax Repeal set to report their findings to the General Assembly in February, the possibility of sales tax repeal in Rhode Island could become a reality in 2014.

"Our sales tax is killing small businesses, especially those in border communities," said Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), the commission's chair. "How can Rhode Island continue to compete at 7 percent, with Massachusetts already lower than us and considering reducing its sales tax even farther? How can Rhode Island restaurants compete at 8 percent? They can’t. We need to find a way to fix this, and a serious discussion of our sales tax is a discussion we need to have, now, before more small stores close their doors."

In addition to Malik, proponents of sales tax elimination include the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Forbes Magazine.

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EDC Reorganization to Commerce Corporation

On January 1, 2014, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation will be replaced with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation—a move which has the potential to impact to adversely affect recipients of federal funding contracts made possible currently through the EDC.

This could include the state's Broadband Initiative, Brownfields program, and other contracts made through the EDC. As a result, recipients will now be required to re-apply for federal funding as of January 1st.

The massive overhaul of the EDC was prompted by the 38 Studios debacle, which is projected to cost Rhode Island taxpayers $102 million. 38 Studios, the now defunct video game company, filed bankruptcy in May 2012 just months after securing a $75 million loan from the EDC.

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Marijuana Legalization

With the state's marijuana decriminalization law going into effect this past April, Rhode Island may be a candidate for marijuana legalization in 2014.

Legislation to legalize marijuana has been introduced in each of the last three years, but has never been voted on. Earlier this year, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Dist. 3, Providence), who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill in the House. Roughly half of the Judiciary Committee supports the measure.

The bill also has the support of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization focusing on drug policy reform, which hopes to legalize marijuana in ten states, including Rhode Island.

Approximately 52 percent of Rhode Island voters support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in January.

Marijuana is currently legal in Colorado and Washington.

Prev Next


Constitutional Convention

Come November 2014, Rhode Island voters will likely be asked whether they wish to convene a constitutional convention, which involves individuals gathering for the purpose of writing a new constitution or revising the existing one.

Every 10 years, Rhode Island voters are asked whether they wish to amend or revise the constitution. Voters rejected this opportunity in 1994 and 2004. Although rare, Rhode Islanders can vote to hold a constitutional convention and in effect, take control over the state government.

If approved, a special election is held to elect 75 delegates, who then convene to propose amendments to the Rhode Island Constitution. These amendments are then voted on in the next general election.

The likelihood of this occurring highly depends on if the General Assembly does its job to ensure residents that the state is heading in the right direction financially and structurally.

Rhode Island’s last constitutional convention took place in 1986. It proposed 14 amendments—eight of which were adopted by voters.

Prev Next


Education Board Structure

Less than a year after the General Assembly created the 11-member Rhode Island Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education, there are multiple questions surrounding the structure of this newly consolidated agency.

Although lawmakers voted to merge the state's two education boards in June, the Board of Education now wants to split its agency to create two separate councils—one with the statutory authority over kindergarten to grade 12 and another governing higher education.

The Board of Education will present its proposal to the General Assembly during its next legislative session and lawmakers will once again determine how the agency should be structured.

The Board of Education currently governs all public education in Rhode Island.

Prev Next


Sakonnet Bridge Tolls

Rhode Island may have implemented tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge this past year, but they could be gone by 2014.

On January 15, the East Bay Bridge Commission—which was established to allow lawmakers and officials investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge—will report its findings to the General Assembly. The General Assembly is then required to vote on the issue by April 1.

The commission was established in July following the General Assembly's approval of the 10-cent toll.

Prev Next


Superman Building

Located on Westminster Street in Downtown Providence, the former Bank of America Building (commonly referred to as the Superman Building) may be the tallest building in the state, but as of right now, it's just a vacant piece of property.

The building's current owner, High Rock Westminster LLC, was most recently looking for a total of $75 million to rehabilitate the skyscraper—$39 million of which would come from the state.

With the sting of the 38 Studios deal still fresh in the minds of lawmakers, a $39 million tax credit appears unlikely.

The question of what will become of the Superman Building remains to be seen. 

Prev Next


Master Lever

Championed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block (while head of the RI Moderate Party), the movement to eliminate the Master Level, which allows voters to vote for all candidates of one political party with a stroke of the pen, is poised to heat up in 2014.

Despite Block's strong push to repeal the 1939 law, the measure did not get a vote in the General Assembly last session.

In October, Block told GoLocal that he believes that House Speaker Gordon Fox is responsible for the General Assembly not voting on the proposal.

“Despite the support of a majority of 42 state Representatives, thousands of emails from concerned RI voters and unanimous testimony of more than 100 people who came to the State House in person to testify that the Master Lever had to go, the Speaker personally killed the bill in the most unaccountable way possible—he did not allow the House Judiciary Committee to vote on the bill,” Block told GoLocal.

Speaker Fox has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the Master Level is a legitimate tool that many voters use.


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Blaming Bush or conservatives for Rhode Island's troubles is a weak liberal cop-out. What has democrat control done to this state? Look at the numbers. Rhode Island lags behind EVERYONE in EVERYTHING with democrats in control. Be nice to hear a SPECIFIC liberal idea on how to fix things around here. When the tide goes out it seems that those at the public trough, those less effected by the lousy Rhode Island climate, always think their ways are the best, obviously.

Comment #1 by David Beagle on 2014 03 13

Agreed, David! And I'm always entertained by the opener: 'I'm a lifelong resident of RI'. I've never seen this habit in any other state I've lived in, but somehow here in RI it's intended to mean something profound. It's one of those elitist things, I guess, but I'm not sure it has the effect intended. Anyone who's been drinking the water around here that long needs an antidote pronto!

Comment #2 by Harriet Lloyd on 2014 03 13

I have no idea what Mr. Greco said or meant.

Comment #3 by Roy D on 2014 03 13


Comment #4 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 03 13

incoherent blather

Comment #5 by michael riley on 2014 03 13

Good Lord, Mr. Greco, you state in your headline why you disagree with Barry Hinckley's column, which has concrete proposals for turning our state around. Then you offer no concrete proposals of your own, just some loose BS that sort of reiterates your headline in several rambling paragraphs.

Man, if you were teaching my kids, I'd yank them out of your class as quickly as possible.

BTW, the ideas and principles expressed by Barry Hinckley have been foundational to America's unequaled success as a nation. Why not give them a try in Rhode Island?

Comment #6 by Art West on 2014 03 13

what's the point in printing this dribble.

he brings nothing to the discussion except personal hatred, opinions without any factual support.

he wouldn't vote for a republican if his life depended on it.

so why bother?

why don't you get some liberals that at least are informed, have some facts to base their statements on and open to discussion of ways to improve the state.

this is just useless.

Comment #7 by john paycheck on 2014 03 13

Dude, where's my car????

Comment #8 by Dave Johnson on 2014 03 13

"and is deeply invested in the future of the Ocean State." Oh yeah? How?

Comment #9 by Walter Sobchak on 2014 03 13

this guy is a real deal progressive socialist, teacher and all, scary. check him out on facebook, root of RI's problems-

Comment #10 by llik amabo on 2014 03 13

progressive dems have destroyed this states economy !

Comment #11 by LENNY BRUCE on 2014 03 13

The really sad thing is that guy doesn't have a clue how wrong he is.

Comment #12 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 13

so what grand ideas does the big mouth have?

Comment #13 by Odd Job on 2014 03 13

oh...nevermind. I didn't see he was a teacher. that means raise taxes so he can still retire in his 40s or early 50s. everyone else can get stuffed!

Comment #14 by Odd Job on 2014 03 13

Dear Greg: respectfully, I argue you are confusing two separate issues (1) State politics and (2) national politics.

Concerning your views on national politics and policy, I agree with you completely. I think that the Federal Gov. can do a lot to proactively help its citizens. I also identify as a Democratic progressive who would like to see additional resource funneled into education and away from Defense spending.

Where I disagree with you is concerning State politics. Listen, no matter what happens on a Federal level, Rhode Island WILL ALWAYS HAVE TO COMPETE WITH EVERY STATE IN THE USA. That means we compete with Texas, Florida, Ohio, CT, etc. We don't have Boston or NYC, Providence will never transform into a major center of commerce or finance. We have develop what WE are good at, and get back to basics. We need good (1) infrastructure (2) public schools (3) competitive real estate taxes (4) a competitive business environment (5) and we have to compete on a national level by giving incentives to businesses to relocate here (tax incentives) LIKE EVERY OTHER STATE DOES.

The RI status quo has no relation to national politics or policy. The RI status quo of heavy subsidized pro-union beaurocracy and administration has lead us down a disastrous path. We now have a state where public employees on average and my median income earn significantly more than their private sector counterparts. The private sector can no longer support the public sector. Look at Providence, the Pension is 28% funded. Providence has one of the highest tax burdens for a City in the country. That is not a hole we can dig out of. When Providence goes bankrupt, the rest of the State will pay for it. Your benefits as a teacher becoming more and more risky each day.

In RI we need to get back to basics. Towns and citizens need more control over the municipal finances. Contracts have to be re-negitiated to fulfill balanced budgets in every City and Town. The townships, school districts, police and fire services need to be consolidated to better reflect a small state, with a small population, and a small geographical footprint. We need to make aggressive financial incentives to Blue Chip companies to draw them to the state, to build our tax base. To do that we need excellent public schools. We need to be able to say that every school district prepares its students for top tier colleges and universities. In order to make that happen we may need to stratify our public school system (two tiers, one for those going to college, one for those who aren't).

When Providence goes bankrupt, you will see an enormous financial strain on the other municipalities. Warwick, Cranston, these may also go bankrupt. The time to act is now.

Comment #15 by George Costanza on 2014 03 13

*** BREAKING NEWS *** Providence Journal:

RI is on track to exceed its Medicaid enrollment for the second straight month.

RI has 200,000 existing Medicaid recipients (families with children). Since January, RI is on track to add 80,000 additional Medicaid recipients (single adults). That would mean 280,000 people on Medicaid, or almost 30% of the State's population. When you take out the elderly who receive Medicare, you see that almost 50% of the State's population under 65 is on Medicaid.

In 3 years the state must pay 10% of the Medicaid cost. For RI that will mean $30mil in 2015 (Gov. Gump estimated $10mil) By 2020, the cost will be $70 mil a year


Comment #16 by George Costanza on 2014 03 13

Mr Greco please give Ronald Reagans "trickle down economics" a chance, we've only tried it for 30 ++ yrs. I think if we try it for another 200 years we'll start to see some real positive results. WE HOPE !

Our economy turned down for most Americans 35 years ago and turned UP in a big way for the top 1%. They mostly are overpaid and do little for society. The "job creators" in reality are not the mega rich, who invest capital around the world for only their gain, and like Willard Romney send our jobs overseas but the working middle class who buy stuff that they need that feeds our economy. We're quickly losing a huge part of our economy because too much money IS IN THE HANDS OF TOO FEW

1950-1980 (before Ronnie Reagan's foolish "trickle down economics") was a time , which gave us equality and middle class wealth in America

Comment #17 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 03 13

Sammy Arizona: You're right, Ronald Reagan was full of manure. Trickle down economics is a joke. The 1% own this country.

What do any of those NATIONAL issues have to do with current RI politics???

Guess what???

1% ers DON'T LIVE IN RI. They maintain their residency somewhere else, like Florida. They only have 2nd homes here. 1%er's also don't maintain many businesses here. Their businesses exist in NYC, Boston, Dallas, overseas.

We can attack economic inequality on a national level. But when we attack it on a state level we just push tax payers we need to move to other states. We just make our state poorer.

Lets fix our state and lets fix national politics. But the strategies to fixing both problems are separate

Comment #18 by George Costanza on 2014 03 13


You’re right in understanding that states compete for businesses, and that RI is not competitive and with unique problems.

We have what amounts to a feudal system of leaders who collect ever-increasing taxes from those who work in order to build up a government loaded with friends, family, unions and cronies. That’s what happens when power gets concentrated at the top. Unfortunately, the businesses that we compete for, when seeing this inbred Machine, head elsewhere. Fewer jobs and more dependency – and growing government appetites reflected in a staggering budget over $8 billion for a state of just 1 million people – surely means big trouble.

The reality is we have one-party rule and until there is political balance with a viable opposition party, there is no incentive for those in power to leave the banquet spread out before themselves and their friends, families and those who vote for them. I don’t think those with the state jobs and those receiving state handouts will vote for reform, which means doing things the hard way – Detroit-style financial collapse.

Comment #19 by Art West on 2014 03 14

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