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Travis Rowley: Reform. Not Recovery

Saturday, July 09, 2011


There’s no doubt that Rhode Island is in need of a recovery from the current economic recession. Everybody knows that. Any fiscal boon is welcome, and would be a giant help to a state suffering from one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.

But there are varying degrees of economic recovery, either hindered or augmented depending on a society’s fundamental structure. Therefore, beyond an economic recovery, Rhode Island needs reform – deep and drastic reform of the state’s basic practices.

The General Assembly may have balanced this year’s budget. And General Treasurer Gina Raimondo may lead a successful campaign to remedy the state’s pension crisis this fall. Once all of that is accomplished, however, what will Rhode Island be?

Answer: The same as before.

Rhode Island will still be one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Rhode Island will still have an inordinate amount of unionized public employees. Rhode Island will still have a gargantuan government, a government so big that it once caused Bryant University’s Raymond Fogarty to lament over the fact that the state’s “regulatory system is out of control.” Without significant changes, Rhode Island will still be considered “the worst place for business.” The state’s roads and bridges will remain “among the nation’s worst,” and its schools will still be known as the “lowest performing” in the country.

Without a restructuring – without considering whether or not this Rhode Island is truly what we want it to be – the state will subsist as the same progressive experiment that has lead it to the brink of societal collapse. Why would Rhode Islanders choose to hop back on the roller coaster that rides along loose tracks?

Recoveries are Relative. Reform is Lasting.

An economic recovery shouldn’t quell Rhode Islanders’ craving for reform, because recoveries are relative. And it’s amazing how much oppression people can get used to.

Even the most browbeaten economies undergo booms and busts. European-style socialism hardly provides the economic prosperity of more liberty-oriented societies, places that rely on free market capitalism. Yet, surely, Europeans will tell you tales of “good times” and “bad times.”

But does that infer that under the “good times” Europeans were living under optimum economic conditions? Couldn’t wiser policies have accelerated and strengthened the eventual recoveries? Wasn’t Europe, even as it experienced multiple economic revivals, always inching toward the continental collapse that threatens it today?

Similarly, Rhode Island’s underlying shape was always “unsustainable.” During the economic boom of the Bush years, the Ocean State was being primed to be the hardest hit when the housing crisis torpedoed the country in 2008. Before the bust, household incomes in Rhode Island were already on the decline. After the bust, Rhode Island became the first state to fall into economic recession, and would ultimately boast one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Experts began predicting that the Ocean State would be the last to recover from the national recession.


Things do ultimately collapse. After a certain amount of time following the progressive direction, there is a point of no return. Just look at Detroit. Just look at Central Falls.

To save itself from ruin, Rhode Islanders should be demanding more than a balanced budget. They should be calling for a complete departure from its traditional government rituals.

Rhode Island should begin attracting the industrious by becoming a right-to-work state.

Rhode Island should begin repelling the lazy and abusive by chiseling away at its infamously generous welfare state until it becomes the smallest in the country.

The most intensive government audit imaginable should be initiated, eliminating as much waste and fraud as possible. With violence, slash Statehouse spending.

Education reform should include the injection of competition into the education system. Parents should be able to rescue their children from failing school systems. Vouchers, mayoral academies, and charter schools are all good ideas.

As much as possible, power should be stripped from the Statehouse and delivered back to the cities and towns.

All forms of wealth redistribution should be phased out. Citizens of Warwick and Portsmouth should not be forced to subsidize the budgets of Providence and Central Falls. Each city and town should be responsible for keeping their own affairs in order.

As much as possible, “aid to cities and towns” should become an antiquated notion. Elected representatives should start working toward the elimination of the corporate, income, and estate taxes. Keep the taxpayers’ money in the taxpayers’ neighborhoods.

Rhode Island should eliminate collective bargaining privileges for government employees, ending the primary cause of state debt, state bankruptcy, and Rhode Island’s socialist slip. Give autonomy and flexibility back to the municipalities by relieving them of all unfunded mandates. This would offer local flexibility, allowing municipalities to respond to the fiscal fluctuations that put pressure on local budgets and cause local tax increases.

These are just a few fundamental changes that represent a change in course, rather than the typical tepid modifications that always fail to steer us away from danger and toward prosperity.

When tough times arrive, economic recoveries are inevitable. But they are also qualified. Reforms that advance the concepts of limited and local government, free markets, and personal responsibility are what are truly crucial – for they hasten and enhance all recoveries going forward.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.


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