Battle Over “RhodeMap RI” Economic Plan Heats Up

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


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A battle is heating up between supporters of a new economic planning initiative "RhodeMap RI" -- and opponents who are calling on the 35-member RhodeMap RI consortium to postpone adoption of its controversial plan until a more rigorous public debate has ensued.

According to its website, RhodeMap RI is a "coordinated and forward-looking effort by the state to make Rhode Island a better place to live and work by mobilizing state and community assets in a whole new way.  Through RhodeMap RI, the State seeks to strengthen our economy, meet current and future housing needs, and plan for future growth through the development of an integrated plan that will also include strategies for transportation, land use and environmental protection."

"What we see is a coordinated national-state-local scheme where federal agencies are poised to seize unprecedented levels of control over local land-use and housing issues," commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity. "Property owners and local officials are about to lose sovereignty over their own affairs to the federal government."

The consortium is meeting Wednesday afternoon to vote on the adoption of the plan. 

Opposing Views

RhodeMap RI is funded with a Sustainable Communities Initiative Grant.  The grant is one of several offered through the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

"The plan contains six goals and many strategies.  It will be up to the governor and the legislature to determine which of these move forward, especially if any require legislation.  In other ways, once adopted, the plan serves as guidance to local communities doing their comprehensive plans, and that is an ongoing process," said Kevin Flynn, the state's Division of Planning Associate Director .

Rhode Map RI's website states that the goals of the grant program "supports metropolitan and multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of: (1) economic competitiveness and revitalization; (2) social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; (3) energy use and climate change; and (4) public health and environmental impact."

In late October, the Center joined with other plan opponents from across the state to speak out against the proposed RhodeMapRI plan at two public comment hearings. The Center also submitted a written response letter to the administration's Division of Planning.  According to the Center, the seven page letter lists "multiple economic, governance, and philosophical concerns and discusses the negative consequences of ceding the sovereignty of state and local governments to un-elected bureaucrats from a federal agency. The Center recommends Rhode Island should not become the first state to adopt such measures, especially given the lack of public debate on the topic."

Next Steps

"Our goal at this point is to raise awareness and to initiate a rigorous public debate on this highly controversial, critically important, and personally emotional issue, before any of the plan's components are implemented," said Stenhouse. 

"That the lame-duck Chafee administration is rushing to push this through before they leave office, and the fact that "the" economic development plan for the state received zero attention from gubernatorial candidates and the media, should raise alarms about why this is being snuck through under the radar," continued Stenhouse.

"As we understand it, the plan will be adopted by the consortium on Wednesday then made part of the larger state guide plan - perhaps by executive order.  How the plan subsequently gets implemented -- what HUD strings, state regulations, local ordinances, state laws -- is unknown to us," said Stenhouse. 

Flynn said he thought the opposing arguments were "misguided."

"While I have not sat down to discuss, the public hearing process was open to all, and many expressed opinions, both pro and con, in verbal testimony and in writing.  In addition, the planning process included dozens of meetings, workshops, focus groups, individual interviews and the engagement of a broad sector of private sector business representatives convened through the Providence Foundation and Commerce RI," said Flynn.  "Over 1000 individuals have participated in the development of this plan, and the draft does its best to summarize that input from a broad representation of RI's population."


Related Slideshow: 7 Strategies for Rhode Island Economic Development in 2014

What will it take to move the Rhode Island economy forward in 2014?  GoLocal talked with elected officials, candidates, and leaders for their economic development plans in the coming year. 

Below are key elements of the economic priorities for Governor Lincoln Chafee, Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, gubernatorial hopefuls General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Ken Block, and RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity's Mike Stenhouse.  

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Governor Lincoln Chafee

"My goal is to have the state continue to focus on the fundamentals.  We will invest in education, workforce development and infrastructure , and provide aid to  cities and towns to lessen the burden on property taxpayers.  I’m confident that these investments and our focus on the basics will allow Rhode Island to exceed Moody’s predictions.”
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Speaker Gordon Fox

"Among the many pieces of legislation the House will address will be issues of higher education affordability, expanding apprenticeship opportunities, and offering help to our manufacturers.  We will also look closely at our tax structure to make sure we are competitive with our neighboring states, including the corporate tax and the estate tax, and I will carefully review the recommendations of the commission studying our sales tax.”

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Senate Pres. Paiva-Weed

Greg Pare, spokesperson for the Senate President, said that the Senate is planning to issue recommendations soon on workforce development initiatives to address the skills gap among Rhode Island job seekers.

"An example of a proposal anticipated in that report is the elimination of state’s Indirect Cost Recovery on the Job Development Fund, which is about $1.2 million this year. Those funds would be directed towards job training and skills development programs to provide immediate impact and help workers gain the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy."

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Gen. Treasurer Raimondo

"To grow our economy, we need to make Rhode Island a leader in manufacturing again.  Great things can happen at the intersection of government, higher education, and the private sector.  Rhode Island is lucky to have thriving institutions in each of these three sectors, and we need to foster collaboration among them to find solutions to our challenges, and spark our economy.  

By promoting partnerships in high-growth areas, [Rhode Island Innovation Institute] will help grow our manufacturing base, and create new, high-quality jobs."  

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Ken Block

"First, we need to fix Rhode Island’s broken Unemployment Insurance program. The state’s Unemployment Insurance tax, paid by employers, is ranked worst in the country by the Tax Foundation. It is one of the factors that makes Rhode Island an uncompetitive place to do business. Also, it is inherently unfair that a large group of businesses are effectively subsidizing the payrolls of a small group of businesses who misuse the system. There is a simple change to state law that can fix this problem."

"Rhode Island’s temporary disability tax (TDI) is broken, and places an unnecessarily high tax burden on Rhode Islanders. This tax, paid for by employees, will be reduced by changing the way we manage the program. As Governor, I will substantially reduce the cost of purchasing this insurance by requiring that Rhode Island’s program adhere to national norms."

"To best encourage new job creation, I propose the following tax incentive: exempt from future capital gains taxes any new investments in Rhode Island-based businesses. This change would create a powerful incentive for investors who are deciding where to locate a new business, or where they relocate an existing one. This proposal has the potential change the economic playing field for Rhode Island."

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Minority Leader Newberry

“It would be overly ambitious to set being #1 as a goal right now, but we think 25, the middle of the pack, is a reasonable goal to set, one we think we should pursue, and one we can achieve,” said Newberry. "One of the initiatives is a requirement that every bill receive a fiscal evaluation before it can be heard by committee, better insuring that legislators know the real cost of the legislation they are acting on."

"Another proposal would exempt social security income from RI state income tax, making Rhode Island more tax-friendly for our seniors and keeping them here rather than migrating to more tax-friendly states."

“Strong action is way overdue here. Nearly 60% of Rhode Islanders now believe that the state is headed in the wrong direction. We think they’re right, and our central goal is to get it turned around."

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Mike Stenhouse

"As part of the Center's 2014 Prosperity Agenda we recommended that the state:
Repeal or rollback of the state’s regressive sales tax; or the requirement that families have no choice on what schools best educate their children; or punitive estate taxes that drive wealthy people to other states; or restrictions on out-of-state companies to sell health insurance in RI; or the minimum franchise tax, which stifles entrepreneurship; or corporate welfare, to level the playing field; or even renewable energy mandates that drive up costs for every family and business …"

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