Top Nat’l & Regional Progressives and Conservatives Debate at URI

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


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Top progressives and conservatives from the region -- as well as national organizations -- will be debating the future of Rhode Island in an event on Saturday titled, What's Really in Our Best Interest?

The debate will be held on April 26 at the University of Rhode Island, featuring nationally prominent and local political experts who will discuss both the economic and moral implications of public policy in Rhode Island. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a nonpartisan local think tank organizing the event that, today named the debate moderator and the full slate of panelists.
Registration is free and is now open to the public, but seats are limited and pre-registration is required.  For event registration, go HERE.

The event will be moderated by Josh Fenton, founder and CEO of, the official media partner for the event.  Giving the debate a unique angle and optic, students from local colleges were selected to debate alongside professional policy experts. Leading conservative and progressive panelists participating are:

    Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation and frequent analyst on FOX News and CNN
    Rich Benjamin, senior fellow at Demos, and frequent analyst on MSNBC and NPR
    Don Watkins, fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, published in Forbes and USA Today
    Tom Sgouros, local public policy expert and writer for RI Future and a former Mindsetter(TM) to
    Justin Braga, chair of RI College Republicans, studying political science at Brown University
    Samuel Bell, RI coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, and Amherst College grad

"I anticipate a rigorous debate of issues that most politicians are not bold enough to discuss publicly," said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. "If you'd like to hear dramatically opposed viewpoints, this is the place to be."

The debate is presented by the Center in association with the 2014 RI Student Political Empowerment Conference, an annual non-partisan gathering of area college student to discuss public policy issues and advocacy. The debate will take place Saturday, April 26 at Swan Hall on the University of Rhode Island Campus. Doors open at 8:30 am, with refreshments by Dunkin Donuts. The debate begins at 9:30 am.

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The debate is structured to be a free-wheeling forum where widely divergent public policy approaches will be argued as to which actually helps people the most. The first segment will deal with economic philosophies as they pertains to issues currently under consideration in the Ocean State, such as the minimum wage and sales tax or other tax reforms. The second segment will deal with the moral questions surrounding public policy about whether or not individuals are responsible for the well-being of others and whether some public assistance programs are immoral.

A live, streaming webcast of the debate is also being planned, as well as an archived online version.
The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, is the state's leading free-enterprise research and advocacy organization. The Center works to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of every family and business in the state through the rigorous exchange of market-based ideas and reform solutions aimed at restoring economic competitiveness, educational opportunities and - ultimately - hope for a brighter future.
For more information, visit:


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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