Gencarella: Is There a Movement Afoot

Thursday, October 29, 2015


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In the past few years, our state has been witness to a notable increase in political activism.  Not only have new taxpayer organizations popped up over that time, but people have rallied together creating a movement, united by political issues, in order to beat back what they perceive as government over-reach.

Tolls - Nothing New.

Although they weren’t able to keep the Sakonnet Toll legislation from passing, incredibly, the STOP group was successful at reversing the Toll legislation, nearly unheard of in this state.  

Taking Back Their Government.

The taxpayers of Coventry, although still battling the establishment on the issue, stood up and said NO to more fire district taxation.  The meddlesome General Assembly, of course, intervened, and has made it very difficult for those taxpayers, but in the interim, the same taxpayers rid themselves of two Representatives that refused to listen to the call for taxpayer justice. Representatives Tomasso and Guthrie lost their seats in the House last year.

Good Luck To You and the RedSox.

More recently, groups formed and coalitions were created to oppose what some were calling a done deal - the Pawtucket RedSox Stadium in Providence.  That deal appears to be all but dead.  And if its not dead, at least it will look nothing like the original proposal that extorted millions from the taxpayer, especially with a Hassenfeld Institute poll reporting that 3/4 of the state oppose the deal.   These groups gathered momentum in a relatively short time span even in the face of the “PawSox listening tour”.  Their voice was heard loud and clear.

They Were Mad As Hell and They Weren’t Going To Take It Anymore.

And very recently, faced with constant stonewalling when requesting what should have been public information, the news outlets, joined by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters shot off a letter to the Governor making it publicly known that this administration has actually made our state government less transparent rather than more transparent.  The group was invited for a sit-down with the Governor’s people who placated the group.  And while it is yet to be seen whether any changes are made to provide for access to more, not less, information that rightly belongs in the public domain, it’s not everyday that you see the media, along with other good government groups, rally together to publicly expose RI’s elected leadership. 

How Many Sides Can the Governor Leave Exposed?

The idea of exposing the 38 Studios debacle, either via House Oversight subpoena power or an independent investigation or both, was about to die on the vine, but groups of taxpayers coalesced to apply pressure on elected officials and since then, Speaker Mattiello has done a 180 degree turn regarding the House Oversight Committee.  Governor Raimondo on the independent investigation, not so much.  But is she really willing to do a 180 degree turn on her original campaign promise to thoroughly investigate the backstory to the 38 Studios deal?  I guess only time will tell.  Meanwhile, assisted by talk radio pundits, good government groups will continue to rally the public to dial up the heat on the Governor.

And now the “Truck Tolls”.  Recognizing that if Toll legislation passes, it will be trucks today, cars tomorrow, will people mobilize to put the pressure on the Governor and the Speaker to rethink their position on the so-called “Truck Toll”?  While the Governor doesn’t have to face the voter next year, the Speaker will and that’s only a short 12 months from now.  The Speaker will be expecting a lot from the Governor in back room deals if he is to expose himself during an election year.

Municipal Leaders Jump Into the Fray.

But perhaps one of the most compelling rallies in recent memory was the one that transpired during this past General Assembly legislative session.  Many of RI’s mayors and town managers across the state came together to oppose a particularly harmful piece of legislation related to the cost of firefighting service.  Again, seen as a huge government over-reach as well as an affront to the local municipal taxpayer, the gloves came off.  These local leaders stood together at the State House to tell the Speaker that a legislative attempt to remove local management control from the local managers would mean local devastation.  The heat forced the sponsors to drop their push to tie the hands of local leaders, for now.

Is RI Government-Pushback On the Way To a Tipping Point?

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, explains the moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass as the boiling point or the tipping point.  So is RI on a path to a tipping point?

Will the disconnect between what Rhode Islanders want from their government and the actual representation they are receiving lead to a meaningful backlash against our government’s over-reach and will this movement lead to change?

At some point, the populace will get tired of playing whack-a-mole with the myriad special interest-laden legislation and the corporate cronyism and the poorly-conceived  private/public partnership ideas that all lead to the lowest rankings across the country in nearly every category and the most expensive cost of living for its citizens.  Somehow, all of this currently passes as public policy.  But ultimately, the voters will demand that the disconnect between their idea of governance and their elected officials’ idea be better aligned.  The question is, will it take a Detroit situation, or will it be happening sooner than one might have thought?  

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Pam Gencarella is a member of OSTPA, a taxpayer advocacy organization in Rhode Island.


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