Russell Moore: Mattiello Playing it Safe

Monday, June 23, 2014


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So far, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has been very conservative.

But I don't mean that in a political sense--though he has done some things to please the right side of the political aisle, even garnering House Majority Whip Joseph Trillo's (D-Warwick) vote for the state budget.

What I mean by conservative is that Mattiello isn't going to take on an issue that could be perceived as controversial or act in any way that he believes will make it more difficult to steer the pirate ship that is the Rhode Island General Assembly.

It's unclear as to whether or not his motivation self-preservation--meaning that he's afraid to incur controversy or that he naturally prefers to change things slowly and deliberately.

That's understandable. And it's hard not to sympathize with the Speaker's predicament. Despite the final vote, Mattiello was elected House Speaker with a relatively thin margin of support. In order to do anything beneficial, you need to be in power in the first place, so in that case, Mattiello can't be blamed for treading lightly.

Secondly, there is some truth to the notion that "slow and steady" wins the race. When the state of Rhode Island has taken big, aggressive risks like 38 studios, it's come back to bite us in the rear.

To his credit, while the Speaker hasn't done anything earth shattering, most of the decisions he has made have been good for Rhode Island.

For example, the state budget passed by the state legislature made some reasonable tax reforms that should benefit the state's economy. The corporate tax rate was reduced by two percentage points, actually giving Rhode Island a competitive advantage with neighboring Massachusetts. And the threshold on the estate tax, also known as the death tax, was increased, meaning fewer people will be incentivized to flee Rhode Island in order to protect their assets for the sake of their heirs.

While those reforms are certainly excellent steps towards improving the state's business climate in relation to its neighboring states as well as states across the country, it's also true that Rhode Island needs even more aggressive reforms. With the most oppressive unemployment rate in the nation, or at least thereabouts, the time has come for the state to be more aggressive.

That's why Mattiello shouldn't be afraid to flex his considerable political muscle to jump start the economy--or at least create the economic conditions that would make this place more appetizing to employers. Imagine the public relations victory the state would've garnered had the state legislature slashed the state's income tax rate in half. That would incentivize business owners and high income earners to relocate to Rhode Island. The economic multiplier effect would benefit people of all income levels.

Admittedly, it's no easy task to slash taxes without a viable plan as to how to make up the revenue.

Undoubtedly, the answer is cutting spending.

And that's not easy to do. But nobody said governing would be easy.

Sometimes, leaders need to make hard decisions for the benefit of those they serve.

In the same respect, it wouldn't be easy for Mattiello to endorse a candidate for Governor in such a close, hard fought, contentious battle between General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, and Clay Pell. But there's certainly someone who Mattiello thinks would be best for the state. And to endorse a candidate, which almost assuredly would've meant that they'd have gotten the endorsement from the state party, would've, in all likelihood, put the Speaker in a stronger position going forward.

In the down ballot races, Mattiello made some undoubtedly wise choices in his chosen candidates. The Speaker chose to support Guillame De Ramel for Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis for Lieutenant Governor, and Frank Caprio for General Treasurer.

In the same respect as the state budget, the decisions the Speaker did make were the correct choices.

All three candidates have the experience, the ideas, and the plans to succeed in their respective office.

That's the pattern with the House Speaker. The decisions he has made thus far, in the vast majority of cases, have been right. He just needs to do more.

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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


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