There's no place like home for the holidays.
Here in Rhode Island, it's not much different than the rest of the country: busy streets, crowded grocery stores and shopping centers, and slam packed restaurants. Economists say that relatively speaking the recession has hit the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations harder than 49 other states, boasting a mind-numbing 12% unemployment rate, and posting continuous declines in population each year. The days of healthy economic growth have been absent here for quite some time - going back to the era when blue collar workers were paid honest wages for a days work. (Have to wonder why it still takes 30 minutes to an hour to get a table for some food around here?)
Driving around the state, you can clearly see the signs of a declining economy. Boarded up store fronts, empty and vacated auto repair shops, once-crowded diners whose burners have gone cold - they provide the visible part of the downfall. Yet, the true despair lies in the stories and people living beyond the naked eye, specifically in the form of home foreclosures, evictions, and the loss of jobs and businesses which have ruthlessly attacked this state at its very core.
At one time, Rhode Island was known as the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution", leading the nation in the manufacturing of textiles, toolmaking, costume jewelry, and silverware. Naturally, those aren't the kinds of jobs you find here today, having been eliminated by domestic and overseas outsourcing, and obsolescence. Quite unfortunately, the State also has one of the highest rates of taxation you will find in the union, making Rhode Island an unattractive opportunity for companies to bring their business, money and jobs.
My wife and I moved to Washington, DC about a year ago because we could not risk the unstable nature of the economic climate here. Proof of this is easy to find, you can see it in the eyes of the people here that times are tough. The iconic Big Blue Bug in Providence still wears his red Rudolph nose, but sadly you can see a small tear forming in his large, cracking yellow eye. Rhode Island is hurting, the people are hurting, and the state government is oblivious and loathe to fix it. The business environment is in decline, the political arena is toxic, the taxes are through the roof, and the job pool is heavily loaded with skilled trade workers and other functional, line-level personnel. The answer to this problem is complicated, yet simple. Although, I fear, it's one that this state will never embrace.
Here is what I propose:
- Eliminate the state income tax for anyone making under $250,000 per year. For those families who exceed that amount, reduce the income taxes by 50-60%. Provide tax relief to workers to keep them here in the state, and give incentive to corporations to move their businesses here by offering a competitive tax program.
- Construct three toll booths: two on I-95 (at the CT/RI line in the south and the MA/RI line in the north), and one on I-195 at the MA/RI line. Charge tolls in either direction. If the system can get linked up to EasyPass, they can charge $1/axel for RI residents, and $2.50/axel for non-RI residents who use it. This will reposition an enormous amount of tax burden off of Rhode Islanders, and onto other transients and tourists who take advantage of the roads and services of this state.
- Dissect every public program that is offered and paid for via state funds. Cut the budget by a factor of 50%. Prioritize only the absolutely essential programs. Disseminate ALL wasted state funds.
- Eliminate the state payroll tax for small businesses with less than 10 employees, or annual revenue under $500,000. Corporations who legitimately relocate to Rhode Island from another state may apply to receive a 5 year moratorium on all payroll taxes.
- Establish a program to assist unemployed workers to get additional training and education, and job placement. Require a payback program for those people who take advantage of state funds.
Lower taxes. Better incentives. Accelerate growth. Reeducate the general populace. Create jobs.
This is a beautiful state, with tremendous pride and incredible unleashed potential. Roger Williams, the founder of this great state once said, "the greatest crime in the world is not developing your potential. When you do what you do best, you are not only helping yourself, but helping the world." From the beaches of Block Island and Southeast Light, to the ballroom at the top of the Biltmore Hotel; from the steps of the mansions of Newport, to the quaint village of Wickford; from Watch Hill to Barrington, Scituate to Sakonnet. It's just like they say, good things come in small packages.
It's long past due for Rhode Island to make some drastic changes. I just hope that someday the people here will see it the same way. All we can do is Hope.