The media is awash in commentary on the “end of the decade” and where Rhode Island is heading. Our little state has had a tough go of it for more than the last 10 years. As Scott Moody, our Fellow on Economic Policy, outlined in our most recently published work, our tax burden was below the national average until 1971 and government has grown ever since.
I founded OSPRI in an attempt to reverse this trend. Of course, we aren’t able to do that without your financial and volunteer support, so I’d like to take this opportunity to review what YOU AND OSPRI have accomplished over the last year.
Brian Bishop, our Fellow on Regulatory and Environmental Policy, started the year releasing information on regionalization explaining our theory that any actions that result in regionalized governance will ultimately increase costs. Twelve months later, the issues we raised still haven’t been resolved and until they are “consolidation of services” (preferred to “regionalization”) cannot occur.
Brian has been a productive and influential scholar for OSPRI since the beginning, but 2009 saw the largest increase to our think tank stable.
In April, Ernest Greco, Ph.D., joined the board as our Fellow on Academic and Political Affairs. Not only has he provided published material on a timely subject but has also helped the movement by joining me in developing a Rhode Island chapter of the Association of Scholars, a membership association of academics working to foster academic freedom, and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities.
The following month, we announced the appointment of Ken Malloy as our Fellow on Energy Policy. A lawyer by training, Ken was the U.S. Department of Energy’s lead career official on policies relating to competition, regulatory reform, and industry restructuring over three Administrations (1987 to 1996) and besides his research and writing skills, his ability to speak to large groups has already benefited Rhode Island with his participation in the Law Seminars International 60th Annual Conference, Energy in the Northeast, last October.
Spring saw the appointment of Steve Moses as our Fellow on Healthcare Policy. With over 25 years studying government funded healthcare, he was the perfect choice as Rhode Island breaks ground with a one-of-a-kind Global Medicaid Waiver. Steve has already made significant advancements in the battle with a published preliminary report created in cooperation with the RI Department of Human Services, published state-wide commentary, national recognition (including at the White House Press Room), and radio interviews (mp3 audio file). Moses is near completion of an in-depth report on Rhode Island’s options under the waiver that will be presented to the RI General Assembly this month.
The Dog Days of summer brought Thomas A. Linehan to the Board of Scholars serving as our Fellow on Small Business Affairs. But unlike the slow pace of the season, Tom set to work immediately. With 40 years of business experience in the New England market, Tom articulates our message with a home-town perspective, and has done so in state-wide and local papers.
And the last appointment of the year was J. Scott Moody, Fellow on Economic Policy. During his time at the Tax Foundation, Moody was co-developer of the State Business Tax Climate Index, in which Rhode Island consistently scores poorly on, and as I mentioned earlier, has already shown his ability to publicly make the case for free market reforms.
Besides increasing our intellectual horsepower, the last year also brought the addition of Stephen Beale as a research associate, joining Parker Lacoste, my assistant and project manager for the Transparency Train, as our third staff member.
This brings me to more of our work that runs parallel to the research and commentary normally associate with think tanks — The Transparency Train.
The Transparency Train idea was borne on a blog I created during my time as a member of the Chariho Regional School Committee. Even before I created OSPRI, I was an elected official posting employee contracts, budgets, and payrolls, while advocating for public contract negotiations. This didn’t make me very popular on the School Committee or with the local teachers’ union. So, I knew I was onto something powerful and decided to take the initiative state-wide.
During the first year of the project we developed RI Data, posting every budget, payroll, employee contract, and monthly check register for every city, town and school district, and began development of RI Votes, a database of voting records and legislation. We completed that project by the end of the legislative session and added two more databases of public information during 2009 – RI Stimulus Watch (a database of stimulus projects and taxpayer commentary), and RI Labor Relations Board Watch (documentation of LRB decisions and boar biographies).
RI Stimulus Watch garnered considerable media attention covering print, radio, and TV, and continues to be used as a reference for media reports.
The LRB Watch website, while an issue specific site with a limited market, had the largest impact as the town of East Providence found itself in a battle with the NEA before the board. Our research was referenced numerous times (here, here, here, here, here and here) and widely attributed as being the starting point of information during this battle.
The purpose of these sites is to empower the taxpayers with the information necessary to impact change. And we are seeing the results in numerous places (here, here, here, and here to name just a few).
OSPRI also holds another position in the center-right movement, and one I hold as a personal responsibility, is the development of the Seven Capacities for successful advocacy (or as Fred Barnes calls it, the Colorado Model).
Our first duty in this role is as the host of Rhode Island’s Thursday Meeting, the Rhode Island chapter of Grover Norquist’s Wednesday Meeting. We have hosted this meeting since 2007 but the December 2009 meeting was the last at the OSPRI office. That’s because the meetings have gotten too large to house at the main office but they will continue at a larger location starting in January.
The purpose of meeting (held monthly and by invitation only) is to provide a forum for center-right oriented advocacy groups to share ideas and coordinate activities. It was there that the advocacy groups and independent researchers developed the strategy that brought down the “never ending contracts” and “binding arbitration” initiatives.
Working tandem with The Thursday Meeting activities are OSPRI’s continued efforts to expand the shelf space for liberty by helping new organization in their development.
Mentioned above was the development of the Rhode Island Association of Scholars, because, let’s face it, academia has issues. But 2009 also saw the development of the Founders Project, which with its network of legal minds works to connect the formal world of constrained and formalistic legal analysis with the more freewheeling functionally oriented public policy discourse so as to provide ammunition for those of us on the firing line.
The last two organizations we helped launch are probably the two most talked about new ventures in our “Industry” – the RI Tea Party and the Hummel Report.
The Rhode Island Tea Party has taken the state by storm. I first met Colleen Conley through a short email I sent expressing my gratitude for her initiative and asking what we could do to help. She accepted what advice we could give and a little needed funding and the rest is Rhode Island history with a rally on Tax Day (where OSPRI added four more legislators to the list of those signing the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge“) with an estimated 3000+ in attendance, and another rally in June. The Tea Party has gone on to become a significant force in Rhode Island.
And lastly, but certainly not least, is the development of the Hummel Report. Jim Hummel interviewed me once when he was still at Channel 6 News and when I saw him again in November, 2008, after he had left the station, we set in motion what has become a truly ground breaking venture. The Hummel Report is now a vibrant website that provides daily news feeds (like a Drudge Report for Rhode Island), access to all of OSPRI’s transparency databases as well as those run by other organizations, and weekly exclusive video exposés investigating government waste and corruption produced by Jim Hummel.
Our marketing plan also makes the Hummel Report unique. We announce the weekly stories on 630 WPRO and 99.7 FM talkradio and through Motif Magazine, reaching over 200,000 viewers/listeners weekly.
The model is simple. Using data sources such as the Transparency Train and investigative tools such as Jim Hummel, we can expose problems and solution at the same time. And the model works. As Jim outlined in his Year in Review piece, his story on the Woonsocket Police Officer “Injured on Duty” for 13 years showed a loophole in the employee contract (linked through the RI Data website) and the issue is being investigated by the new mayor. The subject of his “Block Island Brohah” story is under an ethics investigation.
The combination of a free-market think tank and its open government resources, a powerhouse radio station, a free magazine with the largest free distribution in Rhode Island, and an award winning journalist is sure to create a buzz – and it certainly did (here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here).
Of course, the research, transparency, and movement building I just described aren’t all we do. We have had several events over the last year ranging from healthcare, business development, and tax policy forums to speaking engagements hosting people like the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, and former Bush administration Deputy Assistant Attorney General with the Office of Legal Council, John Yoo. And who could forget our 2nd Annual ATF Party.
There were over 150 public actions of policy education and advocacy from OSPRI during 2009. And a lot more work behind the scenes. We hope you feel your contributions and support are well used and productive to the movement and we were humbled when I was named the 7th most influential Right-of-Center Rhode Islander.
All of us at OSPRI hope that you had a wonderful Holiday Season and wish you the best of prosperity and liberty for 2010.