If RI citizens were Red Sox fans!

Why don’t we demand a winner?

Rhode Island is a last place team. The Red Sox (for the time being) are a last place team. Most of our RI citizens are resigned to doom. Red Sox nation is outraged. If only RI citizens were like Red Sox fans.

In the race for people, wealth and business, RI simply is not competitive with other states. Yet we find little leadership from our elected officials and far too few jeers from the public. Most reform advocates debate less important issues. Nobody seems to be focused on winning!

With the budget debate in RI and the Red Sox season now under way, we can clearly see why RI never improves its standing. The contrast is stunning.

The current tax reform policy will actually make Rhode Island LESS competitive. In RI, we debate balancing our budget and how to raise enough revenues to do so. We debate the merits of trading this tax rate for that tax rate. We debate whether we should keep funding this promise or amend those rules and regulations. We keep debating everything as a one-off item, yet we do not have a master plan or a strategy to win. And we always seem to end up in the same place … last place.

We all know that RI ranks at or near the bottom in far too many areas when it comes to education and economic outlook. Our perpetual poor rankings indicate the utter failure of the status quo team. But, we cling to what we have, we put the same players back on the field with the same rules, and we seem pleased with ourselves if we can just figure out how not to worsen the situation.

But we are indeed worsening the situation. OSPRI’s revealing “Leaving Rhode Island” study proves that our current collective, oppressive tax structure is driving people and wealth out of our state. Recent headlines about our education are equally disturbing. To build a sustainable economy, we need educated, productive citizens as well as capital. To successfully compete with other states, we need more of both. Maintaining the status quo means we will continue to hemorrhage even more of these valuable resources.

Even the Governor half-agreed with our study’s findings on a recent television show, stating that raising taxes on the wealthy would cause them to move. True. But our study also showed that non-rich Rhode Islanders will also go to other states if they are over taxed. The same is true, I’m sure, with businesses and consumer purchasing.

Raising taxes – any taxes – in order to balance our state budget will only server to make us LESS competitive!  We will continue to lose citizens and money;  and we will squander yet another opportunity to improve our chance of winning. Balancing the budget is the wrong game.

THE GAME SHOULD BE ABOUT HOW TO IMPROVE OUR STATE’S COMPETIVENESS AND TO WIN BACK PEOPLE AND WEALTH!

Are Red Sox fans settling for a last place team? Would they be mollified if the team could only balance its books? Would they really care how much players were paid? Would they be satisfied if the manager merely shuffled the same old lineup? Would they accept increased ticket prices for a perpetual last place team? Nothing else would matter much if the team were a winner. But this is exactly what our public officials want us to accept about the state of our state.

In RI, little else should matter unless we grow the economy and reform education for the prosperity of our citizens and the future of our children. The primary standard should be whether or not we are improving our competiveness with other states … not balancing the budget.

As long as we continue to play by rules that decrease our competitiveness, and because we lack a clear vision from our leadership, RI will continue to be a cellar-dweller, even if our economy recovers to some small degree.

In the sports world, where competition and free market principles mainly prevail, a last place team will embark on a “rebuilding” strategy, where it’s “out with the old” and “in with the new”. This may mean a few years of potential struggles here and there while the “new” takes hold, but when it does, if the plan is designed properly, the situation will improve.

Trouble is, in our ocean state world, we don’t seem to have many strategic thinkers with the courage to admit that long term reform can only happen with some near term pain. And you won’t hear much from our state’s ‘fans’ (we the citizens). Nor do we find cutting commentary from the media demanding a better team or an improved standing. Imagine the Boston Globe endorsing a perennial last place Red Sox team that refused make wholesale changes.

Red Sox nation demanded a winner and the Red Sox successfully broke its “curse” by winning two world championships! It took the vision of a young and talented GM. The state of RI must do the same … but we are left to wonder where we will find that kind leadership and that kind of public outrage.

How do we bring out the Red Sox fan inside each of us?

Mike Stenhouse is Executive Director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute

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