Two Short Columns

Two short columns for February.

Turn Off the Lights on the Way Out
The Ocean State’s loss of population during the past decade, based on reported estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, is another negative reflection of the state’s poor economy and the lack of job opportunities here. During that period the state lost around 24,000 people, representing not just people leaving but their spending and taxable dollars too.  Many of the departures were young folks seeking better opportunities elsewhere. The 24,000 figure also includes retirees (some of them, of course, public sector retirees carrying their pensions with them) making the great Route 95 South migration to the Sunshine State.

Population loss in Rhode Island slowed during the recession years starting in 2007 because few states (other than North Dakota and Montana) were offering much in the way of job opportunities or public assistance programs as generous as Rhode Island’s, so complete was the recession across the nation. As the economy recovers, however, other areas of the country will become attractive once again as destinations for those willing to relocate, and then we could see an uptick in population migration as Rhode Island remains stuck in its economic doldrums.

Losing our young people to other states is a serious threat to our future. It could even impact our representation in Congress. Imagine Rhode Island losing a Congressional seat because of its declining population. Is there anything that spells out trouble in a more dramatic way than that? Perpetual dismal national rankings and now census data on population loss should be wake-up calls to our politicians that there is no greater or more urgent priority than to do what it takes to reform the state’s economy, which brings us to the next column.

Change is Hard to Come By in RI
With the start of the new year our political leaders are in chorus about the need to help our economy get moving again. It’s the top item on just about everyone’s agenda for the new legislative session. But that doesn’t mean that much will actually be accomplished to get the wheels turning. Are business regulations and taxes still a  hindrance?  Of course they are, despite acknowledgement of these problems for a long time now. Not much changes. Should such a small state regionalize for greater efficiencies and cost savings? Yes, but have you seen much of that actually happen?

The state suffered a serious blow in the 38 Studios fiasco, one that called into question the very structure and priorities of the EDC. Studies and recommendations for reform emerged from a number of sides, but where are we today on taking up any of the ideas to restructure the EDC?  Pretty much where we were before, with Governor Chafee not in any great hurry to make real changes. He’s even elevated an EDC career bureaucrat to head the agency, hardly the kind of shakeup that many people were expecting. Hopefully, the leadership in the General Assembly won’t let that be the last word on that subject.

And then there’s the pension reform court battle, just a little more than a year after passage of the historic legislation that was seen as the one thing that our small state could hang it’s hat on. Court ordered mediation demonstrates the power of the public employee unions and their hold on the branches of government. It’s been said before that there could come a time when the only people remaining in Rhode Island will be those who just can’t move away and the public employee unions.

The clock is ticking down on Rhode Island’s future. There’s still time to wind it up again but only if we act decisively – and without any more delay.  


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