In January, I highlighted the sentiment of a representative of the “business community” sitting on the legislative commission to study the repeal of the sales tax — a representative of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce — that it would be “a crime to threaten” the government’s sales tax revenue stream. Well, last week, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released a report detailing how the state could find $225 million without its being so much as a misdemeanor.
It only took until Monday of this week for another of the commission’s business-community voices, Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, to speak up in support of government spending. Writing in the Providence Journal alongside Heather Singleton, a senior vice president running the association’s Education Foundation, Venturini insists:
On behalf of the fourth largest industry and the 64,000-plus employees in the food service, lodging and tourism industries in Rhode Island, we’d like to say that the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and its Education Foundation are troubled by the April 2 Commentary piece by Mike Stenhouse and David Williams (“Chafee lards his budget with $225 million in waste”). The piece implies that the Governors Workforce Board should be eliminated and that “there is little indication that the board provides any value to workers, businesses, or taxpayers. …
The investment that the Governors Workforce Board makes in our residents is much deeper than Messrs. Stenhouse and Williams suggest. As a workforce system, we are providing a future not only for the Rhode Islanders who need employment training and a career path but also for their children.”
According to RIOpenGov’s state vendor payments module, one of the ways in which the Governor’s Workforce Board helps create employment is by providing a steady stream of revenue for the Rhode Island Hospitality Education Foundation: $192,109 in 2013, $133,986 in 2012, $128,621 in 2011, and $148,444 in 2010. (That’s as far back as the data goes.)
The foundation’s latest 990 form puts its total revenue in 2012 at $367,904, so one-third or more of all of its money came from the government board that Venturini and Singleton see as so critical. (If I’m not mistaken, the 990 form shows calendar year revenue, while the state vendor payments report the fiscal year. It’s therefore likely that the much larger grant shown in 2013 is partly counted in the 990’s 2012 revenue, which would help to explain its $67,567 increase from the previous year.)
The 990 form doesn’t detail how much of the Hospitality Education Foundation’s $240,625 in pay, benefits, and payroll taxes are attributable to Singleton. It does indicate that Venturini’s $201,728 salary was paid by the association, not the foundation, with an additional $18,346 in “other compensation,” which she described to me as fringe benefits, not separate compensation for her 10 hours per week with the foundation.
In their op-ed, Venturini and Singleton offer testimony from an unnamed participant in their organization’s training, as well as from Mark Gervais, “general manager of the Hotel Viking.” They don’t mention, though, that Gervais is on the executive committee of the Hospitality Association.
Nobody should doubt the challenge that Rhode Islanders face in forcing their government to get out of the way and start helping, rather than hindering, the state’s turnaround. It is made all the more difficult when those who might be expected to assist in the effort are interwoven with the web of mutually supportive interests that block the necessary government reforms.