This article in yesterday’s Providence Journal, by Kate Bramson, is emblematic of Rhode Island’s current predicament and enlightening with regard to the reasons and the potential solutions:
Commercial real-estate developer Richard Miller, of The Pegasus Group, visited Rhode Island in 2011 and again this spring; he liked what he saw enough to pick a potential parcel on the western side of the river near Chestnut Street.
But in the end, his team chose not to submit a proposal to the Route 195 Redevelopment District Commission, which controls about 40 acres in the heart of the city, 20 of which are available for development.
Miller says Pegasus was put off by the city’s real-estate tax rate, car taxes and the idea that if they seek a lower commercial tax rate on the now-vacant land, they must negotiate with the city and hope for the best. Meanwhile, they’d be spending money on architects, renderings of proposed buildings and other costs, not knowing if it would be worth their while.
Read the whole thing. In keeping with much of what we write, on this site, Rhode Island is designed as a tell-people-what-to-do, insider-driven state. Taxes are high; regulations are crushing; but everything can be waived or compensated if you know the right people. The only way it makes sense to invest in that environment is if you’ve already made the investments of time and money to gain the right kind of influence.
Recent scandals and controversies really bring this fact into public view, whether we’re talking about the 38 Studios debacle, the Superman Building lobbying, or the unique interests of “business community” organizations that take bizarre positions on issues related to their constituencies. Outside investors are not going to want to invest in a state that puts them at such a disadvantage, and Rhode Island is driving out the non-connected locals who may have made up for some of that deficit in the past.
That’s another — maybe more insidious — way in which Rhode Island simply doesn’t have the size or demographics to continue the approach to policy that has, as Aaron Renn recently argued, defined the state for way too long. The solution is ever more clearly simply to reduce the burdens and insider deals, not to continue pursuing “economic development” that gives insiders a strong hand in deciding what can be done, when, and where.