Brookings and Rhode Island’s General Assembly


Rhode Island Republican State Senator John Pagliarini (Tiverton, Portsmouth, Bristol) put his finger on the key objection to the Brookings Institution approach to economic development, as Katherine Gregg quotes in today’s Providence Journal:

Another Pagliarini question: “The report is very broad … . So the question is: how do you answer somebody who says do we need this report? Wouldn’t it be easier to just reduce taxes, eliminate regulation and let the marketplace decide?”

“Yippee,” said Mike Stenhouse, the CEO of the right-leaning Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, from the audience of the Senate Finance Committee hearing. “Yippee.”

I’ve said and written repeatedly that the Brookings-Raimondo plan is what people come up with when they don’t entirely reject basic economics, but when their two iron-clad rules are that government must remain the central maker of key decisions and that those who currently hold power within government and among its satellites must not lose out on any deal.  Witness the response of Brookings’s Mark Muro to Pagliarini’s question:

Muro’s response: “Simply a deregulation and tax reduction strategy is, unfortunately, not going to…” He paused. “You need to re-position the state’s economy in some of these higher return, high value industries. If you do simply the moves you suggested, I think you’ll get more of the same.”

That is, the government (with well-paid consultants from Washington, D.C.) has to use its infinite wisdom to see the future and pick industries that will produce a “higher return.”  Leaving their destinies up to the people of Rhode Island — whom elected officials are supposed to represent, not parent — simply won’t work, according to Brookings, our governor, and progressives generally.

Video from the hearing reveals another critical and related point.  Multiple senators mentioned to Stenhouse that various components of the plan have been heard individually in committee, or will be as the governor strives to implement them.  Mike’s three-pronged response was that many pieces will be implemented through regulation or other executive action, that the relevant legislation isn’t always obviously part of the plan, and that the public is disadvantaged in addressing government plans.  Using both taxpayer and private resources, the planners spend months and years contriving not only the plans and policies, but also the process of pushing them into law, whereas the public has to dig and investigate for evidence of the plan and then has a couple of days to prepare for a reaction in the legislature.

As important as those objections are, Mike was too soft.  A more immediate problem is that testifying before House and Senate committees is a complete and total waste of time, with the narrow exception of gaining some access to local media attention.  There’s no shortage of evidence that the entire legislative system is rigged, with everything important happening out of public view.  The most prominent evidence is that these legislators almost always — as in 95-100% of the time — vote with leadership on significant bills.

That reality is on heads of the individual legislators (and their voters).  If there were any indication that committee hearings could actually change outcomes, more people would attend.  Until that aspect changes, hearings will tend to be limited to special interests with enough direct benefit to pay people to sit through interminable, unpredictable hearings and offer bland testimony to legislators who, for the most part, are clearly only pretending to care what’s said.

  • Slow Poke

    The background to this dog and pony show is that the majority of GA members win re-election unopposed. Whatever happened to the “informed citizenry” envisioned by the founding fathers?