Jennifer Hushion: Why RI Is Driving Us Out

We moved to the Edgewood section of Cranston almost 12 years ago, before our son was born. My husband is from New York, and I am from Toronto, but we chose to live in Rhode Island because we love it here. Our home, our friends, and our memories are all intricately linked with this quirky little state.

Despite these facts, for the past few months we have been thinking about leaving and moving across the border to Massachusetts. We are not making the decision lightly. When we bought our house, we planned to live out the rest of our lives here. But there comes a point when you have to ask yourself, Can we really afford to stay?

The economic climate in Rhode Island — and specifically Cranston — is why we are considering leaving. It’s not that we are necessarily against higher taxes; we are against higher taxes when we receive so little in the way of services. Even more important to us than our current situation is the outlook for the future. Unfunded pension commitments and budget deficits are burying Cranston, and my family only sees the situation getting worse.

Here are our facts: My husband is an ER physician, and I am a financial planner. Last year, our property taxes were $7,836 for a four-bedroom house on just under 6,000 square feet of property, less than 0.14 acres. The bill represented an increase of $711 over the previous year.

According to the Tax Foundation, the median real estate tax for Rhode Island is $3,618, meaning we pay more than twice the median level. We also pay an additional $452 in car taxes for two Subarus, one 11 years old and the other seven, and another $384 in sewer taxes. Our state income tax was $10,584 in 2010, but Rhode Island’s allowance of itemized deductions, specifically on expenses over 7.5% of adjusted gross income, lowered it to $8,178. This year, however, Rhode Island has discontinued itemized deductions, and our state income tax will jump to over $13,000, representing an increase of at least $4,822 over last year.

Our biggest expense by far is our son’s education. In grade one he was diagnosed with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences. After many months of trying to contact the special education department in the Cranston school system, we gave up and had our son tested both independently and by the City of Providence school system. Both evaluations diagnosed him with dyslexia, and had he stayed in the public school system, he would have had an individual education plan (IEP).

Dyslexics are generally very intelligent; their brains simply process information differently. Early intervention utilizing a small group of students in a concentrated program given by qualified teachers is extremely important to their development and success rate. Many famous visionaries, entrepreneurs, and artists were and are dyslexics: Charles Schwab, Jay Leno, Thomas Edison, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, George Patton, Nolan Ryan, John Lennon, Richard Branson, and Ted Turner, just to name a few.

When we looked into how well students with IEPs faired in our public school system five years ago, we were shocked to discover that students with IEPs as a group did not make it above the 30th percentile in reading, writing, or math on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test. Students with IEPs are not only dyslexics, of course, representing a range of students who require additional help for myriad reasons. But ask yourself: Would it be OK with you if your child were put into a group that does not rise above that line? Would that be acceptable to you, for your child? I can’t imagine any parent aspiring to those numbers.

Worse still, the performance of students with IEPs is not improving, and the gap between IEP students and their peers is increasing at an alarming rate. In 2011, only 28% of students with IEPs were proficient in reading in elementary school, 30% in middle school, and 38% in high school. In 2005, the reading gap between students with IEPs and students without was 40.7%; by 2011, it had increased to 49.3%. The gap in middle school jumped from 44.5% to 51.8%.

Test results in mathematics faired no better. The latest level of proficiency for those with IEPs in mathematics was 24% in elementary school, 18% in middle school, and an anemic 4% in high school, meaning that 96% of students with IEPs are not proficient.

With these results in mind, we turned to the Hamilton School at Wheeler, an incredible place that specializes in teaching students with language-based learning differences. This coming year, the tuition will be $40,355 — almost 30% of our federal taxable income —We do not take any financial aid from the school. Despite the large tuition expense, the money is extremely well spent. The education our son has received at Hamilton has made a world of difference to his learning capabilities and his self-esteem.

In contrast, we feel the money we pay in taxes to the City of Cranston and Rhode Island is not well spent. This year we will pay over $20,000 in income and property taxes for a school system that we cannot use, a crumbling infrastructure, and streets that can take days to plow after a snow storm. Where is our money going? Are our taxes benefitting the community as a whole, or only a lucky few? Are the funds being put to good use?

Last year, I watched General Treasurer Gina Raimondo take on Rhode Island’s pension crisis with great pride and a sense of hope for our future. People seemed to finally understand that we are on an unsustainable path. The state took action despite the usual finger pointing, because it doesn’t really matter how we got here. Unfortunately, Cranston has not made any substantial changes to address our municipal deficit, and we have one of the most underfunded pension systems in the state; at over $245 million, it’s equal to the entire annual budget for 2012. The tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value in Cranston is $20.26; compare this to Attleboro at $12.88, Foxboro at $13.73, or Westport at $7.05, and Massachusetts looks very attractive.

Let me be clear, we don’t expect taxpayers to foot the bill for our son to attend a private school, but we do expect to get some services in return for the $20,000 we will put into this state.

According to George Nee, the president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, the solution to our budget crisis is to tax “the rich” — i.e., those making more than $250,000. State representative Maria E. Cimini (D, Providence) has proposed a bill that would add another 4% to state income taxes for those earning over $250,000, bringing the top tax rate back up to 9.99% and returning us to the distinction of having the highest income tax rate in all of New England. Compare that figure with the 5.3% income tax in Massachusetts, and one has to ask why anyone with the ability to move would stay here.

I can understand why one might think that those who make over $250,000 are “rich.” We have worked very hard and are grateful for what we have, but the math is undeniable. Spend 30% of taxable income on private education because of local schools’ inadequacy, pay another 10-15% in state property and income taxes, put another 15% away for a retirement that is slipping away, and being “rich” means driving an 11-year-old car and postponing badly needed household repairs.

Rhode Island legislators are ignoring the fact that this is a tiny state. One does not have to live here to work here, and yet they are proposing higher taxes on those most capable of leaving. More importantly, the new tax will be a deterrent to younger families thinking of moving to New England or staying in Rhode Island after attending one of our great universities.

The state’s focus on developing a knowledge-based economy has the potential to increase the prosperity of all of its people, but high-income families will not choose to live here when Massachusetts, which has a better school system and lower taxes, is just a stone’s throw away. Cimini’s proposal would tie tax relief for such families to decreases in Rhode Island’s unemployment rate, but who is going to create these jobs when all of the entrepreneurs, professionals, and small business owners flee? When the only ones left are civil servants and those who can’t afford to leave, how will you balance the budget then?

235 Responses to “Jennifer Hushion: Why RI Is Driving Us Out”

  1. Priscilla
    March 5, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Hi Jennifer, its me P… – we met thru URI Center for Personal Financial Education and had coffee downtown once, you called me about a job opening etc. Guess what – I already moved out of RI ( and I read all the papers still) !!
    Yes your analysis is totally correct. We did the math and fled last year ( took a loss on the house to escape). And for us it transcended mere economics ( $724 on my hyundai, a 48% increase in our property taxes after we were "reassessed", the 2011 elimination of itemizing on a state level, the fact that they voted to give municipal bond holders seniority over the state tax payer etc) – what really PUSHED US OUT was the contempt of government for us. The Iannuzi thing, etc, no one in the GA cares what the taxpayer thinks. The entrenched interests are so established and they feed off the system as it is, want it that way. Rhode Island is not really a democracy, there is no transparency on a state level and the legislators have contempt for most of the populous.
    So, it was economic ( I could not find a job, there IS no job creation since org labor is so vitriolic it drives all away), it was cultural ( They have no regard for the voter) and it was psychological ( we tired of all the screaming we want ours etc,all the acrimony in the papers etc).
    I am several states away now. My husband moved his business and I am starting my own. We have never been happier. This is just the beginning, you need to have a macro perspective : without bankruptcy reorganization ( has it ever been done in Ch 9?) RI will never be able to get the monkey off it back. Its a race between the states now and they will be the loser. The culture there, the lack of respect for education and the pro-Union regardless of reality, only make it worse. RI is done and cooked.I have a friend who lives in Buffalo NY area – her house cost $220,000 and her property taxes are $8,000. That , and very poor schools and services, are the future for RI.
    Leave Now. PS Claudia has my contact info

  2. Henry
    March 5, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    My responce is short and simple; Stay and fight to make Cranston a better community. Don't run. Get involved. I enjoyed reading you perspective. You are wrong on somethings. Streets not being plowed util days after a snow storm is just plain incorrect. You recieve much more for you tax dollar than you realize. Just FYI.


    • Ron from Cranston
      March 6, 2012 at 9:20 am #

      Henry Have you checked out all the FORSALE Signs and the amount of time they are on the market ….. as well as the asking price and the selling price if they sell???? the future is BANKRUPTCY Hope you get it if not …. Looks like you are turning out the lights hang in there someone has to do it….

  3. Dan
    March 5, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Move out of Rhode Island and stop subsidizing the beast through your taxes. Your life will be immensely improved. High taxes and poor public services are not the norm – move to Virginia or North Carolina and you can get exactly the opposite.

  4. Tom Parker
    March 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Move to colorado… that’s what we did…I was elected to local politics (small office in a small town-Tiverton) but I grew to know too much about unions, finances, politics: don’t forget, (except for your special needs child) “it’s all about the children.”
    Don’t even attempt to fight as Henry says, it’s all stacked against you and every dollar you spend supports an immoral and corrupt town/state. Kick the dust of RI off your boots and head somewhere else. tom parker

  5. Marshall
    March 6, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    My wife and I have long lived out of the Rhode Island where we both grew up. We had, at one time, thought it would be nice to move back in our retirement. The State of Rhode Island will soon become more than a union dominated state under a debt load that cannot be relived easily if at all.
    Moving back is no longer a dream.
    Our friends and family that still live there repeat, almost verbatim, what Ms. Hushion has written about. Taxes, fees, more taxes with no end in sight.
    Sorry, we'll stay right where we are and visit from time to time and cling to the memories of our younger years.

  6. J Dub
    March 6, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    Run like the wind, This place is corrupt beyond repair and will never change. Get out while you still can. I plan to leave as soon as I get the opportunity.

  7. Jeff
    March 6, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    I fought for many years only to be ostrasized and threatened by many who receive the benfits of what Cranston gives its municipal employees. After many years of warning about what was coming down the road I got out, now live in Florida (no income tax) and enjoy RI for brief stays knowing it doesn't cost many anymore than what I spend on fun.

  8. Ken
    March 6, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    The only way to fix Cranston and the rest of the State is to leave and let it collapse behind you. I really think it's that bad and
    the only way is a total reset of the Cities and State. They will continue to put into office the same people who are part of the problem.
    The State needs to fall before it can begin to pick itself up.


  9. Ron from Cranston
    March 6, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    Mayor FUNG, COUNCIL and SCHOOL COMMITTEE and the rest of the politians are you reading this You can all leave when HENRY turns off the lights

  10. Broken System
    March 6, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    My family is also in the process of moving out of RI. We too paid over 10K ($1500 increase last year) in property taxes, 2K in car taxes, and got hit with the same itemized deduction elimination scam. My employer is not in RI, so the state will lose the tax benefit of my income (six figures) and my wifes job will most likely be covered by the extra part time people in the business, not resulting in the hiring of any additional workers. Good luck to the folks who remain, we do have family and ffriends here, so wish the state well, our mental health and the future of our children demand we seek a better life elsewhere. My wife was raised here, and I have resided here 18 years, enough has become enough, as those who have moved on before us can testify, their is a greener pasture over the hill.

  11. jrobinson
    March 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    Sorry to say, but the only person who can save Rhode Island is John Galt.

    I left last year because I had no choice; all of my graphics design and programming skills are useless in a state that shed all its IT workers and has a hundred thousands of newly-minted designers. For the first time in 30 years, I wasn't able to afford to live in my own home state. I'm down in Texas now. Things are still difficult; but they're doable. As much as I love Rhode Island, it will never get out of its own way.

    Look up Rhode Island in wikipedia and you'll see that it has the distinction of being one of the few "permanently blue states". Perhaps that's a clue as to what the root problem is.

  12. Hal Meyer
    March 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Great article!

    I am a Rhode Island refugee myself, now living in North Idaho and very very happy.

  13. Allen Gary
    March 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    So, let me get this right…..

    Moving to super-liberal Ma with universal health care, low employment and a good economy…..because a real and honest liberal commonwealth provides a better lifestyle, community and experience????

    • Jenny
      March 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

      MA is a liberal commonwealth, but it's only marginally better, and that's because it's bigger and has more assets, many of which are stimulus dollars funneled in as one of Obama's partners in crime is the governor, it's not going to last. As I stated, things in RI are seriously bad, when MA looks good by comparison. There isn't single payer in MA, there's a state funded health care scam that is largely in place to subsidize illegal aliens and the rest of the welfare class. Private insurance, which the vast majority have to pay for is unbelievably expensive because the costs of health care provided to the welfare queens, is so underpaid, doctors and hospitals make up for it by over charging people with private insurance. My daughter's insurance (it's a bare bones plan) went up by more than $1,500. in one year alone, while the benefits were reduced. MA will be only marginally better for a short period of time There are even more illegal aliens, with even larger senses of entitlement. The crime rate is beyond insane.

      • Allen Gary
        March 19, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

        Wow, sounds like you are not going to be a decent addition to Ma either!
        All of your so-called claims are 100% wrong. MA. is in fine fiscal shape and if you knew even basic math you would see that it has nothing to do with the stimulus (nothing more than anywhere else).
        Ma. just had their credit rating raised by S&P. That does not happen because of stim.
        The unemployment is among the lowest in the nation. The population is covered by insurance, which is working well….especially compared to other states.
        Talk about biting the hand that feed you! Wow!
        Why not move somewhere where you approve of the basics? Are you moving to take advantage of hard working Ma. Residents?
        Please, stop drinking the Tea Party Kook Aid. It sounds like you are moving to take advantage of the better system created by liberals who care – at least admit it.

  14. Jenny
    March 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    The parasites in the general assembly, city and town and city councils, the RINO mayor in my city, who has the son or daughter of contributors filing city appointed positions facilitating his ability to skim bribes for taxpayer funded services, there really isn't anything to save in RI, imagine how bad things are for Massachusetts to look good by comparison. I'm normally a stay and fight sort of person, but the corruption is so bad, that they don't even bother trying to hide it Things will only get worse, all there's left to do is escape and let them devour themselves. Just the other day I ran into my city council woman I remember meeting when she first ran for office, she presented herself as a "moderate" democrat. Over the past few years she's stopped pretending, she didn't even bother to watch her tongue as she spoke with her son on her cell, helping him to access some taxpayer subsidized mortgage program from the sound of it.

  15. Jennifer Hushion
    March 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    We are choosing MA because we still need to be within commuting distance of our jobs. However I will consider moving my business as well, if taxes become too onerous. When we thought about moving to MA I studied the municipalities and tax base first to make sure they were healthy and I have narrowed my search to only these towns. It is Cranston’s deficits and unfunded pensions that concern us the most. We are worried that if we don’t sell our house soon, we may not be able to in five years. Is Cranston a Central Falls waiting to happen? The only way to solve the massive debts our municipalities have racked-up is through some combination of cuts to services, cuts to pension responsibilities and/or higher taxes. No one wants to live in a bankrupt city, with no sports in the school system, parks full of garbage and boarded up storefronts and that’s what we have now, imagine in five-to-ten years what it’s going to be like.

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  19. Lemingrabb
    May 17, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    Run run as fast as you can! Don't wait! My family was in a strikingly similar boat as yours and the best thing we ever did was move to a southern state where things are actually done the right way. We actually have things now to show for our hard work. Our stress levels have never been lower and we actually have some peace of mind. You mentioned that you live in Edgewood- do you realize that within mere blocks from you is a extremely dangerous, gang and drug infested 'hood!?

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