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A healthy economy is the primary ingredient for a high quality of life for the residents of a state. Without a healthy economy, the engine of government is starved of the funds necessary to pay for the services and infrastructure wanted by most tax payers.

Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s economy has lagged our regional neighbors and most of the rest of the nation for some time now – mostly because in many categories Rhode Island is a very high cost state relative to other states. High unemployment, large budget deficits and high taxes are all a net result of an economy under stress.

How we address our financial troubles will to a large extent dictate where our economy goes from here.

Those who understand basic economics will realize that fixing our finances by raising taxes will only increase the relative cost of doing business in and living in Rhode Island – leading to an even weaker economy relative to other states because Rhode Island’s competitive posture will weaken as our costs go up.

Rhode Island’s current budget deficit must be closed NOT by raising taxes, but by reductions in spending, increases in efficiency and reductions in the waste and fraud inherent in large government spending programs.

Rhode Island’s soaring unfunded pension liability has been a problem decades in the making. Rhode Island’s elected leaders have based their careers on NOT addressing this one issue which threatens every quality of life building block. Comprehensive pension reform is needed, with the goal of defining what a ‘sustainable’ pension plan looks like and then making changes across all generations of those eligible for state pensions, from new employees to those already retired. The retirement security of everyone depends on doing this right, fairly and just once.

Across the state, there are more than 150 separate pension plans for municipal and state workers. The complexity of this system is staggering, wasteful and ultimately makes managing the problem much more difficult than it need be. Pension design should stay on the simple side, to make the task of ensuring sustainability simple. Read more on pension issues in our news area and click on the category ‘pensions’.

Only with serious pension reform and a balanced budget can Rhode Island begin to expect to engage in meaningful economic development. The Route 195 land plus the $50 million RI Economic Development Council loan guarantee fund provides the ability to provide major incentives to nationally prominent firms to consider moving their operations to Rhode Island.

At the end of the day, Rhode Island is in economic competition with every state in this country and with every other country in the world, and we are losing the competition. To get back on track, every decision made at the State House must be made with attention paid to what the consequences of that decision will be on our economic competitive posture.

A skilled, educated workforce is essential to economic growth in our state. By providing our children with the skills and knowledge they need, we have an opportunity to attract and create new businesses and help existing ones. Highly educated students tend to earn more income, are less likely to draw on social support programs, and are less likely to commit crimes.

Education spending in Rhode Island is the 6th highest in the nation yet our achievement is ranked at 40th. This must change. Children in Rhode Island have a right to a high quality education that prepares them to succeed to their highest potential. Taxpayers have a right to a higher return on their investment.

Commissioner Gist and the Board of Regents have outlined a strategic plan that will allow Rhode Island to achieve these goals. The Moderate Party supports many of these reforms and applauds Commissioner Gist for soliciting input from communities and stakeholders.

• We must recruit, support, reward and retain excellent teachers and school leaders.
• Failing schools are not acceptable. We must provide incentives for teachers to teach in the toughest schools.
• High standards and assessments, fair evaluations and strong work ethic are critical.
• We must implement user friendly; ongoing student tracking and utilize data to improve effectiveness and efficiencies.
• Schools must be “capable stewards of the taxpayers’ investment.”

We must fund our new state-wide educational funding formula.

Evaluate all teachers and administrators annually and provide incentive pay for the top performers while providing mentoring, training to struggling teachers

There is no systematic, ongoing evaluation process whose purpose is to rank performance across a school system, reward excellence and attempt to remedy underperformance. We must:

• Evaluate teachers with the following 4 criteria:
• Administration review
• Peer review
• Parental review
• Standardized test scored of students

• Rank teachers based on their evaluations into a top 15%, middle 70% and bottom 15%.
• The bottom 15% receive mentoring and additional professional development to help these professionals raise their performance.

Apply lessons learned from our charter schools and allow the development of more of these innovative schools.

• Allow the creation of more charter schools
• Form cooperative relationships between public, private and charter schools
• Implement proven strategies to benefit learning across all environments

Ban the practice of bumping in the school systems.

• Use performance, qualifications and proven success to match teachers with schools and appropriate positions

Develop a statewide model teacher’s contract.

• Link state aid to school districts based on how closely the local contract follows the model’s guidelines.
• Contracts will coincide with the state’s fiscal year.
• Provide the ability for non-certified professionals to teach our children.
In the upcoming months the Moderate Party will work with all stakeholders to explore additional areas of education reform.

Start early: Effective education is a life long process. We must explore effective pre-K models and put these programs to work for our students here in Rhode Island.

An eye towards employment: Vocational/technical and career education must be updated and further incorporated into our schools to provide students with opportunities to receive appropriate training in fields that connect with the types of jobs that employers in Rhode Island need.

Educate the whole child: Too often our students graduate without the basic skills necessary to survive in today’s world. Life skills components should be added to the curriculum for all levels of students to ensure that upon graduation, students have the necessary tools and knowledge.

All students can learn and succeed: Special Education must be given appropriate attention and resources to ensure the highest level of success possible and the most cost-effective use of tax dollars over the lifetime of Special Education students.

These programs and others must be part of the conversation as we move towards revamping and reforming how we educate the student of Rhode Island.

The Moderate Party’s Six Point Plan

Rhode Island has a long and sorry history of public corruption. While the vast majority of our public servants do their jobs honestly and honorably, the sad truth is that there are some who do not. All three branches of state government have been affected. We have seen judges, governors and legislators resign in disgrace and/or go to jail. This culture takes a heavy toll and breeds cynicism and unfair distrust of all government officials.

A strong government ethics program is one of the central beliefs of the Moderate Party. We seek to identify those trouble spots in government which have been, or which could be, breeding grounds for the kinds of corrupt behavior which need to be eradicated. We will focus on six major ideas:

1. Let the public read legislation before it is passed. The General Assembly is in session for about six months, yet it passes almost all important bills in the last few days of the legislative session. This ‘system’ of operation permits leadership to exert tremendous control over the legislative process, but yields awful lawmaking. Legislators routinely and openly admit that they are voting on legislation they have never read, or perhaps even thought about. They are asked (or instructed) to vote on literally hundreds of bills over the course of just a few hours. We will push to open the process up and make it more transparent. We will push for a rule that requires all legislation to be posted on line for thirty days before it is voted on. That way, legislators and the people of Rhode Island, can see what they are voting on before it’s too late.

2. It’s time to end the Legislative Grant process. Legislative Grants are off-budget payouts to select groups and organizations decided solely at the whim of the legislative leadership. These giveaways can be used to coerce legislators by threatening to not provide funds for that legislator’s pet projects. Not surprisingly, Democratic House leaders were granted the lion’s share of these grants, proving that these goodies are wholly political in nature.

3. Close the giant “class exception” loophole in the Ethics Commission rules. As things stand now, public officials are allowed to take action on matters in which they have a personal or business interest, as long as the action affects everyone in the legislator’s business equally. Put more simply, we let our leaders enact laws that favor their own businesses. This is a giant loophole that all but guarantees conflicts of interest. We will fight to close this loophole.

4. Close the “speech in debate” loophole. In the recent case brought by William Irons against the Ethics Commission, the Rhode Island Supreme Court approved another giant loophole, ruling that the “speech in debate” provision of the State Constitution prevents the Ethics Commission from prosecuting a legislator for his or her vote on a matter, even if the legislator is acting illegally or dishonestly in the matter. That is, the legislator can be prosecuted for accepting a bribe, but cannot be punished for casting the vote that he just sold. This ruling undermines the spirit and the letter of our most recent Constitutional Convention. The Moderate Party will fight to fix this, even if it means amending our Constitution.

5. It’s time to get rid of single-lever party voting. Rhode Island is one of very few states that still allows single-lever party voting. This is an outdated system that harkens back to the days when party bosses bullied voters into blindly voting for an entire party slate, without considering the merits of individual candidates or issues. Frankly, it is an insult to the intelligence and independence of Rhode Island voters, yet the Democratic Party fights tooth and nail to keep it. The Moderate Party will lead the charge to get rid of this relic of Single Party Rule.

6. Let’s stop the end-run around judicial selection. Since 1994, the process of selecting Rhode Island’s judges has involved an initial screening and recommendation by the Judicial Nominating Committee (“JNC”), selection by the Governor, and confirmation by the Senate. Over the past few years, however, the General Assembly has sought to grab a greater share of control by creating a number of magistrate positions and then exempting these judicial officers from the JNC process. The Moderate Party will end this dangerous end-run around our selection process.

Preserving the environment is vitally important for Rhode Island, a densely populated state with an industrial past that has the major natural asset of Narragansett Bay.

Stewardship of the land, air and water is important for economic as well as environmental reasons. As Rhode Island competes for knowledge-based businesses, a clean environment is essential. Educated and skilled workers are more likely to make Rhode Island their home if our natural environment has strong appeal.

Rhode Island made significant progress over the last 30 years, during which inflows of industrial and biological pollutants into our rivers and Narragansett Bay have been greatly reduced. In the 1990s, furthermore, state and private funds purchased more than 7,000 acres of undeveloped land for preservation as open space.

However, these positive steps have been offset by major adverse trends. Since World War II, low-density suburban development has consumed vast amounts of open land — 62,000 acres between 1970 and 1995 alone, according to state reports. This represented a 43% increase in the amount of developed land in the state over a 25-year period. As population spread out, Rhode Island’s dependence on the automobile also has dramatically increased, and the decline of manufacturing has left scores of vacant or underutilized factories in the cities.

Remarkably, the rate of land development between 1970 and 1995 was nine times faster than the rate of population growth. Employers followed residents into the suburbs: The suburbs added 56,000 jobs, while the cities lost 10,000. In the following decade, 30% of the remaining developable land was built upon. In the 2000s, the number of registered motor vehicles in Rhode Island grew by 34,000, even though the population increased by only about 5,000. Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the nation, but its use of public transit is extremely low: Only 2.7% of commuters use public transit. This is the lowest rate in the corridor between Boston and Washington.

The recession has slowed real estate development in exurban areas, at least temporarily. But Rhode Island will consume most of its remaining developable land by 2025 if nothing is done. This would severely affect our quality of life and the state’s competitive economic position. It would make the state even more dependent on the automobile. And, as population and jobs dispersed, it would further isolate the central cities and their poor populations from the middle class in the distant suburbs.

The Moderate Party intends to address these issues in a number of ways:

• First, we must develop an urban policy that favors intensive development over sprawl. The redevelopment of cities such as Providence and Pawtucket, and inner suburbs such as Cranston and Warwick, should take precedence over new construction in such areas as the rural western half of the state.
• Where development does take place in the outer suburbs, it should be encouraged in historic village centers such as Greenville and Wakefield rather than in forested or agricultural areas.
• State zoning laws should encourage village-style development with lot sizes of a quarter-acre or less, rather than wasteful development of one- and two-acre lots.
• State and private sources should continue to purchase and preserve open space in order to protect the quality of life in Rhode Island’s unique rural and seaside communities.
• Redevelopment in urban areas is constrained by the presence of brown fields, which are old factory, railroad, utility or warehouse sites that have polluted land, ground water or buildings. Often, these sites are close to downtowns or highways, and would be desirable development sites if not for environmental concerns. Land in this condition will lie nearly fallow for generations, despite its ideal central location. State government must take affirmative steps to remove the obstacles to the redevelopment of brown fields.