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WARWICK â The most important thing citizens can do to help Rhode Islandâs economy and business climate is to get involved with what the government is doing, RI Taxpayerâs President Ken Block told the groupâs annual meeting Saturday.
Because of the stateâs small size and population, Block said, âWe pay a terrific and horrific price when we are not efficient, when bad things happen economically, when bad decisions are made like 38 Studios, or when graft and corruption rear their ugly heads.
âWe donât have enough people in the workforce and we donât have enough people generally in our population to cover where we go wrong,â he noted. âWe need to have taxpayer representation; we need to have an active voice in the General Assembly watching out on behalf of the taxpayers.â
What taxpayers have to advocate to fix, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island founder said, âis how we govern ourselves.â
Many of the stateâs economic issues, Block asserted, âare 100 percent fixable, right away, if we had the political will to do so. But itâs that political will, the mechanism with which we govern ourselves, that is, frankly, whatâs broken.â
Block was addressing the 10th annual meeting of the group that began life as the South County-based RI Shoreline Coalition, grew to become the RI Statewide Coalition, and, late last year, took the name RI Taxpayers to underline that âwe are the voice of individual and business taxpayers in Rhode Island,â said the chairman of the board Harry Staley.
âWhat you are doing here today is amazingly important,â Block said at the opening of the event. âWhat you are doing is simply showing up. Too many Rhode Islanders donât show up. What you end up with when you donât show up is a level of governance and attention to detail on the part of our elected officials that doesnât usually work out in the best interest of most Rhode Islanders.â
One problem, Staley pointed out, is who is not showing up.
Scanning the audience of more than 100, Staley said, âwhat I donât see, is many faces under the age of 40.â With that, the many white-haired heads that predominantly filled the tables in the room nodded up and down in agreement.
âWhere are the under-40 people and what are they thinking, are they thinking,â Staley asked. âThis is their country, what does their future hold for them. We need them, and they need to be involved.â
Staley bemoaned âthe significant loss of faith in government and those who manage it, apathy, an attitude of surrender to fate, that is unparalleled in my lifetime.
âThe question before us today,â Staley declared, is, âDo we have what it takes to take control of our destiny or are we going to step back and allow others to do it for us?â
Block used the issue he has been closely identified with in recent months â the move to eliminate the so-called âmaster leverâ on election ballots that allows single-party voting â as a case study of how the General Assembly makes decisions.
Despite generating 2,600 voters to sign a petition to get rid of the master lever, and 100 people turning out for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to do so and 75 to speak for that bill at the Senate committee hearing, Block related, despite a majority of representatives saying they would favor doing away with the practice, and that House Judiciary Committee members saying that, 9-4 they would pass the bill to eliminate it âtomorrowâ if it came up for a vote, it will not come up for a vote.
âThis is where our government breaks down,â Block said. âWhen that mass of people unanimously advocates to get something done, and nobody shows up to advocate against that idea, how is it even remotely possible that that bill doesnât pass?â
It doesnât pass, he said, answering his own question, âbecause of the way our legislature is set up. Only the Speaker of the House controls which bills live and which bills die. Itâs wrong. Itâs an abdication of responsibility. When we elect individuals to go and represent our interests on Smith Hill, we expect them to represent our interests and it happens with not nearly enough regularity.â
The master lever fight he has led, Block said, has exposed âthe rank hypocrisy of how we govern ourselves. When one individual, the Speaker of the House, is able to ignore 2,600 voices âthat is not what we want from our government.
âAs you call B.S. on something that needs to have B.S. called on it,â Block said, âyou begin to get some change.â