WARWICK – The most important thing citizens can do to help Rhode Island’s economy and business climate is to get involved with what the government is doing, RI Taxpayer’s President Ken Block told the group’s annual meeting Saturday.
Because of the state’s small size and population, Block said, “We 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.
“We don’t have enough people in the workforce and we don’t have enough people generally in our population to cover where we go wrong,” he noted. “We need to have taxpayer representation; we need to have an active voice in the General Assembly watching out on behalf of the taxpayers.”
What taxpayers have to advocate to fix, the Moderate Party of Rhode Island founder said, “is how we govern ourselves.”
Many of the state’s economic issues, Block asserted, “are 100 percent fixable, right away, if we had the political will to do so. But it’s that political will, the mechanism with which we govern ourselves, that is, frankly, what’s broken.”
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 “we are the voice of individual and business taxpayers in Rhode Island,” said the chairman of the board Harry Staley.
“What you are doing here today is amazingly important,” Block said at the opening of the event. “What you are doing is simply showing up. Too many Rhode Islanders don’t show up. What you end up with when you don’t show up is a level of governance and attention to detail on the part of our elected officials that doesn’t usually work out in the best interest of most Rhode Islanders.”
One problem, Staley pointed out, is who is not showing up.
Scanning the audience of more than 100, Staley said, “what I don’t see, is many faces under the age of 40.” With that, the many white-haired heads that predominantly filled the tables in the room nodded up and down in agreement.
“Where are the under-40 people and what are they thinking, are they thinking,” Staley asked. “This is their country, what does their future hold for them. We need them, and they need to be involved.”
Staley bemoaned “the significant loss of faith in government and those who manage it, apathy, an attitude of surrender to fate, that is unparalleled in my lifetime.
“The question before us today,” Staley declared, is, “Do 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?”
Block used the issue he has been closely identified with in recent months – the move to eliminate the so-called “master lever” on election ballots that allows single-party voting – 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 “tomorrow” if it came up for a vote, it will not come up for a vote.
“This is where our government breaks down,” Block said. “When 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 doesn’t pass?”
It doesn’t pass, he said, answering his own question, “because of the way our legislature is set up. Only the Speaker of the House controls which bills live and which bills die. It’s wrong. It’s 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.”
The master lever fight he has led, Block said, has exposed “the rank hypocrisy of how we govern ourselves. When one individual, the Speaker of the House, is able to ignore 2,600 voices “that is not what we want from our government.
“As you call B.S. on something that needs to have B.S. called on it,” Block said, “you begin to get some change.”