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Lisa Blais: Will RI Move Forward?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

 

What’s up, RI? Private childcare workers are organized by SEIU in order to bargain with the state for benefits, the status of the negotiations for a new contract with state employees is unknown, at least among regular RI citizens, we have the highest unemployment rate in the country with a state long-term structural deficit and local pension and OPEB unfunded liabilities large enough to choke a horse. HeathSourceRI is chagrined by UHC’s announcement that they will form their own health insurance exchange for small business owners while in the midst of figuring out how they will pay for themselves after the federal money dries up. They are challenged by a number of voices in RI businesses pushing back on the notion of fees or taxes to provide that precious revenue. And the beat goes on.

Platitudes or Dialogue?

In this election season, taxpayers are hearing platitudes about how we will pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and correct course. It’s the year of the woman, it’s the year of diversity, it’s the year of who is the better progressive democrat to “move the state forward” or who the real republican gubernatorial candidate is; millions of dollars are being spent for the governor’s seat while very real people in RI worry about how they will keep up with their costs of living. It’s easy to empathize with anyone who struggles to pay bills without enough income to cover those bills but it is quite another thing to pontificate within a well funded bubble about matters of policy that many of these politicians don’t seem to fully understand or have not fully vetted enough to understand the complexity or ramifications of those sound bites. Good public policy for the good of everyone shouldn’t be developed in a bubble. If you listen closely, you may find contradictions on some of their political positions that decimate their promises to improve any number of areas of interest. If you listen closely, you may be eager to ask policy-based questions that facilitate a much deeper dialogue.

We don’t have time for platitudes, we need concrete action plans. We don’t need superficial plans that pander to potential voting blocs but a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of all Rhode Islanders. We need leaders who have a deep understanding of all of the important areas that define the quality and value of life in Rhode Island.

Been There, Done That.

In the meantime the General Assembly has begun hearing bills that have been heard before. To some extent, the Finance Committee deserves a bit of applause for listening to the same bills and the same arguments, pro or con, year over year. But that does not get us anywhere.

We wrangle with how to correct course. But until a holistic approach with many of the proposed pieces of legislation is taken and until legislators work together to coordinate those bills that are worth everyone’s attention then it looks like another year of piecemeal starts and stops and the beat will go on.

So what are the bills worth everyone’s attention that will correct course in RI? Some of them are a combination of tax reforms made up of the estate, income and sales tax, the minimum corporate and the (C) corporate tax. Past General Assembly sessions have witnessed discourse over the potential revenue losses if all of these sources of current tax revenue were lowered but rarely have we seen a comprehensive approach to implement these reforms. For instance, we have yet to see a presentation packaging and coordinating these tax reforms with reductions to legislative spending, increases to off-set costs of taxpayer subsidized health, vision and dental benefits, a vetting of cost savings that we might actually realize if waste and abuse of social service costs were mitigated coupled with a check and balance on those contract costs that are being negotiated while the state’s Finance Committee grapples with the governor’s budget. Perhaps if we were able to coordinate all of these moving pieces, including many not mentioned here, into one package it would provide the answer to how we off-set those potential revenue losses in exchange for comprehensive tax reform that will retain individuals and businesses and attract new business to RI.

Fast Track an Improved Political Image.

Tax reform is certainly not the silver bullet but it is one piece of the puzzle that will improve our state’s economy. We should make this the year of improving our political image – one that at least suggests that our state government works for everyone and not just some. Repealing the master lever and reinstating solid ethics reform is a good beginning. These are solid changes that have been on the backburner for many, many years without any movement. Considering that the recent bill on 38Studios fast-tracked through the General Assembly we have reason to know that ethics and master lever reform could follow that same track.

Education Matters.

Quality education for all of our kids is important to everyone. We need a much deeper vetting of what we are doing and what we would like to do for our kids. With so much good work being done by many teachers in our public schools, public charters, independents and home-school instructors, it is disheartening to witness the dialogue that brings very dated issues back to the future, so to speak. When will we get to the root cause of why we continue to waste students’ educational years while the legislature has a hopper full of bills that appear to be adult focused as opposed to student focused? When will the gubernatorial candidates stop picking at pieces of what the road map is to a great educational system? Heavy lifting is in order if we are ever going to “move forward” to the point where RI can genuinely boast that we offer the best and most innovative educational opportunities and choices for every child in RI.

 

Lisa Blais is a board member of OSTPA, a taxpayer advocacy organization in Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: The Top 30 Highest Paid State Contractors in RI

Below is the list of the top 30 highest paid private contractors for the state of Rhode Island, ranked from least to greatest. Each contractor is identified along with a summary of services that were provided and the department or state agency that hired them. Because contractors will often be hired to offer multiple services or work on numerous projects in a given year, only a basic summary of their work is provided. In cases where a contractor worked for several departments, only a representative sample is listed. The ranking of top contractors excludes payments to other government entities, like cities and towns, as well as quasi-public agencies like the Economic Development Corporation.

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#30

Aetna Bridge Company

Total Amount Paid: $4,925,321.79

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#29

Tri-Town Community Action Agency

Total Amount Paid: $5,089,184.90

Agencies: Departments of Education, Health, and Human Services

Services Provided: Social, educational, health, prevention, and other services for low-income residents

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#28

Commonwealth Land Title and Insurance Co.

Total Amount Paid: $5,266,256.00

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#27

U.S. Bank National Association

Total Amount Paid: $6,005,396.73

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Debt service payments

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#26

Hess Corp.

Total Amount Paid: $6,053,314.22

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Facilities management

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#25

Commonwealth Engineers & Consultants, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $6,424,070.99

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#24

Measured Progress, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $6,430,828.68

Agency: Department of Education

Services Provided: School testing services

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#23

Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $6,524,278.36

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#22

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.

Total Amount Paid: $7,302,036.24

Agencies: Office of Health and Human Services

Services Provided: Management of social services programs

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#21

Adil Business Systems, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $7,627,152.65

Agencies: Multiple departments including Corrections, Health, and Public Safety

Services Provided: IT services, temp staffing, health care staffing

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#20

Deloitte Consulting, LLP

Total Amount Paid: $9,792,452.99

Agencies: Department of Administration, Office of Health and Human Services, and Department of Business Regulation

Services Provided: Building of a new information technology platform for state health agencies, related to the health benefits exchange

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#19

Manafort Brothers, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $9,883,340.22

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#18

Northern Construction Service, LLC

Total Amount Paid: $10,203,522.21

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#17

J. H. Lynch & Sons, Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $10,223,421.90

Agencies: Departments of Administration and Transportation

Services Provided: Construction work for capital projects

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#16

Morneau & Murphy

Total Amount Paid: $11,437,742.50

Agency: Department of Environmental Management

Services Provided: Bond counsel (legal services)

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#15

Wakely Consulting Group

Total Amount Paid: $11,780,595.16

Agency: Office of the Governor

Services Provided: Consulting services on multiple aspects of the new health benefits exchange

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#14

Delta Dental of Rhode Island

Total Amount Paid: $11,960,217.65

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Dental insurance benefits

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#13

Newport Grand Jai Alai, LLC

Total Amount Paid: $13,283,588.53

Agency: Department of Revenue

Services Provided: Lottery services

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#12

International Game Technology

Total Amount Paid: $13,696,756.41

Agency: Department of Revenue

Services Provided: Lottery services: manufacturer for gaming machines

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#11

Wells Fargo Bank NA

Total Amount Paid: $13,850,661.19

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Debt service payments

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#10

Narr. Electric Co./National Grid

Total Amount Paid: $15,613,696.50

Agencies: Multiple departments including Transporation, Administration, Environmental Management, and Public Safety

Services Provided: Electric utility

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#9

First Student Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $16,690,458.62

Agency: Department of Education

Services Provided: Busing services for state-run schools

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#8

D'Ambra Construction Co., Inc.

Total Amount Paid: $16,883,366.30

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#7

Noresco, LLC

Total Amount Paid: $20,198,120.59

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Facilities management (focusing on energy services)

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#6

S & R/Pihl A Joint Venture, LLC

Total Amount Paid: $21,796,515.27

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#5

HP Enterprise Services, LLC

Total Amount Paid: $23,038,424.72

Agency: Office of Health and Human Services

Services Provided: Fiscal agent for state Medicaid program

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#4

GTECH Corporation

Total Amount Paid: $44,079,461.35

Agency: Department of Revenue

Services Provided: Lottery technology products and services

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#3

Cardi Corporation

Total Amount Paid: $52,191,502.81

Agency: Department of Transportation

Services Provided: Infrastructure and engineering work

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#2

Bank of New York Trust Company

Total Amount Paid: $93,395,096.54

Agencies: Departments of Administration, Transportation, Public Safety, and the Office of the General Treasurer

Services Provided: Banking services including debt service payments

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#1

United Healthcare

Total Amount Paid: $257,263,386

Agency: Department of Administration

Services Provided: Administration of health insurance benefits

Note: Includes total of payments to United Healthcare and its divisions.

 
 

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