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The Providence Journal, Editorial Page, October, 1998

Four years ago, the level of economic debate during the electoral cycle was, to put it kindly, discouraging. From what I have seen to date, little has changed. Statistics without proper context and images abound. Yet there are a number of critical questions facing Rhode Island as its economy enters a period where the slowing of national and international growth is already affecting us.

Let me propose nine questions that every candidate for state office should be forced to answer. Each of these should be answered in detail, not merely responded to as mini sound bites.

Before moving to the questions, let me state a couple of points. First, "the" answer to each question does not exist. Plotting Rhode Island’s economic future is far more complicated than choosing the "right" box on a TV game show, as everyone who is running is well aware of. Second, let me provide a hint for candidates who will respond to these questions: the answers to these questions are not unrelated.

1. What are the major negatives and positives facing firms that operate or expanding in RI?

2. If elected, what specific measures would you work to institute that eliminate the negatives you identified in #1?

3. Some say that manufacturing in Rhode Island is dead. Others look to a recent trend of slowing job loss. How can Rhode Island’s ongoing problems with public educational quality be consistent with strength in manufacturing over the long term?

4. What is more important to manufacturing growth, tax incentives or the educational quality and skills of our workforce?

5. What do you propose as the long-term funding mechanism for public education? How will you fund the implementation of Article 31 and the proposed educational changes you have recently made when our rate of economic growth and our current surpluses diminish?

6. How will Rhode Island fund the recently enacted excise tax phaseout? According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the last year of this phaseout will require $192 of funding. Have you taken the business cycle into account in your response?

7. Recently, legislation reducing the taxable wage base for Unemployment Insurance was passed. Are there any additional modifications to Unemployment Insurance that you will institute if elected?

8. What is RI’s economic niche?

9. What is the most appropriate way for us to define "doing well" when assessing Rhode Island’s economic performance?

by Leonard Lardaro


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