Summer has been anything but a breeze for Rhode Island, at least as far as headlines go.
A pair of damning reports – one regarding the failures of DCYF following the death of a Warwick girl, another focused on the deep issues plaguing Providence’s public schools – laid bare just how far we have to go to ensure our children are safe and have a real opportunity to succeed.
Now, the Ocean State has received unwelcome reminders of its economic shortcomings.
Rhode Island ranks last in both CNBC’s “America’s Top States for Business” list and Wallethub’s “Best Places to Start a Business” study. On the former, it is the state’s fifth time in 13 years ranking 50th – and, as CNBC notes, it has never placed higher than 45th.
“The state’s issues have been remarkably consistent throughout,” reads CNBC’s explanation of its ranking for Rhode Island. “State finances have been in poor shape, sapping Rhode Island’s ability to tend to basic things like maintaining its aging infrastructure. The tax and regulatory climates have been rough, and economic growth has been sluggish.”
CNBC directs a good deal of the blame for the state’s last-place position at its ailing infrastructure, specifically its worst-in-the-nation bridges. That is far from the only issue, however – the state’s slow economic growth relative to other states and the scope of its lingering pension liabilities are also cited. Rhode Island’s high cost of living and the high cost of doing business in the state are other reasons given for the ranking.
Gov. Gina Raimondo and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor have pushed back against CNBC’s ranking, pointing to progress made on infrastructure, the state’s decades-low unemployment rate and the arrival of new companies in Rhode Island.
Clearly, the state has made progress since the darkest days of the Great Recession. Most Rhode Islanders would agree that the climate has improved significantly. In terms of infrastructure, the RhodeWorks program and a restructured Department of Transportation appear to be making real progress, though an enormous amount of work remains.
CNBC’s underlying point, however, rings true – for all the top-level positive signs, the factors that have held Rhode Island back for years largely remain.
The state’s way of governing itself does little to help the situation. As has become annual tradition, the nearly $10 billion budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1 was rushed through the General Assembly. There was little time for lawmakers, let alone members of the public, to get a full handle on what the document includes. The governor reluctantly signed the plan days after it cleared the legislature, criticizing several of its provisions – and prompting House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio to fire back and call out the administration’s “management failures.”
There is no silver bullet in terms of improving Rhode Island’s economy. The process will be lengthy and the work will be hard. We are heartened to have seen tangible progress on the infrastructure front, and state leaders should be credited for that.
We are among those who believe, however, that until the way state government changes the way it does business, Rhode Island’s economic future will remain murky at best.