Donnis Previews Talk with Governor Carcieri
The Providence Phoenix’s Ian Donnis previews an interview with Governor Carcieri over at N4N:
Carcieri remained characteristically upbeat during a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC TV’s Newsmakers, but his ability to deliver remains open to question. When I asked why Rhode Island has been relegated to playing defense on the casino issue, the governor answered mainly by calling gambling a short-sighted form of economic development for Massachusetts and other states in the region.
Asked how Rhode Island will recover from the revenue hit if Massachusetts goes forward with casinos, Carcieri said the state needs to pursue other forms of economic development, and he was upbeat in describing various non-budget-related economic indicators. Yet Amgen — one of the companies to which he pointed — is cutting jobs, and it seems that we frequently hear about other job losses in Rhode Island, like this.
Carcieri has described his intention to go forward with cuts in the state workforce. Asked how he will overcome General Assembly opposition, he said he will talk with the legislature.
It seems Rhode Island has gotten into a pattern of relying on a few large employers to carry the economic load. When they pull up their stakes and leave, the overall economy takes a hit. Or maybe this is more of a perception thing. Thus, when Amgen or Textron cut jobs, the impression is we’re in dire straits. (Of course, the impression is pretty accurate). We need more small- and (especially) medium businesses to put down roots here. It can’t be done over night, especially in a state with a reputation such as ours, but more employers help to soften the blow when one or two shut their doors and take off.
That’s why it’s been so exasperating to watch all of the wasted effort expended chasing the “magic bullet” of gambling. Let me ask you this: if we had voted in a West Warwick Casino, what would have stopped Mass. Governor Duval from “only” going for two casinos in Massachusetts? Wouldn’t two Massachusetts casinos still have negatively impacted the projected revenue of a RI casino, just as they will probably do to Twin River and Newport?
Like Governor Carcieri says, casinos are short term solutions and putting too many eggs in the gambling basket isn’t a wise financial “strategy.” Like any other business, they are subject to the business cycle or external events. The thing with casinos is that they are an entertainment/service entity. They don’t produce anything (but “fun”!). Like any other entertainment venue, their business can be negatively influenced when there’s a “new game in town.” And it can happen pretty fast. Remember what the casinos did to the “Big Tent”? Throw in the fact that RI state government relies so much on their gambling take, and we end up like–well–like we are now: lost revenue and no solution.
We require a long term plan, which means enticing more business to the state. Especially those that actually make stuff. But I don’t think the method that has been tried recently will work. Crafting specific, sweetheart deals seem to only work so long as they are in place. Once they expire, off go those who took advantage of them. Instead, we need to follow a holistic plan. The entire business climate needs to change to first attract, and then maintain, new employers. Targeted business tax credits aren’t enough. What needs to be done is to lower the tax burden across the board and reduce the red-tape and regulatory roadblocks. This can be done without sacrificing safety or environmental or other quality of life concerns.
Other states have done it, we can too. We just need the collective will to do so. I think it’s there, but it needs to be cultivated. God knows, we’ve got plenty of fertilizer!