The Civics Interview with Ken Block: “Is it by design or by accident that government has been growing as if on autopilot?”

Question 4 to Moderate Party Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block: The combined state and municipal budgets for Rhode Island have grown steadily (adjusted for inflation) over the past 10 years, a period of time which includes September 11, 2001 and its immediate aftermath, the end-of-the-financial world as we knew it in 2008, and the relative lull (at least domestically) in between. Is it by design or by accident that government has been growing as if on autopilot — or would you disagree with that characterization entirely?

…and you neglected to identify that Don Carcieri shrank the number of employees…The budget breaks down in some very specific ways. We have fixed costs, in terms of employees, we have pension costs and the pension cost is a significant driver of what’s coming into our budget and will become much more so, over the next five years… Audio: 1m 33 sec

Our health and human services budget has necessarily had to rise up, because we have so many more people who have fallen into the social safety net at this point, whether it’s unemployment benefits, whether it’s food stamps… Audio: 25 sec

Part of it is the inability to really and truly identify the fix to the pension mess that we have. We keep nibbling at the corners, but nobody has really sat down and said ‘here’s where we are, here’s where we need to be in 10 years, and here’s the steps we need to take to get there’… Audio: 1m 4 sec

…other areas that could explain and go into the growth, other than pensions are that we have to provide raises to people. You can’t freeze them at a specific level in time… Audio: 53 sec

I think I’ve identified the biggest drivers of it. We spend the majority of our services in health and human services, Medicaid in particular, a very big cost driver to us as a state, and we are not actively looking hard at our Medicaid expenditures, and we’re not doing a good job of squeezing the waste and fraud out of it… Audio: 48 sec

…I want to go in hard, at waste and fraud, inside of Medicaid. There’s corporate, systemic waste and fraud. There are sham companies that set up, that put in false claims and all kinds of things that happen. And states that have used technology to go after waste and fraud inside of their Medicaid programs have found between 10% and 20% waste and fraud. Since this is Rhode Island, let’s assume 20%…If you round up to a 2 billion dollar program, 20% of waste and fraud in a 2 billion dollar program is 400 million dollars… Audio: 1m 27 sec

…We’ve been in a serious crisis for a decade at least, and in 10 years our elected officials have not done a good job of concentrating and solving two problems that most Rhode Islanders care about: we need to fix our economy and fix our educational system. And we’re beginning to chip away at the educational pieces finally, but economically, not only have we not done much to address it, but in this gubernatorial race so far, most of the candidates don nothing more than pay a passing homage to small business… Audio: 47 sec

Our biggest problem is the fact that even with a 5.99% high-end income tax rate, Mass. remains at 5.3%. That’s an 11-and-a-half percent difference between those rates, and that’s enough of a difference for a small business owner to look across the border, and make the simple decision to go there… Audio: 27 sec

We have to get a hold of our chronic budget deficits. We have to stop them, and I believe we can do that by squeezing out the waste and fraud from within health and human services. We have to be able to bring our income taxes beneath Massachusetts. And the biggest thing that I have proposed, that I believe can really make a difference in this state, is instead of $125 million in loan guarantees, $75 million which has gone to Curt Schilling, what I would do with $125 million worth of money is break it into three venture funds… Audio: 1m 32 sec

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