Gordon, I am writing to you as both the representative for the district I live in and in your role as Speaker of the House. After this has been delivered to you it will be posted on my blog and shared with my friends.
I have some very serious concerns about the newly unveiled economic program as revealed in the House of Representatives press release that came out 4/25/13
Here are some of the specifics
Economic Development Plan by an Economic Planning Council – Establishes an Economic Development Planning Council to convene once every four years in the same years as gubernatorial elections, to develop economic policy and a strategic plan for implementing it. (Senate companion: (2013-S 712)
Response: I have concerns about who will be on such a council, I expect the same folks who have failed at this for 50 years, the 1% and their representatives. Since more and more information is coming out about how communities become more prosperous when the poor are directly involved in the development process an eminent council without the truly marginalized, will give us more of the same. An economy becoming more unequal and working less well.
Another concern is the timing proposed. Doing this in an election year is the least productive time to do it if you want good results. This should be done right after the new governor is elected, not before. It muddies the water and strangles election debate to have some commission mucking about in politics. And so often economic conditions in the US change after elections. Doing it after the election gives the new governor a road map for 3.5 years.
Secretary of Commerce – Creates the Executive Office of Commerce headed by a Secretary of Commerce, transfers many functions currently assigned to the Department of Business Regulations, Department of Labor and Training, the Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Administration to it to align functions and improve coordination of processes for the business community.
Response: I have very serious concerns about transferring DEM jurisdiction to a Commerce secretariat. The only purpose to this seems to be to further strangle regulators and regulations, allowing free range pollution and poisoning. These days the complaints about DEM are that it is so slow, but we all know they are slow because staffing has been cut every year and there are too few people to actually protect the public. Where this is especially noticeable is in creating appropriate regulations, there is no one to write them. Transferring the regulation of clean air and water to those who have always viewed them as some free resource to grab, and an office that will also be understaffed, is allowing the proverbial fox to guard the hen house. It does not protect the public.
The other thing wrong with this is that it is taking the approach, implicit but strongly implied, that protecting the environment gets in the way of commerce. This reflects a lack of understanding of how the world has changed, and how the new conditions we find ourselves in call for new approaches to economic development based upon ecological healing, food security, and undoing the harm of climate change. It also reflects a lack of understanding about how ecological healing in harmony with economic justice, is likely to create the most prosperity in our communities, even if not generating excessive profits for the 1%.
Council of Economic Advisors – Creates a Council of Economic Advisors from the public and private sectors to collect and publish economic data, and advise with the Governor and Secretary of Commerce.
Response: What data are they going to collect? The same old stuff that tells us y’all have missed the boat? If you are going to collect data, there is a concept called full cost accounting that needs to be front and center in economic planning in RI. Too often we measure the wrong things, and forget to subtract from the economy all the harm done and the excessive costs that economic development pushes onto the backs of the public and ecosystem. We add up the harm and call that economic growth, even as it makes us poorer. The depletion of natural capital is completely missed in the figures that are traditionally used. How can we allow that in this age?
Department of Environmental Management – 2013-H 5425, sponsored by Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), requires that local wetlands and septic ordinances be consistent with state regulations. (Senate companion: 2013-S 672 )
Response: Can someone tell me why a local community is not allowed to protect itself more than the minimal state regulations? Is it so important to be allowed to despoil for profit that a community can not decide to hold itself to a higher standard? The old line that consistent rules benefit commerce is bogus. If communities could use lesser restrictions, would business object? So clearly it is an attempt to weaken regulations, and just as clearly it is a threat to clean water. If you want clear regulations, clear laws, transparent processes, excellent. But if you are unwilling to allow communities the self rule to decide to further protect themselves, then you are allowing commerce to trample democracy.
External reporting and accountability – Would require the Office of Management and Budget to inventory reports required across agencies and include status in the annual budget. Also requires the Office of Revenue Analysis’ Unified Economic Development Report to include a cost/benefit analysis.
This should include the depletion of natural capital and other harms to community caused by the pursuit of commerce.
I want to give you a brief anecdote to ponder, it comes from a World Bank report on their forest lending programs. They found in rural areas that the most ECONOMIC success was when they practiced ecological healing with the full participation of local communities. When development was democratic the ecosystems benefited, the local community was more food secure, and tax revenue for the government increased. When large corporations were given forest lands, the amount of economic value generated shrank by nearly 90% and the community got poorer. One study found that if a block of forest remained in the hands of the local community it generated nearly $3 billion in watershed services and economic activity, but if it was corporatized it generated only $160 million dollars in activity.
We do not have rainforest here, but what we have is EJ communities, and the situation is exactly analogous. Poor marginalized communities in both cases, and the way forward economically in those communities requires democracy in economic planning, that the poor reap the benefits, and ecological healing.
We all want Rhode Island to be prosperous, but this is not the way to do it. I would appreciate hearing back from you, would be happy to talk about this in more depth, and will gladly share my expertise with anyone who will use it to benefit the community and the planet.
37 6th St
Providence RI 02906