My Trip to Smith Hill

Greg Gerritt  Sept 17, 2017

I dislike going to RI State Capitol on Smith Hill, but I probably make it harder on myself as I try only to go to a legislative hearing when I have something to say that no one else is going to address. And if no one else is going to address the perspective that I bring to the hearing, it probably means the legislators are not thinking about it at all, and i am wasting my time. But I continue the viral marketing campaign on those occasions that I am compelled by demons to attend. I go because I am not only speaking to the legislators, I am speaking to the rest of the people of Rhode Island. Not a good strategy for success in that insular world, since they want you to only talk about what they want you to talk about, but such is life.

Often what gets under their skins is I do not accept that neoliberal economics has anything to offer the people of Rhode Island. Neoliberal ideas are the DOMINANT paradigm for how the legislature, the governor, and by extension the bureaucracy interprets the world but the primary result of Neoliberal policy is the rich get richer, the ecosystems collapse, the poor fall further behind, and democracy dies.

My recent excursion to talk about the Pawsox stadium inspired me to do some very nice writing about how the legislature almost always overestimates economic growth and it shows in the big deficit that is in the current budget. Instead of looking at the economy honestly, the RI legislature, their experts, the bureaucrats, and the Governor think the Koch Brother inspired ideas on how the economy can grow are going to work despite the FACT that the Koch Brother funded work on the economy is just as honest as their climate denying bullshit. Ah, the power of money to destroy honest public discourse. The government of RI bakes in a growth number that is based on fantasy, never tells us the number they are baking in, and then ignores the reality of a small old industrial place with very limited natural resources, slow population growth, and the need to overcome our long term toxic and depletion legacy. The idea that cutting taxes and eliminating regulation to speed growth appeals to the denizens of Smith Hill, but study after study, including one that came out this week about how cutting corporate taxes will not increase the growth rate, are ignored because they do not fit the proper mantra. It is hard to talk big picture when the focus on Smith Hill is so narrow, and the legislators find that the big picture, and the facts, get in the way of their deals.

The results of my excursion were predictable. As soon as I started in talking about how the $237 million deficit is a result of the overestimation of the growth rate making all of their numbers suspect, they got perturbed. I then followed it up with a very quick statement on how real estate led development is guaranteed to increase inequality and harm the economy in the long run . This too went over like a lead balloon as their entire strategy for economic development is to provide subsidies for the fat cats to build things. This is bad enough, but considering how the real estate industry mixed with the financial industries to burn down the economy in 2007, it is ridiculous to base economic development plans on that kind of development, and sets us up very nicely for a big crash in the next recession, the kind of thing that happens more and more frequently as the financialization of the economy progresses. They have no plan B for when the next recession hits and the expected development around the stadium slows to a crawl. What makes this even worse, is beyond Bread and Circus (baseball stadiums) (what you do when the empire is collapsing) is that most of the rest of their scams are for growing the medical industrial complex (the entire plan for the 195 lands). Unfortunately more and more folks (except those that work on Smith Hill) are coming to understand to what I have been writing about ever since The Miriam Hospital ran over my neighborhood, that using the medical industrial complex as an engine of economic growth results in health care becoming ever more unaffordable and eats the rest of the economy.

I finally got to testify at 11:30 PM, (5.5 hours into the hearing following a 3 hour dog and pony show by the City of Pawtucket and the owners of the Pawsox) I had spoken for about 3 minutes and had used nowhere near the amount of time most of the speakers had used, when the vice chair of the committee tried to shut me up, He said I was not talking enough about baseball, and he cared not one whit for the context because I was talking about the budget deficit, real estate games, and the phony numbers the legislature uses. I fought back but since I knew my time was numbered I went for broke and launched into my last point which was that the legislature’s record on big economic development projects was abysmal and I wanted to talk about the Quonset container port since everyone else was talking about 38 Studios, and how the people revolting against the megaport had save the state 1 billion dollars.. The committee’s response to 38 studios comments was that was in the past and stop beating a dead horse (not a quote) we only want to talk about the baseball stadium. Their response to Quonset comments was to try harder to shut me up. No one is allowed to talk about the legislature’s abysmal record to their face in open hearing,. But this is exactly what needs to be talked about. If we can not talk about the record of the legislature to their face, how will they ever improve?

I close this rant with one final thought. I know exactly how to improve the process and the experience of the public on Smith Hill. Let the public ask the legislators on the committee questions in open public hearing in addition to providing information. Think what it would be like if legislators had to answer questions in public from people who know more about the issues than they do? If I could ask the questions about how they bake in the overestimated growth rates, their belief in the Koch Brothers agenda despite that it is all based on lies, how real estate shenanigans are the source of nearly all the corruption in the Rhode Island I think I might come to enjoy the experience much more. But until they change the process, I will only go to the legislature to speak when the demons compel me, and I am pretty sure it will continue to be a disgusting experience.