When I was considered for appointment to the Joint Legislative Committee on Economic Development last year, I jumped at the chance. Given Rhode Island's high unemployment rates, fiscal duress, and a general failure to thrive, it seemed like a very important assignment. It hasn't been. The Committee has met only three times over the past two years and produced no legislation or recommendations, even as Rhode Island's economic and jobs performance remain amongst the worst in the nation. Taken together with the Majority's legislative program during the term, it is clear that creating an employment friendly environment in our state was not a priority.
This afternoon, five weeks before the election, the Committee will convene at the State House. Ostensibly, the purpose of today's meeting is to receive a report just prepared by RIPEC addressing Rhode Island's economic development function. To a political observer however, the purpose seems a bit less sincere: with an election at hand, we must be seen as doing "something" about our economy.
The Providence Journal has already recieved the report, and the headline this morning says it all: "Rhode Island lacks clear vision for growth." The story is all too familiar, and immediately brought to mind an email that I sent to my campaign supporters on August 28:
"Yesterday’s Providence Journal featured a front page profile of the RI Economic Development Corporation, emphasizing its dysfunctional history and the failed taxpayer investment in 38 Studios. The picture emerging from that article matches up with what I observed at the General Assembly during my first term: failed leadership, lack of vision, and zero urgency to address Rhode Island’s extremely high unemployment. As the article makes clear, legislative power brokers are content to carry on business as usual, completely out of touch from the needs of this state and the circumstances of the unconnected."
I'll try to remain optimistic that this afternoon's hearing produces meaningful discussion about serious issues, and is not simply an opportunity for political grandstanding. More importantly however, I sincerely hope that the the leadership's new focus on our economy lasts longer than the next five weeks.