Joe Paolino Jr., Managing Partner of Paolino Properties, was recently featured in a Providence Journal Op-Ed discussing the need for a comprehensive strategy to invest the billions of federal dollars being injected into the Rhode Island economy as a part of President Biden’s economic relief program.
The full op-ed is below:
Joseph R. Paolino Jr. served as mayor of Providence from 1984-1991 and was director of the Rhode Island Department of Economic Development from 1991-1994. He is currently managing partner at Paolino Properties.
I have often stated that within every crisis lies an opportunity that should not be wasted. Although nobody would knowingly wish for the year of suffering and chaos we have just endured — and continue to endure — we now find ourselves staring at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that has resulted from this terrible pandemic.
With access to $1.1 billion in federal aid thanks to President Joe Biden’s administration and our Congressional delegation — and $900 million more to cities, towns, and school districts — Rhode Island is poised to address its most challenging ongoing issues and carve out a more prosperous future for its residents. But the question on everybody’s mind remains: How do we do it?
We would be wise to take a look into our history for a guiding example of how to navigate this truly unprecedented opportunity.
In 1982, the state launched an historically comprehensive attempt at creating a widespread economic investment strategy. It was known as the Greenhouse Compact, which gave 70 recommendations to bolster the state’s economic strengths and set us up for financial success moving forward.
Chaired by Terry Murray and led by a 19-member Strategic Development Commission appointed by Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, the Greenhouse Compact gained support from labor unions, the League of Cities and Towns, Chambers of Commerce, colleges and universities, health-care institutions, commercial business leaders and so on. It gained majority support in the legislature and was put to a referendum.
But the compact became a political football, and it failed overwhelmingly with the public. Some were opposed to perceived government interference in business, others opposed the concept of subsidizing corporations, others felt the process ignored public input, and others simply distrusted the government and rejected the estimated $250 million in tax increases necessary to fund the effort.
Despite its defeat in 1984, the Greenhouse Compact concept should not be forgotten. As John Metz, writing for the Brown Political Review in 2017, stated: “The Greenhouse Compact, for its various and sundry flaws, was nevertheless the last, best effort by an American state to approach economic development with a coherent, all-encompassing strategy. Rhode Island has not come close to passing a comparable measure since.”
Now, nearly 40 years later, it is time to try again. There will never be a better time. We must form a new Greenhouse Compact and make smart investments that will expand our tax base, help small businesses, create good paying jobs, encourage development, keep our graduates in state, and strengthen our economy to ensure Rhode Island isn’t the first in and last out of recession. Unlike in 1984, this strategy will not require any tax increases on the public. The money is already here.
Call it the Recovery and Investment Compact, and this time get input from our neighborhoods, our labor unions and industry leaders, our institutes of higher education, our hospitals and biotechnical companies. We have Nautic Partners and Providence Equity and all the major banks right here in Providence. We have Electric Boat, Raytheon, Textron, Hasbro, CVS, Cushman and Wakefield, CB Richard Ellis, the list goes on. The talented people of Rhode Island must work together to form a new comprehensive investment plan and then execute that plan.
By making a $1-billion investment, we could potentially see $5 billion in economic benefits. Governor McKee has done a tremendous job seeing us through the tail end of this crisis, and now he can take charge to steer us in the right direction moving forward.
My father always said, “Anybody can spend money, but it’s the smart ones that know to invest.” If we are truly going to recover, we need to consider this federal aid as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investment in Rhode Island, and make that investment wisely.