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Top Progressives and Conservatives Debate the RI Economy

Monday, April 28, 2014

 

A fiery and compelling public policy debate was held in front of a near-capacity audience this past Saturday at the University of Rhode Island, which featured widely varying public policy views from both the left and right. The debate, conducted by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a nonpartisan local think tank, often sparked cheers and jeers from the spectators.

The debate, titled What's Really in Our Best Interest?, was moderated by Josh Fenton, founder and CEO of GoLocalProv.com, official media partner for the event.  
 
The debate's first segment opened with Steve Moore stating that there's no reason the Ocean State should have one of the worst performing economies, and that it should reduce its overall high family tax burden, become a right-to-work state, and stop treating businesses like enemy combatants. Justin Braga later weighed in about cutting the sales tax and other taxes as a means to generate economic activity, produce new revenues, and create jobs. These views were countered by Sam Bell, who described RI's General Assembly as more conservative than other legislatures in New England, and who prescribed income tax hikes on the rich as a means to finance property tax cuts. Tom Sgorous argued that the state's tax and other public polices may not be the primary cause of its population and economic decline, but did suggest that Rhode Island has been cutting income taxes for the rich over recent decades and that this prescription has not worked. 

The great debate at URI
 
In the second segment, which focused on the morality and the appropriate role of government, Don Watkins maintained that supporting the needy should be a private, voluntary charitable action and that individuals should not be coerced by government to pay for such programs. He also stated his personal belief that a limited government could be financed entirely via voluntary taxes and that government should not be in the business of running schools. Rich Benjamin countered by noting the venue of the debate at the state's university, as an example of a beneficial publicly funded educational entity. Benjamin also added that we all should have a collective, societal responsibility to each other, and that related government programs are just and appropriate.
 
"Democracy should be a rigorous debate about competing ideas, and wow, did we see that today in this free-wheeling discussion that obviously stoked the emotions of the audience," said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. "The response we've received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Rhode Islanders want more of this kind of candid discussion and many asked when the next debate will be." 
 
The slate of nationally prominent and local panelists consisted of:
 • Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation and frequent analyst on FOX News and CNN
 • Rich Benjamin, senior fellow at Demos, and frequent analyst on MSNBC and NPR
 • Don Watkins, fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, published in Forbes and USA Today
 • Tom Sgouros, local public policy expert and writer for RI Future
 • Justin Braga, chair of RI College Republicans, studying political science at Brown University
 • Samuel Bell, RI coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, and Amherst College grad
The debate was live-streamed on the web, with an archived version to soon be available.
 
The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, is the state's leading free-enterprise research and advocacy organization. The Center works to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of every family and business in the state through the rigorous exchange of market-based ideas and reform solutions aimed at restoring economic competitiveness, educational opportunities and - ultimately - hope for a brighter future.
 

 

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