Douglas Hall: We need to know what R.I. is getting for its tax incentives

Providence Journal Letter to the Editor

I was pleased to see the Jan. 23 editorial (“R.I. needs more than incentives”), which followed Kate Bramson’s recent reporting on Rhode Island’s economic development incentives.

For more than a decade, the Economic Progress Institute has monitored the state’s reliance on tax incentives as a primary tool for enhancing economic development. We have consistently expressed three areas of concern. We worry that tax incentives erode state revenues that are needed to meet the needs of Rhode Island residents. We worry that tax incentives generally lack the transparency and accountability to which we subject expenditures through the annual budget process. And we have lingering concerns about whether tax incentives deliver the positive economic impact they promise.

We are hopeful that many of these concerns will be allayed when we see the results of evaluations required by the Economic Development Tax Incentives Evaluation Act of 2013. Along with 19 organizations, we recently sent a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, urging her to expedite the release of evaluations of at least some of the credits, so that she, the General Assembly, and the public can assess whether these tax incentives are delivering the promised “bang for the buck.”

With new proposed tax incentives in the governor’s budget proposal, it’s more important than ever that we can assess past efforts.

Douglas Hall

The writer is director of economic and fiscal policy at the Economic Progress Institute.