July 14, 2012

Go Local Providence names Tanzi as Power Player

This week’s PowerPlayer is Democratic State Representative Teresa Tanzi. Rep. Tanzi was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about the legislative process, her work reforming the tax credit system and her goals for the future.
1. You just completed your first term as a State Rep. Tell us three things we don't know about the legislative process.

  • Every bill that is submitted gets a hearing, which does not happen in every state. But there are some states where every bill also gets a vote.
  • Very few citizens speak in hearings at the Statehouse. It is a shame because they are the individuals and the small business owners who are really impacted by the changes we enact. I know how hard it is to navigate the system and find the time to do so between work and family, but it is a part of the process we need to work on changing. I am always so appreciative of those who testify because they want to share their thoughts, not because they are paid to do so. Those are the people we need to hear from more often.
  • Most Reps, including me, don’t have offices, our own staff or even a desk! In fact it was not until this year that we even had WiFi in the building. People are always surprised when I answer my own phone and find out it is my personal cell.

2. Long before the 38 Studios situation, you were asking questions about tax credits. Is our tax credit system actually creating jobs?
That is the multi-million dollar question that the state has not been able to provide answers on for taxpayers. It is truly hard to say how many jobs companies have actually created, how much those jobs pay, how long those particular jobs last and whether or not the cost is worth the benefit at this point since we do not have much meaningful analysis being done. Other states are making significant progress on this through review commissions and sunset provisions, and Rhode Island needs to join them or be left behind again.
The main question that needs to be answered is, are each of these tax preferences creating the right incentives to foster the type of economic growth we are aiming for? Of course we also need to decide what our goals are. Is this a hail mary pass, or a detailed plan to create a new sector? We can only guarantee and improve the effectiveness of spending through our tax code when proper analysis is done.
When we see where these tax preferences are generating success, we can recreate similar programs elsewhere; but if things aren’t working, we need to change the game plan. Every business does it, so should government. As my friend Kate Brewster of the Economic Progress Institute says, companies that are accepting these tax breaks should have to “prove it or lose it.” It really is that simple. We ask recipients of other forms of government subsidies or tax breaks to prove their eligibility and ongoing compliance, and corporations should do the same.
3. Take us through a day in your life.
No two days are alike- ever. Especially with a six year old and summer vacation! I wake up, try to get a workout in, read some blogs and newspapers. I take care of the chickens and our vegetable garden. I attend a lot of meetings and spend a lot of time talking with people on the phone, I much prefer a conversation to an email. All of the nuance of difficult policy questions is lost in an email exchange. I give out my cell phone number to whoever wants it, and I almost always answer it when it rings.
4. If you're re-elected, tell us about your top priority for 2013.
Tax expenditures, no two ways about it. Like I said before, we cannot continue to budget effectively until we look at both sides of the ledger and make decisions based on comprehensive, systematic analysis. I have had many great conversations with both Speaker Fox and Finance Committee Chairman Melo about how to structure meaningful change and how other states are doing it. I know they are listening, and I am hopeful we can find a way to make it happen next session.
5. Tell us something nobody knows about you.
I love vintage motorcycles! I always have. I ride a 1973 BMW R75/5 with drum brakes and an air cooled engine- and I rode before my husband did. Everyone assumes he was the one who started riding, but when I met him I was standing next to my 1971 Honda CB350; he claims he fell in love with me right then and there.

Quick Hitters

Role Model: It is a mix of so many people, but the one who laid the foundation was my mother. She always encouraged me to find another avenue, keep pushing, keep moving . I could hear her voice in my head as a child telling me, “Don’t be a follower, be a leader!”
Favorite Restaurant: Matunuck Oyster Bar
Best Beach: Narragansett Town Beach
Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: Rereading the Phantom Tollbooth with our daughter, seeing it through her eyes has made it all the better!
Advice for the Next Teresa Tanzi: Don’t let doubt ever enter into the equation, trust that you know what you want, and act as if failure is not an option. You will always amaze yourself!