Money Watchers: Report outlines questionable RI spending

A new report details $220 million in questionable state spending in Rhode Island.

The authors said if the wasteful spending were eliminated, the state sales tax could be reduced to 3 percent and the Sakonnet River Bridge could be toll-free.

Some of the examples given: $775,000 in handouts to the Volvo Ocean Regatta in Newport; $310,311 to operate the state's Film and Television Office; $7,500 for tattoo removal training for employees at a beauty salon; and $5,000 to teach an employee at a company that makes ornamental business card holders how to use Facebook and Twitter.

"This report, 'Spotlight on Spending,' is not just a report. We put it forth to you today as a solution. It's not a partisan issue. It's not even a left or right issue," said Mike Stenhouse, of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Researchers who put the report together looked at other states and found that Rhode Island is an exception.

"Governor's Workforce Board . Every state has some sort of jobs training program, but Rhode Island is the only one that I've seen turn a jobs training program into this nest of nepotism and cronyism and people on the board using the jobs training program to fund other people's businesses who are also on the board," said Drew Johnson, of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

Rick Brooks, the director of the workforce board defended his $8.6 million budget.

"In making sure that businesses large and small have access to training dollars, because whether you're a beauty salon or you're building submarines, in order to be competitive and successful, your workers need to have the skills that are relevant to that particular business and that industry," Brooks said.

The authors hope the report will spur citizen action, like publicity over the "bridge to nowhere" caused cutbacks in federal earmarks.

"They contacted their member of Congress and they said, 'We don't want that bridge to nowhere in Alaska.' And Congress did not fund it because they were embarrassed. Members of Congress, state legislators don't change because they do it out of the goodness of their own hearts. They do it because they're embarrassed by their actions," said David Williams of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

The report also said that the governor of Tennessee, a state of about 7 million people, has a staff of 14. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee has a staff of 45.