Ken Block could save himself a lot in taxes if he picked up his Warwick businesses and moved 12 miles to Massachusetts. He operates a software company and the move wouldn’t be difficult.
So why doesn’t he do it?
“I’m the kind of guy who would rather fix a problem than run away from it,” Block answered to a Rotary Club member Thursday.
He said he likes Rhode Island and enjoys his friends and his home in Barrington. Block has been trying to fix things in Rhode Island since 2007, when he first became involved in politics. He was convinced the best way to fix things was to become involved in politics, but instead of affiliating with a party, he set out to form his own. He founded the Moderate Party and, as its candidate for governor in 2010, he garnered 6.5 percent of the vote.
But, after all that work, Block has shed the Moderate label and last week declared his candidacy for governor as a Republican.
What happened to the Moderate Party? Or what changed in the Republican Party, Block’s audience wanted to know.
Block said he had learned that “no political party is not the best way to bring the change we need.”
So, what does that mean for the Moderate Party?
“The Moderate Party is likely to die,” he said. “I’m no longer involved with it.”
As for the change, Block wasn’t lacking for ideas.
“What you’re going to hear is different from most politicians,” Block opened.
He quickly got into state finances, including budget deficits and the high cost of doing business.
He called the fix as “basic and simple” as government spending money as carefully as managing one’s personal finances. On his list of mismanagement is temporary disability insurance that is managed by the state. He said that, in Rhode Island, 9 percent of those with TDI use the full 12-week benefit annually as compared to 3.5 percent who use eight weeks in New Jersey. (New Jersey also manages its plan.) Block’s point is that TDI is viewed as a right by many employees who demand their doctors give them the full 12-week allowance, whether needed or not. If that time was reduced, Block said, the cost of nearly $800 to every employee would also be reduced and the $160 million program could be cut in half.
“Eighty million would go right back in the employees’ pocket,” he said.
He envisions similar savings if certain companies, largely those with seasonal workforces, such as landscapers, didn’t use unemployment insurance as a form of paid leave. He said about 1,000 companies use layoffs in this manner at the expense of 34,000 businesses that don’t. This pushes everybody’s costs up. If those companies that abuse the system were forced to pay their fair share, Block estimates $50 million and more “would be recovered year after year.”
“Are we doing what makes sense?” he asks. “We have to look at everything we do in government.”
Block called education incredibly important.
“Quality education is the leveler in society,” he said.
Block said 70 percent of the students entering the Community College of Rhode Island require remedial courses to bring them up to high school equivalence.
“What this tells us is that they aren’t ready to graduate,” he said, adding high stakes tests are not the answer.
“Testing is the wrong end of the animal,” he said. “If you don’t fix K through 3, you can’t possibly do it at high school.”
He also called for students who can’t speak English to be sent to a special school rather than disrupting classes and putting added strain on teachers.
Third on his list is the manner in which government operates. He said the state budget is not vetted and that the governor should have line item veto powers.
Block fielded more questions.
“Everybody wants stuff for nothing,” said Rotary Club member Edward McDonough, asking how Block would deal with entitlements.
“It’s about constraints,” said Block.
He said it is about repeatedly asking where we are falling down and questioning everything. And he said this state is the result of a lack of vision and elected leaders lack ideas and, for answers, “fall back on taxes, which is a symptom of broader problems.”
Then Block asked a question of his audience.
“When did we last have a leader?”
There was a silence.
“Just name someone,” he urged.
“Sundlun,” offered club member Joseph DesRoches.
“And that’s 20 years ago,” Block observed.