Both The Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council are to be commended for their recent efforts to repair what is a failing economy with dismal prospects.
Though their efforts are well-meant, real change will come not from these seasoned executives but from the next generation. Rhode Island’s best shot at a better future lies in educating and retaining its youth.
The simplest and most promising way to do this is not with commissions, study groups, grants and corporate credits. These may be helpful, but Band-Aids won’t cure a heart attack.
Twentysomethings don’t pay much in taxes. Offer them zero income tax status until they reach 30 years old, if they have a post-high school degree. This would inspire them, first, to stay in school and, second, maybe even to start a business. In your 20s, you have the chutzpah, the naiveté and the endurance to be an entrepreneur. If one in 10 is successful, he or she can hire the other nine. If one in 100 makes it big, everybody gets a job.
Tax-free status for twentysomethings could easily attract wealthy young people from other parts of the country, too. Buy a condo in Newport or Providence, spend six months a year here, and live tax-free. Don’t forget your boat and your credit card. Maybe you’ll even meet somebody here, settle down and make it your corporate headquarters.
I don’t know how much twentysomethings contribute to the Rhode Island tax base, but it can’t be much compared to what they would contribute if they were to stay here and build a new economy. This is the Hope State. Let’s try.