According to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, a vote for him is not simply a vote for a new governor, but for a different direction; one that puts the people of Rhode Island first and looks to correct a political system that, in his view, has benefited only the wealthiest people and corporations for too long.
Among Brown’s many bold campaign goals includes implementing a $15 minimum wage; a desire to lower prescription drug costs by moving to a universal healthcare system; an idea to create a regulated Rhode Island Investment Bank that would fund small business endeavors with lower risk; and a desire to run the state on 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”
Despite the fact that both are running for the Democratic nomination this September, Brown made it abundantly clear during a visit to the Beacon on Thursday his belief that incumbent governor Gina Raimondo is more concerned with helping wealthy donors and corporations than Rhode Islanders, and that her actions showcase less than Democratic ideals.
“I think a big part of the problem with the system that we have is that the government, and I certainly think that this Governor takes this to an extreme, is beholden to corporations and Wall Street because that’s who provides all the big campaign contributions,” Brown said. “I think it’s not a small problem, I think it’s a big part of the problem. That’s why I won’t take any of that corporate PAC money and fossil fuel money and all that.”
The difference in financial capital between Raimondo and Brown underscores the philosophical differences Brown addressed in his recent interview.
As of the most recent filing period ending Aug. 14, Raimondo has about $2.8 million remaining in her political war chest. She has already spent $3.3 million in campaign expenses since Jan. 1, 2018 ($2.95 million of that between April 1 and Aug. 14 as campaign season has gone full swing).
However, despite Brown’s comments on PACs donating heavily to Raimondo, she has actually received the vast majority of her dollars from individual donors ($2.78 million total) rather than PACs ($28,275 total) since Jan 1, 2018. In total, Raimondo has received only 1.6 percent of her approximately $10.3 million raised in political capital since Jan. 1, 2014 through PAC funding, amounting to $170,436, according to state campaign finance records.
Brown, on the other hand, has a fund balance of just over $225,000 as of the most recent filings, the majority of which is funded through loans. He has raised $178,649 from individual donors since Jan. 1, 2018 and spent $160,000 on campaign expenses since the beginning of the year. He has only taken $500 total from PACs – one donation from the Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island.
Despite Raimondo garnering most of her funds from individual donations, Brown still feels that her policy of offering tax incentives to large corporations to relocate in Rhode Island illustrates a mix-up of priorities when it comes to advocating for the people who are hurting through problems such as high healthcare costs and unaffordable housing prices.
“Their wages have flatlined; haven’t changed for decades,” Brown said. “Politicians, including Governor Raimondo, are doing nothing about that. In fact, she makes the problem worse by taking money from taxpayers who don’t have enough money to pay for their homes, to pay for their healthcare and so on, and giving it to massive multinational corporations that make billions of dollars a year. These corporations, this idea that it’s going to trickle down, never happens.”
“My vision for economic development is to build an economy that meets the needs of the people here,” he continued.
Brown’s plan for improving the economy is all-encompassing.
To start, Brown believes that a $15 minimum wage – with provisions written to increase that amount based on inflation and cost of living changes – is essential to preventing Rhode Islanders from languishing in poverty and relying on government assistance while being unable to afford adequate housing.
To address high housing costs, Brown says the answer is to build more houses in an affordable price range. He would like to see 4,000 additional houses built statewide annually for 10 years, along with cutting red tape regulations that make it difficult for contractors to take on large housing projects. He predicts that creating this type of house building “boom” could create 9,000 jobs each year.
To address high healthcare costs that leave some 40,000 Rhode Islanders uninsured, Brown said the answer is to remove “profiteering” from the industry, and that healthcare “shouldn’t be treated as a commodity.” Brown said creating a more universal system would put more people into the insurance pool, which would enable better negotiating power for better rates for everyone. Brown admits there are more than a few questions that need to be addressed with such a system, so he plans to set up a commission to study the proposal prior to making sweeping changes.
In order to leverage small business opportunities, Brown has proposed the idea of a state investment bank, a concept he said that North Dakota has achieved success with after farmers pooled their money out of big banks and put it into a state system that was tightly regulated, audited regularly and was only given authority to lend money out to industry and businesses located within the state.
The benefit of the state investment bank model, Brown said, is that it removes high fees and volatility issues that come with other investment methods, such as taking taxpayer dollars and investing them into Wall Street hedge funds, which Brown accused Raimondo of doing and losing hundreds of millions of dollars as opposed to letting the money slowly mature in less risky index funds, such as the S&P 500.
Also part of his business strategy is a fair business tax, which asks more of those who can afford it for the benefit of those who are less able to pay higher tax margins.
“Part of my economic development strategy is to have a fair business tax, which a number of other states have done, so the bigger corporations pay a little bit more, and you lower the taxes and fees for the small businesses,” he said. “I’d like to make Rhode Island the best place in the country to start a small business, because I think that’s a big part of the future of our economy. It’s part of our culture. We’re a small business, small town culture, and these guys are bearing heavy burden. They need some relief.”
While Brown agrees that entering into debt through large $250 million bonds to address the crumbling school buildings in the state is an essential step, he criticized the government powers that let the problem get so bad in the first place. He said that such degradation occurred because the state was unwilling to invest in its schools throughout the previous decades.
He said that such blatant negligence towards funding schools comes from politicians, and he includes Raimondo in this assertion, subscribing to the myth of trickle down economics, a theory popularized by Ronald Reagan in which tax cuts are given to the top tax brackets and corporations in the hopes their immediate savings will be put towards stimulating growth in the economy – such as through increased job creation or wage increases for employees.
However, as Brown noted and several large-scale studies of trickle down economics have indicated, nearly all of the wealth created from corporate and high-bracket tax cuts go into bonuses for CEOs and payments to stockholders, either through dividends or large-scale stock buybacks, rather than into the economy.
“Trickle down economics doesn’t work,” Brown said, saying his intent would be to repeal tax cuts for large corporations and people making $500,000 a year or more. “And the result is the under-funding of roads, schools, healthcare and our infrastructure.”
Finally, Brown believes that Raimondo is setting Rhode Island up for failure when it comes to renewable energy. He said that her support of the Burrillville natural gas and diesel power plant is indicative of her commitment to fossil fuel company contributors rather than true green energy advancement. He said her goal of being 38 percent renewable by 2035 would leave Rhode Island lagging behind other states.
“That’s the future. We need to get on it,” Brown said, advocating for Rhode Island to be running on 100 percent renewable energy by that same deadline. “If we don’t, we’re going to be importing all of our clean energy from Massachusetts and New York, who are moving much faster than we are. What I’ve proposed is be the first state in the country exporting clean energy as a source of revenue.”
Brown said a comprehensive green energy plan involving plotting out spaces for offshore wind and solar farms is essential to accomplishing real renewable energy change, which Raimondo has not done to this point.
Matt Brown was born in Providence, attended Columbia University for undergraduate studies and attended Yale Law School. He served as the Rhode Island Secretary of State from 2003 to 2007, however his first job was washing dishes at a deli. His favorite band is the Beatles and his favorite place to spend time outside of Rhode Island is Fenway Park.