Paul Roselli Wants to Fix Transportation, Healthcare, and the Environment—and Get Rhode Island’s Economy Out of a ‘1940s Mode’

Paul Roselli has worn many hats in his life: documentary filmmaker, environmental activist, land steward; he’s even worked stints in corporate America and university relations. Now he wants to add the title Governor of Rhode Island to that list. Prior to announcing his candidacy last September, Roselli was best known as a leading opponent of the fracked gas power plant in Burrillville, where Roselli runs a local land trust. The Democratic challenger to Gov. Gina Raimondo says his decision to enter the race was initially inspired by his disappointment in Raimondo’s “arrogant” and disingenuous response to the concerns of Burrillville activists opposed to the power plant and her acceptance of campaign contributions connected to Invenergy, the Chicago-based company behind the project. But, Roselli says, his message has since broadened, and his goal is to fix Rhode Island’s transportation, healthcare, economic and environmental challenges through a “holistic” approach no longer stuck in the 1940s.

When Roselli and I sat down recently to discuss his campaign, we began by talking about Gov. Raimondo’s focus on building the state’s military-based economy, including her awarding of millions of dollars in subsidies to nuclear-armed submarine maker Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, a Fortune 100 company and one of the nation’s largest Pentagon contractors. Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation. Continue reading

Corporate Accountability Is Not a Priority in Rhode Island

When writing the headline for this piece, I initially went with: “Corporate Accountability Is an Afterthought in Rhode Island.”

But I quickly realized that would be a little misleading to readers, as the word “afterthought” implies a person, or group of people, actually starts thinking of something at some point. And I don’t get the impression our governor and her administration ever became too concerned about holding accountable the corporations that have leaned on taxpayers for years.

Take for instance the case of Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat and its use of jobs training funding in Rhode Island. Continue reading

General Dynamics and the Undermining of Democracy in Rhode Island and Connecticut

If you’re a Connecticut resident who was caught off guard last week by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s announcement of an $83-million subsidy package to U.S. Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat, don’t worry—you weren’t alone.

That’s because, while Malloy’s self-described “historic long-term partnership” with Electric Boat had been in the works for months, the giveaway to cover infrastructure expansion and workforce development costs at Electric Boat’s Groton shipyard was virtually impossible for the public to follow and weigh in on in any meaningful way.

From what the public could see, it all started in January when Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) announced her plan to introduce a bill offering $100-million to Electric Boat for facility expansion, and another $50-million for employee training. A placeholder for the “Act Concerning Funding For Submarine Jobs and Opportunities” was posted online with zero details and then never updated. Continue reading

Matt Brown Says General Dynamics is ‘Strong-Arming Rhode Island Taxpayers,’ and the State Needs to Move Beyond Its Military Economy

When I heard Matt Brown was considering a run for Rhode Island governor, the first thing that struck me was how he’s spent the last decade since leaving office as secretary of state: founding and then running Global Zero, an organization dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide by 2030. That work was certainly in direct contrast to a key focus of the state’s Congressional Delegation, which has thrown its political capital into development of a new class of nuclear-armed, ballistic missile submarines to be built at local Navy contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat at the cost of up to $104-billion to U.S. taxpayers. Gov. Gina Raimondo, Brown’s opponent in this year’s Democratic primary, has also latched onto EB’s good fortune, dedicating more than $4-million in government funds to train the company’s workforce, labeling it one of the top jobs opportunities for the state.

I spoke to Brown by phone earlier this week, touching on his thoughts about nuclear weapons and Rhode Island’s role in producing them. The conversation evolved into a discussion on corporate power and the role of government in recent decades in enabling the most inequitable economic climate in America since the Gilded Age. As Brown sees it, his campaign will be about educating the public on these challenges with truthful and robust debate. The former founder of Rhode Island’s City Year school improvement program, Brown says his view of economic development distinguishes him from Raimondo, a former venture capitalist who has largely built her jobs growth plan around corporate subsidies and tax incentives—or what Brown characterizes as “giveaways.”

Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.                                                                                           Continue reading

In Four Years, Taxpayers Spent $18-Million On Medicaid Assistance For Workers at Rhode Island Companies Receiving Millions in Economic Development Tax ‘Incentives’

Between the state’s 2014 and 2017 fiscal years, Rhode Island allocated $18-million through its Medicaid-funded Rite Care and Rite Share medical assistance programs to employees working at companies that simultaneously received more than $114-million in state subsidies designed to spur job growth and workforce development.

CVS Health topped the list for total Rite Care and Rite Share expenses, as well as total tax incentives received. According to Rhode Island Unified Economic Development Reports, CVS employees and their dependents utilized $5.7-million in medical assistance during the four-year period in which the Woonsocket-based company also received $63-million in tax benefits.

Since 2008, CVS has received more state subsidies than any other business: $175-million of the nearly $350-million disclosed in the Division of Taxation’s annual reports on tax credits and incentives.

The second and third highest totals for Medicaid-funded benefits were at jewelry maker Tiffany & Company, and submarine builder Electric Boat, with employees and their dependents receiving $4.5-million and $3-million in government-funded health insurance benefits, respectively. Continue reading

Connecticut’s General Dynamics Giveaway and Its ‘Astroturf’ Supporters

The term “astroturfing” comes to mind when reading recent testimony given in favor of a bill under consideration in Connecticut, titled, “An Act Establishing the Apprenticeship Connecticut Initiative,” a proposal with a seemingly well-intentioned name and an obscured agenda: to handout government money to the highly lucrative defense contractor General Dynamics-Electric Boat.

The Trojan Horse here—the bill, among other “investments,” would result in the allocation of $100-million in state grants to fund infrastructure projects at the submarine maker’s Groton shipyard—is not lost on skeptical and genuinely grassroots organizations such as the Connecticut Association of Smaller Manufacturers, which said taxpayers have reason to “fear the complexity of this bill is masking a hidden agenda.”

“The Federal government pays submarine manufacturers billions of dollars to deliver and service their products and these manufacturers can well afford their own capital spending,” the organization said in written testimony recorded April 2. “During a time of fiscal distress, this is an insult to the Connecticut taxpayer. Imagine what we could accomplish if we gave our technical highs schools a $100M grant.”

The organization concluded: [T]he deck seems heavily stacked toward large corporations.”

But you’d never get that sense from reading testimony given by the innocently titled Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, which never mentions Electric Boat by name or the $100-million grant to subsidize “acquisition of lands, buildings, machinery, equipment or any combination thereof.” Continue reading

The Myth of General Dynamics-Electric Boat and Its ‘Middle Class Jobs’

The author Joan Didion famously wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

In Rhode Island and Connecticut, we tell ourselves myths about Electric Boat in order to justify building war machines.

There are the obvious myths: that a fleet of nuclear-armed submarines costing upwards of $104-billion will be a force for peace in the world; that executives at parent company General Dynamics gobbling up millions of dollars in compensation each year on the taxpayer dime are “patriotic”; and that some other community will build these weapons systems anyway if Southern New England doesn’t—so why shouldn’t we?

The fourth myth, which might be the most rich, is that the top brass at General Dynamics-Electric Boat actually care about our community, that they’re people committed to providing us with “good middle class jobs,” the kind of “blue collar” work that still provides an income you can raise a family on. Continue reading

General Dynamics Doesn’t Need Money From Connecticut or Maine

[NOTE: A version of this opinion article was published in The Day newspaper, of New London, Conn.]

General Dynamics is not a poor company.

Far from it.

Like all of the country’s top defense contractors, its stock is trading at record highs. As of this writing, one share in the Falls Church, Virg.-based company costs more than $226, nearly $55 more than tech giant Apple.

General Dynamics’ current market capitalization, a measure of a company’s value, is $67.2-billion, up $14.6-billion from 2016. To put that into context, Maine’s entire gross domestic product was $59.3-billion in 2016.

On a recent earnings call, CEO Phebe N. Novakovic told analysts the company’s revenue last year exceeded $31.7-billion, outperforming the prior year by $412-million. Cash flow for the year was $3.45-billion.

And things should only get better. Continue reading

General Dynamics CEO Calls Republican Tax Law a ‘Happy Event’

Top brass at defense contractor General Dynamics, owner of New England subsidiaries Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat, say they are buoyed by the anticipated reduction in their company’s effective tax rate under the sweeping “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” pushed into law last month by Republican members of Congress and Pres. Donald Trump.

On an earnings call earlier this week, Chief Financial Officer Jason W. Aiken told analysts the company, based in Falls Church, Virg., will likely see its 2017 full year rate of 28.6 percent drop to 19 percent in 2018.

According to a transcript of the call available online, Chief Executive Officer Phebe N. Novakovic characterized the passage of the tax overhaul as “a happy event.” Continue reading

State Rep. Jennifer DeChant Calls Maine Peace Activists ‘Trigger Happy’ Over Proposed Bath Iron Works Tax Giveaway

In November of last year, Maine peace activists began contacting state Rep. Jennifer DeChant (D-Bath) and Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) to voice their opposition to a proposed $60-million tax deal being considered on behalf of General Dynamics subsidiary Bath Iron Works.

“As your constituent, I urge you to reject any tax breaks for General Dynamics,” Mary Beth Sullivan, of Bath, wrote in a Nov. 30 email to Vitelli, cosponsor of the tax bill made available online for the first time last week. “General Dynamics spent $9.4-billion buying back its own stocks between 2013-2016…General Dynamics, like most weapons corporations, gets the vast majority of its operating funds from the federal treasury. The taxpayers are paying the freight from the start.

“Before General Dynamics gets any more state taxpayer dollars it should be required to begin a transition process to build commuter rail systems, tidal power and offshore wind turbines to help us deal with our real problem – global warming.”

The message was among several emails disclosed by Vitelli in response to a Maine Freedom of Access Act request filed by a reporter last month with the intent of gaining greater insight into the development of the Bath Iron Works tax bill. A similar notice was sent to DeChant, who acknowledged its receipt but has yet to provide the requested documents. Continue reading