By Lincoln Almond
Ken Block has some explaining to do.
When he first announced his candidacy for governor last fall, Ken Block proudly declared he had a plan to save $1 billion. At first, he gave the impression that his plan would save $1 billion annually from the state budget. Then he clarified that it would be $1 billion in savings in four years. Then he further corrected the misimpression he created that the money he was proclaiming to save would come entirely from the state budget.
In fact, on a recent Sunday news program, Block said about a third of the savings over four years would come from the budget. But he has never explained how he would reduce state spending. And don’t bother visiting his website for answers. I did, and they are not there.
I know the state budget. During my years as governor, though unemployment was low and the economy was strong, funding essential services of government was always a challenge. One billion dollars is a lot of money. Ken Block’s simple explanation of saving a third of a billion dollars to “fix” the state’s unemployment insurance program, a third of a billion dollars to “fix” its temporary disability insurance program, and a third of a billion dollars from undeclared cuts in its budget may be a great campaign slogan. When Herman Cain ran for president in 2012, he, too, had a great slogan: “9, 9, 9” — but we learned fast how flawed his math was.
Mr. Block, Rhode Island voters do not need empty rhetoric from a typical politician.
In the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Block, then the Moderate Party candidate, claimed to have played a key role in saving the State of Texas’s taxpayers $1 billion through welfare fraud detection. Although Journal’s PolitiFact found that the computer system developed by Block’s firm contributed to the $1 billion saved over 15 years, it also cited Texas officials who disputed his claim of how significant a role he or his company played in the savings that occurred in the Texas budget.
After losing the 2010 governor’s race, capturing only 6.5 percent of the vote, he began working with the Chafee administration to do for Rhode Island what he claimed he did for Texas — root out Medicaid fraud and abuse. In fact, he estimated that our state could save between $100 million to $250 million a year. His 16-page report was presented to Governor Chafee in 2013. Those estimated savings have never been realized. Just more empty rhetoric from a typical politician.
It all comes down to credibility. Voters need to have confidence in their elected leaders. I, and many other governors, have recognized the power of the bully pulpit that the office of governor bestows. A candidate seeking the state’s top office needs to be honest, forthright and open, not dodging reporters’ questions, as Block tends to do.
The next governor needs to have the experience, leadership and vision to move our state forward. Last summer I started meeting with Cranston Mayor Allan Fung as he explored the possibility of running for governor. I was impressed with his understanding of the issues facing our state. Mayor Fung’s record speaks for itself: more than 1,000 jobs have been created in Cranston in his years as mayor, and many new companies, including the world headquarters of Alex and Ani, have chosen Cranston because of the city’s pro-business environment.
Mayor Fung respectfully and successfully negotiated with his local unions to achieve pension reform, resulting in significant savings to the taxpayers. And for the third year, the mayor has presented a budget with no tax increases, while continuing to provide the services his constituents deserve.
The next governor will take office on Jan. 6, 2015. It is a job with enormous responsibilities. We can’t afford to have a governor who needs on-the-job training. We do not need another governor who intends to run state government as if it is a business. In the past, our state has elected governors who did not have any government experience; the results were mixed.
Rhode Island does not need another typical politician with empty rhetoric. We need a governor who has a record of proven accomplishments, who has a vision of putting people back to work, and who can get things done. That is why I am supporting Mayor Allan Fung to be the next governor of the State of Rhode Island.
Lincoln Almond, a Republican, served as governor of Rhode Island from 1995 to 2003.