Larry Girouard, newly named president of Rhode Island Taxpayers, the state’s largest nonpartisan taxpayer advocacy group, is also president of the Business Avionix Co., a consulting firm that helps companies drive profits while implementing focused market penetration programs and improving customer satisfaction. He has more than 45 years of engineering, marketing and senior management experience in Fortune 500 corporations, including at DuPont, Keene, and Cookson, as well as at high technology start-up companies like Spectrum Technologies and Composite Development Corp. He was the first executive director of both the Rhode Island NASA Technology Transfer Center and the Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services Corp.
A frequent guest lecturer at local colleges and trade association meetings on the topics of corporate growth and strategic planning, he holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Rhode Island, earned in 1966, and an MBA in Marketing earned in 1969 from the University of Delaware.
PBN: What attracted you to the position of president of Rhode Island Taxpayers and why do you feel you're the right person for the job?
GIROUARD: I have served on the Rhode Island Taxpayer’s board for the last three years and I fully agree with the mission of the organization in advocating for the taxpayers of Rhode Island. I also believe that a healthy business community is essential to a sustainable state economy. My 45 years of business experience in the manufacturing arena with a focus on strategy, market penetration, and efficiency will help our organization in framing the key taxpayer issues.
PBN: The mission of your group is to advocate for honest, effective, and fiscally sound government on behalf of Rhode Island taxpayers. Why is a group like yours necessary?
GIROUARD: Whether we like it or not, Rhode Island competes with 49 other states to attract business, retain business, attract citizens and retain citizens. When you look at Rhode Island’s performance from a national perspective, our leaders have done a very poor job in each of these four categories. Our national business brand is very poor. Last in business friendliness in multiple national studies sends out a brand message that Rhode Island is not “Open for Business.”
By all accounts our state is not on fiscally sound footing. We are a long way from being effective and efficient in serving the taxpayers, and one has to now question the honesty of our leaders in the wake of 38 Studios that now has the taxpayers on the hook for an extra $100 million.
Taxpayers are uncomfortable and uncertain with the state of the state. They need a group like Rhode Island Taxpayers to provide them information, and advocate on their behalf with the expectations that our leaders will have the courage to make the kind of decisions that will improve Rhode Island’s national brand, perhaps starting by looking at other states to see what is working there.
PBN: If you had one type of tax reform you could set as a priority and focus on exclusively, which one would it be and why?
GIROUARD: There are many tax reform areas that need to be put on the table for review by our leadership. With one of the highest taxed electorates in the country, it is important for the leadership of Rhode Island to understand that any “big idea” tax reduction must be accompanied by a budget reduction or it will result in a zero sum gain.
That said, the corporate income tax should be reduced significantly. We are losing our small and medium businesses at an unacceptable rate. As we all know, business activity produces the jobs and income to support government. We are clearly uncompetitive with states in New England, a region that is uncompetitive itself. We must be more competitive in this area than our surrounding states.
Our political leaders know the situation. They know that it is they who must take corrective action. What is apparent is that they either do not know what action to take, or they lack the will to take it. Strong, determined, intelligent leadership, accompanied by the will to lead the people to a solution that will require sacrifice from every taxpayer, business, special interest, and, most important, from a bloated government, is required. There is no easy answer, no way to do what must be done without major structural change, and the longer we wait to do it, the more severe the problem will become.
PBN: Your group advocates for an across the board freeze of EDC loan programs until a full audit and investigation of the practices and monitoring policies that existed between 38 Studios and the EDC is completed and released and reform is under way. Why penalize other loan applicants for the failing of one program?
GIROUARD: The seriousness and magnitude of the 38 Studios loan raises a big red flag regarding the implementation of the EDC loan program. While the issues surrounding the 38 Studios loan go well beyond EDC, taxpayers need assurances that available loans will be equitably administered going forward.
Your specific question appears to presume that our suggested audit will take too long to produce. The kind of analysis we seek need not be a multi-year project. Given the will to do it, it could be done in three to six months, during which time grants could be received, studied and results withheld until future action is determined.
We would hope that loans could be available sooner if an objective oversight for all loans is established, and an agreement could be reached on capping loans at a sustainable amount. While reasonable people might disagree on what constitutes a “sustainable” amount, once the funds are available and the average number of requests is known, it should be possible to reach an agreement.
Finally, it might be suggested that the EDC does not belong in the business of loans, to pick winners and losers. EDC is most effective if its focus is on reducing business regulations – and the ease of starting a business by running interference for firms wanting to locate here and removing the blocks.
PBN: How many members do you have, how do you grow that membership, and does your nonpartisan label help attract your sizeable following?
GIROUARD: While specific details on our membership are confidential, the RIT weekday newsletter, The Taxation Times, is sent out to more than 5,000 people, and growing at an impressive rate. Our experience over the 10 years of our existence leaves no doubt that taxpayers are concerned about their state – and the potential for higher taxes and fees to sustain the state and municipal budgets that seem to always trend upward.
We are nonpartisan politically, and feel that it is in the best interests of all taxpayers that our message be solidly based on sound data and successful experience.
We utilize every accepted method to grow our membership, including our website www.ritaxpayers.com, the Taxation Times, our two annual meetings each year, our participation in social media, and, in particular, our many media contacts and the appearance of our officers and directors on local television and radio.