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The cost of choosing today over tomorrow
By Neil Steinberg / September 23, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

I have been thinking about expenses versus investments for a long time. It comes up whenever I see organizations make plans and prepare budgets. Whether they are governmental, corporate or nonprofit, they have one thing in common – limited resources and many choices.

That tension was recently highlighted for me again when I read about the very large and growing cost to fix, upgrade and replace Rhode Island’s public schools. The very next day I read about $700 million being spent in Massachusetts for new or renovated high schools.

On the one hand, you’ve got Rhode Island focused on year-to-year expenses and budgetary requirements, and on the other you’ve got Massachusetts focused on investing in the future of education. There is Rhode Island, challenged to improve the lagging performance of our students; and there is Massachusetts, which produces some of the best overall public education results in the country. That’s one way the expense-versus-investment debate is playing out close to home.

Now I fully understand there is no dodging the need to balance structural budgets and not spend beyond our means. The task is challenging. We must eliminate wasteful expenses and avoid relying on increasing revenues that would be burdensome to many. But, a long time ago I also heard the expression “you cannot cut your way to greatness.”

Expense can simply be defined as the cost required for something. Investment can be defined as an item that is purchased with the HOPE that it will generate income or appreciate in the FUTURE. An expense is easy to identify and the result is immediate – now you either need less money or more money. An investment requires a long-term commitment and comes with risk, which, of course, can be mitigated. HOPE and FUTURE; it is time for Rhode Island to invest more in Rhode Island and in Rhode Islanders. And I would certainly expand this beyond dollars and suggest that ALL Rhode Islanders can invest in some way.

Let’s invest in Rhode Island by buying local products and services. Invest in Rhode Island by pursuing a vibrant civic life. Be informed. Listen, read, debate, praise, donate, volunteer and vote. Invest in Rhode Island by becoming an ambassador for our wonderful state. Learn about its assets and strengths, and share your enthusiasm with others. Investments require being positive about the future. Be optimistic that your time, hard work and dollars will pay off. Invest in Rhode Island by investing in yourself, in our children, in your business by furthering education and training and valuing all jobs that are part of our workforce. Invest in Rhode Island by leading at all levels. Pitch in and help others. Invest in Rhode Island by innovating and collaborating.

Yes, we need to pay the bills and not mortgage the future. However, if we invest wisely, commit to the future and don’t get sidetracked we CAN have excellent schools, affordable and available healthcare, good jobs and economic security, vibrant arts and culture, quality of place that is sustainable and resilient, affordable housing and a safety net for those truly in need. Begin today. As someone once said, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

At the Rhode Island Foundation, we have long partnered with generous donors to invest in Rhode Island. Many of our grants are calculated bets in a community project that will make a difference long term. We make these investments because we see an opportunity and a need, and we’re confident that our partners have the vision and capacity to pull them off.  Let’s embrace the belief that by working together to invest in Rhode Island, we can lead the way, transform our state and inspire the entire community.

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