TOM WARD - Despite cheap talk, legislators back unions, hurt people, jobs

TOM WARD - Despite cheap talk, legislators back unions, hurt people, jobs

As we come to the close of another session of our General Assembly, now fully under the control of the Democratic Party and its allies, one has to wonder: Are members shooting for a “business-friendliness” ranking of 51st place among the 50 states? If the goal is to become “Detroit on the Bay,” we’re well on the way.

It was only a few short months ago that the leaders on Smith Hill, embarrassed by so many media companies proclaiming our state as the absolute worst place to start or run a business, decided to at least pretend to be concerned with it all and start “moving the needle.”

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed assured all of us her chamber would work on economic development in 2013 and on improving Rhode Island’s languishing economy. Our last place finish, she declared, is “no longer acceptable,” and promised to work with the R.I. Public Expenditure Council and others to improve the business climate.

Now before my criticism goes too far, let’s give thanks for this:

1) The more extreme Democrats – “progressives” – again wanted to raise income taxes on “the rich.” Higher income Rhode Islanders, who just a few years ago had their broad income tax lowered in exchange for ridding the tax code of a bunch of tax loopholes, are now permanently in the cross hairs of the far left. Their goal: to have all wealthy Rhode Islanders move with their spending money to nearby North Attleboro, Blackstone, Seekonk, Killingly and Stonington. That’ll show ‘em who’s boss! (OK, that’s not really the goal. It’s just the “unintended consequence” that will shock them when it really does happen and state income tax revenues fall. Duh!) In any case, Speaker Gordon Fox and other leaders said “no,” and the effort failed. Good.

2) Historic Tax Credits were renewed, and limited to $5 million per project. That’s good, but we’ll have to be on the lookout for “crony capitalism” ( Democrats? Say it isn’t so!) associated with the Superman building in Providence.

3) Rhode Island liquor stores got a boost. They won’t have to charge the 7 percent sales tax on wine and spirits anymore, though the tax on beer remains. The Massachusetts advantage disappears.

Now the bad news...

So what went wrong? As is customary in Rhode Island, Assembly leaders save the worst for last, and leave no time for public input. This year, allowing for the unionization of day care workers takes the prize. For parents, higher costs for, and less flexibility by, day care providers. The winners: Those pocketing the union dues. As Joyce Laramee of Pawtucket told the Providence Journal: It’s “for the kids.” What a hoot! Do these people even listen to themselves?

• Legislators passed a bill that will allow an expansion of Temporary Disability Insurance. This insurance, paid for by you, the worker, is just another feel good bill that will harm business and cut your pay by, on average, $100 per year. The smaller the business, the greater the harm. Now, a new TDI will allow family caregivers to take paid time off to help. While that may boost the self esteem of liberal legislators, it will burden employers who will now be mandated to let healthy employees leave for weeks at a time to tend to family members in need. (If I were a CPA and planning a family, I’d choose tax season for my new babies!) And who will fill in for the missing employees? Who knows? One thing is for sure, though. Legislators don’t care, and the state becomes increasingly difficult to operate a successful business in.

• The minimum wage increase will only leave more kids on the street or in front of a TV. Minimum wage isn’t a “living wage.” It’s a “kid’s wage” for young boys and girls learning how to spend a day at work. For nine out of 10 kids, the change will be a raise. For the tenth kid, it’s a layoff.

Sorry, kid. You’re just the newest “unintended consequence” the political left is so famous for.

Rhode Island remains a challenging place to do business. Still, we’re ahead of Zimbabwe.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze