OpEd: Repeal or Roll-back Anti-growth Laws

OpEd by Mike Stenhouse, CEO, as it was published in the Providence Journal, 1/12/14

As the 2014 legislative session begins, the leaders of Rhode Island’s political class have signaled that they will not let themselves consider any big ideas to boost our state’s stagnant economy or to improve our dismal jobs outlook.

There has been much speculation about what issues the General Assembly will take up. Unfortunately, if recent history is our guide, legislators will do more harm than good, as they see it as the government’s duty to help those who they perceive are in need — those who are harmed by the very policies their predecessors have implemented over the years.

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Indeed, public policy in the Ocean State is tearing families apart. We all know of a recent graduate, often one of our own children, who has left town to look for work in a more fertile state; one of our parents who has retired to a lower cost-of-living state; a prominent business or community leader who has fled to avoid taxes on his or her heirs; or a business owner or entire family that has simply uprooted and moved to regions that offer more opportunity.

The government of Rhode Island has implemented dozens of taxes and regulations that have proven harmful to economic growth and job creation. In far too many categories, Rhode Island ranks at or near the bottom — a last-place team.

Yet political leaders act as if they’re not allowed to do anything about it, rather than seeing the status quo as the enemy of our future.

Instead of creating new Band-Aid fix bills, maybe lawmakers should eliminate some of the statutes that have harmed our chances for prosperity in the first place. The most productive path for legislators in 2014 may be to wipe out destructive policies.

Perhaps the General Assembly should be judged this year not by how many new policies it creates, but by how many existing, anti-growth policies it repeals or rolls back.

For starters, we could repeal or roll back the state’s regressive sales tax; or the requirement that families have no choice on what schools best educate their children; or punitive estate taxes that drive wealthy people to other states; or restrictions on out-of-state companies to sell health insurance in Rhode Island; or the minimum franchise tax, which stifles entrepreneurship; or corporate welfare, to level the playing field; or even renewable energy mandates that drive up costs for every family and business. All of these policies have created a drag on our economy, reducing opportunities for those who wish to succeed.

We continue to inflict legislative wounds on ourselves. We are suffering death by a thousand cuts. Isn’t it time we reversed course and healed some of these wounds?

To do this, we would also have to roll back spending levels, the holy grail of the political class; spending levels that fabricated the very same onerous taxes and fees that are the root cause of our economic woes. This seems beyond the imagination of the political class. Yet, this is allowed. Other states are doing it. We are allowed to change course and create a brighter future for ourselves.

Rhode Island is not defined by its government or a budget number at the bottom of a spreadsheet. Rather, Rhode Island is about the hopes and dreams of real people and real families. We should no longer be held hostage by a failed budget. Should our lives and chances for prosperity be restricted by a number? Or, rather, should the budget be crafted to serve our needs? Which should be the higher priority: the well-being of real people or an arbitrary revenue figure? In Rhode Island, we have it precisely backwards.

If we can roll back certain taxes and spending levels, and if the political class can prioritize the well-being of its residents over its fixation on revenues, tens of thousands of new jobs could soon be created, along with a lower cost of living and renewed opportunities for all Ocean State families and businesses.

We must free ourselves from burdensome taxes and a culture of dependency, and be unleashed to improve our own lives and prosperity.

As an analogy, we don’t have to look any further than the 2012 Boston Red Sox, which, as a last-place team, fired its manager, traded away expensive, non-productive players, and brought in fresh talent. The Sox reinvented themselves, and became World Champions just one season later.

Rhode Island faces a similar situation: We must demand new leadership, repeal non-productive policies, and right-size spending. We can do this. It is allowed!

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