The media outnumbered legislaters as members of the Republican House Caucus gathered Tuesday in the State House rotunda to outline a package of bills they say will improve the state’s business environment, create jobs and create a more efficient, effective and less costly government.
Holding a multi-colored sheet, a report card on Rhode Island competitiveness done by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, Rep. Patricia Morgan said the state is perceived as a place for business to avoid.
“When they avoid coming here, we can’t find jobs and neither can our children,” she said. Morgan said the state gets F’s in nearly every category of the report card; from tax burdens to energy costs, the cost of health insurance and the state’s lawsuit climate.
Minority leader Rep. Brian Newberry said the bills consist of carefully crafted pieces of legislation that are the products of months of discussion, debate and consideration.
Whether they get anywhere is another question.
Noticeably absent from the announcement were groups such as the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns and the chambers of commerce that support reduced government mandates and an improved business environment.
Morgan said the Republicans welcome partners, including their colleagues from across the political aisle. She said she would not be surprised to see Democratic legislators take many of the ideas.
Some of the proposals are all encompassing in nature such as those requiring regulatory review and reform and a commission to streamline government.
Legislation would require every state agency to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of regulations every five years. Citing private business practices, the Republicans call for a commission to analyze the efficiency, effectiveness and necessity of every state agency.
Other proposals target recognized cost drivers that push business expenses up.
Under health insurance, Morgan notes that state policies mandate 65 categories of coverage as compared to a national average of 43. The bill would create a committee to trim mandates that would have the effect of reducing premiums.
“Unfortunately, many of these mandated services while ‘nice’ are not really necessary to keep us healthy. We can no longer afford ‘nice,’” reads a stated goal of the legislation.
On the issue of tort reform and malpractice, Republicans propose capping non-economic damages at $500,000. They say they defend the right of an injured person to recoup economic damages such as medical bills, lost wages and property damage. However, they say, awards intended to be punishment need to be capped.
Looking at the cost of utilities, including electricity, gas, telephone and cable, the Republicans will introduce legislation enabling companies to use their own employees, rather than special duty municipal and state police, for safety details. Such details translate into higher consumer costs and provide another reason for companies not to come to the state.
On the government level, Republicans would amend the current $1,000 threshold on contracts, after which municipalities must pay the prevailing wage, to $50,000. This, they say, will give small business and non-union contractors the opportunity to bid on contracts and lower costs.
Also on the municipal level, the Republicans said they would do away with the Caruolo Act that enables school committees to sue the city or town if they believe schools have not been adequately funded. In addition, the measure would give city and town councils the authority to ratify collective bargaining contracts negotiated by the schools. Also relating to schools is legislation requiring school districts to remove non-recurring debt service from its budget request and ensure that it not be considered as part of its maintenance of effort spending level.
“This simple, common-sense measure will encourage financial discipline, discourage assumed spending increases and promote a more efficient and legitimate distribution of state and local education aid,” reads the goal.
The Republicans further suggest legislation to prevent retired government workers from collecting a pension while taking a job in the same or another government jurisdiction.
“This abusive practice is depleting pension resources and jeopardizing the financial security of the community, its homeowners and its current employees,” they said in a statement.