To the Editor:
As the state of Rhode Island continues struggling to rebound from the single largest economic collapse since the great depression, I am happy to see there is no shortage of Rhode Island citizens coming forward with ideas and strategies to improve our economic outlook. On the other hand, I am deeply concerned the majority of ideas are a direct attack against working men and women. Although cleverly disguised by Rhode Island’s intellectual elite, make no mistake about it; many of the reforms suggested would come on the backs of working Rhode Islanders.
In a recent editorial in the Providence Journal, Director of the Rhode Island Policy Institute Mike Stenhouse weighed in with his opinion of how Rhode Island should go about improving our business climate. First, Mr. Stenhouse addressed what he referred to as the most over burdensome health care mandates in the country. Mr. Stenhouse suggests scaling back these mandates will help to improve our economic outlook. At first glance, there would seem to be some merit to this thought. Upon further inspection, it is clear this is a direct attack against workers. Basically to take up this idea, we, as a state, would be saying in order to lure business, we are willing to expose our working men and women to less quality health care, putting them and their families at risk.
Unfortunately, the attacks on workers do not end with health care. Another popular idea among Rhode Island’s elite is to lower taxes. Again, at first glance, who would not want lower taxes? Don’t be fooled – these lower taxes are not for you, your family or neighbors – they are for a select few, sometimes referred to as the “job creators,” which is code for the wealthy. Folks like Mr. Stenhouse want Rhode Island to lower specifically the corporate income tax. Already, we have lowered the income tax for the top 2 percent of earners in Rhode Island; now some of the best and brightest thinkers in our state want to give away another tax break. We have all seen the danger of tax breaks for a select few, and the harmful impact they cause on our state budget. Just this past year, 68 percent of Rhode Islanders thought it was appropriate to return the income tax for the state’s highest earners to 9.9 percent. Once again, the old trickle down economics theory, which in the history of our country has never proved successful, is being recycled here in Rhode Island. Once again, our best and brightest have come up with an idea to save Rhode Island, which has a severe impact on our most vulnerable citizens, our workingmen and women and our infrastructure. Ask the parents of developmentally disabled children whose programs were cut as a result of the income tax break enjoyed by Rhode Island’s wealthiest citizens how tax breaks for a select few improve all of our lives. Ask 80-year-old retired public servants who have lost their retirement security as a result of the same tax breaks. We cannot continue to grant wealthy Rhode Islanders tax breaks while at the same time cutting programs that enrich the lives of our neighbors, fund our schools and provide for the upkeep of our infrastructure.
Also floated out there is this nonsense of making Rhode Island a “right to work for less state.” This will accomplish nothing more than lowering the wages, retirement security and health care of already struggling Rhode Island workers. Make no mistake about it, there is no empirical evidence to show “right to work for less” states are more economically stable or successful; in fact, research shows states with right to work for less have lower wages, little to no retirement security and a lower quality of health care. Who right to work for less really works for is big business, who use right to work for less to silence workers, reduce compensation and increase profits for themselves. This misguided law results in a widening gap between rich and poor, and adds to the burden on the middle class.
What Rhode Island needs is real solutions for all Rhode Islanders. We need to stop with the covert attacks on workers disguised under the guise of economic competitiveness. All the tax breaks in the world for our wealthy citizens will not solve our problems. To this point all we have heard is workers need to accept less; less job security, less health care, less pay and less retirement security while companies reap record profits. We commonly hear the phrase “we cannot afford it.” What we cannot afford is to continue tax breaks for the wealthy. What we cannot afford is to pull the safety net out from under our neediest citizens. What we cannot afford is to ignore our crumbling infrastructure, and what we certainly cannot afford is to not rebuild our working class with jobs that provide good health care, wages and retirement security.
What President Obama professed in a recent speech when speaking about our national economy certainly holds true for Rhode Island as well.
“We cannot rebuild from the top down, nor the bottom up; we must rebuild from the middle out.”
This middle out approach is the way forward for Rhode Island!
Mr. McDonald is president of Local 528.