Since his ascension to the legislative throne, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has adopted the oft-heard, heptasyllabic mantra of “jobs and the economy.” This is an admirable goal, but suggesting that adjusting the corporate and estate taxes will have any effect on the economy as a whole is like saying the best way to jump start a car is by playing with the radio dials.
Rhode Island’s economic engine needs a jump, to get us to the garage for a complete overhaul. In combustion engines, there are three must-have components, the engine itself, an alternator, and a battery. The battery starts the engine, then the alternator kicks in to fire the spark plugs and trickle charge the battery. VROOM!
A New Battery and Alternator
So, here we are at the garage with our barely functioning engine, and the mechanic says, “Well, you definitely need a new battery. This one hasn’t worked well in quite a while. I suggest you upgrade to a Revolving Commerce Fund for new and existing businesses.”
“O.K.,” we say, “what’s that going to run us?”
“Probably about $100 million, but this battery holds a 50 million volt charge for both new and existing businesses.”
“That seems pretty steep. Could we go for a different model?”
“Sure, but I don’t think you’ll get optimal performance out of them. The other bonus with this model is it acts as it’s own alternator. Loan Payments charge the battery.”
The engine isn’t broken, per se, but maintenance is required. We could use an oil change.
“You, see,” says the mechanic, “Your engine is designed to be lubricated by manufacturing, but overseas markets have caused a crack in the oil pan, causing the textile and dye mills of yore to move overseas, and there’s little chance they’re coming back. You need a different grade of oil in the 21st century. If your engine is built for manufacturing, look to green tech, building, and energy.”
If we want our economy to work in the future, we have to a) make sure we have one, and b) prioritize what we’ll need in that future. Green sector jobs create swaths of jobs over the entire spectrum of skill sets.
Let’s say that Panasonic decides to open a solar panel plant here. Not only does the company need the designers and engineers to envision a product, they also need people to work on the production line, in the warehouse, make deliveries, and clean up the office.
Green design and building also employs people throughout the economic strata. One again, designers, architects and engineers have a place in this business, but so do the carpenters, welders, machinery operators, clerks, project managers, and dudes who lug stuff around the site.
Industries that have yet to be born in Rhode Island like waste conversion to energy are waiting for the state to step up and say ‘Yes’ to the future economy. Renewable energy companies are floundering in Rhode Island, waiting for the state to say ‘Yes’ to self-sustenance. The building trades are waiting for the state to say ‘Yes’ to being part of the solution.
Efficiency has to be the first step. Lowering electric bills puts more money in everyone’s pocket. Companies that have embraced efficiency are seeing significant benefits. Banneker, a logistics and supply company based in N. Smithfield, took on several efficiency initiatives, and lowered their operating cost by 60 percent. Not 60 percent off overhead, 60 percent off of the entire budget!
The mechanic also notices worn belts and hoses. He recommends some serious investments in public infrastructure and transit to fix what can be fixed, and nix what can be nixed.
A Note on Transmissions
The transmission in our R.I.-mobile is a healthy and thriving middle class. As long as the middle class has a few extra bucks in their collective pockets, they will spend it. A well maintained middle-class transmission is the only thing that will get this old jalopy moving forward.
As for Mattiello’s mantra, I think the next time I hear the words ‘jobs’, ‘economy’, ‘corporate tax’, and ‘estate tax’ in the same sentence, I will immediately picture him standing on the side of the road, smoke billowing from under the hood of his car as he tries to peer in, and not having the vaguest inkling of a clue what he’s looking at, or how to fix it.