Carol Anne Costa: Bigger Fish To Fry With RI Business Reforms

Thursday, May 02, 2013


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With the “calamari legislation” on the back burner, it seems Speaker Fox and the leadership team at the General Assembly thankfully cast their nets for a much bigger catch. A package of 18 bills is simmering in the house with the hope to deliver workforce, economic, and education development; a total remake of the Economic Development Corporation, regulatory reform, and long awaited streamlining for RI small business. And, yes I am buoyed by the prospects of a comprehensive package of pro business legislation that seems to have listened to the needs of the public, as well as the cries of folks who have lost faith in the current state of the EDC.

The package as introduced has a long way to go in the General Assembly, but this move represents a start. Similarly, Governor Chafee and the Senate have also moved pro business legislation, yet it appears on its face Speaker Fox and his leadership team have developed a package that is exceedingly comprehensive. The 18 bill bundle, like a guppy, must navigate its way through the often treacherous waters which surge beneath the dome. But, I remain hopeful the package of bills will meet as many caretakers as sharks and together, make doing business in the Ocean State fair, accessible, pleasurable, and profitable for big business, entrepreneurs, innovators, small business, and labor. In turn, boost the economies of all families living in Rhode Island. It will take the efforts of many to get this catch in the boat. The hope is that the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office can work together in symphony in order to make Rhode Island more business-friendly.

The package of legislation contains many bills which could stand alone but also contains significant measures focused toward a wholesale remake of the EDC, as well as relaxed regulations for businesses. At the April 25, 2013 press conference and rollout, House Finance Chair, Helio Mello (D-East Providence), indicated as much, “Many of these bills could stand on their own, but a good portion of them have to do with restructuring the EDC and putting together the Office of Secretary of Commerce.” A remake of the EDC appears to be a welcome idea as the unfortunate and costly 38 Studios debacle unfolds before our eyes. I sat in a constituent forum last evening sponsored by my Representative, Michael Marcello (D-Scituate/Cranston) where the multitude of questions, concerns, and outright anger was focused on the EDC and its role in the 38 Studios deal. Former Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly did not escape the wrath of the voters either, as the discussion was directed at just how RI finds itself holding the proverbial $75 million dollar bag. So perhaps it is time for a change.

Will EDC as we know it walk the plank?

Although Chairman Mello referred to the move with EDC as a restructure, it looks more to be a complete makeover. The package in part does several things to rework directing, reporting and developing business including, but not limited to (as summarized in the RI Legislative Press Release from 4-25-2013 ):

  • Creates the Executive Office of Commerce headed by a Secretary of Commerce, transfers many functions currently assigned to the Department of Business Regulations, Department of Labor and Training, the Department of Environmental Management and the Department of Administration to it to align functions and improve coordination of processes for the business community.
  • Creates a Council of Economic Advisors from the public and private sectors to collect and publish economic data, and advise with the Governor and Secretary of Commerce.
  • Replaces the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (RICC), with the Secretary of Commerce as its chairman and CEO. There would be a COO to run RICC. Establishes guidelines for financial program oversight and evaluation.

Lifting the anchor on regulation

Talk to any business person in RI and it does not take long to describe a myriad of confusing, duplicitous and disjointed regulations that weigh down and often act as a deterrent to either starting or growing a business. The fact is, in order to reinvigorate our struggling economy it takes private business ventures to be a robust part of that dynamic. Healthy businesses pay taxes, hire people and tend to be good corporate citizens. RI government should be a partner as opposed to a hurdle in that relationship. We have heard this reform speak before, but this time it seems to have a real chance, especially if the leadership keeps pushing. Our economy and middle class depend on it.

Perhaps if this plan and in particular, pieces of it, remove the weight of over-regulation and even throw a lifeline of regulatory reform, then progress can be made. A bill being moved by Joy Hearn (D-East Providence, Barrington) is a piece of the package which would allow private employers to pay employees on a two-week cycle. Current law mandates pay periods be one-week in length. (You can review the US Department of Labor state-by-state pay schedule table here.) 

Rhode Island is one of only 9 states that have similar mandates. The Hearn-sponsored bill is a small measure of reform that will go a long way to help employers, particularity small businesses, to save time and resources in order to reinvest in their businesses, employees and communities. President Barack Obama, said in his 2nd Inaugural Address “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class,” I agree with the President and I believe this package of legislation is designed to directly help the middle class and thereby strengthen RI’s overall economy.

A rising tide lifts all boats

I find myself hopeful that the upcoming debate and vetting of this package of bills does not resemble an episode of “The Deadliest Catch”, but more like “The American Sportsman” you remember, the awesome Curt Gowdy and friends wrestling mightily with a marlin or sailfish and ultimately getting in the boat. It always took hard work, team spirit and then most of the time, success. So let us hope we can get true pro business and regulatory reform accomplished, as the entire state will benefit. 

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A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol Anne Costa has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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