The chairman of the state Republican Party says recent jobless numbers that show Rhode Island’s already-high unemployment rate climbing in July puts the lie to the claims by General Assembly leaders that they took effective steps to boost the economy during the legislative session that ended last month.
“The Rhode Island economy is still on life support as evidenced by the unemployment rate which actually rose in July to 8.9 percent, all the while (House Speaker) Gordon Fox and (Senate President) Teresa Paiva-Weed were bragging about their so-called accomplishments in this area,” GOP Chairman Mark Smiley said.
Smiley told The Times Monday that he was irked by statements the House and
Senate leaders made “about how wonderful they were and how much good they did to the economy and then the first number out of the gate after they close the session is the rising unemployment number. So the first indication was, it was a total failure.”
The July unemployment rate was reported at 8.9 percent, up one point from the 8.8 percent adjusted rate for June. From late last fall through early spring of this year, the jobless rate had been steadily falling.
The chairman said he is also “not satisfied” with the performance of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican who recently became a Democrat after spending a few years, and being elected governor, as an Independent “by a long shot.”
In an essay sent out to local newspapers after the session completed, Fox and Paiva Weed said, “With the economy still stagnant and too many Rhode Islanders unemployed, we came into the 2013 session with a renewed sense of urgency to build upon these recent reforms and improve economic development in Rhode Island.
“Our approach was multi-faceted and responsive to the needs of the business community, from addressing codes and regulations, to health care and energy costs. Both legislative chambers focused throughout the session on economic development as the top priority. We worked together with Governor Chafee’s administration, academia, the nonprofit sector and private industry.”
In an e-mail sent out on Monday, House Spokesman Larry Berman said, “The steps taken by the General Assembly on a bipartisan basis this session involve significant restructuring of the way the state approaches economic development. The economy does not magically turn around in a short period of time as the Republican chairman might suggest. But with the proper planning, vision and strategies in place, a foundation is being built for sustainable long-term growth.”
Asked what the legislature should have done, Smiley said in a telephone interview: “They might have listened to the Republicans. There were a lot of proposals the Republicans came out with – as a tiny, little caucus, they had a lot of good ideas and absolutely none of them saw the light of day.
“If you want to make a better business climate, you’ve got to get off of the businesses’ backs,” Smiley asserted. “We put in legislation to get rid of the franchise tax, which is nothing more than a tax for being in business; whether you make money or not, you have to pay this.”
Another good idea would have been more oversight and investigation into Medicare fraud, he said. “They increased DMV (Division of Motor Vehicle) fees 300 percent; they put tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge; the increased TDI requirements (to include up to four weeks paid leave to care for a sick family member or bond with a new child). That’s certainly not good for business.
“If you are a business owner on Aquidneck Island, that toll is a killer,” Smiley said. The toll is currently 10 cents per trip over the bridge, but officials say that is just a temporary step to allow a much heavier toll later, probably during the next legislative session.
In a written statement, Smiley said, “The 2013 session was supposed to be all about jobs and the economy and aside from a few minor tweaks they focused on social issues and calamari. So much for their renewed sense of urgency! If they spent as much time working to create jobs and fix our economy as they did on back door deals to pay 38 Studios bondholders, our state would be much better off. Now our citizens have to once again pay the price for the partisanship of the Democrats.”
Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron