Rhode Island’s Beef with Business

When the “public option” fell out of the healthcare debate, I made the point that the legislation was the public option. The rules and restrictions under which our healthcare system must operate and bureaucratic presumption of dictating rates and expenditures make it, de facto, a creature of government design. There’s something similar hindering business operation in Rhode Island.
Michael Morse’s Engaged Citizen post, the other day, gave the worthwhile testimony that initial paperwork and fees weren’t excessively burdensome. Of course, that’s from the point of view of a man with some savings who determined to open a full-time storefront business. The calculation changes for folks with more drive than resources who want to ease into a business as a part-time affair.
More importantly, Michael’s argument, like a legislative package that the General Assembly unveiled yesterday to make “it easier to do business in Rhode Island,” is largely beside the point. In the General Assembly’s case, one could argue that it’s a smokescreen.
Assuming all of its components make it through the legislative gauntlet, the package makes some common sense changes, such as combining required paperwork into an online form and allowing government agencies to operate together and simultaneously when handling incipient businesses. But mention of taxes is nowhere to be found, and easing of mandates and regulations is danced in a circle. Consider the provision dealing with “Fire Code reforms”:

… this legislation provides that fire alarm, smoke detection and carbon monoxide plans would have to be approved or denied within 15 days, instead of the current 90 days. To ensure that the fire code is enforced consistently, all assistant and deputy fire marshals would be required to participate in standardized national training and certification as determined by the state fire marshal. Approval of plans and construction of some buildings could be expedited, with the approval of the State Fire Marshal, if prepared and supervised by a professional engineer or architect. All other inspections and approvals would be conducted within timeframes to be established by the State Fire Marshal, not to exceed 90 days.

The problem with fire code regulations is that they’re too onerous. For a non-business example, Tiverton has spent millions of dollars on new school buildings because recent changes to the fire code made them unsuitable for their intended purposes. In both the private and public sectors, requirements for construction add thousands of dollars to any project. If anything, this legislation increases mandates by requiring towns to hire new staff to meet requirements and ensure that employees can attend all necessary training.
The only component of the legislative package that actually touches on changes to regulations and mandates — as opposed to applying them more rapidly — is that old do-nothing mechanism of a panel to make reports:

This legislation, sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag, Jr. (D-Dist. 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) and Rep. Peter F. Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport), establishes the Office of Regulatory Reform within the EDC, to review Rhode Island’s regulatory processes and permitting procedures for businesses in an effort to further improve them. Each municipality would be granted the authority to appoint a liaison responsible for coordinating with the Office of Regulatory Reform. The Office will publish an annual report on the regulatory processes of state and municipal agencies and permitting authorities for the purpose of: encouraging agencies to improve procedures and reduce paperwork burdens impacting small business; making recommendations for simplification of regulatory processes, and making proposals to any agency for consideration of amendment or repeal of existing rules or procedures which may be obsolete, harmful or burdensome. The Office of Regulatory Reform would have the authority to intervene in regulatory or permitting matters before state agencies and municipal boards, commissions, agencies and subdivisions for the purpose of assuring efficient and consistent implementation of rules and regulations in order to foster the creation and retention of jobs in Rhode Island.

The wording of the statute could make a big difference, but this new office seems only to add one more government official into the mix of manipulation and noise-making. The reaction of big government to complaints that it isn’t responsive to a particular constituency is too often to create another bureaucratic entity in the name of the unheeded group. Legislators, themselves, are supposed to be the people’s voice in government, and this package does nothing about representatives who continue to present legislation with a “there oughtta be a law” mentality and refuse to ease up on their own financial demands in order to lower taxes.

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13 years ago

I wrote the article mentioned above after reading something in the Projo about how difficult it is to do business in Rhode Island, and how the GA had a plan to simplify things. Thanks for posting this, I couldn’t find the editorial that got me going.

David S
David S
13 years ago

I am forced to agree with you again. Trying to legislate efficiency is like attempting to herd cats, or libertarians.
My own personal take on this is that there are better towns to do business in than others. Both expect the same laws and rules will be followed. But some towns just seem more agreeable than others. Applying for a building permit in Town A, is simply, timewise, hasslewise, interpersonal wise, just much better than Town B (Warwick).
My conclusion is that it has nothing to do with the regulations and laws. It has to do with the application and commitment to good government.

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