The Cost of Our Legislators

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is out with a brief analysis of estimated costs to taxpayers, ratepayers, and the economy of fifteen bills that went through the legislative process, coming up with a total cost over $6 billion.  Luckily, most of the bills didn’t get very far, but the success of a few union-wishlist items this past session proves that the public can’t afford to wait until legislation is imminent to get involved.

Given our limited resources, the Center couldn’t do anything that could claim to be comprehensive, but this review certainly is instructional.  Consider the $49 million estimated cost for paid time off (or “sick time,” if you prefer).  This bill is on track to make it into law next month, and yet, this is the first number I’ve seen anybody put to the issue, despite the back-and-forth between the House and Senate over what-sized companies to exempt and so on.

How can our legislators debate policy language — much less impose it as the law of the state — without a sense of the cost to the people who live and do business in the state?  The only way to characterize that process is irresponsible.

Keep in mind that the total price tag understates the case.  Nationally, 72% of all employees have a paid-sick-leave benefit, which goes up to 73% in New England.  Roughly speaking, that means the $49 million cost of this legislation would fall on about one-quarter of the state’s employers, skewing heavily toward private-sector employees.

For all of these employers, there is some reason they aren’t offering the benefit already.  Sure, some of them may just be greedy bosses who are willing to force their employees into a miserable, contagious environment, but for many others, paid sick leave may just not make sense.  It could be that some employees actually deliberately requested some other benefit or pay boost rather than take such a benefit.  (Regarding those greedy bosses, one imagines they’d go out of business for lack of employees pretty quickly, a process that the state government could accelerate by taking some of the shackles off of our economy.)

This same principle applies to the biggest cost-driver in the report: single-payer health care.  Like paid time off, this legislation was submitted by twenty-something progressive Democrat Representative from Providence, Aaron Regunberg, and like paid time off, debate is high on ideological assertions and moral posturing and short on discussion of costs.  Starting with an analysis by a far-left economist predisposed to make single-payer look attractive, we determined that the cost would be $5.4 billion, which is more than 10% of our state’s economy.

This whole approach to government should be squashed.  We need freedom and opportunity, because if Rhode Island government has proven anything, it’s that people can govern their own lives better than a handful of insiders can.

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