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The Small Business Economic Summit is the tail that wags the General Assembly



“I haven’t missed one of these summits since I was elected,” said Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) to the attendees of the 2018 Rhode Island Small Business Economic Summit Tuesday morning. “It’s an honor to be here.”

The structure of the late morning/early afternoon portion of the Summit consists of getting political luminaries such as the Speaker, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, State Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor on stage to listen to ideas generated earlier in the day by business owners and supporters in “breakout sessions.” The breakout sessions are divided into seven categories: economic development, healthcare, taxes and budget, regulations, emerging markets, Main Street and workforce development.

“We all have the same goal,” said Mattiello to the assembled small business owners, politicians and allies present. “Help our small businesses create an environment that’s conducive to job growth. My mantra: Jobs and the Economy.”

The Speaker was particularly proud of the fact that much of what the Small Business Economic Summit has wished for since its inception 13 years ago has been granted by the General Assembly. Grafton H “Cap” Willey, who headed up the breakout session on Taxes & Budget, provided a partial list of wins:

  • personal income tax reform,
  • creation of the department of revenue,
  • pension reform,
  • property tax cap,
  • corporate tax reform,
  • estate tax reform,
  • repeal of the franchise tax,
  • increasing direct expensing,
  • provisions to the federal limits,
  • removing the sales tax on energy costs,
  • reducing the minimum tax to $400,
  • enacting some property tax reform by phasing out the car tax,
  • providing some relief for retirement income,
  • holding the line on broad-based tax increases,
  • fighting against binding arbitration,

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“These are important actions and many of them got their start right here,” said Willey, looking at Mattielllo, “What it tells us is that you’re listening to us, and you’re implementing these changes.”

Then, with praise turning to warning, Willey said, “The critical thing is that we don’t need any backpedaling on these.”

Later, when Mattiello had the microphone, he said, “You know, when you hear ‘Cap’ Willey testify about all of the things that were previously recommended and the things that we [the General Assembly] got done, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel like your time is being well invested… Collaboratively we’re getting things done.”

Willey presented Mattiello with the Small Business Economic Summit wishlist (Note that this is the wishlist from just one of seven breakout sessions. Six other people also had a list of requests for the General Assembly Tuesday morning.):

  • “We oppose any broad based tax increases, that goes without saying.
  • “We support more control on state spending and department budget overruns should not be acceptable.
  • “We support the continuation of the phaseout of the car tax.
  • “We believe the estate tax – we are now one of 13 states that have estate taxes – we’re the third lowest exemption now because we’ve stood a little bit still – we’re only behind Massachusetts and Oregon – we’re again becoming an outlier – we’re not proposing immediate elimination – but we are proposing an interim change to exempt small businesses and family farms from the estate tax and then continue increasing our exemption [to] eventually be where the Feds are.
  • “We support a statute of limitations on tax collections over ten years, which is what the Federal statute of limitations is.
  • “We also support the reduction of the usurious eighteen percent interest rate on past due accounts that goes back to the Carter years.
  • “Finally, we want to see every bill heard before the committee in the General Assembly have a sponsor’s economic impact statement.
  • “I would challenge the members of the General Assembly to organize a pro-growth, pro jobs caucus in each chamber, that would promote and improve our business competitiveness. These caucuses could go across party lines and we need to know who is going to support economic growth and who is with us.”

Grafton H “Cap” Willey

Speaker Mattiello seemed in full agreement. “We’re going to continue to work on our taxes so that we are competitive with other states and we continue to rise the tide and lift all boats,” said the Speaker, channeling either JFK or Reagan. “We will continue to listen to you so I hope that in a few more years when we come back that we’ll get another report that we have a lot of the requests that were made today that were in fact accomplished.”

“Cap” Willey had more to say- not for the Speaker- but for the Small Business owners in the room. It took the form of a call to action. It was a call to invest in politicians, like Mattiello, who would see to their interests.

“I also challenge the people in this room,” said Willey. “That they need to become more active in their governmental process, and participate, and actually make cash investments in the political process. We have a saying that we’re using, it’s ‘economic growth,’ it’s ‘a business climate,’ it’s ‘jobs.’

“Historically businesses have not invested in the political process and have tended to sit on the sidelines. Those things have to change. I use a quote that came out of Washington around 2000 and been attributable to Senator [Michael] Enzi [Republican] from Wyoming: ‘If you’re not at the table, you will be on the menu.”

(applause, laughter)

“In all seriousness,” continued Willey, ominously, “there are forces out there that want to tax and regulate you out of business, and they’re making the investments to do so. You need to step up and make investments now. That means you need to be active. Know and let your representatives know your thoughts. Be prepared to financially support these representatives that are willing to step forward and represent your interests. They need your support and we need to be supporting them.”

Also in attendance at the summit were Representatives Patricia Morgan (Republican, District 26, West Warwick), Deborah Ruggiero (Democrat, District 74, Jamestown), Robert Lancia (Republican, District 16, Cranston), Joseph Solomon (Democrat, District 22, Warwick), Jason Knight (Democrat, District 67, Warren) and Robert Phillips (Democrat, District 51, Woonsocket).