and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
April #5

'Progressive' policies pushing business,
residents out of the Bay State
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 27, 2006

Paid family leave: This is either a late April Fool's Day joke or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should be on suicide watch.

Here we are, one of only two states to lose population; with the sixth highest tax burden in the nation, a national reputation for high cost of doing business and a brand-new bill making ours the first state to mandate health insurance, details to follow. And this week Senate President Robert Travaglini announces it's time to mandate three months of paid family leave with a new weekly tax on employees to pay for it.

Yes, along with our winter weather and everything else that discourages job creation here, we would have the "most generous" mandatory paid leave policy in the country. Eventually, of course, the new employee tax will increase and be joined by a new tax on employers. These focused "specialty taxes" are the Massachusetts' Legislature's latest toy.

There's the tax on self-paying nursing home patients to help pay for Medicaid patients. The tax on cigarette smokers to pay for health care for the poor. A tax on drivers to pay for treatment of head injuries. And a tax on employers who provide health insurance to pay for the uninsured.

There is a rumor that the Senate president is leaving the Legislature. So the immediate question is which goes first: Travaglini or the state's economy?

Certainly, if he goes to work in the private sector, Travaglini may learn something about real jobs: That unlike most legislators' jobs, they require actually showing up for work most of the time.

Legislators come and go, and no one misses most of them. But in the private sector, success can depend upon a trained team of workers doing actual work. Giving one or more of them three months off can adversely affect everyone who depends on them.

Businesses survive by offering customers a useful product or a service at a competitive price. Business owners need the help of employees to accomplish this goal, so working people get a chance to support themselves and their families. If a business doesn't survive, its employees must find other jobs or leave for greener pastures if there are any.

Government has a role to play in making sure that businesses provide the safest possible work environment, and to make sure that contracts are upheld. Government should step in when employers fail to fund their pension plans, or neglect to pay the health-insurance premiums, leaving employees high and dry without warning.

Some businesses may determine that their best interest is served if employees are healthy and happy, and try to create a supportive workplace. But we're better off not counting on employers for anything but our paychecks, and then negotiating to maximize them, rather than confusing the issue with talk of benefits and nanny-projects.

Let us buy our own health insurance, set up our own retirement accounts, and save for family emergencies. And, since it's so important to government for us to have these, let us do it all with pre-tax dollars.

Let all employees be aware of the impact of business taxes and mandates on their pay. Let employers and employees comprehend together that government intrusion impacts all of their bottom lines.

Massachusetts cannot escape the new world order. As businesses across the nation resist being used as government's beast of burden, or run by its unions, they outsource jobs overseas to workers who are grateful to have them. Or hire illegal immigrants. Or begin to develop robots to take the place of entitled, demanding humans.

Eventually, ex-workers will have lots of free time to hang out with their families, though the money to feed, shelter and clothe them may be in short supply.

Massachusetts has taken pride in being "first in the nation" with "progressive" policies. We seem to be accelerating our role as harbinger of an unpleasant future for working Americans. But instead of seeing the danger, Massachusetts unions demand a higher minimum wage and more benefits, then get the Senate president to propose mandatory paid family leave.

You can force higher wages and benefits, guys, but you can't create or mandate jobs. Your attitude is out of the 20th, if not the 19th, century. Surviving in this century requires a whole new plan.

Everyone should read Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat," which is still on the best-seller lists. He explains our need to compete with India, China and other lower-cost countries. But read with a critical mind, and note that this liberal New York Times columnist doesn't address the union demands that are as outdated as lifetime jobs with one company. He preaches the need for a more educated, innovative workforce without ever daring to say that the teachers unions, with their government education monopoly, can't or won't do the job.

Workers of America, unite. Get government and the unions off your backs before it's too late. And workers of Massachusetts, forget about paid family leave and hope for continued employment and lower taxes to fund your own ongoing needs.

The Legislature should test drive this new bright idea and give its own staffers paid family leave for the next three months. Like most bosses when their vital employees are absent, legislators won't be able to function, and the commonwealth may yet be saved.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.