Unfinished General Assembly session leaves major business issues up in the air

PBN FILE PHOTOS/MICHAEL SALERNO
PBN FILE PHOTOS/MICHAEL SALERNO

The General Assembly’s abrupt ending to its legislative session left several bills in limbo, including most notably the $9.2 billion tax-and-spending plan for fiscal 2018.

For the business community, legislation of import left behind included a proposed minimum wage hike, tax levies, state aid for education and – perhaps most importantly – paid sick leave.

“The issue around sick leave is obviously very pivotal,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. “There are tons of implications for the proposed legislation for all employers, not just businesses.”

The 2017 legislative session could have been described as relatively smooth for most of the year, but a disagreement at the end among leadership quickly drove it into chaos.

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House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, abruptly sent his fellow lawmakers in the House home after hearing that his counterpart, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-North Providence, was planning an amendment to the hallmark of his political agenda: A multimillion dollar car-tax cut.

The political jockeying resulted in the same budget failing to pass both houses, reverting all state tax and spending back to fiscal 2017 levels.

Aside from the car tax issue, paid sick leave might be the undone legislation with the biggest impact. The measure to mandate compensation for employees out sick is largely opposed by business owners, although advocates note that it did – in separate forms – pass both the House and Senate, meaning its eventual passage is likely inevitable.

“Perhaps companies that don’t have a personnel policy regarding sick leave will now work on one,” wrote John C. Gregory, president and CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, in an email.

Erin Donovan-Boyle, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, said the uncertainty surrounding paid sick leave legislation concerns her moving forward.

“We were hopeful some moderate approach would have passed this year, but nothing has gone into effect thus far, so that raises questions about next year,” Donovan-Boyle said.

Many employers are also keeping a close eye on the minimum wage hike proposed as part of the budget. The measure would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by Jan. 1, 2019, with an intermediary increase going into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

White is also concerned about state aid for schools, and taxes on commercial property and assets, echoing Donovan-Boyle’s point about uncertainty.

“Property tax levies are an uncertainty, and businesses don’t like conditions that are uncertain,” she said.

Donovan-Boyle hopes state leaders will reach some sort of agreement for the sake of all interested parties.

“It’s important to see our leadership come to a consensus and identify what our state’s priorities should be,” she said.

Eli Sherman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Sherman@PBN.com, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.