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Democratic policies don't align with rhetoric on business

The Democratic National Committee's party platform promises "to cut the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs." Similarly, Hillary Clinton says she will "cut regulations and will streamline them for small businesses." That sounds great to employers in Baltimore working through several years of a historically weak economy. Unfortunately, what I am seeing from candidates is more of the same bad policies that strangle business in red tape and taxes. As a Democrat myself, we need to look at actions, not words, if we are really interested in addressing income inequality, inner-city unemployment and lack of productivity that has created a "new normal" of economic stagnation.

Upon taking office, John F. Kennedy's key advisers urged him to attack unemployment with New Deal-type spending, but the president chose another path. Instead, Kennedy committed to an across-the-board cut in personal and corporate income taxes to boost economic growth and efficiency. Clearly, he understood the link between business and employment, asserting two years into his term that an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough profits and jobs.

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Kennedy understood those at the bottom of the economic ladder needed policies that backed them, and the best way to accomplish that is to embrace our market economy, not run away from it. What we have now are words that make it sound like the Democrats understand the need for private sector employment, but their actions show otherwise.

Many of these laws and regulations are not just bad, they are horrible. And they are conceived by people who have never signed a paycheck, never carried a line of credit, and never mortgaged their house to keep the lights on in a company. Let's start with Hillary Clinton.

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Her campaign promises to create good-paying jobs, foster a manufacturing renaissance, pursue an innovation agenda focused on science and technology and employ young people. Yet her proposed policies would help ensure the "new normal" of annual economic growth of less than 2 percent becomes the norm itself.

She would mandate that businesses provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to employees at 66 percent of current wages. Ms. Clinton would raise the federal minimum wage and supports the so-called "Fight for $15" campaign in communities across the country including Baltimore. And she backs the "Paycheck Fairness Act" to give women the "tools they need to fight discrimination at work."

Let's translate these policies into their effect on job seekers. Paid family and medical leave adds regulatory requirements and costs to employers, meaning they can't afford to hire more workers. Her position on the minimum wage would reduce hiring, impacting less-skilled youth in urban America the hardest. Not only would she raise the federal wage, but she is encouraging a patchwork of locally-mandated compensation levels. The practical effect: more businesses and jobs fleeing contributing to what is already the largest trade deficit in the history of the world. As for the Paycheck Fairness Act, it's a tool that will encourage lawsuits, adding further paperwork requirements and regulatory costs on employers at the expense of productivity gains.

Equally concerning for those interested in jobs is the abysmal voting history of our own elected officials. Maryland Business for Responsive Government rates General Assembly members on their votes affecting business. State Sen. Catherine Pugh, likely to be the next mayor of Baltimore, has a career rating of 35 percent. State Senator Jamie Raskin, likely to be the next Congressman from Montgomery County, is 20 percent. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, likely to be the next U.S. Senator, earned a 19 percent rating from the National Association of Manufacturers — lower than any member of Maryland's congressional delegation. These percentages are derived from comparisons to colleagues in their respective legislatures.

Among the statewide legislation MBRG considered in its report following the 2016 session is a state Senate measure that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The business group states the measure "invites litigation, benefits plaintiff lawyers and puts employers at higher risk." The bottom line: Marylanders are poised to give promotions to career politicians with poor records on creating jobs, and rescue former lieutenant governor Anthony Brown by sending him to Congress.

Where does this leave us? Democrats lost the governor's race two years ago because Larry Hogan made the election about economics, not ideology. Perhaps we are content ignoring that lesson and writing off the governorship. If we want to uphold the American idea of private sector job growth and realize its benefits, however, the policies of the Democratic party must align with its rhetoric.

Jay Steinmetz is CEO of Baltimore-based Barcoding Inc.; he serves on the Maryland Regulatory Reform Commission and is on the board of Maryland Business for Responsive Government. His email is jay.steinmetz@barcoding.com.

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