PATRIOT LEDGER: Opportunities for economic growth in the new year As originally appearing in The Patriot Ledger
BY JAMES T. BRETT
2016 was a year of great uncertainty for the business community here in New England as the nation awaited the outcome of the historic election.
As 2017 gets underway, President-elect Trump’s administration continues to take shape and we are slowly learning more about his priorities and plans to work with the 115th Congress to advance policy that will promote economic growth.
As leaders in the business community await more details about the new president’s plans and seek opportunities to provide feedback and insight, the New England Council is hopeful that the new year and new leadership in Washington will bring about some positive changes for our region’s economy.
One area where we are likely to see action under the new Administration is an issue that has an impact on all businesses, from the small local business to the huge global corporation: taxes.
There has been much discussion in recent years about the need to update our federal tax code and make reforms to help businesses to grow and create jobs, but little action. Now we have a president who campaigned on a pledge to fix our broken tax system — perhaps even in his first 100 days in office – and a Republican-controlled Congress that seems eager to work with him. In fact, the president-elect’s plans align significantly with proposals put forth by GOP leaders by lowering the corporate tax and eliminating alternative minimum tax, both of which would be welcomed by the business community.
New England is fortunate that the dean of our delegation, Rep. Richard Neal, is the new ranking member on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, ensuring that our interests will be represented in any tax reform efforts.
Another one of the new administration’s stated top priorities – and one that the president-elect has vowed to act on soon after he takes office – is a trillion-dollar infrastructure investment plan. Then need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure is an area where leaders on both sides of the aisle can agree.
Infrastructure improvements would make it easier for businesses to move products and people, create new construction jobs, and make the US more globally competitive. Anyone who has spent time on the roads in New England knows that our aging infrastructure is in dire need of improvements. In 2015, over 1800 bridges in New England were rated structurally deficient by the federal government. At the same time, from over the past 20 years, there were an additional 1.24 million drivers on our roads in New England. One of the biggest concerns about the President-Elect’s plan, however, is the funding mechanism. His proposal would offer $137 billion in federal tax credits to private investors to back transportation projects. The concern with this approach is that some of the most critical upgrades – like fixing those structurally deficient bridges and other existing roadways without tolls – would be ignored. Nevertheless, the new administration’s commitment to infrastructure investment is promising, and we are hopeful that the new president will work with leaders in Congress to find a way to ensure that the most critical problems are addressed.
On the campaign trail, we heard a lot from Mr. Trump about cutting “red tape” and eliminating unnecessary federal regulations. In particular, he has indicated an interest in scaling back aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform act. Many institutions – particularly some of the smaller community banks and credit unions which are so important in our region – have found Dodd-Frank regulations to be incredibly burdensome, which is frustrating since these are not the institutions responsible for the financial crisis. Republican Congressional leaders have been talking for some time about scaling back some of the Dodd-Frank rules, and in fact a House bill that would do just that has gotten traction in recent months. And so with President Trump in the White House this is another area where we are likely to see some changes that will benefit the region’s business community.
Of course there is still a great level of uncertainty about many other critical economic issues, such as the Trump Administration’s approach to trade policy and the future of the Affordable Care Act. But The New England Council is hopeful that the new president will follow through on some of these more promising proposals that could benefit our region’s economy, and we remain committed to working with the business community to ensure that our voices are heard in Washington in the months ahead.
James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.