Parlez-Vous ‘Broke,’ Eliot?

| Media Coverage

The winds of economic change are blowing: French voters want their country to be more like America – even as Eliot Spitzer seeks to reshape New York’s economy into something very much resembling the failed French model.

Spitzer wants to impose what would be, in effect, yet another tax on New York’s beleaguered productive sector: a requirement that businesses buy insurance to cover paid family leaves for workers.

The gov seems to think New York’s status as America’s most-taxed state (re-confirmed by a new report last week) isn’t squeezing business hard enough.

Spitzer promised to be different.

The day he took office, he vowed that “every policy, every action and every decision” he made would “further two overarching objectives” – to make government “ethical and wise” and the economy “ready to compete on the global stage.”

As fiscal expert E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy puts it: “It’s hard to see how any new employer mandate . . . is going to help promote economic growth.”

Of course it won’t.

And Spitzer knows that.

Nevertheless, he quickly embraced organized labor and its muscular agent, the Working Families Party, which is behind the paid-leave bill.

Now, the new mandate – checks of up to $170 a week for 12 weeks to workers on leave caring for family members – seems modest enough.

But you can be sure it’s just the first step in an escalating trend: Once the unions establish the practice, their next goal will be to get Spitzer & Co. to up the ante – as much and as often as possible.

And, again, the new paid-leave costs would be on top of New York’s already whopping $5,770 per-capita state and local tax hit, the stiffest in the nation.

Meanwhile, Spitzer is pretending the new mandate will be free: “We think when businesses understand that this does not transfer the cost to them, we think the business community will strongly support this,” his aide says.

The aide is referring to the fact that firms would be allowed to shift some of the cost to workers, deducting up to 45 cents a week from paychecks.

Now, there’s no way that the deduction would fully cover the added costs.

But, in any case, the extra insurance isn’t free – whether it’s workers or their bosses who pay for it.

How ironic that, under Spitzer, New York is handing more power to public-sector unions – that is, searching for new ways to reduce productivity – even as traditionally socialistic nations like France, Germany, Britain and Canada move in the opposite direction.

As George Will noted on these pages yesterday, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France may prompt a serious effort to confront the destructive by-products of its union-driven, welfare-state economy.

Sarkozy, Will noted, promises to lower taxes – particularly those that discourage business activity – to help reverse the nation’s chronic unemployment.

Germans, meanwhile, moved their nation in a similar direction by electing Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2005.

Britain, of course, threw off the welfare-state yoke nearly 30 years ago with the election of Margaret Thatcher.

And Canada, a welfare-state bastion, elected Stephen Harper – a free-market economist – prime minister last year.

The fact is that New York’s economy is increasingly a one-trick pony.

The billions now being thrown off by Wall Street mask a critical fact: More than a million New Yorkers left the Empire State since 2000 – many, if not most, for lack of economic opportunity.

Eliot Spitzer did indeed promise to march to a different drummer.

Now he’s doing just that.

More’s the pity.

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