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A bigger role for small business

Minimum wage, energy policies are key to plan

For the Massachusetts business establishment, the prospect of Grace Ross , the Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate, actually getting elected might sound like a nightmare.

Ross wants the state's richest residents to pay $3 billion a year more in taxes. She's for wiping out $1 billion in corporate tax breaks, including special state tax deals for Fidelity Investments and Raytheon Co. And she'd push to raise the minimum hourly wage that employers are mandated to pay employees, currently $6.75, not just by the 75 cents promised Jan. 1 -- but to as much as $18.

But Ross, in an appearance on the New England Cable News program "This Week in Business" being shown this afternoon, said there's much in the Green-Rainbow platform for capitalists to like.

"I think I'm going to be a mixed bag for the business community" if elected governor, Ross said, acknowledging "I'm going to change a lot of things, if I can get the Legislature to go along with me," that big corporations would fiercely oppose.

Ross added, though, "I think I'm going to be a dream for the small-business community. I think they're going to say, 'Oh, my God, this is what it looks like to have a governor who actually believes in us.' "

Ross faces an uphill battle in the race for governor. In a Boston Globe/CBS4 poll of Bay State voters published Friday, just 2 percent of voters said they would back her Nov. 7. But earning widespread plaudits for her intelligent performances in each of the four televised gubernatorial debates, Ross, a 45-year-old Harvard-educated professional community activist from Worcester, has succeeded in gaining broad attention for the populist, Green-Rainbow view of how the economy and society should be organized.

Ross is the last of the gubernatorial candidates to be interviewed on the NECN program. Lieutenant Governor Kerry M. Healey , the Republican nominee; independent candidate Christy Mihos ; and Democrat Deval L. Patrick have appeared in previous weeks.

One of Ross's signature issues has been pushing for a steep increase in the state minimum wage. Referring to the concept of requiring employers to pay what it costs a full-time worker to live where they work, Ross said, "To be a living wage, it has to be in the $16 to $18 range. And remember, we never get there overnight. So it's not like, 'Oh, my God, we're going to put everybody out of business.' But what we do is we put more money in the local economy."

Mainstream economists typically criticize proposals for steep hikes in the minimum wage, saying they cause businesses to eliminate entry-level jobs or to move them offshore.

But Ross's opinion is: "That's just not true. It helps small business. It's been done successfully pretty much everywhere it's been done. The level of the minimum wage is the best determiner of how well small businesses do. It makes sense. The small businesses are the ones that are most dependent on the folks who have money locally to spend -- not the people who are rushing off to Switzerland to spend their extra money."

Ross also said small businesses would be prime beneficiaries of her sweeping plan for replacing private health insurance with a government-administered health care system that avoids tax increases by shifting administrative costs into direct care and cuts pharmaceutical costs through bulk purchasing deals.

In the field of energy, Ross advocates back yard wind turbines and rooftop solar panels, which she said in sufficient numbers could completely replace natural gas, coal, and nuclear-powered generating stations as sources of electricity in the state.

State government could offer homeowners and small businesses loans to install solar and wind power units that, with savings from utility rates, could be repaid within three to seven years, Ross said, with the additional benefit of creating thousands of installation jobs for electricians, carpenters, and tradespeople.

Noting the area's many startup solar and wind power companies, which the three other candidates call a leading local industry they want to promote, Ross said, "The wonderful thing about it for business is a lot of this industry is young and is in Massachusetts. If we create a local market by having the state give low and no interest loans, we will give them a huge push, without protectionist policies, to build this industry in the next few years in Massachusetts, and it positions us for an international industry which we've got here at home, and that will bring real industrial jobs back into the state.

"It's perfect, and it provides jobs, solves environmental stuff, gives control and economic health to our local communities and local businesses, and it positions us internationally," Ross said. "You can't ask for better."

Peter J. Howe can be reached at

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