The torches and pitchforks were visible at the Massachusetts State House yesterday, as hundreds of angry small business owners from across the Commonwealth climbed Beacon Hill to demand relief from mounting regulations and high energy prices.

Many say they are being crushed by it all, and might not survive if voters approve several ballot questions this fall that would add to their burden significantly.

One of the ballot initiatives would increase the state's already highest-in-the-nation minimum wage from $11 dollars to $15 per hour. Even some liberal Democrats are questioning the wisdom of such a large increase. Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) was quoted by the State House News Service as saying, "I was like, 'Whoa, we just got to $11."

Another initiative asks voters to implement the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. This would allow workers to set aside a portion of their paychecks to pay for time off for emergencies that might arise. Problem is, it forces employers to match those deductions.

The third initiative is known as the "Millionaire Tax." It would allow the state to tax small business owners more if their combined personal and business incomes exceed a million dollars.

Under increasing pressure from very well organized social and labor organizations, and other special interest groups who are skilled at turning out crowds for legislative hearings, lawmakers are refusing to do their job and are deferring to these groups, who are using the initiative petition process to take their causes directly to the people via the ballot.

Now, you may be feeling less than sympathetic towards business, figuring these large corporations can absorb the added expense. Maybe some can. But we are talking here about the future of the local small business that is already trying to compete with the corporations and the internet while being clobbered by the state.

Should these three initiatives be approved by voters this fall, we could be looking at many more empty storefronts in our strip malls and downtowns. Massachusetts is already an extremely unfriendly state in which to do business. Adding more of a burden could have a chilling effect.

Lawmakers need to gut up and do their job by standing up to special interests and protecting our businesses and jobs.