CHAMBER INITIATIVES

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES PLATFORM

In order to develop its legislative platform, the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce, through its Government Affairs Committee, conducts research about issues affecting business. These efforts, combined with actively following and monitoring legislative activity since the close of last session, guide our efforts toward developing a platform for the upcoming legislative session. The platform is then reviewed, edited and approved by the Chamber’s Executive Committee and the Board of Directors for adoption. The platform was adopted by the Board of Directors on March 29, 2017.

Employer Health Care Tax

The “Employer Contribution to Health Care” provision within the Governor’s FY 2018 Budget is a proposed $2000 per employee tax that will likely hit most employers with 11, or more, full-time equivalent employees. The language of the proposal is located in the Outside Section 46: Employer Contribution to Health Care 2 of the Governor’s proposed FY2018 budget. This legal language is bad for almost all businesses in Massachusetts if it becomes law. While employers that do not offer health insurance will pay the $2000 penalty per employee, so will employers that may offer excellent health insurance to all of their employees. Many employers offering insurance will likely pay the tax because they fail to reach the employee take-up rate of 80% through no fault of their own.

 The Bristol County Chamber opposes the employer assessment because the growing shortfall at MassHealth, which provides health insurance to 1.9 million low-income Massachusetts residents, is attributable largely to problems arising from the ACA, and not from member employers.

Employer Paid Family Leave

A proposal working its way through the state legislature that could raise the cost of doing business is a bill requiring employers to provide employees with 26 weeks of paid family leave time. If passed, in addition to extended leave time for employee illnesses, this bill would mandate that virtually all MA employers provide family leave for up to 16 weeks for the birth/adoption of a child or to care for a relative, including spouse, parent, grandparent, in-law, child, or grandchild. Specifically, employers would be forced to pay workers a percentage of their salary during this leave, which could be up to $1,000 per week. Massachusetts would be the only state in the United States requiring employers to take on this burden.

 Recognizing that alternatives should be investigated in order to assist employees in addressing their health care needs, the Bristol County Chamber is in opposition to Employer Paid Family Leave as it is currently presented.

Millionaire's Tax Is One Vote Away from the Ballot

Under the referendum proposal, “ANY INCOME” over $1 million would be taxed at both the current flat rate and an additional 4 percent surtax, so that the new tax rate would be 9 percent, or more. The “any income” language means that this proposed amendment is especially concerning for small business owners who pay taxes as pass-through entities such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies, and “S” Corporations. As pass-through businesses, a company’s business income rather than the owner’s salary is taxed at the individual rate when the owner files their tax return. The real hit could occur when a business, or equipment is sold, or when an estate issue arises due to the death of an owner. If the constitutional amendment gets enough votes at the next Massachusetts constitutional convention, voters will weigh in on the measure in 2018. Ultimately, the measure amounts to a nearly $2 billion tax hike that mainly impacts small businesses in Massachusetts.

 The Bristol County Chamber is in opposition to the “Millionaire's Tax,” because it is a direct tax on businesses with no constitutional controls in place that ensure the captured revenues get allocated toward their stated purpose of supporting new infrastructure and education.

$15 Minimum Wage

Three-quarters of Massachusetts employers would face additional increases in their compensation costs if state lawmakers pass the $15 per hour minimum wage. Last year, the Massachusetts minimum wage rose to $11 per hour. That was a 9% increase. Massachusetts is now tied for first place with the highest minimum wage in the United States. For many Chamber member employers a $15 minimum wage is more like $20 when their withholdings contributions are added. Time and a half on Sundays, which is required by law in Massachusetts, becomes outrageous at a $15 minimum wage base rate. Such compensation increases would be enough to force many small companies to postpone hiring, consider closing, or leave MA altogether. Another factor for consideration is that Rhode Island and New Hampshire allow their employers to pay a substantially lower “Teen Wage.” Massachusetts is one of the few states without a teen wage.

 The Bristol County Chamber recommends that other alternatives such as a competitive teen wage be investigated and established by the Legislature before attempting to pass a $15 minimum wage in Massachusetts.

Strict Scheduling

If passed, a Strict Scheduling Law would limit changes in work schedules and any changes would result in penalties to employers. For instance, the legislation would require 21-day advance written notice of an employee’s work schedule. For any changes made to the schedule within 21 days, workers would be entitled to one hour of additional “predictability pay.” No exemptions for small businesses or non-profits are written into the current bill.

 While recognizing that some employers in Massachusetts can abuse employees the Bristol County Chamber opposes the Strict Scheduling Bill, as it is currently proposed. This legislation is extremely burdensome to member businesses, but it is acknowledged that some protections should be investigated and enacted.

Energy Costs

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues to have the highest energy costs in the continental United States.

 Recognizing that the high cost of energy is a significant factor impacting the budgets of member businesses the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce has been very vocal about the need for affordable electricity. Costs will only continue to rise for Massachusetts businesses without increased access to affordable energy sources.

A Phased Plan to Introduce Commuter Rail

Frustration regarding commuter transportation from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston is both warranted and tangible. After decades of going nowhere with the Stoughton Route, the Baker – Polito Administration has announced a Notice of Project Change (NPC) for SouthCoast Rail (SCR). The NPC advances SCR as a phased project rather than pursuing the formerly preferred all at once Stoughton Route. The phased plan would instead use the existing Middleborough/Lakeville Commuter Rail Line to provide early action service (Phase 1) sooner than if the project was constructed all at once while continuing preliminary engineering design and permitting on the Stoughton Electric route (Phase 2). In this way, Phase 1 could be built immediately. MassDOT would employ funding that is currently earmarked for SCR and available within the Capital Investment Plan that was recently approved.

 If the goal at MEPA, MassDOT and the MBTA is to address standstill traffic, while also lowering greenhouse emissions, then the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce strongly urges that MEPA approves the MassDOT NPC request. It is further asked that MEPA expedite any actions that allow “Phase One” of the SouthCoast Rail project to be constructed. As the Southern Triangle of Phase One is essential under either the Stoughton Route or the Middleborough Alternative, it is a common-sense action. It is also urged that any necessary permitting and construction begin immediately. Such action would restore trust to a long neglected and skeptical region within Massachusetts.