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AIM Proposes Improvements to Tax Rules

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Dec 19, 2014 10:59:43 AM

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by Michael Jacobs and Robert Weyman, both attorneys with AIM-member law firm Reed Smith LLP. Jacobs and Weyman are members of Reed Smith’s State Tax Group and focus their practices on corporate state tax controversy and planning matters.

Finance.pen.smallNew rules that change the way numerous multi-state businesses will determine their Massachusetts corporate taxes go into effect for tax returns filed in 2015.

The rules require that many sales, for example sales of services, be sourced to a taxpayer’s “market.” Under the old rules, these sales were sourced to the location where the taxpayer incurred its costs in making the sale.  Combined with a “throwout” rule, this new tax regime can dramatically change the formula a multi-state business uses to determine the portion of its income Massachusetts can subject to tax.

Over the past year, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) has been drafting revised regulations that interpret the new rules and guide taxpayers attempting to implement them. DOR issued a first draft in March and then a revised draft in October.  The draft regulations now include more than seventy pages of complex rules that taxpayers will have to apply in short order. 

At each stage of the drafting process AIM has solicited feedback from its Tax Committee and the AIM membership at-large. The association pushed DOR to consider and incorporate AIM member concerns into the revised regulations.  AIM has also presented member concerns to the Department of Revenue in written comments.

AIM’s most recent written comments, submitted on December 4, range from broad tax policy suggestions to technical critiques of specific regulatory provisions.  Three overarching themes run throughout the comments.  

Fairness

AIM has fought for fair application of the new taxing rules, challenging the DOR to craft rules that put taxpayers and the department on equal footing.  For example, a proposed provision would prevent some taxpayers from filing amended returns that adjust how they determine their “market,” while permitting the Department to audit the taxpayer and adjust its return.  AIM has strongly objected to the inequity of this provision.   

Certainty

AIM is rightly concerned that regulations that provide multiple potential sourcing options governed by subjective tiered rules will result in audit disputes and litigation.  AIM urged the commonwealth to create a tax system that results in certainty for taxpayers, so that taxpayers are not hit with surprise tax assessments years down the road. 

Minimizing Regulatory Burdens

AIM objected to the voluminous and complex nature of the regulations, and the regulatory compliance burden they will create.  AIM requested that the DOR incorporate clear and easily applied “safe harbors” into the regulations.  For example, AIM has questioned the necessity of certain rules that could require taxpayers to conduct granular analysis of where its services are delivered to specific customers.  AIM rightly points out that such provisions would result in a tax regime that is more complex and difficult to administer than almost any other state in the country.

The DOR is expected to issue its final regulations by the end of the year.  While the Department has already implemented some of AIM’s comments in its December revised draft, it is hoped that state officials take the opportunity to review AIM’s detailed critiques and to implement suggested changes that would help to ensure that the final regulations are fair, give taxpayers certainty, and minimize regulatory burdens to the extent possible.

For a copy of AIM’s comments, contact Brad MacDougall, Vice President of Government Affairs, bmacdougall@aimnet.org.

 

Topics: Regulation, Taxes

Are Wellness Programs Legal or Not?

Posted by Russ Sullivan on Dec 16, 2014 2:54:00 PM

Many employers have made wellness plans the centerpiece of their efforts to control the spiraling costs of employee health insurance.

StethescopeWellness programs use tools such as annual personal health assessments (PHA) and biometric screenings to identify employee health issues, establish baselines and develop plans to improve employee health. 

Many employers provide incentives to employees who participate.  These incentives range from cash awards to decreased employee contributions to premiums to employer contributions to HRAs (healthcare reimbursement accounts). Companies frequently extend these programs to employee spouses as well. 

Initial data on wellness programs are promising. Johnson & Johnson estimates that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade. And a study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health shows that organizations with highly effective wellness programs report significantly lower voluntary attrition than do those whose programs have low effectiveness (9 percent vs. 15 percent). 

Sounds great, right?

Not so fast says the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  The Chicago branch of the federal agency has taken several companies to task for their wellness programs.  According to the EEOC, these programs violate a provision in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that prohibits employers from requiring medical examinations or making disability-related inquiries of an employee, unless the examination or inquiry is job-related and consistent with business necessity. 

The EEOC’s position directly contradicts Affordable Care Act guidelines for establishing wellness incentives.  The ACA sets forth detailed guidance for health contingent wellness plans and incentives based on either participating in activities related to improving identified health factors or achieving certain goals also based on identified health factors. It even allows employers to provide incentives equal to 30 percent of the individual annual insurance premium (50 percent for tobacco-related incentives).

Here in Massachusetts, the employer wellness tax credit requires some type of evidence-based wellness program.  A common way for employers to gain this evidence is through PHAs or biometric screenings.

Despite the ACA’s guidelines, the EEOC has brought legal action against three employers over wellness programs:

  • In EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., the employer’s wellness program gave employees the choice of taking a biometric screening or paying 100 percent of the health-insurance premium.  Employees who took the screening only had to pay 25 percent of the premium.  One employee who was on leave at the time the screenings were administered was not allowed to take screening upon return and had to pay 100 percent of the premium.
  • In EEOC v. Orion Energy Systems, employees could either complete the PHA and biometric screening or pay full premium.  One employee was terminated for not completing PHA and taking biometric screening. 
  • The third case, EEOC v. Honeywell, focuses on what the EEOC has characterized as surcharges for failing to take biometric screenings.  These surcharges include an annual $500 additional premium cost, a loss of $1,500 in employer contributions to the HRA and another $1,500 premium surcharge for using tobacco products.  The employer took the position that absent a biometric screening, employees were assumed to be smokers.

All three cases are currently pending in the courts.

The EEOC defines a "disability-related inquiry" as a question (or series of questions) that is likely to elicit information about a disability. The agency also defines a "medical examination" to include procedures or tests that seek information about an individual's physical or mental health or impairments, such as vision tests, genetic tests, blood pressure screening and cholesterol testing. The questions asked on a PHA and the information derived from a  biometric screening would likely fall within these definitions. 

However, the ADA allows voluntary medical exams and disability-related inquiries that are part of an employee health program.  In these instances, an employer does not have to show that the questions are job-related and consistent with business necessity. Unfortunately, neither the ADA nor its associated regulations define what is “voluntary."

So where does this leave employer wellness programs?  A few practical points might assist in keeping these programs working for the benefit of employers and employees: 

  • Remain committed to wellness as part of your health insurance strategy.
  • Do not discipline employees for not participating in the program.
  • Provide make up opportunities for employees who miss a screening deadlines.
  • Start small – the larger the incentive, the more likely it will be viewed as punitive and the program as less voluntary.

Meanwhile, AIM will monitor these and other any other cases and keep you updated on any developments

Topics: Health Care Reform, Health Care Costs, Benefits

Expert: CEO Defines Workplace Climate

Posted by Brian Gilmore on Dec 15, 2014 8:48:17 AM

Today’s competitive environment demands fully engaged employees at all levels of an organization.  The CEO must define the leadership agenda that will drive employee engagement and superior performance for an organization, an expert told the AIM CEO Connection recently.

Two_WomenMike Maginn, president of Singularity Group, said, “Creating a workplace climate where people feel eager to deal with challenges, where they want to contribute ideas, and where they feel personally valued is the job of the CEO.  It’s a critical job, and the good news is that there are some defined, specific actions that leaders can take to change or improve the climate.”

Maginn led a discussion about culture and climate with a dozen chief executive officers who are members of the North Shore AIM CEO Connection.  He helped the CEOs explore the nature of culture and climate:

  • Culture consists of the norms and values of an organization and defines acceptable behavior.
  • Climate is what it feels like to work in an organization, which drives employee engagement.
  • Dimensions such as clarity, standards, responsibility, recognition, teamwork, and commitment define climate.
  • Climate dimensions can be measured.
  • Day-to-day leadership actions create climate.
  • A change in leadership actions will lead to a change in climate.

There is no “right” culture and climate, so the CEO must delineate the needs of the company and its customers to capture the essence of the culture and climate that will drive the organization in the right direction.

Veda Ferlazzo Clark, the former chief executive who moderates CEO Connection, said, “CEOs are always concerned about the culture of their organization and how they can affect it to maximize performance. It often feels amorphous, but the concept of climate is specific and actionable and can help CEOs and their senior managers feel as though they can make real change.” 

The CEO Connection brings together CEOs to talk about important topics with their peers to help them make critical decisions that will drive their company’s growth. Each session of the CEO Connection includes a presentation from an outside expert, open discussion about current issues, and a company tour.

Manufacturing/industrial CEOs interested to learn more about the AIM CEO Connection may contact me (bgilmore@aimnet.org) or Gary MacDonald (gmcdonald@aimnet.org). 

Topics: CEO, Management, Manufacturing

Twin Labor Board Decisions Change Workplace Landscape

Posted by Michael Rudman on Dec 15, 2014 8:24:02 AM

The National Labor Relations Board dramatically shifted the workplace landscape last week with two landmark decisions – one accelerating the timing of union representation elections and a second permitting employees to use company email accounts on their own time to discuss organizing.

organizedlaborgoodsmallThe rule on expedited union elections had been sought for years by organized labor to limit the ability of companies to respond to organizing efforts. The measure eliminates a previously-required 25-day period between the time an election is ordered and the election itself and curtails employers’ ability to appeal eligibility and other issues prior to a union representation election.

It will also require employers to furnish union organizers with all available personal email addresses and phone numbers of workers eligible to vote in a union election. The rule, which takes effect on April 14, allows electronic filing and transmission of union election petitions for the first time.

The NLRB first proposed the change in 2011, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck it down over a lack of quorum in a case in which Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) participated. The board re-introduced the rule in February.

Abbreviated union elections place employers at a disadvantage because most don’t find out about a union campaign until it is well under way- frequently when the union has more than 75 percent of the potential unit employees signed up.

“The bottom line for employers who are non-union and wish to remain so is the dramatic reduction in the time available to educate employees, express the company’s point of view on union representation and combat union propaganda during an election campaign,” said Tom Jones, Vice President at AIM.

The decision on accelerated elections came two days after the NLRB ruled that “employee use of email for statutorily protected communications on nonworking time must be permitted by employers who have chosen to give employees access to their email systems.”

Statutorily protected communications generally refer to activities in which employees engage during union organizing campaigns, union elections or in the exercise of their rights to address work grievances. The communications are protected in both union, and non-union, environments.

The NLRB was quick to clarify who is covered by its decision:

  1. The ruling applies only to employees who have already been granted access to the employer’s email system.
  2. An employer may justify a total ban on non-work use of email by demonstrating that special circumstances make the ban necessary to maintain production or discipline.
  3. Absent justification for a total ban, the employer may apply uniform and consistently enforced controls overs its email system to the extent such controls are necessary to maintain production and discipline.
  4. The ruling does not address email access by nonemployees, nor any other type of electronic communications.

Both NLRB decisions were made with three-to-two margins with the Democratic appointees voting in favor and the Republican appointees voting against.

Jones says the expedited election decisions makes it incumbent upon employers to take a preventative, rather than reactive approach to labor relations. The campaign to win votes must be an ongoing effort – even in the absence of a formal campaign or even a remote threat of union activity. 

There are several steps employers can take right now:

  • Assess your organization’s vulnerability to a union;
  • Train your supervisors on the ‘real’ issues that bring in a union – it’s almost always about respect, consistency and fair treatment;
  • Communicate with your federal elected representatives;
  • Get professional help in assessing and preparing for the possibility of a union drive – waiting until the campaign starts will be too late

Associated Industries of Massachusetts has experts who can help your organization assess, evaluate and prepare for the possibility of a union campaign.  Contact our Employer Hotline at (800) 470-6277.

Topics: Organized Labor, National Labor Relations Board, Human Resources

Employers Expect Happy New Year

Posted by Andre Mayer on Dec 2, 2014 9:19:20 AM

Improving economic fundamentals and the prospect of successful divided government in Massachusetts have left Bay State employers feeling merry about 2015.

BCI.November.2014The Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index rose 1.9 points in November to 56.8, leaving it with a gain of 6.6 for the year. More important, however, was the fact the employer sentiment about the next six months soared 4.3 points to 58.5, while confidence among executives in the condition of their own companies rose 2.8 points to 59.7.

“Survey respondents look forward to better conditions by next spring, in line with most economic forecasts,” said Fred Breimyer, regional economist at the FDIC.

“It is surprising that problems in the global economy – recession or near-recession in Europe and Japan, and slowing growth in China – are not enough to put a damper on these expectations.”

Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Northeast Economic Analysis Group LLC, said gains in the Employment Index and Sales Index for November point to sustained job growth next year.

“Respondents reporting staff additions over past six months outnumber those recording cuts by almost two-to-one (31 percent-17 percent), and the expected ratio in the coming six months is better than three-to-one (32 percent-10 percent),” Winer said.

The November BCI ended just shy of the Index’s post-recession high of 57.1 reached in April 2012.

AIM’s Business Confidence Index has been issued monthly since July 1991 under the oversight of the Board of Economic Advisors. Presented on a 100-point scale on which 50 is neutral, the Index attained a historical high of 68.5 in 1997 and 1998; its all-time low was 33.3 in February 2009. 

Employers continue to be more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national - the U.S. Index of business conditions nationally was off nine-tenths at 49.7, while the Massachusetts Index of conditions within the commonwealth gained 1.8 points to 55.1. Analysts say that gap reflects the view of employers that Governor-Elect Charlie Baker and Democratic legislative leaders will work across party lines far more smoothly that the two parties in Washington.

“There is little indication of concern about having a governor of one party and a legislature controlled by the other,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“On a special survey question, 54 percent of respondents replied that they expect divided government to work better on Beacon Hill than in Washington, and another 28 percent thought it could be productive at both levels.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Jobs

Employment Growth Not Limited to Boston

Posted by Andre Mayer on Nov 26, 2014 11:55:30 AM

Is employment growth in Massachusetts limited to the Boston area?

Not according to regional data from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. Over the period October 2013 – October 2014, employment in the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) increased a bit less than the statewide figure (3.9 percent versus 4.0 percent), and the unemployment rate declined a hair less (25 percent versus 26 percent) as well.

Job growth in the state’s other seven MSAs ranged from 3.4 percent in Fall River to 4.7 percent in the Worcester area; the highest rates were in the two largest areas, Worcester and Springfield (4.4 percent). Unemployment rate declines ranged from 23 percent in Springfield to 29 percent in Leominster-Fitchburg-Gardner. Barnstable, New Bedford, and Pittsfield fell in the middle on both measures, close to Boston and to the state averages.

The Boston MSA, covering eastern Massachusetts except for the south coast, Cape and islands, accounts for 74 percent of the state’s employment. Trends within that MSA are generally similar to those prevailing statewide, although the Lawrence-Chelmsford division recorded a lower rate of job growth (2.9 percent) and higher unemployment (8 percent, down from 11 percent last year.)

These regional figures, by the way, are prepared using a different methodology than the more widely noted state employment and unemployment reports. They show a seasonally unadjusted state unemployment rate for October of 5.1 percent, compared to the adjusted rate of 6.0 percent; and net annual job growth of 130,000 rather than 52,600.

If Greater Boston, by size alone, is the economic locomotive of the commonwealth, we can say that at this point it is pulling the train rather than pulling away. We are seeing job creation from Cape Cod to the Berkshires, and unemployment rates approaching (what we think of as) normal in most regions.  

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Unemployment

Best Advice on Paid Sick Days Law - Sit Tight

Posted by Russ Sullivan on Nov 25, 2014 9:53:44 AM

Here’s some advice for employers wondering how to comply with the new Massachusetts Earned Sick Time law - sit tight, communicate with your employees, review your current policies, educate yourself on the new law and watch for further guidance. 

Health.EnergyMassachusetts voters approved a ballot question on November 4 mandating that employers with 11 or more workers provide 40 hours of paid sick time. Companies with fewer than 11 employees will be required to provide 40 hours of unpaid sick time.

Approval of the new law has touched off a scramble among employers to review existing policies governing paid time off. One area of particular concern is the law’s accrual, carryover, use and documentation provisions, which leave most employer plans noncompliant.  

Many employers want to get a jump on the July 1, 2015 implementation date for the law and develop compliant policies effective January 1.  It is easy to understand why - most time-off plans run on a calendar-year basis.  For budgeting and scheduling reasons, employers would like to manage one plan for all of 2015.

But hold on a moment. We currently lack many specifics and clarification is needed on matters such as:

  • the coordination of the law with existing attendance, discipline and other employment policies;
  • whether premium pay must  be applied to absences taken under the law;
  • the application of the law to seasonal employees;
  • whether to count seasonal employees and owners when determining whether an employer has 11 or more employees;
  • the coordination of accrual and use of Earned Sick Time in the second half of 2015 with the accrual and use of time off benefits in the first half of the year.

The Attorney General’s office will be responsible for issuing guidance on these and other matters.  AIM looks forward to communicating the concerns of employers to Attorney General Maura Healy and recommending regulations to allow employers to manage budgets while retaining the value provided by current policies.

The prudent strategy may be to approach 2015 as a transitional year.  No changes need to be made prior to July 1.  Sure, waiting until then will result in having two policies for this transitional year, but employers will also enjoy the benefit of clarity and be able to issue a policy that will remain in place in 2016 and beyond.

Employers should not wait until July to communicate with employees.  Workers should understand that the new law may impact current policies. A possible communication might look something like this:

As you know, Massachusetts voters passed the Earned Sick Time Law this November.  We will likely need to make some changes to our current time off-policies to comply with the new law.  It appears that the law will require us to modify how time off is accrued, used, carried over, documented and tracked.  The law may also require that we reclassify some of our existing time off benefits as earned sick time.  We will watch for guidance that may be provided by the commonwealth and announce changes to our policies sometime prior to July 1, 2015 when the law takes effect.  In the meantime, we will follow our existing policy.

AIM will continue to help employers - first with first with a free Webinar on Wednesday, December 3 at 10:00 am, then with a subsequent Webcast in Januaryto help companies identify critical decision points. The association will schedule detailed workshops around the state once the attorney general issues regulatory guidance.

Topics: Employment Law, Human Resources, Paid Sick Days

AIM Vice President to be Named Secretary of Administration and Finance

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 24, 2014 6:14:00 AM

Governor-Elect Charlie Baker will today name Kristen Lepore, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, as the commonwealth’s new Secretary of Administration and Finance.

Lepore2014Lepore will essentially become chief financial officer of the commonwealth with broad authority to formulate the administration’s approach to the state budget and to oversee the day-to-day operations of the executive branch. She will assume responsibility for a sprawling group of agencies ranging from the Department of Revenue to the Division of Capital Access Management and Maintenance.

The appointment was reported last night by The Boston Globe and State House News Service. Baker is himself a former Administration and Finance secretary in the Weld Administration.

“Kristen Lepore is the perfect choice to be Secretary of Administration and Finance in the Baker Administration,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Lord said Lepore has proven her ability to manage the complex process of developing the state budget, having served as director of fiscal policy at Administration and Finance during the administration of Governor Paul Cellucci. She also brings tremendous management discipline, Lord said, to one of the largest and most important organizations in state government.

“We at Associated Industries of Massachusetts feel a special sense of pride and excitement today that our vice president of government affairs has been selected to become the chief financial officer of the commonwealth. We wish Kristen well in her new role and look forward to working with her on keeping the commonwealth on a firm financial footing,” Lord said.

Lepore joined the AIM Government Affairs team in January 2012 and has led the association’s efforts to control the cost of health care and health insurance for employers. One of the highlights of her work came in 2012 when she helped to secure passage of Massachusetts’ landmark health cost-containment law, which limited increases in medical spending to the growth rate of the overall state economy.

Lepore previously served as deputy chief of staff to Governor Cellucci and as assistant executive director at Massport. She was appointed by President George Bush to serve as the New England regional representative for the U.S. Department of Education.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Suffolk University and a master’s degree in public administration from Suffolk’s Sawyer School of Management.

State law designates the Executive Office for Administration and Finance as the principal agency of the executive department of the government, charged with:

  • Developing, coordinating, administering and controlling the financial policies and programs of the commonwealth;
  • Supervising the organization and conduct of the business affairs of the departments, commissions, offices, boards, divisions, institutions and other agencies within the executive department of the government of the commonwealth; and
  • Developing new policies and programs which will improve the organization, structure, functions, economy, efficiency, procedures, services and administrative practices of all such departments, commissions, offices, boards, divisions, institutions and other agencies.

Administration and Finance includes:

  • The Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance;
  • The Department of Revenue
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology
  • Fiscal affairs and operational services, which develop policy and standards to govern the conduct of commonwealth secretariats, departments, agencies, boards and commissions in each of these areas.
  • The Civil Service Commission
  • The municipal Personnel Advisory Board
  • The Massachusetts Office on Disability
  • The Retirement Law Commission
  • The Group Insurance Commission
  • The Department of Veterans’ Services

Lepore will remain at AIM through January and assume her new role when Governor-Elect Baker takes the oath of office.

 

Topics: Charlie Baker, Kristen Lepore

Employers Add 1,200 Jobs in October

Posted by Andre Mayer on Nov 20, 2014 1:45:27 PM

Massachusetts added 1,200 jobs in October, according to preliminary estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released today by the state’s Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (detailed chart here). The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.0 percent, slightly above the national rate of 5.8 percent.

The October report for Massachusetts is notably weaker than the strong national report released two weeks ago. Together, they support a conclusion that the state’s economy is currently growing somewhat more slowly than the nation’s, but that a longer perspective shows Massachusetts keeping pace.  

Over the past year, Massachusetts has gained a net of 52,600 jobs, and the unemployment rate has declined by 1.2 percent. The annual figures are more indicative of trends than the monthly results, which tend to fluctuate. With the October report, we are finally free of the effects of the Market Basket imbroglio, in which thousands of employees were temporarily out of work – an event large enough to produce discernable ripples even in the national data.

Sectors with the largest year-over-year job gains include Education and Health Services (+16,000), Professional, Scientific and Business Services (+14,500), and Information (+7,900 – a 9.1 percent increase). Manufacturing basically held its own, shading off by 700 jobs, or 0.3%.

The figures cited above, except for the unemployment rate, derive from a survey of employers. The household survey shows considerably stronger job creation – a gain of 16,400 for the month and 100,600 for the year. The same pattern appears in the national data.

 

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Unemployment

Blueprint for the Next Century | Energy, Health

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 20, 2014 8:39:01 AM

(Editor's note - AIM last week released the Blueprint for the Next Century, a long-term plan for economic growth and prosperity in Massachusetts. The AIM blog will this week publish one summary each day of the four recommendations contained in the Blueprint. We invite your responses in the Comments section.)

Moderate the substantial burden that health care and energy place on business growth.

Health.EnergyWhere We Stand | Health Insurance

Massachusetts has enjoyed unique success extending health insurance coverage since the passage of health care reform in 2006 - an impressive 97 percent of residents now have health insurance, by far the largest percentage of any state. But that success is threatened by relentless acceleration of health care costs and the resulting run-up in the cost to employers of providing health insurance to workers.

Where We Can Improve

  1. Establish a more aggressive benchmark for medical spending under the 2012 Massachusetts health-cost control law. The law currently benchmarks increases in health care spending to the growth rate of the overall economy. We can do better.

  2. Keep the small-group market size the way it is. The small-group market will expand in 2016 under Federal Health Care Reform from companies with 1-50 employees to companies with 1-100 employees. Forcing employers into the small group market will cause rate increases of at least 10 percent for the 51-100 companies.

  3. Maintain the current definition of a full-time employee. The Massachusetts definition was 35 hours per week, while federal reform requires coverage for employees working 30 or more hours per week.  Employers will respond by reducing the number of hours employees can work.  We have already heard from employers who are being forced to do this because of the significant and unaffordable increases in their health insurance costs.
     
  4. Repeal the Medical Device Tax under federal health reformThe 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of medical services is damaging to a key sector of the Massachusetts economy, costing the commonwealth’s largest medical device companies more than $400 million this year alone.

  5. Continue efforts to make cost and quality information about health care procedures and services available to consumers before treatment.  Refine and improve the information and encourage consumers to use it to make informed decisions about their health care. It’s a process that will persuade higher cost providers to lower prices. 

Where We Stand | Energy

Average electric rates in Massachusetts are the third highest in the nation for industrial ratepayers at 12.63 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the United States Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.  Electricity costs have reached crisis stage as a persistent shortage of natural gas for generating plants is driving power prices to record levels for the winter of 2014-2015.

Where We Can Improve

  1. Support the development of pipelines to transport natural gas into the commonwealth and the development of infrastructure to permit the purchase of hydroelectric power from Canada.

  2. Environmentalists have been fighting against more natural gas coming into the state for years, which partly explains why pipeline capacity hasn't expanded. They also say consumers can conserve a lot more energy, but Massachusetts is already at the forefront on energy efficiency efforts. The state was just ranked first in the nation for energy efficiency for the fourth year in a row by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

  3. Reorganize the Massachusetts Department of Public utilities to the structure that was in place before 2007.

    Remove DPU from under Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, where it has become a political agency, and restore its status as an independent agency under the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development.

    Increase the number of DPU commissioners from three to five, one of whom must be experienced in commercial and industrial ratepayer issues and one of whom must be experienced in residential ratepayer issues.
  4. Cap all “green programs” or require analysis of such programs that takes into account cost to the ratepayer, not just benefit to the “green” industry.

    Make sure that any “green” programs are competitively bid and cover the lowest-cost requirements first. These bids should be technology neutral with no specific carve-outs for “favored” technology.

    Reduce/eliminate cross subsidization of “green” programs by eliminating net metering and other programs.
  5. Disallow utilities from adding “green” programs to distribution costs, a practice that results in customers paying twice for programs.
     
  6. Change energy efficiency programs to align changing models with new paradigm.

    Allow municipal electric light companies access to Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds to institute energy-efficiency programs.

    Allow companies to keep a larger share of their energy efficiency money, provided they use it for energy efficiency purposes.

Topics: Health Care Costs, Energy, Blueprint for the Next Century

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