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Speaker Calls for Employer Policy Engagement

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 15, 2017 11:33:00 AM

The first time Robert DeLeo spoke to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts after being elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 2009, unemployment was 8.8 percent.

The new speaker drove to the AIM speech past empty buildings along Route 128. Traffic was minimal. Consumer and business confidence was at a nadir in the wake of the financial crisis and Great Recession.

Speaker DeLeo reminisced about that first speech this morning as he returned to address more than 300 business leaders at the AIM Executive Forum. He noted that unemployment now stands at 4.2 percent and that Massachusetts employers added 11,000 jobs in August alone. And Boston is on the short list of cities being considered for major development by Amazon just as General Electric settles into its new corporate headquarters.

The speaker attributed the economic resurgence in part to a unique collaboration forged by legislators and the business community to develop pro-business policies and that also benefit the society at large.

“They are not mutually exclusive. One does not detract from the other,” Speaker DeLeo said in a wide-ranging speech during which he thanked AIM and employers for helping to build consensus on issues such as education, wage equity and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

“We are very mindful of the impact that changes might make on our employers, which we always remember are our economic engine,” he said.

The speaker outlined several key priorities as the Legislature heads in the fall, including moderating the cost of health insurance and monitoring what has become a persistent sluggishness in state tax revenues.  That sluggishness is affecting states throughout the country, despite the overall healthy economy.

“We obviously haven’t seen the revenue growth we have seen in past economic recoveries,” Mr. DeLeo said.

The speaker expressed optimism in the wake of a recent report that health-care costs in Massachusetts increased at a moderate 2.8 percent in 2016, well below the growth benchmark established by the 2012 health-cost control law. Such stability is essential at a time when federal health-care policy remains in flux.

“We have been successful in driving down health-care spending growth, even in a difficult and unpredictable environment,” he told the crowd.

“We appreciate willingness of business community to work with us and nd their patience on how to move forward.”

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, AIM Executive Forum

Speaker Outlines Clear Economic Strategy

Posted by Rick Lord on Feb 12, 2015 12:46:04 PM

DeLeogoodBalance the budget with no new taxes or fees.

Extend economic growth beyond Greater Boston.

Reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers.

Stabilize energy costs.

Develop an educated work force.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo checked off all the important issues yesterday in outlining a clear and well-reasoned strategy to improve the Massachusetts economy. Speaking to House members at the start of the 2015-2016 session, DeLeo echoed many of the recommendations of AIM’s new Blueprint for the Next Century long-term plan to expand economic opportunity for the citizens of the commonwealth.

The Democratic speaker’s approach is also remarkably consistent with Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s agenda on opposition to new taxes and support for streamlining burdensome regulations. Such agreement between two of the commonwealth’s three top political leaders, coupled with Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s reputation for pragmatism on economic issues, suggest a predictable environment for employers in the next several years.

“In the coming session, we will reaffirm our commitment to economic success. We will look to support the innovative programs that are spurring growth in Boston and beyond,” DeLeo told House members.

“Even as we face unforeseen fiscal circumstances, we will find inventive ways to extend our economic success to every sector of the commonwealth. I’ve seen what many of these regions have to offer: the pockets of innovation, the entrepreneurs, the people who make Massachusetts work.”

John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said DeLeo’s approach reflects growing consensus among policymakers for the need to create a uniformly positive business climate across all economic sectors and in all regions of the state.

“The cornerstone of the relationship between employers and government is the ability of policymakers to manage the budget, control costs and provide services efficiently. Speaker DeLeo is clearly committed to doing that in way that will then allow the commonwealth to address some of its long-term economic challenges,” Regan said.

The Massachusetts constitution requires legislators and the governor to maintain a balanced budget. Governor Deval Patrick and state lawmakers managed to balance the books during the Great Recession and recovery with two tax increases – a sales tax increase from 5 to 6.25 percent in 2009 and a $500 million jump in the gasoline and other taxes in 2013 – along with a multi-year drop in the corporate excise tax.

DeLeo said tax-and-fee increases harm working families.

“We know many families’ budgets are stressed to the limit. We will not add to that burden. For that reason, the budget plan that comes out of the Committee on Ways and Means will contain no new taxes and fees,” the speaker said.

DeLeo made his comments on the same day that the House approved legislation to fill a $768 million gap in the current fiscal year with a mix of redirected revenues and spending cuts. The legislation establishes a corporate tax amnesty program and would redirect capital gains tax receipts into the general fund while trimming spending across state government.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts House of Representatives, House Speaker Robert DeLeo

Governor, Speaker Affirm Support for Unemployment Insurance Reform

Posted by John Regan on Jan 29, 2014 2:19:00 PM

Massachusetts employers should be encouraged that Governor Deval Patrick and House Speaker Robert DeLeo (right) have both affirmed in the past 24 hours their support for reforming the commonwealth’s antiquated Unemployment Insurance system.

Speaker Robert DeLeoAIM strongly urges lawmakers to ensure that the reform is substantive.

“This is the year we are going to improve our Unemployment Insurance system,” DeLeo said during his annual address to the House this afternoon.

Linking unemployment reform to a push to increase the minimum wage, the speaker told House members that “any increase in the minimum wage must be paired with meaningful improvements to our unemployment insurance system.”

Speaking from the same podium during his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night, Governor Patrick said: “We ought to change the incentives in our UI system to encourage the hiring of the long-term unemployed, to make it easier for those on unemployment to start their own business, and to make it more straightforward for companies to comply. I submit that we can have a system that encourages hiring, not one that raises even a second thought about it.”

Massachusetts UI costs, driven by high wages, lenient qualification requirements and an overly generous benefit structure, are among the highest in the country. AIM has long supported changes to the system through which benefits are paid to unemployed workers.

It is a system that has generated dizzying uncertainty for employers during the last six years as lawmakers have been forced to freeze automatic rate increases that were not needed to maintain the financial stability of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. Massachusetts employers saw UI taxes jump 33 percent on January 1, which will drain an additional $500 million unless the Legislature freezes rates before billings go out for the first quarter.

AIM was pleased that Speaker DeLeo today committed to seeking a freeze.

AIM has a clear definition of substantive UI reform:

  1. Adjust the UI rate schedule to require negatively rated employers, those who habitually put employees into the UI system, to pay higher rates than more stable employers whose employees rarely use the UI system; and to require that new employers contribution rate be set at the so-called zero positive rate, more accurately reflecting the employers actual trust fund balance and avoiding "sticker shock" when receiving the actual bill after the first year of operation. 
  2. Increase the work requirement for eligibility to collect UI benefits from 30 times the weekly benefit amount to forty and requiring wages to be paid in at least two quarters, bringing Massachusetts into line with the majority of other states; (estimated annual savings:  $30 million.)
  3. Reduce the maximum duration of benefit weeks from 30 to 26 when the state's economy is performing well by adjusting the statutory trigger mechanism from 5.1 percent unemployment in each of the 10 local labor markets in the state to a straight 5.1 percent unemployment rate statewide over the preceding six months - producing savings in the UI Trust Fund of between $50 and $90 million per year. This provision would bring Massachusetts' benefits into line with all other states.

DeLeo also said the House would produce a Fiscal Year 2015 budget with no new taxes and fees.

“We’ve taken decisive action to make Massachusetts work, to signal to companies near and far that we are open for business, to strengthen our economy and support our citizens during the worst … downturn since the Great Depression,” he said.

 

Topics: Unemployment insurance, Massachusetts House of Representatives, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Deval Patrick

Speaker DeLeo Vows Emphasis on Jobs and Economic Growth

Posted by John Regan on Feb 9, 2012 1:54:00 PM

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo outlined a 2012 agenda Wednesday that includes improving the business climate, reforming health care and producing a state budget without new taxes and fees.

DeLeoDeLeo emphasized jobs and economic growth in his annual address to the House, delivered six months before the conclusion of the two-year legislative session.

“In this legislative session, I will look to find opportunities to create a friendlier, better climate for the creation of new jobs,” DeLeo told House members.

He said that Massachusetts policymakers have exercised fiscal responsibility throughout the economic downturn, allowing the Bay State to avoid the credit downgrades and political animosity that has taken place in other states and on the national level.

The commitment to craft a budget without new taxes comes several weeks after Governor Deval Patrick proposed a Fiscal Year 2013 budget that would, among other proposals, increase the cigarette tax and expand the sales tax to sugar-based snacks.

“I hear time and time again from business leaders that predictability and consistency in the tax code are what's most important,” the speaker said.

“For the past two years, this House has rejected balancing the budget with new taxes and fees. Any changes to revenue policy should be approached with extreme caution and should never be done piecemeal. As such, we will release a budget from the House Committee on Ways & Means that does not rely on new taxes and fees. “

DeLeo was just as definitive about the need to address the high cost of health insurance. He acknowledged that employers speak to him frequently about rising health premiums.

“We can, I believe, reach broad agreement to significantly cut the cost growth of our health care sector while improving upon our already extremely high standards of quality-care and innovation. We will continue to monitor the market disparity between our large providers and those in your neighborhoods that are offering low-cost high-quality care and we will thoughtfully implement the most appropriate mechanisms for balancing out the system,” he said.

DeLeo said the ultimate objective of policymakers must be to create the kind of business climate that encourages the development of jobs across the economic spectrum, from white-collar positions at companies like Facebook to manufacturing jobs throughout the commonwealth. He also echoed Governor Patrick’s belief that Massachusetts must strengthen its community colleges to prepare residents for job opportunities in growing industries.

AIM applauds Speaker DeLeo for emphasizing job growth and looks forward to working with the House to accomplish its goals for economic growth.

Topics: Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts House of Representatives, House Speaker Robert DeLeo

AIM Members: Urge Legislators to Fix Treble Damage Law

Posted by John Regan on Apr 21, 2011 9:37:00 AM

Senate ways and means, treble damages law, budgetNext week, members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives will debate and vote on the Fiscal Year 2012 budget which includes language limiting the current punitive treble-damages law to “willful” violations of the wage and hour statute only.  This change has been sought by AIM since the original law passed in 2008.

AIM urges you to contact House members asking them to support this language and to oppose any amendment preventing the fixing of the treble damages law.

The current law penalizes companies that have done nothing outrageous, have not acted with an evil motive, and have not acted with reckless indifference to employees' rights.  The same would be true in the case of a good-faith dispute over whether an employer owes commissions.

This House proposal mirrors Governor Deval Patrick’s language to fix a 2008 law that imposed punitive treble damages even in cases where an inexperienced employee of a Massachusetts business makes a clerical or other honest error. 

Massachusetts is rated poorly by the US Chamber of Commerce because of this onerous law that mandates treble damages for any Wage Act violation.  The House Ways and Means Committee proposal would bring fairness and equity to a law which is now unduly punitive. 

AIM thanks Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey for a fiscally sound House budget which benefits the Massachusetts Economy.  AIM also recognizes the work of Ways and Means Committee Vice Chair Steven Kulik and Assistant Vice Chair Martha Walz on the proposed House budget and for addressing the treble damages issue.

Click here to contact your elected officials and urge them to fix the treble damage law.

Topics: Speaker Robert DeLeo, AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Legislative Scorecard, Treble Damages Law, Govenor Patrick

Massachusetts Political Leaders See Health Costs as Key Challenge

Posted by John Regan on Jan 6, 2011 3:09:00 PM

The commonwealth’s three top political leaders appear to agree that controlling the cost of health care and helping employers create jobs must be the primary objective of state government during the next two years.

state house Governor Deval Patrick used his second inaugural address today to announce that his administration plans to file legislation to reform and simplify the way businesses and individuals pay for health insurance.  He also promised a medical malpractice measure and said he has instructed MassHealth, the Commonwealth Health Care Connector and the Group Insurance Commission to implement pilot programs to demonstrate new and cost-effective ways to buy health care.

His comments came a day after House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both identified business growth and health care as priorities for the 2011-2012 legislative session.

The governor called for Massachusetts to face difficult decisions on economic development, spiraling health insurance premiums and other complex issues.

''We must demand more of ourselves than rhetoric that divides us and leadership that kicks every tough decision down the road," Patrick said, echoing a theme he used during his successful re-election campaign.

The prominence of health care and business issues in the opening speeches of the governor, DeLeo and Murray bodes well for Massachusetts employers who continue to face annual premium increases of up to 40 percent as they provide health coverage to workers.  AIM suggested Monday in its Common Wealth 2011 statement that the Massachusetts health-care system will collapse of its own weight if the companies that foot the bill for insurance are no longer able to pay.

Health care, tax, electricity and employment-law issues also dominate AIM’s 2011-2012 Legislative Agenda.

Murray said in a speech Wednesday that lawmakers would push hard to improve a state economy that already maintains an unemployment rate more than a full point below the national jobless level.

“We can and must do more to retain and grow our existing businesses as well as attract new investors, industry and jobs from across the world,” she said, noting that Massachusetts accounted for 9.4 percent of the nation’s job growth over the past year, despite constituting just 2.4 percent of the population.

DeLeo highlighted the health insurance crisis facing cities and towns, some of whom have been forced to borrow money to pay their medical bills. He proposed forcing municipalities to join the Group Insurance Commission, which purchases health coverage for tens of thousands of state employees and retirees.

“The reality is that municipal employee health insurance is a budget-buster which puts untenable strain on municipal services.Unless cities and towns can find health insurance at the same or lower cost than the GIC, we should force them to join - bringing them under the more efficient and cost effective state system,” he said. “This will translate into immediate cost savings for cities and towns while preserving an acceptable standard of quality health care for our public servants at the local level.”

Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM, said health insurance costs discourage employers from hiring people desperate for jobs.

“Massachusetts became a model for the nation in 2006 when it undertook a bipartisan health reform that has since extended coverage to 400,000 people who did not have coverage previously. It’s now time for Massachusetts to establish a model for making world-class health care affordable for employers and consumers alike,” Lord said.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray

Massachusetts House Passes Balanced CORI Reform

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 27, 2010 4:48:00 PM

AIM thanks the Massachusetts House of Representatives, who amended and passed a bill (H.4712) Wednesday evening on a 138-17 vote to reform the state's Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system to the benefit of both job applicants and employers.

The House CORI measure reduces the sealing time for felonies from 15 years to 10, and for misdemeanors from 10 years to five and preserves the current availability of records to the public and to law enforcement. It includes much-needed improvements in the operation of the CORI system to broaden access and improve accuracy and response times.

Significant for employers are provisions to protect them from liability when in compliance with the law and allowing for the continued use of aggregators (third-party CORI users). A "ban the box" provision preventing employers from asking about criminal records as part of the initial job application exempts employers who are statutorily prohibited from hiring ex-offenders, and allows inquiries later in the process for others.

"The legislation recently approved by the Senate (S.2220) and now the House achieves the goals of CORI reform - a more accurate and efficient system that enhances employment opportunities while maintaining appropriate protections for public and workplace safety," said John Regan, AIM's Executive Vice President for Government Affairs. "We commend the House for attending to and successfully balancing the very real concerns of all stakeholders, including the employer community.  AIM will continue to work with legislators in the House and Senate as the two proposals move towards a conference committee between the two chambers.

In particular, we thank Speaker Robert DeLeo, Representative Charles Murphy, Chairman of the House Ways & Means, Representative Eugene O'Flaherty, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and Minority Leader Bradley Jones for their contributions to reaching a satisfactory resolution to what has been a complex and contentious issue."

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Employment Law, CORI, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Labor, John Regan, Policy

Massachusetts Employers Press Case for Health Cost Control

Posted by Rick Lord on May 21, 2010 10:45:00 AM

AIM continued to press this week for legislation to control soaring health insurance costs amid mixed signals from policymakers about the prospects for providing relief to small employers this year.

The week began with progress as the state Senate passed a cost-containment measure that Senate President Therese Murray said would save small businesses 10 to 15 percent of their premiums - money that senators hope will be redirected toward job creation and retention. Among the contentious issues in the bill were the allowance of association health plans, a $100 million assessment on hospitals and expansion of the Connector's scope in the merged market.

AIM had offered an amendment to strengthen the provider contribution in a targeted way. The amendment  was not adopted.

But prospects for cost control in the House of Representatives remained uncertain at week's end as House Speaker Robert DeLeo questioned whether such a complex piece of legislation could pass by the time formal legislative sessions end on July 31.

"I'm not so certain that we're going to be able to tackle this before the end of this legislative session.  But I think it's good because of the fact that I think we're preparing ourselves for the next legislative session [when] we are going to tackle it," Speaker DeLeo told the Fall River Chamber of Commerce as reported by Statehouse News Service.

AIM has told legislative leaders that controlling health care premiums remains the most important issue for small Massachusetts employers as lawmakers wrap up the two-year session. We remain optimistic that legislators will address the crisis and look forward to working with Speaker DeLeo to move the issue through the House.

The cost of health insurance is an impediment - right now - to job growth and economic development in the commonwealth. Employers need a more transparent, efficient method for our health care delivery system and a more rational and outcome-driven compensation methodology for our payment system.

AIM generally supports the Senate cost-control bill, though the association believes there are provisions that could be refined. We believe the legislation must ultimately provide real, quantifiable savings in the short term for small employers while business, government and health care providers develop long-term solutions to the problem.

This bill is one of two related to health care that the Senate President is offering. The next bill will outline her vision for transitioning our health care delivery system from a fee-for-service to a global payment methodology, i.e. doctors and hospitals will get paid a fixed amount of money for caring for a defined group of patients.

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Health Care Reform, AIM, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Health Insurance, Health Care

Massachusetts House Speaker DeLeo Outlines Job-Growth Proposals

Posted by John Regan on Mar 4, 2010 12:07:00 PM

It seems that everyone is talking about creating and retaining jobs. And they are talking about creating the right business climate to generate employment opportunities for Massachusetts citizens.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo laid out his plans and his motivations for improving the employment picture in the commonwealth this morning at a Boston Chamber breakfast.

Echoing AIM's Common Wealth agenda, the Speaker emphasized the need to create jobs for folks all across the economic spectrum - from high-end, high-education jobs to middle-class and blue-collar jobs. He discussed the need to fund the state's Workforce Training Fund both this year and next and to control health-care costs for small business. He spoke about freezing UI rates and creating a more stable business tax climate. These are all themes that AIM has pushed, in season and out, as necessary to ensure job creation and a healthy business investment climate.

The Speaker also outlined his plan for gaming in the commonwealth, an issue upon which AIM has not taken a position.

The Speaker proposes to allow slot machines at existing race tracks and to establish two resort style casinos. The plan would use revenue from licensing these venues for job training at community colleges and for access to capital for the manufacturing sector - concepts that AIM appreciates and will review in detail when the final bill is filed.

Massachusetts is at a crossroads. We are not creating jobs as fast as we should and we are not creating jobs for people at all levels of the economy and across every region of the state. As the speaker said this morning, "we should adopt the motto coined by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: ‘Invented here, manufactured here.' This is not easy work. We must change the tone and find ways to make our state more attractive to manufacturers. We already have many of the needed attributes: a highly educated workforce, a strong research and development sector, technological know-how, and a proud tradition. But in today's tough business environment we need more."

We look forward to working with the Speaker and the members of the House; the Senate President and members of the Senate; and the administration to make the commonwealth a better place by creating jobs and economic opportunity for all of our citizens.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, AIM, Massachusetts economy, House Speaker Robert DeLeo

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