Massachusetts employers face a potential flood of statewide ballot initiatives in the next several years that could fundamentally alter the role of government in regulating private enterprise.
Twenty four groups filed 35 initiative petitions with the attorney general’s office last Wednesday for proposed laws or constitutional amendments to go before voters in 2016 or 2018. The proposals range from mandating paid maternity leave to expanding dysfunctional renewable-energy targets to levying financial penalties for retail stores or fast-food restaurants that change an employee’s schedule within 14 days of a shift.
A proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 4 percent surtax on income more than $1 million could reach the ballot by 2018. The change would boost the overall tax rate by 80 percent on any income more than $1 million, which could have devastating consequences for the large number of Massachusetts businesses organized as subchapter S corporations or limited liability corporations.
The Wednesday filing deadline started a long process by which initiative petitions qualify for inclusion on the statewide election ballot. The attorney general will initially review the petitions to determine whether they meet constitutional requirements. Decisions on certifications will be released on Sept. 2.
The number and variety of potential questions impacting employers would be unprecedented if even a portion of the proposed laws and amendments make it to the ballot.
Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) will participate in discussions with the attorney general as an opponent of the parental leave, surtax, scheduling and solar energy questions. The association’s Board of Directors will review the remaining employer-related questions shortly and determine the positions that AIM will take.
AIM opposes ballot questions generally as an inefficient and clumsy method of resolving complex economic policy decisions.
Progressive groups, emboldened by their success in securing approval for paid sick time last November, are increasingly taking workplace social policy issues directly to voters.
“These initiatives, taken together, represent a broad assault on the ability of employers to create jobs and economic opportunity here in Massachusetts. It appears that social causes now trump economic policy,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.
The parental leave question would require employers to pay women who take leave to give birth or to adopt a child for at least two weeks of that leave. The law would require notice to be posted in any workplace in which females are employed.
One of the renewable energy questions would require that Massachusetts meet all of its electricity needs with renewable power by 2050. The second would increase subsidies to developers of solar power.
Here are all the proposed employer-related ballot questions that have been filed, with links to the text:
15-03 Constitutional Amendment Corporations Are Not People and May Be Regulated. Money is Not Free Speech and May Be Regulated.
15-04 Constitutional Amendment Corporations Are Not People and May be Regulated. The General Court May Limit Political Spending and Contributions.
15-06 Paid Parental Leave (AIM opposes)
15-12 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Ending Common Core Education Standards.
15-17 An Initiative Petition for an Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth to Provide Resources for Education and Transportation through an additional tax on incomes in excess of One Million Dollars.
15-18 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Renewable Energy.
15-19 Massachusetts Fair Health Care Pricing Act.
15-20 Massachusetts Equitable Health Care Pricing Act.
15-26 Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to Solar and Renewable Energy.
15-31 An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools.
15-35 An Initiative Petition for a Law Relating to Fairer Scheduling for Workers
A list of all 36 petitions may be found on the attorney general’s Web site.