A transformation is taking place on Beacon Hill, driven by the growing willingness of Massachusetts employers to communicate with state lawmakers.
The traditional cynicism among business people that “they never listen anyway” has in recent years given way to the reality that employer activism has put jobs and economic growth on the front burner of state politics. Everyone from Governor Deval Patrick to House Republicans is proposing economic development plans to address the cost of doing business, regulatory reform and education.
State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, is among a new generation of state legislators who have their ears open to the employers who create opportunity for the people of Massachusetts. Forry led her committee on an eight-stop statewide listening tour during the dark days of the recession in 2009-2010, and the result has been a series of bills aimed at reducing regulatory red tape and controlling the cost of health insurance.
“The top three concerns we heard about at every stop from the North Shore to Springfield were over-burdensome regulations, limited access to capital and rising healthcare costs,” Forry says.
The listening tour paved the way for passage of the AIM-backed Small Business Impact Statements Bill (H3772), which was signed in part into law in August 2010 as part of the omnibus Economic Development Reorganization bill. The measure requires state agencies to assess the potential impact of all new regulations on small businesses before their implementation and to review old and current regulations to take out any unnecessary or over-burdensome rules.
Governor Patrick upped the ante on regulatory reform last month when he announced that the commonwealth will review more than 1,000 state regulations to find at least 250 rules that can be streamlined or rescinded. State agencies have been directed to consider the appropriateness of adopting national models or standards to align the state’s practices with those in place elsewhere in the country.
The same 2010 Economic Development bill that produced the small-business impact requirement also simplified access to capital by consolidating the Massachusetts Community Development Finance Corporation (CDFC) and the Economic Stabilization Trust (EST) into the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.
And Forry isn’t finished. She recently worked with AIM to file H2896, An Act to Provide Immediate Relief to Small Businesses on Healthcare Costs, under which employees already covered by an alternative healthcare plan - through a spouse for example - would be removed from the calculation determining the "Fair Share Contribution.” The bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Public Health.
“Small businesses are critical to the economic growth and vitality of the entire Commonwealth, and I strongly believe it is only through building partnerships with you that we will envision and realize policies enabling our communities to thrive once again,” Forry said.
The lesson for employers is that the 2008 recession and financial crisis have underscored for public officials the importance of creating a business climate that will put some of the 240,000 unemployed Massachusetts residents back to work. Sure, government can seem like a foreign country to business people accustomed to making decisions on a dime. But the doors are more open than they have been in years. Don’t hesitate to speak up.