Massachusetts lawmakers enter the final two weeks of the legislative session much like college students facing a final exam that counts for 50 percent of the grade.
House and Senate members have built up a solid GPA going into the final by freezing unemployment rates, balancing the budget without new taxes and rejecting a proposal to mandate paid sick time.
But the final grade for the 2011-2012 Beacon Hill session will be writ largely on the basis of two issues with the potential to affect the fortunes of Massachusetts employers for a generation – a bill to control the soaring cost of health insurance and a bill to ease electricity costs that are among the highest in the nation.
Both measures now sit in conference committees where legislators are attempting to hammer out differences between House and Senate versions before formal sessions end on July 31.
Passing the legislative final exam is fortunately more straightforward than that microbiology head-scratcher that ruined the end of your freshman year in college. Employers have drawn a clear roadmap about the steps legislators need to take to ensure that the Massachusetts economy continues to grow in a way that allows companies to create jobs and economic opportunity for the citizens of the commonwealth:
- Pass a health care cost control law that limits increases in medical spending to half a percentage point below overall economic growth. The law should also allow health insurance plans to negotiate separate arrangements with individual hospitals within a health care chain.
- Pass an energy bill that resolves rate inequalities under which commercial and industrial ratepayers foot an increasing percentage of total electricity costs despite using a declining share of power. The bill must not contain provisions that allow electricity distribution companies like NStar and National Grid to increase purchases of long-term contracts for power and renewable energy credits from renewable providers without a transparent competitive bidding process.
There are the two questions for the final. Take out your blue books. You have two weeks. Good luck.