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Christopher Geehern

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Employer Confidence Closes 2017 at 18-Year High

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Jan 9, 2018 8:51:27 AM

Surging optimism about the state and national economies left Massachusetts employers with their highest level of confidence in 18 years as 2017 drew to a close.

BCI.December.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) rose one point to 63.6 during December, its highest level since November 2000. The BCI gained 3.2 points during a year in which employer confidence levels remained comfortably within the optimistic range.

Every element of the overall index increased during 2017 except for the Employment Index, which dropped half a point. Analysts believe low unemployment and demographic shifts are impeding the ability of employers to find the workers they need.

“Massachusetts employers maintained a uniformly positive outlook throughout 2017 and passage of the federal tax bill only added to that optimism,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, the 12-month decline in the Employment Index reminds us that the persistent shortage of skilled workers has reached an inflection point for the Massachusetts economy. Massachusetts companies have postponed expansions, declined to bid for contracts or outsourced work because they simply can’t find people.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mostly higher during December.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, surged 2.4 points to 67.6, leaving it 5.8 points better than a year earlier.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions continued a yearlong rally by gaining 2 points to 64.2. December marked the 94th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, decreased 0.7 points to 62.7 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 2.7 points to 64.5. The Current Index gained 3.6 points and the Future Index 2.8 points during 2017.

Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting employer views of their own operations and prospects, declined 0.2 points to 62.1.

The Employment Index rose slightly to 56.7, but still ended the year 0.5 points below the 57.2 posted in December 2016.

Manufacturing companies (64.3) continued to be more optimistic than non-manufacturers (62.6). Another unusual result was that employers in western Massachusetts (64.6) posted higher confidence readings than those in the eastern portion of the commonwealth (62.7).

“Employer attitudes largely reflect a national economy that grew at its fastest pace in three years during the third quarter on the strength of business spending on equipment. The headline is that unemployment is down and the financial markets are up,” said Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management, and a BEA member.

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers received an early Christmas present from a federal tax bill that reduced corporate rates from 35 percent to 21 percent and reduced rates for pass-through entities such as subchapter S corporations as well.

“The tax bill produced short-term benefits, ranging from companies like Comcast and Citizens Financial providing bonuses to employees to the utility Eversource reducing electric rates in Massachusetts,” Lord said.

“At the same time, employers are cautious about the effect that other provisions – including limitations on the deduction for state and local taxes – will have on the overall Massachusetts economy.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

The Top 10 Massachusetts Business Stories of 2017

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 27, 2017 11:13:10 AM

A generational reset of the nation’s tax code, a controversial employer assessment to fund health insurance for poor people, and upheaval surrounding workplace sexual misconduct head the list of the top business stories in Massachusetts for 2017.

Tax.jpgIt was a year in which forces originating outside the borders of the commonwealth heavily influenced the fortunes of employers and political leaders here. Issues ranging from the political maelstrom in Washington, DC, and a strengthening economy to the #metoo movement and Amazon’s search for a second corporate headquarters all filtered into a complex mix that formed the Massachusetts business climate.

The tax law passed by Congress and signed by President Trump just before Christmas reduced the corporate excise tax from 35 to 21 percent and also dropped rates for pass-through businesses that pay at the personal level. Still, Bay State employers worried about adding $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit and new limitations on deductions for state and local taxes that will primarily affect high-cost states like Massachusetts.

Taxes in Massachusetts could be going in the opposite direction next year as advocates spent 2017 pushing a constitutional amendment that would increase the tax from 5 to 9 percent on income more than $1 million. AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord joined four other prominent business leaders during October in filing a lawsuit challenging the validity of the proposed amendment.

“The proposal would lead to a radical decentralization of fiscal policy away from the Legislature and set the stage for future initiatives from a range of interest groups proposing constitutional amendments segregating funds for their preferred causes, or raising tax rates on some groups and lowering taxes on others," Lord said.

Here are the top 10 Massachusetts business stories for 2017:

  1. President Donald Trump signs a tax bill that reduces levies on corporations and pass-through businesses but increases the federal debt and trims popular deductions.

    In addition to lowering the corporate tax to 21 percent, the law will cut the burden on owners, partners and shareholders of S-corporations, LLCs and partnerships through a 20 percent deduction. On the personal side, it lowers many individual income tax rates, doubles the standard deduction, eliminates personal exemptions, narrows the alternative minimum tax, lowers the cap on mortgage interest deductions and caps deductions for state and local taxes at $10,000.

  2. Massachusetts lawmakers impose a $200 million assessment on employers to close a funding gap in the MassHealth insurance program for low-income people.

    The Baker Administration initially proposed a $2,000-per-worker fee for businesses that did not cover at least 80 percent of their workers and share at least 60 percent of the premium cost. The governor and business community eventually negotiated a compromise that placed the heaviest assessments on companies with workers that use Mass Health insurance while outlining structural changes to the Mass Health program. The Legislature approved the assessment without the structural changes, but included rate relief on unemployment insurance premiums.

  3. Employers grapple with the implications of the #metoo movement highlighting sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces ranging from film studios to television networks to restaurants and hotels.

    Employers scrambled to review their policies on sexual harassment – and their enforcement of those policies - as millions of women around the world shared stories of sexual harassment and abuse in the wake of accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The tidal wave washed over high-profile figures from news hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer to celebrity chefs like Mario Batali to classical music conductors like former Boston Symphony Orchestra Maestro James Levine. AIM urged employers to take seriously all employee claims of sexual misconduct on the job and to investigate those claims scrupulously.

  4. Twenty-six Massachusetts communities and regions submit bids to host the $5 billion “second headquarters” development of e-commerce behemoth Amazon.

    The project offers the promise of some 50,000 jobs in the information technology space that is a strength of the Massachusetts economy. Boston submitted a 218-page proposal to site the campus at the current Suffolk Downs property, while New Hampshire gratuitously threw shade on the city as a traffic choked, overly expensive nightmare. Worcester upped the ante by offering $500 million worth of incentives. Amazon said it received 238 proposals in all from throughout North America. The company is expected to narrow that field in 2018.

  5. Activists begin the process of placing on the 2018 statewide ballot the three potential questions that would represent an unprecedented public-policy crisis for Massachusetts employers.

    The proposals include the income surtax constitutional amendment, a mandate that employers provide 16 weeks of paid family leave and 26 weeks of paid medical leave for employees, and an increase in the state the state minimum wage from $11 per hour to $15 per hour.

  6. Employers and advocates hammer out compromise legislation to extend employment protection to pregnant workers in Massachusetts.

    The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees — more frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, or seating for those whose jobs require extended standing. AIM opposed early versions of the bill during the 2015-2016 legislative session because of concern that the legislation provided an applicant or employee with unlimited power to reject multiple and reasonable offers of accommodation by an employer. The compromise bill addressed that concern and others.

  7. A strong employment market and long-term demographic shifts exacerbate the challenge of finding skilled employees, but wage growth remains muted.

    The good news is that the Massachusetts economy continued in full-employment mode during 2017 and the jobless rate dropped to 3.6 percent in November. But experts warn that those numbers threaten to derail the ability of employers to find the workers they need to grow at a time when large number of baby boomers prepare to leave the work force. “The concern is that Massachusetts could become a victim of its own success,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors. Still, wage growth is expected to remain slow during 2018 – the AIM Human Resource Practices Survey published in December shows that employers plan to provide average wage increases of 2.66 percent during 2018, down from 2.75 percent this year.

  8. Employer confidence reaches a 17-year high and remains strong throughout 2017.

    Massachusetts employers remained optimistic as the national economy surged and manufacturers, in particular, grew bullish about their own business prospects. The AIM Business Confidence Index began 2017 at a healthy 61.4 and moved in a narrow range before hitting a high of 62.7 in October. The AIM Index is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral - a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009. The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

  9. The Baker Administration issues new regulations that set specific limits on sources of greenhouse gasses in a move that could increase already high employer electric rates by as much as 2 percent.

    The new rules aim to reduce the state’s carbon emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state law. AIM was extremely disappointed with the regulations. The electric-rate increases generated by the proposed rules, when combined with other pending cost increases, could raise the electric bills of Massachusetts employers some 10 percent in the next year alone. AIM maintains that the regulations are ultimately unnecessary - the administration could have chosen to work with the legislature to change the Global Warming Solutions Act to allow for alternative ways for the electricity sector to meet these obligations.

  10. AIM member CVS Health proposes to acquire insurance company Aetna for $69 billion.

    The merger of one of the nation’s largest retail pharmacy companies with one of its dominant insurers under the shadow of a potential incursion by Amazon underscores the breathtaking changes sweeping through the American health-care and economic systems. With their merged data about people’s health and vast reach, the two companies assert that they can make real change in a health-care landscape that nearly everyone agrees is too convoluted, inefficient and expensive.

 

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Massachusetts economy, Taxes

Employer Confidence Flat; Labor Shortage Remains a Concern

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Dec 5, 2017 9:20:02 AM

Employer confidence in Massachusetts remained essentially unchanged during November as companies apparently began to bump up against a persistent shortage of qualified workers.

BCI.November.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) lost 0.1 points off its 2017 high to 62.6, still 4.5 points better than in November 2016. The slight decline reflected a drop in confidence among non-manufacturing companies and a year-over-year decline in the index that measures employer hiring plans.

Analysts on the AIM Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) believe that Massachusetts may be suffering from too much of a good thing – a 3.7 percent unemployment rate that threatens to derail the ability of employers to find the workers they need to grow at a time when large number of baby boomers prepare to leave the work force.

“The concern is that Massachusetts could become a victim of its own success,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“Employers feel optimistic about the state economy, the national economy and their own growth prospects, but they worry where the computer programmers, machinists and accountants needed to fuel that growth are going to come from and where they are going to live.”

Wage growth, however, remains muted. The AIM HR Practices Survey released yesterday shows that Massachusetts employers project average wage increases of 2.66 percent for 2018, down from 2.75 percent this year.

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were mixed during November.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 0.1 points to 65.2, leaving it 5.4 points better than a year earlier.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions lost 0.3 points to 62.2, pausing after a yearlong rally. October marked the 92nd consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, decreased 0.2 points to 63.4 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, edged down 0.1 points. The Current Index has risen 6.5 points and the Future Index 2.6 points during the past year.
Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.3 points to 62.3. The most significant operational result, however, came in the Employment Index, which lost 1.2 points and ended the month 0.8 points below its level of a year ago. Another unusual result was that manufacturing companies were more optimistic than non-manufacturing companies.

“The movement of the overall Business Confidence Index was small as the economy continued to grow and add jobs at a healthy pace. But the weakness in the Employment Index suggests that the expansion may finally be bumping into a pervasive shortage of skilled workers across multiple industries,” said Katherine A. Kiel, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, College of the Holy Cross, and a BEA member.

Political Fireworks

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, also BEA member, said employers remain upbeat despite uncertainty surrounding the federal and state political landscape.

“The tax bill passed last week by the US Senate contains a significant reduction in both corporate rates and rates for pass-through businesses, two provisions that are widely popular among employers. At the same time, employers are concerned about provisions that could become problematic for Massachusetts, including limits on the deductibility of state and local taxes, and loss of the federal research-and-development credit,” Lord said.

“All this is taking place as activists continue to work to place three questions on the 2018 Massachusetts election ballot that would together impede economic growth for a generation: a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million, an expansive and bureaucratic paid family leave program and an increase in the minimum wage.”

Topics: Skills Gap, AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Would You Buy Your Own Business?

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 30, 2017 8:30:00 AM

Editor’s Note – The following article was written by Rudi Scheiber-Kurtz, CEO of Next Stage Solutions in Burlington, and Gregory R. Rush, Partner & Co-Founder of Dunn Rush & Co. of Boston. They will lead a webinar for AIM and the Exit Planning Exchange New England called “Would You Buy Your Business?” on Wednesday, Dec 6 at noon.

Would you buy your business?

Two_Women.jpgA provocative question indeed, knowing that most business owners will not be able to sell their companies when they’re ready.

It’s discouraging when a business owner realizes that she or he will not get the multiple needed to create a comfortable retirement. According to a recent Forbes article “many owners probably won’t be able to sell their businesses when they’re ready, because they are not taking the critical steps.”

How do you fare in building value for your business, whether in growth mode or ready to sell in the next few years?  Have you done a benchmark assessment to understand where you stand today? What strategic plans have your drawn up for the next three years to achieve sustainable growth?

The December 6 webinar will allow us to take you through the “why” and “how” of building value for your business.  The first part will review benchmarks from a buyers’ perspective and why it is important to focus on these pieces.   The second part will give the “how” tools with seven modules so you can systematically create value over time.

The stakes could not be higher: Getting your business into a scaling and growth mode and increasing the valuation of your business will determine whether you can fund your retirement.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.  Understanding what a buyer thinks of your business will help you to improve the way in which you address market demands.  Taking you out of working in the business to working on the business will transition you from manager to leader, an important next stage for your business.

Yogi Berra’s famous quote “When you get to the fork in the road, take it” is a great thought, however, if you get to the fork and get stuck, you may not have any option about which road to take.

This webinar will be a first step to understanding the perspective of a buyer and what you need to focus on over the next few years.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts is presenting the webinar because many of the association’s 4,000 member employers are small or family-owned companies that struggle with transition strategies.

“Sure, AIM counts plenty of internationally recognized corporations as members, but the association has always had a core membership of small to medium-sized employers who often never have the opportunity to see their businesses the way a potential buyer does,” said AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord.

The one-hour webinar will provide plenty of time for your questions. 

Register for the Webinar

 

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Management

DraftKings CEO Sees Bright Future

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 17, 2017 11:33:48 AM

The worlds of sports, media and gaming are likely to coalesce during the next several years and the co-founder and chief executive of Boston-based DraftKings believes his company and its 8 million customers will be a major player in that new world.

Robins.jpgJason Robins, who built DraftKings into a $1.5 billion fantasy sports colossus in just five years, told 250 business executives at the AIM Executive Forum this morning that companies like his have raised interest in professional sports and given fans an entirely new experience of watching everything from NFL Football to major league soccer

“A lot of exciting things on the horizon,” he said during a 45-minute conversation with AIM President Richard Lord.

"What technology and mobile have done for gaming and media, it's incredible, and we've only sort of reached the tip of the iceberg. I think you're going to see a convergence of media and gaming.

"I also think this sort of media landscape where all the content is scattered around different places and you have to have a bunch of different services or you have to sort through 800 cable channels to find what you're looking for, it's not necessary anymore."

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) allows fans to enter daily and weekly fantasy sports contests and win prizes based on individual players’ performances. Industry researchers estimate that players spent an estimated $3.26 billion on daily fantasy sports in 2016.

Robins said DraftKings surpassed more established competitors to became the pre-eminent DFS company “because we had a better mousetrap.” The keys to that mousetrap, he said, were products, technology and analytics that created a “game within a game” for sports fans.

What Robins and his partners did not anticipate in 2012 was the intense level of regulatory scrutiny that DraftKings and other DFS companies would engender both in Massachusetts and across the country.

DraftKings has supported consumer-protection regulations for the fantasy industry implemented by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in 2016 covering issues such as excluding minors, ensuring “fair” gameplay, prohibiting contests on college sports, and spelling out standard marketing practices. Robins said those regulations, though not perfect, have become the basis for DFS legislation in more than a dozen other states.

The company is less enthusiastic about a commission report several months ago that recommended that the Massachusetts Legislature enact a law that would label DFS as gambling and give the Massachusetts Gaming Commission oversight over the industry.

“I will continue to work with them on the way they have gone about their analysis,” Robins said.

He believes the future is a bright one for DraftKings in large measure because of its customer demographics. DraftKings, he said, have the customers everyone wants – millennials in higher income brackets who do not hesitate to spend money on entertainment.

"What we've tried to do is position ourselves as a platform, partner with companies that own these types of rights, and say, look, we can help you in the world where you're trying to grow your subscriptions, your direct-to-consumer business," Robins said.

"We have the customers you want, we know exactly what they're interested in and we have the data to target them."

Topics: Technology, AIM Executive Forum

Business Confidence Hits Another High for 2017

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Nov 7, 2017 8:27:44 AM

Employer confidence in Massachusetts hit another high for 2017 during October as economic growth accelerated and companies remained optimistic about the national outlook.

BCI.October.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) edged up 0.3 points to 62.7, leaving it 6.5 points better than in October 2016. The uptick was driven by a brightening view of employment growth and firming confidence among manufacturers.

The reading came as MassBenchmarks reported that the Massachusetts economy grew at 5.9 percent during the third quarter, almost double the rate of the national economy. Payroll employment grew at a 2.1 percent annual rate in Massachusetts in the third quarter as compared to 1.2 percent nationally.

“The acceleration of the Massachusetts economy in the third quarter provided additional fuel to an already solid sense of confidence among employers as we head for 2018,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“At the same time, optimism about the national economy suggests that employers believe growth rates throughout the US will increase even more if Congress follows through on its proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Constituent Indicators

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index pointed mostly higher during October.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, slipped 0.3 points to 65.1, still 4.1 points more than a year earlier. October marked the 91st consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions rose 2.7 points to 62.5, continuing a 13.3-point surge for the 12-month period. 

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 0.7 points to 63.6 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, remained even at 61.9 points. The Current Index has risen 7.6 points and the Future Index 5.6 points during the past year.

Operational Views

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, lost 0.3 points to 62.0. There was better news in the Employment Index, a key predictor of economic health, which rose 2.0 points to 57.8.

“The Massachusetts economy continues to grow at a robust pace and to add jobs in a broad array of sectors despite tightening regional labor markets. With the statewide unemployment rate now below four percent, it is not clear the commonwealth’s economic expansion is sustainable at its current pace,” noted Professor Michael D. Goodman, Executive Director of the Public Policy Center (PPC) at UMass Dartmouth and a BEA member.
Massachusetts Concerns

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said employer optimism continues to be tempered by the prospect of three potentially destructive ballot questions appearing on the 2018 state election ballot.

“Massachusetts employers face an unprecedented public-policy crisis as activists seek to place three questions on the 2018 Massachusetts election ballot that would together impede economic growth for a generation: a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million, an expansive and bureaucratic paid family leave program and an increase in the minimum wage,” Lord said.

“Having just honored 16 Massachusetts employers for creating jobs and economic opportunity for the people of Massachusetts, AIM remains concerned about ballot questions that are clearly intended to be punitive toward employers.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

Business Leaders File Suit Against Proposed Income Surtax

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 3, 2017 11:17:56 AM

AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord is among five prominent business leaders who filed suit today challenging the validity of a proposed constitutional amendment imposing a surtax on incomes more than $1 million.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgThe five business and fiscal policy leaders - representing a range of traditional and well-established companies, innovative start-ups and small and owner-operated businesses throughout the Commonwealth - filed their complaint with the Supreme Judicial Court, challenging an initiative petition recently certified for the 2018 Massachusetts ballot.

The initiative petition at issue in the complaint seeks to amend the state Constitution to impose a new graduated income tax, adding a new four percent tax (representing an 80 percent increase in the personal income tax rate) on all incomes more than $1 million and dictating how the revenue must be spent.

The plaintiffs assert that the proposal is riddled with constitutional flaws. It cynically and improperly combines a graduated income tax that has been rejected each and every time by Massachusetts voters, with attractive spending in a prohibited manipulation of the vote called “logrolling.” And it does something that has never been done before: never in the history of Massachusetts has a tax or tax rate been set in the Constitution, making the new tax essentially permanent and unchangeable.

The five plaintiffs lead organizations that represent the full breadth of the Massachusetts economy and are united in their commitment to ensuring that the Commonwealth continues to foster conditions that support job development and economic growth. They are: Christopher Anderson, President of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, Inc. (MHTC); Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB); Richard Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM); Eileen McAnneny, President of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation (MTF); and, Daniel O’Connell, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP).

The named defendants in the lawsuit are Attorney General Maura Healey and Secretary of State William Galvin.

“It is really important to understand that this lawsuit is not about whether creating a new graduated income tax is good public policy or bad public policy, it is about the way that it is being done, which we find to be so clearly flawed and unconstitutional that it is alarming,” said Chris Anderson of the MHTC, speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“We would be equally opposed if they were proposing the opposite and trying to roll back the income tax and cut funding for education or transportation. Amending the Constitution to achieve taxing and spending by popular vote is just a terrible idea, and could undo much of the good work that Massachusetts has done in terms of creating a successful economic climate.”

The plaintiffs also note that it is critical to understand the difference between typical initiative petitions (also referred to as ballot questions) that amend state statutes, which voters are accustomed to seeing, and this ballot question that would change the Massachusetts Constitution and strip the Legislature of its ability to easily amend the policy in the future. Only three initiative petitions to amend the Constitution have ever appeared on the ballot.

The plaintiffs’ complaint, prepared and filed by attorney Kevin Martin of Goodwin Procter, outlines three critical ways in which the proposal violates the requirements and restrictions of Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution – which specifies the limits of the initiative petition process – and is therefore unconstitutional.
  • It combines three unrelated subjects: it establishes a graduated income tax, and mandates spending the money raised only on education and transportation. These three parts are not mutually dependent or related and for this reason violate Article 48’s ban on “logrolling,” a strategy by which an unpopular provision is joined with a popular provision making it more likely they both will pass. Here, the filers of the proposed initiative petition are seeking to pass the unpopular graduated income tax – rejected by Massachusetts voters five times in its history – by combining it with the popular causes of funding for education and transportation.

  • The second legal flaw is that it improperly allocates funding. Article 48 specifically bars initiative petitions that “make a specific appropriation of money from the treasury” and this one would require that all revenue raised by the new tax be spent “only” on education and transportation. This usurps the Legislature’s sole Constitutional authority to set state spending policy.

  • The third constitutional problem is that Article 48 does not authorize the use of an initiative petition to set taxes in the Constitution, outside of the Legislature’s control. Never in the history of the Commonwealth has a tax or a tax rate been set in the Constitution. 

“Here is the bottom line,” concluded Anderson. “On five occasions since 1915, Massachusetts citizens have considered ballot initiatives that would empower the Legislature to establish a graduated income tax and the citizens rejected all five.

“In this latest attempt, the proponents have decided not to propose authorizing the Legislature to adopt a graduated income tax. They have decided to impose it through the initiative petition, amending the Constitution. As a key element of the strategy, they have logrolled it by including two attractive subjects that would receive the funding. And they have limited the set of people who would be impacted. This would set a bad precedent for Massachusetts, which will likely lead to future amendments to the Constitution by other special interest groups. This time it is about those making over a million dollars, what’s next?”

Topics: Income Surtax, Election 2018, Taxation

Employer Confidence Rebounds

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 3, 2017 9:05:54 AM

Massachusetts employers are as optimistic as they have been all year about the overall economy and prospects for their own businesses.

BCI.September.2017.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index (BCI) broke a two-month slide in September, rising 1.2 points to 62.4. The reading equaled its high for 2017 and was 6.5 points better than a year ago.

Employer confidence has moved in a narrow range so far in 2017 as employers appear bullish about the growth prospects of their companies. The September uptick was driven in part by a 5.7-point surge in the sales index, which is often a leading indicator of increased business activity.

“The Index was also taken prior to the announcement of an effort by Congressional Republicans and the White House to significantly reduce corporate taxes, a move that enjoys broad support among employers,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The prospect of tax reform and tax simplification is likely to buoy employer sentiment through the end of the year.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The Index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

The constituent indicators that make up the overall Business Confidence Index were generally higher during September.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, rose 2.2 points to 65.4, a reading that was 8.4 points higher than in September 2016.

The U.S. Index of national business conditions dropped 0.4 points to 59.8 after surging more than 10 points during the previous 12 months. September marked the 90th consecutive month in which employers have been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than the national economy.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, increased 1.6 points to 62.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, rose 0.7 points to 61.29 The Future Index ended the month 5.9 points higher than a year ago.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, gained 1.4 points to 62.3. The employment Index fell 2.2 points to 55.8, continuing an up-and-down pattern within the mid-50s on the 100-point scale.

“The Massachusetts economy continues to maintain a steady recovery, with employers adding 10,800 jobs during August and the state jobless rate declining to 4.2 percent,” said Elmore Alexander, Dean, Ricciardi College of Business, Bridgewater State University, and a BEA member.

“The surge in the AIM Sales and Future indices suggests that business activity may actually accelerate in coming months, so the primary challenge for employers will remain hiring and retaining skilled workers in a tight labor market.”

AIM President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said employers generally support federal initiatives to reduce business taxes, but also remain concerned about the potential effect those reductions might have on the federal deficit.

It is ironic, Lord said, that the proposed Republican tax plan would lower levies for subchapter S corporations and other small pass-through businesses, while Massachusetts voters may be voting on a surtax next year on those same companies.

“Subchapter s corporations and other companies that pay taxes on the individual level are generally small to medium-sized enterprises that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy. What a shame it would be if the federal government were to help these companies while Massachusetts penalizes them,” he said.

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy, Massachusetts employers

AbbVie - Employer Remains Determined to Make a Difference

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Oct 2, 2017 3:25:52 PM

Editor's note: The global pharmaceutical company AbbVie will receive a 2017 AIM Next Century Award on Thursday at the association's annual employer celebration from 4:30-6:30 at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. AbbVie's 450,000-square-foot Worcester facility employs approximately 900 employees who primarily focus on immunology drug research, protein engineering, and small-batch manufacturing of biotech drugs for clinical trials.

 

Register for the Worcester Celebration

Topics: Massachusetts employers, Technology, AIM Next Century Award

TechSpring - Collision Space for Health-Care Technology

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Sep 19, 2017 2:04:52 PM

Editor's note - TechSpring at Baystate Health will receive an AIM Next Century award at the association's Western Massachusetts employer celebration on September 28 from 4:30-6:30 pm at the Wood Museum of Springfield History. TechSpring, a health-care technology innovation center launched in 2014 by the regional medical services company Baystate Health, provides technology companies access to a live health system to test and validate digital-health solutions. Here is one example:

Next Frontier in Population Health from TechSpring Health on Vimeo.

 Register for the Western Massachusetts Next Century Celebration

Topics: Technology, Health Care, AIM Next Century Award

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