'Grand Bargain' Reached on Paid Leave, Minimum Wage, Sales Tax

Posted by John Regan on Jun 20, 2018 11:18:45 AM

The Massachusetts Legislature will today consider a sweeping compromise between the business community and progressive groups on the issues of paid family and medical leave, minimum wage and a reduction of the state sales tax. 

StateHouse-resized-600The so-called “grand bargain” follows months of negotiations among employers, labor unions, community groups and legislators seeking to eliminate three potential November ballot questions – one asking voters to approve paid leave, a second to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and a third to reduce the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

Debate on the compromise comes two days after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court disallowed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have imposed a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million and earmarked the money for transportation and education.

“AIM has worked diligently under difficult circumstances to get the best deal possible for Massachusetts employers on all three issues,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.  “We commend the representatives of the Raise Up Coalition, other business groups, and the members of the General Court for working long and hard to reach an agreement.”

“While everyone gives something during a negotiation, we are satisfied and believe that our member employers are better off with a legislative compromise than with voter approval of the language of the ballot questions as drafted.” 

The compromise will phase in mandated paid family and medical leave over three years for all Massachusetts employers. AIM and other business groups negotiated reductions in the duration of family leave from 16 weeks in the proposed ballot question to 12 weeks, and of personal medical leave from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.

The cost of the program may be split between employers and workers, though the sharing arrangements are different based upon the type of leave and the size of a company.

More importantly, the compromise includes an opt-out provision for employers with programs that offer benefits greater than or equal to what an employee would receive in the state program.

Workers on paid leave will earn 80 percent of their wages up to 50 percent of the state average weekly wage, then 50 percent of wages above that amount, up to an $850 cap.

The compromise envisions that the Retailers Association of Massachusetts will drop its proposed ballot question on reducing the sales tax. In return, the compromise will phase out the requirement that retail workers earn time-and-a half for working on Sundays; create a permanent, two-day sales tax holiday; and will not include an automatic indexing provision of the minimum wage, currently $11 per hour and increasing to $15 per hour over five years.

The negotiations were carried out against the backdrop of polls indicating overwhelming support for all three ballot questions, not surprising given that the proposals appeared to offer something for nothing. Recent polls put support for the paid family and medical leave question at 82 percent and support for a $15 minimum wage at 78 percent.

Experts believe that a campaign to defeat questions with those sorts of poll numbers could cost $10 million per initiative. The ballot process is one-sided, winner-take-all. Coming to a legislative compromise avoids that by allowing a broader group of people to have input into key decisions to create policies that work for everyone.

AIM’s objectives for the negotiations were clear:

  • Encourage a legislative compromise that is balanced and fair, and that protects a strong Massachusetts economy.
  • Create programs that are accountable, have strong controls, and allow employers the flexibility to offer benefits that will attract and retain their employees.

Topics: Minimum Wage, Mandated Paid Leave, tax

The Constitutional Amendment Tax Trap - Myths and Facts, Part 2

Posted by John Regan on Jun 9, 2017 10:00:00 AM

Editor's note - Beacon HIll lawmakers will vote on Wednesday whether to place on the 2018 statewide ballot a proposed constitutional amendement that would impose a four percentage-point surtax (an 80 percent increase) on incomes of more than $1 million. AIM opposes the Constitutional Amendment Tax Trap and will look at the myths and facts surrounding the issue each day through next Wednesday.

Myth: The new tax revenue will be dedicated to funding only investments in public education and transportation.

Finance.pen.small.jpgFact: There is no guarantee that any additional funds from the increased income tax would go to education, transportation or any other dedicated purpose. Any new tax revenue will go straight to the state’s general fund to be appropriated by the legislature for any purpose whatsoever.

The proponents are asking taxpayers to trust future legislatures to keep this spending promise. Unfortunately, the legislature has a long history of diverting the flow of funds that taxpayers believed were “dedicated” for a specific purpose. For example, the leader of a Massachusetts anti-smoking non-profit estimates that 99 percent of $851 million in state tobacco taxes and related revenues have been diverted away from the tobacco cessation programs they were “dedicated” to support.

Similarly, the legislature has previously diverted tens of millions of dollars from the Renewable Energy Trust Fund and the Workforce Training Fund to satisfy unrelated spending demands.

(Source: Lawrence Eagle Tribune, 1.27.13)

Myth: This new tax will support approximately $2 billion in additional state spending.

Fact: It is unlikely that actual revenues from the new tax will be remotely close to the $2 billion proponents estimate.

Many of the individuals who are most likely to be impacted by the tax are highly mobile and their income can fluctuate significantly from year to year. Any revenue generated by the new tax will be volatile at best. When these taxpayers leave Massachusetts, the state will lose significant revenue it would otherwise have captured.

Maryland estimated its 2007 “millionaire tax” surcharge would raise $330 million. Instead it raised just $120 million, leaving state lawmakers - who had immediately locked in $330 million in additional, permanent spending - with a gaping budget deficit. Researchers also estimate Maryland lost $5 billion in personal income tax collections from 2000 to 2010 due in part to high income individuals migrating to states with lower taxes.

Connecticut first adopted an income tax in 1991 and the state taxes high income earners at a rate of 6.99 percent, more than double the rate applied to the lowest tax bracket. In the past 25 years, Connecticut lost more than $12 billion in net adjusted gross income to other states.

(Sources: Maryland Public Policy Institute; the Tax Foundation; the Yankee Institute for Public Policy; Forbes.)

Topics: Income Surtax, tax

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