The Beacon Hill Report - February 20, 2014

Date: February 19, 2014

Massachusetts
employers have had to pay some of the highest unemployment taxes in the nation
for several years and the difference can be significant. For example,
Massachusetts’ employers pay $200 to $300 more per employee per year than their
peers in Connecticut and New York. Reform of the unemployment insurance system
has therefore been at the top of the NFIB legislative agenda for at least
fifteen years. Recently, the Massachusetts Senate took up so-called UI Reform
legislation.

 

Overall,
NFIB believes the Senate version of UI reform was a missed opportunity because
it did not address the underlying cost drivers in the system – easy
qualification for benefits and generous level of benefits that place
Massachusetts out of the mainstream compared to other states. Provisions that
permit qualification for benefits after 15 weeks of work when most states
require 20 weeks and that provide 30 weeks of benefits when all other states
offer 26 weeks or less will continue to make Massachusetts a high cost outlier
in unemployment insurance premiums.  

 

The
bill contained some benefits to employers, such as freezing the rate in 2014,
avoiding a 30% increase and saving employers half a billion dollars, and
providing certainty by setting the rates for 2015-2017. The bill also increased
the definition of seasonal employment from 16 to 20 weeks.

 

But
with a 50% increase in the taxable wage base from $14,000 to $21,000 and the
creation of new cause of action against employers under the guise of
whistleblower protections, the bill simply failed to offer the kinds of cost
savings and long-term reforms that would improve the business climate and lower
the costs of job creation in the Commonwealth.     

I
had an opportunity recently to address the Boston chapter of SCORE, an
organization of retired and experienced business executives whose mission is to
build successful small businesses across the nation, one business at a time.
SCORE is
a nonprofit association dedicated
for fifty years to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and
achieve their goals through education and mentorship. Supported by the U.S.
Small Business Administration (SBA), and a network of 11,000+ volunteers, SCORE
delivers its services at no charge or at very low cost. SCORE provides
volunteer mentors to share their expertise across 62 industries, free,
confidential business counseling in person or via email, free business tools,
templates and tips in person and online, and inexpensive or free business
workshops (locally) and webinars (online 24/7). I highly recommend the services
of the SCORE chapter located near your small business to any small business
owners who could benefit from another set of experienced eyes and ears.  

A group of Republican
legislators presented their small business agenda designed to provide small
business owners with “predictability” and assure the state’s job creators that the
rules are not going to change in the middle of the game” according to Rep. Shauna
O’Connell (R-Taunton).

 

Proposals on the
agenda include a delay between the enactment of a new tax by the legislature
and the effective date for the new tax and a requirement that both the House
and Senate Ways and Means committees hold at least six public hearings around
the state on any proposals to for new or increased taxes. (There were no public
hearings dedicated specifically to the so-called tech tax that was enacted in
July 2013 and then repealed a few months later.) Other proposals would limit
the application of treble damages against small businesses in lawsuits, make
changes in the state’s unique independent contractor law to encourage more
entrepreneurial activity, and mandate cost-benefit analyses prior to
implementation of new state regulations and energy projects. Some of these
ideas could find their way into an economic development bill to be debated in
the House later this year.

Related Content: NFIB in My State | State | Massachusetts

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