Month: June 2014

Legislature Votes to Raise Minimum Wage, Lower Business Costs through Reform

BOSTON – The Mass. Legislature has passed final legislation to increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2017 and lower costs for businesses through an updated unemployment insurance rating table and multi-year rate freeze. Adjusting for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 would be worth $10.72 today.

“These are two very important issues facing the Commonwealth, and I am proud of the Legislature for taking these steps to support our workers and businesses,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “Increasing the minimum wage will make a real difference in the lives of residents and, by updating our unemployment insurance rating table and introducing a multi-year rate freeze for our businesses, we are providing financial predictability and rewarding companies with positive employment histories. These changes are necessary to create a healthy economic environment where both residents and businesses can succeed.”

“With this vote to increase the minimum wage and to reform our unemployment insurance system, the Legislature has strengthened two important aspects of our state’s social and economic fabric,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “By pairing an increase in minimum wage on a non-indexed basis with UI reform we will improve conditions for working families and provide a vehicle for economic growth. I thank Senate President Murray, the conferees and my colleagues in the Legislature for their intelligent and well-considered action on this bill.

“There should be no connection between the words ‘working’ and ‘poor’,” said Senator Stephen M. Brewer (D-Barre), Chair of Senate Ways and Means. “If you work hard for a living, you deserve to be compensated fairly and adequately.”

“This minimum wage increase will not only put more money into the pockets of working families, but will also create jobs and grow our economy,” said Representative Tom Conroy (D-Wayland), Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development. “No one who works full time should be living in poverty, and today’s vote will help bring an end to this situation.  It’s also a significant step toward addressing the rising income divide in our state.  I’m grateful for Speaker DeLeo’s leadership in bringing together members of the business and labor communities to craft this bill, and I’m proud that this legislation will make a real, tangible difference for low-wage individuals and working families throughout the Commonwealth.”

“Raising the minimum wage is a victory for working people across this Commonwealth,” said Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. “As a matter of fundamental fairness and economic policy, helping hardworking people and stimulating economic growth, restoring the minimum wage is the right thing to do. This is the first bill I’ve helped shepherd through the conference committee, and I’m pleased with this historic outcome.” Regarding the unemployment insurance reform included in the bill, Wolf stated the legislation “provides relief and stability to our business community while protecting the important unemployment insurance benefit to those in need.” 

The compromise legislation increases wages for tipped workers to $3.75 per hour by 2017. Current law sets wages at $2.63 for tipped workers. In addition, the minimum wage for agriculture and farming will increase to $8 per hour from $1.60 per hour under this bill.

As part of unemployment insurance reform, the bill expands the experience rating table to allow stable employers to pay lower rates and require negatively rated employees to pay higher rates, from $0.73 per employee to $11.13 per employee. The expanded rating table also sets the taxable wage base at $15,000, an increase of $1,000 to achieve employer savings while ensuring the maintenance of a health UI trust fund.

To further support stable employers in the Commonwealth, the bill also allows the experience rating of employers to be determined by the past three years, instead of the current one-year.

The bill reduces unemployment insurance costs for employers by expanding the seasonal employer exemption to 20 weeks. Under current law, to qualify for certification a seasonal business must be in operation for fewer than 16 weeks or employ workers in one or more functionally distinct job titles for fewer than 16 weeks.

The bill also authorizes the Department of Unemployment Assistance to participate in a federal program that allows the interception of federal tax refunds to recover benefit overpayments.

Business owners will be allowed to collect unemployment benefits if they leave their company but will be required to pay back any money collected if they return to the same company within the same benefit year. Individuals will also be allowed to collect benefits if they quit a second job before they were laid off from their primary job.

The bill also does the following:

  • Establishes a Council on the Underground Economy to combat the underground economy and employee misclassification;
  • Prohibits crewmembers on commercial fishing vessels from being denied unemployment benefits if unemployment is the result of federal fisheries management restrictions;
  • Requires all public contractors to certify they do not owe back Unemployment Insurance payments;
  • Adds whistleblower protections for employees who testify about their employers’ defrauding the system; and,
  • Requires the Department of Unemployment Assistance to hold at least one annual public hearing to receive input from employers;

The bill now goes to the Governor for his final approval.

HOUSE APPROVES COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT LEGISLATION

The Mass. House of Representatives has approved comprehensive economic development and jobs legislation.

The bill aims to further strengthen Massachusetts’ innovation industries and position the state as a global leader both economically and culturally through forward-looking solutions including a focus on emerging industries, investments in workforce development and education, and promoting targeted regional growth.

“Since becoming Speaker in 2009, creating jobs and bolstering our economy has been my top priority,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “Through fiscal prudence and inventive legislation we’ve made unprecedented gains. This bill extends those efforts to ensure that residents, businesses and communities are able to compete and excel in a dynamic, global economy. I’m particularly proud and encouraged by the initiatives that will broaden the circle of economic prosperity to all regions of the Commonwealth”

“This legislation demonstrates a commitment by the House to a robust economy that stretches across Massachusetts,” said Representative Joseph F. Wagner, Chair of the Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies (D-Chicopee). “Through strategic investments and policy initiatives, we aim to encourage private sector investment, strengthen the innovation economy, support the manufacturing sector, and provide workforce training to help meet the critical needs of Massachusetts employers.

The legislation invests $1.5 million in MassCAN, a public-private partnership which requires matching investments dollar-for-dollar, for the development and implementation of a program to establish widespread, progressive computer science education in public schools. It creates and provides $2 million for the Big Data Innovation & Workforce Fund to promote the use of big data and analytics industries, provide tools for related career development and explore how analytics can help address problems of public concern like transportation, energy and public health.

The legislation also invests $2 million in the Talent Pipeline initiative, a program that has won national praise since its creation through the 2012 economic development law. The program encourages students and young innovators to get a head start on their futures by matching stipends for interns at innovation start-ups, and providing mentoring opportunities for new entrepreneurs.

Recognizing the unique role that start-ups and early-growth companies have in revitalizing the economy, this bill includes numerous provisions to support the innovation ecosystem including:

  • Builds on a program allowing PRIM to invest at least $150 million in institutions that make capital available to small businesses and early-stage companies;
  • Provides $1.5 million for MassVentures, an organization that supports the innovation economy by funding early-stage, high-growth startups in Massachusetts as they move from concept to commercialization;
  • Creates the Angel Investor Tax Credit to incentivize investment and foster growth in newly formed start-ups in Massachusetts. Investors are eligible for a 20 percent credit of the qualifying angel investment, 30 percent if the recipient business is located in a Gateway City.
  • Authorizes increased spending for the Infrastructure Investment Incentive (I-Cubed) Program from $325 million to $600 million, and raises the number of allowed I-Cubed projects within any community from three to eight.

Since the 2008 economic downturn, the House of Representatives has strategically targeted economic sectors that will provide sustainable jobs for workers of all skill levels across a variety of industries. The 2014 economic development legislation establishes the Middle Skills Job Training Grant Fund, funded at $15 million, to provide grants to vocational-technical schools and community colleges that will support advanced manufacturing and IT training. The fund seeks to train 4,000 workers in the next four years to meet the talent needs of Massachusetts employers. The bill also funds a matching grant program for small manufacturing companies to provide technical assistance and avert layoffs and closures.

In Speaker DeLeo’s 2014 address to the House Chamber he noted: “There is much to be proud of in Massachusetts. Yet, opportunity is sometimes harder to come by outside Route 495. We need to change that.” The 2014 economic development bill lays the groundwork for this renewal through numerous initiatives, including the creation of the Transformative Development Fund which will support residential, commercial, industrial and institutional development in Gateway Cities. The legislation provides an initial $12 million investment a portion of which will support the creation of Collaborative Workspaces in Gateway Cities to spur innovative and creative business growth.

The bill also improves two existing housing programs, the Housing Preservation & Stabilization Trust Fund through a $5 million investment, and the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) which provides developers with tax credits for mixed-income, market rate projects. This bill eliminates the cap on the number of units permitted per HDIP development and doubles the amount of existing tax credits to $10 million for the next four years. Other regional advancement provisions include:

  • Invests $1.5 million in the Working Cities Challenge, a public-private initiative in partnership with the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, to advance cross-sector collaboration and create lasting economic improvement;
  • Provides $10 million to the Brownfields Redevelopment Fund to encourage development of currently vacant and underutilized properties across the Commonwealth and provides $2.5 million for the Brownfields Redevelopment Access to Capital (BRAC) which offers low-cost environmental insurance to help mitigate risk.
  • Creates a Job Creation Incentive which will allow businesses to receive a tax credit up to $1,000 per job created, or up to $5,000 per job created in a Gateway City, capped at $1 million per project.

The bill also creates a sales tax holiday on August 16th and 17th, marking the ninth year the Commonwealth will provide a two-day sales tax exemption.