SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber (SRC) 2019 Outlook has released its legislative agenda outlining the priorities of its more than 500 members for the legislative session and the major issues it will focus on to strengthen business competitiveness, lower business costs and stimulate growth in the greater Springfield region.
“Every other year, we survey our more than 500 members to gather feedback about the issues that are impacting their business, their success, their growth strategies,” said SRC President Nancy F. Creed. “We then determine our legislative priorities based on what matters most to them and this forms our advocacy roadmap for the coming year.”
Creed noted that more than 6,000 pieces of legislation haven been filed since the start of the legislative session in January, and the SRC has identified more than 600 bills that align with the SRC’s priorities and that could impact the regional business community. Through its Legislative Steering Committee representing industry or all types, sizes and geographies, the SRC researches, monitors and advocates as appropriate on each piece of legislation as it moves through the process.
The SRC’s 2019-2020 legislative agenda touches upon key issues in the areas of health care, workplace issues, workforce development and education, tax policy, and energy.
Creed said the cost of health care and access to it is the number one priority of the business community. “This is a critical issue for our businesses and so we will continue to serve as a watchdog and a voice for the region,” she stated. In support of this focus, Creed serves as a steering committee member of the Employer Health Coalition, an employer-led effort to use its collective influence to uncover solutions that drive real change in the health care delivery system and reduce cost.
Creed said the SRC will also focus its efforts on the ending of the temporary increase to the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (EMAC). To address the rising costs of MassHealth, the Legislature imposed a temporary assessment on businesses to cover these costs. Creed said the assessment was passed as a temporary measure and the legislation dictates it to sunset at the end of 2019. “The Legislature enacted this increase which has unfairly penalized our business community,” she said. “The law promised it would sunset the increase at the end of 2019 and we expect our elected officials to hold to that promise.”
Creed added that the SRC will also work to ensure mandated benefits be evidence-based and that their values exceeds their cost and advocating for equity in hospital reimbursements. “It makes no sense that our area hospitals get reimbursed less than hospitals in the eastern part of the state for the very same service,” she said.
Creed was part of the group that negotiated the legislative compromise which came to be known as the “grand bargain” which enacted, among other things, a new Paid Family and Medical Leave program. She said the SRC will remain actively involved in its implementation. “This remains high on our radar,” said Creed.” With the law enacted, our overarching objective now is to ensure that we get this done right — that the regulations have clarity, the program is implemented with the least disruption to employers, and that both employers and employees understand their responsibilities. We cannot afford to get this wrong.”
In addition, the SRC will encourage reforms to the independent- contractor laws. “Our economy has changed and we should look to reforms to ensure we are keeping up with our changing economy, to encourage entrepreneurialism and incent business growth rather than hindering job creation,” she added. Advocating for a return to prior statutory language for treble damages and opposing changes to wage ‘theft’ laws are also part of the Chamber’s advocacy work.
Workforce development remains a priority for the SRC and its members. Creed said that finding qualified workers is at a critical juncture to the growth of the region. She said that supporting innovation which not only expands educational opportunities but links it to labor market demand will be key to helping businesses with this need. As well, she said the SRC will advocate for modernizing the state funding formula but coupling it with reforms. “We do not support writing a blank check,” she emphasized.
Creed noted that the SRC will continue its focus on the state budget and how revenues are prioritized and spent, including: supporting the rebuilding of the Stabilization Fund, or “Rainy Day” Fund and encouraging it only in dire circumstances; supporting adequate funding for programs to meet the unique needs of the region’s Gateway Cities; advocating for adequate funding for local aid; supporting the maintaining of the state’s high bond rating; ensuring the revenues collected from cannabis taxation are appropriately spent; and opposing any increase in the income tax on business.
Rounding out the SRC’s legislative agenda is energy, and to that end, the SRC will advocate for a comprehensive energy strategy which includes a balanced energy portfolio, development of alternative renewable energy sources, expansion of the supply of natural gas and conservation and energy efficiency measures. “We have the highest energy prices in the country coupled with a shortage of reliable energy, moratoriums right here in our own backyard halting out economic growth, and a costly dependence on coal and oil,” she said. “Renewables alone are not going to solve this problem.”
Creed stated that the legislative process can feel slow moving but it is purposeful. “Our process if meant to be thoughtful and deliberate so that all voices can be heard and considered and the best outcome can be determined,” she said. “And I am pleased that our area’s delegation works within that framework as well.”