This article provides insight into some of the most pressing issues facing Massachusetts policymakers as the 2013–2014 legislative session approaches.
With the November 2012 election behind us and the New Year upon us, it is time to focus on what lies ahead as far as policy discussions on Beacon Hill are concerned. The financial health of the Commonwealth will dominate the direction of many initiatives, but there are other less flashy, more onerous, issues on the horizon. It will be crucial to focus on the development of these issues and the timing of their formulation. Below is a list of 10 issues likely to be considered by Massachusetts policymakers in 2013.
With the recent unwelcome news that declining revenue receipts will prohibit an automatic decrease in the state income tax rate, it is now clear that legislators and administration officials will look to the income tax as a way to increase the state coffers. More important, the pending federal fiscal cliff, as well as the overburdened and underfunded state transportation system, will necessitate a robust discussion around increased revenues. Raising income tax levels could provide a significant source of funding to address these and other problems.
Another source of revenue that will be examined as a way to bail the state out of its transportation financing predicament is the gas tax. The message from Beacon Hill is that the state transportation system’s fiscal and structural health is in dire straights, so it is clear the gas tax will be “on the table” as discussions continue on how to fix the transportation delivery system.
Although the 2009 increase in sales tax from 5 percent to 6.25 percent is most fresh in people’s minds, it is also the source of an ongoing, albeit quiet, debate on Beacon Hill. Will the public accept another increase in sales tax? After all, at 6.25 percent, Massachusetts sales tax is still below neighbors like Rhode Island and Connecticut, which have tax rates of 7 percent and 6.35 percent, respectively.
Paid Sick Leave
For several years, the issue of mandating paid sick leave has festered under the surface. But after the substantial wins for Democrats in Massachusetts and the United States, there is a very real possibility that proposals like mandatory paid sick leave will gain traction. Depending on the details of the legislation and how businesses currently treat the issue, this initiative could have a real impact on business operations for years to come.
Environmentalists have hoped for several years to increase recycling rates and expand the types of bottles collected under revisions proposed to the state’s bottle collection law. However, leaders in both branches have been skeptical of such proposals in the past. It remains to be seen how the legislature will handle this issue in 2013, but it is clear that it will be at the forefront of policy discussions again.
Health Policy Commission
The state began the ambitious task of reining in health care costs by passing omnibus legislation that, among other things, established the Health Policy Commission. This commission is charged with monitoring the implementation of health care payment reform and setting goals to reduce the growth rate of health care costs. This issue is certainly a marathon, not a sprint, and the details of regulations to be promulgated and implemented could impact any entity who is part of the delivery of health care services in the Commonwealth.
Unemployment Insurance Rate Freeze and Reform
Every few years or so, the legislature embarks on an effort to balance the interests of employers and employees through unemployment insurance reform, and 2013 will be no different. With unemployment numbers fluctuating quite literally with the seasons and increasing costs associated with the underemployed and unemployed, it will be a critical time for decisions to be made that will set the state on the path to true economic recovery.
This initiative places strict controls on the use of certain chemicals in products and manufacturing processes. Although this proposal has not gained significant traction in the past, there has been a renewed effort to frame this debate in terms of health risks for the state’s workforce, and organized labor is expected to renew its push for the passage of this bill in 2013.
Many state leaders embraced the conclusions drawn by the Tax Expenditure Commission when it released its recommendations earlier this year. More specifically, the Commission outlined a method by which the state would require the justification of tax programs and incentives. In the event that a particular program didn’t pass muster, policymakers would be forced to debate the merits of eliminating the program. This issue will be at the forefront of policy discussions and could provide at least some relief from the fiscal nightmare that could soon be at the Commonwealth’s doorstep.
Integrating “Obamacare” and “Romneycare”
Although Massachusetts is far ahead of other states because it has already established a well-run health insurance exchange, known as the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, there are still elements of Obamacare that need to be addressed in Massachusetts. It can be expected that legislation and regulation will be drafted to accomplish this as seamlessly as possible so as to prevent interruption of health insurance coverage for the state’s residents. However, careful attention should be paid to any proposal that is put on the table to avoid unforeseen consequences of perhaps hastily drawn provisions.
These are just some of the issues that will be at the forefront of policy discussions on Beacon Hill. However, with the bill filing deadline in mid-January approaching, hundreds of other initiatives may gain traction as legislative leaders sift through the proposals. Therefore, any business interest in Massachusetts must remain vigilant and up to date on legislative initiatives that will have the potential to impact their industry in 2013 and beyond.