‘Something For Nothing’ Ballot Questions Would Take Huge Sums To Fight, Warns Massachusetts Business Advocate

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/06/15/something-for-nothing-ballot-questions-would-take-huge-sums-to-fight-warns-massachusetts-business-advocate/

Fighting off “something for nothing” ballot questions that would hurt business owners could cost as much as $10 million apiece because the proposals are so popular, an advocate for Massachusetts business owners said.

“The long-term lesson may be a fundamental change in the way employers approach ballot questions,” said Richard G. Lord, president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, in a letter posted on the organization’s web site earlier this week.

Business advocates are worried about three ballot questions could go to voters in November asking them to change current economic policy in Massachusetts:  increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour (from $11 an hour now), mandating paid family and medical leave, and adding a four-percentage-point surtax on incomes more than $1 million.

Recent polls suggest roughly 80 percent of voters in Massachusetts support all three measures. Lord referred in his letter to “the sobering reality that the questions enjoy overwhelming support in early voter polls, not surprising given proposals that appear to offer something for nothing.”

A fourth ballot question, proposed by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, would decrease the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent (where it was from the mid-1970s until 2009). That ballot question currently enjoys the support of about two-thirds of voters, according to a recent WBUR poll.

Lord and other opponents of the millionaires’ tax are fighting the proposed ballot question in court, arguing that it violates the state constitution because it ties the tax increase to specific areas of spending (education and transportation). The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule on that matter soon – perhaps as early as next week. (The court has already taken longer than it normally does to rule on cases.)

But the minimum wage hike and family-and-medical-leave ballot questions have drawn no legal challenges and seem likely to pass if they go to voters in November.

That’s one reason Lord has been negotiating with state legislators and supporters of the ballot questions to try to come up with a “grand bargain” that in his view would mitigate the first three proposals would cause.

But he warned in the letter that business owners may have to accept “the unsavory trifecta of mandated paid leave, an accelerating minimum wage and possibly an income tax surcharge.”

The minimum wage increase would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

The paid-leave ballot question would allow workers who qualify for it to take up to 16 weeks of family leave after a birth, adoption, or placement in foster care; to care for a family member who is seriously ill; or to address needs stemming from a family member’s active-duty service in the military. Workers who qualify could take up to 26 weeks of paid medical leave.

In all such cases, employers would pay employees who aren’t working.

Supporters of the minimum wage hike, paid leave, and income surtax proposals say they would provide struggling people in Massachusetts with a just wage, the ability to tend to their family needs, and dignity.

Opponents of the measures say they would harm the state’s economy, perhaps disastrously, by making it too expensive to hire and keep employees and by driving out high-income earners, including those who own businesses that employ people.

Without divulging details, Lord said negotiators have made progress on a family-and-medical leave compromise.

“The talks have been intense but respectful on a complex and multi-faceted proposal that could add more than $1 billion in benefit costs to employers and workers if passed in November,” Lord wrote in the letter, dated Tuesday, June 12. “Challenging issues remain and anyone involved in negotiations knows that the final compromises are always the most difficult. But it’s fair to say that we are confident about reaching an agreement on a paid leave plan that will be far less economically punitive than the one set out in the ballot question.”

Negotiators are further apart on minimum wage and the sales tax decrease.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which is sponsoring the proposed sales tax cut, is asking advocates of the other measures to accept a deal that would eliminate time-and-a-half pay on Sundays and create a sub-minimum wage for teen-agers, according to a letter made public last week by Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of labor unions and advocates for poor people that is pushing the minimum wage hike, paid leave, and the income surtax.

“Policies such as a sub-minimum wage for teens or the elimination of Sunday time-and-a-half pay would hurt some of our most vulnerable workers and their families, and we cannot support or accept them,” Raise Us Massachusetts said in an letter to Senate President Harriette Chandler and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, dated Thursday, June 7.

Raise Up Massachusetts said in the letter than talks with business advocates had reached a “standstill” – but both sides may be waiting for the court decision on the millionaires’ income tax surcharge to see where they stand.