Employers Give Senate’s Unemployment Insurance Bill Mixed Review

NOTE: The Massachusetts High Technology Council emailed out a statement criticizing the Senate’s bill mid-debate, while the AFL-CIO said ahead of the debate that it was in favor of the legislation.

By Andy Metzger

Aiming to stabilize business costs for the next few years and provide rate relief to employers with good employee retention records, the Senate passed an unemployment insurance reform bill Thursday that got mixed reviews from business leaders.

Sen. Dan Wolf, a Harwich Democrat and part-owner of Cape Air, said the bill is revenue-neutral, will provide four years of rate stability and better distinguishes between “who uses the system and who doesn’t” when determining the level of taxes paid by businesses to pay for jobless benefits.

“This bill will provide financial predictability, reward positive employment histories with lower costs and foster a healthy economy that supports the business community,” Senate President Therese Murray said in a statement. “These reforms strike a careful balance between providing businesses with a helping hand without taking that same hand away from the unemployed.”

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Gov. Deval Patrick uses last State of the State speech to push for new minimum wage

NOTE: House Speaker Robert DeLeo says a bill will likely get done this year, but he wants to make sure it’s coupled with changes to the state’s unemployment insurance system to reduce its burden on businesses.

By Jon Chesto
Boston Business Journal

Gov. Deval Patrick’s final State of the Commonwealth speech focused on his legacy — the ways in which he’d like the state to be a better place than it was when he first took office seven years ago. Chief among those changes, not surprisingly, is an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Patrick certainly mentioned a number of other goals for his final year — more rail service, expanded all-day kindergarten, unemployment insurance reform. And he ticked off a laundry list of accomplishments.

But it was his brief mention of the minimum wage increase that seemed to draw the loudest and longest applause last night.  Continue reading

Senate Approves $177 Million Military Bond Bill

By Michael Norton
State House News Service

The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing $177 million in state spending to support six state military bases and, according to supporters, put Massachusetts in a stronger position should the federal government close or realign military bases.

“All the states are looking at this in a very competitive way,” said Sen. Ken Donnelly (D-Arlington) said before the Senate voted 37-2 for the so-called military bond bill.

Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton) and Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) opposed the bill, noting that military funding is a federal responsibility and cautioning that capital spending on other state priorities would likely be at risk given the state’s borrowing limits.

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DeLeo Resists Call to Divorce Minimum Wage From Insurance System Changes

NOTE: In a Nov. 25 memo to lawmakers, Mass. High Tech Council President Chris Anderson said UI system reforms could address the perception among its members that is “less competitive” on cost issues than other states. The council found 67 percent of tech community survey respondents supported an increase in the minimum wage up to $10 an hour if UI system reforms were included as an “inseparable component” of the minimum wage proposal.

By Colleen Quinn and Michael Norton
State House News Service

Despite calls from prominent Democrats to separate the issues, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not swayed from his plan to tie an increase in the minimum wage with unemployment insurance system reforms sought by businesses.

“I am still of that mind,” DeLeo told the News Service Tuesday after an event at the State House. “I have not changed my mind.”

Asked about a “sub-minimum wage” for teenagers and workers in training that would be lower than the regular minimum wage, DeLeo said he is considering that idea.

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Air Force Seeks Hanscom Tech Bids

By Scott Van Voorhis

Jim Burnett chatted away with Hanscom Air Force Base officials long after the event at Burlington’s Hilton Garden Inn had ended, touting the virtues of a compact new cooling system designed to keep military electronics functioning smoothly in the harshest environments on earth.

Burnett, government affairs chief for Marlborough-based Aspen Systems Inc., was one of an estimated 150 small-business owners and employees who turned out Wednesday morning to hear an unusual pitch by Air Force officials.

Hanscom is seeking to boost the number of technology companies that bid each year on the $2.8 billion in research and development contracts awarded each year through the Bedford military installation.

And in an effort to drum up interest, top Air Force officials laid out a range of potential contract opportunities, making their pitch in an event typically reserved for big companies.

“It is really a hotbed of technology talent here,” said Chuck Paone, public affairs director at Hanscom. “Small businesses tend to bring a lot of innovation to the table.”

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Nonstop Flight Connects Boston, China

By Donna Goodison

The first nonstop air service between Boston and Beijing will be announced next week, the Herald has learned — and it promises to dramatically boost business between a leading world technology and research zone here in the Hub and China’s massive emerging market.

Massport, after years of pushing for the globe-shrinking flights, is due to announce next week that China’s Hainan Airlines will launch nonstop service in June, initially four times per week, according to sources briefed on the plans. The airline filed an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Nov. 12 that’s expected to be approved early next week, the sources told the Herald.

“China is a huge market opportunity,” said Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council. “This is obviously very welcome. It not only helps our economy gain easier access to another market — direct service to anywhere opens up access for that location to our innovation assets.”

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Biz: Tie Wage Hike to Jobless Pay, Groups Say Insurance Reform Essential

By Donna Goodison
Boston Herald

Business groups indicated they are willing to back a more modest minimum wage hike than the state Senate wants, but insist on tying any increase to unemployment insurance reform.

“Neither one of these are going to go through on their own,” Massachusetts High Technology Council President Christopher Anderson said yesterday after meeting with House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who also wants one bill that links the two.

Anderson said he expects a House bill reflecting that “balanced” strategy after last week’s Senate vote to hike the minimum wage to $11 an hour, from $8, by July 2016 and link future increases to inflation.

State Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) wants unemployment insurance reform handled in a separate bill next year.

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Biz Group may be open to Mass. Minimum Wage Hike

NOTE: The council demonstrated its clout earlier this year as one of the business groups that successfully lobbied the Legislature to repeal the ‘‘tech tax,’’ a short-lived sales tax on computer and software services.

‘‘I think the lesson on the tech tax was that if we pursue policies that provide negative consequences to our ability to grow and retain jobs in Massachusetts, that’s a problem for our overall competitiveness,’’ Anderson said.

By BOB SALSBERG
Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — Business leaders appear open to supporting a modest hike in the state’s $8 per hour minimum wage, but only if coupled with business-friendly reforms in the unemployment insurance system.

The Massachusetts Senate approved a stand-alone bill last week that would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2016 and index future increases to inflation. The House has not yet acted on the measure.

Many business leaders warn that a hike in the minimum wage could force employers to trim jobs and price some low-skilled workers out of the labor force.

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Tech Industry Opposes Minimum Wage Increase without UI Reforms

By Sara Castellanos
Technology Reporter
Boston Business Journal

The tech industry is largely opposed to the minimum wage increase proposed by the state Senate earlier this month, according to a survey released Monday by the Massachusetts High Technology Council.
According to the survey, 78.5 percent of respondents would be opposed to the bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $8 an hour to $11 an hour by 2016 — unless there were sweeping reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance system as well.

About 68 percent of respondents said they would support an increase in the minimum wage of up to $10 per hour if the unemployment insurance system’s benefits and eligibility requirements were similar to those in other states. Those reforms could include a benefit duration of 26 weeks and a workforce attachment requirement of 20 weeks, according to the Mass High Technology Council.

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High Tech Official Pitches UI Reforms to DeLeo

By M. Norton
State House News Service

Massachusetts High Tech Council President Chris Anderson reported a “great” meeting with Speaker Robert DeLeo Monday morning, telling the News Service afterwards that he can’t see a minimum wage hike or unemployment system reforms passing individually, but believes policy changes on both issues can advance if paired together. “Neither one of these are going to go through on their own,” Anderson said on the heels of last week’s 32-7 Senate vote to raise the minimum wage over three years from $8 an hour to $11 an hour. Anderson said he did not think House members would want to “deviate” from DeLeo’s preference to address the minimum wage and unemployment system reforms in one bill, predicting an eventual House bill would reflect a more “balanced” economic development strategy. “We’ve been working on these UI reforms for like 20 years,” said Anderson, who in a memo to lawmakers dated Monday said 78 percent of tech community members surveyed last week opposed the Senate’s minimum wage approach. According to the memo, more than 67 percent of respondents supported an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour if the wage were not indexed to inflation, as the Senate recommended, and if unemployment benefit and eligibility requirements in Massachusetts were realigned to match those in place in most states, an idea lawmakers have rejected in the past citing concerns for jobless individuals. Senate President Therese Murray indicated last week a desire to take up unemployment insurance reforms next year.