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Massachusetts House Speaker Mariano Addresses Western Mass. Business Group

Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano on Zoom
Screen grab by Paul Tuthill

      The largest annual gathering of business and government leaders in western Massachusetts – the Springfield Regional Chamber’s Outlook event – was held virtually today.   The speakers touched on legislative priorities on Beacon Hill and Capitol Hill.

         The Speaker of the Massachusetts House Ron Mariano said he is hopeful a way can be found to reduce a surcharge that has resulted in many businesses seeing a huge increase in their assessment for unemployment insurance.

         "As many of you, I was frustrated and surprised to learn of the increases in the solvency fund rates," Mariano said in remarks to the Chamber event.

         Last month, state lawmakers authorized borrowing to shore up the state’s unemployment fund that faced a $4 billion deficit and they froze the basic unemployment tax rate.  But legislators did not change the solvency assessment which is used to pay benefits to workers let go from businesses that have gone under.     The surcharge is calculated using a formula set in state law.

        In response to a deluge of complaints from businesses, the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker delayed until June 1st the deadline for paying the first quarter employment insurance premium – giving state leaders time to come up with a way to lower the surcharge.

       "We are currently awaiting information from the Baker administration including a cost estimate of various scenarios to alleviate the solvency change," Mariano said.

       In pre-recorded remarks, Mariano rattled off highlights of the $47 billion state budget the House is debating this week.  He said it includes no increase in broad-based taxes and no cuts in services.  Local aide to cities and towns would increase by 3.5 percent to $1.68 billion and state payments to local schools would increase to a record $5.5 billion.

       He said the budget includes funds for programs to help small businesses and $50 million for job training.

     " I think I share this with many of you watching today that my main priority is getting workers displaced by the pandemic back to good-paying jobs," Mariano said. "We need to give our residents the tools to do so through education and workforce development."

       Making his inaugural appearance, so to speak, in western Massachusetts, Mariano touted the $400 million bond bill the House passed unanimously to finance construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.   The Democrat said a special committee has been investigating the COVID-19 outbreak that killed at least 77 veterans at the home and will issue a report.

      "We will do the necessary due diligence to advance their recommendations into law," Mariano said.  "We must address the leadership crisis that occured at the outset of the pandemic."

      Along with lowering their unemployment insurance tax bill, the business community in western Massachusetts is also lobbying for the legislature to legalize sports betting, said Springfield Regional Chamber President Nancy Creed.

     "Identifying new revenue is critical to our recovery rather than simply reverting to the easy solution of raising corporate taxes, which would cripple our recovery," Creed said.

      More than 6,000 bills were filed on Beacon Hill at the start of the two-year legislative session and Creed said the Chamber will analyze each one to determine how it might impact businesses.

      Other speakers were Congressman Richard Neal and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. 

      They keynote speaker was retired ABC News White House Correspondent Ann Compton.



The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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