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Springfield Regional Chamber hosts annual legislative priorities event

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Paul Tuthill
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U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh addresses the Springfield Regional Chamber's Outlook 2022 that was held remotely on March 11, 2022

U.S. Sec. of Labor Marty Walsh was one of the speakers who remotely addressed Outlook 2022

An annual gathering of hundreds of business leaders and elected officials from western Massachusetts hosted by the Springfield Regional Chamber was held Friday. For the second year in a row, it took place remotely.

After two years of navigating the unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic, the Springfield region’s business community is eager to return to normal and federal and local officials vowed to help.

Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts 1st District said despite the highest inflation recorded in four decades, the economy is “on the right track.”

He said he would push Congress for critical supports to the economy that helps families and employers

“We have momentum on our side and we must seize this important moment,” Neal said.

The Springfield Democrat, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, highlighted the pandemic recovery tools included in the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed a year ago. He said Congressional Democrats are determined still to pass portions, at least, of Biden’s “Build Back Better” social safety net agenda.

He noted the House has already approved provisions including universal paid leave, extensions of the child tax and earned income tax credit, close the Medicaid coverage gap and provide over $300 billion in tax incentives for clean energy.

Neal said the funds set aside for Amtrak in the bipartisan infrastructure law provide the best opportunity yet to bring to reality one of his – and the Springfield Regional Chamber’s – top priorities: East-West passenger rail.

“I continue to speak with Gov. Baker, with whom I’ve developed an excellent relationship, on how we are going to get it done,” Neal said.

In brief recorded remarks, U.S. Labor Secretary and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, also touted the infrastructure law as a source of billions of dollars for Massachusetts to rebuild roads, bridges, and public transportation.

“Those investments will strengthen our communities and our economies and also create good jobs – union and middle-class jobs – that can’t be outsourced,” Walsh said.

The business community is making progress in its legislative advocacy on Beacon Hill, said Chamber President Nancy Creed. She pointed to successful efforts to lower unemployment insurance premium rates and remove regulatory impediments to people returning to the workforce post- COVID.

“I am happy to report that all of our priorities were funded,” Creed said. The Chamber came up short of the goal to get $2 billion put into the unemployment insurance trust fund, but noting the state still has unspent ARPA funds, Creed said. “We’ll take another bite at that apple.”

With just over four months remaining in the two-year legislative session, Creed said the Chamber’s lobbying will continue to focus on economic recovery with one priority being legalization of sports betting.

“Our neighboring states are fall ahead of us and we are losing our competitive edge,” Creed said. “We believe this job-creator and revenue-generator is critical to the success of our hub city and the people who live, work, and play here.”

In the two years, since the Chamber’s last in-person Outlook luncheon, Baystate Health has treated more than 6,600 COVID cases at its hospitals with more than 800 deaths, but the healthcare system’s president and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack said there is now “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno pledged his administration would deliver “predictability, continuity and stability” to help businesses create jobs.