Massachusetts is going to have a new state agency to administer a new benefits program. A pitch has been made to locate the new bureaucracy’s headquarters in western Massachusetts.
A group of state legislators from the Springfield area say the Baker administration could provide a boost to the economy in western Massachusetts and do every state taxpayer a favor by placing the new state Department of Family and Medical Leave offices in Springfield.
"Springfield is an insurance center, the home of MassMutual, and what you are basically doing is setting up a new state insurance program, " said State Senator Eric Lesser, a Democrat from Longmeadow.
" Why should we create the office in Boston where commercial real estate is five-, six-, seven-times as expensive as in Springfield?" said Lesser.
Lesser made the pitch in a letter to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that was signed by four other local Democratic legislators.
Although Boston is the state capital, Lesser maintains that not every state agency needs to have a Boston address or have its workforce clustered in the Boston-area.
" We have the talented workforce here," said Lesser. " You do not need to be in Boston to do state government work, you could do it from Springfield as well."
The letter sent to Baker argues that if more state workers lived in western Massachusetts they would be more responsive to the region’s needs.
A spokesman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment.
Lesser said an influx of state employees would provide an economic boost to Springfield by spending locally and adding to the city’s tax base. It is unknown how many people might eventually be employed by the new state agency.
" I think it will be substantial, it is a very substantial ambitious new program," said Lesser. " Lets retrofit office space here in Springfield, hire people in Springfield to do the work and bring those jobs here."
The Department of Family and Medical Leave was created to administer a new paid leave program. It was signed into law by Baker last June as part of the so-called grand bargain – a deal reached to keep issues such as paid family leave, a minimum wage increase, and a sales tax cut off last year’s election ballot.
Funded by a payroll tax, the program will give workers between 12-26 weeks of paid time off a year for a serious illness or injury, to care for a sick relative, or handle certain other family matters. The benefit is scheduled to be available starting in 2021.
Joining Lesser in signing the letter to Baker are State Senator James Welch of West Springfield and Springfield state Representatives Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Tosado, and Bud Williams.
" (The Baker administration) says it wants to make western Massachusetts part of the economic development picture, well if that is the case Mr. Governor, I think we sould locate some of the regional offices here," said Williams.
In the last few years, Springfield has lost state jobs. The Department of Unemployment Insurance closed a call center in Springfield in 2016, resulting in 57 job losses. The State Lottery is downsizing its satellite operations in Springfield.
The last new state bureaucracy that was created, the Cannabis Control Commission, is putting its permanent headquarters in Worcester.