Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

House boosts minimum wage

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

By Max Lewontin, State House correspondent

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House approved a bill Wednesday night that would increase the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8 to $10.50 over the next two years, with local legislators arguing beforehand that was more than businesses could bear.

The legislation, which passed on a 123-24 vote, also would overhaul the state’s unemployment insurance system and provide basic work standards and protections for nannies and other domestic workers.

The Senate has already approved separate minimum wage and unemployment insurance bills. The Senate bill would increase the wage to $11 per hour over three years and link automatic increases to the rate of inflation.

The House bill doesn’t link the minimum wage to changes in inflation.

The House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled before going to the governor.

Raising wages for the state’s lowest paid workers has been a contentious issue in both houses of the Legislature.
The differences have touched off a parliamentary procedural war between the two houses.

Those differences were on display Wednesday as area lawmakers explained their positions before the vote.
“I think to jump up (the minimum wage) that much is a tough pill to swallow for most businesses,” said Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, who noted he supported an amendment proposed by House minority leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, to raise the wage to $9.50 an hour.

The debate split along party lines, with Republican lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature arguing that raising the wage – currently $8 an hour – would hurt small businesses struggling in a slowly reviving economy.
“I’m willing to compromise,” Howitt said in an interview before the debate. “I also don’t like the indexing (to living costs), I don’t think anything should be indexed specifically, especially when we are elected to make those decisions in many cases.”

Another issue, he said, is whether teenagers should be paid at the same rate as other minimum wage workers.
One amendment to the bill supported by local lawmakers, including Reps. Howitt, Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, and Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, calls for a so-called training wage for teenagers that would allow employers to hire them for 90 days, paying them at 25 percent of the normal minimum wage rate.

“We need to consider the impact on employers. If I’m an employer, I might be hesitant to hire a 16- or 17-year-old at $10.50 an hour I don’t think anyone is necessarily against people earning a reasonable wage. It’s just, you know, how much do you give,” Howitt said.

Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham, said he supported a $9 an hour minimum wage and looking at it again in a year.
“I didn’t like any of the proposals,” said Ross, the minority whip. “I run a small business, so I know very well the detrimental effects of raising the wage in terms of business owners paying their employees.”

“I guess what I would like to see done is something (that incorporates) the viewpoints of small business owners,” he said.

Democrats saw it otherwise.

“The conversation that we are commencing today is about far more than raising the minimum wage,” Rep. Thomas Conroy, D-Wayland, chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, said on the House floor.

Noting that Massachusetts was the first state to set a statewide minimum wage in 1912, Conroy said the debate was about fairness to the lowest paid workers in the state.

“Unrestrained, this impulse toward profits at the expense of workers creates unfairness, stifles choice and reduces upward mobility,” he said.

Ross disagreed with the assertion that upping the minimum wage would decrease income inequality.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think the minimum wage was ever intended to be a living wage,” he said.

“What you want to do is get people into training and working their way into higher paid positions,” Ross said, citing the projected 500 jobs that will come to the area with the creation of a slot parlor at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville.

Both the House and Senate bills would also increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

There’s also a ballot question that would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 over two years and index future increases to inflation.

Massachusetts last increased the wage in 2008.

Commercial fishermen fight striped bass bill

Monday, November 25th, 2013

By Gina Curreri, State House Correspondent, the Cape Cod Times,

BOSTON – The continuing war over striped bass has entered a new battle on Beacon Hill with a renewed effort to eventually make the lucrative catch off limits for commercial fishermen.

A bill filed by Rep. Walter Timilty, D-Milton, would limit commercial licenses to fishermen who could demonstrate they’ve caught and sold more than 1,000 pounds of striped bass annually over the last five years on record.

Fishermen who meet that standard would be allowed to keep their striped bass licenses until 2025, when commercial licenses for the fish would no longer be issued.

A group of some 10 concerned Cape and Island commercial fishermen, clad in fishing caps and sweatshirts, joined with Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, on Wednesday to oppose the bill before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

“Let’s make no mistake about it. This bill exterminates the commercial fishery by 2025,” said Darren Saletta, a Chatham resident and founder of the Massachusetts Commercial Striped Bass Association.

Saletta and his group were pitted against members of Stripers Forever, a nonprofit group with a mission of conserving striped bass. The group unsuccessfully pushed for a commercial ban in 2010. Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire ban commercial fishing of striped bass.

“We do not seek through this bill to further the economic harm that legitimate (commercial) fishermen are currently facing, but we want to get rid of people who sell a few striped bass to pay for the cost of their gas, bait and tackle,” Mike Spinney, a Stripers Forever policy coordinator, told the committee.

Under the bill, commercial fishermen who can demonstrate a legitimate reason for failing to reach the required 1,000 pounds could seek hardship relief from the state Division of Marine Fisheries.

Fishermen would not be allowed to renew a commercial license after two consecutive years of failing to land the required amount.

Proponents say the goal is to protect and conserve the species while allowing commercial fishermen to make a living off striped bass.

According to data from the state Department of Marine Fisheries, about 1,200 of the 4,000 striped bass permit holders report selling at least one fish annually.
Saletta said almost all fishermen obtain permits for many fish species as a precaution for the upcoming season.

“I check off several endorsements that I don’t necessarily catch fish on each year. I don’t know if it will be more profitable to fish for a different fish. That’s why you see all these inactive permits,” Saletta said.

William Killen, a Falmouth commercial fisherman for more than 40 years, said he fishes with two other men who have striped bass licenses even though he does all the reporting.

“They don’t want to be in a position where they can’t get a permit later on in life,” Killen said.

Killen said potential overfishing is an issue to be taken up with the state Department of Marine Fisheries, not the Legislature.

“They’ve (the department) done a tremendous job and they will continue to do so, and they’ll make decisions probably with a scalpel, not with a machete,” Killen said.

The department shut down the commercial striped bass fishery on Aug. 7 until the season opens in 2014 because the quota of about one million pounds was met.

Question about the survival of the species is driving the debate. An Oct. 31 benchmark assessment from the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission reported that Atlantic striped bass are not being overfished. The probability that female striped bass will be overfished increases through 2016, but declines after that.

“Does that mean everything is all rosy with the striped bass? Not necessarily, but eliminating the commercial catch isn’t going to do anything to help the rebound,” Peake told the committee, citing problems with a decrease in herring and menhaden, which striped bass eat.

“I’ve been to 24 (Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) meetings, and not once has a person from Stripers Forever been there to speak up in support of conservation measures for the herring or the menhaden,” Peake said. “I respectfully question their motives in filing these bills.”

Peake also testified on Wednesday for her bill that would allow coastal communities to charge differential mooring fees for residents and nonresidents.

“In essence, this bill would allow communities to charge less for residents than nonresidents. Nonresidents don’t pay their excise tax to that home port community,” Peake said.

Her bill would reverse a 2004 state law that banned different mooring fees on the basis of residence.

The committee is reviewing and expected to report on this and 20 other bills, six of which address the conservation and tagging of striped bass.

Debate rages over minimum-wage bid

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Feb 22, 2013 By Allison Thomasseau, The Lowell Sun, Statehouse correspondent

President Barack Obama’s call to raise the federal minimum wage, combined with a proposed Massachusetts bill to raise the state minimum wage has spurred a debate among legislators and business groups over the impact of such increases.

“If you boost the income of people who are poorly paid, it will have a positive effect on the economy, because it will increase consumer purchasing power, which benefits small businesses,” Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, said in a phone interview.

Eldridge has signed on to a bill filed by Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, that would raise the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 per hour over the next three years. The last time Massachusetts raised the state minimum wage was in 2008 when it went from $7.50 per hour to $8 per hour.

State budget plan analyzed in first hearing

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Feb 15, 2013 By Allison Thomasseau, The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — Legislators on the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee raised concerns about transportation equity, welfare regulation and elimination of critical tax breaks at the first hearing on next year’s budget Thursday.

The hearing was the first of eight scheduled over the next several weeks. The fifth hearing, which will focus on health and human services, will be in Fitchburg on Feb. 28.

House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said the House has begun to analyze the governor’s budget proposal. The House plans to send its amended budget to the Senate in April.

Legislators react to Patrick tax plan

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Feb 7, 2013 By Allison Thomasseau, The Lowell Sun


BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick’s ambitious plan to raise $1.9 billion in new taxes is not generating much enthusiasm among Lowell-area lawmakers who want to reform inefficient programs instead of raising taxes.

“We need to continue a discussion on reform before we have a discussion on revenue, and that’s the consensus between my constituents and colleagues,” said Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell.

Patrick’s plan includes raising the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent and doubling personal-tax exemptions while cutting the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 4.5 percent.

Private sector drawing more from Beacon Hill

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Feb 4, 2013 By Allison Thomasseau, The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — Although some turnover is expected, the recent slew of politicians and administration officials leaving office for private-sector jobs points to a possible growing trend among state officials seeking better paydays.

Sen. Jack Hart and Rep. Marty Walz, both Boston Democrats, announced last week that they would be moving on to higher-paying private-sector jobs. Hart is going to the Boston law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; Walz was hired as president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

Last year, Methuen Sen. Steven Baddour, Franklin Rep. James Vallee, Holyoke Rep. Michael Kane and Worcester Rep. Vincent Pedone all left the Legislature for private-sector jobs.

Leaders hope for minimal cuts

Friday, December 7th, 2012

By Katie Doyle, The Lowell Sun

Area municipal officials are holding out hope that cuts in local aid proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick might be avoided, or at least offset by other revenue plans developed by state lawmakers.

“My sense is that the legislators realize the significance and importance of local aid,” said Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch. “They’ve always been there for us, and I would anticipate, and hope, that they would continue to be supporting of maintaining the current levels of local aid.”

Patrick announced his plan to close the $540 million budget gap this week after new figures showed that tax revenues for the 2013 fiscal year remain below expectations.

Fitchburg steam plant on list for cleanup, redevelopment

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

By Monique Scott, Sentinel & Enterprise

BOSTON – State officials announced Thursday that Fitchburg’s Central Steam Plant site is one of the five brownfield areas that will be targeted for cleanup so it may one day be redeveloped and create jobs.

“This is a positive opportunity for Fitchburg. This site is close to the Wachusett Station and is a prime location for economic redevelopment,” said Rep. Stephen DiNatale, D-Fitchburg, referring to the commuter rail station under construction in West Fitchburg.

“The Central Steam Plant is one of the most challenging sites in the city to redevelop,” said Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, who attended the announcement. “Being a part of the state’s targeted cleanup program will greatly increase the likelihood this site will be turned into something the community will value.”

Local lawmakers offer differing views of fiscal cliff

Monday, November 26th, 2012

By Jim Morrison, The Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – Two area legislators are taking different views of the impending federal fiscal cliff, with a Republican legislator fearing a big economic hit to the state, while a Democratic senator is confident we can weather any storm.

“It’s going to be pretty draconian, no matter how you look at it,” said state Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, who warns that cuts in federal spending that could go into effect Jan. 1 would reduce federal funds into the state by $1 billion.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Timilty, D-Walpole, expects fiscal challenges in the coming year, but believes the state is in better shape than most to handle the double hit of higher taxes and spending cuts.

More pain at the pump?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

By Jim Morrison, The Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – As winter follows fall, so do intimations of new taxes follow elections.

In this case, it is speculation of a gasoline tax increase to fund the reworking of the state’s transportation plan.

“I will say that I am well aware that numerous discussions have been going on about increased taxes and that obviously members of the majority party don’t want to have those go public until after the election, but they are absolutely under way and going on,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, told State House News Service this month.