Governor Baker signed legislation providing relief to Massachusetts employers and employees

Governor Baker signed legislation (“An Act financing a program for improvements to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and providing relief to employers and workers in the Commonwealth”) that provides relief for employers and employees across the Commonwealth.

This bill will freeze the unemployment insurance (UI) experience rate schedule for employers in 2021 and 2022 and thereby prevent a more significant tax schedule increase. The bill also ensures that loans forgiven as part of the Paycheck Protection Program, as well as Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advances, are excluded from taxable income for individual taxpayers. Please note this applies only to the 2020 taxable year. The bill also requires that employers provide a week of paid sick leave to employees that have become ill with COVID, are caring for a family member that has become ill with COVID, is receiving an immunization, or has to isolate due to COVID exposure, or is caring for a family member in quarantine. The Governor did propose two clarifying amendments on this topic for consideration by the legislature. Please find the bill text here.

State House News Service Weekly Roundup: One Step Forward, Two Steps …

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy

 

If Massachusetts used to run on Dunkin’, it now runs on Pfizer, and Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.

The state’s long-term prognosis remains inextricably wrapped up in the ability of state and federal government, pharmacies and health care providers to administer as many shots as possible as fast as possible.

But even as vaccine supply grows and the number of Massachusetts residents fully vaccinated eclipsed 1.37 million this week, the coronavirus appears to be catching up in the arms race against the vaccine and a lot is riding on who wins out.

“Right now I’m scared,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, describing her sense of “impending doom” about the rise in cases in states like Michigan and New York and, yes, Massachusetts.

Walensky’s emotional plea for vigilance came the day before she came back to Massachusetts, where she lived and worked before joining the Biden administration, to tour the new FEMA-supported mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center. The Hynes site replaced Fenway Park, where baseball returned on Friday, and FEMA’s involvement means there will be enough vaccine to administer 7,000 doses a day at the Back Bay center, up from the 1,000 shots a day the state was doing alone.

The state next week will use some of the additional FEMA supply to deploy mobile vaccination units in Chelsea, Revere, Boston, New Bedford and Fall River.

But even Baker acknowledged this week that the positive trends that led him to open up venues like Fenway for limited spectators were going in the wrong direction.

The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases detected daily was up 29 percent on March 30 from March 8 to 1,888, schools reported their highest ever weekly caseload of 1,045, and the number of communities in the high risk category increased for the third straight week to 55. Almost half of the new cases were recorded in residents under 30, many of whom have to wait a few more weeks to become vaccine eligible.

“I think it’s fair to say that no one can let their guard down with respect to this virus,” Baker said.

The good news is that the administration is expecting a major influx of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week – more than 100,000 doses – and does not believe the mixup at the Baltimore manufacturing facility that spoiled 15 million doses will impact that delivery.

Baker has gotten beaten up by legislative Democrats in recent weeks for his handling of the pandemic, and in particular the vaccine rollout, but Walensky was unwilling to second guess the Republican, at least to his face, and most Massachusetts residents, according to a new poll, are willing to cut him some slack.

The newest Boston Globe/Suffolk poll found that 71 percent of residents approved of the governor’s handling of the pandemic. He got lower numbers for his vaccine effort – 58 percent approved – but 67 percent said they support the job Baker is doing overall.

So as the first fundraising quarter came to a close this week, Baker, the polling suggests, remains in the catbird seat should he choose to seek a third term.

Ben Downing, so far the most prominent Democrat in the 2022 race for governor, reported raising $227,712 in the eight weeks since he entered the race on Feb. 8. This week he picked the issue of colleges withholding transcripts from students for unpaid bills to go after Baker for underfunding higher education.

Another potential gubernatorial contender in 2022 also had college students on her mind this week.  Attorney General Maura Healey hosted U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley to help call on President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt for federal student borrowers.

Biden’s chief of staff told POLITICO the president was undecided on what to do with respect to student debt, despite Biden previously saying he thought Congress, not the White House, should act. “Well that’s great,” Pressley said in response.

The next generation of student borrowers also found out this week that they won’t have to pass the MCAS exam in order to graduate in 2022 under a plan put forward by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley that would scale back the state’s standardized testing program during the pandemic. It didn’t go far enough for the Massachusetts Teachers Association and other critics who would like to see MCAS postponed completely this spring until next year.

While Biden waits for more legal guidance on his authority to address student debt, his administration – including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh – was busy rolling out and beginning to sell a more than $2 trillion infrastructure package.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch said that given the clout of the Massachusetts delegation and the seats it holds on the Transportation Committee, a package that large could be a feeding frenzy for Massachusetts road, bridge and rail projects.

Any infrastructure funding would come in addition to billions of dollars on its way from the “American Rescue Plan,” which lawmakers began to pick apart this week. The House Committee on Federal Stimulus and Census Oversight held its first oversight hearing this week where Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said details about how state and local governments can spend the money will come by early May.

That committee will be back at it next week with Administration and Finance Secretary Michael Heffernan expected to testify.

But with the exeception of hearings like this, the process of committees reviewing the thousands of bills filed by lawmakers on Beacon Hill this year has been slow to start, with most pieces of legislation still waiting to be assigned.

In contrast, the Legislature has picked up its oversight game.

There have been stimulus oversight hearings and two explorations of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The special oversight committee probing the early pandemic outbreak of COVID-19 at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is seeking to extend its investigation and has invited former Veterans’ Services Secretary Francisco Urena to testify next week.

And now the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities says it will hold an oversight hearing into a troubling report from Child Advocate Maria Mossaides that found the Department of Children and Families missed the signs of abuse and neglect that led to the Oct. death of 14-year-old David Almond in Fall River.

That’s not to say the Legislature has been completely dormant, and House and Senate leaders may want to act quickly on Baker’s proposed amendments to a COVID-19 sick leave program that the governor returned at the same time he signed a tax relief bill for businesses and those who were unemployed over the past year. The new law offers tax breaks on unemployment benefits and limits rate increases on employers for unemployment insurance, but Baker recommended a few modifications to the sick leave program before he’s ready to sign off on that too.

“Providing paid sick leave is crucial to protecting our workforce and preventing the further spread of COVID-19. The House and the Senate will continue to prioritize this issue and will work together to review the amendments and return the bill back to the Governor’s desk,” two spokespeople for Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement.

While it’s not a legislative oversight committee, the new Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission will have oversight of police officers around the state, and the law enforcement community learned this week who will sit in those nine seats.

Former Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle was tapped by Baker to chair the commission, and Baker and Healey filled in the remaining seats in accordance with the landmark reform law passed in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

Incidentally, the commission took shape the same week that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial for Floyd’s murder.

Third COVID-19 Business Impact Survey

In an effort to gain an accurate assessment of COVID-19’s ongoing impact to businesses in North Central Massachusetts, the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is conducting this new survey. This is the third in a series of surveys conducted since the onset of the pandemic to capture fresh data and evaluate the impact of the pandemic over time. The first two surveys were very helpful to our response to the pandemic. The Chamber is partnering with the MassHire North Central Massachusetts Workforce Board, Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, NewVue Communities and many of the cities and towns in the region on the distribution of this survey.  Please take a moment to complete the survey. The survey is estimated to take between six to ten minutes to complete. All information will be reported in general terms and individual business information will remain confidential.

Please feel free to contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600 or via email at chamber@northcentralmass.com with any questions or concerns.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Spanish Version

 

Survey Partners

Thank you to the following communities and organizations for helping to distribute the survey to businesses and organizations:

City of Gardner                       Town of Harvard

City of Fitchburg                     Town of Westminster

City of Leominster                  Town of Lancaster

Town of Clinton                       Town of Barre

Devens Community                Orange Community

Pepperell Community            Town of Winchendon

Town of Athol                          Town of Townsend

Town of Ayer                            Making Opportunities Count

Town of Lunenburg                Center for Women & Enterprise

Enterprise Bank                      Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority

Reimagine North of Main     Town of Ashby

Town of Templeton

How To Get Your Mindset Right When Everything Feels Wrong

You want to grow your local business and treat your employees and customers right. But sometimes it’s hard to keep your mind focused on what you know you should be doing. We understand how easy it is to fall into doubt, worry, or even mental paralysis, especially when everything around you feels wrong somehow.

But we believe in you and in your business. That’s why we’ve put together this list of tips to help you keep your mindset in the right place and stay focused on the things that matter most right now. Take a look.

  1. Give Yourself a Break

If your mental intake is focused on doom, gloom, and uncertainty, your mindset isn’t going to be a healthy one. Instead, give yourself permission to step away from current news, and open your mind to healthier input. That might be anything from funny YouTube videos to a chapter of a novel you’ve been meaning to read for years. You’ll return to your tasks with a healthier mindset and renewed energy.

  1. Focus on Helping Others

Thinking about others and what they need is a sure-fire way to get your mindset right. Whether it’s overtipping your food delivery person with a kind note, checking in with the cleaning staff at your business to make sure they’re okay, or driving by a child’s house to wave them a happy birthday, you’ll feel stronger when you express generosity and thoughtfulness to others.

  1. Take Good Care of Your Body

It’s easy to think of your mind as something separate from your body, but times of crisis make it clear how very interconnected they are. Stop every hour to spend 30 seconds breathing deeply. Even if you can’t go to the gym, take a walk or do some light exercises at home. While a little comfort food is understandable, don’t neglect the veggies and fruits that give you the vitamins and nutrients you need to stay healthy. And allow yourself to go to bed a bit earlier or sleep in a bit later to help boost your immune system as well as your mindset.

  1. Write Things Down

Some people use lists to stay in control of their world — and it’s also a good way to keep your mind focused. More broadly, it can also be helpful to write down how you’re feeling in a time when everything feels a bit off. Write down the best and worst-case scenarios to keep your mind from spinning in circles, or start a journal to chronicle what you’re going through. Often the act of writing something down on paper (or on a screen) can help you purge the associated feelings and get your mind back in gear.

When you adjust your mindset by focusing outward rather than on what seems wrong, you improve not only your own sense of focus but also your relationships with those around you. Bypassing the negative messages that sometimes seem to assault your mind to focus on the positive instead can help you face whatever comes next with hope and determination.

Cautious Optimism About the Future, Despite the Uncertainty Ahead

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc on a national, statewide and local scale, some economic forecasters say there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaking at the 9th annual Economic Forecast sponsored by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Bo Zhao, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said he is hopeful that continued public health measures, and a robust vaccine rollout will help spur an economic revitalization.

“Despite high uncertainty ahead, there are several reasons for cautious optimism about the medium-term economic outlook, including effective vaccines, favorable financial conditions, rising asset prices and a resilient housing market,’’ Zhao said.

Simon Anderson, an international futurist speaker, highlighted segments of the economy that he thinks will see significant growth post-pandemic, including local experiences and products like outdoor recreation, farms, restaurants, and breweries, all of which could be a boon for North Central Massachusetts.

“People are going to want to go to the apple orchards, get some freshly made cider, pick some apples, go to a craft brewery, just be with some friends in person, go to a restaurant, shop at a local store in their neighborhood,’’ Anderson said. “I think this is going to drive up demand for local experience, which is going to be just great for small businesses.’’

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That demand cannot come soon enough for local business hit hardest by the pandemic. Zhao said in Greater Worcester, only trade/transportation/utilities maintained a similar level of employment during the pandemic.

Leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, movies and hotels, had the largest one-year drop in job loss among all sectors at 24.5 percent. He said those types of jobs cannot be done remotely and were most impacted by government restrictions.

But there are positive signs, Anderson said, such as the number of applications for new restaurants.

According to the National Restaurant Association, COVID forced the closure of 110,000 eateries, representing 1 in 6 establishments in the United States. But in just the first two months of 2021, 50,000 new applications for food establishments were submitted for new restaurants, Anderson said.

“Those new businesses will be so much more adaptive and ready for challenges because of what they’ve seen and been through,’’ Anderson said.

This year’s Economic Forecast, held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, is held annually to give the community and business leaders a look into the economic future of the region. Video of the webinar is available for replay on the chamber’s website.

Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Roy Nascimento welcomed attendees to the webinar, which he said is traditionally one of the signature business events of the year.

As March 2021 marked the one-year point of the pandemic, Nascimento said it remains critically important for the business community to stay informed and connected.

Since the start of the pandemic, the chamber has held over 100 online programs designed to inform, educate and connect members.

Friday’s webinar was intended to provide insight into the economy and what post-COVID life will look like. Lauren Howe, principal and owner of empHowered PR LLC in Leominster, served as master of ceremonies, introducing the speakers and reading questions from attendees submitted online.

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Anderson highlighted segments of the economy that could see significant growth post-pandemic. One of his key “Emerging Opportunities’’ focused on how businesses could capitalize on the shift to remote to build their business and benefit consumers.

Telehealth, Anderson said, has been a true success story for patients and doctors alike.

“You have a lot of people now that can access their health care via zoom, via Facetime or online,’’ he said. “That’s a really incredibly positive trend because a lot of people have transportation challenges and mobility challenges and miss appointments for their doctor because they can’t get there.’’

Anderson said the shift to telehealth and also remote education would have taken a lot longer if it wasn’t forced.

“It was very difficult in the beginning, but I think we will see a lot of positive outcomes going forward,’’ he said.

Anderson said e-commerce has been another bright spot that will continue to grow. In 2020, there was a 45 percent increase in e-commerce compared to the traditional 15 percent spike.

Retailers have adapted through curbside and delivery, allowing them to expand their customer base.

“Even though we were hit so hard with this pandemic with a lot of small businesses especially, I truly believe we are going to come back a lot stronger,’’ Anderson said.

And with more people working from home and traveling less, there will be more demand for local experiences and products, Anderson said. Another benefit of people working from home is that local businesses will be able to cast a wider net for employees who may not want to commute or move to the region.

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Other emerging opportunities, according to Anderson, are the electrification of transportation; advancements in automation; and blockchain tech and digital currency.

According to Zhao, another positive has been the housing market.

He said historically low interest rates, a strong stock market and low supply created an upward pressure in the market.

The Chamber will be holding its annual Real Estate Summit on May 18 this year. This event, a collaboration between the Chamber and the North Central Massachusetts Association of Realtors, will provide an in-depth look at the real estate market in the region.

All in all, after a decline in 2020, the U.S. economy is expected to have a strong recovery in 2021, Zhao said. Unemployment projections also show positive trends, he said, however they could still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

He is also hopeful that the recovery from this crisis will be faster than previous downturns because it has been driven by a public health crisis and not economic triggers.

“People should feel cautiously optimistic, but we have to keep in mind that this is a brand-new virus and there is still a lot of uncertainty,’’ Zhao said.

To learn more about the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, please visit www.NorthCentralMass.com or contact the Chamber at 978.353.7600.

 

State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Blood in the Water

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Matt Murphy

 

The Democratic sharks are circling, sensing vulnerability in a Republican governor with few teammates to protect his flank. But even if Gov. Charlie Baker looks like easy prey to some in a state like Massachusetts, Democrats on Beacon Hill are unpracticed hunters.

“We know he’s a RINO anyway,” joked Sen. Nick Collins during his resurrection of the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast last Sunday, alluding to the fact that Baker is actually more popular with Democratic voters than Republicans.

Collins brought back the breakfast after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus at a time when his own political ambitions for City Hall, still shrouded in mystery, were ripe for roasting. And while it may have been even less clear if the attempts at jokes landed in the virtual realm, the live-streamed, green-themed breakfast jump-started a week during which good-natured ribbing would quickly give way to intentional and, at times, pointed jabs.

The Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management held its second oversight hearing on Tuesday with a clear objective — challenge Baker’s decision not to rely more on local boards of health for vaccination distribution.

Even as Massachusetts has climbed the state rankings for shots administered, the choice to administer many of those shots at mass vaccination sites instead of through local clinics and municipal public health infrastructure is the hill some in the legislature have chosen to plant their flag.

Democrats accused him of throwing out the playbook right before the big game, and spending millions on private-run facilities when that money could have been used to scale up locally-run clinics.

Baker stood his ground, suggesting he is acting off the same script being used by the BIden administration and pointing out how privately operated mass vaccination sites aren’t even the largest distributors of vaccines in Massachusetts. Hospitals are.

The governor said local disaster plans weren’t developed to deliver a vaccine of limited quantity with very specific cold-storage requirements and a short shelf life. And he and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said that while some local health agencies, like the ones invited to testify, may have been equipped to administer COVID-19 shots, hundreds of other boards of health were not and made that clear when they didn’t raise their hands to help vaccinate their own first responders or the 75+ population.

The defense didn’t sit well with Baker’s critics on the committee: “What we’re getting from you is, ‘You’re all wrong, we’re doing great, please, we don’t want to hear it anymore.’ And I find that hard to take,” said an exasperated Sen. Cindy Friedman.

For much of the hour, lawmakers monologued and Baker scribbled notes off screen. Some shots landed and others missed the mark, like when Baker had to explain that he didn’t control how many doses go to retail pharmacies.

And at the end of a long day, it was unclear if any progress had been made: “The stark differences between the testimony received demands that we dig deeper and understand better why decades of public investment in emergency preparedness have been shelved in favor of another approach, hastily constructed during a global pandemic,” Driscoll and Comerford said in a post-hearing statement.

While the theme of the hearing was to dunk on mass vaccination sites, the idea of a federally supported site, and the thousands of extra does that come with it, was one that seemed to hold some interest for Democrats.

Rep. William Driscoll appeared very curious to know when exactly the state had applied for one of these FEMA run sites, which was announced in February when the delegation sent a letter of support to the Biden administration.

On Friday, the White House and Baker announced that the newest state-run mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center would be supported with an additional 6,000 doses a day from the federal government, raising the daily capacity of the site to 7,000.

The FEMA sponsorship of the Hynes was one of several good-news announcements about supply this week that also brought word of 40,000 additional doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The J&J increase prompted Baker to launch a locally-supported vaccination program to reach homebound residents.

Everyone agrees the faster the vaccine arrives and gets put into arms, the sooner the state can emerge from the year-long pandemic. That’s why Baker’s hiring of McKinsey & Co. to write a report about the “future-of-work” has generated so much interest.

But Attorney General Maura Healey’s interest in the report this week had nothing to do with her curiosity to learn what the global consulting firm recommends. Healey, who is being watched like a hawk for hints at her political future, went after Baker for hiring McKinsey after her office and others around the country reached a settlement with the firm last month for $573 million over its role in helping Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” opioid sales to turn a profit.

The “future-of-work” contract is one of many the firm holds with the state, and Healey called it “outrageous” that Massachusetts would continue to give them business. One of her opening salvos in the 2022 gubernatorial campaign? Maybe. But even a visit by the attorney general to a picket line in Worcester these days is cause for speculation.

Before Boston voters even get to 2022, they will have to choose a new mayor in the fall and it won’t be Marty Walsh … Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Wheeling his suitcase through Logan Airport and clutching a cup of Doughboy Donuts coffee, Walsh left Boston for Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, the morning after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination to lead the Labor Department. He officially resigned as mayor at 9 p.m. on March 22, handing the reins of the city over to Kim Janey, the former City Council president who became the first woman and Black resident of Boston to be able to call themselves mayor.

Whether Janey will seek extend her historic elevation as mayor beyond the next eight months remains to be seen, but given the current field it would appear the long-running hold on the office by Irish and Italian men will soon be broken.

Janey takes over a city where the school department was granted a waiver by Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to delay its return to in-person learning for K-8 students until April 26. Boston was one of at least 60 districts given a reprieve from the April 5 deadline to bring elementary students back to the classroom.

House Speaker Ron Mariano told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that the waiver process was important because ultimately it should be the local districts deciding when it’s safe to return to school.

The speaker has largely sided with the teachers’ unions in their dispute with Baker over classroom safety. But overall, Mariano said the governor has worked “very effectively” with the Legislature through the pandemic, and used his executive powers “extremely well” apart from some well documented “hiccups” with the vaccine rollout.

Baker even put his name this week on a game-changing climate bill that will put Massachusetts on the path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 after working with lawmakers to make small but important adjustments.

The new climate law also directs another massive 2,400-megawatt procurement of offshore wind power. And that was actually what Mariano wanted to talk to the GBCC about.

The speaker announced that the forthcoming House budget proposal would direct $10 million through the Clean Energy Center to train workers for careers in offshore wind, and he promised to pursue a “large-scale” bonding effort to secure the South Coast’s position as the regional hub of the offshore wind industry.

Mariano also said he wasn’t in any rush to return to debate over raising taxes to pay for transportation, at least not until the pandemic aftershocks subside and leaders can take stock of the MBTA and its new needs.

Besides, he said, there’s $1 billion coming to Massachusetts from the “American Rescue Plan” for public transit and $4.5 billion more in direct aid for state government that changes the calculations.

Walsh’s Dorchester successor in the House, Rep. Dan Hunt, will lead a hearing next week to dive into the pot of gold that is the latest stimulus package, and already Baker has committed $100 million to Chelsea, Everett, Randolph and Methuen where leaders have said federal funding formulas shortchanged those hard-hit cities because of their size.

House and Senate leaders have said they want to exert more control over how this newest round of stimulus gets spent, but Mariano said he agrees that those communities should be supported, and believes there may be more cities and towns deserving.

With unemployment ticking down to 7.1 percent, the House and Senate also agreed that workers unemployed over the last year are deserving of a new tax deduction on their first $10,200 in unemployment benefits.

The more expensive Senate version of the tax break was part of a bill that will limit the hit to businesses of unemployment insurance rate hikes this year and extend additional COVID-19 sick leave to Massachusetts workers.

The legislation was enacted Thursday, along with a piece of the joint rules setting up committees like the Joint Bonding Committee so that a $400 million borrowing bill to rebuild the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home can be advanced.

And while there were few objections to substance, Sen. Diana DiZoglio and Sen. John Keenan again had a few concerns with process.

“State House News knew before the members of this body knew what we were going to be doing,” said a miffed Sen. DiZoglio.

Five Critical Questions To Ask About Your Business

As the owner of a small-to-medium size business, chances are good that you already spend you time answering countless questions every single day from employees, suppliers, customers, and prospects.

The issue here is this – how much time to you spend asking yourself questions about your business?

According to the Harvard Business Review, “companies often fail to address the tough questions about strategy and execution……are we really clear…about how we choose to create value in the marketplace?” For example, “Can we articulate the few things the organization needs to do better than anyone else in order to deliver on that value proposition?”

Barry Moltz of the Shafran Moltz Group explains that both entrepreneurs and business veterans alike should be asking themselves specific, tough questions in order to both analyze and improve their work, including these five essentials:

  1. What Problem Does Your Business Solve?

While this seems like a easy question at first glance, many business owners struggle to define exactly what the answer is simply because it’s not uncommon for businesses to be launched based on what the founder wants, not the consumer. Think about the ‘why’ involved – why do your clients and customers choose to purchase goods and services from you?

  1. Are There Aspects Of Your Business That Are Loosing Money?

While you likely know exactly what your bottom line is each month, quarter, or year, do you really know the ins and outs of where that revenue is coming from?

  1. What’s Your Customer Retention Rate?

Knowing where your customers come from is a critical part of your overall success, since it’s far more costly to recruit new clients than it is to keep existing ones.

  1. What Differentiates My Business From The Competition?

Establishing, and maintaining a competitive advantage is crucial to the success of small businesses – what’s yours?

  1. Can My Business Survive Without Me?

While nobody likes to think about the possibility that they may not be able to manage their business due to injury, illness, or worse, the reality is that there may come a time when your role within your business needs to shift unexpectedly. If that happens, can your business survive?

North Central Massachusetts Chamber Welcomes Goulet Back to its Professional Staff

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce that Lauren Goulet has returned to its professional staff in the position of Operations Manager. Ms. Goulet had previously served for over ten years as the Office Manager for the Chamber before leaving in 2020 for a new professional opportunity. In this new expanded role, Ms. Goulet will be responsible for day to day operations of the Chamber and its affiliate organizations, including oversite of the Chamber building, database management, grant administration, and providing support around governance and event planning.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Lauren back to our team,” said Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “Her experience with our organization and operations will be a great benefit to our members and the region during these turbulent times.”

Ms. Goulet has deep roots in the community, growing up locally and currently residing in Westminster. She holds a B.S. in Business Management from Fitchburg State University.

Existing members or businesses interested in learning more about the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce can reach out to Lauren Goulet at 978.353.7600 ext. 222 or via email at lgoulet@northcentralmass.com.

Expert Warns Against Setting Tax Rate in Constitution

Article Source: State House News Service

Author: Colin A. Young

MARCH 24, 2021…..A tax expert who has been involved with Massachusetts tax policy for years suggested Wednesday that lawmakers could scrap the idea of a Constitutional amendment to impose a surtax on household income over $1 million and instead repeal the Constitution’s requirement for a flat tax and impose the graduated income tax rate through traditional legislation.

Democrats on Beacon Hill have been working for years to establish a 4 percent surtax on annual income greater than $1 million by putting a Constitutional amendment to that effect before voters. The process is more complicated than it is for a normal piece of legislation because the state Constitution currently requires that a tax on income be applied evenly to all residents, so the so-called Millionaires Tax would be unconstitutional as a standalone law.

Jane Steinmetz, office managing principal of Ernst & Young, said she thinks it is bad tax administration to enshrine a tax rate into the state Constitution. If the Legislature wants to go forward with a graduated income tax, she said, lawmakers should repeal Article 44 of the Constitution and write the surtax provision directly into Chapter 62 of the Mass. General Laws, which deals with the taxation of income.

“When you have a tax change, there are these unintended consequences,” Steinmetz, who was appointed by then-Senate President Therese Murray to a special commission that studied corporate tax issues in 2007, said. “If we etch this in constitutional stone and there’s these unintended consequences, you can’t just amend the Constitution. It could take four years.”

Steinmetz, who did not stake out her own position on the issue, and Stanford University finance professor Joshua Rauh discussed some of the potential consequences of the Massachusetts income surtax Wednesday during a virtual event hosted by Pioneer Institute and the Mass. High Tech Council.

In June 2019, House and Senate members voted 147-48 in favor of the Constitutional amendment (H 86) that would impose a 4 percent surtax on annual household income greater than $1 million.

That amendment must also win at least 101 votes of support among the 200 state legislators at a Constitutional Convention in the current legislative session in order to go before voters on the November 2022 ballot.

Supporters of the surtax say it could generate as much as $2 billion per year for education and transportation in Massachusetts without dipping into the pockets of most residents. But critics have long said it could prompt wealthy residents to move out of the Bay State and encourage employers to steer clear of Massachusetts.

“Maybe people hear this discussion and think, ‘gee, high-income people, these are millionaires, who really cares if they leave or they reduce their income, does it really matter?’ Well, the fact is, it does really matter,” Rauh, a Newton native, said.

A 2012 referendum in California raised the top tax rate for the state’s highest earners, Rauh said, which was followed by “a big spike in departures of high-income people.” Compared to the rate of departures before the initiative passed, he said, the rate of departure doubled following the tax rate hike.

“The other thing we found that had maybe even more of an economic consequence was that for people who stayed in California who were high earners, the income that they were reporting to tax authorities really leveled off compared to the income growth that we saw from taxpayers who were located in other states but who were comparable to these taxpayers who were in California,” Rauh said, citing his own research. “And on balance, what we found was that within a couple of years around 60 percent of the state’s expected windfall revenue gain from this tax increase was actually eroded away by this combination of people leaving and also high-income earners apparently reporting less income to the state.”

A previous Pioneer Institute event looked at how remote working opportunities made popular during the COVID-19 pandemic could encourage people to leave Massachusetts for low-tax states like Florida and New Hampshire, but Steinmetz said Wednesday that the Congressional response to the pandemic and its economic impacts — especially the appetite for federal tax increases among Congressional Democrats and the White House — also bears consideration.

“We’re talking about this 4 percent surtax, but when individuals are thinking about their tax bill, they’re thinking about it in totality. So as these tax proposals move forward at the federal level, the Mass. Legislature has to really watch them and analyze how those potential increases might impact what a surtax could do here in Massachusetts,” she said.

Steinmetz also pointed out that Massachusetts is not exactly hurting for revenue at the moment. Fiscal year 2020 ended about $120 million short — “which is close to breakeven, but it’s still a shortfall,” she said — and fiscal year 2021 “seems to be doing fine,” with the state having collected $1.123 billion more from taxpayers in the first eight months of the budget year than it did the previous year.

On top of that, she said, is a deluge of billions of dollars in federal funding, some of which comes to the state under the restriction that it not be used to directly or indirectly offset a tax cut.

“We’ve gone on this crazy rollercoaster ride through COVID-19 and now we’re coming out of it and there’s largely a reset button being hit,” Steinmetz said. She added, “So it’s a real important decision for the Mass. Legislature to make about do we move now, or do we kind of pump the brakes a little bit and move forward maybe 12 months from now and see how this reset worked itself out because it would be hard to adjust taxes on a go-forward basis. ”

Rep. Jim O’Day, the House sponsor of the amendment, expressed a desire to take the issue up sooner rather than later this session and said he has no reason to believe that the 19 new members of the Legislature this session will significantly alter the support for the measure.

“I’ve not heard anything overwhelming at all from any of my new colleagues other than asking if we were doing the amendment again,” he told the News Service in February. “If anything, the newer members have been interested in being able to sign on to that.”

Senate President Karen Spilka has until May 12 to convene a new Constitutional Convention.

5 Questions Your Mortgage Broker Wants You to Ask

The home buying process can be lengthy and at times confusing, and you’ll likely be spending a lot of time working closely with your mortgage broker. Because buying a home is one of the most significant financial decisions you’ll ever make, it’s important to make sure that you are informed every step of the way. Here are five questions that your mortgage broker wants you to ask.

Which Type of Loan Should I Get?

Hopefully you’ve spent a little bit of time researching the different types of home loans that are available, but until you know exactly what you qualify for, it’s hard to comparison shop. Your broker will evaluate things like your credit score, buying history, and the region in which you’re interested in purchasing to determine which loans products you’re eligible for.

How Do You Handle Rate Locks?

Rate locks can be a bit of a gamble, and some brokers prefer to play the odds. In some cases, you may ask the broker to lock a certain rate at a certain date, and they may tell you that the rate is locked. Some brokers may secretly delay locking the rate in hopes that rates will drop before your closing date.

If the rates take a dip, the broker can then lock the lower rate. However, if the rates rise, the broker may tell you that something was wrong with the paperwork and that it’s impossible to close your loan before the rate lock expires.

Talk to your broker about how they handle rate locks, and make sure you get a loan commitment letter from the lender to ensure that there are no unwelcome surprises down the road.

What Fees Do I Have to Pay?

The homebuying process comes with numerous hidden fees that go beyond the down payment and closing costs. For example, depending on your credit score and the current interest rates, you may have to pay one-time fees called “points” at closing. For every point you pay, your lender will decrease your interest rate by one percent. This lowers your monthly payment and can significantly reduce what you’ll pay over the life of the loan. Ask your broker if you will be required to pay any additional fees at closing.

Do I Have to Pay for Mortgage Insurance?

Generally speaking, if you are putting a down payment of less than 20 percent, you will be required to pay for mortgage insurance until your loan-to-value ratio falls below 80 percent. Mortgage insurance premiums can be rather expensive; in some places, they may cost up to $100 a month for every $100,000 borrowed. However, not all mortgages require mortgage insurance. For example, USDA and VA loans are two loans that do not require a down payment and do not require that you pay for mortgage insurance. Ask your broker whether you should expect to pay this additional cost.

What Should I Avoid Before Closing?

You’ve found your perfect home, your offer has been accepted, and your loan has been approved; nothing can cause the purchase to fall through, right? Not so fast. Any changes to your spending habits, your credit-to-debt ratio, or your employment could delay closing or even derail it entirely. Talk to your broker about how you can ensure that you are able to close on your home on time.

Throughout your home-buying process, your mortgage broker is one of your best allies. By keeping them in the loop on every decision you make and asking the right questions, you can ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.