BOSTON (State House News Service) — As remote work gives some Massachusetts workers the opportunity to move out of state, and high housing costs and transportation woes drive others out, Boston businesses are calling for a statewide housing plan, new MBTA leadership and greater government support for apprenticeship programs.
During his State of the Business address, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President and CEO James Rooney outlined the group's agenda as a new Legislature and gubernatorial administration get their wheels turning.
"Other cities and states are proactively and aggressively working to attract talent, build businesses, and create industries. If we are being honest, they are working harder and with greater focus than we are," he said. "To compete and to win, Massachusetts must be a place where employers and employees want to be and feel welcome."
With the state flush with cash from three years of unexpectedly high revenue growth and an influx of federal money, tax issues are at the forefront of the chamber's agenda this year, Rooney said.
Experts said at the consensus revenue hearing on Tuesday that they expect elevated revenue levels to remain high, growing in fiscal year 2024 between 0.2 percent and 1.3 percent from the Department of Revenue's fiscal year 2023 forecast.
Rooney also warned of "unintended consequences" of the new voter-approved surtax on earners who bring in over a million dollars a year, and said the state's flush coffers could be used to "mitigate" these consequences.
"Some of those revenues should be used to protect existing industries and businesses, stimulate new economic activity, correct tax policies where Massachusetts is an outlier, and mitigate unintended consequences from the millionaire's tax," he said.
On transportation issues, a new study says Boston has the second worst congestion in the U.S. -- and fourth worst in the world -- while the MBTA has had a litany of public-facing problems recently.
Rooney said Boston-based workers are having to choose between "nation-leading congestion" and "nation-leading safety incidents on public transit" to get to work. He expressed support for Gov. Maura Healey's intentions to name a new general manager of the MBTA who has experience running a transit system and to create a new safety position in upper management for the organization.
While supporting Healey's enthusiasm for supporting the state's clean energy industry, Rooney warned of a potential fiscal cliff with the implementation of a state law that requires gas powered vehicles to be phased out starting in 2035, "effectively eliminating the gas tax," he said.
"A focused mobility pricing commission can set Massachusetts up with a long-term strategic plan for transportation financing that incentivizes behavior, is equitable, and will survive the energy and fuel transition," he said. "This proposal has been passed by the Legislature twice now but not signed by the governor. We will advocate for a mobility pricing commission again this session."
Rooney was also enthusiastic about Healey's announcement that she will create a focused housing secretariat -- though Healey has not yet filed legislation to do so -- and listed housing affordability as a major issue for the city's employees and employers. He said the state needs to expand upon local plans to create a statewide plan for housing.
"We all know that Massachusetts invented town meeting, and we cherish our local control culture. However, we need to look at the entire Commonwealth and evaluate how local zoning decisions impact the state's housing, energy, and transportation needs," he said.
Lastly, Rooney said the chamber would advocate this year for greater state support for apprenticeships, and partner with Boston Public Schools on experiential learning opportunities.
The chamber launched its Massachusetts Apprentice Network in 2022, which placed 141 candidates in employer-based apprenticeships.
"We must leverage the talent we have here," Rooney said. "We know it works -- whether it is apprenticeships, vocational-technical education, or other on-the-job learning. Apprenticeships can set someone on a lifelong career path that will change both their and their families' economic trajectory."
Written by Sam Drysdale/SHNS.