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Senate President Seeks to Move State ‘Back to Better’

Posted on March 26, 2021

Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka is inviting the business community to work with state lawmakers to create a post-pandemic future that is “back to better rather than back to normal.”

The Ashland Democrat told the AIM Executive Forum this morning that the Senate has established several committees that will seek to re-imagine Massachusetts in areas such as health-care infrastructure, business, housing, education and childcare. She said the newly formed Re-Imagining Massachusetts Post-Pandemic Resiliency Committee plans virtual listening sessions on April 6 and 14.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to do that kind of planning,” Spilka told a virtual audience of more than 250 employers.

The Senate President said the continued strong relationship between the business community and the Legislature was a key factor in the passage Thursday of a bill that will freeze unemployment  insurance rates for two years, create a tax benefit for small companies that received a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan and establish a temporary COVID leave benefit for workers.

The same level of collaboration will be needed, she said, to address the long-term issues as Massachusetts moves down the road of economic recovery following the pandemic. She pledged that the Senate will fulfill its commitment to fund the Student Opportunity Act and also prioritize measures to improve health-care affordability and access, expand mental health services and address the troubling exodus of women from the workforce during the pandemic.

She noted that the recent op-ed article on that exodus by AIM Chair Joanne Hilferty, Immediate Past Chair Dan Kenary and Executive Vice President of Government Affairs Brooke Thomson disclosed that the pandemic erased a decade of progress in labor-force participation by women.

Ms. Spilka said the Senate will not pass broad-based tax increases this year at a time of continued uncertainty for the economy.

“It was clear to me once pandemic hit last year and unemployment was so high…it was not the time to pass any broad-based tax increases,” she said.

“I anticipate continuing to hold this view.”

At the same time, she suggested that the Senate will continue to look at long-term changes to the state tax code.

The chamber will also work to address the commonwealth’s transportation issues and traffic bottlenecks that slowed commerce prior to COVID.

“I have often said that my goal is to get people out of their cars and into public transportation,” she said. “And we all know that it’s more easily said than done. But the Senate is really committed to continuing to work on policies that will help change people’s behavior. So that will ultimately be done.”

The Senate President praised AIM and President John Regan for their willingness to conduct “respectful and profitable” conversations on topics, even when lawmakers and employers disagree.

“You guys rock,” she said.