Spilka: The Road to Economic Recovery
By Senator Karen Spilka, Guest Columnist
MetroWest Daily News
Monday, March 26, 2012
During the first few months of 2012, we have started to see many encouraging signs that our economy is on a path for ongoing recovery.
The Massachusetts unemployment rate continues to decline and it is now the lowest it has been since December 2008. For February 2012, the total unemployment rate for the state was 6.9 percent. The most recent local data from January 2012 shows that in MetroWest, the unemployment rate was even better – 5.7 percent. Due to continued growth in our key industries and fiscally responsible state policies and budgeting, our unemployment rate has been consistently and significantly lower than the national average of 8.3 percent.
Though steady, the pace of recovery has been gradual. I know that people are still struggling to find work and have to do more with less. I remain proactive in promoting economic development, job creation, and continued reform to help support our residents and businesses.
To propel our economy forward, the Legislature has cut tax rates. On January 1, 2012, the personal income tax rate was lowered from 5.3 percent to 5.25 percent to help provide relief to individuals, saving taxpayers approximately $112 million in the first year. As part of a continued effort to create a fairer corporate tax system, we gradually lowered the corporate tax rate from 9.5 percent to 8.0 percent — the latest decrease effective January 1, 2012. Massachusetts now has the lowest corporate tax rate in all of New England. With these and other legislative efforts we have improved the business climate in the state and laid the groundwork for companies to create more jobs.
One important piece of this strategy is the passage and implementation of the Economic Development Reform Bill of 2010 — which I co-authored with Senate President Therese Murray. This law provides easier access to a broader variety of tools to help businesses succeed while cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape. One major focus of our work was to provide additional support to small businesses, which continue to be the backbone of our economy. We streamlined state government by eliminating or consolidating state agencies and increased transparency by requiring regular management reviews and audits. Overall, we have created a more consistent and stable business environment, making it easier to do business here while ensuring Massachusetts maintains its competitive edge.
A key provision of this law requires that the state perform — for the first time — an economic development impact review of all existing and new regulations. This means that each agency is mandated to take a close look at all of their regulations and carefully study their effectiveness and impacts on businesses.
I am pleased that the administration has completed the initial stage of this review which included 200 different regulations. This first round covers about 10 percent of the total regulations in our state government and out of those reviewed, 41 were eliminated immediately and 107 were targeted to be overhauled and updated.
By cutting unnecessary regulations and working to update and consolidate others, we are taking an important step to eliminate barriers to economic growth and job creation. We have heard from a number of industry leaders that this will make Massachusetts a more business friendly state.
The new law also requires the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to work with regional economic development organizations (REDOs) to help businesses locate and grow locally. In December 2011, the 495/MetroWest Corridor Partnership and the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce were selected to join forces as the REDO for our region. With this designation, they received a $130,000 grant to become the single point of contact in the area to support our communities, help existing businesses grow, and attract new investment to this thriving economic engine of the state.
We expanded access to capital by establishing the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, which provides both funds and technical services to small businesses. I am excited to report that, thus far, we have loaned $21 million and helped create or retain over 4,500 jobs across the Commonwealth.
Additionally, to showcase and promote our diverse attractions and destinations, this law created the MetroWest Tourism and Visitors Bureau. The Bureau was officially launched Dec. 9, 2011, and is actively working to market the MetroWest brand and the uniqueness our region has to offer. This will spur economic growth by bringing in additional revenue and helping to create more jobs in Metro-West.
Even with all of these encouraging signs, I know more needs to be done. I will continue to work on other issues impacting businesses and working families, including lowering healthcare and energy costs and supporting education initiatives to ensure we have a skilled workforce. To prevent unnecessary foreclosures, I filed a bill with Attorney General Martha Coakley that provides additional protections to homeowners and helps stabilize the housing market and our economy.
It is important that we continue to strengthen our partnerships with local businesses and residents so that our continued reforms at the state level are consistent with your needs, concerns, and priorities. As Chair of the Jobs Creation Commission, I have heard from many employers and members of the public at our monthly meetings and regional hearings about the problems our workers and businesses are facing. In an effort to make this process more accessible, I am bringing the Commission to MetroWest for a public hearing on April 13, at the Framingham Public Library. It is through this type of active collaboration that we are able to strengthen our communities, our economy, and our collective future.
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, represents the 2nd Middlesex and Norfolk district.