Chambers of commerce fear not being heard, band together
Rooney: State starting to lose its was in terms of competitiveness
TEN OF THE state’s regional chambers of commerce are concerned they are not being heard on Beacon Hill, so they are banding together to speak with one louder voice.
James Rooney, the president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said the surtax on millionaires passed by voters in November has awakened the business community.
“We’re all feeling that Massachusetts is starting to lose its way in terms of competitiveness, not just for business but people,” Rooney said on The Codcast.
The formation of the Chamber Policy Network is an attempt by the various chambers to get on the same page as they take their message to Beacon Hill. In addition to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, the other nine represent Worcester, Springfield, Cape Cod, the South Shore, the North Shore, Southcoast, the Berkshires, western Massachusetts, and Needham, Newton, Watertown, and Wellesley.
Rooney said speaking with one voice will give the chambers more clout. “When I go up to Beacon Hill, I’m able to say I represent 1,300 businesses that employ hundreds of thousands of people,” Rooney said. “The collective network that we’re talking about statewide, that we formed, represents 10,000 businesses employing millions of people.”
The Chamber Policy Network is still formulating its strategy, but Rooney said its message is likely to center around competitiveness – the state’s ability to retain and attract workers and businesses.
“We’ve got some strengths but we need to develop that sales message, if you will, to accent those and deal with challenges. Most of the challenges are in cost. For the individual, it’s cost of housing, cost of living. But for the businesses, it’s the cost of doing business,” he said.
“It’s not just this millionaire tax. That’s just one rock in the knapsack that you’re forced to carry,” Rooney said. “It awoke sleeping dogs.”
The chamber executive said the business community is now fully awake and ready to make its voice heard. “Rather than being spoken at, we want to be spoken with,” he said.
“What’s missing from our perspective is either there’s a lack of empathy or a lack of appreciation for the degree to which economic growth allows you to fix all the other things you want to fix,” Rooney said.
Gov. Maura Healey has proposed a tax cut package that includes a reduction in the state’s estate tax and elimination of a higher tax on short-term capital gains. Both moves have been met with applause in the business community, but the Tax Foundation, in a report last week, said the state needs to go further. The report cited three other taxes on businesses that should be eliminated and suggested the estate tax should be canned entirely.
Rooney says Healey has shown a willingness to listen to the business community, but suggested there is a disconnect on Beacon Hill that has been building for some time. He said Healey’s budget proposal calls for $55 billion in spending, up from $42 billion just five years ago.He acknowledged the state’s rainy day fund has also grown over that time period, but asked what the $13 billion increase in spending over the last five years has accomplished. He said the state is less competitive today when it comes to housing, transportation, and other issues that are hurting the state’s ability to retain workers and businesses. He also said not a single tax has been cut during that period.
“Clearly, if you look at that picture, the voice of business, commerce, and economic growth is not being heard,” he said.