(The Center Square) – An assembled group tasked with hashing over Massachusetts’ depleted unemployment insurance trust fund could give a final set of recommendations early in the upcoming year.
The 21 members of the state Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Study Committee held their ninth meeting on the weighty issue Nov. 29 and made one recommendation that could provide a roadmap for upcoming legislative deliberations.
The majority of the members serving on the study committee are government staffers and business executives. State Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Pembroke, and state Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, have been serving as co-chairs.
While the dive into short- and long-term solutions to the state’s UI trust has been deep in recent months, Jehlen said she believes more work is still necessary before a full framework of recommendations goes before lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature.
“We need all the suggestions we can get,” said Jehlen, who emphasized throughout the recent meeting she is working to achieve majority acceptance to any recommendations that are carried forward. “We’re hoping to have enough information to move forward in January.”
During the most recent discussion, the committee did cast a favorable recommendation to one of two principles on the table.
It was a technical statement, asserting the trust fund should achieve an average high cost multiple of 1.0 over an as-yet undetermined period of time. In essence, the committee also asserted its belief the trust fund should be solvent.
Committee member Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Tufts Center for State Policy Analysis, said there are a number of variables to consider when determining employer contributions. Some industries naturally are higher paying than others, and some lay employees off more often than others.
Steve Clark, who also sits on the committee and is vice president of government affairs with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said he believes the figure needs to have a big-picture, statewide focus.
“There’s a lot of passion, but at the end of the day, it’s a math equation,” Clark said. “You need to have a balanced approach to policy changes.”
The other principle Cutler and Jehlen presented the committee did not pass “go” – at least at the meeting. The second statement read, “Changes in UI should increase equity for small businesses, or at least not decrease equity.”
Speaking to the desire to maintain solvency, long-term, Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, said, “It’s like the ‘Sesame Street’ definition of what the goals or principals of the UI system should be.”
But with regard to the second principle, Anderson said, “The equity stuff – it creates a big challenge.”
Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, offered similar sentiments, saying, “I’m uncomfortable with the subjectivity of the word ‘equity.’”
Cutler, who played a role in wordsmithing the principle, defended it.
“I think it’s a statement that small businesses should not shoulder the bulk of the burden of our unemployment insurance fund,” Cutler said. “I think it’s an important principle. We’re going to have to shift the burden. Small businesses should be the least impacted.”