JUL. 7, 2016 • BY JON HURST

Ask any small business owner what they need to be successful, to compete with big companies, to thrive alongside the new “innovation economy,” and to compete with smartphone sellers and they will likely tell you two things – higher sales and lower costs. And that is what RAM is pushing for in order to really help Main Street under the Economic Development bill making its way through the Legislature.

The following three issues are the best ways for state government to deliver on those higher sales and lower costs for our Main Street employers.

A 2016 Sales Tax Holiday

The Sales Tax Holiday (STH) has become an important event on the Massachusetts retail calendar and recognizes that consumer spending represents 70% of our economy. The key question is where do our consumers spend their money—locally, or in Silicon Valley or in NH? The Sales Tax Holiday is pro-consumer, pro-Main Street, and pro-retail employee. Consumers love it, and our Main Streets need it. Results have shown that during the STH weekend MA picks up hundreds of millions of impulse buys and recovered vital sales that would normally go to non-taxed locations in New Hampshire or online.

It is vital that we incent our consumers to shop here in Massachusetts rather than continue to send billions of dollars out of our economy. Mobile commerce growth means consumers can shop online anytime and from anywhere, often tax free. Retailers in the Commonwealth have waited decades for Congress to fix the online sales tax loophole and it appears as though their wait will continue. So while online sellers continue to get 365 days a year to sell tax free into the Commonwealth–two days in August is the least we can do for the preservation of our Main Streets, and in support of our in-state merchants.

Blue Law Premium Pay Reform

In the 21st Century, our local employers shouldn’t have to live with remnants of the Blue Laws, whose roots in Massachusetts date back to the 17th Century. Retail is the only industry required by law in the Commonwealth to pay hourly workers a Sunday premium wage of time-and-a-half, and Rhode Island is the only other state in the nation to impose this costly requirement on merchants. Adopted as a tradeoff to get stores open in the first place on Sundays 4 decades ago, when the minimum wage was around $3, the requirement is no longer affordable today for stores attempting to compete with those over the border or on the internet.

By 2017 the Sunday retail minimum wage will be $16.50 when the statewide wage goes to $11. In the meantime, the Sunday minimum in NH will still be $7.25. With smartphone sales representing a majority of shopping activity by today’s Millennials, we simply cannot afford a Sunday retail minimum wage of which doesn’t exist in 48 states or for any internet sellers. A recent study by the Beacon Hill Institute placed the per retail employee cost in MA at an average of $4800 higher than in 48 other states directly due to this antiquated requirement. It’s time to phase out this antiquated law, at least for new employees

Small Business Health Insurance Fairness

Battered small businesses and their employees which have endured year after year of double digit health insurance premium increases—far higher than what has been seen in the large group marketplace. We need new flexibility and tools in the MA Small Business Health Insurance Cooperative law (originally passed in 2010) which would allow end of plan year financial incentives or rebates to award consumers working together to get healthier, and to be smarter purchasers of healthcare services under the group’s wellness and transparency programs. Originally passed to attempt to get fairness and equal rights for those who work for small business versus big business or government, the innovative MA cooperatives have been stymied by preemptive Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements on small business state rating factors. Suggested RAM reforms will replace the ACA preempted upfront discounts with back end financial incentives to appropriately award participants for their collective wellness and consumer education activities.


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