AUG. 12, 2015 • BY JON HURST

During the last week of July, the Massachusetts Legislature overwhelmingly passed the 11th sales tax holiday held over the past 12 years. For that action, countless mom and pop retailers are very grateful. The holiday represents a state version of Small Business Saturday, in which our public policy leaders create real consumer incentives, and send a very strong message to our residents that it matters where they spend their dollars. And in these days of unlimited shopping options—including countless tax free sites right on our smartphones combined with price comparison applications--the state incentive is far more important today than it was in the first year, 2004.

If the Sales Tax Holiday helps your sales and traffic and that of your local retail community, please be sure to thank your local legislators for this important economic investment. It is vital for the future that they know it is important to you and your customers.

The sales tax holiday this year was more controversial than in past years due to rhetoric from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. On the right, there were arguments that the two days are nothing more than “crumbs” to small businesses and to taxpayers. To those opponents, I say if you are starving, you will take the crumbs.

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JUL. 7, 2015 • BY JON HURST

As the calendar moves past Independence Day weekend and the state budget gets finalized, the question is now being asked by stores and consumers alike on whether Massachusetts will enjoy a weekend of tax-free shopping this August. If authorized, a 2015 Sales Tax Holiday would be the eleventh in the last twelve years. Stores and Main Streets would be packed with consumers enjoying both the 6.25% tax savings on items up to $2,500, along with the sale prices many stores would be offering.

Starting with the first “Sales Tax Holiday” held in 2004, shoppers have embraced this late summer event providing Massachusetts Main Street retailers, and the state’s economy, with a much needed economic boost at an otherwise very slow time. Eighteen states normally authorize sales tax holidays, but none as successful as the Massachusetts event. And with the incredible growth of smartphone/mobile commerce just over the last couple of years, this state incentive is becoming even more important to keep hundreds of millions of dollars in our state rather than lose sales to tax-free internet sellers. While virtually all of our elected leaders agree that the sales tax holiday is good politics, some question if it is good policy. Here’s why it is:

Consumers Vote With Their Dollars: Past sales tax holidays have created a December-like weekend in what would normally be empty stores and Main Streets. And a May, 2015, poll by Opinion Dynamics showed that 72% would be Very Likely or Somewhat Likely to shop locally instead of in New Hampshire or on the Internet if the Legislature and Governor re-authorize future sales tax holidays. The consumer represents 70% of our economy, and consumer spending has a multiplier effect that determines whether new jobs and investment will be made by wide variety of employer sectors. The Sales Tax Holiday is truly an economic stimulus of the most effective form.

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The following frequently asked questions have been prepared by Morgan, Brown & Joy partner Tracy Boland to provide employers guidance as to how to comply with the new Paid Sick Leave law. Members are advised to refer to these materials when creating their new sick leave policy. Members are also reminded that RAM is working on an updated model employee handbook which will include language pertaining to the requirements of the Paid Sick Leave Law. We hope to have the handbook available early next week. In the meantime please feel fre to contact the RAM office directly with any questions ro concerns.

Massachusetts Attorney General Issues
Final Regulations Governing Earned Sick Time

On Friday, June 19, 2015, the Massachusetts Attorney General released the final Regulations governing the application of the Earned Sick Time law that voters approved last November. These Regulations are intended to provide guidance – beyond the terms of the law itself – as to the practical application of the law.

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A top priority for RAM early in this legislative session is a return of the Sales Tax Holiday (STH) in 2015. Legislation was filed on our behalf at the beginning of this session to establish August 15-16, 2015, as a Sales Tax Holiday weekend. RAM staff has been laying the groundwork, discussing the issue with legislators over the past few months, and recently contracted with a consultant to study the overall economic impacts of the Sales Tax Holiday. It is our belief that this study will show the positive added economic benefits to the Commonwealth that result from a tax free weekend and this will further support our lobbying efforts. We are requesting that all RAM members, particularly those who have benefited from past holidays, click here to take this brief confidential survey to assist in the data collection for the study.

Also, RAM recently paid to add a question regarding consumer interest in future tax free weekends to a broader statewide poll. That question and the results are here:

If the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor re-authorize future Sales Tax Holidays, how likely will you be to participate by shopping nearby and keeping your consumer dollars local instead of buying online or in New Hampshire:

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RAM is pleased with the announcement by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA) that it will be increasing the financial incentives offered as part of its wellness program—Healthy Actions. The incentive program now provides businesses the opportunity to receive a reward amount of up to 7.5% of paid premium (up from 5%) based on the wellness participation of their covered employees. The program also provides a financial incentive of up to $300 a year to covered employees that successfully complete the program.

This news is particularly positive for members of the RAM Health Insurance Cooperative (RAMHIC) which beginning April 1, 2015 has included Healthy Actions in all BCBSMA plans offered through the cooperative. When combined, the Healthy Actions rewards and the RAMHIC upfront discount of 2%, result in a potential savings of 9.5% on health insurance premiums for qualifying small businesses.

For a copy of the press release announcing this program please click here. Members interested in learning more about the RAMHIC may contact Larry Mulrey at 617-523-1900.



Yesterday Attorney General Maura Healey announced her decision to issue safe harbor from the Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Law for employers with existing paid time off policies. The safe harbor provides qualifying employers a six-month transition period before they must bring their policies into compliance with the requirements specified in the law. A copy of the announcement can be found here.

In order to be eligible to take advantage of the safe harbor provision an employer’s policy must be

in place as of May 1, 2015,
provide at least 30 hours of job protected paid time off during the 2015 calendar year, and
available to all workers—full-time and part-time; employers that currently have a policy for full-timers but not part-timers may add part-timers to the existing policy to qualify.
Employers taking the safe harbor will still have to bring their policies into compliance with the requirements of the law by January 1, 2016. Employers not meeting these criteria are required to adopt and implement a compliant policy by July, 1 2015.

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Safe Harbor Update and Model Employer Notification Poster

In May, Attorney General Maura Healey announced her decision to issue safe harbor from the Massachusetts Paid Sick Leave Law for employers with existing paid time off policies. Yesterday, in response to growing concerns from the employer community, the AGO issued an update providing further guidance as to how employers are to comply with the safe harbor provision. The AGO’s clarification may make the safe harbor a viable option to more employers than originally anticipated.

The safe harbor provides qualifying employers a six-month transition period before they must bring their policies into compliance with requirements specified in the law. An employer is eligible to take advantage of the safe harbor if:

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APR. 3, 2015 • BY JON HURST

For more than a decade since the debate and passage of Chapter 58—or “RomneyCare”—RAM has made it a top priority to seek health insurance marketplace equality and legal fairness for small businesses and their employees. Numerous state reforms created opportunities for that fairness in premiums, including the passage of legislation authorizing small business cooperatives. But a combination of overbearing and preemptive federal rules under the ACA, as well as an explosion of state health insurance mandates have created the most costly and unfair market, and economic stifling environment for small businesses in recent memory. The bottom line is that the employees of small businesses are in effect second class consumers under the law and in the market for health insurance. The unfair levels of cross subsidies, the rising premiums, and the inequality in choices in coverage are little understood, yet are very real and very discriminatory.

RAM’s annual member survey of premiums for 2015 showed an average increase of 11%, and that is on top of an identical 11% increase last year. Those levels of increases simply are not occurring for big business or big government risk pools. No one can convince me that the employees of small businesses are less healthy than those receiving taxpayer supported coverage, or those working for big, self-insured employers. It is time to educate our state and federal leaders to this discrimination and this threat to our small businesses. Small employers compete every day for both customers and employees with big business. It is one thing for government to say small businesses must provide insurance, and their employees must purchase insurance. But to do that and then require far more expensive and extensive coverage than what exists for others means that we have a government rigged system.

Please take a few moments to click here and review the results of our annual survey, and join RAM in educating your state and federal elected officials on this most urgent of cost issues.



AG Publishes Proposed Paid Sick Leave Regulations

The Office of Attorney General Maura Healey (AGO) recently published draft regulations for the new Paid Sick Leave Law that was adopted by voters at the ballot last November. The regulations attempt to address ambiguous provisions of the law and provide employers guidance as to how they are to comply. For the most part, the draft regulations address RAM’s initial concerns submitted to the AGO. However, the regulations themselves may present additional questions.

As RAM determines whether a second round of comments to the AGO is necessary, all employers are strongly urged to review the proposed regulations and provide RAM with questions and concerns. A summary of the law, a copy of Proposed Regulation - 940 C.M.R. 33.00 - Earned Sick Time, and a schedule of public hearings on the matter can be found on the AGO’s website at the following link:

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MAR. 5, 2015 • BY JON HURST

At the request of the Baker Administration to help their efforts to obtain federal disaster relief from the historic month of winter weather, RAM spearheaded a survey to determine average small business sales losses over the four week period of January 26-February 22. RAM designed a survey and recruited the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB-MA), Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA), the Massachusetts Business Roundtable (MBA), and the members of the Massachusetts Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (MACCE) to participate. The survey results confirmed the anecdotal evidence of just how severe the sales losses were, while at the same time showing a much higher loss number for small retailers and restaurants than for other employer sectors.

The average small business sales losses across the state were 24%; but the retail and restaurant numbers were far higher, at 49%. The reductions in payroll costs were only 7% for all businesses, and 14% for retail and restaurant, and thus most employers took care of their employees, while taking a very large hit to the bottom line.

Thanks to all of our RAM members for taking the time to participate in this important survey. Click here to view press release.

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