10 Thoughts on the “Grand Bargain” that just passed the MA Legislature yesterday:
(1) When we have about 80% nominal Democratic control in both houses of our Legislature, we shouldn’t have to do all of the organizing work of ballot initiatives to get the Legislature to pass things that are, well, in the Party’s own platform.
(2) The “bargain” has good parts and bad parts, but none of the good parts would have passed (See 1) without the work of the larger number of people involved with Raise Up Massachusetts — so kudos to all of the organizations and volunteers involved.
(3) Our Legislature seems to only be able to oscillate between “slow-ball legislation to death/kill it in secret” and “pass it with no debate and before activists can even fully develop a position.” We deserve better. Props to Mike Connolly and Denise Provost for acknowledging this problem.
(4) The paid family and medical leave part of the deal is more generous (in its combination of weeks and replacement pay) than what any other state has, although it is weaker than what the ballot initiative would have secured. This is more of a shot against other states than a credit to our Legislature. Paid leave bills in states have been getting more progressive because activists have been demanding more — as they should. (Maybe a requirement of paid vacation days, like other advanced industrial countries have, next?)
(5) The increase to a $15 minimum wage will benefit many workers across the state, although it’s important to remember that $15 is not a living wage in Massachusetts (especially given the costs of housing and health care — which still need to be addressed). And because they slowed the phase-in (4 years to 5 years) and dropped indexing, that $15 will be less valuable by the time it finally comes. But it is still more than $11. It’s appalling that, on the federal level, Congress hasn’t passed a minimum wage increase since 2007. (And finally eliminating the tipped wage, which is so prone to wage theft, is still an important fight to be had that, unfortunately, the ballot initiative wouldn’t have fully addressed either.)
(6) However, the loss of “time and a half” on Sundays and holidays is a major loss — and could lead to an actual reduction in take-home pay for some workers (unless businesses start raising their tiers of wages more quickly then the phase out, etc.). The $22.50 that “time and a half” would become would be much closer to an actual living wage. Since I’m salaried, the significance of “time and a half” didn’t really hit me at first, but the more I think about it, the more this is a disappointing loss. The existence of “time and a half” on Sundays is somewhat archaic in theory, but it has a major positive impact in practice.
(7) The sales tax holiday is a dumb gimmick. Props to Pat Jehlen for putting forth an amendment (that was, as she knew, DOA) to strike this part of the deal.
(8) Democrats too often treat themselves as the brokers between a business lobby that hates them and the labor and community groups that helped get them elected, rather than advocates of the latter. It’s a striking contrast to how Republicans operate.
(9) Democrats acted as though they needed to make concessions because of the threat of the retailers’ sales tax reduction ballot question. A good campaign could have probably beaten that question. But, even so, there was no legitimate reason why the Legislature could not have just passed the sales tax reduction (the sales tax is regressive anyway), and then voted to pass a revenue-equivalent corporate tax hike. It would been progressive tax reform in a state that needs it. That this wasn’t even considered is revealing. And the Legislature showed that its strategy when facing extortion is to treat it as legitimate instead.
(10) I can’t help thinking this is just the latest example of our overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature trying to give cover to our Republican governor, whom they seem to like far more than our last Democratic governor.