Rick LordSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Rick Lord

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

BOSTON -- Campaigns to defeat popular ballot questions that would raise the minimum wage and mandate paid family and medical leave could cost $10 million apiece, according to an influential business group that is eyeing major changes in how it approaches the ballot process.

In a Tuesday missive, Associated Industries of Massachusetts President Rick Lord referred to the "sobering reality" that paid family and medical leave and hiking the minimum wage "enjoy overwhelming support in early voter polls, not surprising given proposals that appear to offer something for nothing."

In surveys over the past few months, WBUR/MassINC Polling Group found 78 percent support for raising the minimum wage, and 82 percent support for paid family and medical leave.

"Experts believe that a campaign to defeat questions with those sorts of poll numbers could cost $10 million per initiative," Lord wrote. "The ballot process is one-sided, winner-take-all. Coming to a legislative compromise avoids that by allowing a broader group of people to have input into key decisions to create policies that work for everyone."

Business owners in recent years have had to provide employees paid sick leave and adjust their egg, pork and veal offerings because of ballot questions, and in 2014 lawmakers raised the minimum hourly wage to $11 after the advocacy group Raise Up Massachusetts threatened to go to the ballot with the idea.


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With a decision likely imminent from the Supreme Judicial Court on whether voters will decide to impose a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million via the November ballot, Lord warned of an "unsavory trifecta of mandated paid leave, an accelerating minimum wage and possibly and income tax surtax.

"The long-term lesson may be a fundamental change in the way employers approach ballot questions," Lord continued. "Stay tuned."

Raise Up Massachusetts is backing the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and the proposal to establish a paid family and medical leave program. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which opposes those two efforts, has separately advanced a proposal to lower the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 5 percent.

The sales tax reduction is also popular. WBUR/MassINC found 67 percent support for the reduction earlier this year and 69 percent support last year.

"Challenging issues remain and anyone involved in negotiations knows that the final compromises are always the most difficult. But it's fair to say that we are confident about reaching an agreement on a paid leave plan that will be far less economically punitive than the one set out in the ballot question," Lord wrote. He said, "The prospects for agreement on minimum wage and the sale-tax decrease are more uncertain."

Paid family and medical leave, which would allow employees to take time off to care for a loved one, "could add more than $1 billion in benefit costs to employers and workers if passed in November," Lord wrote.

Leave benefits under the ballot question would be funded through employer contributions to a new trust and employers could require employees to contribute up to 50 percent of the cost. Workers taking paid leave would receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, up to a maximum benefit of $1,000 a week.

The proposal calls for up to 16 weeks of job-protected paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member, to care for a new child, or to meet family needs arising from a family member's active duty military service, according to Raise Up. It authorizes up to 26 weeks of job-protected paid leave to recover from a worker's own serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill or injured service member.

The Supreme Judicial Court is expected to rule this week on whether the proposed income surtax is constitutional and can appear on the November ballot, and other citizen initiative proponents will need to submit their remaining signatures by July 3 to qualify for the ballot. 

"Any compromise on the three issues will have to be wrapped up before ballots go to print in early July," Lord wrote. "And to make matters even more confusing, conclusion of a 'grand bargain' is inextricably tied to an imminent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on the graduated income tax proposal."