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Mass. plans bond sale of $2 billion to $3 billion to bolster unemployment trust fund

Employers are frustrated by a lack of details after nearly a year of planning by the Baker administration.

Rosalin Acosta, secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workplace Development, defended the administration’s work on the bond deal to replenish the state's unemployment trust fund.Sam Doran/Pool/file

The wheels of government turn slowly, often too slowly.

It’s been nearly a year since Governor Charlie Baker got the greenlight from the Legislature to sell as much as $7 billion in bonds and use the proceeds to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

But the bonds have not been sold, and even though the fund won’t need anything close to that amount of money, the administration is now saying the deal won’t be wrapped up until June or July. In the meantime, interest rates have climbed, boosting the state’s borrowing costs.

Business groups are frustrated by how long it’s taking the state to square away the trust fund’s financial condition. Employers finance the unemployment insurance system through taxes, and they will have to pay off the debt through a special assessment.

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On Friday, administration officials told a legislative commission hearing that they expected the state to issue $2 billion to $3 billion in bonds. The debt will mature in 12 to 14 years, but officials plan to pay them off sooner, perhaps after eight or nine years.

Firmer details won’t be forthcoming until after April 15, when the state will have new five-year projections for employer contributions, benefit payments, and the trust fund’s balance, the officials said.

At the end of last year, Baker signaled that the bond sale would be smaller, maybe about $1.2 billion. It looks like the administration wants to make sure the trust fund balance is flush enough to ensure that employer tax rates — which are determined by the fund’s balance — fall back to pre-pandemic averages, said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

But he and other business leaders are withholding judgment on the plan.

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“It is difficult to make an assessment of the bonding proposal due to the limited information available,” James E. Rooney, chief executive officer of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “There has been a lack of clear and timely information from the Department of Unemployment Assistance — not just recently — but also over the last several months, and we consistently find ourselves on shifting ground.”

At the hearing, Rosalin Acosta, who oversees DUA as secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Workplace Development, defended the administration’s work on the bond deal.

“We moved as quickly as possible,” she said. Last year, she said, “we were still in the pandemic. There still was not a light at the end of the tunnel. Now things have settled down.”

Acosta has a point. But so does Rooney.

The DUA is a slow-moving bureaucracy that takes it sweet time releasing data that employers — and the rest of the public — have every right to see. The wheels need to move faster.





Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeNewsEd.