Governor Maura Healey went to great lengths on Thursday to portray herself as an ally to the business community during a speech before Associated Industries of Massachusetts. However, she provided few specifics about the policies her new administration intends to advance to improve the state’s economic competitiveness.
In particular, she was vague about taxes. Speaking to an audience of about 500, Healey reiterated her pledge to make tax reform a top priority. But she offered no real details, and steered clear of addressing business leaders’ suggestions to tinker with who gets hit by the “millionaires tax” that voters approved in November.
The speech was intended to be Healey’s first to a business group since being sworn in as governor three weeks ago. But then Wednesday, she stepped in at the last minute to give brief remarks to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council after the intended speaker, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, couldn’t make it. Biogen chief executive Christopher Viehbacher, who introduced Healey at the Marriott hotel in Newton on Thursday, described the AIM event as Healey’s “first formal remarks to members of the business community.”
As she did at her inauguration earlier this month, Healey made it clear that her administration’s doors will always be open to business leaders — even if they don’t always agree on specific issues.
“We have to be honest about the realities,” Healey said. “The fact is Massachusetts is expensive [with] high housing costs, high childcare costs, high electricity costs, unreliable transportation.”
Healey, a former pro basketball player, drew on her love of sports to emphasize how she realizes Massachusetts needs to be more competitive to keep employers here, encourage them to expand, and attract new ones. She hopes to emphasize the state’s big selling points, including its talented and highly educated workforce.
“I want to make sure — both Kim Driscoll and I are a little competitive — that we are putting our best foot forward when it comes to competing,” she said.
That competitive spirit apparently will spill over into requests for federal aid. Her plans include creating a “federal funding team” that’s “laser focused on getting every available federal dollar from the federal government [for] transportation, housing, infrastructure.” Those remarks come in the wake of the state’s failure to win major federal grants to help pay for new bridges over the Cape Cod Canal and a realignment of the Mass. Turnpike in Allston.
Other priorities, Healey said, include spurring more housing production and affordable childcare options, improving workforce training, and bolstering the clean energy sector.
Business leaders may have to wait a few more weeks for Healey’s positions on taxes. She’s expected to address taxation when she files her first state budget proposal, due by March 1. She didn’t give much of a hint about what would be included, other than to say she’s still working with legislative leaders to sort it out.
“We need tax reform, we need tax relief,” Healey said. “Making Massachusetts more competitive and attractive means doing just that.”
Many people in the room, including AIM leadership, opposed Question 1, which adds an extra four percentage points to the income tax rate for earnings above $1 million — a surcharge that 52 percent of voters approved in November. But the voters have spoken, Healey said. Healey said it’s important to ensure that the estimated $1.4 billion a year or more the measure will collect goes to education and transportation, as intended. Investing in those two causes, she said, “will make Massachusetts a more attractive place.”
Still, she acknowledged the tax structure here may deter companies from growing in Massachusetts, and said “time is of the essence” to address it. She didn’t mention it, but the pro-business Tax Foundation has said Question 1 would likely cause Massachusetts to fall from 34th place to 46th place, in the think tank’s annual rankings of state tax climates.
“Though our football team is going through its challenges right now, thank God we have the B’s and the C’s,” Healey said. “There are other titles, there are other championships that await us ... if we all work together.”