John Regan just landed a big promotion to run Associated Industries of Massachusetts, but he probably shouldn’t plan much vacation time.
Regan, AIM’s top government relations manager, will have a full plate when he becomes chief executive of the powerful employer group on May 20, taking over for longtime chief Rick Lord. AIM board members said they conducted a thorough search before picking the inside candidate. Ten finalists were interviewed by a search committee, including six women or minorities. But Regan’s well-known lobbying expertise and negotiating skills stood out.
Now, he will put those attributes to the test. Regan, 58, will still wear his lobbyist hat until he can find a new head of government relations, which could take months. Here are a few of the items on his to-do list.
Paid family and medical leave: The “Grand Bargain” legislative package of new labor laws that passed in 2018 brings a requirement that is vexing many employers. They need to decide soon about whether to opt out of a new state-administered paid leave program, because the assessments start kicking in on July 1.
Regan argues there are still several issues with the new program that need refinement, likely requiring the Legislature’s approval. He is currently negotiating with Raise Up Massachusetts, the coalition of labor and community activists that pushed for the paid-leave program, to come up with some fixes supported by both sides. One topic on the table: a possible postponement of that July 1 start date. He hopes to have a deal as soon as next week.
Extra income tax for high earners: Several business groups, including AIM, scored a reprieve when the Supreme Judicial Court last year nixed a ballot question calling for a “millionaires tax.” But the proponents are back with a new version they believe will withstand any court challenge, potentially putting the surcharge before voters in 2022.
Before it goes to the ballot, the income tax surcharge needs to be passed by the Legislature this year or next, and then again in either 2021 or 2022. Regan argues there would be significant economic harm caused by the tax — an extra 4 percentage points on the income tax for earnings above $1 million — potentially chasing business owners and top executives away. He hopes a compromise can be reached on Beacon Hill to head it off, possibly through discussions he is having as part of a revenue task force assembled by Senate President Karen Spilka.
Transportation: Regan is also part of discussions among various chambers of commerce and other business groups aimed at improving the state’s transportation systems. Additional tolls and a gas tax increase are in the mix. Regan wants solutions that address concerns statewide, and not just Greater Boston and the MBTA service area. He also wants to ensure the state can effectively manage the revenue it currently gets for transportation, before adding more.
Health care reforms: Regan will continue to advocate for measures that don’t add to business costs, such as opposing significant assessments on health insurers or hospitals. He has scored one victory already: There are no signs a controversial assessment on employers to help pay for the state’s MassHealth insurance program that was supposed to last for only two years will be extended for the next fiscal year, as some business leaders once feared.
Membership: While total dues collections are at an all-time high, membership at AIM is not. The group boasts of about 3,500 members, down from a peak of 7,000 in the early 2000s. AIM is studying ways to better market itself, and to make its regular online memos about the nitty-gritty of state government available only to dues-paying members. Regan says 3,500 is a nice number, but 7,000 is a nicer one.