We are 35 days from the first meeting of the Policy Committee and 42 days from the first meetings of the four new Subcommittees. Thus far, our members have identified four issues for us to contemplate as we prepare to begin our process of approving a legislative agenda for 2021. It is important for us to have a meaningful agenda as we are entering a budget year in which we have experienced significant declines in state revenue. But there is more; it is also a year in which the state will undertake redistricting, and this process is not only time consuming but fraught with pressure.
Last year while in the middle of a strong economy that was in expansion, with low unemployment rates and increasing labor force participation rates, we convened a meeting between seven of our larger employers across the specter of the economy. The federal government was encouraging the state to increase the unemployment compensation rates paid by employers when we had a reduction already scheduled to take place. State Representative Dan Leonard met with these employers and presented a case to retain the current rates instead of either reducing or increasing them. Representative Leonard presented the facts as they were, including economic forecasts for the near future, and urged us to consider that the elimination of the scheduled decrease would enable the state unemployment reserve to increase from $1 billion to $2 billion and bring stability to the program. After much discussion, those present indicated that despite a desire to reduce the rate in accordance with the existing law, long term stability was more important than short term reductions in the rate. The Regional Chamber supported the change in hopes of the desired stability. Instead, we were visited by the COVID 19 virus.
The economy took a nosedive, and unemployment soared. Frankly, the unemployment reserve fund has been or will be impacted to the point where we would have been devastated without the action proposed by Representative Leonard and supported by our membership. As we begin preparations for the next State Budget, we will no doubt ask Representative Leonard to join us again and talk about the steps that we need to take to once again develop our reserves to the point where we need them.
We need to prepare for the upcoming legislative session with an agenda that is both realistic under the circumstances and forward-thinking. I believe that our Board of Directors’ approval to establish four subcommittees to work with the Policy Committee to develop an agenda is precisely that: forward-thinking. It increases the opportunity for our private sector members to have an even greater opportunity to work with our delegation to establish an even more favorable climate in which people, businesses, and communities can prosper in the global economy.
Subcommittee rosters are filling, but we need more expertise. Please consider contacting us and discuss the opportunities to serve on either the 21st Century Talent, World Class Infrastructure, Competitive Business Environment, or Rural Agribusiness subcommittees.