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Business confidence is down

Based on how they’re throwing money around these days, state and local officials seem to feel the good times are rolling here in the Bay State.

Not so local businesses, however. Associated Industries of Massachusetts reported last week that “confidence among Massachusetts employers weakened considerably during June as tariffs, rising raw-material costs and approval of paid family and medical leave in the Bay State raised concerns about business growth.”

As the governor and Legislature bargain over higher taxes and fees, and their local counterparts contemplate even more generous contracts for their workers, the private sector is feeling the heat.

AIM’s business confidence index declined 5.3 points in June to 61.3 — its lowest level since August of 2017.

According to the well-respected organization that represents Bay State employers, “The comments provided … on the monthly AIM survey suggest that companies are becoming increasingly concerned about a perfect storm of issues on the federal and state levels.

“It is certainly significant that the AIM Business Confidence Index is lower than it was in June 2017. It is also significant that many of the individual indicators that make up the overall index — ranging from employer hiring plans to their views of the Massachusetts economy— are also lower than they were a year ago,” according to Marblehead’s Raymond Torto, chairman of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors and lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “It will be interesting to see how confidence changes during the summer as Massachusetts continues to operate at virtually full capacity.”

Added Richard Lord, another North Shore resident and longtime AIM president: “Member employers are deeply concerned about a potential trade war with China and with key US trading partners such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union. At the same time, the Legislature last week passed a ‘grand bargain’ that will create a family- and medical-leave requirement and increase the state minimum wage from $11 per hour to $15 per hour. Those requirements, on top of the MassHealth assessment and other elements, continue to challenge employers.”

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Talk about generosity. Members of the Peabody Municipal Light Commission are no doubt cheering passage on Beacon Hill of a home-rule petition that not only grants them a raise, but makes them eligible for city-funded pensions. Look for a lot more former commissioners seeking more lucrative public employment in order to raise the amount they can collect in retirement.

Yes, the salary ($5,100) is relatively low, but the benefits — particularly access to the city health insurance plan and, now, pension system — are hefty.

This reporter recalls how the late state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis argued (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) that Peabody’s library trustees should also be made eligible for pensions — because “they don’t cost anyone anything.”

Not true. Individually these pensions may amount to a drop in the bucket, but collectively they cost cities and towns plenty.

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The same thinking is at work on Beacon Hill where lawmakers are considering a $2 hike in rental car fees to fund more police training.

These fees — already high — are attractive to legislators since most of those picking up cars at the airport are from out of state and many are on expense accounts. So who’s going to complain or cast a vote in protest?

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What can you say about a president who treats the announcement of his latest Supreme Court nominee as another episode of “Celebrity Apprentice”?

Monday night’s prime-time show was awkward at best, and represented a new low for the nation’s high court at worst.

Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Salem, has it right: “Don’t despair. Vote.”

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