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Mass. business group may be open to minimum wage hike

BOSTON — Business leaders appear open to supporting a modest hike in the state’s $8 per hour minimum wage, but only if coupled with business-friendly reforms in the unemployment insurance system.

The Massachusetts Senate approved a stand-alone bill last week that would raise the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2016 and index future increases to inflation. The House has not yet acted on the measure.

Many business leaders warn that a hike in the minimum wage could force employers to trim jobs and price some low-skilled workers out of the labor force.

Christopher Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, said Monday that his influential group would be receptive to a minimum wage increase that was attached to an overhaul of what he called a broken unemployment insurance system — one he said saddles employers with the second-highest payroll taxes in the nation after Rhode Island.

“This is probably the best opportunity in years for the Legislature, under the leadership of the House, to combine overdue reforms that bring us in line with the rest of the country, with some relief for low-wage earners,” Anderson said after meeting privately with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop.

Anderson said a survey of his group’s membership showed nearly 80 percent opposed to a stand-alone minimum wage increase. But the same survey showed that 67 percent would agree to hike the wage to $10 per hour if was not indexed to inflation and was accompanied by two major changes in the unemployment insurance system.

One proposed change would lower the duration of unemployment benefits from 30 weeks to 26 weeks. The other would require workers to be employed for at least 20 weeks before being eligible for benefits, up from the current 15 weeks.

Such changes would bring Massachusetts in line with national norms, Anderson said.

The council demonstrated its clout earlier this year as one of the business groups that successfully lobbied the Legislature to repeal the “tech tax,” a short-lived sales tax on computer and software services.

“I think the lesson on the tech tax was that if we pursue policies that provide negative consequences to our ability to grow and retain jobs in Massachusetts, that’s a problem for our overall competitiveness,” Anderson said.

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