Treasurer Goldberg speaks on college savings, the future of online lottery, and other topics at the Boston Chamber’s Government Affairs Forum
BOSTON — Today, Treasurer Goldberg spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce as parts of its Government Affairs Forum on several topics, including the successful launch and expansion of SeedMA, the Commonwealth’s first-ever college savings account program which kicked off last August in Worcester, the implications of potentially legalizing marijuana this November, and the future of bringing the Massachusetts lottery online.
“Thank you, Miceal, for that kind introduction, and thank you for Bank of America’s support of this government affairs forum today.
I’d also like to thank Jim and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to speak this morning.
It is always a privilege to be before you, the leaders who help our economy prosper in this city and throughout our state.
Last year, I shared with you the challenges facing the Treasurer’s office across our eleven, vastly different subsidiaries.
Now, as I approach the halfway mark in this term, I’d like to share the progress we’ve made and talk about some of the challenges we see coming up.
I believe my job is to ensure economic stability and opportunity for every Massachusetts resident. Through commonsense business practices, and with an eye to the future, we hope to deliver results that meet those goals and preserve the Commonwealth’s strong fiscal standing for years to come.
I have always said I am a businessperson. And as one, I, too, am painfully aware of the fact that an educated and skills-based workforce is one of our greatest challenges.
So, this past year, the Massachusetts School Building Authority – which I chair – in
collaboration with Northeastern’ s Dukakis Center, did a jobs study which resulted in a report titled “Meeting the Commonwealth’ s Workforce Needs.”
It focused on our future labor demands and projected 1.2 million job vacancies will be created over the next 10 years. However, these jobs require vocational and technical training, an associate’s degree, or higher.
At the very beginning of my administration, I created the Office of Economic Empowerment, led by a Deputy Treasurer. One of our primary goals was to create a seeded college savings plan, at no cost to the taxpayer, which would also include financial literacy education for the child and their parent or guardian, embedded into the program.
I am excited to announce, that this past August, we officially kicked off this program, called $eedMA, as a pilot in Worcester. The city’s population, size, location, and economic, ethnic and industrial diversity make it literally a “living lab” to test a future statewide program.
So, what is this program?
Parents and guardians who enroll their kindergartener into a 529 account through $eedMA receive a $50 deposit with no strings attached.
You’re probably wondering, “Where do these funds come from?”
We have created public-private partnerships with organizations that understand, as you and I do, that Massachusetts needs an educated, highly trained workforce that also understands how to navigate the complex financial world we all live in.
The exciting part about these 529 accounts is they have no limits, in the traditional sense. They can be used toward books, tuition, fees, supplies, vocational training and more. And should the child for whom the account was opened no longer need to use it, other members of the family can take advantage of the savings for vocational training or college.
Families continue to sign up as we speak. Our pilot is enrolling kindergartners this school year and next. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is doing our longitudinal data, and MEFA has been a great partner.
Our long-term goal is to take this program statewide, expanding it throughout Massachusetts.
These accounts have received funding from prominent partners. And in fact, Monson Savings Bank, upon hearing about our program in Worcester, approached us. Last week, we jointly announced that they will seed accounts for their kindergartners and we will run the program.
So, the good news about this, is that our program is already spreading. But in order to take it statewide – and keep it tax dollar-free – we will be looking for many more partners.
$eedMA will go a long way toward providing the skilled workforce that your businesses require and the consumers, our economy needs to grow.
There is more information in the material on your tables, and I encourage you to take a look.
Shifting gears, and turning directly to the more immediate future: in a few short weeks, voters will choose whether to legalize recreational marijuana here in Massachusetts.
Regardless of my personal stance on this issue, the Cannabis Control Commission authorized by the ballot question would fall under my purview as State Treasurer!
Yes … the State Treasurer’s office.
For that reason, since last January, we have been doing everything we can to prepare for this.
I sent my General Counsel and Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs to Washington State and Colorado to observe operations and meet with regulators. They learned a lot!
This industry has the potential to impact all state offices and agencies in Massachusetts, including but not limited to public health, public safety, the Attorney General’ s office, and all of our cities and towns and their police and fire departments, and local zoning and building departments.
Additionally, there are skillsets that will be necessary to ensure that the Cannabis Control Commission properly does its job. We’ll need people who are experienced in public health, public safety and marijuana-related issues – just to name a few.
The CCC will be responsible for regulating all recreational plants in Massachusetts from seed to sale. And we have already identified some early concerns as we anticipate the implementation and enforcement of this law.
Despite the work we’ve done, the timeline to start retail sales is quite aggressive and costly.
The ballot initiative anticipates sales will begin in January 2018. But it sets that deadline, without any revenue to support the additional work of every one of those departments and the brand new commission.
There are zero appropriations tied to this proposal, so we will be tasked with overseeing a new industry without any funding, until the first retail applications are submitted in October 2017.
That gives us three months to review applications, conduct background checks, and approve retailers to get sales underway.
And the potential consequences of that – such as failing to meet licensing deadlines – are harsh.
I’ll give you an example:
If the CCC does not issue a denial notice to a prospective retailer within 90 days of an application, the license has to be issued.
So, visualize this - a new start up without funding, that has public safety and public health concerns, has the time pressure to get it done quickly or the licensee is automatically approved.
We will need to work closely with the Governor and the Legislature to mitigate this and any other problems that could arise.
Then, when recreational marijuana sales actually begin in Massachusetts, our state excise tax rate set by the ballot question is quite low – 3.75 percent. How does that stack up to other states?
Well, right now, Colorado’s excise tax is 29 percent, and Washington is 37 percent.
Oregon and Alaska’s excise taxes are set at 25 percent. And in New England, Maine’s proposed ballot initiative would set a 10 percent excise tax while Vermont’ s failed legislation called for a 25 percent excise tax.
Even if you roll in our 6.25 percent sales tax and a potential 2 percent local option tax—on top of the 3.75 excise tax proposed—Massachusetts would pale in comparison to other states. There’s something wrong with this revenue picture.
Edibles are on our radar as well. We cannot let marijuana-infused snacks or candy fall into the wrong hands.
You should have seen the edibles that Colorado introduced when they first legalized recreational marijuana. They looked like Pop Tarts, gummy bears, cookies and brownies. And their packaging looked like standard snack products, but the THC in them was not the marijuana you might remember from back in the day.
Washington State has done it right! By restricting packaging, colors and other qualities that might appeal to children, edibles make up just 10 percent of their market. In Colorado, where edibles were less regulated, they comprised nearly 50 percent of the market. Colorado has since made changes based on what they have seen, and they have begun to follow Washington’s lead.
We will need to regulate the recipe, the packaging, the serving size, and the THC consistency to uphold public health and consumer safety.
The ballot question also restricts Massachusetts residents to growing up to twelve plants per household. It remains to be seen how local police departments will be able to handle the increased burden of enforcing that. And it’ s worth noting that Washington does not permit any home growth at all, while Colorado, Alaska and Oregon do under certain limits.
As you can see, this is an extremely complex issue. We must be thoughtful about the process we put into place, as well as the resources and funds to implement this properly, and we must collaborate with many state agencies and municipalities.
Having less than a year to intake and process applications seems like a constricted time frame in order to do this correctly and safely. As you can see, we are not waiting until voters go to the polls to begin preparations.
I’ d like to close by discussing the future of our lottery, which is the most successful in the country, and the only source of unrestricted local aid to all 351 cities and towns in our state.
And I’d like to keep it that way.
As a former local elected official, I know firsthand that unrestricted local aid is critical. It can help pay the salary of a classroom aide, provide emergency overtime for public works employees who snow plow streets all night only to collect garbage the next morning, and it delivers countless other services that communities need.
Now, you may have read the headlines about the lottery’s record-setting profits this year. It’s true, we did generate $989.4 million, while surpassing $5 billion in sales for the second straight year. And I applaud our lottery team for the great work they have done.
But that narrative doesn’t tell the whole story. The reality is our numbers were boosted by that huge, multistate Powerball game last winter, which resulted in adding $27 million in profits to our bottom line.
Without that, I might be reporting a lottery downturn. In fact, scratch tickets, which comprise about 70 percent of sales, are now experiencing a decline.
As you are also well aware, we are bracing for increased pressure as casinos open. Any good businessperson will tell you that you cannot “wait and see” how the competition plays out.
We must continue to update and diversify our lottery games in order to protect our long-term growth. This past session, I supported legislation that would allow us to sell lottery tickets online and through mobile applications.
The bill was ultimately unsuccessful, but I believe we ought to take it up again next session. And I intend to file a bill that will do that.
Interestingly enough, industry experts have stated that moving the lottery online will allow us to better monitor players who have a gambling problem.
It can set spending limits, track who plays and how often, and permit self-exclusion. Those capabilities are simply not available currently.
At the same time, the Internet has proved to be a lucrative and beneficial business platform. Just look at the Daily Fantasy Sports boom.
I think we’d be hard-pressed to find many businesspeople in this room today who are still limited to offline, point of sale transactions.
Additionally, our lottery player is aging, and Millennials today do spend a great deal of time on their phones. iLottery will make our products more accessible, so we can appeal to younger players while we continue to serve our existing customers.
Ecommerce is here to stay. The lottery is a mature business, but one that cities and towns rely on for support. Remember, we are not a profit-driven business, we are a mission-driven business.
We must join the 21st century if this business is going to continue to thrive and meet its mission.
This is a critical economic opportunity that Massachusetts cannot afford to let fall by the wayside. I will do everything I can to make sure our lottery remains the strongest in the country.
Although there are many other areas of business in the Treasurer’s office, if I went into all of them, you’d be here until tomorrow.
So, I wanted to use this forum to address some of the issues on people’s minds today. As you can see, the tasks are very different from one another, but equally interesting and equally challenging.
As I approach the two-year mark in this term, I want to thank all of you in the business community for everything you do to help us build up our economic base for all Massachusetts residents, and I look forward to our continued work together in the months and years ahead.
I thank you for your kind attention today, and with that being said, I would now like to open the floor to questions.”