By Jim Kinney
Business leaders from around Western Massachusetts were in Washington hearing from Beltway heavy-hitters Thursday at the invitation of U.S. Rep Richard E. Neal when the Supreme Court's health care ruling came down.
Columnist Mark Shields even interrupted himself while speaking to the group saying the Court had apparently ruled. Shields had noticed everyone in his audience checking their phones.
"Here we are in the Capitol," said Jeffrey S. Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield. "And the Supreme Court is right across the street."
The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield health care wasn't the only topic, Ciuffreda, a former staff member for U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte, R-Pittsfield, said.
Besides Shields, they heard from U.S. Rep. David Camp. R-Michigan, chairman of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee on which Neal serves.
"Camp talked about the need for tax reform," said Allan W. Blair, the president and chief executive officer of the Western Mass Economic Development Council during a break in the proceedings.
The impact of federal taxes varies from industry to industry and in general local business supports Camp's calls for simplification of the tax code. The problem is, some of those complicated provisions benefit local companies.
"You just want to make sure that when it is all over you haven't significantly lost ground," he said.
Neal said he'd like to see some sort of accommodation be reached to avoid the upcoming "fiscal cliff" early next year when federal tax cuts expire and federal budget cuts are imposed.
"Today's talk was a preview, as accurate as any predictions can be," Neal said by phone.
They also heard from pollster Anna Greenberg who once worked for President Clinton.
Business leaders also got an update on Springfield's Union Station. Last week, Neal announced that the final $17 million in federal transportation funding had been secured for the station's planned $45 million rehabilitation.
U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Malden, discussed how a new transportation bill and its requirements for greater fuel efficiency might have unintended consequences, Ciuffreda said. Fuel taxes pay for road repairs. Less fuel used means less money.
Neal said the group also heard from U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga, a pioneer in the civil Rights movement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., as well Massachusetts two U.S. senators, Democrat John F. Kerry and Republican Scott P. Brown.