BOSTON — Lawmakers want to give Main Street merchants a louder voice on Beacon Hill, helping them to slice through bureaucracy and navigate regulations more easily.
A proposal rolled out Monday by a state senator would resurrect the "Buy Massachusetts" program, create a online portal offering advice and guidance to employers and establish a state-level chapter of the Main Street America program within the state Office of Business Development.
The bill also calls for more frequent reviews of regulations that affect small businesses and for policies aimed at preventing consumer flight to tax-free New Hampshire and other states.
Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who co-chairs the Legislature's Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business, said the bill aims to make life easier for small-business owners.
"People who own businesses just want to be able to be business owners," DiZoglio, the bill's sponsor, said at a briefing Monday. "They don't want a second job of navigating all of the legalities, regulatory complexities and paperwork, and searching for available opportunities that they're not even sure exist."
Her plan's online portal would act as a "one-stop" information source for existing and prospective businesses owners on complying with tax rules, buying property, hiring new workers and other needs.
The portal, MassMakers, would be overseen by the state, but its goal is to connect employers.
"The best way to help small businesses is not for the government to create another bureaucratic process," she said. "The state needs to get out of the way."
DiZoglio's proposal calls for speeding the state's cycle of reviewing business regulations, from every 12 years to every four, which in essence requires a review with every new governor's administration.
"We need to be more cognizant of the negative impact that too many government regulations are having on our micro- and small businesses," she said.
The proposal has early support from the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which said it backs provisions aimed at improving sales and reviewing onerous business regulations.
"Unfortunately, for many business owners, costs are rising faster than their sales," said Jon Hurst, the group's president. "That ultimately leads to dark storefronts."
Hurst said Massachusetts had one of the country's first Main Street programs in the early 1980s, but funding was cut and the program eventually ceased to exist.
Several communities, such as Salem and Beverly, have active Main Street programs, he said, but there's no statewide agency to coordinate their efforts.
"No one is really connecting the dots and working together to make sure that we are promoting Main Streets on behalf of these businesses," Hurst said.
Other business groups also welcome DiZoglio's plan but point out that it comes as the Legislature weighs other ideas that would drive up costs for employers.
They cite the Senate's recent approval of a climate change bill that could impose taxes and fees on business owners to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
"Employers are struggling with higher costs and policies that make it more difficult to run a business," said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. "There's nothing in this package of legislation to address the cost drivers and some of the other things that are forcing them to close their doors."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.