Four federal issues top region’s agenda

In any year, the early days offer a chance to reassess and prioritize. In 2009, those impulses are perhaps felt more urgently than at any time in the recent past. The faltering economy has affected regional businesses of all shapes and sizes, and the incoming Congress and the new administration will face significant hurdles in getting our economy moving again. However, at the New England Council, we also see in these challenges a great opportunity to further our regional priorities and propel our six states forward.

New England businesses can lead the nation in promoting energy independence and dependability, ensure the United States remains a global leader in health-care delivery, transform our transportation infrastructure to improve roads, bridges and airports while expanding mass transit options, and get our critical financial services industry back on its feet and structured to reflect its global importance.

In New England, we have the resources, talent and know-how to lead the nation and the world in the development of “green jobs.” No matter your opinion in the climate change debate, surely we can all agree reducing our nation’s reliance on energy from unfriendly – or potentially unfriendly – nations is a positive for the United States.

It has the simultaneous benefit of training and employing thousands of New Englanders in a nascent sector that promises a bright future. Renewable energy may not overtake more conventional forms of energy for years, but a serious commitment now to its development will pay great dividends for our region’s long-term economic health.

Overhauling our health-care system is at the top of federal policymakers’ list in this new year, and New England – from Maine to Rhode Island – offers plenty of lessons in health-care reform.

Massachusetts’ widely heralded health-care reform efforts are now a couple of years old, and provide instructive guidance for the national level. The reality is that we have struggled with these issues at the local level for years with varying degrees of success. As our national political leaders move to address the cost/coverage conundrum, the New England Council offers mechanism to help translate this regional learning into federal policy.

When Congress addresses a reauthorization of our nation’s surface transportation priorities in the coming months, the New England Council will continue to urge our congressional delegation to focus on multi-state, multi-region and multi-community transportation projects. We acknowledge the intense pressure members of Congress face to return transportation funding to their constituents for local projects, and we are hopeful those projects will reflect the critical need for travel and commerce to flow freely throughout New England if we expect our regional economy to grow and compete in the coming decades.

Perhaps no industry in the past year has taken more hits than the financial services industry. However, it remains the backbone of our regional – and national — economy.

It is easy to point fingers at lapses in the financial services industry, but it is critical to realize that this sector is our economy’s foundation, and the health of the financial services industry mirrors the health of our overall economy. The New England Council will continue to work with our congressional delegation and federal regulators to strengthen the financial services industry to ensure its future vitality in an ever-more complex and diverse global economy.

James T. Brett is president and chief executive of the regional business organization The New England Council.

Categories: Opinion