January 29, 2021
Included in Governor Scott’s $6.83 billion budget proposal were sizable investments aimed at strengthening the economy, improving workforce, and revitalizing State infrastructure. With the help of federal relief funds and a temporary increase in tax revenue, the Governor’s plan prioritizes the use of $210 million in available “one-time” spending to improve economic recovery. The spending plan also reiterated the Governor’s support for $10 million proposed in the Budget Adjustment Act to provide grants to businesses that were ineligible for or have otherwise been closed out of past relief programs. Over the last few weeks, the Vermont Chamber has worked to support this proposal in the Legislature. We will also continue to encourage the Legislature to administer additional funds to businesses if and when they are made available. The budget proposal supports many of the Vermont Chamber’s longtime priorities, and we applaud Governor Scott for proposing these widely impactful economic investments. We look forward to advocating for our shared budgetary goals as they are considered by the Legislature.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs reviewed a proposal by the Scott Administration that would provide $10 million for a grant program to assist businesses and organizations that have ongoing, unmet need due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and were closed out of past relief programs. The new grant proposal, introduced as part of the Budget Adjustment Act, is essential to helping businesses weather the ongoing economic downturn. The Vermont Chamber is supportive of the proposal and helped to organize witness testimony in favor of the grants when they were considered by the House Committee on Appropriations. The Vermont Chamber is currently working to support the proposal in the Senate. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with any questions or if you would like assistance providing testimony in support of the program.  
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs considered an amendment to Act 91 to extend provisions that, in certain instances, can hold employers harmless for costly unemployment insurance (UI) rate impacts when that employer furloughs an employee for reasons related to COVID-19. With the pandemic lasting much longer than anticipated, amendments to the existing legislation are needed. The latest amendment proposal would relieve employers of this obligation if the employer is able to demonstrate they were unable to rehire or offer to rehire the individual before January 1, 2021, because their business had not resumed full operations. The Vermont Chamber worked to support this provision, citing concerns about the difference in pace of economic recovery various sectors will experience. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for legislative results that address the ongoing concerns of impacted employers.
The Vermont Chamber’s Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear met with the Tourism Caucus this week to provide an overview of the tourism and hospitality work of the Chamber and discuss legislative priorities specific to the sector. The impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating and incredibly challenging for businesses in the sector. With continued uncertainty looming and depressed business levels likely until 2022, the Chamber is looking for special help for the industry that would provide meaningful regulatory and financial support through additional business grants targeting the most impacted industries, adjustments to alcohol-related regulations, third-party delivery app consent language, reform of Vermont’s short-term rental regulations with a focus on moving towards a registration system, and protecting and enhancing Vermont’s destination marketing funds. If you have questions about the Vermont Chamber’s tourism and hospitality priorities, please contact Amy Spear.
The Senate Committee on Finance reviewed legislation that would exempt military retirement pay from Vermont’s personal income tax. Vermont is currently one of only seven states that fully taxes military retirement pay, which disincentivizes military retirees from moving to Vermont upon conclusion of their service. Governor Scott also supported the exemption in his budget address, offering a $1.4 million budget proposal to offset short-term associated revenue impacts. Military retirees often conclude service in their 40s and typically possess a high degree of professional skills that uniquely position them to continue contributing to the workforce until they reach traditional retirement age. Military retirees are also a significantly more racially diverse population than the general population of Vermont. The Vermont Chamber believes incentivizing military retirees to move to Vermont would increase the diversity of our communities while also strengthening the workforce. We will continue to advocate for the passage of the exemption as the legislative session unfolds.  
Secretary of State Jim Condos and Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters briefed the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on the Secretary’s legislative priorities. The agenda included items to improve election processes and other proposals related to the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR). Included in new business-related proposals offered by the Secretary’s office were a handful of recommendations related to medical professionals, as well as a registry requirement for home improvement contractors. The Secretary’s office is also planning to review existing regulations related to real estate professionals. In October, the Secretary of State joined Vermont Chamber members to discuss election frameworks during the pandemic. The Vermont Chamber will continue working with the Secretary’s office to help communicate regulatory changes that impact the business community.
For years, the unfunded liabilities in the state’s retirement systems, which include state employees and teachers, have grown beyond Vermont’s ability to pay, currently requiring a $300 million annual payment from the State. With the unfunded liabilities now approaching $3 billion, State Treasurer Beth Pearce issued a report this week, making recommendations that call for increased State payments into the fund, greater employee and teacher contributions, and changing the method for calculating benefits. The Treasurer also recommended that none of these changes should impact current retirees and that the system maintain the defined-benefit designation. These recommendations are designed to put Vermont’s retirement systems on a sustainable path. Treasurer Pearce also joined the Vermont Chamber this week for an Economic Conference seminar to discuss Vermont’s debt strategy and credit rating and the outlook for the State's pension plans.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is collecting resources for employers and businesses throughout Vermont, produced by the Chamber and externally. View this week's roundup for information about the reopened Paycheck Protection Program portal, and the recording from this week's seminar in our Economic Conference, featuring Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce. If you are interested in submitting helpful content to our resource roundup, please send it to us by email.
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In business since 1912, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is a private, not-for-profit business organization with 1,500 members employing 45,000 people and representing all sectors of the state's economy. Our mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life. Copyright ©2018 The Vermont Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.

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