January 22, 2021
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) provided the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development with additional details on their latest grant proposal. Businesses that were left out of federal and state relief programs enacted this summer would have priority access to the $10 million in proposed grants. Ultimately, the Committee chose not to advance the proposal as part of their Budget Adjustment Act recommendations, citing concerns about using general fund dollars for the grants rather than Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), the latter of which funded most of the State’s previous grant programs. The Senate is expected to continue consideration of the proposal. The Vermont Chamber heard from many businesses that were ineligible for past relief programs, and we continue to raise the issue with state leaders. If your business was ineligible for earlier relief, please contact our Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.
Economists briefed the State Emergency Board on state tax revenues. A report prepared by economist Tom Kavet showed that federal relief provided to Vermont over the last year served to offset some of the overall financial decline caused by the pandemic. Federal pandemic aid to Vermont has totaled $5 billion, helping state revenues throughout the first half of Fiscal Year 2021 to exceed past targets in most revenue categories. Kavet and co-presenter Jeff Carr were careful to point out that the increases have produced distinct economic winners and losers. Boosts in online sales have helped to augment sales tax revenue, although the Vermont Chamber has cautioned that e-commerce does not represent the health of the main street businesses that continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic. Even with the better than expected revenues, the State will still need to grapple with a $22.6 million anticipated shortfall in the general fund, compared to forecasts issued in January 2020.
During a joint meeting between the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, legislators conducted initial review of Governor Scott’s recently issued Executive Order 02-21. In addition to replacing the current five-member Natural Resources Board (NRB) with a three-member professional full-time board, the order would transfer a handful of authorities currently held by District Commissions to the NRB. The Office of Legislative Counsel reviewed the legislative process for considering Executive Orders (EOs). The Legislature can disapprove the EO by April 14, 2021. If legislative action is not taken by that time, the order would go into effect on July 1, 2021. The Vermont Chamber supports Executive Order No. 20-21 and has long advocated for greater predictability, removal of redundant regulatory structures, and greater professionalization of the Act 250 permit process – all of which this EO would help to facilitate.
The Vermont Chamber provided comments on the Tax Structure Commission’s Draft Final Report. The Commission was tasked by the Legislature with analyzing Vermont’s tax structure, recommending improvements and modernization, and providing long-term vision to achieve a high-quality revenue system. The Vermont Chamber’s comments included the general recommendation that state leaders approach significant tax structure changes cautiously and with an understanding that it may be some time before the permanent impact of the ongoing economic strife caused by COVID 19 is known. Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop authored the comments and explained how recommendations included in the report could impact Vermont’s regional competitiveness and ability to retain and recruit workforce. The comments specifically called for implementing a tax incidence study, as recommended by the Vermont Futures Project, as a means to fully understand the impact of the homestead education tax. 
The House Committee on Ways and Means discussed recommendations provided by the Department of Taxes for the Miscellaneous Tax Bill. The Vermont Chamber responded with testimony on the two items impacting the tourism and hospitality industry: the tax treatment for third-party meal delivery platforms and alcoholic beverage tax exemption language for non-profit fundraisers, public-awareness activities, or events. In partnership with Vermont Independent Restaurants (VTIR), the Vermont Chamber is supportive of the proposed application of the Meals Tax when a third-party delivers meals to consumers. This change also aligns with the Vermont Chamber’s legislative priority to begin to regulate third-party meal delivery platforms. Regarding the alcoholic beverage language change, the Vermont Chamber asked that the Committee look at this as a policy change instead of clarification language. The Committee is expected to continue discussion on the proposals.
The House advanced legislation that extends the sunset on the temporary expansion of workers’ compensation eligibility enacted last year. The extension provides a continued presumption that certain workers who contract COVID-19 are presumed to have contracted the disease at work, qualifying them for compensation. State officials have pointed out that outbreaks of COVID-19 are largely occurring through community transmission, rather than at workplaces that are compliant with state and federal health and safety requirements. Citing the potential for cost increases in workers’ compensation insurance rates, the Vermont Chamber pushed for changes last session that, if implemented, would have limited the scope of the bill and provided a financial backstop paid for by the State. The Vermont Chamber is working to prevent additional financial burdens on employers that could result from the bill. Doing so is especially important given the ongoing economic hardship businesses continue to face because of COVID-19.
Legislation under consideration by the House Committee on Transportation would require employers with 50 or more employees to maintain electric vehicle charging stations at six percent of all parking spaces by January 1, 2023. The legislation includes provisions that establish a grant program to help offset installation costs, though it is unclear how much of the cost impact employers would be required to provide. While the Vermont Chamber is supportive of providing certain financial supports to employers interested in providing electric charging capabilities to their employees, we have concerns about the potential to implement additional costly mandates on employers in a time of significant economic uncertainty. Our advocacy team will continue working to ensure employers are not burdened by any unsustainable costs this legislation could impose. 
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs reviewed H.93, a bill that would impact the manner in which storefront solicitation and activities in public places are legally considered. It is unclear how the bill would influence local ordinances or the ability of business owners to make determinations of whether an individual is jeopardizing employee and customer safety or business operations. Legislative Counsel indicated that problems could arise from provisions in the legislation that are vague and open to interpretation. We have heard from several business operators that faced repeated employee and customer safety issues over the last few years, and we will continue working to ensure employers are able to maintain safe business operations for their employees and customers, while the rights of everyone living in or visiting Vermont remain protected without discrimination. 
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 an upcoming Invest in Vermont Series, and the recording from this week's seminar in our Economic Conference, featuring TD Bank Director and Senior Economist Leslie Preston. 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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