January 15, 2021
Congressman Peter Welch joined over 100 businesses in the state’s hospitality and tourism sector for a virtual Vermont Chamber roundtable this week. The event featured a robust conversation about the recently passed federal COVID-19 relief bill and other federal actions impacting Vermont businesses. Business operators on the call offered a resounding consensus that more needs to be done to support the struggling tourism and hospitality sector. Congressman Welch answered a variety of questions related to the latest relief package and committed to using ideas generated from the conversation to continue advocating for Vermont businesses in Congress.
The Vermont Chamber’s advocacy team met this week with the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development to share the Vermont Chamber’s mission and introduce legislative priorities for the 2021 session. The testimony also included discussion of the Vermont Chamber’s programming, comprising tourism marketing, ServSafe® certification, and growth of the state’s aerospace and aviation corridor. Our team’s immediate policy recommendations included the provision of additional business grant funding, limiting employer unemployment insurance rate increases, enacting beneficial regulatory changes for the restaurant and hospitality industry, increasing funding for marketing, and increasing federal investment in child care and broadband infrastructure. If you have questions about the Vermont Chamber’s legislative goals, please contact our Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs voted 5-0 to advance 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. 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 with legislators in the House to limit the potential for 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.
The Department of Labor briefed the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on Act 91. The Act was passed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to implement certain changes related to unemployment insurance (UI). The Vermont Chamber advocated for passage of the legislation to implement provisions that can, in certain instances, hold employers harmless for UI rate impacts when that employer furloughs an employee for reasons related to COVID-19 health and safety requirements or the resultant economic downturn. The Committee did not officially advance any changes and instead plans to resume consideration of the potential changes next week. The Vermont Chamber will continue advocating to ensure employers are not held at fault for furloughs related to public health concerns or state-imposed business operations restrictions. 
Executive Order No. 02-21 reorganizes the Natural Resources Board effective July 1, 2021, creating a new board made up of three fulltime professional members. The change would unify policy authority, increase predictability, and reduce regulatory redundancy across the nine District Commissions. The current five-member board would be abolished, with the new professional board taking on their previous responsibilities. Appointments to the board would follow a traditional Senate confirmation process. The Executive Order also transfers multiple authorities currently maintained by the District Commissions to the proposed professional board. These changes are subject to legislative disapproval and will take effect July 1, 2021, if permitted by the Legislature. 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.
Reallocations include a general fund transfer of $6,150,000 to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to support additional grants for businesses that were ineligible for grant programs enacted this summer. Department of Finance and Management Commissioner Adam Greshin reviewed the Governor’s budget adjustment legislation with the Senate Committee on Appropriations, explaining the adjustment is net neutral for the general fund due to the State’s raising of money through savings and subsequent reinvestment. Overall appropriations changes totaled $44,438,629, impacting multiple agencies and departments. 
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) briefed the Legislature’s economic development committees, providing an overview of the agency and sharing their priorities. Secretary Lindsay Kurrle made clear that while the ACCD has administered significant relief resources to date, additional financial support is needed if businesses are to weather the economic impacts of COVID-19. Specific agency legislative priorities included advancing an additional economic relief package for businesses, with a focus on business types that were not eligible for the first rounds of grants, and additional funds to market Vermont to regain lost market share. The Vermont Chamber’s top priority is ensuring the business community receives additional relief resources to help build a bridge to a post-pandemic economy. 
The Department of Public Service (DPS) updated the House Committee on Energy and Technology on progress made in broadband buildout over the summer and fall. Act 137, passed in July, appropriated $17,433,500 to DPS to rapidly increase broadband connectivity consistent with federal parameters and the State’s broadband goals. The legislation resulted in several new programs, including the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program, the Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative, the COVID-Response Temporary Broadband Lifeline Program, additional funding for the existing Connectivity Initiative established under 30 V.S.A. § 7515b, and the establishment of new Wi-Fi Hot Spots. COVID-19 related restrictions and closures have demonstrated that broadband access is essential to public health and for securing a strong economy. The Vermont Chamber continues to believe public investments in broadband should include public and private partnerships that maximize knowledge and capitalize on existing infrastructure, while planning for future technology landscapes.
The Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) briefed the Senate Committee on Finance that revenues across the General Fund, Transportation Fund, and Education Fund are above combined forecasted targets by $163.7 million. While revenue projections are better than anticipated, Chief Legislative Fiscal Office Steve Klein pointed out that overall budget shortfalls in FY2021 could still reach $275 million and $160 million in FY2022. Citing the overwhelming budgetary uncertainty facing the State, Senator Mark MacDonald, a member of the Committee, suggested the Legislature consider adjourning until more is known about the budget landscape.   
Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio’s December 1st letter to the Legislature estimated a 9.5-cent increase on the property tax homestead rate and a 10-cent increase on the non-homestead rate. Bolio told the House Ways and Means Committee, “That is scary from a livability perspective, but I will say that this is only a forecast, it can be avoided.” Committee Chair Rep. Janet Ancel noted that this forecast letter assumes a steady rate of increase in school budgets but that a new revenue forecast is due next week and sales taxes are expected to be up, which will alleviate the pressure somewhat, as will an increase in lottery ticket sales. The Committee also heard from the Tax Structure Commission and reviewed their recommendations.
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 an update on the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs and the recording from the first seminar in our Economic Conference, featuring Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and Department of Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak. 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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