February 4, 2022
Taking input from the lodging, restaurant, and wedding industries, the Vermont Chamber is advocating for a formula fix for the Economic Recovery Bridge Grants. Hundreds of businesses started applications but never submitted them due to the complexity and eligibility criteria, and $26 million of aid is currently sitting idle while many businesses continue to struggle after two years of pandemic impacts to the economy. The two major hurdles for businesses applying for Bridge Grants were the requirements around tax loss and fixed monthly expenses. The Vermont Chamber is advocating to use revenue loss as criteria, and a removal of the criteria around specific fixed expenses. Bridge Grant funding should not be reallocated for the Capital Investment Program. The Vermont Chamber is advocating for additional ARPA funds and relaxed criteria for this program. The Vermont Chamber met with Senate leadership and testified before the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee on this proposal. Contact bbishop@vtchamber.com to share your experience applying for the Economic Recovery Bridge Grants. 
To address the workforce shortage, Governor Phil Scott has proposed a budget that includes significant investments in programs to incentivize new families and workers to move to Vermont. We currently have 24,000 fewer workers in the workforce than we did two years ago, and we have 23,000 job openings. The Governor is proposing $6 million for the Remote and Relocated Worker Grant program, as well as $8.46 million over the next three years in marketing Vermont as an attractive place to live and work. The Vermont Chamber is supportive of these investments and provided the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee with specific feedback on how to ensure these investments are maximized for the best impact. The Vermont Chamber is also supporting the Declaration of Inclusion for towns.
Vermont is currently one of only three states (CA, VT, VA) and Washington, D.C. that fully tax military retirement pay. Military retirees often receive their pension for 20 years of service between 38 and 42 years old and are uniquely positioned to continue contributing to the workforce until they reach traditional retirement age. Following a press conference held by a bipartisan group of legislators and Administration officials, the Vermont National Guard and Veterans Affairs Caucus sent a letter urging the House and Senate to raise the threshold of federally taxable U.S. military retirement pay in S.53 from $10,000 to $30,000. The Vermont Chamber supports the $3.1 million expenditure in the Governor’s proposed 2022 Budget for a full exemption. This will incentivize military retirees to either stay or move to Vermont and increase the diversity of our communities while also strengthening our workforce and helping to address the severe workforce labor shortages.
The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee reviewed a proposal to allow homeowners to create Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). State statute currently allows for ADUs, but the Committee is assessing how to incentivize, educate homeowners, and finance these units. The Committee and witnesses were cognizant of this conversation in terms of the housing crisis and using state resources to create long term housing solutions and not add to Vermont’s short term rental stock. The Committee discussed the requirements for owner occupancy and local bylaws to address this. The Vermont Chamber supports efforts to increase units of housing stock in Vermont. The Governor’s proposal for increased funding for a program that can help with ADUs was removed from the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) by Senate Appropriation. Twenty million dollars for the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program (VRHIP), was passed by the House but was removed by the Senate Appropriation Committee in order to combine the program language currently in S.210 with the money for it. Last year program funding was approved but program language was vetoed. Consideration of S.210 has been postponed by the Senate until February 8.
The House Natural Resource Committee has taken testimony on a bill to shift oversight of Act 250 by creating a new Environmental Review Board. The new Board would assume the responsibilities of the Natural Resource Board, plus the appeals process, which will be removed from the Environmental Court. The new Environmental Review Board is proposed to be a professional five-member review board, with one full time Chair and four part time members. The proposed changes would also remove the interrogatory and discovery process. The purpose of the change is to strengthen the Board, make this a more citizen-friendly process, and reduce the cost associated with Act 250.
The House Energy and Technology Committee heard testimony from the Agency of Digital Services and the Department of Labor on the Unemployment Insurance modernization project. Despite the interest of several committees to increase benefits before the outdated mainframe system can accommodate such significant changes, the reality is that other states have taken five or more years to complete their modernization projects, and Vermont is still only in phase one of the project, with the Request for Proposal (RFP) due out later this month. Realistically, the project will take at least four years to complete, if not longer, and the Governor’s budget request included an additional $30 million to complete it. The Vermont Chamber supports this budget request because UI modernization cannot wait and the current system, in constant need of repair, cannot handle additional policy changes. 
Several committees heard from representatives of Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools around the state, who spoke of the lingering stigma around CTE and lack of funding challenging their ability to market their programs to students and parents. There is broad consensus that these programs are highly successful at training and licensing students for rewarding, lucrative careers, and facilitating career connections to quickly get graduates into the career path without taking on college debt. The current funding model forces high schools and CTE centers to compete for funding, with high schools losing funding for each student they send to a CTE. And while CTE’s agree that they need to be educating more students, they lack the space in their programs and facilities necessary to expand their offerings. The Vermont Chamber supports CTE as a tool for preparing high school and adult learners for in-demand jobs and supports changes to the funding model as well as the Governor’s proposed $1.725 million for CTE’s in the Budget Adjustment Act, which will allow them to serve more students as part of the effort to train tomorrow’s workforce.
  • Medical Monitoring (S.113): The Senate unanimously approved S.113, a proposal to establish a cause of action for the remedy of medical monitoring for a person who is exposed to a proven toxic substance. While the Senate-passed bill addresses some of the Governor’s concerns, its fate remains uncertain. Whether or not insurance can be written for small and medium-sized manufacturers, for example, is a concern for both the Vermont Chamber and the manufacturing community.   
  • Budget Adjustment Act: The Budget Adjustment Act was approved by the Senate and a conference committee will reconcile differences with the House-passed version. The bill includes retention incentives for childcare and healthcare workers, and other workforce investments advocated for by the Vermont Chamber.
  • Child Tax Credit (H.510): The $50 million Child Tax Credit was passed by the Ways and Means Committee 8-3 and will provide $1,200 a year to families for each child under the age of six. The Committee also included a last minute amendment to increase the income excluded from taxation for social security benefits by $5,000.
  • Retail Theft (S.180): A bill proposed to curb a rise in retail theft has stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee after members agreed existing laws are sufficient if enforced at the local level. The Committee plans to send a letter to business owners, reminding them of their right to detain shoplifters, as well as a letter to state’s attorneys, urging them to enforce existing law. 
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