February 11, 2022
Legislators in many committees are working to make necessary changes to solve the workforce shortage. The Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, worked on the Omnibus Economic Development Bill, which includes new relocating and remote employee incentives. Kevin Chu of the Vermont Futures Project testified before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee about Vermont’s population trends and the implications for the workforce. The House Human Services Committee looked at the Governor’s proposed budget for FY23, regarding support services for people in recovery as they seek stable employment. Finally, the House Appropriations Committee dug into the details of the FY23 budget including $5 million for the new and remote worker grant programs, $5 million for affordable mixed-income rental housing, and $10 million for the missing middle-income home ownership development pilot program.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs released its Omnibus Housing Bill which proposes a broad range of new housing programs and modernizations to existing programs. Absent from the cornucopia of housing incentives is the Vermont Rental Housing Incentive program (VRHIP), which is included in the rental registry bill, S.210, passed by the Senate and headed to the house. The Vermont Chamber has been supportive of many of these initiatives and outlined their importance to the future of the Sate in a recent op-ed. Review and markup of the bill will take place over the next few weeks. If you have questions or comments on these proposals or Vermont’s housing crisis, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Vice President Megan Sullivan.
After testimony that the proposed smart growth designation would add time and cost to building housing, not efficiency, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee updated S.234 to remove the smart growth designation program proposal. The Committee included the proposal in the Omnibus Housing Bill to amend the statute governing neighborhood planning areas and neighborhood development areas so more municipalities can access that designation and be eligible for Act 250-exempt priority housing projects. While these provisions are a positive change for building housing development projects, the Agency of Natural Resources warned legislators that the proposed Road Rule would lead to an assured veto from the Governor. Extending Act 250 beyond its current form while the State is grappling with a housing crisis will slow the development of new housing supply for middle income Vermonters. The Vermont Chamber supports proposals that will make permitting for development efficient, predictable, and affordable.
The Scott Administration initially proposed to redeploy the remaining $26 million of business grants to other projects and a new loan program for struggling businesses. While only a small amount of the State business grant relief that has been allocated during the pandemic, it would provide relief to small business in the lodging, restaurant, and wedding industries. The Vermont Chamber worked to prove that the formula and process were flawed. After much lobbying, including emails from members to legislators, the Senate Economic Development Committee is set to make changes. The proposal moves the money to the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) for loans that could be converted to grants, like the PPP loans. Applicants will have the opportunity to apply for forgiveness at the same time as applying for the loan so it would take minimal time for the loan being converted to the grant. Many details need to be worked out, this is just the first step in a long process to ensure this $26 million is granted to businesses as promised last year. 
New data shows that restaurant recovery is paralyzed and nowhere near complete. Together with the Vermont Independent Restaurants, the Vermont Chamber engaged with the offices of Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders, demonstrating how urgent the need is among restaurants that did not receive relief before funding ran out. It has now been 263 days since the fund was depleted, leaving 581 Vermont restaurants shouldering more than $120 million in demonstrated unmet need. The inequity between restaurants that received funding and those that did not is staggering. Each day restaurants take on more debt to keep their doors open and their staff employed as business continues to lag. RRF replenishment was promised as a lifeline to small businesses that are essential to the community. The time for Congressional action is now.
Despite tourism being one of Vermont’s largest economic contributors, the State’s tourism budget has historically been one of the smallest in the country. Thanks to an influx of Federal dollars, the Scott Administration has proposed historic investments in marketing to bring visitors to Vermont and marketing to attract new residents to Vermont. These investments would resource the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing to improve the existing marketing efforts and help bolster Vermont’s long-term economic vitality with consistent messaging for visitors and prospective residents.
As anticipated, S.210, which contains a short-term rental provision, passed the Senate this week. To craft a bill that could gain the Governor’s approval, several exemptions were added, including an exemption for properties rented for fewer than 90-days each year. What remains to be seen is whether Governor Scott is willing to meet the Legislature in the middle. It is anticipated that the bill will move quickly through the House.
  • Child Tax Credit: H.510 passed the House and now heads to the Senate for review of the $50 million Child Tax Credit proposal.
  • Workers’ Compensation: H.559, which updates the annual rate of contribution for workers’ compensation from the current 1.4% to 1.5% in 2023, was passed by the House and now goes to the Senate. 
News From Our Partners
  • VAHHS: Jeff Tieman of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems mentions that Vermont continues to make progress due to our collaboration and partnerships. He says, “The preference is for discord to be managed rather than magnified.” Read more.
  • VFDA: The Vermont Fuel Dealers Association explains the Clean Heat Standard policy recommended by the Climate Action Council.
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