Disaster Response Bill Under Consideration

Disaster Response Bill Under Consideration

Looking ahead, it’s not a matter of if, but when, a catastrophic weather event will hit Vermont again. Resiliency must be central to rebuilding and future planning, and a bill in the Senate Government Operations Committee would take several steps to address this. The bill, entitled “An act relating to natural disaster government response, recovery, and resiliency,” encompasses several key provisions but does not include a plan to respond to impacted businesses or communications with the traveling public. The Vermont Chamber will work with the committee on how to consider and codify best practices in state government that have been developed over the last decade to support the business community, as well as the traveling public, which is a priority that the Vermont Chamber laid out coming into the legislative session.  

As currently drafted, the bill would establish the Community Resilience and Disaster Mitigation Fund, allocating an initial $15 million for municipal disaster mitigation projects. It also outlines best management practices for rebuilding after emergencies and creates the position of Chief Climate Resilience Officer in the Department of Public Safety. The legislation also addresses the development of a policy using E-911 for more effective VT-Alerts in emergencies, the modification of stormwater utility districts, and the creation of the Urban Search and Rescue Team.  

Opportunity for Short-Term Rental and Lodging Consistency in the BE Home Bill

Opportunity for Short-Term Rental and Lodging Consistency in the BE Home Bill

S.311, known as the Be Home bill, continued to be debated and refined in the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee. Included in the newest version of the Senate’s major housing bill is language that would shift short-term rentals to operate under the same Department of Health statutes that govern the rulemaking for food and lodging establishments. The provision is an opportunity to create alignment and consistency in regulations governing short-term rentals and licensed lodging establishments.  

The Vermont Chamber testified this week on the importance of health, safety, and transparency to ensure the well-being of the traveling public in support of Vermont’s visitor economy. The remarks before the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, provided additional context to the Licensed Lodging Establishment Rule, emphasizing the distinct regulatory landscapes for licensed lodging properties and short-term rentals. If the language is retained in the bill, it will enhance clarity and transparency while ensuring public safety. The Vermont Chamber also endorsed the requirement for paperwork submission to a governing agency, annual reviews of forms, and the posting of short-term rental safety documents in a conspicuous location. 

[Update as of February 19: Current bill language now clarifies the definition of short-term rentals, mandates the Division of Fire Safety create guidance on the rules governing health, safety, sanitation, and fitness for habitation of STRs, and puts mechanisms in place for short-term rental health and safety disclosures.] 

Vermont Chamber Continues Advocating for Smart Growth and Resilience in Act 250 Modernization Bill

Vermont Chamber Continues Advocating for Smart Growth and Resilience in Act 250 Modernization Bill

Work on the House Energy and Environment Committee’s Act 250 modernization bill continued this week as legislators considered input on measures to encourage development in areas that will lead to better smart growth outcomes for all Vermont communities. The Vermont Chamber is committed to remaining engaged in the process to secure swift and strategic positive outcomes for the Vermont business community.  

In the new version of the bill that was introduced this week, the original sections remain largely unchanged, but the bill now includes language reflecting the outcome of the Designation 2050 report that the Vermont Chamber served as an advisor for.  A section-by-section version of the bill is available online. The Vermont Chamber remains highly engaged on this issue and will be advocating for planned growth area designation requirements that are accessible to communities across the state and are large enough to encompass the thousands of housing units Vermonters need. Additionally, we will support the creation of a professional board with a mission of creating an Act 250 process for applicants that is fair, timely, and consistent across all district commissions and leaves the legal determinations of appeals with the environmental courts. In the second tier (which will be areas outside of the downtown and village planned growth areas) we will continue to support the compromise that incentivizes dense development through the creation of a road rule and forest protections that have support for working lands and rural businesses. 

Immediate Action Taken to Address Property Tax Increase, But New Tax Options Remain a Concern

Immediate Action Taken to Address Property Tax Increase, But New Tax Options Remain a Concern

There was movement this week on how to rapidly address the looming 20% property tax increases expected this year. A House Ways and Means Committee bill includes a repeal of the 5% cap set on tax rate increases, a measure that the Vermont Chamber and other business organizations asked legislators to take action on. This will take the burden off of non-residential taxpayers like renters and businesses to make up the difference between the 5% cap and full increase in spending. While short-term solutions to soften the projected $250 million statewide school spending hikes are the present focus of the taxing committees, the even greater concern is how they will address the long-term implications of an education fund that does not meet the needs of a school system with dwindling enrollment. Specifically, the next step outlined by legislators is considering new revenue sources for the education fund.

Taxes that have been discussed this session that may be on the table for this discussion include a “cloud tax” on software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Whether as a response the the unsustainable increase in school spending or as a more general proposal, it is one possibility that is likely to gain traction in the House again this session. Nearly all Vermont businesses that use cloud-based services would see considerable cost increases. The Vermont Chamber will be working to minimize the impact, specifically on business-to-business transactions.

The following tax increases have also been under discussion this session:

  • A high-income earner surcharge of 3% aimed at tax filers, filing single or jointly, earning an annual income over $500,000
  • A new personal income tax on unrealized capital gains
  • Moving to a worldwide combined reporting corporate tax
  • Excise tax on sugary beverages
  • Increased taxation on candy (including maple)
  • Broadening Vermont’s sales tax.

 

While legislative proposals for increasing the burden on Vermonters are discussed, the Vermont Chamber is working to ensure cost containment measures, like finding efficiencies in the education system, are also considered.

Building Tomorrow: The Evolving Housing Legislation Landscape

Building Tomorrow: The Evolving Housing Legislation Landscape

Legislative leadership has made a cross-chamber commitment that there will be an Act 250 package this session that modernizes the land-use and development law to meet the needs of Vermonters by enabling the creation of new housing. Work continued this week on the Be Home bill, H.687, and S.308. Each of these bills contains initial committee perspective that will play a role in reaching a final compromise.

Work on the Be HOME bill continued in the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee where members worked to hammer out interim Act 250 relief for housing development while a larger Act 250 statewide mapping project would happen over the next several years. Due to procedural requirements, that bill was voted out of committee today but will be recommitted back to the same committee next week to receive further drafting. In addition to land use, the BE Home bill includes housing programming, local zoning changes, and taxation changes.

The House Energy and Environment Committee is shifting from taking lengthy testimony on H.687 which covers Act 250 and the summer land use studies, to implementing feedback and stakeholder considerations. With six weeks until the crossover deadlines for bills to move from one chamber to another, the committee will have significant time to refine the bill. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for proposals that are more closely in line with the compromise made in the Necessary Updates to Act250 report.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee is also working on a bill concerning Act 250 and weaving together the three land use reports that were done before the session. It is unclear how the two Senate Act 250 bills will come together. There was also a joint hearing between the House General and Housing Committee and the House Human Services Committee this week on affordable housing initiatives.

On March 14, the Vermont Department of Housing & Community Development and statewide partners will hold a summit on the Homes for All Toolkit that will address community housing and affordability concerns. The toolkit includes a Missing Middle Homes Design Guide, a series of five Vermont Neighborhood Infill Design Case Studies, and a Builders’ Workbook.

Data Privacy Legislation Prioritized by House Commerce Committee

Data Privacy Legislation Prioritized by House Commerce Committee

The legislature has introduced a new version of a data privacy bill that was discussed last year, pulling from laws in Connecticut and Oregon. The bill contains a small business exemption that will support Vermont’s smallest businesses from undue burden, but it also contains a private right of action that could lead to costly lawsuits. In the absence of comprehensive federal data privacy law, state legislatures have been passing a patchwork of different, and sometimes conflicting, laws.

These laws regulate how companies control and process personal data in an economy that is relying on it more and more. They can be important consumer protection tools but also have the potential to create confusion and challenging burdens in the marketplace. Nationally, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has estimated that state privacy laws could impose costs of $98 billion and $112 billion annually. Over 10 years, these costs would exceed $1 trillion. The burden on small businesses would be substantial, with U.S. small businesses bearing $20–23 billion annually.

Substantial New Taxes Pose Greater Risk to Affordability, Demographic Concerns

Substantial New Taxes Pose Greater Risk to Affordability, Demographic Concerns

House and Senate tax committees considered several new or expanded revenue sources to supplement a projected 20% increase in the average property tax bill for the next fiscal year. Addressing the persistent shortfall in the education fund, which struggles to meet the needs of a school system serving fewer students but requiring more resources, is not a new challenge. Introducing new revenue sources without accompanying solutions merely serves as a temporary fix. The Vermont Chamber agrees with the committee members willing to stand up and say that more money is not the solution and that hard conversations about cost containment measures need to happen this session. Specifically, those identified by the Joint Fiscal Office that would allow the education fund to support students without increasing the tax burden on Vermonters, which would only further drive the workforce from the state.

Options under discussion include an excise tax on sugary beverages, increased taxation on candy (including maple), a 6% sales tax on remotely accessed software, and potentially increasing Vermont’s sales tax. Last week, several business organizations sent a joint memo to the chairs of key committees to raise these concerns and request that they implement the changes provided by the Joint Fiscal Office to curtail education spending. Cost containment measures can’t take a back seat, while legislative proposals for increasing the burden on Vermonters are discussed.

Focus Builds on Act 250 Modernization Efforts

Focus Builds on Act 250 Modernization Efforts

With three different Act 250 modernization proposals under discussion in three different committees, stakeholders are optimistic that this could be the year for meaningful reform that includes exemptions. The BE Home bill, H.687, and S.308 each lay out a tiered approach to Act 250 jurisdiction, but differ in the details of how those tiers will be determined and what they include. The Vermont Chamber is encouraging collaboration and voicing support for policies that incentivize new development in and around our community centers as outlined by the Vermont Natural Resources Board report on necessary updates to Act 250.

The Vermont Chamber testified throughout the week before the House Energy and Environment Committee, advocating for sizable, planned growth area designations throughout the state. These would designate both large and small communities, include Act 250 exemptions, and should be large enough to build a substantial number of resilient housing units. Clear housing goals and a comprehensive data-informed plan must be established to address the changing demographic and housing needs. Legislators have an opportunity to leverage resources such as the Vermont Futures Project and VHFA’s Housing Needs Assessment to inform their decisions.

Immigration and Artificial Intelligence Highlighted at the 2024 Vermont Economic Conference

Immigration and Artificial Intelligence Highlighted at the 2024 Vermont Economic Conference

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s annual Vermont Economic Conference convened more than 200 business and policy leaders for a day of insightful presentations, engaging discussions, and valuable networking opportunities. The agenda provided attendees with an in-depth look at national and state perspectives on the economy as well as the latest economic indicators shaping Vermont’s business landscape.

“We are proud to build on our record of convening Vermont businesses to provide resources that help the community navigate a rapidly evolving landscape,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop. “In addition to economic outlook presentations by top economists, it was important to us that the agenda featured two of the leading issues for the year ahead. Artificial intelligence is reshaping industries and redefining the way we do business, while the immigration-to-workforce pipeline is a crucial opportunity for our state.”

A panel discussion entitled “Leveraging Vermont’s Immigration Experience to Solve Workforce Needs,” included Leslie Holman of Holman Immigration Law, Tracy Dolan of the State of Vermont Refugee Office, Julia Birnn Fields of Birnn Chocolates of Vermont, and was moderated by Adam Grinold of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. The expert stakeholders provided insight into the economic contributions of immigrants to Vermont, the importance of workforce development and diversity, and the impact of immigration policies on local businesses and communities.

The event also featured Alec Newcomb, the Founder of ScaledOn, who delved into the theory of artificial intelligence and shared practical applications for businesses looking to harness its potential. The interactive presentation gave attendees the resources necessary to understand the theory of the technology and practical applications for businesses looking to harness its potential.

TD Bank Senior Economist Leslie Preston presented valuable insights into the broader U.S. economic landscape, with a presentation on national trends and their impact on the future. This was complemented in the agenda by Mat Barewicz, Economic & Labor Market Information Chief for the Vermont Department of Labor who presented on the state economic outlook.

The event opened with the presentation of the 2023 Outstanding Business of the Year Award to Bourne’s Energy. The award was presented by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and VermontBiz and accepted by Peter Bourne on behalf of the business.

Chair Kornheiser Unveils New Tax Package

Chair Kornheiser Unveils New Tax Package

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Emilie Kornheiser (D-Brattleboro) announced her new tax proposals shortly after the Governor’s budget address. These new taxes come into consideration as businesses and workers will soon feel the $100 million first-ever state payroll tax to be levied starting July 1. This tax proposal is also in tandem with statewide concern for double-digit property tax increases and the confusion around how school spending works.

New taxes that have been introduced include:

  • A wealth tax of 3% aimed at tax filers, filing single or jointly, earning over $500,000.
  • A new personal income tax on unrealized capital gains.
  • Moving to a worldwide combined reporting corporate tax.
  • A cloud tax containing tax on software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Raising these taxes will not reduce the tax burden on middle-income Vermonters. To make meaningful progress on improving affordability for middle-income Vermonters we can instead address the root causes of what is making the state unaffordable. The Vermont Chamber will continue to raise concerns about these tax proposals and share with businesses with the potential impact they would have on the Vermont economy in the weeks ahead.