Senate Passes $8 Billion Budget, Governor Raises the Prospect of a Veto

Senate Passes $8 Billion Budget, Governor Raises the Prospect of a Veto

The Senate passed an $8 billion budget several weeks earlier than anticipated, and the Governor immediately released a statement outlining his concerns, setting up the annual ritual of resolving the three different versions of budget priorities before final adjournment can happen. The Senate’s budget contains $70 million in housing investments, more than $100 million in workforce and economic development to support sectors hard hit by the pandemic, increased investment in childcare providers, $95 million for broadband connectivity, and $30 million in tax relief. The Governor’s concerns center around the Senate budget’s reduced tax relief, insufficient workforce retention and recruitment initiatives, the exclusion of the capital investment program, and reduced funding for Career and Technical Education. At a press conference on Wednesday, Senate leadership defended their bill, promising to be ready to override the Governor’s veto if necessary.

Back in March, the House passed their version of the budget, which included larger investments in the state college system than the Governor had proposed, but left out the middle-income homeownership program, a priority of the Governor. The House-passed bill also left out the roughly $100 million in economic development initiatives from the Governor’s proposal. While the Senate-passed version of the budget is closer to the Governor’s proposed budget, the remaining disparities may be too large for him to accept, setting the stage for a showdown in the final weeks of the session.

Housing Proposals Taken up in the House

Housing Proposals Taken up in the House

The critical housing omnibus bill (S.226) was approved by the Senate after amending the contractor registry language in hopes of avoiding a gubernatorial veto. While the bill is being reviewed in the House, it has a long road ahead due to the House Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife Committee having jurisdiction over the sections related to Act 250 and permitting, while the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over housing programs. Additional complications arise from this bill having overlapping language with two other bills under consideration in these committees. 

The House Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife Committee also took testimony on the Senate passed S.234, which would make changes to Act 250 to increase housing opportunities in village centers and downtowns. The bill also includes more contested provisions around the creation of a road rule which would trigger Act 250 for new development that create roads or driveways over 800 feet each or 2,000 feet combined. The House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committees continued to take testimony on S.210, which would create a registry of rental units and program language and funding for the Vermont Rental Housing Incentive Program which would provide $20 million for rental housing rehabilitation and accessory dwelling units.  These two committees will be working on a path forward to either merge or further break apart the three bills under consideration. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for the programs in each bill which will increase the supply of affordable workforce housing.

Housing Legislation on the Move

Housing Legislation on the Move

The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee passed S.226, the which aims to address Vermont’s housing crisis through permit reforms, housing supply, and access issues that will benefit working Vermonters. The bill saw several last-minute changes leading up to the vote to pass it out of committee, including the addition of the contractor registry and rental registry, both of which saw previous iterations vetoed.

Many of the proposals supported by the Vermont Chamber passed including the Missing Middle Homeownership Development program which will address the value gap in building and rehabilitating middle income homes. Funding was also allocated to the Vermont Housing Conservation Board to create an incentive for employers in creating workforce housing opportunities, and an incentive for the conversion of vacant commercial space into housing units. The Vermont Chamber will continue to bring the voice and needs of the business community to decision makers in Montpelier on this important housing legislation.  

The impacts of the Vermont housing crisis on employers was the subject for the Vermont Chamber’s first State to Main Podcast episode. Annmarie Todd of Sugarbush Resort detailed the lengths that businesses have gone to find housing for employees so they can retain and recruit their workforce.

Vermont Chamber Launches New Podcast Series (Ep.1: “State to Main” – Workforce Housing)

Vermont Chamber Launches New Podcast Series (Ep.1: “State to Main” - Workforce Housing)

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce launched a new policy-focused podcast series entitled, “State to Main.” The series complements the widely read weekly legislative newsletter of the same name.

In the months ahead, “State to Main” will cover several topics important to the Vermont business community, including housing, the workforce shortage, and career and technical education. Each episode features a unique pairing of a Vermont Chamber policy advocate and a business leader to discuss the impact of these issues on Vermont businesses. Episodes will focus on the role of each issue in combatting the statewide workforce shortage and are analyzed in a pandemic recovery context.

“Vermont’s economic success depends on the innovation of our businesses and strength of our workforce,” said Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop. “The intent of this series is to highlight areas where businesses need policy support to achieve economic recovery.”

The pilot episode, “Workforce Housing,” features Megan Sullivan, VP of Government Affairs for the Vermont Chamber, and Annemarie Todd, VP of Human Resources for Sugarbush Resort. Sullivan and Todd address the impact of the current housing market on employee recruitment and retention efforts, and the heightened responsibility felt by employers to facilitate suitable accommodations for their workforce. Policy opportunities are identified to address the immediate need for middle-income housing.

Episodes are available to stream online via  Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud and on the Vermont Chamber of Commerce website.

“State to Main” is made possible by our sponsor, AT&T.

Getting Creative to Move the Needle on Housing

Getting Creative to Move the Needle on Housing

While there is universal agreement that Vermont has a housing shortage, how to fix it and where to allocate funds continues to be debated. Recently, Governor Scott requested $80 million in ARPA funds for multiple housing initiatives for the current year budget and another $100 million in ARPA funds for a housing package next year.  The Vermont Chamber has suggested creating incentives for converting empty office buildings into housing in our downtowns and village centers and will advocate for the proposals outlined by the Vermont Futures Project to create workforce housing.  

The Vermont Chamber will also be an active voice in supporting the modernization of Act 250 to facilitate a more predictable and less costly permit process to better enable the development of housing in our downtown and village centers. 

Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations

Investing in Vermont’s Future: Community Conversations

Thanks to remaining federal stimulus funds and a surge in state revenues, Vermont is currently in a position to make unprecedented investments in its economic future. The Legislature is gathering ideas at planned open discussions to inform policy and budgetary work related to these future investments.

This is an opportunity to meet with State House leaders and voice your concerns about the economic future of Vermont. Vermont is facing a housing crisis that continues to exacerbate the workforce shortages plaguing virtually every sector. These upcoming discussions with key leaders are your chance to share experiences and express your informed views about the future of local businesses in Vermont.

This could include discussing the impacts of increased taxation and regulation on business operations – particularly for small businesses, the ongoing challenges related to the workforce shortage crisis, and more.

These regional discussions will be held virtually. 

  • Washington County Conversation, Thursday, October 28th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Orange County Conversation, Tuesday, November 2th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Chittenden County Conversation, Thursday, November 4th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Orleans County Conversation, Monday, November 8th, 5:30-6:30. Register here.
  • Lamoille County Conversation, Wednesday, November 10th, 5:30 – 6:30. Register here.
  • Final conversation open to anyone across the state, Tuesday, November 16th. Register here.

To guide your remarks in advance of these conversations, consider:

  • How could the State use available funds in a manner that supported the existence and growth of Vermont’s business community?
  • How do the current high costs of business operations impact your ability to provide greater benefits to your employees?
  • How would additional regulatory burdens and taxation impact your business?
  • What barriers, regulatory or otherwise, are impacting the lack of housing in your community?
  • What additional actions could the State take to incentivize the in-migration of essential workers?
  • What specific investment could the State make to reduce your operating costs? For instance, the Unemployment Trust Fund was drawn down during the height of the pandemic and employers are obligated to refill the fund – would State investments that offset some of that obligation be meaningful to you?

Thank you for participating.

Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear on S.79 Veto

Statement from Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear on S.79 Veto

Montpelier, VT (July 2, 2021) –

“We are surprised and disappointed by Governor Scott’s veto of S.79. The Administration did not indicate they had a serious problem with the bill, which had a wide range of supporters, at any point during the 2021 legislative session. The sudden change of course is difficult to understand, considering several Administration officials publicly offered support [1] for the legislation over the last few months.

S.79 would have ensured a safe rental environment while also moving Vermont toward greater regulatory equity in the lodging marketplace. As an example, licensed lodging properties were subject to onsite visits from officials throughout the pandemic for compliance checks. Short-term rentals (STR) were exempt from this because they are permitted to operate anonymously; owners could not be contacted and there is no system in place for open lines of communication with the State. With thousands of STR units in Vermont, we believe it is important that these property owners receive communications on how to ensure the health and safety of the traveling public.

Vermont’s lodging businesses have suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, yet they have been public health champions. The passage of this bill would have provided a glimmer of hope for licensed lodging properties and would have demonstrated that the Administration understands the need to level the playing field for businesses providing overnight accommodations. The Vermont Chamber will continue advocating for the establishment of an STR registry when the Legislature reconvenes.”


About the Vermont Chamber of Commerce

The largest statewide, private, not-for-profit business organization, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce represents every sector of the state’s business community. Its mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life.

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[1] A review of recorded testimony offered by the Administration shows Department of Housing and Community Development Housing Program Administer Shaun Gilpin explaining the benefits of the bill for BIPOC homeownership and saving costs through the establishment of a rental registry and Department of Health Public Policy Advisor Shayla Livingston explaining the Department had no objections to the bill. These are just two of several examples of Administration officials speaking favorably of the bill.

Legislature Sends Lodging Bill to Governor

Legislature Sends Lodging Bill to Governor

The Legislature passed S.79, a lodging bill that would establish a statewide short-term rental (STR) registry. The bill was messaged to the Governor’s office where it awaits further action.

The Vermont Chamber has long believed that registration of STRs is a necessary first step to improve communication while also providing valuable data if, in the future, the State chooses to enforce health and safety regulations like those implemented to protect public health during the pandemic. The foundation set by establishing a STR registry would be a positive development toward ensuring a safe rental environment and moving towards equity in the lodging marketplace.

Prior to the bill’s passage in the Legislature, the Vermont Chamber sent a letter to the full Senate expressing support for S.79. Governor Scott has recently voiced concern over the legislation, and it is unknown whether he will allow the bill to become law.

If the Governor vetoes the bill, the Legislature will likely attempt to override the veto when they reconvene in October or January. Contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with questions or for assistance with contacting Governor Scott to voice your support for S.79.

Legislature Invests in Economic Future but Provides Little Immediate Support to Recovering Businesses

Legislature Invests in Economic Future but Provides Little Immediate Support to Recovering Businesses

By Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Charles Martin, Government Affairs Director of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce

At the start of the pandemic last year, it became clear that along with significant challenges posed, there were new opportunities to reevaluate Vermont’s needs and invest in our future. The Vermont Chamber identified specific critical needs for working Vermonters in child care, broadband, and housing. During the past legislative session, we saw substantial investment in these areas through a child care bill, $150 million allocated for broadband expansion, and $190 million allocated for housing.

However, when it came to providing immediate support to recovering businesses, the Legislature failed to help in a meaningful way. Only $30 million in relief grant money was allocated for Vermont businesses. That is not nearly enough. In December, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development estimated the known unmet need of employers to be $500 million. The Legislature also advanced a $100 million tax on employers to fund increased unemployment insurance benefits. This new tax runs counter to the efforts of businesses working to recover from the pandemic and rehire staff.

Legislators deserve credit for supporting several Vermont Chamber priorities that made it over the finish line and will help businesses recover from the pandemic:

  • Taxing PPP loans prevented

At the insistence of the Vermont Chamber, the Legislature agreed to exclude 2021 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) recipients from tax liability. The Vermont Chamber and other business organizations tirelessly advocated to prevent the Legislature from taxing 2021 PPP loans. Businesses that were impacted by the pandemic and accessed PPP will now avoid a significant tax bill.

  • Unemployment insurance rate increase reduced

We pushed the Legislature to prevent significant unemployment insurance (UI) contribution rate increases for employers forced to furlough employees because of Covid-19. We also helped secure changes to remove 2020, an anomaly year, from consideration when the Department of Labor computes unemployment insurance tax rate schedules. UI tax rates increase when employers lay off workers, penalizing them for that action. However, the pandemic layoffs were due to government restrictions, forcing this recalibration of the formula. 

  • New Montreal office will strengthen Vermont’s ties with Canada

A new Business Attraction Investment Program will generate foreign direct investment (FDI) prospects for Vermont in aerospace, biotechnology, and renewable energy and provide Vermont with statewide representation in Québec. The initiative will increase FDI with Canada and promote cross-border trade and tourism when the border reopens. We helped secure funding for this initiative to strengthen our ties with Québec, promote tourism as we emerge from the pandemic, and attract Canadian companies interested in establishing a footprint in Vermont for contracting opportunities.

  • Incentives to attract remote workers will continue

Legislation was codified and funded with $650,000 to continue the remote worker and worker relocation programs that were successful prior to pandemic. Qualifying new employees may receive up to $7,500 in relocation expense reimbursement if they become a resident of certain areas in Vermont. The Vermont Chamber recognizes the value of attracting new families to live and work in Vermont and fully supported these programs to improve and expand our statewide workforce.

  • Massive health care savings passed for small businesses

Legislation passed that takes advantage of a change in federal health care policy and will result in millions of savings in health care costs for small businesses. Estimates suggest this could result in as much as $17 million in savings. The action is the result of the Legislature and Administration responding quickly to a federal change and the Vermont Chamber’s advocacy, which urged them to act to take advantage of these savings in the next health plan year.

  • Alcohol to-go will continue

Current pandemic-allowed alcohol to-go provisions will remain in place until July 2023 for licensees. This extension was a legislative priority identified by the Vermont Chamber and our partner organization, Vermont Independent Restaurants.

  • Harmful cloud tax prevented

We helped businesses avoid a harmful cloud tax. The tax would have cost Vermont’s technology industry at least $14 million annually by Fiscal Year 2025 and would have damaged the state’s current tech-friendly reputation, while also disincentivizing the recruitment of remote workers. This tax proposal had the potential to negate much of the economic benefit that will be achieved through State investments in broadband infrastructure.

  • Millions in tourism marketing money secured

We also helped secure a $1.4 million boost for tourism marketing promotion and $600,000 for a regional stimulus program within the Department of Tourism and Marketing. The tourism promotion funds will be used to promote Vermont’s travel, recreation, culinary, arts, culture, agritourism, and heritage experiences to attract visitors and stimulate visitor spending with local attractions and businesses throughout the state.

While we celebrate these advocacy wins and historic investments in Vermont’s child care, broadband, and housing infrastructure, it is unacceptable that legislators did not advance substantial immediate relief for our state’s businesses. When legislators return for the next session, there is still money on the table: $514 million of Vermont’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds have not been appropriated. Significant funding should go directly to helping Vermont’s businesses, which are operating at severe losses and still struggling because of the pandemic. The year ahead holds continued challenges, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure our state’s business community recovers and our economic future is bright.

No Act 250 Reform This Year

No Act 250 Reform This Year

Despite executive action and a handful of bills that, if advanced, would make significant adjustments to Act 250, no changes to the land use law advanced in 2021. Late in the 2021 legislative session,  encouraging Act 250 legislation was introduced in identical forms in the House and Senate. The legislation would, among other changes, reform the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and provide certain municipal areas an exemption from Act 250 jurisdiction. In addition to replacing the current five-member Natural Resources Board with a three-member professional full-time board, the two bills would transfer a handful of authorities currently held by District Commissions to the NRB. Exemption from Act 250 jurisdiction for certain Designated Downtowns, Enhanced Village Centers, and Neighborhood Development Areas is a long-standing priority of the Vermont Chamber. If implemented, this change would help facilitate responsible development in municipal areas, which would contribute to the creation of additional affordable housing in Vermont. Similar provisions were unsuccessfully introduced as part of a housing bill last session.

While a consistent priority of both the Scott Administration and the Legislature, Act 250 reform efforts have failed for the past several years. The Vermont Chamber continues to support the modernization of Act 250 to facilitate a more predictable and less costly permit process, while also ensuring Vermont’s natural resources are properly protected. We look forward to supporting these proposals when the Legislature reconvenes. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs with questions.