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Advocacy Update: Week 16, 2022

Thank you to this week’s sponsor of our Advocacy Update:

April 29, 2022

With the ticking of the countdown to adjournment, we are witnessing a slightly odd session because typically, the policy comes together, and the budget follows. When the budget is done, so is the session. This year, the budget is mostly baked, however, everything that orbits it is not near completion. 

We said earlier in the session that this could be one of the most impactful and consequential sessions in Vermont’s history, and the stakes are high as legislators look to allocate the last of federal funds and one-time revenue surpluses on top of massive legislation regulating as well as pricing fossil fuels and potential changes to Act 250. As the House and Senate seek to find agreement, the Governor is being vocal about his objections. He has not been bashful, brandishing the veto pen, while this week again, national polling showed him to be the second most popular governor in America.

In this week’s update:

Your Roadmap to Adjournment

We’re quickly spelling out for you what’s going on, where it is, and how it could proceed. 

  • The Budget 
    • The Committee of Conference continued to meet this week, however, as the House and Senate versions of the budget get closer to each other, little has been done to bridge the gap between the Governor’s version and the Legislature’s version, something the Governor highlighted in a letter this week.
  • Act 250 – S.234 
    • The bill is going to the House floor as early as today. This may be contentious as it goes to the floor with significant pushback from mayors, local government, as well as non-profit and for-profit developers. Mayor Miro Weinberger took to Twitter on Thursday to push back on the legislation, as it contains H.492, which he characterized as “anti-housing forces taking us backward and undoing arguably the most significant state pro-housing reform of the last 20 years – the 2004 bill that allowed builders to consolidate local and state land use permit appeals to one court.” If you agree, you should contact your legislator ASAP and tell them to vote against S.234. 

Clean Heat Standard – H.715

    • The Clean Heat Standard, H.715, passed the Senate with an amendment that requires the legislature to vote on whatever the Public Utilities Commission creates before the final implementation of the program, referred to as a lookback. This legislation should appease the Governor who asked for it to be added. 

Economic and Workforce Omnibus Bill – was H.159, now S.11 

    • The Economic and Workforce Omnibus Bill, yet again, was pushed into a new legislative vehicle when the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development plucked the proposals they wanted to pursue from H.159 and added them as a strike all amendment to S.11, which previously dealt with robocalls. 
    • See more about this bill in the below section (link)

Tax Relief Bill – H.510

    • We covered the slimed-down version of the Child Tax Credit that the Senate Committee on Finance created and added other tax relief too (see a summary here). It passed the Senate, with the House appointing a Committee of Conference to iron out a compromise. Despite appearances, the two Chambers are very far apart on this, with the House likely wanting to keep their $50 million versions of the CTC and the Senate wanting to spread some tax relief beyond that, make the CTC temporary, and retain some of the Governor’s priorities in the bill. 
    • See a side-by-side of the House and Senate versions here. 

Yield Bill – H.737 

    • As passed by the House, the yield bill setting statewide property taxes, spent the ~$95 million surpluses in the education fund between buying down property tax rates and paying for a one-year pilot program for universal school meals. Now the bill has hit a snag as a last-minute effort has been mounted to redirect some or most of that to eventual remediation of PCBs in schools pending the ongoing testing as well as more school maintenance. 

Pensions – S.286

    • This bill passed the House unanimously, meaning there might be little-to-no chance the Governor can impart any change on the legislation. 

Miscellaneous Tax Bill – H.738

    • This week saw a skirmish on e911 funding between the legislature and Administration. The Administration is seeking to fund e911 services with general fund money while directing the universal service charge fund, which currently funds this service, to pay for cell tower expansion. The counter-proposal is to apply a flat fee to each phone line. So, add this to the list of disagreements between the Administration and the Legislature that needs to be resolved over the next week.   
    • This may also be the location for the SALT cap workaround, which we will cover later in the newsletter, and we need you to reach out to your legislators to help our advocacy efforts. 
  • The Transportation BillH.736
    • The future of Burlington International Airport’s governance, among other items, is slowing the progress of the T-bill as it inches to the finish line. 
  • Merged or Unmerged Health Insurance Markets – H.489 
    • The Senate Committee on Finance will allow the large and small group insurance markets to remain unmerged for another year to take advantage of ARPA premium subsidies, lowering premium rates for small businesses, which saved small businesses $17.7 million last year, however, the Committee needs to find about $2 million to make that happen.
  • Corporate Tax Reform – S.53
    • Little action has been taken on this in the Committee of Conference. Members did ask their Joint Fiscal Office to break out the impact of internet service taxes. This serves as a reminder that in the last few weeks of the session, revenue proposals can disappear and reappear, so if you have not voiced your concern about a tax on internet services, please do so. You can find more information in last week’s update

Economic and Workforce Omnibus Bill

The Economic Omnibus bill was again pushed into a new legislative vehicle this week when the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development plucked the proposals they wanted to pursue from H.159 and added them as a strike all amendment to S.11, which previously dealt with robocalls. The Committee also added their version of H.703, the workforce omnibus bill to S.11. You can find the full text here

The worker relocation and marketing programs and funds did not make it into the new version of the bill. The $8 million in ARPA funding will pay for an unemployment insurance supplemental benefit as well as a study on paid family and medical leave, and the section on minimum wage.

The Covid sick leave program proposed in H.159 was cut in half and made entirely prospective, with the program covering absences between this and the following June. The House Committee also added back in the Capital Investment Grant program that the Senate cut, however, only at a $10.2 million amount. 

Language around TIF and the SALT cap workaround remain in Ways and Means in H.159, which the Committee has not discussed; see the below section for more information on the SALT cap workaround. 

This bill is likely headed to a Committee of Conference for the history books, given how prominent the changes in the two versions are, the issues around timing, and all of the legislative jujitsu that has been done to date.  

ACTION ITEM: Tell Legislators to Stop Sending Unnecessary Businesses Taxes to the Federal Government 

The Vermont Legislature has an opportunity to help Vermont small business owners save on their federal taxes; it would not take any revenue from the state, in fact, the state would gain tax revenue. Yet some legislators are ideologically opposed because they do not want to help businesses. 

We are asking the Vermont legislature to change the law to allow Vermont LLCs, LLPs, and S-corps to deduct their State and Local Taxes (SALT) from their federal taxes via the IRS blessed SALT workaround

Find your legislators here and send them a note. Here are some main points to convey to legislators:

  • 20 other states have enacted the SALT cap workaround, and so should Vermont! Vermont is sending $50 million to Washington that 20 other states aren’t. Other states are moving to enact the workaround, putting us at a further competitive disadvantage. 
  • We are sending $50 million to the federal government we do not have to – that money could be staying here in Vermont and being put to work to help Vermonters. Vermont is always looking to draw down as many federal dollars as possible so why not now?
  • The federal government will pick up the cost of this tax cut that the state legislators have within their power to create. 
  • As we see growing inflation, this provision can help small business owners across the state keep their prices down by covering some of their margins. 
  • SALT was capped as a punitive measure meant to hurt blue (democratic) states like Vermont, which utilizes it the most because they have high taxes. 
  • In any other area of government, our strategy is to draw down as much federal money as possible and not send money to the federal government when we don’t have to; why should this situation be any different. 

Read more and see some FAQs at this link. 

Burlington Young Professionals Hosts ‘YP Congressional Forum’, May 19 

Burlington Young Professionals (BYP), a program of the Lake Champlain Chamber, in association with other YP organizations around the state, will host a “YP Congressional Forum” on May 19, 6-8 p.m. at Main Street Landing with the four leading Democratic primary candidates – Becca Balint, Sianay Chase Clifford, Molly Gray, and Kesha Ram Hinsdale. This highly contested race for the state’s lone congressional seat will be a historic moment for Vermont.

“This is a real opportunity for young professionals to engage with state-level issues and ask these candidates how they might address some of our most pressing challenges – affordability, retention, housing, climate change, among others,” said Alex Bunten, BYP director. 

The event will be hybrid to ensure broad participation opportunities for young professionals across the state. The event will be streamed live by Channel 17/Town Meeting TV with the opportunity to submit questions in advance of the forum. 

In-person registration will be limited to 60 people. The in-person event will host a reception from 6-7 p.m., and the candidate forum will take place from 7-8 p.m. Registration will close on May 17. 

Learn more and register here

Laundry List

  • Here are links to our past advocacy updates from this legislative session: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, and Week 15.  
  • Language from H.329 was added to H.739, the miscellaneous judiciary bill, which amends the statute of limitations for both personal and contractual damages to six years in discrimination or harassment cases.
  • We wouldn’t often recommend you read a Twitter thread, however, you likely would want to read this one. Jeff Davis, the developer who was trying to build those 150 homes the tweet mourns, also published a commentary in VTDigger this week. All of this in a week when Market Watch published their findings that Vermont is the most expensive housing in the country based on income, with “(o)nly 16% of households could afford a mortgage payment on the median-priced new home, which costs roughly $476,000.”
  • The Governor made Vermont’s demographically-based workforce crisis the focus of his press conference this week with a presentation by state labor market economist Mat Barewicz which you should take a look at if you haven’t already. 

Concerned or need to learn more about anything in this newsletter? Email our team at [email protected].

We look forward to working with you.
The Lake Champlain Chamber Advocacy Team

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