Thank you to this week’s sponsor of our Advocacy Update:
April 14th, 2023
This legislative session, and perhaps legislative biennium, can be seen as a 100-year storm. The confluence of last biennium’s great resignation, which means that one-third of the legislature is new and three-quarters of the chairs, are now also together at a time when one party achieved a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature has made for an incredible flurry of activity. This week saw steady continued work on issues as leadership makes plans for the final weeks of the session. This leaves us with relatively little in substantive updates, however, as we wind down, we’ll see just how chaotic this 100 year storm can be as it makes landfall.
In this week’s update;
Housing Bill Moves On To Another Committee Despite Desire for More Change
A jurisdictional skirmish boiled over in the House Committee on General and Housing this week as committee members felt frustrated over the lack of input they could provide on S.100, the housing bill sent to them by the Senate. At the start of the biennium, the committee’s jurisdiction was whittled down, removing jurisdiction over military affairs, the Department of Liquor and Lottery, and cannabis. The great promise of this was that the committee would be able to spend more time addressing the number one concern of Vermonters, housing. However, when the HOME Act was sent to the committee, they were given just one week to review the bill and were prevented from having discussions on regulatory or Act 250 matters.
Rep. Caleb Elder presented an amendment that garnered support from most of his committee that would have addressed barriers that Act 250 presents for housing creation by doing three things;
- Classifying the creation of four or fewer houses as not being “development,”
- Expanding the trigger that pulls a builder into Act 250 if they produce more than 10 units within five years and five miles to be for those that produce 25 units, and
- Create the ability for a redevelopment of a site with an existing Act 250 permit into housing without a permit amendment so long as the redevelopment was less than 25 units.
This amendment was not voted on, as the Chair has the ability not to bring items to a vote. If the amendment had come to a vote, it might very well have passed, part of a recurring trend where the majority of the Legislature supports modernizing the state’s 50-year old land-use law, however, leadership prevents it.
The bill now heads to the House Committee on Energy and Environment, where some fear any progress on reforming Act 250 may be lost. You can read more about the contentious week via VTDigger.
This is a time to get vocal about housing and the need to reform Act 250.
VEGI and TIF Bill Moves
The House Ways and Means Committee moved the language that was in the stalled bill H.10 in S.94, originally an extension of Barre’s TIF district, and it now comprises most of the work that is done by the Vermont Economic Progress Council. The bill expands on the provisions around VEGI set in H.10 with items such as requiring that the Administration’s economist be present in executive sessions. As always, we want to take this moment to remind readers there is no such thing as a failed VEGI application.
The bill also makes numerous amendments to TIF in the state, including counting as improvements the funding of debt service interest payments for a period of up to two years, beginning on the date on which the first debt is incurred and preventing changes to the boundary of a TIF district after approval.
The bill also creates a Financing Public Infrastructure Study Committee that will make recommendations for long-term programs or methods to finance infrastructure improvements that serve communities, incentivize community development, facilitate the development of housing, and reverse declining grand list values.
This week saw relatively little substantive change on many issues as many bills moved on predictable trajectories. Here are some highlights and updates.
- The Bulging Budget? – The Senate Appropriations Chair moved the transportation fee increases from the transportation bill to the budget, citing that as a better venue to have the conversation around what the Democratic majority feels is a need for about $20 million in fee increases. The Chair also indicated support for the Governor’s continued plea for the Legislature to reserve one-time funding to be used in future years to match federal infrastructure dollars that are on their way. This is a position that the House opposed, possibly furthering the divide between the House and Senate. The target date for the Senate to vote out the “Big Bill” is April 28th.
- Will you pass the SALT (cap workaround) already? – The House Ways and Means Committee is warming to the concept of Vermont collecting additional tax revenue and helping local businesses save on federal taxes. LCC has worked diligently to advance this fix. If you haven’t reached out to your legislators already, you should send them a message encouraging them to pass this win-win legislation. Learn more here.
- Workforce Development Bill – The Senate Committee on Economic Development walked through the workforce development bill, which was folded into the budget when it was sent over to the Senate. The Appropriations Committee is expected to try to reduce the funding for the bill from its current $40 million price tag. Missing from the bill is any appropriation for the New and Relocated Worker Program that the Senate has consistently been a proponent of while the House has consistently opposed it.
- Childcare everywhere – Childcare was omnipresent in the State House as there was a rally on the subject, the House Committee on Human Services worked through the policy, and the House Committee on Ways and Means started working through the funding of the legislation. It’s unclear at this time where the Committees will land on important concepts, however, it’s safe to assume they will have different conclusions than their Senate counterparts.
- Privacy Bill needs more time than the session will allow – the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development will tap the breaks on H.121 and receive permission from the Speaker’s office to work on the bill over the summer.
- Clean Heat Standard passed out of committee – the House Committee on Energy and the Environment completed their work on the bill with some minor changes, including explicitly carving out offroad diesel. You can find the bill as passed here. It will likely need to make a stop at the money committees on the way to the floor.
- Legislators Consider a Raise – you might have seen some media around Vermont legislators considering renegotiating their contract of employment. On the wish list, doubling their pay and adding some benefits. Governor Scott has countered with, sure, we can discuss it, however, how about you work only 90 days a year? So, I guess we’ll add another item to the list of wedges between those two branches of Government.
- A New Renewable Energy Standard – The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy doesn’t have much time left to operate, as Senate morning committees shut down operation soon, however, in that time, they hope to move a bill that will raise the requirement for Vermont’s current Renewable Energy Standard, the requirement of how much and what kind of renewable energy a utility uses. They’re looking to increase the RES to 100% (already achieved by many utilities) and then study increasing requirements for locally sourced renewable energy, referred to as Tier II.
The Laundry List
There are many moving pieces, and we do our best to add the ones that don’t get a section in the newsletter yet should be on your radar here. On any given day in the State House, there are about 175 hours of committee time outside of floor time, and then the hallway, cafeteria, or other time spent legislating.
- Read past updates here – 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, and the last session’s wrap-up.
- Burlington Department of Business and Workforce Development this week announced the launch of a two-tiered, zero-interest revolving loan program, totaling $500,000, to stabilize and support the growth of Burlington’s small businesses. The funds will be available to underserved business populations who have traditionally faced barriers to accessing capital. https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/BWD
- The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) announced officially this week it has deployed $18.5 million through its Short-Term Forgivable Loan program, aimed at helping Vermont businesses experiencing lasting impacts from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
- State Treasurer Mike Pieciak stood with state and local leaders to announce a substantial expansion of the “10% in Vermont” local investment program. The program authorizes the Treasurer to invest up to 10% of the State’s average daily cash balance for economic development in Vermont. The state’s average daily cash balance has grown substantially in recent years due to increased state revenues allowing the program’s lending capacity to expand from $39 million to $100 million. In total, when combined with funds that were not committed from the original program, there is now $85 million available to support local economic development. Read more here.