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Advocacy Update – Week 7

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

Join Us for Our (Virtual) Legislative Breakfast Series 

We’ve had a fantastic legisaltive breakfast series so far featuring Governor Scott, and over 20 elected policymakers, and staff of the Congressional Delegation. Our Legislative Breakfast Series is a staple of each legislative session, providing access and perspective into the inner workings of Montpelier. During these uncertain times, the format has changed; however, our team’s dedication to bringing you this access has stayed the same. We invite you to join us on the following dates:

  • Monday, March 15, 2021 – 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. – Special Guests: Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray and Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski 

Special thanks to the sponsor of our Legislative Breakfast Series:

New Travel Guidance and Vaccine Update 

Today the Governor rolled out new travel guidance and foreshadowed some light at the end of the tunnel. Effective this Tuesday there is a narrow change in travel guidance that allows those who are fully vaccinated  (both doses and have waited for two weeks), and can provide proof of vaccination can now travel without restrictions. The Governor also foreshadowed further announcements on multi-household gatherings and a trusted household policy next week. The Lake Champlain Chamber has been pressuring the Governor’s administration to provide more guidance in advance on these issues and will continue to push for more advance guidance so businesses can prepare, rather than have short turnaround windows.  

A few weeks ago, the Department of Financial Regulation predicted that looking at the modeling from Israel, Vermont would see a drop in cases once those over age 60 are vaccinated. At the time, Israel had about 80% of its population over 60 years old vaccinated. It appears we are already starting to see this trend. While the number of cases has remained relatively similar, with a slight stagnation or decline, the number of cases among Vermonters 75 and older has declined dramatically and corresponded with a decrease in deaths. The trend comes after our state’s healthcare and long-term care workers, and many people over 75 have been vaccinated. As of today, 58% of Vermonters over 75 have been vaccinated. Those age 65+ should expect to become eligible to register for appointments the first week in March.

The Governor highlighted today that since 95% of our hospitalizations and deaths are from that demographic, by prioritizing this demographic for doses we protect them and speed up our state’s reopening

Budget Update 

The work on the “big bill” as the budget is called is heating up and the lift is more substantial for legislators this year due to the over $210 million in new spending proposed in the Governor’s budget last month. The way that the budget moves can make it difficult to follow. The Appropriations Committees in both the House and Senate are hubs where the final bill is put together, however, the detailed work of each section is done by the committees of jurisdiction. In the House, this takes an even more formal feel with committees sending memos to the Appropriations committee indicating their priorities. 

The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development submitted their memo indicating support for funding to the Appropriations Committee on Thursday. We thought this week, we’d break down some noteworthy updates: 

  • Economic Recovery Grants for New Businesses (Budget Adjustment) – This proposal did not end up in the Budget Adjustment Act which has now traveled from the House to the Senate and back to the House, however, it will be included in the Economic Support Package which we discuss in this same update. 
  • Dedicated Tourism Marketing Funding from a Portion of Rooms and Meal Tax Over Revenue Target – this got the first wave of approval in the House Commerce Committee’s memo to appropriations, and the Senate Economic Development Committee has responded favorably to it. 
  • Buy Local Vermont Consumer Stimulus Program – this proposal has been met with some skepticism. In the House Commerce Committee appropriations memo, this was indicated as a low priority. 
  • Vermont Relocated Worker Grant Program – this program the Governor sought to continue and expand is a point of pride for the Senate Economic Committee and this year has been met with some skepticism by their House counterpart. Expect this to possibly be a point of bargaining later. The Senate Economic Committee has narrowed the language down to this version of S.62
  • Unemployment Insurance Tax Relief – this is moving without much trouble through the Senate Economic Committee and as we covered in last week’s update will be likely folded into S.10. Read more on the subject in last week’s update and expect this to be somewhat finalized next week. As has been the case from time-to-time, the conversation around the UI tax rate has drifted into a discussion of trying to match employers’ relief with an increase in benefits. This has happened here, as members of the Senate Economic committee are interested in a 20% increase in benefits. Staff from the Department of Labor explained that relief to employers by freezing or delaying rates does not mean that they will not pay, it just delays it until the economy is more stable. 
  • Place-Based Tax Increment Financing – S.33 continues to be discussed in the Senate Economic Committee where they are trying to narrow the language before sending it further. Currently, the discussion revolves around caps for the program to ensure that it benefits towns that otherwise haven’t been able to use TIF and not towns that have the capacity to.  
  • Weatherization – The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy has invested a great deal of time in furthering the state’s weatherization efforts over the past few weeks. The committee is considering, $4 million to the Department of Children and Families to increase low-income weatherization by 20 percent, $5 million to expand the State Energy Management Program to municipal buildings, and $16 million to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency for programs that leverage private capital, expanding the reach of Vermont’s low-to-moderate income weatherization efforts. These efforts will also include workforce education to put more Vermonters to work in this field. 
  • Brownfields Economic Development Catalyst Program – Though it gained support in the House Commerce appropriations memo this week, the Senate Economic Committee wants to take a deeper look into specific projects and their timelines. 
  • Broadband Infrastructure Development Fund – The House Energy and Technology Committee continues its work on its broadband bill. LCC submitted these comments last week. 
  • Manufacturing and Machinery Equipment Tax Exemption – LCC continues to work with partners and engage with the Ways and Means Committee on this change. Read more here. 

Economic Support Package 

The House Appropriations Committee’s work on an Economic Support Package using unused CARES Act funds and some general fund dollars is moving quickly, with the Chair hoping to vote on such a proposal today. The package looks to consist of a few items:

  • $10 million in Economic Recovery Gap Grants proposed by the Governor in the Budget Adjustment Act. The Committee on Commerce and Economic Development finished up drafting their legislative language on the program and delivered it Thursday afternoon. You can see the eligibility criteria here
  • $1.3M to the Reach Up program that would be distributed directly to families to support some of our most vulnerable families. These funds would be delivered similar to the one-time checks that have been issued previously with CRF funds
  • $700K split between the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) and VT Refugee Resettlement Program (USCRI) to continue the services and supports they have had for refugee and immigrant families. 
  • $10 million in funding to address health care disparities, expanding the health care workforce, and responding to urgent mental health needs outlined in an appropriations memo by the House Healthcare Committee.
  • $15 million to be appropriated to the School Indoor Air Quality Grant Program administered by Efficiency Vermont

Meet the candidates for Burlington Mayor

To better inform our Burlington voters, we have asked Burlington mayoral candidates to tell us about their vision for Burlington, focusing on big issues like housing and job creation.

flag for the City of Burlington VT

There are a lot of controversial items on the ballot in addition to the top job in the city, including carbon fees, just cause evictions, retail cannabis, and a school budget. Read more about what’s on the ballot from VTDigger. 

Laundry List 

  • Last week’s update can be read here.
  • Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) Secretary Julie Moore invites the public to join her on Tuesday, February 23 from 4-5 pm for a virtual discussion about environmental permitting in Vermont. Learn more here.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee took a look at the new draft language this week to apply rooms and meals tax to meal delivery facilitators. Read it here. 
  • The House Human Services Committee is beginning to take testimony on H.171, An act relating to the governance and financing of Vermont’s child care system. 
  • Big news at the federal level this week, as many have reported, the Chairs of the Appropriations Committees in the U.S. House and Senate are set to announce that earmarks, or member-directed spending, are back. 
  • Want to get your staff more involved in the top issues facing our state? Applications for Leadership Champlain are being accepted now through April 19, 2021.

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

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