This document outlines the perspective of the Lake Champlain Chamber ahead of this pivotal legislative session. We encourage you to engage with us on these positions by emailing [email protected], scheduling a call with our team, and attending our Legislative Breakfast Series.
The Lake Champlain Chamber seeks economic opportunity for all Vermonters, and our 2024 legislative priorities reflect that commitment to economic well-being and resiliency. The challenges before us in this legislative session represent decades of structural deficits in our state. These issues were forecasted before the pandemic; however, this event quickened their pace, and with it came temporary federal dollars to create short-term remedies. As these dollars evaporate, Vermont is in a worse place and needs to grapple with some hard realities. We must grow our population in the face of demographic challenges and subsequently grow our economy to expand our tax base if we are to support a rapidly aging population. The most recent report from the Joint Fiscal Office shows that recent migration has been de minimis while our population continues to grow older.
Our Top Two Priorities
Vermont does not have enough housing, and what we do have is among the oldest housing stock in the country. We need 80,000 new units of housing by 2035, however, we are only building about 2,000 per year.
What We Need
Build on the work of the HOME Act by modernizing Act 250 to remove this duplicative process from areas ubiquitously agreed upon as targeted for growth, instead deferring to local control with a regional perspective to municipalities with planning and zoning rigorous enough to protect our environment.
As we highlight with partners in our public safety white paper, the confluence of structural issues with 1) the prosecution and judiciary, 2) our mental health and substance misuse systems, and 3) housing and quality of life have compounded over the last decade to bring us to a breaking point.
What We Need
Ensure Vermonters, new Vermonters, and visitors feel safe in our communities by implementing public safety proposals that deter anti-social, unsafe, and risky behavior by balancing supportive policies for those who need them with real consequences for those not receptive.
Other LCC Priorities for the 2024 Session
- DESTINATION MARKETING: Due to the top two priorities we’ve highlighted, it is imperative that Vermont maintain its image externally so that we are a state where people want to visit and hopefully relocate to such that we maintain our tourist economy and grow our population.
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Vermont is proud of our small business culture, however, we must also enable, with programs such as the VTP and VEGI, larger businesses to grow or relocate here to serve as anchor employers that gain Vermont national and international recognition while providing stable tax revenues, employment, and the middle-level positions we need.
- WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Addressing the immediate lack of workers in the state is crucial. While workforce development programs have value, priority should be given to attracting new residents through initiatives like VTP and VEGI. Support for existing programs, such as those in career and technical education (CTE), should continue, with attention to key performance indicators (KPIs) for current spending.
- TAXATION: With Vermonters already burdened by the high cost of living and taxes, including the recent addition of the state’s first payroll tax, we cannot afford additional taxes in this legislative session. Instead, we must alleviate the tax burden and boost our tax base through common-sense reforms, such as the SALT cap workaround.
- WEALTH TAXES Vs. INCOME TAXES: for many Vermonters in our top income brackets in any given year, it is a one-time event. We must not drive Vermonters to tax avoidance with myopic tax policies in an era when people and capital are very mobile and can easily leave our state.
- PROPERTY TAX: Our state’s property taxes are already among the highest in the country and cannot be allowed to climb any further. Spending growth needs to be within the growth in our population and economy. It is unsustainable to grow or continue our spending without growing the source of that spending, economic activity, and population.
- PAID FAMILY LEAVE: Do not duplicate the existing leave program by legislatively pursuing a paid family and medical leave program. At this time, employers need the flexibility, efficiency, and competition of the program currently being implemented due to cost pressures and inflation.
- CHILDCARE: In 2023, Vermont made a substantial investment in our early childhood education system while establishing a state payroll tax. Any further action cannot add additional cost to employers, and any further action should accommodate regional differences in cost of living.
- ENERGY POLICY: Over the last decade, our state has implemented the GWSA, RES, CHS, and many other energy policies. The Legislature should provide time for those policies aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions to function as designed and instead focus on policies around adaptation to the climate-fueled weather events of the present and future.
- ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY: The paradigm of our economy and the environment competing is a false one in Vermont. The neglect shown to our economy has hindered our ability to build towards, pay for, or achieve our environmental goals.
The overarching principles of these positions can be best summarized as follows:
- Vermont needs to grow. Not growing with our aging demographics is to be content with a smaller proportion of the population carrying the load on labor, volunteer, tax, and other needs for our society while making it more difficult to spur innovation, creativity, and act on our shared values.
- Spending growth needs to be within the growth in our population and economy. It is unsustainable to grow our spending without growing the source of that spending.
- We can only grow as a state if we address our severe housing shortage stemming from a half-century of imbalance in our land-use laws.
- Special attention must be given to remedying or preventing duplicative processes, as duplication presents an unnecessary drain on limited resources.