By Bill Moore
The Vermont General Assembly officially ended the first half of the 2019-20 Biennial Session last week when Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe banged the gavel and announced the Senate adjourned. The House had already adjourned five days earlier on Friday, May 24.
The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce has been actively following the goings-on at the Legislature. We are a member of a coalition of pro-business, pro-growth organizations that have been voicing our concerns during the session. Collectively, we represented our constituencies’ positions on a number of bills that were in-play at the Legislature. So how did we do? The following is a review of some of the major issues with which we were involved during this past session.
The Central Vermont Chamber opposes S.23, which would increase the minimum wage. We believe that the market should increase wages. We also oppose the mandated paid leave bill, H.107. We believe that mandates such as this put increased burdens on businesses, many of whom offer their own version of paid leave. These measures were passed in different forms by both houses and are now in limbo until the assembly re-convenes in January. Legislation that is not passed or acted on does carry over to the second year of the biennium. S.23 and H.107 were caught up in a legislative chess match at the end of the session and neither reached final passage. Both will return in 2020.
A toned-down S.37, the so-called medical monitoring bill, passed in a version that the Chamber still opposes. We urge Gov. Phil Scott to veto the measure as it will put stringent requirements on a wide array of businesses and industries across Vermont and hamper economic development and commerce. Remedies in law already exist to allow for compensation to individuals exposed to toxic or hazardous materials.
The Chamber supported H.533, the workforce development bill. We believe that this legislation will help to enhance training opportunities necessary to fill the critical jobs that are available in businesses and industries across Vermont.
We opposed S.113, the bill banning single-use plastics. Included in the ban are single-use bags, single-use plastic straws (unless specifically requested by the consumer), single-use plastic stirrers, and expanded polystyrene food service products. We urge Gov. Scott to ban the measure because, among other reasons, some studies indicate that banning plastic shopping bags ends up increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
We opposed portions of H.541, “An Act Relating to Changes That Affect the Revenue of the State.” This year’s tax bill increased the capital gains tax, expanded the fuel tax of $.02 to include all fuel deliveries and made significant modifications to the property transfer tax, among other changes. The Chamber has a long-standing policy of opposing tax increases.
The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce firmly believes that the state’s position as one of the most heavily taxed states in the country is a detriment to our economy. Our high level of taxation creates a disadvantage in attracting new business to Vermont. Coupled with Vermont’s extremely high cost of energy and relative lack of broadband availability, we are at a distinct disadvantage when recruiting new businesses to our state or in helping existing businesses expand within the state.
We believe that reducing expenditures by thoroughly reviewing the cost-effectiveness of state programs and eliminating unnecessary programs and those that are not accomplishing their stated goals will result in reduced taxes and put the state in a better position for economic expansion. An expanding economy will help to attract new businesses to the state and result in higher paying jobs.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.