By Bill Moore
The Vermont General Assembly is in the homestretch and targeting an exit three weeks from now. That means the witching hour is nigh and we all need to expect the unexpected.
The Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, along with other like-minded organizations, advocates on behalf of the business community. As time begins to tick away, there are still a number of issues the Chamber is following that are all a part of the legislative jujutsu that is about to begin.
Chief among our concerns is S.197, an Act Relating to Liability for Toxic Substance Exposures or Releases. This particular measure would require strict joint and several liability for those who use chemicals. In essence, it means that if a business uses a chemical, even in minimal amounts, that company is admitting liability for any harm caused to individuals or the environment by an unintentional or intentional release of the chemical. The chemical being used may be allowed today, but at some undetermined time in the future, if the chemical is determined to be toxic, that liability goes back on the business.
Under S.197, the business would also be responsible for providing medical monitoring for individuals who can demonstrate they were exposed to minimal amounts of a chemical at any time if the exposure can contribute to the possibility of the individual becoming ill.
S.197 is anti-business, anti-growth, anti-development and will provide no real relief to those exposed to toxins who already can find relief for harm caused by exposure.
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024 as found in S.40 is another job killer. The Legislature’s own fiscal analysis indicates that enactment of the measure will cost the state thousands of jobs. Public policy should not result in a loss of jobs. Additional studies indicate that a $15 per hour minimum will result in employers reducing hours for employees by an average of at least $121 per month. Enactment will also cause an upward pressure on wages for employers who, in turn, will increase their prices to meet the new levels. This inflationary measure will actually hurt, more than help, those at the minimum wage level.
An amendment proposed to S.260, an Act Relating to Funding the Cleanup of State Waters, was presented as a way to fund the needed clean-up of Vermont’s lakes, rivers and streams. We are concerned about the effect of adding this $2 room tax. It will cause a significant impact on our growing tourism sector.
Proponents claim that mostly people from outside the state will pay the tax and most tourists aren’t aware of the tax until check-out time, and so the effect will be minimal. It may not affect the travelers on that stay, but it may influence their decision on a return trip. More importantly, organizers of group tours do look at the overall cost, including the tax, when deciding where to bring travelers. Before creating a new tax, perhaps legislators might want to consider some of the recommendations contained in State Treasurer Beth Pearce’s report to the General Assembly first.
We are also concerned about H.196, an Act Relating to Paid Family Leave. As proposed, all employees would be subject to a 0.141 percent tax on their pay. This new tax will fall far short of the amount needed to fund that “insurance” being created, and it is likely that employers will be asked to pick up the difference. In addition, this new tax will have an approximate $2.5 million price tag to set up and $1.2 million in ongoing costs.
The prospect of a carbon tax is still alive in the General Assembly, despite overwhelming opposition to the measure. H.394, an Act Relating to a Carbon Tax and Cap and Trade Study by the Joint Fiscal Office is still waiting in the wings.
The Central Vermont Chamber supports public policy that leads to job creation and expansion. Enactment of these measures will have the exact opposite effect.