By Guy Page
Employees for at least 15 Vermont companies — including the state’s eighth largest employer, Wal-Mart — will receive more pay, bonuses, or retirement money, due to a decision by company execs to share with employees some expected corporate tax savings from the recent federal reform.
Companies with Vermont operations mentioned on a national list compiled by Americans for Tax Reform include: Best Buy, Charles Schwab, CVS, Charter Communications, Citizens Financial, Comcast, Fed-Ex, Home Depot, Honeywell, Lowes, NBT, Sun Community, Verizon, Wal-Mart, and Wells Fargo.
Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) claims that, so far, more than 3,000,000 Americans will receive “Trump Tax Reform Bonuses.” It is unclear how many Vermont employees will be affected, as no statistics are currently available for the number of employees at the Vermont businesses, nor the extent to which the benefit will apply to all of these employees. However, according to the November, 2017 Vermont Business Magazine, Wal-Mart employs 1,273 people statewide. Attempts to contact several other leading Vermont employers not on the ATR list were unsuccessful.
The following is a list of the companies, their Vermont operations, and tax-reform related benefits promised company-wide (not just in Vermont) by executives:
- Best Buy (Williston) — $1,000 bonuses for full-time employees; $500 bonuses for part-time employees.
- Charles Schwab (Burlington) — $1,000 bonus for about 9,000 non-executive employees.
- Charter Communications (Barre, St. Johnsbury) — Raised base wage to $15 per hour.
- Citizens Financial (16 Citizens Bank branches) — $1,000 bonuses for 12,500 employees.
- Comcast (one store, two service centers) — $1,000 bonuses to 100,000 employees.
- CVS pharmacies (10 locations) — Raised base wage to $11 per hour, other benefits.
- Fed-Ex ( 8 Vermont operations) — $3.2 billion in wage increases, bonuses, pension funding due to the recent tax cuts.
- Home Depot (three stores) — Bonuses for all hourly employees, up to $1,000.
- Honeywell (Williston) — Increased 401K match.
- Lowes (two stores) — Bonuses of up to $1000 depending on length of service.
- NBT (four banks, one regional headquarters) — Base wage raised to $11 to $15 per hour; minimum 5 percent salary increases for employees making less than $50,000.
- Sun Community (Publisher of Vermont Eagle weekly newspaper) — Employee raises averaging $1,000 each; restoration of 2 percent match on employee IRAs.
- Verizon (13 Vermont stores) — Non-executive employees will receive 50 shares of restricted stock.
- Wal-Mart (1273 employees in six stores) — Base wage increase for all hourly employees to $11; bonuses of up to $1,000; expanded maternity and parental leave; $5,000 for adoption expenses.
- Wells Fargo (four locations) — Raised base wage from $13.50 to $15 per hour.
Also, regulated power companies Green Mountain Power, Vermont Gas Systems, and VELCO all will return 100 percent of their federal tax cut savings to customers/ratepayers, as required by state law.
ESSEX carbon tax bill has winners and losers
A “revenue neutral” carbon pricing bill proposes to tax your heating fuel and gasoline purchases and then give you a rebate on your electric bill. How, exactly, would that work? This week, Headliners examines the “ESSEX carbon pricing” process and looks at who wins and who loses.
H.791 (Rep. Copeland-Hanzas of Bradford, and others) would “adopt a charge on the carbon content of fossil fuels to address climate change and… return all of the revenues from that charge to customers on their electric bills.”
The bill would require fuel distributors to collect the tax on sales of most fossil fuels, tell the Tax Commissioner, every month, how much of each kind of carbon-taxed fuel they sold, and fork over the total amount of carbon tax revenue to the Commissioner, who would deposit it into the newly formed Carbon Charge Rebate Fund. The Commissioner would then allocate to every electricity utility enough money to rebate every customer in the following month. The per-kilowatt rebate would be the same for every customer. If (for example) the rebate is one cent per kilowatt-hour and you used 100 kilowatt-hours that month, your rebate would be $1. If your indoor-marijuana-cultivating neighbor used 1000 kw-h, his rebate would be $10.
If you live in a rural area, your rebate goes up. It goes up even higher if you qualify as “low to middle income” (defined three times the federal poverty level, which is $20,780 for a family of three). If your rebate exceeds your bill, you get paid the difference with a check that “shall state that it is a carbon charge rebate check.” If you have net-metered solar power, you could also get a “carbon charge rebate check.”
The law does not attempt to equalize the amount of carbon tax you pay with the electricity rebate you receive. If you heat a big house with oil and commute to work in an SUV or pickup truck, your rebate per kilowatt-hour is no more than your neighbor with the electricity-hog heat pump and Prius. In fact, that’s kind of the point of H791 — to punish your oil and gas consumption and “encourage” you to go electric.
So the carbon tax losers are:
- You, if you earn more than three times the federal poverty level — you will be subsidizing those who earn less. It’s not clear if fossil-fuel using lower-income Vermonters will be net winners, even with their rebates.
- You, if you live outside of Chittenden County, and in an area of Vermont where housing and climate require you to spend a lot of money to stay warm. Chittenden County residents are already winners, however — according to a 2016 Efficiency Vermont map of “thermal expense hot spots,” the state’s wealthiest county is also the “coldest” for thermal expense, i.e. cheapest to heat. Therefore, per-household collections of carbon tax from well-off Chittenden County should average less than anywhere else in the state.
- You, if you live outside of Chittenden County, and need to drive a rugged vehicle long distances over rural roads to get to work. Once again, Chittenden County benefits from having the most robust public transportation infrastructure, electric car charging infrastructure, wealth to afford electric cars, and relatively shorter commutes.
- You, if you operate or work for a business with a sizeable budget for gasoline transportation and oil/propane/natural gas heat. But Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury Center is a winner — a company executive testified in the Legislature last week it expects to recoup about $800,000 in electricity bill rebates, because it uses lots of electricity but relatively little fossil fuels, according to a report by Rob Roper of the Ethan Allen Institute.
- You, if you buy electricity — because increasing demand for electricity without increasing supply will just drive up all consumers’ kilowatt-hour cost of electricity, especially during costly “peak hours” of consumption. Also, the bill would allow utilities to charge back ratepayers their costs of implementing this program. Vermont now has the sixth-highest electricity rates in the country.
- You, if you pay state taxes — because it will cost plenty of state money to plan, implement and staff this new program, which requires a veritable blizzard of reports and audits, to make sure this new government redistribution program is working as fairly and efficiently as planned. The winners are the employees and consultants hired to produce all of this government paper. For example, carbon tax backers have asked Gov. Scott for $100,000 to study carbon pricing with its many uncertainties and unanswered questions. He says he won’t spend Vermonters’ money studying a bill he plans to veto, anyway.
- You, if you think that introducing carbon pricing means Vermont will reach its emissions reduction goals. The New York Times reported that British Columbia, the jurisdiction with the steepest carbon tax, will miss its reduction goals, mostly due to recent years of low wholesale prices for oil and gas.
Can government reduce fossil fuel emissions without punishing Vermonters? Yes. Headliners provided some market-driven ideas in this post last October: promote market-based clean power incentives, such as generous dealer rebates on electric cars; investing Volkswagen settlement money in car-charging sites; extending natural gas pipelines to give home owners another relatively clean fuel choice; investing in home heat pumps, batteries and electric buses only when the national market is well developed and costs have decreased; and retaining and developing low-cost, base load clean power sources like hydro and nuclear power — and much more. We Vermonters won’t be driven, but we can be led.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.