This past week we had the pleasure of hosting our annual legislative luncheon, something we’ve rebranded as Business and Legislation. Betsy Bishop and her team from the Vermont Chamber joined us at the CDC, as did 30 other people. The topic the Chamber wanted to address was what did 2016 look like in the legislature specific to business and economic growth and what we might expect in 2017.

As a Chamber we’ve been working on reformatting some of our internal operations including our legislative committee. The truth is we need for Bennington and southern Vermont to have a stronger voice in the legislature. We have some great representatives down here, but as far as the Chamber goes, we just haven’t had the bandwidth, experience or proximity to act as a key player for our business members in the past in regards to policy, mandates and laws.

Through some initial meetings with Betsy and her Vermont Chamber team, we thought we could start to have a more mutually beneficial relationship. She could provide us with guidance and assistance in terms of advocacy, business lobbying and understanding all the new state mandates. Likewise, she could tap into our great business sector down here to help focus her team on what was needed in the southern part of the state.

Our Business and Legislation is just the start of a great relationship we think. Here were some of the key take-aways from our luncheon this past week:

What we saw in 2016 in the Legislature:

Positives for Business:

 Secured $200,000 to create a state economic development marketing plan to attract businesses and residents

 Level funded the tourism marketing budget to maintain Vermont’s competitive market share

 Updated the law governing LLC companies to make it more user-friendly

 Expanded the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) program and extended the sunset date

 Repealed the mandate requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to buy insurance through Vermont Health Connect Negatives for Business

 Legislature levied over $95 million in new taxes and fees on residents and businesses

 Mandated paid sick leave, costing employers up to $11 million annually in added labor expenses

 Mandated the Vermont prevailing wage and fringe benefits, including paid vacations and sick leave, for construction workers on State projects

 Increased government imposed fees, including $220,300 in new restaurant licensing charges, $65,400 in new bakery licensing charges, $103,000 in new lodging licensing charges, $277,365 of increases for liquor licensing charges, $1,158,086 in new weights and measurer fees for retailers, and $444,000 in new revenue from an increase in ACT 250 fees

What we will likely see in 2017 in the Legislator:

 Expect a great deal of change next year in the State House as the turnover of these offices: Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate and various individual House and Senate seats will mean a new agenda for the State.

 Consideration of expanding Dr. Dynasaur to cover Vermonters up to age 26

 Consideration of increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour

 Consideration of mandating paid family leave

 Consideration of a new carbon tax, placing manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage

 Consideration of money in economic development marketing for the state

 Consideration of lowering the sales tax rate and taxing services like accountants, hair dressers, lawyers, dry cleaners and more

 Creating appropriate regulations for online lodging platforms and properties (Air BnB, HomeAway, VRBO, etc.) following results of summer/fall study on the issue

 Consideration of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana As the election season crescendos with only a few weeks left, we hope we can continue to be a source of information and advocacy for you and your organizations. Remember to get to the polls on Tuesday, November 8 from 7a.m. to 7p.m. at the Bennington Firehouse and North Bennington Train Station to cast your vote!