By Bill Moore
The baseball season has opened. It’s Masters week. Snow, disappearing in the flatlands, is still abundant in the mountains. All of which points to one thing: The General Assembly has made the clubhouse turn and is at the top of the home stretch.
As a membership organization that advocates on behalf of the business community, the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce has been active at the Statehouse this year. We have been following several economy-related issues as they have been working their way through the legislative process.
We are concerned about H.196, a proposal passed by the House last year that includes six weeks of paid family leave. The maximum benefit could be up to $1,042 per week. We are concerned that the tax on the employees may not be enough to cover the total cost of the program and that employers will have to pick up a portion of the tax.
We continue to oppose increasing the minimum wage beyond the scheduled increases already agreed to in 2014. Under an agreement crafted in 2014, the minimum wage will begin to be indexed next year.
Under the Senate-passed proposal, S.40, the increases will go to $11.10 on Jan. 1, 2019, $11.75 on Jan. 1, 2020, $12.50 on Jan. 1, 2021, $13.25 on Jan. 1, 2022, $14.10 on Jan. 1, 2023 and $15.00 on Jan. 1, 2024. The Legislature’s own economic analysis points to thousands of jobs being lost as a result of the proposal. Studies show that increasing to $15.00 per hour will have a negative impact by causing employers to reduce hours for those earning the minimum wage. The increase will also put pressure on companies to increase prices as they will not absorb the cost of the increase.
One of our policy positions is to rely exclusively on property taxes to fund education. It is for this reason that we oppose H.911, which transfers partial funding of education to the income tax.
We are very concerned about S.197, which would establish strict, joint and several liability for property damage and impacts to human health that result from the release of harmful substances. It would also create a private right of action for medical monitoring. We believe that the measure is overreaching and could have a chilling effect on future business investment in Vermont.
We support H.919, which is geared toward spurring workforce development in the state. It would make the career pathways coordinator position in the Agency of Education permanent, establish pilot projects to extend career and technical education programs to younger students, create a three-year outreach program to stakeholders, endorse the work of the Vermont Talent Pipeline Program and better align workforce training opportunities across state government over time.
We support the Senate-passed S.204, which we believe will level the playing field for those in the travel and tourism industry. Under the bill, home-based bed and breakfast vendors would need to register and agree to certain practices in order to rent rooms to the public on or after Jan. 1, 2019. The business would be required to self-certify that it meets health and safety standards and that it knows it must collect and remit state and local rooms and meals taxes. Fire safety inspections by authorities having jurisdiction would be expected, and local communities could impose more restrictive local ordinances.
As the Legislature marches toward adjournment, the Chamber will continue to make its voice heard on behalf of the business community. A complete list of our public policy positions can be found on our website.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.