Legislative Update- January 23, 2023
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|Here we are in the third week of the 2023 session and as they say "we are off to the races". With legislative members spending the first two weeks getting acquainted with their new positions, committees, and forging relationships they are ready to move forward with policy. As is typical with a new legislature, bills are slowly coming out with 83 House bills and 26 Senate bills making it to the "hopper" (the shelf bills are stored on at the state house). There were still introductions occurring but this week turned to business interests such as AGC/VT.
Matt Musgrave and newly hired AGC/VT Workforce Director, Rachael Townsend visited the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday, the 7th. Matt started off by outlining the many missions of the association including training, employer consulting, advocacy, and safety missions. He pointed out several things that some may not know about the industry including interests in completing environmental and civil projects that keep our state beautiful, creating an employee climate that fosters growth and inclusion and a dedication to Vermont’s economy. Rachael spent her time in "the hot seat" talking about our plans for another installment of Vermont’s Largest Career Fair and other workforce development programs. Her presentation triggered the Chair, Representative Michael Marcotte to suggest the committee take a "field trip" to the career fair in April.
Matt Musgrave then visited the House General and Housing committee where the topic was housing. Matt was joined by several other housing resources including the REALTOR organization, bankers and credit union association. Matt gave a detailed introduction similar to that in the commerce committee but took a segway into a discussion on housing as the #1 detractor for workforce development. He explained that while we are working hard to grow students of Vermont into industry that we also must focus on attracting people to Vermont to fill needed positions. Both students entering the workforce and those considering a relocation to Vermont are faced with the extremely high cost of housing compared to neighboring states, with similar wage scenarios. This lack of housing puts Vermont and its employers at a disadvantage to our neighboring states. Matts point was clear and precise that its time to stop exclusionary zoning and other permitting programs that allow subjective "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) excuses to prevent development of workforce housing. Matt continued to call the legislators to look at preventing workforce housing as one of the largest systemic challenges to our middle-class workforce and attempts to create a diverse workforce. The committee seemed to agree and will be working with other legislative committees on a workforce housing bill that is originating through their members.
A big ticket item that moved forward this week was the release of the "Rand Report" on childcare financing options. This report was held secret until January 18th while the advocacy group "Lets Grow Kids" attempted to get people to endorse their plan to bring "more high-quality childcare providers" to the state. While the report is still being fleshed out it has a hefty up front price tag of $450-600 million to stand up the program with $280 million needed annually. The goals of the program are to keep childcare costs below 10% of peoples income while attracting more providers to the workforce with high paying jobs. So far a bill has not been introduced to create this program but almost every non childcare advocate in the building were discussing the steep price tag and not so clear result if the money is allocation. The not clear result is how many people would re enter the workforce and how they would fill the workforce gap of providers. More information is coming and AGC/VT will be along to report back to membership as they details emerge.
The "Clean Heat Standard" of 2022 has reemerged under a new name "The Affordable Heat Standard" or S.5. Simply put the program would require fossil fuel dealers to assist their customers in reducing their fuel usage or purchase credits from companies with surplus capacity. The costs would likely be handed down to rate payers. The bill which was vetoed and sustained by one vote is likely to pass this session as there is a vetoproof majority of Democrats in the House. Fuel dealers and housing advocates met on Friday with the Senate Natural Resources committee to discuss the challenges Vermonters may face due to increased costs. Their focus which does appear to be top of mind for the committee is not to overburden the rate payer. It will take some time for them to complete the details and AGC/VT is monitoring the program.
Governor Phil Scott gave his budget address on Friday, January 20th. His message was similar to years past that we have an amazing opportunity with a billion dollars of Federal funds left to distribute from COVID programs but we must focus those one time funds on one time programs. We were happy to hear that the transportation program and capital program would be largely level funded from the prior year giving almost one billion to the transportation budget when Federal funds are matched. But the governor did caution about borrowing money or standing up programs that would require additional revenue. Governor Scott announced an additional $50 million per year to go to childcare programs, but cautioned the legislature against creating additional taxes to fund their program which would be a disappointment to those championing the big ticket child care program. He offered advice that we treat the child care program as we did clean water funding only 5 year ago. He urged them to look into existing budgets and programs to find the money to fund the child care plan as we did with water. He also championed proposals that would allow Vermont to join 38 other states in exempting veterans retirement income from Vermonts income tax. Despite the fact that many in the room appeared to be disappointed in the "no new tax" theme, he did get a standing ovation from the crowd.
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