As of the date of this update AGC/VT is pleased to say that construction has resumed in Vermont albeit with some new safety protocols. We have watched the Phased Restart Worksafe Guidance from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) start by allowing micro crews of 2 people per location, then 5, 10 and now we have a relatively normal population of workers returned. The AGC/VT lobbying team, AGC/VT Board of Directors and our EVP Richard Wobby have worked diligently with state leaders to orchestrate the first industry specific return to work plan and helped make construction the first industry (not identified as critical) to return to work with normal staffing levels. However, the challenges we face due to the COVID-19 crisis are real and still exist.
Since the Stay Home/Stay Safe orders were enacted in late March crippling financial difficulties have spread across our state and nation. We have watched our government work hard to ensure that employees who were laid off from work had their incomes supplemented by a large federal tax rebate and expansions to the unemployment insurance program but we hadn’t yet seen any resources dedicated to businesses or their owners. On Monday, May 25 Governor Scott announced his $400 million proposal to help businesses with their recovery. The announcement came exactly 2 months from when the Stay Home orders were enacted.
Phase 1 of the program Governor Scott introduced would make monies available in the form of grants or no interest loans for companies that experienced fixed operating cost losses during the time they were closed. It includes $150 million for the hospitality, retail, and agriculture sectors, $80 million towards other businesses/nonprofits, and $20 million for micro/small businesses. There is also another $10 million split between technical assistance and tourism marketing. The money would be distributed by various means including VEDA, other non-traditional lenders and there will be a request for proposal of distribute some of the other funds. Phase 2 will be announced including other business and personal aid at approximately $90 million.
AGC/VT was invited to speak before the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development regarding the governors proposal. Government Affairs Director, Matt Musgrave, discussed some of the challenges the building trades have had to overcome due to the shutdown. He shared the challenges that many contractors face due to a loss of 2 months in a 10 month building season, already shortage of workers, efficiency challenges due to COVID-19 protocols that will spend both time and money through the season and the understanding that the 2021 building season will surely be affected by the huge economic losses across sectors. Supporting the Governors proposal, Matt offered some thoughts of improvement specifically in “how” the money would be distributed. Knowing that $80 million would be spent quickly Matt recommended either one of two options to ensure that the money is spent purposefully with Vermont companies that contribute to our economy while cautioning the committee that those groups savvy with the government grant/loan process would gobble up the funds before average business owners even know what happened similarly to the Paycheck Protection Program that dried up in less than a week. He suggested either creating separate buckets for each business sector ($20 million for building trades) or creating a strict vetting process that VEDA would follow to see measurable results showing a significant contribution to our economy in terms of employment, community results, and a companies ability to stay open past the pandemic. The committee responded well, and AGC/VT awaits the draft language for the bill appropriating the monies.
AGC/VT was also invited by the House Transportation Committee (see photo above) to weigh in on the work zone safety improvements in S.330 the DMV bill which had passed the Senate. The bill includes many of the initiatives introduced earlier in the session at AGC/VTs Building Bridges at the State House event where many flaggers came to speak of the death of one of their own in the 2019 season. The Senate passed out the bill which includes doubling of fines for texting in work or school zones, expansion to the “move over” law adding work zones to policy, encouraging VTRANS to look for more safety options and enhanced flagging paddle requirements using LED lights. While Matt praised the language in the bill, he cautioned that increasing penalties may not be enough due to a lack of enforcement. A discussion was had with the committee about whether they should allow work zone police to enforce laws or begin using automated license plate reading variable for speed enforcement. The committee remains split on which enforcement option would be the best because there is a lack of uniform enforcement in Vermont and the automated license plate readers create a privacy issues for some. Chief Engineer of VTRANS, Wayne Symonds, was also part of the conversation discussing the work zone safety committee within the agency noting that both enforcement and readers were being discusses as possible options. The discussion will continue.
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