By Sen. Alison Clarkson
This year, instead of producing several smaller, focused bills, the Senate Economic Development (SED) Committee created one omnibus economic development bill with a wide range of proposals.
It took longer than expected to finish and the House Commerce Committee is now considering it. The purpose of the bill is to “address the negative economic impacts of Covid-19 on Vermont’s economy, employers, workers, and families and establish opportunities to grow Vermont’s economy.” It balances support for both individuals and businesses.
The bill, H.159, offers $20 million in support of the pandemic’s hardest hit business sectors (special events, arts and culture, travel, lodging, tourism, agriculture, and child care) which are still struggling to recover.
The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) will administer this money through short-term forgivable loans of up to $200,000. VEDA has experience with the PPP program and has the ability and expertise to look at individual circumstances and make decisions based on an applicant’s unique financial needs.
New and existing programs are also supported in this bill.
Vermont’s Relocating Employee Incentive program addresses our acute labour shortage challenge. The SED bill further invests $6 million into this program aimed at recruiting new workers to Vermont, and $4.2 million in regional marketing meant to attract new residents. A new Covid-19 wage replacement program is created to reimburse employers who voluntarily paid their employees who had to take time off because of the pandemic from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2021. Reimbursement is paid out at 67% of an employee’s hourly wage and the maximum grant per employee is $27.50/hour and $2,200 in the aggregate. Employers may also utilize the money to retroactively provide paid leave to employees. And, the SED bill boosts unemployment insurance benefits by $25/week.
Two important tools in our economic development tool box designed to incentivize the revitalization of our downtowns and village centers are the Downtown and Village Tax Credit and tax increment financing (TIF) programs.
This bill increases the total amount of downtown tax credits awarded annually to $4.35 million (from $3 million) and creates a new project based TIF pilot program, which will allow smaller communities to finance a single public infrastructure improvement with no more than $5 million in public debt costs. This will expand the applicability of this successful program. This bill also increases the minimum wage to $15/hour by Jan. 1, 2024. This ensures that the base wage will be reset in two years and that the minimum wage will begin to grow from an updated foundation of $15/hour.
Finally, H.159 creates three task forces: 1) to study the most advantageous way to set up a legal sports betting system in Vermont, 2) to examine the potential enactment of a paid family and medical leave insurance program, and, 3) to review the historical activities and future possibilities of cultivating a more robust Vermont film industry.
Alison Clarkson is a state senator representing Windsor County. She can be at: [email protected] or 457-4627.