The Legislature is on hiatus until mid-June when they reconvene in an anticipated veto session to deal with measures that Gov. Phil Scott has returned to the General Assembly. There were hundreds of bills introduced this session.
As a business advocacy organization, the Chamber has a direct interest in the goings-on “under the dome.” The Chamber Public Policy Committee, chaired by Joe Choquette from Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, meets at least monthly during legislative sessions and continues to meet when the sessions are over.
The Chamber has a very deliberative process for adopting policy positions. After a thorough vetting by the Public Policy Committee, recommendations are made to our board of directors for adoption. The board conducts its own review of the recommendations and then either adopts, rejects or returns items to the committee for needed changes. Once adopted, the Chamber makes those policy positions known to our Washington/ Orange County legislators and the relevant legislative committees. We communicate directly via traditional mail, email and in person. As a registered lobbyist, I spend time at the State House meeting with elected officials and presenting testimony related to the Chamber’s policy positions.
During this 2017 session, the Chamber has been following a number of issues.’We have been both proactive on issues and reactive. The following is a brief recap of the issues that we tracked in 2017. — The budget: We congratulate the General Assembly for passing the first budget in years that contains no new taxes. We do support Gov. Scott’s initiative to reduce property taxes by taking anticipated savings due to changes mandated in the Affordable Care Act and going to a single statewide negotiation on teachers’ medical benefits. Those savings would be used to hold teachers harmless from increased medical benefits costs and the balance would be used to reduce property taxes.
— Independent contractors: We support efforts to clearly define what constitutes an independent contractor. A properly registered and taxed, sole proprietor/owner-operator who performs the same type of work as the company it is contracting with should not have to become an employee of the business to which it is contracting.
— Minimum wage: We believe that the law in place today provides for an orderly increase in the minimum wage. The minimum wage was never intended to be a permanent wage for employees. In 2014, the business community agreed to a stepped increase in the minimum wage from $8.73 an hour, (nearly a dollar above the federal minimum) to $9.60 in 2016, $10 in 2017 and $10.50 in 2018. Beginning in 2019, the minimum wage will be indexed to the rate of inflation.’
These increases were agreed to by all parties interested in workers’ wages and enacted by the General Assembly. They allow businesses to make reasonable plans for their needs and to make adjustments in their own workforce needs.
— Paid leave: We have a well-known and longstanding policy in opposition to new taxes. A payroll tax on employees will have the effect of virtually eliminating any raise that they may receive as current wage increases in the private sector have been in the 1.5-to-2.5-percent range for the last several years. We are concerned that the tax will be imposed unfairly on those who do not make use of paid family leave. We are concerned about the nature of the fund, its sustainability and how the fund will be administered. Will the proposed contribution levels be sufficient to sustain the fund? If not, where will additional revenues be found?
Next week, I will review additional issues the Chamber has been keeping an eye on.
William E. Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.