|Bills in the Vermont House of Representatives would merge the remote-worker incentive program, implement rural broadband, add staff for the Ethics Commission, and adjust school property taxes for population density, poverty, and second-language learners, according to a Campaign for Vermont weekly update. |
Economic Development – One bill under consideration would merge the much-publicized remote worker incentive program (which pays for costs associated with moving to the state to work remotely for an out-of-state employer) with a less known “new worker” incentive program which assists Vermont employers with relocating employees to the state. The application process for these two programs is similar. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is proposing the two be merged.
The House Energy & Technology Committee is still working through the broadband development bill. The Chairman of EC Fiber tried pitching the Committee on doing a statewide survey of infrastructure available for broadband buildout. This survey would alleviate some of pre-construction costs for communities.
There is still no clear funding source identified. The Committee seems to be leaning towards the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). However, VEDA thinks these high-risk investments could jeopardize the stability of the organization (which is backed with taxpayer dollars) .
Other advocates cautioned the Committee not to move too quickly because the local broadband authorities the legislature set up last year are still getting their feet under them. Creating “artificial urgency” will cause them to make mistakes as they attempt projects. Committee members are also concerned with accountability around delivery.
Fiscal Responsibility – There was more debate on Vermont’s pension funds this week. Most of the work now seems to have moved to the government operations committees instead of the finance committees. Vermont ranks sixth in the country for the percentage of post-employment liabilities compared to gross state product. The Treasurer and advisory groups worry that over-leveraged pension funds could lead to a bond rating downgrade. Major rating agencies rely on pension fund health for 20%-25% of a state’s rating.
The Speaker is following this issue closely. The House Government Operations Committee sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee last week, seeking a study committee to look at prefunding the state employees fund while the state contributes $46M more per year to the teachers retirement health care fund (with a 10% inflation factor).
The Vermont Business Roundtable has already thrown its weight behind the Treasurer’s plan (which largely asks employees to cover the deficit). Campaign for Vermont is likely to state a position within the coming weeks.
Education – The education property tax weighting bill is still underway in the House Ways & Means Committee. This bill would alter how property tax rates are calculated for local school districts by applying increased weighting factors for population density, poverty, and second language learners. It seems likely a bill will move forward. Campaign for Vermont would like to see some town-by-town analysis of the impact to local districts.
Government Accountability After getting voted out of House Government Operations Committee last week, H.135 (the ethics bill) landed in House Appropriations, which appears to be waffling on whether or not to fund a part-time staff person to assist the Ethics Commission’s Executive Director. Supporters say this position will help the office respond to inquiries faster and better position the Commission to enforce the code of ethics likely to be implemented next year.
“This is the critical piece we have been working towards since the Commission was first created in 2017,” Campaign for Vermont said. “It is not enough for ethics standards to be clearly defined. They must also be enforceable.”
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