WHAT TO WATCH IN THE LEGISLATURE FOR 2016

One of the most important functions of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce is to provide our stakeholders and our business members with important information and advocacy in government politics.

On Monday, February 1, your Chamber will be hosting a Legislative Breakfast at the Hampton Inn beginning at 7:30am which will provide you access to some of the area’s representatives.  Seats are limited; please call our offices at 802-447-3311 or email Marie Shutts at marie@bennington.com to reserve your seat.

Here are some of the areas your Chamber recommends you pay attention to in the 2016 season:

Budget & Tax Policy
The Chamber believes in a predictable fiscal policy that does not increase taxes on businesses or their customers. Vermont has one of the most progressive tax systems in the country, so the Chamber continues to work to ensure that annual spending decisions conform to the rate of economic growth.

What your Chamber is doing:  We will continue to host legislative breakfasts like the one already mentioned and host our annual trip to Montpelier, Day Under the Dome, to ensure our collective voices are heard.

Marketing Bennington & Vermont
The tourism industry provides substantial employment opportunities and generates considerable tax revenue. The Chamber supports continued investments in tourism marketing and additional investment to market Vermont.

What your Chamber is doing:  The Chamber is currently working with the Shires of Vermont group which is a collective marketing approach between Manchester and Bennington to better market our strengths together.  We are continuing to meet with the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone group to have further discussions around marketing and economic growth with Bennington and Windham counties jointly.  The Chamber is also a very active supporter and evangelist for the “Vermont Begins Here” campaign started by the Town of Bennington as part of their marketing strategy.

Talent Acquisition & Workforce Training
Attracting a larger workforce with the skills that address the critical talent acquisition needs of businesses is crucial to the state’s economic security. The Chamber support programs that provide opportunities, thereby increasing the number of people in the workforce.

What your Chamber is doing: The Chamber is working with the Town of Bennington and the Better Bennington Corporation to build and execute an aggressive recruitment strategy.  Launching soon, the Chamber and CAT-TV have paired together to produce a mini-series called “Bennington Made.” These short little videos will have a “How-It’s-Made” feel to them showcasing some of Bennington’s most well-known businesses and the craftsmanship behind how their product is made.

21st Century Workforce
To keep pace with the shifting workforce, employers need to maintain flexibility in labor and workplace policies, allowing for job creation without increasing costs. Workers’ compensation changes, unemployment insurance reforms and new mandates add greater burdens to employers.

What your Chamber is doing: The Chamber meets monthly with other Chamber Executives at what is called VACCE (Vermont Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives) where we build a collective voice, strategy and vision for the workplace and our members.  This group then advocates for the many concerns that small business owners have including tax and insurance implications.

Growth & Development
To help grow the economy, Vermont needs improved greater predictability in the permit process. This can be achieved by reducing redundancies and applying Act 250 uniformly at the district commission level resulting in more business expansions, relocations, and start-ups.

What your Chamber is doing: We have begun working with the Lightning Jar, the new coworking space, to provide additional programming and partnership opportunities.  The Chamber is also an active participant and supporter of the local Bennington Young Professionals group as we believe that’s where much of our energy and effort should focus to create a vibrant and sustainable future.

Lawmakers must once again begin their work this month by adjusting the current year budget to solve a $40 million shortfall and then reconcile a projected $58.5 million budget gap for next year. Either cutting spending or raising taxes will be painful decisions, especially as several legislators and leaders have announced their candidacy for higher office.

Stay tuned as we keep an eye on the following hot topics:

  • For at least the sixth year in a row, lawmakers will work to close a significant budget gap, making cuts and tax increases dominate this session
  • Health Care: Increasing eligibility for health care continues with Vermont Health Connect
  • Education: Refinement of the new district consolidation law and projected property tax rates
  • Energy: Laying the groundwork for a future carbon tax
  • Labor Mandates: Mandated paid leave policies gaining momentum
  • 21st Century Workforce: The House to take a deep dive into independent contractor and misclassification laws
  • Permitting and Development: On-the-record review of ANR environmental permits back on the front-burner
  • Hospitality: Discussion for rent-to-stay websites and combined licenses.
  • Vermont Economic Wages: Minimum wage increase

It’s an interesting and exciting year in Vermont politics (and national politics as America is “Feeling the Bern”).  Vermont is unique in that we have unfettered access to our local, regional and state representatives which creates a very special political environment for us.  All we have to do as citizens is pay attention and engage; so let’s do it and let our voices be heard.

Always Onward,

Matt Harrington

Executive Director, Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce