A bright spot in the session

Later this week, or perhaps next, this years’s economic development bill will come to the floor of the House for reporting and a vote.  The bill originated in the Senate, and after a rough trek through the Senate Committees of jurisdiction, landed in our House Committee.  I’m happy to say that there are a package of initiatives in this proposed legislation that collectively, can make an impact on the entire Vermont economy – a bright spot in a challenging session!

Our more rural areas of Vermont are acutely aware that their economic recovery has been slower then in Chittenden county which, thankfully, is chugging right along.  Through the efforts of a couple of my House colleagues, a Rural Economic Development Caucus has formed and understanding about the dual Vermont economic realities is growing.

In Southeastern Vermont we’ve also learned that we must prioritize increasing the size and quality of workforce as well as grow jobs.  Those initiatives must happen hand in hand.  This need exists throughout EVERY region in Vermont.  Every time we see data about Vermont unemployment beating the national unemployment numbers, what I hear is validation that Vermont’s need to grow our workforce is real and growing.

I’m very optimistic about the ability of the package the House Commerce Committee is proposing to help address the workforce and jobs creation challenges – if we can get the initiatives passed as a package.  In the Senate, the package was dismantled.  I’ve listed the key elements of the bill further below.

As a freshman legislator, I’m surprised to find that one of the threats to passage of this bill is what isn’t in the fiscal note, linked below.

http://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/document/2016/11/Date/4-28-2015

A fiscal note is an important piece of information produced for every major bill which details the cost of the program.  This information is  an important part of transparency and informed decision making.  What a fiscal note does not do however, is project the longterm financial BENEFITS and payback to the state from these investments.  That’s trikes me as really problematic.  My fellow elected officials who have to run for office every two years could conceivably find it difficult to prioritize long term investment over short term costs.  I’m cautiously optimistic anyway, but hope to help develop a way to show benefit as well as cost in the future!

Below are the main Elements of S.138 as adopted by the House Commerce Committee.

1. Workforce Education, Training, and Development

C.1-C.2 – Vermont Strong Scholars Program and Internship Initiative

Within the loan forgiveness program, changes “economic sectors” to “occupations” to be designated as qualifying for loan forgiveness; adds the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges to group that designates occupations; specifies that qualifying employment must be full time, and clarifies timing for enrollment and graduation. Within the internship program, eliminates duties of the “Program Intermediary,” which will be performed within DOL. On funding, specifies that availability and payment of loan forgiveness is subject to State funding available for awards 

C.3 – Amendments to WET Fund Provisions; 10 V.S.A. §§ 543-544

Modifies language to clarify eligible activities for funding through from the Workforce Education and Training Fund and eligible participation in the Vermont Career Internship Program.

C.4 – Youth Employment Working Group

Creates a youth employment working group to recommend measures to increase work-experience opportunities for 16 and 17 year olds in Vermont.

C.5 – Vermont Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities

Adds to the Committee two members: one from the Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired within DAIL, and on from the State of Vermont Office of Veterans Affairs.

C.6 – C.8 – Vermont ABLE Savings Program

Adopts enabling legislation authorizing the Treasurer or designee to establish a Program consistent with current federal law and anticipated regulations and creates an ABLE Task Force within the Office of the Treasurer to advise on the design and implementation of the Program.

C.9 – Medicaid for Working People with Disabilities

Directs the Agency of Human Services to request appropriate permissions from the CMS and to adopt rules to address income and eligibility requirements for participants in this program who work and may have income from other program sources.

C.10 – Vermont Career Technical Education; Study and Report

Directs the Agency of Education, Department of Labor, Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and the Vermont State Colleges to collaborate on how to better utilize Vermont’s centers for career technical education to provide training aligned with high-wage, high-skill, high-demand employment opportunities.

2. Tourism and Economic Development Marketing

D.1 – Findings and Purpose

One-time funding for an initiative to target out-of-State businesses and employees.

D.2 – Makes technical changes to name of DHCD; Expands Department of Tourism and Marketing mission to emphasize economic development marketing; creates funding formula in statute for marketing;

D.3- Directs Department of Tourism and Marketing to deliver a legislative proposal and report to identify the goals, targets, performance measures, and results of its economic development marketing programs.

D.4 – $500,000.00 appropriation for economic development marketing

D.5-D.6. Domestic Export Program

Codifies program and directs AAFM to pursue internal and external funding to support continued operation of program

3. Access to Capital

E.1-E.2 – Vermont Entrepreneurial Lending Program; VEDA Lending

Expands eligible projects for VEDA lending to certain advanced manufacturers 

E.3 – Treasurer’s Credit Facility for Local Investments; Extension of Sunset

Extends program for one year.

E.4 – Exemption from Lender License Requirements for Commercial Loans

Raises exemption from licensure for loans, other than residential mortgage loans, from $75,000 to $250,000.00

4. Tax Credits and Business Incentives

G.1-G.4 – Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Provisions

G.1 – makes necessary technical change to 32 V.S.A. § 5930a

G.2 – amends 32 V.S.A. § 5930b as follows:

  • (a)(24)(B) – changes wage threshold to include jobs that pay 40% above minimum wage if located in a labor market area where unemployment rate is greater than State average
  • (b)(5)(A)-(B) – codifies existing $1 million cap for “net negative” awards in labor market areas; authorizes E-Board to raise $1 m cap for “net negative” awards
  • (c)(6)(A)-(B) – authorizes extension of award period for business who don’t meet targets due to circumstances beyond its control;
  • (h) – creates enhanced training incentive
  • (i) – creates enhanced employment growth incentive for value-added businesses
  • (j) – codifies existing $10 million aggregate program cap and existing E-Board authority to raise cap

G.3 – repeals session law relating to program caps; codified above

G.4 – makes conforming technical change to 10 VSA § 531 (Vermont Training Program)

G.5 – Employee Relocation Tax Credit Study

Creates study committee to study and report on a credit for out-of-state employee for relocation expenses for a qualifying Vermont job 

G.6-G.7 – Downpayment Assistance Program

Authorizes VHFA to make downpayment assistance loans to qualifying first-time homebuyers.

G.8 – Prewritten Software Accessed Remotely

Clarifies applicability of “cloud tax”. 

G.9 – Wood Products Manufacturer Incentive – extends for one additional year

G.10 – Research and Development Tax Credit

Restores credit to 30% and eliminates reporting requirement.

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