Viewing the 2014 legislative session through a business lens
At the close of the 2014 legislative session, Governor Shumlin characterized the biennium as "one of the most productive and successful in recent memory," citing that bills passed this session had "created greater economic security, more opportunity, and a better quality of life for all Vermonters."
We agree some productive measures were taken to further business growth in the state. However, assessing the legislative output from a broader business perspective leaves little doubt that we missed several opportunities to support Vermont's economy.
Actions this session that were favorable to business growth and innovation include: creating initiatives that will allow greater access to capital for start-up companies, encourage industrial park growth, create a Vermont Strong Scholars Program, build domestic export connections, focus on workforce development and education, secure $4.5 million for economic growth to be used to recruit and retain businesses and double VEDA's Vermont Entrepreneurial Lending Program to support investments in small businesses.
What the governor didn't mention in his statement about the biennium were the numerous tax increases and mandates that thwart innovative and entrepreneurial efforts. Most egregious, and ironic perhaps, is the reduction of the research and development tax credit. The governor boasts that Vermont is "one of the top 10 most promising tech hubs in America" and leads the nation in the creation of per capita solar jobs. If we are serious about supporting Vermont's vital tech industry, why are we reducing incentives for Vermont companies to create innovative products and services?
Other legislative initiatives that took us in the wrong direction by increasing the cost of doing business in Vermont include last minute changes to workers' comp regulations that will increase costs up to $1 million per year.
Increasing business property taxes, the minimum wage and the employer assessment don't create more opportunity for employers or their workers, either. They diminish the possibilities for companies to growth their business, create jobs and provide economic security for their workforce.
In addition to the proposals passed that were detrimental to the business community, there were several missed opportunities at advancing the economic vitality of the state. The Legislature and the Administration could have implemented a tourism promotion funding formula that would have encouraged more visitors to come to Vermont. They could have increased funding for the Vermont Training Program, investing in our workers. They could have passed legislation allowing growth to occur more efficiently in enterprise zones. They chose not to.
As with any sound business, we need to look at both sides of the ledger to judge the bottom line. Yes, some legislation will help businesses, but if we truly want economic growth in Vermont, then harmful actions must be avoided.
Betsy Bishop of East Montpelier is the president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the largest statewide, private, not-for-profit business organization. Its mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life.
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