June 28, 2020
(This is the first in a series of recaps to the recent end of this portion of the legislative session in Vermont. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, our session extended from the expected end in mid-to-late May until now, and we will return at the end of August to finish our work, primarily the rest of the budget. We are reacting first to the public health crisis, which, while it seems “contained” in Vermont, is by no means over, and secondly to the economic crisis brought on by the public health crisis. When we return in August, we hope that we will have a better handle on what funds will be available to help us make our ends meet in the coming fiscal year, and what it will mean to our tax base, our property taxes and the services we’re expected to provide to Vermonters in the coming months.)
Over the past several weeks the Vermont Assembly has finalized $1B in Corona Relief Funds (CRF) to help Vermonters, including over $235 million for businesses, farms and non-profits who have suffered significant losses due to COVID-19. In order to get these dollars out quickly to help stabilize various sectors of our community, a variety of agencies and organizations are handling different sectors, and are doing their best to get programs up quickly and get these much needed economic relief dollars out the door. Due to the everchanging Treasury guidelines, and the reality that most if not all businesses that were adversely affected by the onset of the COVID-19 crisis could not handle more loans, we responded within those guidelines in a way that we expect to be helpful. Please follow the links below to the agencies that will be handling requests for these funds.
Below is a partial guide that I hope will help local businesses and non-profits in accessing these vital economic relief grants. Please reach out to Rep. Theresa Wood or me via email if you need additional help in connecting with these resources: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
We will be posting further updates in the days to come that will explain much of our other work on getting the CRF out to Vermonters.
Economic Recovery Grants
$50 million for businesses who file sales, meals or rooms tax, available now. www.tax.vermont.gov/coronavirus#relief
$102 million Grants for businesses and non-profits, guidelines will be posted week of June 29th
$30.5 million for dairy farms and producers, agricultural businesses, food markets and agricultural fairs, guidelines will be posted week of June 29th
questions email: firstname.lastname@example.org
$5 million for arts and cultural organizations and creative businesses Being developed and guidelines will be posted soon.
$5 million for women & minority-owned businesses. Being developed by the VT Commission on Women and by guidelines will be posted soon.
$5.5 million for forest economy stabilization and outdoor recreation businesses. Being developed and by guidelines will be posted soon.
$3.5 million for working lands program
March 2, 2020
Here is a link to the 2020 Town Meeting Report from Theresa and me.
Also, here’s a quick recap of the bills that have been passed through the House prior to our Town Meeting Break:
H.254 – An act requiring adequate shelter for livestock. This bill updated definitions for adequate “constructed” shelters and adequate “natural” shelters and requires that any leash, rope or chain used to restrict an animal be used so that it does not entangle the animal and it must still allow access to shelter, food and water.
H.555 – An act relating to food concessions on state property or buildings. This bill allows the Department of Buildings and General Services to adopt rules governing the sale of food concessions on state properties for nonprofit organizations; previously this has been prohibited.
H.580 – An act relating to classification for criminal offenses. This bill sets up a classification system (Class A – Class E) for criminal offenses, including maximum fines and imprisonment for each.
H.635 — An act relating to long term care facilities. This bill strengthens the receivership laws for long term care facilities when the State takes control of such facilities due to health and safety of residents.
H.926 – An act relating to changes to Act 250. Act 250 is Vermont’s land use law; the current law is now 50 years old having been enacted under the administration of Governor Deane Davis. This bill modernizes the act, including streamlining of permitting in designated downtowns and villages.
H.934 – An act relating to renter rebate reform. This bill significantly streamlines the renter rebate program for very low income Vermonters, as well as simplifying the administration of the program in the Tax Department.
S.23 – An act relating to increasing the minimum wage. This was a bill that passed the House and Senate earlier this year and was vetoed by the Governor. The Senate overrode the veto a couple of weeks ago and this week the House did as well on a vote of 100-49. This bill is now law and the minimum wage will raise to $12.55 over the next two years and then it is indexed to consumer prices. The bill does not go to $15.00/hour which was under debate last year.
S.54 – An act relating to the regulation of cannabis. This bill implements a tax and regulate system for cannabis. Cannabis was legalized in Vermont in 2018. The total taxation on the product is 20% through a combination of sales and excise taxes. Prevention and education efforts will utilize up to 30% of tax receipts. Towns will have the option to “opt in” to retail sales establishments.
Please make sure to follow our occasional updates, and don’t hesitate to contact me at email@example.com with further questions.
February 28, 2020
These are my comments on the floor of the House regarding S.23, our bill to raise the minimum wage in Vermont. I had the privilege of leading off the conversation, which was more a series of recitations of support or opposition to the notion of overriding the veto of the Governor of the bill.
I rise today to support the override of the Governor’s veto of S.23, an act that would raise the minimum wage from $10.96 today to $12.55 in 2022.
Madam Speaker, Let’s be clear: this Governor has never supported raising the minimum wage beyond the beggarly increases due to inflation. And his reasoning for denying nearly 40,000 Vermonters a small raise echo the ones he has given in the past for his lack of support for these Vermonters. He includes in his veto message several claims that look like, on paper, substantial reasons for telling Vermonters — a preponderence of them women, a preponderance of them primary wage earners in their families, all of them struggling in a Vermont deemed too expensive by the governor himself — that they are not worthy of a raise, a raise that, in and of itself, is insufficient to keep up with the increased cost of living, the increased cost of rent, the increased cost of food and clothing and health care and, as the economic world passes them by, the increased cost of poverty.
The Governor’s veto, in essence, lays the burden of poverty at the feet of those who are suffering by working for poverty wages.
Madam Speaker, to quote Studs Terkel, “our country owes every citizen of the United States of America a means of livelihood. Not a handout, but a way to make it.” We even say it in our statute, when we write “It is the declared public policy of the State of Vermont that workers employed in any occupation should receive wages sufficient to provide adequate maintenance and to protect their health, and to be fairly commensurate with the value of the services rendered.”
Madam Speaker, the committees of jurisdiction on this bill heard hours of testimony and received stacks and stacks of information on the reasons why increasing the minimum wage will help 40,000 Vermonters, a preponderence of them women, a preponderence of them the primary wage earners in their family, was the right way to go. We heard too the objections of some, who felt like paying their employees a little more was a fatal choice to their business. We heard, we listened, and we voted to increase the wage.
To justify the veto, the Governor uses statistics that we heard copious amounts of testimony on — statistics that actually make the argument that a raise in the minimum wage will not hurt the economy at all in any meaningful way.
First, that jobs will disappear. This is true, but not in the way he implies. Jobs will disappear because people will be able to work less hours for the wages they make now. That is an improvement in one’s quality of life. Adjacent to this statistic is the Governor’s own 6-3-1 math — by his calculation, there will be less people of working age at a rate of over 1,000 per year, whether or not the job pays well or is a poverty wage. How many jobs? (NOT how many people will be employed, but how many jobs will be lost? In the first year? 90. In the second year of the raise? 280.
Second, he mentions increased costs of goods and services. These costs are increasing whether or not the lowest paid workers in Vermont, the preponderence of whom are women and the preponderence of whom are heads of households, have a higher minimum wage.
Third, he mentions there will be an overall negative impact on economic growth. What he fails to mention is that the estimate provided by our Joint Fiscal Office is stretched between 2025 and 2040, and that it will make a difference of 8/100 of one percent on our Gross Domestic Product by then. This is a tough statistic, if for no other reason we expect our pension problems settled by then, and according to economists, our financial health will return to being sunny and 70 everyday. A guesstimate like this over 20 years is nothing more than that, a guess.
Madam Speaker, most economists and most social scientists agree that the best way to help low-income, poverty wage workers is to simply give them more money. Our work in this body has done some elemental work in smoothing out many parts of the benefits cliff, which won’t be negatively affected by this wage increase, and we know that while insufficient, this minimal increase to the poverty wage will not bankrupt the businesses that pay this wage, whether they are located in rural areas of the state, or in the more settled areas. And our work has shown that no economy has ever collapsed by providing a small increase in the minimum wage.
Madam Speaker, I will finish with two quotes:
It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.
Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.
Who said this? No, not Karl Marx, but Abraham Lincoln, in 1861.
And this one, from a Vermonter, was delivered at a public hearing in 2018. They said:
If I made a living wage, my life would be different. There would be small changes. I would sleep on a bed, not the floor. I would eat three meals a day, not one and a half. There would be big changes, too. I would carry health insurance and monitor the imbalances in my endocrine system that affect my mood, my weight, and even my fertility. It is impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you can’t afford the boots.
Madam Speaker, on behalf of those who do not have a loud voice in this building, I ask the body to override the governor’s veto, and to support those 40,000 Vermonters — a preponderence of them women, and a preponderence of them the primary wage earner in their family — who deserve a raise.
Update: The Governor’s veto of S.23 was overriden by a vote of 100-49.