2017 Legislative Wrap-up, Part 2

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Jun 8, 2017 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

The following the second in a series of Legislative wrap-ups.

Budget

The budget passed by the House and the Senate made significant investments in Vermonters without raising taxes or fees and honoring commitments to pay obligations and maintain reserves. It does not raise property taxes or income taxes or use new fees, it spends less money than is raised and stays below the projected revenue growth rates for FY18.

The legislature listened to Vermonters who are suffering from an overwhelmed mental health system and made significant ($8.3M) investments in mental health care and developmental services. It reinforced funding for Vermont’s home and community based services, including Adult Day Centers and Meals on Wheels.

We responded to Vermonters who are trying to work and made significant investments ($2.5M) for child care services for working families. This includes using $300,000 to bring child care subsidies to the 2017 federal poverty level and using $2.2M for the Childcare Financial Assistance Program with a focus on care for infants and toddlers.

The legislature listened to Vermonters needing an affordable education and provided an additional $3M to the Vermont State College system and $880,000 to enable the cost saving unification of the Lyndon and Johnson State Colleges.

We listened to the working Vermonters and small businesses and made investments in economic development through expanded support of Small Business Development Centers, Micro Business Development, economic development marketing, and career and technical education. Knowing the value of supporting work in rural Vermont, the legislature also made additional small investments in working lands, Farm to School programs and the logging industry.

The budget passed by the House and Senate is extraordinarily responsible. It found a way to make significant investments for Vermonters without raising additional revenue.

Commerce

Economic Development Bill

As the legislative session closed for the year, a number of high value economic development programs were passed in one comprehensive bill. This economic development package addressed multiple needs: retirement security, downtown growth, workforce development, affordable housing, worker’s compensation rates, and small business growth.

Workforce Development

Every year, 3,000 young Vermonters enter the workforce with no job skills.  They are 50% of our high school graduating class and 25% of that prior year’s graduating class who leave postsecondary education after the first year.

Workforce readiness, ranging from showing up consistently to a marketable skill, is at a crisis level in Vermont. In 2016, the Workforce Development workgroup reported that “…having now conducted over 40 workforce needs assessment visits with employers representing more than 20,000 Vermont employees, it has become clear that the state has neither the breadth nor depth of talent in place to meet its business demands. The critical implications of this issue should prompt stakeholders—including government agencies, economic development practitioners, employers, and educators—to rethink the alignment of its talent and workforce development strategies.”

The Economic Development Bill creates five exciting initiatives to address those needs:

The Commissioner of Labor and the State Workforce Development Board will convene a working group to assess current workforce education and training and develop a comprehensive strategy that meets the needs of employers and employees. A Career Pathways Coordinator position was also created within the Agency of Education. This position is intended to work across agencies to develop a Career Pathways System to help link students to careers and workplaces they will work best in.  

The bill funded career training and planning for younger Vermonters beginning in middle school. Apprenticeships are an excellent pathway to the middle class. The Heating Fuel and Service Workforce Training Pilot Project is an excellent example of a public private partnership to meet a specific need. The fuel dealers came to the House Commerce Committee with a proposition. They needed trained employees and we had the CTE structures. Under this program, candidates will be selected, and they will be trained by adult Tech Ed providers. Upon successful completion, trainees will be hired by the dealers and on their way to an apprenticeship and a middle class future.

Career and Technical Education Centers (CTE) provide advanced level courses similar to traditional advanced placement courses. The bill directs the Agency of Education to work closely with state colleges and the University of Vermont to strengthen partnerships with CTE centers and increase recognition of the academic and technical course work completed by CTE students.

Workers’ Compensation Rates

The cost of workers’ compensation is one of the biggest challenges to a business. In a bit of good news, the business contribution rate has been lowered from 1.75% of their workers’ compensation insurance premium to 1.4%.

Affordable and Workforce Housing

The Vermont Housing Needs Assessment found building 5,000 new housing units per year would reduce housing as a constraint to economic success and produce the homes and communities Vermont needs to attract talent. The Economic Development bill streamlines and sets permitting priorities to encourage both affordable and workforce housing. These critical adjustments will facilitate the development created from the $35 million housing bond.

 

Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us and 496-7667.