Updated February 6, 2024
A Spotlight on Housing The Vermont Senate Economic Development Committee will be working this week to finalize the “BE Home Bill.” Nearly 100 pages in length, the proposed legislation is focused on making the process of reviewing and approving housing developments more efficient. Housing advocates have provided ample testimony highlighting the challenges in the appeals process, with suggestions for reforms to speed up projects. The bill suggests changes such as requiring an appeals bond, creating an independent appeals board, and addressing funding and staffing concerns for housing programs. The legislation also covers property transfer tax adjustments, rental registry enhancements, and provisions for affordable housing and flood risk disclosures. Read the summary here. While the committee aims to fast-track the bill, it is just one of several initiatives in Montpelier focused on the development approval process. Another bill contemplated this week in the House Energy and Environment Committee (H.687) would add a new layer to the Act 250 approval process. The legislation attempts to “emphasize community resilience and biodiversity protection” with a new Environmental Review Board for hearing appeals. This board would consist of five members appointed by the Governor, with specific qualifications related to environmental science, law, planning, or justice.
Taxing Time Lawmakers in Montpelier have proposed a sales tax on online software and a personal income tax on unrealized capital gains. They're considering a 3% income tax surcharge on household incomes over $500,000, an excise tax on sugary beverages, and a sales tax on candy. An income tax on foreign corporations doing business in Vermont is possible. The search for new revenue comes in response to the projected double-digit increase in property taxes to pay for public schools. Unless more money can be found to backfill the education fund, property owners could end up paying about 20% more than last year. In South Burlington, this means the average homeowner could end up paying $1080 more per year. Some towns could experience an increase in their property tax rates due to the "unintended consequences” of Act 127. Passed in 2022, the idea was to encourage some school districts to spend more on higher-need students. Since the increase is capped, some towns can take advantage of the law by increasing their budget and having their neighbors pay for it. Now lawmakers are considering removing the cap, but there is uncertainty about what this would mean for school budgets which will be voted on in less than a month.
Economic Development Budget writers will be taking a look this week at programs that promote economic development in Vermont. The House Appropriations Committee will review the FY 25 budget as recommended by the Scott Administration for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Department of Economic Development. There is no movement yet on VEGI, the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive program. Unless legislative action is taken, VEGI will expire on January 1, 2025. S.247 would simply remove the sunset. H.708 would repeal the sunset and create a forgivable loan track within the VEGI program. Meanwhile, Governor Phil Scott announced the first round of Venture Capital Program investments from Vermont’s State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). The Venture Capital Program will allocate nearly $29 million to venture capital funds to help Vermont entrepreneurs and business startups. In the first round of funding, Fresh Tracks Capital received $9.5 million, Features Capital got $3.5 million, and $3 million went to the Center on Rural Innovation. There is $12.5 million remaining. Potential applicants should review the Venture Capital Program Request for Proposal (RFP) form. The deadline to submit a proposal is March 1 at 1 pm.
Taxing Telecom Lawmakers are reviewing a summary by legislative counsel that explains what the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) can charge utility and telecom companies for renting, leasing, licensing, or permitting access to rights of way on state-owned land. The money is deposited into the Transportation Fund, but there are “conflicting statutes” on when the AOT can collect the fees and from whom. There is also a new "pole tax” (S.181) under consideration. The legislation would add $15 per pole to cable internet and phone companies that attach their telecom equipment to utility poles. The purpose of this new excise tax is to fund public, educational, and government access television.
Renewable Energy Standard The House Energy and Environment Committee is expected to vote out a new Renewable Energy Standard (H.289) later this week. The proposal would require electric utilities to eventually purchase 100% of their power from renewable sources. According to testimony by the Public Service Department, the incremental costs to ratepayers are approximately $1 billion over the next 10 years. These costs are attributed to increased power supply costs and increased transmission investment requirements due to Vermont-based generation.
Who is Who
Check out the Meadow Hill Legislative Database here with lawmaker photos, committee assignments, party, town, and contact information. Click here to see what we are watching.
Want to to receive the Meadow Hill View in your inbox?
Sign up for our online newsletter here.