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Scott Signs Vt. Economic Bill

  • Vermont Governor Phil Scott talks with Rep. Kevin Christie, D - White River Junction, and others before a ceremonial signing of S. 135, an economic omnibus bill that, among other things, establishes a publicly administered retirement plan for small businesses in the state, at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Governor Phil Scott speaks about new economic policy established by Senate Bill 135 before signing it into law in a ceremony at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vt., Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 09, 2017

White River Junction — Gov. Phil Scott took center stage — literally — in the Northern Stage theater on Gates Street on Thursday afternoon, where he signed an economic development bill that he says will help spur continued growth in downtown areas.

Communities like Hartford, which has seen a development boom in recent years, show the wisdom of investing public dollars to encourage private investment, Scott said to a crowd of more than 150 people, many of whom were attendees of the Downtown and Historic Preservation Conference, a full-day event being held in the same building.

“Research has shown that companies are more likely to relocate and invest in walkable downtown locations to attract and retain talent, build brand identity and foster company culture,” Scott said. “This is one of the many reasons downtown and village center revitalizations are a key part of my economic development strategy.”

Across the state, Scott said, 23 designated downtowns have received $17 million in public investment, which has attracted $90 million in private investment.

The Northern Stage theater is in the heart of White River Junction’s tax increment financing, or TIF, district. TIFs allow towns to capture tax revenue that would otherwise go to the state, and use it to build infrastructure to support more private investment within the district.

A dynamic example of the concept was unfolding right next door, where crews are in the early stages of construction on a $27 million assisted living facility, which will be supported by a municipal TIF-funded project to improve the local sewer system and extend Currier Street to run past the facility and connect to South Main Street.

Those projects, and others underway, were not included in a 2016 tally cited by Scott that showed $4.4 million in new private investments, with 11 businesses and 22 new housing units coming online in the TIF district.

The bill, S. 135, boosts downtown economies in a variety of ways, not least by allowing for the creation of six new TIF districts across the state. It also increases tax credits for downtown areas by $200,000 to $2.4 million annually, with funding targeted toward makerspaces and co-working spaces; exempts housing projects in state-designated growth areas from Act 250 regulatory requirements, and creates rural economic development infrastructure district to help public-private partnerships on rural infrastructure improvement projects.

Scott said downtowns play a vital role in Vermont’s economy, which he called “the priority” for his administration.

“Creating more jobs and things to do in our downtowns and villages is critical to keeping young Vermonters here and drawing new families and business to Vermont,” he said.

Though individual elements and proposed amendments to the bill have drawn fire over the last few months, the final version of the bill, much of which becomes effective with the enactment of a new state budget, passed both chambers of the state legislature with broad bipartisan support.

In addition to a focus on downtown areas, the economic omnibus has provisions that impact a wide range of facets of the state economy.

Under the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive Program, the law provides incentives to qualifying businesses in disadvantaged labor market areas, and for environmental technology businesses, including waste management, environmental cleanup, or renewable energy producers.

The bill also will create the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan, in which workers at small businesses (those with fewer than 50 employees) would be able to put a portion of their paycheck toward a retirement plan similar to a 401(k).

State Treasurer Beth Pearce said the retirement plan would help businesses like the Tuckerbox restaurant around the corner where, she told the crowd, she’d just had “an amazing sandwich.”

Small businesses like the Tuckerbox could take advantage of the retirement plan to offer employees an important benefit, she said.

“Every Vermonter should have the opportunity to retire when they feel comfortable,” Pearce said. “And that benefits us all, because they have money to go out to dinner.”

Shortly after the signing, the Main Street Alliance of Vermont issued a statement lauding the new retirement program, in which which Chairwoman Jen Kimmich described it as a way to level the playing field for the 104,000 Vermonters who lack retirement savings.

“One area where many business owners struggle to compete is in benefits offerings,” Kimmich said.

Another component of the bill increases the cap on fines for individual violations to $12,675 from $7,000.

The bill also supports Career Technical Education, or CTE learning, by creating a new state position to help develop career pathways for students in those programs; increases the penalties for workers’ compensation and Vermont’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations; eliminates a 2018 sunset clause on a tax exemption for the purchase of commercial aircraft and parts; reduces employer contributions to the workers’ compensation fund from 1.75 percent, to 1.4 percent; and provides for a study on raising Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.