When our Republican caucus members came to Montpelier in January, we laid out a list of priorities for the legislative session, and one of our top priorities was to promote economic development and job growth. Growing our economy and putting Vermonters back to work will increase their quality of life, it will increase their wages, and it will help solve our structural budget issues.
In Vermont, we like to talk about being friendly to start-ups and small businesses. However, we have heard from employers of all sizes that they are continuing to fall behind because Montpelier continues to change their rules and makes it harder for them to keep the doors open.
This week the House of Representative’s Democrat Majority changed those rules again and made Vermont a less attractive place to do business. H. 187 is legislation that requires paid sick days for all Vermont employees and places an unfunded, one-size fits all mandate on all Vermont employers. The Joint Fiscal Office estimates that once this law is in full effect it will cost Vermont employers an additional $14.3 million.
Last year we increased the cost of doing business in Vermont by increasing the minimum wage, which cost Vermont employers $30 million. The Shumlin Administration has put forth a $90 million payroll tax proposal and it looks as if that might end in an increase in the employer assessment. All of these things make it harder to do business in Vermont; they remove the incentives to invest and the flexibility many Vermont start-ups and small businesses need.
A one-sided approach does not work for all Vermonters. During floor debate a member of our caucus argued that an employee in their early 20s may prefer higher wages, an employee with a young family may want a more flexible schedule and an employee nearing retirement may prefer better savings programs. State Government should not decide what benefits are most important for employers to offer and by doing so we remove the flexibility that Vermonters and their employers have.
We are also extremely disappointed that this bill did not follow the proper legislative process. The Commerce and Economic Development Committee should have had an opportunity to consider the bill and weigh the impact it has on Vermont’s economy. It is no surprise Speaker Shap Smith did not want the bill to go to that committee – when the roll call was taken on Wednesday afternoon four committee members voted in favor of it and seven against. The members of the committee tasked with advancing public policy aimed to grow Vermont’s economy agreed on a bi-partisan nature that this legislation does not meet that goal.
Growing Vermont’s economy cannot come from policy directive or a committee in Montpelier. But, we do have the responsibility to cultivate an economic environment that allows for organic growth. We believe in Vermonters and their ability to build businesses and ensure future economic growth. We believe any legislation like H. 187 that hinders the natural economic environment is bad for Vermont’s slowly growing economy. At the end of the day, the bill was meant as a political talking point for future campaigns. What the House majority failed to recognize is Vermont is in a financial crisis and this measure is typical of Vermont’s loud and clear messaging of “Don’t create jobs in Vermont.” It’s bad policy direction, pure and simple.