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2024 Legislative Events

The Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts various legislative events every year. Last week we had two in a row. On Monday morning the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, Springfield Regional Development Corporation, and Mount Ascutney Regional Commission welcomed legislators from Windsor and Windham Counties to the River Valley Technical Center for a breakfast provided by the culinary students. This event was free to the public for citizens to come and hear from their local legislators and ask questions. Thank you to our attending legislators Representative John Arrison, Representative Alice M. Emmons, Representative Kristi Morris, Representative Heather Chase, Senator Becca White, and Senator Alison Clarkson. There was also the chance for our three hosting organizations to talk about their legislative priorities. As expected, housing is a major topic for many organizations at the moment, and a topic of discussion at the statehouse. There are several bills that are proposed to help simplify and reduce the impacts of regulation and permitting on those building housing. After the weather events of this summer and the changing weather patterns around the state, flood recovery was also a hot topic. Thankfully Springfield remained relatively untouched by the flooding due to our North Springfield Dam upstream from town, however many of our neighboring communities were not as fortunate. Resiliency and mitigation are key in this discussion.

In the area of business and economic development, Bob Flint of SRDC talked about Vermont’s business incentive program, as well as brownfield sites and the importance of getting those cleaned up to make space for new business. He also mentioned the Vermont Small Business Technical Assistance Program, a fantastic program designed to help businesses get small grants to hire technical assistance, such as web design, bookkeeping, and branding. This program was quickly over-subscribed in the area, showing a need and a desire for this type of assistance for our local businesses.

Taylor Drinker from the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce touched on some of the Chamber’s priorities. Since the pandemic workforce has been one of the top challenges, but also one of the most complicated. The workforce includes all sorts of issues such as childcare, education, housing, transportation, healthcare, and substance use. Each one of these issues is significant and difficult to solve and has significant overlap. There are a number of great organizations, agencies, and groups working to solve these issues. The two that the Chamber is the most involved in are the Working Communities Challenges and Project ACTION, both of which work to break down silos and increase communication and collaboration between organizations that are working on these issues. 

Many of the legislators’ priorities mirror those of the local organizations, housing being one of their main focuses. However, the complexity of the housing crisis is not something that will be able to be quickly fixed and they want to make sure that they do it right. This includes things like looking at Act 250 and the land development process to reduce the negative impact on developers. There is also work to happen to map and inventory essential resources and municipal infrastructure to help better designate development zones.  Dam safety and flood control are also a priority, as if those things go wrong it can cause significant damage. 

After we had a chance to hear from all attending legislators, the audience had a chance to ask questions, topics came up such as technical education, Muckross State Park, the airport, addiction, healthcare, and Vermont’s taxes. Thank you to our area legislators for their commitment and work to improve the lives of all Vermonters.

The following day, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield Rotary Club joined forces to host Governor Phil Scott, again at the River Valley Technical Center. The Governor had similar focuses as the local legislators, housing, flood resilience, and workforce being major topics of discussion. He also referenced census data showing the increase of older adults moving to Vermont at a much higher rate than young and middle-aged adults. This is adding to our already aging state and is an issue that will grow in prevalence as the population gets older and needs more social and medical support. Another topic that he always makes sure to address every year, is the need for more and varied voices to join him in the State House. He encourages anyone with an interest in politics or making Vermont better, to consider running for both local positions, such as select board, and state positions such as representing your region on the Senate or at the House. Participation is essential in making democracy run as it is supposed to. 

Education was a large topic for everyone in the room, especially following the third of towns (including Springfield) that did not approve their town’s school budget on town meeting day. There were questions on the affordability of education for taxpayers, and the quality of education received for the cost. The state is working on updating their way of funding school districts which has caused some confusion, but the Governor is committed to figuring this issue out and making sure our students are getting the education they need, and the teachers and staff are getting the pay that they deserve.

Overall, these two days of legislative updates had a hopeful attitude and a lot of great ideas are working their way through the process of becoming reality. We greatly appreciate the attendance of our local legislators and Governor Phil Scott. Down here in southern VT, we can feel a little out of the loop of Burlington/Montpelier/Chittenden County so it is appreciated when those politicians who don’t live in the region are willing to take the time and drive town to talk and listen with us. There are a lot of great things happening and wonderful people working hard to make this state better on all levels.

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