Matt Birong: Why Does Tax Day Feel Like Groundhog Day?

Who doesn't love the Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day”?  The movie portrays the irreverent shenanigans of a man bumbling his way through the same life event stuck on repeat.  He tries desperately over and over, but no matter what he does to change the outcome, he awakes the following morning to the frustration that he must do it again.  So, in vain he attempts to change the ludicrous outcome time and time again. Sounds like tax day to me!

Today, only $1 out of $9 of federal revenue comes from corporate taxes. Sixty-five years ago, it was $1 out of $3.  This is especially troubling given Donald Trump’s proposal to slash corporate tax rates by nearly 60 percent -- a move that would cost $2.6 trillion over 10 years in lost revenue.  And now, with the failed Affordable Care Act repeal at their feet, Republicans will try harder than ever to push through “tax reform” and “deliver,” as promised, relief for primarily the wealthiest Americans.  Trump and his allies, with their questionable motives and self-serving goals, have made their intentions clear, and this Tax Day, we need to make sure we are all paying attention.

As a small business owner, I recognize that paying my fair share of taxes to local, state and federal governments is my responsibility and a part of doing business.  I know that my tax dollars fund important investments at the local, state, and federal level.  Many small business owners across the country proudly pay their fair share of taxes, while large and multinational corporations use tax loopholes to shelter their profits outside the US, depressing the very system and economy they benefit from. But the absurdity doesn’t end there: most of what they're doing is actually legal.

Last year, around Tax Day, the “Panama Papers” exposed international off-shoring and tax avoidance at a scale few believed existed and with political figures at the highest levels of government.  Some of the same institutions involved in this scandal were also major players in the U.S. financial collapse of 2008.  Yet, since then, conversation has faded, and little has changed.

We need a tax code that levels the playing field between small and large employers and ensures that businesses of all sizes pay their fair share.  However, I have little to no hope that this Congress and President will enact meaningful reform that will benefit small business and the working class.  So, in the meantime, I look to my state legislature to move smart, state-level policies forward.

One such proposal moving in Vermont’s legislature that would help level the playing field for small businesses is family and medical leave insurance.

I own a small business, and my modest bottom line doesn’t allow me to make choices about whether to provide paid family and medical leave.  I am pleased to see the House taking the proposal to create a family and medical leave insurance pool seriously.

Vermont is a small business state, and without smart public policy, like family and medical leave insurance, it is next to impossible for small businesses to compete with larger businesses for employees that are committed and hardworking.  It’s no secret that, as a state, we are having difficulties attracting and retaining talented workers.  I’ve had conversations with many people who want to stay or come here to build their lives, but one of the biggest challenges for them is finding a job with generous enough benefits packages to sustain their families.  With 80 percent of Vermont’s employers having 10 or less employees and many of these businesses operating with razor thin margins, it's impossible for them to offer a benefit like paid family and medical leave on their own.  I see the implementation of this program as a vital tool for the cultivation and success of Vermont's future economy.

It’s time to consider: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was the same, and nothing you did mattered?”

Even Bill Murray's character knew that in order to solve the problem he needed to become more creative in his approach.  We must realize that the status quo is not working, and we, as a society, need to rethink our approach.  While we wait for a shake up at the the federal level that will allow our leaders to take tax reform seriously, we must continue driving proposals like family and medical leave insurance forward in our state.  It will not be an easy task, but desperation spawns ingenuity, and I know we are up to the challenge.


Statement on Employee-Default Funding for Vermont's Family and Medical Leave Insurance Proposal

"Main Street Alliance of Vermont strongly supports the creation of a statewide family and medical leave insurance program. Without a statewide insurance pool, most of Vermont’s small businesses will remain unable to provide paid family or medical leave to their employees. Similarly, few working Vermonters can afford to take sufficient unpaid leave to welcome a new child, care for a loved one, or respond to their own health emergencies without severe financial consequences.

"As originally proposed by H.196, Main Street Alliance of Vermont supports 12 weeks of 100 percent wage replacement up to a cap of $1,040 per week, financed through a .93 percent payroll deduction shared between the employer and the employee. The House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs amended the financing mechanism before moving the bill so that the full deduction would come from the employee by default, with an option for the employer to cover all or part of the deduction.

"This year, the House Appropriations Committee was tasked with closing a $72 million budget gap, without the ability to raise revenue. As a result, many programs that serve the most vulnerable Vermonters are exposed to cuts and underfunding. Because Vermont State Employees do not currently have access to paid family and medical leave, the original shared financing proposal would have cost the state approximately $2.7 million annually. While Main Street Alliance of Vermont strongly supports a shared financing model, we believe that working families cannot wait for the security and support that a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program will ensure.

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Main Street Alliance of Vermont and Rights and Democracy Release Report Detailing the High Cost of ACA Repeal for Vermont

BURLINGTON, VT – Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) and Rights and Democracy (RAD) announce the release of a new Health Care for America Now (HCAN) report that details the impact of dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on individuals, small businesses and Vermont’s economy. A Cost Too High: The Financial Harm of the Republican Plan to Eliminate Health Care is evidence that proposals to repeal the ACA put Vermonters’ health and economic security at risk.

In Vermont, 35,000 people depend on the ACA for their health care. Repeal takes away coverage from these people and does away with provisions that protect patients with pre-existing conditions from being denied or charged more for coverage. Repeal could also end coverage for young adults who elect to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26 and eliminate no-cost preventive care for people of all ages.

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In wake of Trump’s promise to repeal ACA and cut Medicaid dollars, MSA-VT small business owners call for a health care system that works for all

Republicans in Congress and President-elect Trump have declared a plan to rush through legislation that would take away health care from more than 30 million people. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed without a replacement, it is estimated that 35,000 Vermonters will lose their health insurance.

“Our current health care system isn’t perfect, but rather than focus on strengthening the coverage, the Republican plan would do just the opposite: it rolls back the most important protections,” said Jen Kimmich, co-owner of The Alchemist and chair of the Board of Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “The Republican plan returns us to the bad old days when small business owners paid more for less coverage, got charged twice as much in administrative costs as larger groups, and small businesses had no leverage and no real choices. Small businesses will be vulnerable to continued price gouging by health insurers, and retain no bargaining power, risk pooling, or benefits of economies of scale.”

Vermont has demonstrated, through the success of programs like Dr. Dynasaur and Catamount, that putting the health of families and individuals first has serious positive impacts on overall health of our communities and the strength of our state.

“We’ve done this by working together, across party lines, to do what is right,” said Kimmich.

In Vermont, nearly 13,300 people have enrolled in Medicaid since 2013. This increased coverage for lower-income adults is largely due to dollars made available through medicaid expansion. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress plan to eliminate Medicaid expansion that has made this coverage possible.

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Nutty Steph’s and Main Street Alliance of Vermont Raise a Family (Bar)

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MIDDLESEX, VT -- Nutty Steph's, the Vermont chocolate and granola company that brought you the “Bernie Bar” and the “Pride Bar,” is partnering with Main Street Alliance of Vermont to offer the “Family Bar.” This chocolate bar is meant to raise awareness about the need for protected, paid family and medical leave so working Americans have the means to balance their jobs and lives.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of the chocolate bar will support MSA-VT's work on the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance (VT FaMLI) Campaign – which launched in October. VT FaMLI is calling for 12 weeks of paid, job protected leave for all working Vermonters through the creation of a statewide family and medical leave insurance program – like those in RI, NJ, CA, and soon NY. A family and medical leave insurance program is a support for small business as much as it is for employees.

“On a moral level, this initiative is just something that I support – new mothers should be able to bond with their babies, we should be encouraging breastfeeding and promoting the health of Vermont’s future generations and new parents. It is absurd that we, as a country, are so far behind the rest of the world,” said Jaquelyn Rieke, owner of Nutty Steph’s. “As a small business owner, though, there is another layer to this for me. This is a benefit that I would love to be able to offer to my employees, but I just can’t cover the costs associated with private plans. If Vermont implements a statewide insurance plan, it will be an enormous support to me and other small employers like me who have to compete with bigger businesses for employees.”

 

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MSA-VT Recognizes Business and Legislators of the Year

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Stowe, VT – Main Street Alliance of Vermont held their year end celebration at the Alchemist Brewery on Sunday night where they awarded, Stephanie Hainely, COO of White + Burke, its 2016 Business of the Year award, and Speaker Shap Smith and Senator Philip Baruth were recognized as Legislators of the Year in a Year-End Celebration hosted by The Alchemist.

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Shop Your Values 2016

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This holiday season shop for gifts at stores that support YOUR values. MSA-VT has compiled a list of some VT businesses that have supported and worked closely with us on policies including paid sick days, health care reform, and more. Click here, to find shops and restaurants across the state that support Vermont Values. Together, we can grow a strong local Vermont economy.

Gift ideas to get your holiday shopping off to a local start

  1. The Alchemist: If you’re not up for standing in line to pick up a pack of the insanely popular brew, Heady Topper, at the Alchemist’s new facility in Stowe, shop the Alchemist’s wide variety of merch for the beer lover in your life.

  2. Stowe Street Cafe: Featuring Locally Handcrafted Coffee, Food, Art, and Special Events in Waterbury.

  3. Red Hen Baking Co.: Not only does Red Hen’s cafe in Middlesex feature its breads, pastries, sandwiches and soups, they also carry beer, wine and specialty food from near and far.

  4. 3 Squares Café: Creative Casual Fare for the Entire Family in the heart of Vergennes. Pick up a gift card or stop by for a bite to eat.

  5. Power Play Sports: Power Play Sports is the quintessential small town sporting goods store nestled in the Green Mountains of Morrisville.

  6. Well Heeled: Where mountain chic meets urban casual. Visit the store in Stowe or shop on the web.

  7. Nutty Steph’s: exceptional small batch, artisan chocolate and granola products from Middlesex - or shop online. Be on the lookout for the VT FaMLI bar (proceeds support our work on a Vermont family and medical leave insurance program).

  8. Bee's Wrap: The natural alternative to plastic wrap for food storage. Made with organic cotton, beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin. Bee’s Wrap is washable, reusable and compostable. Buy online or find a retail location near you.

  9. Raintree: Handcrafted fine jewelry in Vergennes.

  10. Grandma Miller’s Pies & Pastries: Visit the cafe in Londonderry for high quality, hand produced pastries.

  11. The Green Life: Urban Eco-Style for the home, body and child in Burlington.

  12. Waterbury Sports: Specializing in Winter Sports, Bikes and Team Sports, Waterbury Sports is bound to have what you are looking for. Located in Waterbury.

  13. Chapman's Store: From toys to wines, and fishing gear to jewelry, shopping at Chapman’s is an experience. Visit the store in Fairlee.

  14. The Tiny Acorn: Gifts for all ages can be found in this Waterbury store.

  15. The Lighting Place: A wide range of lighting including table and floor lamps, chandeliers, pendants and wall sconces, exterior lights, as well as lamp shades and Casablanca fans in Manchester.

  16. Hinesburgh Public House: Created to offer Hinesburg and the surrounding towns a place to gather, connect and be with friends. The menu features Vermont Cuisine, food like your grandmother made. Pick up a gift card or plan a night out in Hinesburg.

  17. Forget Me Not Shop: Brand name off-price clothing for men, women and teens, and an extensive collection of jewelry and accessories in Johnson.

  18. Craftsbury General Store: Now there’s a way to bring the magic & flavor of the Northeast Kingdom to you and your loved ones no matter how far away you are from the Green Mountains! Order a gift basket online today or visit the store in Craftsbury.

  19. Green Mountain Books & Prints: Your locally owned and operated Independent Bookstore in Lyndonville.

  20. Rusty Bucket: Re-Purposed, Up-cycled Furniture, Home Goods & Gifts in Lyndonville.

  21. Encore Designer Consignment: Encore Designer Consignment is a shop you have to experience. New merchandise is received daily - from the traditional designer label to the eclectic. Find women's and men's clothing, shoes, boots, handbags, belts, scarves and jewelry at this store in Woodstock.

  22. The Lamp Shop: Whether you're looking for modern, edgy designs or a piece decades old, The Lamp Shop in Burlington has everything you're looking for, and then so much more.

  23. Spice 'n Nice Natural Foods: a wide selection of natural and organic grocery items, bulk grains, nuts, vitamins, herbs, organic produce, dried and fresh fruit, fresh artisan breads, books, yoga supplies, wheat-free products, fair-trade and organic coffees, and much more in Bennington.

  24. Katie Cleaver Contemporary Jewelry: Fine, handcrafted jewelry located on Main Street in Bennington.

  25. Michael McGuire Handcrafted Furniture: Vermont handcrafted Shaker Furniture, Early American furniture, solid wood furniture in Alburgh.

  26. City Lights: Hand forged lighting fixtures for your home or someone you love. Located in Burlington.

  27. Hartsboro Pottery: Home decor and gifts in Wallingford

  28. The Country Bookshop: 30,000 books in all subject areas, conveniently located on one floor of a hundred year-old country home in Plainfield.

  29. Bookmobile: Used and new books, unique cards and gifts in Rutland.

  30. Woodstock Gallery: “From folk art to fine art” - the motto typifies what you will find at The Woodstock Gallery in Woodstock.

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Lindsay DesLauriers and Matt Birong named Vermont Business Magazine 2016 Rising Stars

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Main Street Alliance of Vermont Director Lindsay DesLauriers (left) and Board Member Matt Birong (right) were recently named to Vermont Business Magazine's Rising Stars Class of 2016.

The Rising Stars Awards recognize 40 Vermonters under the age of 40 for their commitment to business growth, professional excellence and involvement in their communities.

Matt Birong is the owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes and is MSA-VT's newest board member. After working in New York City and Boston, Matt returned to Vermont to continue his culinary career. In 2007, he opened 3 Squares Café in Vergennes and currently leads a staff of 15 employees serving casual and creative cuisine seven days a week in addition to catering special events. 3 Squares Café proudly supports local producers throughout the community and state. The café has been featured locally in Seven Days, Burlington Free Press, Addison Independent, Edible Green Mountains, Vermont Life as well as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Eating Well. Check out Matt's full Rising Star profile here

Lindsay DesLauriers founded the Vermont chapter of Main Street Alliance. Lindsay made the leaps into politics and advocacy when she joined Voices for Vermont's Children at the helm of the Paid Sick Days Campaign. She said that seeing the Vermont legislature pass the Paid Sick Days bill this spring, with so much input from MSA business owners, was extremely gratifying. Check out Lindsay's full Rising Star profile here.

Congratulations, Matt and Lindsay!

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Coalition Launches Campaign for Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program

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R-L: Governor Madeleine Kunin and Sascha Mayer, Co-founder and CEO of Mamava, spoke at the VT FaMLI Launch

MONTPELIER, VT -- A coalition of statewide organizations launched a campaign for a statewide family and medical leave insurance program. The push is for an insurance program to which working Vermonters would contribute and benefit from. This program would allow Vermonters to have access to paid, job-protected leave to bond with or care for a new child, recover from a serious long-term illness or injury, or care for a family member with a serious long-term illness or injury.

Together with the UVM Center for Rural Studies, the Vermont Commission on Women is exploring the feasibility of a family and medical leave insurance program in the state of Vermont. The study is part of a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Paid family and medical leave is a step toward pay equity, and central to that is the powerful support it brings to families – mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, and everyone who needs to balance caring for themselves and their loved ones with making a living,” said Cary Brown, Executive Director of the Vermont Commission on Women.

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MSA-VT closes out on its second year, welcomes new board assignments

Jen Kimmich, Chair and Sue Bette, Vice Chair; Matt Birong named to board

BURLINGTON - During Main Street Alliance of Vermont’s June board meeting, Jen Kimmich of The Alchemist was named as chair of the board and Sue Bette of Bluebird Barbecue was named as Vice Chair. MSA-VT also welcomed Matt Birong of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes as a new board member. The organization is entering its third year in Vermont.

“Our outgoing board chair, Stephanie Hainley, helped get us to where we are. As we round out our second year, we have reason to celebrate -- Vermont’s small businesses have made serious impact on state policies,” said Main Street Alliance of Vermont Director Lindsay DesLauriers. “We are so excited to have these inspiring business owners at the helm of our organization. They each bring their own unique strengths to the table, and their continued involvement and leadership will help us build upon our success as an organization.”

During its first two years, MSA-VT involved Vermont’s small businesses in the legislative process and celebrated some important wins, including ‘Ban The Box’, Automatic Voter Registration, increased market rates for child care, financing for the Dr. Dynasaur expansion study, and, most notably, the new paid sick leave law.

“Main Street Alliance gives small business owners the opportunity to weigh in on important policy discussions. I am excited to help direct this organization as we continue to build on its success,” said Jen Kimmich. “I know firsthand the positive impact policies like paid time off can have on businesses and their employees, and I look forward to continuing to voice this perspective in the legislature and across Vermont.”

Stephanie Hainley, COO of White + Burke and founding board member of MSA-VT, stepped down as chair after serving for two years. She will continue to serve on the board at large.

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