Sivan Cotel is the Co-Founder of Stonecutter Spirits in Middlebury and Highball Social in Burlington. He is on the Board of Main Street Alliance of Vermont, a statewide network of small business owners.
*Originally published in the Addison Independent
This upcoming legislation session, Vermont lawmakers will again have the opportunity to create statewide policy that will benefit everyday, working Vermonters, as well as the many small businesses who employ them. Thanks to the strong work of the House and Senate this past legislative session, paid family and medical leave insurance nearly became law. Over the summer and fall, the call for this policy from workers and businesses alike has only grown stronger, and the legislature is primed to move forward.
As a small business owner in Vermont, the passage of a strong paid family leave bill is my priority this year. A statewide paid family leave program will allow all small businesses in Vermont to offer this important benefit, and increase the competitiveness of the state’s small businesses to attract and retain talented workers. I know from experience: we’ve offered paid family leave at Stonecutter Spirits since day one, and we’ve found it to be an important benefit and a strong recruiting tool. By passing paid family leave statewide, we can differentiate Vermont while growing in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
Over 90% of working Vermonters are employed by small businesses. We are proud to be a small-business state, we will likely always be a small-business state, and that can be a unique strength. It also comes with challenges in how we think about the nature of employment, and we need to address these challenges with smart policies that help workers and small businesses thrive together. We need policies like paid family and medical leave insurance to lead the way.
Vermont is also leading the charge, nationally, in reforming healthcare with forward-looking payment models that emphasize successful health outcomes rather than the amount of health services performed. Paid family leave benefits have been shown to improve short-term and long-term health outcomes for newborns. By introduced a statewide benefit, we’ll be improving the lives of everyday Vermonters while also positioning them for longer-term success.
All of us in Vermont, regardless of political affiliation, generally share the same goals: we want to grow our local economy and keep our families and communities healthy and thriving. Many small business owners want to offer paid family leave to their employees, but can’t on their own. A statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program will eliminate this dilemma across Vermont, protecting our citizens and improving our local economy.
We can’t solve these issues if we fail to act, or if we act with half measures like New Hampshire’s proposed opt-in system. These so called “voluntary” proposals are doomed to fail from the start, and therefore don’t offer what small businesses and working families need.
The statewide creation of a family leave program will support workers, while helping level the playing field for small businesses and entrepreneurs as we start and grow our businesses. We all have a stake in ensuring that our next generation has a bright future. This policy will help us achieve our common goals and ensure future generations can thrive.
In 2017, MSA-VT brought together small business owners throughout the state to support and help pass Act 69, which directed the state to create the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Program, an initiative spearheaded by Treasurer Pearce. The implementation date for this program is set for January 15, 2019.
This voluntary program will provide employees of small businesses - and small business owners themselves - with access to a secure statewide public retirement plan. It will be available to small employers (those who employ 50 or fewer employees) who don’t currently offer a retirement plan.Read more
Moving Healthcare Forward for Everyone
Terry Culver is the owner of Last Time Around Antiques in Barre.
I have been selling antiques for 29 years, and my wife and I opened our own shop, Last Time Around Antiques, in downtown Barre in 2004. I also worked at the granite quarry for many years which provided me with health insurance during this time. After retiring from the quarry, I began working full-time at the shop and now have insurance through my wife’s employer.
Many small business owners in Vermont find themselves in a similar situation, accessing health insurance through a spouse’s plan with a larger employer or through Medicaid, Medicare or the healthcare exchange. Some do not have insurance at all. They cannot afford to provide healthcare benefits as a small business owner which puts them at a disadvantage when hiring and retaining employees.
Small business owners are invested in their employees and care about the health and wellbeing of people in their communities. We need to find a way to improve our healthcare system and move toward a universal plan that supports our small businesses and provides quality, equitable care to everyone.
Like many people who have insurance, my wife and I have a high deductible plan and pay a significant amount in out-of-pocket expenses each year. My medication was unaffordable at $10.50 for one pill at the time it was prescribed, which would have cost me $1,280 for a 122 pill prescription. And if the Trump Administration succeeds in removing the protection for people with pre-existing conditions, my wife could be one of the more than 260,000 Vermonters to be affected by this change.
My wife had breast cancer two years ago. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could deny coverage for many illnesses including cancer, diabetes and arthritis and also conditions that we wouldn’t consider to be illnesses like pregnancy. If we were uninsured when my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the $100,000 treatment costs each year.
I agree that improvements need to be made to our current healthcare system to make premiums more affordable, but the protections that the ACA provides to many people are a step in the right direction. The Trump Administration’s recent attempt to remove the protection for people with pre-existing conditions alone would directly affect more than 130 million people in the United States who suffer from an ongoing or recent illness or condition.
Do we want to go back to a time when people were uninsured and insurance companies could deny coverage or increase premiums and deductibles for those who are sick and need care? With more money going to insurance companies and less money in our local economies, all of us will be affected. I know healthcare costs are high right now, but what if everyone in your family was denied coverage for a pre-existing condition? Imagine how much that would cost. For me, even though it is difficult to pay $5,000 each year toward a deductible, I wouldn’t be able to pay $100,000 for cancer treatment. It’s not perfect, but I don’t want to go back. We must build on what’s working, and continue to progress for the health of future generations.
The Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) announced today that Ashley Moore has been named State Director.
MSA-VT was founded in 2014 to elevate the voices of small business owners on important public policy issues in Vermont. Moore has been with MSA-VT since its founding, and during that time was responsible for managing the organization’s policy initiatives and conducting outreach to the small business community statewide. She has been serving as the organization’s Interim State Director since March. Moore succeeds MSA-VT founder and former State Director, Lindsay DesLauriers, who stepped down from the position to take a leadership role at her family's business, Bolton Valley Resort.Read more
Dear Governor Scott,
We, the undersigned, serve on the State Board, Leadership Committee, and Advisory Council of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. We are writing to express our support for H.196, Vermont’s family leave insurance program, and to ask you to approve our state legislature’s passage of this bill, which will help grow a healthy Vermont economy.Read more
Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) announced the appointment of Sivan Cotel, Co-Founder and Director of Operations of Stonecutter Spirits in Middlebury, to the organization’s State Board.
Cotel previously served on MSA-VT’s Leadership Committee and has testified at the Statehouse in support of family and medical leave insurance and Green Mountain Secure Retirement. He brings a breadth of experience in business and financial planning to the board, where he will continue to support the organization’s focus on building Vermont’s small business economy.
“Small businesses are part of Vermont’s fabric,” Cotel said. “Working together helps all of us, and Main Street Alliance is connecting Vermont’s small business owners into conversations that will help our communities and economy flourish. Creating an environment where small businesses and their employees can thrive together is critical to the future of our state.”
Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) announced Wednesday that Kyle Martel has joined the organization as they continue to elevate the voices of small business owners on important public policy issues in Vermont.
Martel steps into the communications associate role at MSA-VT with nearly a decade of experience working in the Vermont media and political landscape. His background is in public affairs, journalism, graphic design and web development.
“I’m incredibly excited to become part of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont team,” Martel said. “This organization has done impressive work over the last few years, working with small business owners to support the Paid Sick Days Bill and Green Mountain Secure Retirement as well as Ban the Box, Automatic Voter Registration and Pregnancy Accommodation. I look forward to working with Vermont’s small business owners on issues like family and medical leave insurance, which will help grow the Vermont economy and build healthier communities across the state.”Read more
“Vermont is a small business state. With its final approval of H.196, the Vermont House is making a strong statement about their commitment to supporting small businesses and their employees.
“Main Street Alliance of Vermont represents some of Vermont’s smallest employers, many of whom cannot afford to provide paid family leave on their own. A statewide family leave insurance program will make it possible for all Vermont employers to provide a paid family leave benefit, regardless of their size. The vote today is a positive first step toward stronger small businesses, healthier families, and a better future for our state.
“The bill, as passed by the House, covers 80 percent wage replacement for up to six weeks of caregiving leave, which will allow new parents to welcome a child and ensure Vermonters are able to take the time they need to care for a sick or injured family member. The Vermont House decided to delay consideration of the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) component of the original bill that would have provided wage replacement for one’s own seriously illness or injury.
“By comparison, the four other states that have existing family leave insurance programs also cover between between 26 and 52 weeks of leave for one’s own personal illness or injury. While we strongly support the bill as it passed in the House, we also look forward to continued consideration of TDI next year in the House and Senate.
“Ninety percent of Vermont employers have fewer than 20 employees. A statewide family and medical leave insurance program will help small businesses be more competitive employers, which will grow and strengthen Vermont’s economy and attract more young people and families to move to and stay in Vermont.
“Vermont’s family leave insurance proposal passed the House with tri-partisan support and was the result of a positive collaborative process. Main Street Alliance of Vermont appreciates the work of the House this year and looks forward the Senate’s consideration of the issue in January.”
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.