December 22, 2016

Vermont Digger

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Marc Sherman, who is the owner of Stowe Mercantile and chair of the Government Relations Committee for VRGA

Members of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association look forward to working with the incoming Legislature and with Gov.-elect Phil Scott to create a better environment for businesses to regroup after years of continuous state and federal regulations and increased tax policies that have left many of us struggling.    
Our members run the gamut from single mom and pop country stores to national chain stores. We include warehouse-type box stores to convenience stores to gift and resort establishments. Most of our members though are family owned and operate a single storefront. 
Many of my colleagues in retail brick and mortar businesses have struggled since the recession of 2007-2008. Just last year, my business finally grew sales back to the same level as 2008. That’s a seven-year period of cost cutting, marketing strategies and just plain determination to not give up. 
 One of my greatest regrets is the need to stop providing health insurance to my staff in 2013. The escalation of premiums simply outpaced my business’s ability to afford them. In lieu of health insurance, I increased everyone’s pay as much as I could. I also continued our benefits of paying $3 more per hour on weekends, provide 11 holidays paid at overtime rates, profit sharing, sales incentives and the ability for staff to purchase goods at up to 50 percent off. Every full-time employee receives a minimum of one week of paid time off. Staff members with longevity, with increased skills and a commitment to my business receive a higher base pay, additional time off and during part of the year, flexibility in their schedule. Retail employees work hard and deserve as much as their employer can afford to responsibly give. I am proud of how my company treats our employees and wish I could afford to do even more. 
But I don’t pretend to know how someone’s else’s business is operated or what they can afford to offer their staff for compensation and benefits.  When I hear calls for paid parental leave funded with a new payroll tax or a $15 minimum wage, no matter how great an idea, I just don’t know how my business and many others can afford more mandates right now. Businesses need time to absorb the many legislative mandates created over the last several years. 

  • Mandatory paid time off
  • Minimum wage increases annually, effectively increasing all wages in a company
  • Workers compensation insurance rates
  • Vermont Health Care assessment
  • Property taxes and education funding
  • Permit and license fees, for example, every scale must be licensed, every scanner must be permitted, etc. 
Probably unknown to most Vermonters, there are many federal mandates as well that have impacted us over the same period. My business implemented the chip reading credit card terminals. Each terminal cost my business over $500, it took two days of a key staff member’s time to download the software into just one terminal. The rollout of this program was a mess, but my business committed substantial time and money to implement it on time as federally mandated. This had a huge cost! 
When I hear calls for paid parental leave funded with a new payroll tax or a $15 minimum wage, no matter how great an idea, I just don’t know how my business and many others can afford more mandates right now.
Vermonters all need to be concerned with the projected budget deficit, the need to find $68 million-plus for clean water funding this year, increased education costs for mandated preschool, increased health care costs, underfunded state pensions and transportation funding. Most importantly, will Vermont receive the same high level of federal funding that Vermont has grown accustomed to? 
As Gov.-elect Scott has stated, on many issues, Vermont needs to take a pause and allow the full impact of a myriad of state and federal business mandates to be recognized. 
Retailers provide many vital components to a healthy and vibrant town. We’re the local bookstore, coffee house, diner, corner market, gift store or fortunately in some towns, the general store. These are all places where townspeople gather and create community by greeting each other and engaging with each other over the issues we face. Towns need our businesses along with schools, churches and civic organizations to function as a healthy community. 
2017 will be another year that Vermont continues to address many issues while we struggle to find ways to pay for the programs we want. Vermont Retail and Grocers Association looks forward to the upcoming session to engage with legislators, to support Gov.-elect Scott on many of his initiatives and to find workable solutions to the critical issues we face. 

Contact Information:
Marc Sherman
owner of Stowe Mercantile and chair of the Government Relations Committee for VRGA

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