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State Board Responds To Media Attention Toward Business Incentive Program

The exterior of the Deane C. Davis building in Montpelier, Vt.
Toby Talbot
Associated Press File
The Vermont Economic Progress Council meets monthly in the Deane C. Davis building in Montpelier.

The state board that administers the Vermont's main business incentive program is discussing changes to how it evaluates and reports the performance of the program.The discussion came last week at the monthly meeting of the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC).

The meeting followed a VPR report earlier this month which found a lack of transparency around the applications and payments to companies under the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive (VEGI) program. The editorial board of the Brattleboro Reformer later wrote an op-ed calling on state officials to make public more information from the VEGI program.

In discussing the recent media attention Thursday, some VEPC members seemed open to making changes to what’s made public about the VEGI program. The incentive promises state funds if companies create and maintain jobs in Vermont.

House Rep. Jean O'Sullivan, who represents the Legislature on the council, cited a 2017 Pew Charitable Trusts report that found Vermont trails other states in how it evaluates its tax incentives. O’Sullivan said Vermont should look to states that are leading.

“So I would urge us also as a board to think about just sort of looking at those, the top 5 states, figure out whatever metrics they’re using and implement them,” O’Sullivan said.

State law prevents a specific company’s VEGI applications and payments from being released to the public, but council member Patricia Horn said she thinks releasing more general data about the program could help VEGI’s public image.

“We have such a great story to tell, and I think if we can find a way to craft the data without releasing private company information, that it would be for the best for everybody,” Horn said.

Overall numbers from the VEGI program are already available in an annual report, but council members seemed to agree that annual data could be made “more clear.”

Councilors said that clarity would show the work of a program they claim has created thousands of good-paying jobs in the state over the last decade. However, exactly how companies say they’ll create those jobs and how much the state pays them remain confidential, and the board did not discuss any change to state law.

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