Governor relaxes rules on tourism, hospitality industries

Published: Jun. 19, 2020 at 6:18 AM EDT
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There is some renewed urgency to reopen after the release of two reports that show the true impact of the pandemic on Vermont's economy.

The jobs report for May shows an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent. That's down nearly 4 points from April but there were still more than 43,000 people without a job last month.

The other big indicator is the state revenue report, where we see General Fund tax collections 15% below target.

A look at the individual tax categories shows sales taxes down 10%, corporate taxes down 51%, purchase and use taxes on cars down 59%, and Meals and Rooms down 60%.

While those budget and unemployment numbers paint a grim picture, state leaders are taking more steps to bolster the economy. Gov. Phil Scott is loosening restrictions on tourism and hospitality. Our Calvin Cutler has the latest developments.

In the industry hit hardest by COVID-19, the governor is raising the capacity for restaurants and event venues to 50%. But even with the latest turn of the spigot, it may be too late for some.

Lisa Burr owns the Woods Lodge in Northfield, specializing in catering and hosting events.

"For the past couple of months, we've had no business," Burr said.

Most of the events are smaller but still, she's had just about everyone cancel because of coronavirus. But as restrictions on travel and gatherings have slowly lifted, she's received a few inquiries for later in the summer.

The governor acknowledges the massive toll the coronavirus has taken on venues such as Burr's and thousands of restaurants across the state.

"We still have a long ways to go and I'm very concerned," said Scott, R-Vermont.

Friday, Scott said he will allow restaurants and venues to open up to 50% capacity, with no more than 75 people inside and 150 people outside, the percentage based on fire code occupancy.

"We hope it's another step in the return to profitability allowing venues to plan for summer events heading into this important season for our tourism sector," Vt. Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said.

Even though restrictions are continuing to loosen, many say there's still anxiety about going out.

Burr says the latest turn of the spigot is a step toward restoring a sense of normalcy and confidence.

"It probably does give the people who are making these plans some confidence that this will go through hopefully," Burr said.

Though Burr says the latest announcement may help some, there's still many who can't sustain business under the new rules.

Governor Scott acknowledges the clock is ticking and that some businesses that haven't already will file for bankruptcy. He says if they don't receive a direct cash infusion, Vermont's interconnected economy will see long term systemic economic suffering.

"If we don't help those businesses that are in desperate need, they won't be there to provide for the opportunities, the jobs that Vermonters need," Scott said.

And late Friday afternoon, the Vermont House approved an additional $120 million in business relief, marketing and hazard pay for front-line workers. The package now heads to the Senate.

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