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Scott defends Remote Worker incentive

(WCAX)
Published: Nov. 14, 2019 at 3:23 PM EST
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Vermont Governor Phil Scott is defending the value of the state's remote worker incentive program after a state auditor's report questioned its cost effectiveness.

The Remote Worker program made headlines across the country after the Legislature introduced it two years ago. It's set up to pay people up to $10,000 to move to Vermont and work remotely online. So far officials say around 300 people, including family members, have moved to Vermont because of the program.

But Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer, in a report released last week, said he is skeptical of how the half-million dollar program is administered and if it has really helped. He's says its hard to tell whether people moved to Vermont solely because of the program and that they might have been considering coming anyway.

"Just to apply, you had to be a Vermont resident. So, every single person who received a grant had already made a family commitment, both a life-changing commitment and a financial commitment to move to the state of Vermont," Hoffer said

The state maintains the program was set up in a way that participants wouldn't game the system. "Our department actually consciously set it up such that people would have moved here because they would be able to submit receipts. We were not comfortable with a situation where we were sending money to people without confirmation that they were using it in connection with moving to Vermont," said Vermont Department of Economic Development Deputy Commissioner Brett Long.

Governor Scott says the the effort is just one tool in an attempt to widen the tax base and make Vermont a more affordable place to live. "Every elected official should be looking at the workforce and the demographics as a way to solve the problem at hand and some of our structural and budgetary issues. We need people here," Scott said Thursday.

Hoffer says the state should be investing in programs that have a quantifiable return on investment, like affordable housing. "You put people to work and you save businesses and residents money. Childcare is a very fine investment, broadband, infrastructure all kinds of things. These kinds of programs like the remote worker, in my opinion, are not the most cost effective," he said.

This isn't the first time the auditor has taken aim at the cost effectiveness of economic incentive programs. In a report two years ago, Hoffer was also skeptical about measuring the success of the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive program, or VEGI, which offered tax incentives for business recruitment, growth and expansion.

The auditor in the report makes several recommendations to legislators if the program were to be extended.