Vermont Legislative Digest 1/22/18

Governor’s FY 19 Budget

Under the Golden Dome
Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier

Earlier this month, In his State of the State Address, Governor Phil Scott laid down the gauntlet of “no new taxes and fees. With the projected 7% increase projected for next years statewide property tax rates (to fund education), his administration delivered a memo to the Legislature last week including several possible ways to “avert a near term increase in those tax rates, such as freezing special education rates for independent schools or requiring teachers to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums. (VPR)

Governor Scott delivered his Budget Address, Tuesday 1/23. 

  • Read the Text of Gov. Scott’s budget address (VTDigger)
  • Scott delivers tight budget with small bore initiatives (VTDigger)
  • Scott budget earns pans and plaudits (VTDigger)
  • Calling for Fiscal Restraint, Scott Proposes Modest Vermont Budget (Seven Days)
  • With Nod To ‘Affordability,’ Scott Budget Seeks Tax Breaks For Seniors, Workforce Development Funds (VPR)

The Legislature got quickly to work this session by passing a bill legalizing personal possession of marijuana. A commission tasked with studying the prospect of marijuana legalization in Vermont recommended on Tuesday that Vermont lawmakers create a separate panel that would set and maintain standards for testing stoned drivers. (Seven Days)

Vermont may see a $38 million bump from Trump tax cuts. Economists for the legislature and the governor’s office say the state might see a $29.7 million increase in the General Fund for fiscal year 2019 and an $8.1 million increase over prior forecasts in the current fiscal year as a result of the recently-passed federal tax bill. But they caution there is great uncertainty in analyzing the impact of the federal cuts on the Vermont tax base and on individual taxpayers. The analysis was part of the consensus revenue forecast presented this week in several committees. (DRM)

Here’s a look at how the federal tax rates will affect Vermonters. (VTDigger)

Legislators have been attending a series of “tax workshops” provide its  members with a common set of tools for discussing tax policy, a look at how Vermont income taxes are calculated and the impact of the federal tax policy. The Joint Fiscal Office, offered this overview last week. (ORCA Media)

The next “Tax Workshop” takes place Friday 1/26 at 12.30 p.m.

Vermont insurance companies say they’ve found a way to offset the effects of an executive order issued last year that would otherwise cost the state $12 million annually in lost revenue. It’s called “silver loading”. In other words, increase premiums, and insurance companies increase the amount of money Vermonters collectively are taking in in premium tax credits. Nobody pays any more than they would otherwise, but the system gets an additional $12 million in tax credits, thereby neutralizing the loss of the cost-sharing reductions. (VPR)

A national budget expert told the House Appropriations this week that Vermont is one of 15 states that is least prepared fiscally for the next recession.  Dan White of Moody’s Analytics gave a presentation that was largely based on charts from this paper. White’s testimony focused on the ability of states to withstand future recessions based on an analysis of the state budget impacts of the 2007 recession. According to White, Vermont is not well prepared for the next recession. It would need 11-19 percent of its budget to get through a recession. The state is more than five percentage points away from the reserves it needs. (DRM)

A bipartisan group of female senators has introduced legislation (S. 275) that they say will help close the pay gap between men and women. Census data show that women who work fulltime in Vermont make about 16 percent less on average than men in fulltime jobs. Some Vermont senators say they intend to bridge that pay gap by prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their salary history. (VPR)

Watch the Press Conference, Courtesy of ORCA Media.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs will be taking testimony on S.40, an act relating to increasing the minimum wage, including Thursday 1/25 night Public Hearing (6 – 8 p.m.).

The business community wants the state to “go slow” on the minimum wage hike. In testimony last week, The Central Vermont and Vermont State Chambers of Commerce outright oppose an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Bennington and Lake Champlain Chambers of Commerce support it, although the LCRCC position has a nuance.   “Any increase in the minimum wage has to deal with the ‘benefits cliff,’” said Tom Torti, president of the LCRCC in testimony before the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. “If you don’t do that then don’t do anything, because you’re only making the situation worse.” Torti said the increase should be phased in over seven years. The current proposal calls for five. (DRM)

Calling it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign the workforce development system”, the group assigned to study and recommend consolidation of all state and federal programs aimed at workforce development presented its initial findings before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee this week. The report included a series of short-term recommendations but noted that the task of rebuilding the system will take a minimum of three to five years. (DRM)

Watch Ellen Kahler of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund offered the Farm to Plate Report  to the Joint House and Senate Agriculture Committees earlier this month. (ORCA Media)

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos told the House Government Operations Committee on Thursday that access to public records should be improved and the records of meetings more accessible. He asked the legislature to approve a position for an open government ombudsman to act as an arbiter of requests to state and local officials. The draft bill includes language that would clarify when a gathering of public officials in a number that would constitute a quorum is not a meeting and when an agency can charge for the production of records. The committee will take testimony on the draft next Wednesday. (DRM)

Watch the Secretary of State’s Testimony on 1/18/18. Courtesy of ORCA Media.

Coming Up This Week:

 

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