Our “part-time” legislature has been in overdrive this year. Instead of adjourning in mid-May, the legislature stayed on to handle a deluge of Covid-19 legislation. That lasted until the end of June and passage of a three-month budget. In August the legislature reconvened to continue with Covid relief and other legislation, and to craft a budget for the full fiscal year.
That budget, which is balanced while leaving our rainy day funds intact, has been approved by the House and is now in the Senate where they intend to vote on it this week. When the budget is finalized and sent to the governor, hopefully by Friday, the legislature will adjourn until January when the newly elected legislature is sworn in.
In the meantime, the legislature has passed a number of other bills that were already in process from the spring. They range all over: prohibiting trade in endangered animal parts, availability of contraception, frontline worker hazard pay, and municipal charter changes. After weeks of negotiation and compromise, both bodies also finally agreed on a cannabis tax and regulate bill that the House has approved but the Senate still needs to formally act on. The Governor has not indicated whether he will sign it or not.
Last week Governor Scott vetoed Vermont’s Global Warming Solution Act, which was not unexpected. The house overrode his veto by a vote of 103-47. That bill is also in the Senate and they will take action on it early this week. A successful override requires a 2/3 vote in each chamber, and it is expected that the Senate will reach that threshold easily.
Week Two of the legislative summer session saw the House approving another COVID-19 relief bill. This one builds on Governor Scott’s proposal and extends stimulus payments to many of those left out of the federal stimulus program – those who pay state and federal income taxes without providing a social security number, and their families. Most of the eligible people are migrant workers, many deemed “essential” during the pandemic for keeping Vermont farms and industries rolling.
In the latter half of the week, the house takes up the new budget bill. This is a unified, full year budget that combines the first quarter budget passed in June, adjustments made since then, and spending for the rest of the fiscal year.
It is a balanced budget that does not dip into reserve “rainy day funds”. But it does wring out savings and efficiencies including reallocating travel and conference budgets and eliminating some unfilled job positions while not compromising services.
When a new legislature convenes in January there will be, as there always is, a Budget Adjustment Act to true up actual spending and revenues with projections. With the current economic challenges, we can expect that process to be difficult, and that may be when the reserve funds will be tapped.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Vermont is the ONLY state that is not required by law to have a balanced budget. However we are one of the few that have always done so, and this budget is no exception.