The end of this legislative session is near. If all goes well business will be wrapped up in Montpelier by the end of next week, but that is a big “if”. The budget and tax bills are the “must pass” bills for any session, and agreement between the House and Senate seems close. What the governor will do remains to be seen.
House Ways and Means passed a long-awaited bill dedicating a funding source for water quality. It diverts 4% of the rooms and meals tax out of the education fund, promising to replace that with tax revenues from taxing software downloads from the cloud. Despite the absolute need for funding, I don’t like the proposal: taxing software downloads seems very uncertain, and I have yet to understand what water quality has to do with education.
The Family Leave bill has been shredded in the Senate so that it now offers a fraction of the benefits passed by the House. The tension is largely over cost but also concerns what the benefits are, who pays, and whether it is an “all in” program or voluntary. The governor insists on a voluntary program while the legislature to see an all-in approach as essential.
Cost of living in Vermont is in line with the national average, however our wages lag at about 80% of average. This is the heart of the “affordability crisis” so many of us experience. An obvious solution is to get more money into the pockets of low income Vermonters through higher wages, specifically a higher minimum wage.
The simple plan to increase minimum wage to $15/hr by 2024 has run headlong into the very real challenges some small businesses face trying to meet this goal. In addition the agencies providing home health care are funded by Medicaid and that funding will not increase to meet the higher wages creating a funding shortfall in those agencies. Either the state finds more funding or we lay off critical workers. Doing the right thing for workers and helping Vermont become a livable place for younger people is not a simple thing, it turns out.
Transportation funding, broadband expansion, dealing with lead levels in school water supplies and [addressing] the remaining Act 46 school mergers are just a few of the bills still in play.
As always, please feel free to contact me with questions or concerns,