A steady mind for
Robin’s Top Issues
The legislature deals with a wide variety of subjects. Here are Robin’s thoughts and commitments on a few of them.
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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.Read More
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.Read More
This past week the Vermont legislature re-convened to continue the work of crafting a budget for these unique times. Due to the immense financial uncertainty last spring, the legislature determined early on that trying to predict a full year budget wasn’t prudent. So we approved a first quarter budget and are meeting now, with new financial forecasts and projections and Governor Scott’s proposals, to map out spending for the rest of this uncertain fiscal year. There is also about $200 million remaining in federal CARES money to allocate where it is needed most.
While continuing to meet remotely, much of this week was devoted to committee work: digging into budget requests and receiving updates on the successes and failures of the relief spending authorized in June. In addition to tweaking earlier programs the legislature will take up some bills that had already passed one chamber and were awaiting action in the other. The goal is to complete all work and adjourn by September 25th.
One of the biggest unknowns is whether there will be another federal stimulus package, and if there is, how large it will be and what strings are attached. The current stimulus dollars must be spent by December 31 or they revert back to the federal government. Will that deadline be extended?
If more federal money does arrive after the legislature adjourns, the Joint Fiscal Committee (comprised of four Senators and four Representatives) is authorized by law to accept and allocate those grant dollars.
As always, please contact me with questions and concerns.Read More