report from montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

By Rep. Joan Lenes

I first want to thank the Shelburne News for running our “Report from Montpelier.” Some local papers throughout the state do not offer the same opportunity for their legislators. Often folks will thank me for the updates and say they appreciate the information. It is a great way for me to stay in touch.

My House Committee on Corrections and Institutions has been getting updates from different departments as they talk about their 2016-2017 Capital Bill requests. It is interesting and exciting for me as I listen and see government at work. As an example, the Commissioner of Forest, Parks, and Recreation, Mike Snyder and his team, were telling us about the impact of their $4 million allocation from the Capital Bill last biennium. Since July 2012 Forest, Parks and Recreation (FPR) has made payments from this appropriation to 275 separate businesses. The total of all these payments is just over $5 million (some General Fund money is included here) resulting in an average total of payments to any individual vendor of about $18,000. They gave us the following statistics and you can see the impact of this government investment and its ripple effect on Vermont’s economy.

State Park visitation was over 972,000 this year an increase of 8 percent over 2013:

  • Highest visit count since 1989 (25-year record)
  • Roughly breaks down to: 409K camping (186K residents/223K tourists) and 563K day use visits (457K residents/105K tourists)…total tourists = 329K.
  • Total spending on durable and non-durable goods related to tourists’ visits = $31 million.
  • Total spending on durable and non-durable goods related to all visits = $83 million.
  • Outdoor recreation activity generates $2.5 billion in Vermont retail sales and services (12 percent of gross state product).
  • That results in $753 million in salaries and wages for 34,000 jobs.
  • That results also in $176 million in state tax revenue.

A health care bill was introduced this past week. It attempts to end Vermont Health Connect and switch to an online marketplace hosted by the federal exchange. The bill’s supporters claim this option will allow states to keep their own plans and subsidy options, but that is not immediately evident. Oregon and Nevada are highlighted as examples of states using this federally hosted insurance portal, but they do not offer additional subsidies. Vermont and Massachusetts are the only states that offer additional subsidies and both have their own state exchanges. The federal exchange does not administer Medicaid. That is a state function. If Vermont went to the federal exchange, we would still need to build Vermont Health Connect to sign up Medicaid participants – approximately 134,000 people on the exchange. Logistically, this would mean Vermonters would need to deal with two websites, one if they are eligible for Medicaid and one if they are not. Another point to look into is that some plans in the federal exchange do not cover many of Vermont’s mandates.

My concern is that this transition would jeopardize subsidies and affordability. While many are still experiencing difficulties on Vermont Health Connect, many more are accessing insurance for the first time and we have the second best rate of coverage in the nation. I know that bills get introduced and then can develop and change considerably before they leave committee for the whole body to consider. I will wait until the committee does its work and takes thorough testimony before forming conclusions about this proposed legislation. I will pay attention as it progresses.

If you have questions, ideas, or concerns, please stop by Bruegger’s Bagels Tuesday mornings from 7:30-8:30am and share them with Kate Webb and me. You can also reach me at (802) 999-9363 or jlenes@leg.state.vt.us. You can also leave a message with the Sergeant-at-Arms at 1 (800) 322-5616.