report from montpelier

By Representative Joan Lenes

I look forward to seeing many of you on Monday, March 2. We are lucky to have a time before the official Town Meeting begins to have dinner and connect with friends, neighbors, and citizens of Shelburne. During that time, Senator Diane Snelling, Rep. Kate Webb and I will have a chance to give a brief update on where we are at this point in the legislative session. There is much to discuss from our end and I hope many ideas coming from your perspective.

Thank you to the candidates who are running for office and are on the ballot for School Board and Selectboard seats. It is hard work, and work that I think can be very rewarding. This time of year is when we vote on municipal and school budgets. To me it is more than that; it is putting money where our beliefs are. It is paying for services that we all benefit from. It is taking care of one another for the greater good, while staying within our means. I thank the boards for their work on budgets and bonds and hope voters will consider, with an open mind, all that is presented to them and then go to the polls.

We are debating similar issues in Montpelier as we develop the state budget. What do we need to do, what do we want to do, and what can we afford? These questions can be answered differently by each of us. It is our job, as elected members of the Assembly, to work on the best ways to manage this. We start taking all ideas and weighing the pros and cons. This week we will have had two public hearings on the budget. At this time, no decisions are firm. The House will present its budget before the end of March.

The challenges presented by this budget are described as historic and unprecedented. As this economy has recovered, the benefits have not been universally felt. GDP has grown, but wages have not and that has weighed on state revenues, particularly in states like ours that rely on a greater proportion of income taxes in its revenue mix. At the same time that our revenues have not recovered as quickly as economists predicted post-recession, we are starting to feel the effects of sequestration cuts. Discretionary spending is being cut at the federal level and this shows up in various places in our state budget. We are also seeing our Medicaid reimbursement rate go down, ironically, because Vermont is doing better economically relative to other states. All of these elements are putting pressures on our state budget. Adding to all this, because of the success of the Affordable Care Act, more Vermonters are getting affordable health coverage through Medicaid. That success alone has put a $15 million pressure on the budget. While we had hoped to have more reserves, after tropical storm Irene, we used some surplus money to help with costs of the storm.

I weigh decisions based on what I believe is my responsibility to the health, safety, and education of Vermonters. Our decisions over the next few months will say a lot about what we value. It has been my experience that legislators, in general, believe that we must give those in need a hand up. We believe in making long-term investments in the education and health of our people and in the infrastructure that is the economic backbone of the state. We must do all of these things while recognizing that our resources are limited. While I believe that we face difficult decisions ahead, I believe we are up to this challenge. I am certain I will not be happy with all decisions, not should I be. It is a process of compromise and balance.

You can reach me any time at (802) 999-9363 or jlenes@leg.state.vt.us. I am at Bruegger’s Bagel every Tuesday morning from 7:30-8:30am. Stop by for coffee, conversation, or sharing of ideas or concerns.

Please remember to vote March 3.