Report from Montpelier

Dear Friends and Neighbors –

While the challenges are enormous, so are the opportunities. The legislature is working hard to make sure that Vermont delivers services essential to our lives in ever more accountable and efficient ways.

As your representatives, our job is to make decisions that are informed, balanced and thoughtful. This is difficult but stimulating work and we are honored to be representing our community.

—Representatives Joan Lenes and Kate Webb

During the hard times of the recession, state government and businesses stepped up to partner with Vermonters to ensure that all of us were safe and able to thrive. We are now in the midst of a multi-year process to bring structural stability to Vermont’s budget while preserving the central functions of government. This means taking a hard look at government priorities and funding those that meet core values.

The legislature is bringing the FY17 budget in line with the growth in the state’s economy. We are building our reserve funds and properly funding our pensions. We are bringing sustainability and stability to the budget by not paying for on-going expenses with money that is only available in the short term. Through a process in all committees of establishing program outcomes and priorities, we are putting in place a process to make state government more efficient and accountable.

At the same time we continue to focus on the needs of Vermonters, our communities, and our businesses. The budget is facing significant pressure from opiate addiction and health insurance costs. Budget proposals in front of us will help Vermonters struggling with opiate addiction, address the backlog in our judicial system, and protect children by expanding funding for social workers who work with struggling families. We are considering increasing the capacity of the judicial system so that cases can be resolved more quickly and lives settled.

Thanks to the work of the legislature, as well as the Affordable Care Act, Vermont has the second highest rate of health insurance coverage in the country. This means fewer evictions and bankruptcies as a result of medical debt and far less unreimbursed care for health care providers. Many of these formerly uninsured people, however, are now eligible for Medicaid, which creates substantial pressure on the budget. Committees are looking at tough choices on how to solve this challenge. We are building the FY17 budget on solid projections about program costs and sustainable long-term solutions that meet the needs of Vermonters, help our communities thrive and are in step with the growth of the economy.

Vermont Is Trending Up in Inbound Migration

The northeast continues to experience a moving deficit, with more people moving out than moving in. New Jersey and New York are at the top of the list for the fourth year in a row. Joining the top outbound list are Connecticut and Massachusetts. The exception to this trend is Vermont, moving up two spots on the list of top inbound states to No. 3.

United Van Lines has been tracking moving patterns across the country for nearly 40 years. Melissa Sullivan, a director of marketing communication stated, “because of United Van Lines’ position as the nation’s largest household goods mover, our data is reflective of national migration trends.” United classifies states as “high inbound” if 55% or more of the moves are going into a state, “high outbound” if 55% or more moves were coming out of a state or “balanced” if the difference between inbound and outbound is negligible. New Jersey moves were 67% outbound and New York, 65% outbound. In contrast, United Van lines calculated 62% of Vermont as inbound.

Vermont is Great Place to Start a Business and Be a Working Mom

The Kauffman Foundation recently ranked Vermont #5 in the country for business start-up activity. In 2014, Vermont was ranked #12. Components taken into account include the rate of new entrepreneurs and business owners, the percent of new entrepreneurs starting a business, and the number of startup firms per capita. Vermont also ranks #1 in the nation per capita for green job creation, about 4.4% of Vermonters, nearly 13,000 jobs.

Vermont was recently ranked the #1 state in which to have a child, and #1 state for working moms. According to WalletHub, factors taken into account include health care and delivery costs, quality and access to healthcare, a baby-friendly environment, low female unemployment, and low gender pay-gap. Vermont also ranks #1 in state education and lack of violent crime.

Education Funding for FY17

With a majority of school districts having reported their proposed budgets for FY17 to the Agency of Education, at this point, it looks as if the resulting average statewide Education Property tax rates will be level.

Prioritizing Economic Development

Vermont must continue to invest in economic development. Our two major economic development priorities are: 1) attracting new people and businesses to Vermont and 2) matching in and out-of-state workers with the job openings at Vermont employers. This is why we passed Act 51 last year. The studies completed on the bill indicate a need for growth, both in terms of boosting the state’s population to help solve the workforce gap and attracting the out-of-state businesses that are essential for Vermont’s future success. There is also a need to support the state’s homegrown businesses and the start-up culture that has helped Vermont be recognized as a top-five state for start-ups

We have many successful businesses – Pete’s Greens, Against the Grain, My Web Grocer, Logic Supply, Mylan Technologies, Chroma, GW Plastics and BioTek, just to name a handful. We must do a better job connecting our state colleges and universities to these successful businesses to grow internships, apprenticeships, and to better direct Vermont students to the unfilled, in-state jobs at Vermont businesses.

When it comes to attracting workers to Vermont, we continue to focus on people in the 28-35 year-old age range who have an affinity for Vermont and are ready to settle down. These young Vermonters and potential Vermonters want to put down their roots here, but say that we need better careers, career advancement, public transportation and broadband. We have the quality of life they want for themselves and their families; we need to continue to be all-in in matching their passion for our state with the economic opportunities they need to thrive.

In next week’s Montpelier Report, look for more on Vermont’s Clean Water Act, forest management, and solar energy.

Interested in tracking legislative activity?

Go to http://legislature.vermont.gov/ for online information. This tool enables you to follow the work of the legislature, read the status of a bill and tune in on issues of interest. These are live pages and are updated regularly.

Voter Registration Online: The Secretary of State rolled out online voter registration. To register to vote or to change your voting address, simply visit https://olvr.sec.state.vt.us/. To request an absentee ballot, go to the My Voter Page.

Resources:
Health Insurance: www.VermontHealthConnect.gov (855) 899-2047
Legal Aid: www.vtlegalaid.org (800) 889-2047
Energy Savings: www.efficiencyvermont.org (888) 921-5990
Benefit Service Center (Food, Fuel, Etc): (800) 479-6151
Agency on Aging: www.cvcoa.org (800) 642-5119
Blue Program: www.mychamplain.net/blue-program
VT Taxpayer Advocate: (802)828-6848
Unclaimed Property List: There are more than 350,000 claimable properties totaling more than $67 million. Check the list here: http://www.vermonttreasurer.gov/unclaimed-property

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