By Rep. Jessica Brumsted
This past week in Montpelier was a busy one, starting with the FY17 budget adjustment. Vermont passes a balanced budget each year, and mid-year adjustments must be made. Revenue forecasts as well as expenses can vary, which must be accounted for and rebalanced so that we don’t end up with a deficit. One very important lesson I have learned in these past few weeks – Vermont legislators work very hard to assure we do not end the year with a deficit.
A recent downgrade in revenue projections and an unexpected increase in expenses have resulted in about a 30-million-dollar gap (in a 5.6-billion-dollar budget), which must be reconciled. The good news is $500,000 was found in efficiencies; the remaining gap is proposed to be addressed by using excess federal receipts and funds in the State Health Care Resources Fund. All reserve funds are at statutory levels, and one-time money was not used to fund ongoing expenses. The budget continues to support our veterans by fully funding the Veterans Home, creates a caseload reserve in human services, takes steps to prepare for future federal cuts if necessary, and makes investments in higher education.
In my committee, Government Operations, we have spent much time over the past few weeks listening to various secretaries and commissioners explain to us how specific areas of State government work. We heard from the media concerning access to public records and the Vermont State Police Chiefs about the pros and cons of body cameras for our policemen. Chief Frank Koss from Hinesburg did a terrific job explaining how body cameras truly benefit our communities.
Another important item that has come before our committee is the election results in Orange County, District 1. Our committee is entrusted with resolving the many technical issues involved in this contested race. Most important to our committee is that all Vermont voters who cast their votes can trust that every vote will be accounted for in the election results.
The week ended with a well-publicized women’s march in Montpelier on Saturday drawing close to 20,000. It felt so right to me to be a part of such a large peaceful march and bear witness to our democracy at work. Seeing hope among so many young and old faces couldn’t help but make me smile and feel proud to be a Vermonter and an American.
Lastly, legislation has been introduced to increase the minimum wage to $15 over the next five years. The minimum wage increased to $10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017 and will increase to 10.50 an hour in 2019. I remain undecided about the new bill and am listening closely to the excellent arguments on both sides of this issue. It is very important to me that you, the residents of Shelburne and St. George, let me know how these changes might affect you.
Each month I hope to bring you one or two difficult issues seeking your input and advice as I consider the best options for our towns and state. You can reach me at Jbrumsted@leg.state.vt.us or 802-233-2120. I am always happy to meet with you, either in Montpelier on Tuesday – Friday or in Shelburne by appointment Saturday or Monday. I am also hoping to find time to be available at the Shelburne and St. George town halls for any constituents who might want to meet with me.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
A few upcoming events:
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2pm, Governor Phil Scott’s budget address at the Vermont Statehouse in the Well of the House.
Tuesday, Jan. 31, 5:30-7:30pm, public hearing on the proposed reorganization of the Department of Labor and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to a new agency of Economic Opportunity at the Vermont Statehouse in Room 11.