By Rep. Jessica Brumsted
When this is published, all members of the General Assembly will be back in the State House for an 18th week, because time ran out on our work and we were not able to adjourn on Saturday as planned.
Since mid-April, House and Senate leaders have been focused on trying to adjourn by May 6, the end of the seventeenth week of the session. Legislative pay is budgeted for an 18-week session, but members of the General Assembly may have to return in October to deal with possible impacts of the Federal Budget on the states, and leaders wanted to reserve the 18th week of pay for October.
However, as so often happens, the money, tax, and budget issues have been difficult to handle and are now creating problems for adjournment. The House, under the strong leadership of Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and House Appropriations Chair Kitty Toll, passed a budget on a near unanimous vote that did not include new fees or taxes and was touted by Governor Phil Scott as positive action.
The Senate passed a budget that moves the expense of teacher retirement to the education fund and then freed up the $8 million to fund other general budget items; that and other differences are all part of the end-of-the session negotiations between the two bodies.
This year, added to the normal differences between the two bodies, the governor unveiled a proposal in mid-April to move to a statewide contract for school employees’ healthcare benefits. House and Senate leaders were not impressed or supportive; too big an idea, too late in the session.
While the Governor’s timing was not ideal and his proposal would be a big change, it can only happen this particular contract year when all teachers and school boards will be negotiating new contracts due to unique circumstances. This year, in an effort to avoid an Obamacare “Cadillac tax” on school district healthcare plans, every school contract is up for negotiating and review.
A concerted attempt to pass the governor’s proposal, which I supported as long as all the funds were returned to the Education Fund to reduce property taxes, failed on a 74-74 tie vote this past week and was countered by an amendment sponsored by Rep. Kate Webb, which I also supported. That amendment did pass and is now in the Senate.
The governor is putting pressure on the House and Senate negotiators of the budget to include his proposal in the budget bill, not the one passed by the House. Even at the 11th hour, both ideas are worth considering, and since the Governor believes his proposal could save $26 million, it is important to review it.
Therefore, we will all return to the State House this week with an aim to reach agreement on the budget, pass a number of other bills that are still in committees of conference, and hopefully adjourn by end of the week.
There are many other bills that are being settled in committees of conference that Rep. Webb and I will report on once the session is adjourned. At this point in the session, it is not always possible to know how the final language will shake out, so we cannot give you accurate reports until the work is completed.
One bill that has passed both the Senate and House and is now back in the Senate, where I hope members will agree with the House proposal, is S.100 which will provide $84 million in new money for clean water and $35 million for new affordable and sustainable housing over the next 20 years. The repeal of the sunset on the Clean Water surcharge, 0.2% of the property transfer tax, will provide funds needed to secure bonds that will accomplish this.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please check the Vermont legislative website, (http://legislature.vermont.gov/) or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-985-9588. Please know I am always available to meet with anyone by appointment in Montpelier from Tuesday to Friday and in Shelburne and St. George on Saturdays and Mondays.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.