By Rep. Jessica Brumsted
A week ago, we passed both the budget and the property tax bill (H.518 and H.509) at about midnight. This action came after several days of trying to reach a compromise with the Governor over his teachers’ health care proposal. The FY 2018 budget was never in question; the House had passed it back in late March on a 143-1 vote, an excellent budget with no new taxes and no new fees, and the Senate, a few weeks later, passed a more expansive budget by unanimous vote. The conference committee was able to work out the differences and put forth a very good budget for 2018 that continues to rely on no new taxes and no new fees, adhering to what the Governor had requested in his January State of the State Address.
The version of the budget that passed included many of the Governor’s top priorities: a $35 million bond that will build several hundred low- and middle-income housing units, a property tax cut this year, investments for higher education, $2.5 million targeted for pre-K and infant care, and a number of economic development policies that, if successful, will help our small- and medium-size businesses grow and will allow several more communities to take advantage of special tax districts (TIFs) if they meet certain criteria in development (more to come next column on this important legislation). This budget was by far the most conservative budget the General Assembly has passed in a very long time. If you are interested in looking more closely at this budget, you can find a link below.
Unfortunately, we were unable to find an agreement with the Governor on the issue of health insurance for teachers and school employees, but not for want of trying. The Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem, and the Governor worked very hard throughout the past two weeks to come to some sort of compromise, but in the end and after four different compromise plans were circulated and discussed, none pleased everyone, and it was decided adjournment could not be held up any longer. I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to find an agreement, but we did two things that will allow us to have that discussion at a later date with the benefit of better information and the addition of solid recommendations.
In H.509, the House and Senate countered the Governor’s proposal with a bill that does the following. It creates a Commission to consider the pros and cons — equally divided between labor and management — and to report back to us by Nov. 15, 2017 in preparation for the Jan. session. It also states that all health care contracts for teachers, other than those settled before July 1 this year, will end on Sept. 1, 2019. This recreates the “one-time opportunity” at a time when we will have more information and the recommendations of the Commission. It also reduces the average residential property tax by an additional 1.5 cents. The calculations in H.509 are based on the belief that there will be health care savings statewide that will show up in next year’s school budgets and that the funds used to bring rates down will be replenished through lower spending next year.
Legislation this important deserves testimony and full committee review and debate. None of that could happen this year, but I believe H.509 puts in place a process to make it happen next year.
The Governor announced, in his end-of-session address to the House and to the Senate, that he will veto both the budget and the property tax bill. We believed that, after days of negotiations and after countless good-faith attempts to resolve the differences on the Governor’s health insurance proposal, it was time to advance and pass our best legislative proposals and adjourn. At this writing, we do expect the Governor to veto these two bills, and we will return to the State House June 21 to deal with the vetoes and with the substance of those bills.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please check the Vermont legislative website http://legislature.vermont.gov/, or contact me at email@example.com or at 802-985-9588. Please know I am always available to meet with anyone by appointment, Monday through Friday, at a time and place convenient for you.
This has been an interesting time to begin my service in the State House on your behalf. I have learned a great deal in the Legislature, and I continue to learn from the information, ideas, and concerns each of you share with me. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Committee of conference report on budget, H.518:
H.509 as passed by House and Senate: