Report from Montpelier
by Rep. Jessica Brumsted
Action on the floor of the Legislature was slow last week, but members of the House and Senate committees were busy meeting early in the morning and staying late in the evening.
That is because we are just three weeks away from “crossover,” the last day for a bill to pass out of the chamber in which it was introduced if it is to be considered in the opposite chamber this session.
The bills that don’t make the crossover will either die in committee or need to be reintroduced during the next legislative session, though a committee may choose to add all or parts of a bill as an amendment to legislation that is moving through the process.
• The Senate Committee on Economic Development finished work on S.40 this week, a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Vermont passed a bill in 2014 that raised the minimum wage in annual increments, reaching $10.50 an hour last month. After hearing testimony, the committee voted 4-1 in favor of S.40, with an amendment. A study committee would convene in 2023 to examine whether the Consumer Price Index is the best basis for future annual increases. The bill also looks ensure that people receiving child care benefits continue to receive the same percentage of benefits as the minimum wage increases, “to the extent funds are appropriated.”
The committee hopes to pay for these increased costs with increased income tax revenues and savings from people moving off certain benefits when the minimum wage is increased. S.40 is a priority of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, who says there are the votes to pass the bill soon in the Senate.
Once it comes to the House, there will be support from the majority; however, House members represent very small districts and are apt to hear from constituents in their own communities and from small businesses not eager to see another increase. There is talk among some that there maybe be an amendment to pay a lower wage for teens in entry-level positions.
• The House Committee on Ways and Means is working hard to find a new way to fund education to reduce reliance on property taxes in favor of a more progressive income tax. The tax/funding piece has always been hard to reconcile, and now there’s the fact that more money is required to educate fewer students. It seems easy to propose cutting expenses, but it must be remembered that we are asking our schools to do more and more, including providing a host of social services that, in the past, were not necessarily the responsibility of our educational system. Nevertheless, the people paying the bills feel taxed out, and we continue to wrestle with how to pay for education.
• The House Committee on Education is looking at where we might be able to cut costs. Rep. Kate Webb wrote last week that she and her colleagues on the committee are looking into special education funds and how we allocate resources to districts throughout the state, ensuring that we are paying for best practices and true educational quality standards. These are preliminary ideas and it is important to note that much testimony is being heard in both these committees as they put together a bill that can be debated on the House floor in the next few weeks.
• Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working on the budget for fiscal year 2019. Developing the budget is a dry, no-nonsense matter making the columns balance. But where we put the money – or not – is a statement of values. We are trustees of Vermonters’ money and work hard to keep spending down while meeting the needs of our state. Both committees have heard compelling testimony about opioid addiction, cleanup of our waters, and a forensic mental health unit for people with mental health needs who have committed a crime, to name just a few.
• In January, more than 1,500 Vermonters made their voices heard at public hearings in Montpelier on a variety of issues, including the minimum wage, health care reform and firearms regulation. Participation in public hearings is a wonderful way to have your voice heard on issues of importance to you.
• Looking for more information? Each legislative committee has a home page, a great tool for the public to follow our work and issues of interest, and content is updated daily. The page includes committee agendas, bills in the committee, witness testimony, reports and much more. Visit leg.state.vt.us.
Please know I am always available to hear from you. I have been listening closely to testimony from Vermonters who come to our Statehouse from considerable distances to make sure we know what matters most to them. Your experiences and thoughts are incredibly important to me. Your input helps guide my decision-making and allows me to bring your voices to the Statehouse, so please do reach out — email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Webb and I are also available to meet by appointment either in town on Saturdays and Mondays or in Montpelier Tuesday through Fridays. My cellphone number is 233-2120.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, represents Shelburne and St. George in the Vermont House.