With the fall of the gavel on Sunday at 12:23 a.m., the General Assembly closed the books on the 2017-18 legislative biennium. Bills that did not pass through both chambers went to recycling bins. Those that did pass will meet their fate on the governor’s desk. The most concerning are the two “must pass” bills: H.924, the spending bill, and H.911, the bill that sets the base property tax rate.
Although the governor has indicated he will veto these bills, I personally believe letting them pass without his signature is his best option. This would avoid an expensive, uncontrolled special session, keep government open, and put in place two bills that received very wide tri-partisan support as the most responsible way to use and collect money. He can veto the rest and those will stand.
I supported both bills. The tax bill allows school boards across the state to receive funds to meet their approved budgets. The residential base tax rate rises by only 2.6 percent rather than the anticipated 7 percent. Lower-income seniors will find a new exemption for Social Security income. The top marginal tax rate is slightly reduced.
Spending increases by less than 1 percent in the budget bill and improves Vermont’s fiscal health. It pays down the unfunded teachers’ pension liability, saving $100 million in interest payments. It funds our statutory, caseload, rainy day and education reserves, making us better prepared for tough times. These investments also protect our bond rating.
Second, it invests in economic and workforce development. Additional funds will support our microbusinesses, remote workers, and provide assistance in employment training. Guard members, in short supply here, will now have access to tuition benefits – a benefit already available in our neighboring states. The successful Working Lands Enterprise Fund will see a boost in funding, helping rural entrepreneurs make investments in Vermont’s critical farm and forestry economy. Students seeking careers in health care will find help with tuition payments.
Third, it addresses affordability concerns for low-income Vermonters. Childcare providers will see increased reimbursement for infants and toddlers, so essential for the stability sought by parents in the workforce. Some 6,100 working families will find cost-sharing assistance for health care and out-of-pocket expenses, a problem often implicated in ruined credit and revolving cycles of poverty. It restores the governor’s elimination of student debt support for physicians willing to work in underserved rural areas.
And finally, the budget continues to reflect our need to protect our most vulnerable.
Reversing the administration’s cut to services for Vermonters with disabilities will help those with quadriplegia and advanced multiple sclerosis keep attendant services. It increases reimbursement to community service providers helping elderly family members stay at home. This has the added benefit of permitting adult children of the elderly to remain in the workforce.
Patients in mental health crises held in emergency rooms for days or weeks will find relief with the addition of psychiatric beds in Brattleboro. Strategic investments in child welfare and increased resources in our judicial system will aid children needing help related to the opioid epidemic.
These are just a few of the items at risk should Gov. Scott exercise his veto power.
I will be in Shelburne for most of the summer and will make myself available by appointment. I already meet with some of you at Village Wine and Coffee and Harrington’s. You can reach me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 802 233-7798. On a final note, I will be running for re-election. There is much to do – as well as much to not do!
Kate Webb, a Democrat, represents Shelburne in the Vermont House of Representatives.