Unanticipated money and legislation overview

Reps. KATE WEBB and JESSICA BRUMSTED

“We find ourselves in unusual times regarding revenue and expenditures.”

So said Rep. Kitty Toll, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, as she presented the final bill of the session. For several years following the Great Recession, the state faced multimillion-dollar gaps between revenue and budgetary demands. Over the past couple of years, the state has seen unanticipated one-time dollars at the end of the fiscal year. This has help pay down long-term debt, build reserves and give a small reduction in property tax rates. The trend continues this year. In addition, economists indicate that some of this may not be one-time money, but on-going dollars due to an improving economy. Given this background, here is a little bit about what the 2020 budget does:

• To reduce Vermont’s impact on climate change, bills passed this year will put $17 million toward weatherization programs, $2.9 million for electric vehicle charging stations and $500,000 to acquire and conserve forestlands important for carbon absorption. We also continued our focus on the clean-up of Lake Champlain and the state’s waterways which will now receive a dedicated ongoing funding source that meets Environmental Protection Agency requirements and the state treasurer’s recommendations. Rather than looking at new taxes, projected revenue increases allow us to move 6 percent of rooms and meals tax from the General Fund to the Clean Water Fund. This is projected to add an additional $7.5 million in FY 20 and nearly $12 million in FY21.

• Investments in workforce and economic development will see one-time funding for critical broadband expansion designed to address specific community needs and constraints. Our agricultural sector will see an increase in funding for the successful working lands program including value-added forest products. Employers will see assistance in social media marketing campaigns as well as relocation support.

• To keep up with expected retirements and job growth, Vermont will need countless new workers each year. The state anticipates ongoing gaps in health care, advanced manufacturing, construction, hospitality and transportation. To address this, the Vermont Training Program will see a 10 percent increase in funding to support training in these sectors and trainees will receive state approved credentials of value to employers. A range of new programs will be offered including weatherization training, robotics, as well as decreasing barriers for New Americans entering the workforce. 

• Working families and employers asked for improved access to high quality childcare and we worked to provide that this year. More than 50 percent of infants and toddler do not have access to regulated programs and only 20 percent have access to high-quality ones. Middle-income families are challenged to afford the typical $10-15,000 per child annual cost for fulltime coverage. The Childcare and Early Learning bill uses $7.5 million to increase capacity, revise sliding scales to include more families in need of support, and provide internships and scholarship grants to improve support for childcare workers. 

• With the change in federal tax law last year, Vermont state taxes also underwent revision.  Income tax rates were reduced across all categories, however this also resulted in caps on charitable contributions and the medical deduction was removed. This fell hardest on Vermonters facing or planning for long term care. Your Shelburne and St. George representatives submitted legislation to exempt personal medical expenses from state taxes and we were joined in this effort by Sen. Michael Sirotkin. While some progress was made on this issue, we fell short of our goal, particularly as it relates to our valuable retirement communities. Though this was of course a disappointment, it is a matter we will continue to work on.

The above represents just some of the many and varied bills that we worked on this year. As always, please be in touch if you have any questions of us at kwebb@leg.state.vt.us or jbrumsted@leg.state.vt.us  It has been our pleasure to represent you for another legislative session and we look forward to continued conversations with all of you.

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