by Mike Yantachka
The last two weeks of a legislative session are a whirlwind of activity.
Dozens of bills that have been worked on during the previous 16 weeks in both the House and the Senate reached final stages of passage. Most traveled back and forth between the two bodies as amendments were made to reflect the different concerns of the responsible committees. Twenty-eight bills this year required a conference committee made up of three representatives and three senators to resolve disagreements in language that couldn’t be settled by amendments.
The budget is the final bill passed in a session. Any bill that still outstanding when the budget passes would be dead.
As the session ended just after midnight Sunday morning, we managed to complete all of those bills as well as many more. The bills included raising the minimum wage, providing paid family leave, establishing toxic materials responsibility, protecting sexual harassment victims, funding clean water efforts, setting appliance efficiency standards, helping Vermont manufacturers improve energy efficiency and productivity, providing free tuition for National Guard members, several consumer protection and economic development bills, an income-tax reform and education funding bill, as well as the budget.
Our legislative agenda reflected in the bills we passed promotes a caring economy that makes Vermont more affordable for lower- and middle- income families, protects all Vermonters from various social and environmental impacts, and provides opportunities for economic growth. While we did not adopt the governor’s proposal for using one-time money to keep our education property taxes from increasing, the funding changes made by the Legislature will hold the residential property tax rate increase to two cents in a sustainable way that avoids the need to find one-time money again next year.
One-time money is just that. There’s no guarantee that it will be there next year, which just defers a tax increase. Instead, this year’s one-time money will be used to pay for one-time expenses such as fully funding our reserves and paying down the teachers’ retirement fund obligation, saving Vermont taxpayers $100 million in future budgets.
Our income tax changes will return $30 million in extra tax revenue generated by the federal income tax changes back to Vermonters by lowering the income tax rates for everyone.
Overall state spending increased less than 1 percent, significantly lower than the rate of inflation. I can’t go into sufficient detail here on the tax changes or the budget, but I will post detailed descriptions of both on my website: MikeYantachka.com.
Unfortunately, the governor has stated that he plans to veto the budget as well as several other bills that address affordability and the health and welfare of Vermonters.
The budget passed with a tri-partisan vote of 117-14. If he does carry out his veto promise, he will have to call the Legislature back into session. There have been plenty of opportunities for the administration to engage with the Legislature to work out a compromise, but that didn’t happen. Now we are faced with the additional expense of an extended session.
Finally, I would like to make a correction. It was called to my attention that in my previous article about the minimum wage bill, I referenced some total wage numbers that seemed to be based on different assumptions. The $15/hour total should have been $31,200 based on the same 40 hours/week and 52 weeks/year used for $10.50/hour.
As always, I can be reached by phone, 802-233-5238, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Yantachka, a Democrat, represents Charlotte in the Vermont House of Representatives.