Examining the governor’s budget

By REP. MIKE YANTACHKA

Democracy can be messy.  With three co-equal branches of government, no one branch can dictate policy unilaterally.

Divided government requires a lot of negotiation and compromise under the best of circumstances. Our current national government is divided based on deep ideological differences, however, and this has resulted in a literal breakdown of government in the form of a shutdown. Thankfully, we got a temporary reprieve and hopefully, the two sides will reach a compromise and prevent a recurrence.

Here in Vermont we can demonstrate that divided government can still work well for the best interests of Vermonters. Each year in January, the governor delivers his budget address before the House and Senate.

As Gov. Phil Scott begins his second term, his stated priorities reflect the results of the November election and have moved more in the direction of policies promoted by the Legislature in 2018 while keeping to his goals of making Vermont more affordable and growing our economy.

My general takeaway from the governor’s address is his statement that his proposals are a starting point for discussion.

Last year, he vetoed a paid family leave bill that covered all Vermont employees. This year, he is proposing a voluntary paid family leave program which, while limited, demonstrates a recognition that such a program is necessary.

When Vermont was awarded $18.7 million in the Volkswagen pollution fraud settlement, Scott talked about using it for “clean diesel” while the Legislature preferred electrifying school and public buses. In this year’s proposed budget, he allocates $1.5 million for an electric vehicle incentive program and an additional $500,000 for building the state’s electric vehicle fleet. This is a step toward reducing Vermont’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions. Scott also identified several sources of revenue for clean water initiatives, including $8 million from the estate tax, $1million from the Transportation Fund, $15 million from the Clean Water Fund, and $12 million in capital expenses leveraged with $19 million from federal funds.

Another important proposal is a $1.5 million investment in broadband for unserved and underserved communities. Right now, 94 percent of Vermont is served with basic broadband and 75 percent with high-speed broadband. Expanding high-speed broadband to more Vermonters will stimulate economic growth and innovative businesses.

Cybersecurity, school safety, opioid treatment and prevention, higher education, and child care also were identified as important targets for spending. It remains to be seen what other programs will be affected as money is redirected toward these important programs if no new sources of revenue are identified.

One new source of revenue Gov. Scott identified is tax revenue from e-cigarette sales. Vaping among teenagers has become a national problem and it is occurring in our state as well. These nicotine delivery devices are being marketed to young people with flavors like bubble gum, cherry and Juicy Fruit. Scott’s budget proposes to tax e-cigarette and vaping products at the same rate as tobacco products, i.e. at 92 percent of the wholesale cost.

There has already been a bill introduced in the House, which I signed onto, to do the same thing. It is expected to raise $1 million in revenue in FY20.

Scott also proposed an $8.5 million increase in fees related to the Department of Financial Regulation, the Agency of Natural Resources, the Secretary of State’s office, and the Agency of Agriculture to cover administrative costs. Now it will be the Legislature’s job to dig into the details and, working with the governor, to make adjustments as it deems necessary.

I will hold a constituent meeting for anyone who wants to talk to me personally this Saturday, Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. until noon at the Charlotte Public Library. Drop by for a chat. Of course, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238) as well.

This article and others can be found at my website: MikeYantachka.com.

Rep. Mike Yantachka, a Democrat, represents Charlotte and part of Hinesburg in the Vermont House of Representatives.

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