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With the New Biennium Upon Us

December 31, 2012

reptomstevens

Lantern FishOur 2013 biennium begins late this year — we are constitutionally required to start on the first Wednesday after the first Monday, and this year that means January 9. We have started to put together bills for introduction, and we will be hitting the ground running, once committee assignments are finalized.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I anticipate the following issues to be “front burner” over the next session:

  • The Budget. As seems to be the case since the beginning of the Great Recession, we enter the new session with an anticipated gap of $50-70 million. Some of this is related to Irene, and most of it is a continuation of the drop in revenues compared to anticipated expenses. We as a state choose not to operate with deficit spending, and that will not change this year. Our financial teams in the House and Senate, and the folks they rely on for updated information, have been with a percentage point or two of their projections from the spring, which is a very good thing. The early snow will help the resorts, and we will see a slight bump in tax revenue because of it, but we have a long way to go in this fiscal year. There is very little room to cut services, as we feel we have cut essential services to the bone over the past four years, and we will need to find ways to make ends meet in a way that is equitable.
  • The Health Care Exchange. Our reformation of the way we provide health care and health insurance continues with work on the federally mandated Health Care Exchange. When implemented, this will allow small businesses and the uninsured the opportunity to buy health care in way that resembles an online travel agency, where prices for similar plans are compared for price and value. This will also bring changes to the universal health care we already provide via VHAP or the market based insurance we provide through Catamount. The Health Care Committee will have their work cut out for them in balancing expected costs with expected revenues and what that means for all of us, especially those without insurance of any kind. The much talked about federal waiver, which would have allowed us to implement a universal or single payer system in 2014, does not seem to be forthcoming. This simply means that any attempt to create such a system will be ongoing, but will not be implemented until 2017 at the earliest. Reform in the insurance arena remains necessary, as we are seeing many local school districts experience double digit increases in their insurance costs this year.
  • Irene Recovery. We will continue to work with FEMA to bring back the funding expected to help rebuild our state office complex and state mental health care facility. The crises related to the flood still afflict some of us, and those of us in communities hit especially hard are worried that the work needed will be lost in the impending crisis of the instant.
  • Guns. The shootings in Newtown, Connecticut hit close to home for many of us, whether we have children in the school system, are teachers or work in the schools, or as citizens who view this slaughter as a high price to pay for what some consider “freedom.” I do not know yet the balance of legislation that may happen between the federal government and our state government, but I expect something will be done. I hope you will share your thoughts with me on this very volatile subject.
  • Permit Reform. There will be a bill that will try to make the permitting process more uniform and allow for shorter decision making processes. Only 2% of all Act 250 permits are denied, but the perception is far different. With our construction industry in the doldrums, now is the time to discuss these kinds of reform in a mature and even way.

Those are just samples of what lies ahead. I suspect we will see follow up discussions and legislation on labor issues, vaccination issues, and choice of vaccinations, code enforcement and affordable housing, as well as (to repeat!) the ongoing recovery from Irene, including rebuilding our mental health care system, our state office complex and our roads.

As always, feel free to contact me with your thoughts and concerns. 2013 promises to test us again in ways unanticipated. Stay in touch!

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