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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

Getting Warmed Up for the Next Session

November 30, 2017

reptomstevens

I am sitting in my seat in the House of Representatives listening to our annual fall report on the fiscal health of the State of Vermont, and the early review is that, overall, our statewide fiscal health is reasonably good, within the confines of the policies we have put in place (expenditures) and the income we take in (taxes). The report is current, in that it does not and cannot fully contemplate any possible effects of tax and spending policies by the federal government. So-called tax reform bills are possibly coming to a vote this week or next, and we still don’t know what the full effects will be on our state revenues, and won’t until some bill passes and becomes law.

This recap also does not contemplate some of the ongoing and pressing issues and troubles for the residents of Vermont, the most important being the slow but sure gap between the ability to earn enough money to pay our share of the expenses needed to maintain a basic way of life.

Due to the great unknowns in Washington, it is hard to really summarize what our personal or caucus-wide priorities will be. Why? Vermont has an all-inclusive budget of just over $5 billion, 40% of which comes from the federal government for a number of services, from education to health care, from human services to housing, from environmental clean-ups to roads. If tax reform passes, as proposed, great portions of those federal funds will be at risk and will make an impact on Vermonters that we do not yet fully understand. From a state government perspective, we may need to completely rewrite our own tax code in order to fill in the gaps because so much of it is tied to the federal tax system. If it changes, we need to change. Read more

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The 2017 End of Session Report

September 12, 2017

reptomstevens

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 12.59.03 PMIt has been nearly three months since we gavelled out of this year’s session, and in the background was the notion that we may have had to return in October, if the shenanigans in DC amounted to Vermont being damaged financially. With some luck, it seems that the fears we have are postponed to another time, and Congress and the President have agreed to a Continuing Resolution, which continues funding at present levels. With this news, the Speaker of the House, the Senate Pro Tem and the Governor have agreed to cancel the October session and, save for summer committees, our work is complete. (Which is not to say we are not worried about the impacts being made on all of our systems due to gross reductions in staff across many agencies, from HUD to the EPA and so on…)

And now, so is our 2017 End of Session Report. Rep. Theresa Wood and I were as perplexed as you were at the endgame — three vetoes by the Governor on bills that received wide approval in the House and Senate. We worked with our caucus to stand strong for the work we did that benefitted Vermonters most — a balanced budget with no new taxes, funding for more affordable housing and improvements in our child care and mental health systems.

As always, please feel free to reach out with your thoughts, needs, and criticism. It remains a privilege to serve you.

When Others Say it Better Than You Can Part 2

June 20, 2017

reptomstevens

This opinion piece was written by Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and published around the state. It is a straightforward and honest description of the dilemma we are facing as a Legislature and a state — how do you react to a situation where you are faced with a negotiation over something less than tangential to what you are negotiating over, and when the opposition, in this case Governor Scott, refuse to negotiate in good faith? It is easy to call this “spin,” especially if you don’t agree with it, but in this case, it speaks to the truth. The Vermont Legislature, and Democrats/Progressives in general, passed a budget that raised no taxes or fees, and an education tax yield bill that lowered the statewide property tax rate. This is fact. The Governor’s initial budget proposal would have required a substantial rise in the statewide property tax, and his desire in these negotiations is to take savings negotiated by local school boards for statewide purposes. We fundamentally disagree.

When your state representatives were sworn in January 4th, each pledged faithful, honest service to the people and constitution of Vermont. In my opening remarks as Speaker of the House, I asked them to do this by evaluating and prioritizing our state’s needs to support the long-term health and wellness of our state. Given the vast uncertainty at the national level, and your voices at the local level, your legislators crafted a budget that carefully balances Vermont’s diverse, sometimes competing requests. We worked across political aisles to find budget reductions. Together we invested in housing, higher education, water quality, economic development, childcare and mental health. We put more money into the education fund to reduce pressure on your property taxes and raised NO taxes and fees. We spent less than the projected revenues, building savings that will mitigate uncertainty in federal funds. Read more