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Posts from the ‘Washington-Chittenden’ Category

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 Time is of the Essence, Mistakes Can Be Made

May 11, 2017

reptomstevens

Detail, Senatorial Shoes, Vermont State House

Nothing has caught attention like the desire of the Scott Administration to somehow collect some kind of savings from the savings to be found if and when our local school boards negotiate new health insurance packages with our teachers.

The administration has been promulgating a number which is, at best, 100% too big. Those of us who oppose this attempt to split the way a teacher’s salary and benefits are negotiated, which will weaken their union, have asked the Administration for numbers, and, at last, there are two different reviews of the proposal, one by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, and one by our Office of Legislative Council.

The fate of the legislative endgame is at stake with the outcome of this discussion. Up until this week, the Administration had not met with representatives of the teachers. There have been a handful of meetings this week, and the Governor is holding firm to his threat that a solution must be found to reclaim these (phantom) savings or he will veto the budget.

These two documents are lengthy, but if you want to know why I am hesitant to break into a teacher’s right to collective bargaining for the shallow claim of savings, please read them.

Money quote:

The Contracts Clause (of the US Constitution) provides that “[n]o state shall . . . pass any . . . law impairing the obligation of contracts….” That happens when a legislature enacts a statute that trumps the terms of an existing collective bargaining agreement.

We are a nation of laws. We should live by them. There is nothing wrong with negotiating change to collective bargaining agreements if they are done by law. Trying to step around contracts, as the Vermont School Boards Assn. and the Administration have proposed, is simply unprecedented in Vermont. That is why I will continue to support preserving the collective bargaining rights of the teachers.

Update 4:00 PM 5/11/17: The House and Senate have made a proposal that goes like this: The House and Senate will propose a three cent, immediate cut in the statewide property tax. Expectations are for $13 million savings in the first year from locally negotiated contracts. Three cent deduction is baked in for the time being and Waterbury benefits even more by starting to see the “gift” from the state for merging under Act 46. We are still checking to see if those are negatively affected. The estimates are more solid than those proposed by the Governor. What we would vote on would provide immediate and real savings to property taxpayers without disrupting relationships between school boards and teachers.

Update 10:00 AM 5/12/17: The details of the “Ashe amendment” have been made clearer, and they have inspired many more questions about the notion of calculating possible health insurance savings within the current legislative session. School boards are concerned that if they do not meet the savings that curricular programming would have to be cut back. These factors really dovetail with the need to take more time to work out what the desired outcomes should be and what the consequences may be. It’s clear to me that the issue has moved further away from the actual policy and is deadset in the middle of politics. The possibility of making mistakes grows when trying to negotiate issues in the waning days of the session.