From January to April, there appeared to be an unusual degree of cooperation among legislators and newly elected Gov. Phil Scott. The House and Senate passed a budget with minor differences. Up until this point, some legislators were characterizing the session as “boring.” All that changed on April 20, when Scott proposed that the Legislature adopt the Vermont School Boards Association’s plan for a statewide teachers’ health insurance proposal that would save Vermont taxpayers $26 million. Scott campaigned in earnest for his proposal and told legislators he would veto their budget, which included their version of a teachers’ health insurance savings proposal. No headway was made despite several meetings between the governor and legislative leaders. In the early morning hours of May 19, a budget was passed and the Legislature adjourned.
As he had promised, Scott vetoed the state budget and a bill for setting property tax rates. Lawmakers returned to the capitol on June 21 for a special session where the budget stalemate was finally broken. A compromise was achieved which required school districts to find $13 million in savings and create a commission to study a statewide teachers’ healthcare plan. The $13 million will come from school budgets that voters have already passed. Rep David Sharpe, chairman of the House Education Committee, noted that insurance premiums are expected to drop by $75 million next year, giving school districts some leverage to negotiate plans for their employees while saving money.
On June 28, Scott signed the FY18 budget, which does not raise taxes or fees, including property taxes. The budget includes a $35 million bond for housing, which state officials expect to generate $100 million investment in affordable housing.
On July 21, Scott and legislators learned that revenue for the FY18 base operating budget would be short by $28 million. A rescission plan to cut $12.6 million from the budget was proposed by Scott and approved by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee.
Legislation Passed, Signed Into Law
SB. 79 An Act Relating to Freedom From Compulsory Collection of Personal information
Prohibits Vermont officials from sharing information with the federal government that would be used to establish a registry based on religion, immigration status or any other personal characteristics.
SB.98 An Act Relating to the Public Retirement Study Committee
Creates the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan—voluntary retirement option for employers with 50 or fewer employees, none of whom have a retirement plan.
SB. 135 An Act Relating to Promoting Economic Development
Improves the Employment Incentive Growth Program. Lifts the cap on Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts and adds additional TIF districts.
Oversight of Race, Criminal Justice
HB. 308 An Act Relating to the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel
Voids any aspect of the Vermont fair and impartial policing policy that would conflict with federal law, requires all police agencies to adopt every part of the revised policy. The legislation also sets up a panel to make recommendations about how to reduce racial disparities in Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice system.
Mental Health for Minors
HB 230 An Act Relating to Consent by Minors for Mental Health Treatment
Allows LGBTQ teens to seek counseling to discuss their sexual orientation without their parents’ approval.
Legislation That Failed
SB. 22 An Act Relating to Eliminating Penalties for Possession of Limited Amounts of Marijuana by Adults 21 Years of Age and Older
A last-minute compromise passed by lawmakers legalized the recreational use of marijuana. The governor subsequently vetoed the measure. Other states have approved similar measures by ballot questions including Maine and Massachusetts.
Scott proposed freezing funding for K-12 budgets.
Higher Education Funding
According to Patricia Coates of Vermont State Colleges, the system’s FY18 budget ends several years of budgets stressed by low state support, a decline in the number of Vermont high school graduates, increased competition from New England and northeastern regional colleges through tuition discounting, and increases in health insurance costs. This year, Vermont college presidents submitted budgets that reflected strategic management of resources, which resulted in a balanced VSCS budget that realizes savings through a new, systemwide approach to business processes.
The fiscal year 2018 budget was buttressed by several significant initiatives:
- a $3 million increase in the base appropriation from the state
- $880,000 in state support for the unification of Johnson State College and Lyndon State College into Northern Vermont University, which followed $770,000 in FY17
- $1 million in savings consolidating the administrations of Johnson and Lyndon in FY18
- $2.6 million from a major debt refinancing and restructuring
- over $1 million in savings from business process efficiencies, benefit changes and spending reductions.
Carolyn Morwick directs government and community relations at NEBHE and is former director of the Caucus of New England State Legislatures. Visit here for summaries of the legislative sessions in other New England states.