As the details of this year’s Big Bill really begin to take shape and legislators joust over their priority line items, budget writers are faced with the age-old question: How are we going to pay for all of this?
Well, if you ask those on the Fifth Floor, they’ll say that legislators are making some major sacrifices in order to pay for big ticket items — namely child care and paid family and medical leave.
Spokesperson Jason Maulucci told VTDigger on Friday that the Governor’s Office is watching as lawmakers scale back some of Gov. Phil Scott’s highest priority items presented in his budget address, such as $15 million to rehab dilapidated housing units through the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (most recently cut to $10 million), or $10 million for the Healthy Homes Initiative (now down to $5 million), or $10 million to fund Community College of Vermont tuition reductions (now $4 million). Very concerning to the gov, according to Maulucci, was budgeters moves to “slash” Scott’s request to set aside state funds in order to draw down federal infrastructure match dollars.
“The most logical reason for all of these initiatives to be cut are to help reduce the need for an even larger payroll tax than they’re already talking about,” Maulucci posited.
The House has already greenlit a paid family and medical leave program, H.66, paid for by a 0.55% payroll tax starting in 2025 and adjusting annually. The Senate’s child care and paid leave proposal, S.56, would also be funded with the help of a payroll tax that hasn’t been hammered out yet.
“Most striking” to the Governor’s Office, according to Maulucci, was senators’ plans to cut the child tax credit in order to help fund their child care bill. The child tax credit provides $1,000 per child in tax relief to families who earn $125,000 or less, and families who benefit the most from it are Vermonters’ lowest earners — AKA, those who already receive free child care.
“So now, not only are they going to lose the child tax credit — several thousand dollars a year in relief — they’re going to pay a payroll tax and not get anything new out of it, because they’re already getting free child care,” Maulucci said.
In the name of child care and paid leave, Maulucci said, “It seems the lengths that they’re going and the things that are being reduced, or the regressive tax increases that are being considered… it seems as if they’re just trying to check a box.”
— Sarah Mearhoff
IN THE KNOW
Budget writers in the Vermont House have essentially wrapped up their work on the state’s more than $8 billion budget, drafting a spending plan that invests tens of millions into housing, significantly increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for service providers, and sets cash aside for child care and paid leave.
Technically, nothing is finalized. But House Appropriations Committee members gave legislative staff the thumbs up Friday afternoon to spend the weekend producing an up-to-date bill that incorporates the decisions made over the last few weeks for the panel to review and formally sign off on Monday.
Check back soon for the full story on VTDigger.
— Lola Duffort
ON THE MOVE
The House on Friday passed a widely-anticipated bill that would legalize online sports betting in the state — and set aside some of the revenue to mitigate the sharp rise in problem gambling that officials expect would follow suit.
Lawmakers agreed to a series of amendments to the bill, H.127, late Thursday evening and gave it final approval on Friday. The bill passed nearly unanimously.
Under the amended bill, Vermont would take at least 20% of the adjusted gross revenue that sports betting operators — such as DraftKings and Fanduel — make in the state each year.
— Shaun Robinson
After some debate on the House floor, lawmakers approved H.126, a bill that would set a goal of conserving 30% of land in Vermont by 2030 and 50% by 2050. It’s headed to the Senate.
Lawmakers attempted to strike a tricky balance with the bill, which sets goals of both permanently conserving land as “forever wild” and maintaining working forest. The bill would also require state officials to identify and categorize land that’s already been conserved in Vermont.
The measure has won the support of many environmentalists, along with some scientists and sustainable foresters who believe a mixed approach to land conservation is the best way forward. Others — primarily those who make their living on the land — have opposed the bill over concerns that it could take viable land out of production.
The bill echoes the Biden Administration’s conservation goals, which are designed to protect wildlife and maintain and improve the quality of forests, which store and sequester carbon dioxide.
— Emma Cotton
The Vermont House passed a bill to provide free school meals to Vermont students.
H.165 would require schools to serve free breakfast and lunch to public school students and publicly tuitioned students in independent schools.
As written, the estimated $29 million needed for the program would come out of the state’s education fund.
House lawmakers approved the bill on third reading Friday morning. It now heads to the Senate.
— Peter D’Auria
WHAT WE’RE READING
Burlington to audit racial equity office amid questions about former director (Seven Days)
Goddard College staff on strike after breakdown in contract negotiations (VTDigger)
Recent storms bolster Vermont’s snowfall totals after months of lagging behind (VTDigger)
Fermentation fanatics to converge this weekend in Burlington (WCAX)
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