MINORITY LEADER DON TURNER

We learned more about the federal tax cuts and the potential impact on Vermonters this week. It is my understanding that the federal tax cuts were intended to allow people to keep more of the money they earned. However, there were some unintended consequences that occurred in Vermont. Vermont’s income tax functions in conjunction with the federal income tax. The changes in the way federal income tax is to be calculated in the future created a situation in Vermont where thousands of Vermonters would end up paying more state income tax and negating any federal benefit. This would result in a $40 million surplus in Vermont income tax to the state.

The governor announced a plan to reduce Vermont income tax rates to coincide with the federal changes in an attempt to insure that all Vermonters received the full benefit of the federal tax changes. There are some other ideas floating around in the legislature to use this found money to start new initiatives or fund the unsustainable costs of Vermonts pre k-12 education system. I believe that we need to develop a new way to funding our education system. However, I cannot support a switch from the current education fund revenue sources to the income tax without some significant long-term cost containment elements. Ideally I would like to see a statewide teachers contract, legislature-approved statewide annual growth rates or a system that requires a two-thirds majority to approve a budget that grows more than the rate of inflation.

This will be challenging, in the meantime I fully support the governor’s proposal and will diligently work with his adminstration to insure that you receive the maximum benefit of these federal tax changes.

REP. CHRIS MATTOS

The House Committee on Education continued to work on refining special education funding. It is my hope that we can provide funding in a way that allows for more flexibility of how curriculum for special education is delivered in the districts/supervisory unions across the state. Reducing the administrative burden on everyone who provides the instruction would allow for more time in the classroom with the students as opposed to in the office completing paperwork. With studies conducted by the District Management Group on the delivery of instruction and how funding is provided completed by UVM, there is a real opportunity for some positive change to the special education system for our students and schools.

Numerous bills were introduced to the House Committee on Education this week. Here are a few: H. 792 – An act relating to the creation of a tuition-free scholarship program for Vermont students; H. 793 – An act relating to the requirement to pass a civics test for high school graduation; H. 794 – An act relating to the adoption of ethnic studies standards into statewide educational standards and a policy on ethnic and social equity in schools by public schools and approved independent schools; H. 861 – An act relating to the reduction and realignment of supervisory unions.

The session continues to heat up and you will likely continue to hear more about property tax reform and education spending along with the $15 minimum wage that has passed the senate.

SEN. TIM ASHE

I’d like to briefly update you on three important bills before the Senate. First, the Senate will be debating an increase to the minimum wage later this week. A Senate committee has recommended an increase of $4.50 over a six-year period. This is a more aggressive schedule than current law, which raises the wage by annual inflation. Contrary to popular myth, most low-wage workers are not part timers or teenagers. In fact, 55 percent of all Vermont workers earning less than $12.50/hour earn more than half of their family’s income, and 65 percent of these workers are older than 30. The problem of income inequality affects all other areas of public life, and this bill helps those who the national economy has left behind.

Second, the Senate will be debating a bill this week to lower prescription drug prices by importing them through Canada. It is outrageous that a commonly used medicine like Lipitor costs 46 times more per pill in the U.S. than in Canada. As expected, the pharmaceutical industry, which last year bested its own lobbying spending records, is raising its usual red herrings. We need to do something about the ripoff Vermont patients are experiencing, and this bill is one promising approach.

Third, the Senate passed a bill promoting net neutrality. President Trump’s FCC has reversed earlier policies that prohibited massive telecommunications companies from slowing down some content and generally restricting a free and fair internet. The Senate bill disallows the State from contracting with telecom firms that do not practice net neutrality for their Vermont customers. This is a critical issue for Vermonters and Vermont businesses and schools.