Another biennium at the Vermont legislature has come and gone, adjourning Saturday evening, May 11. We invited Milton and Georgia representatives to the House to reflect on this year’s session by asking the following questions:
- What bill are you most proud of this session, and why?
- The FY15 $5.5 billion budget represents a 4 percent increase from current spending. What does this budget provide for Vermonters, and why or why isn’t it a responsible spending plan?
- H.883, a bill to consolidate school districts, had strong initial momentum after many school budgets failed on Town Meeting. With the bill dead, what can be done in Montpelier to reduce education costs next year?
- What piece of legislation do you want to see passed next session?
Note: Responses edited for grammar and style.
1. The teachers’ retirement health care bill. This bill will, in the long run, help put the funding in place to pay for health care for retired teachers. We have been underfunding this for years. I have been working on this for over three years.
2. We are overspending the growth of our recovery and putting the hard working Vermonters at a disadvantage. When they are getting little no raise in their paychecks, we are growing the budget at over 4 percent. This means they have less to spend. We keep adding more programs without looking at the old ones to see if they are working.
3. We need to find a new way to pay for schools, but this will not matter if we do not rein in the cost of teaching our children. With smaller enrollments, we must find a way to reduce costs. Do we really need 250 school districts? We are very top-heavy and need to find a way to trim this. It is very hard to get everyone on the same page, as it is a large school and small school problem.
4. We need to find a way to get health care costs under control. The system the governor wants is just too expensive. It may be as high as $3 billion to put in place; that is about half of this year’s total budget. Where will the money come from? The plans that are on the exchange are priced too high with the amount of co-pays you must make. It just shows if you take out most of the insurers, the price goes up.
I will also be putting in a bill for a casino in the state of Vermont, with the money going into to the Education Fund to help reduce the cost of property taxes.
1. The bill that bans using hand held devices while driving. As the fire and rescue chief, I have seen far too many accidents caused by distracted drivers. This new law will ban the use of most hand-held devices, allowing for more strict enforcement and hopefully safer roads for everyone.
2. The budget includes spending increases in transportation, education and human services. I don’t feel that it is a responsible spending plan because it uses one-time dollars and reserves to balance. Vermont’s projected budget gap will exceed $70 million in both FY16/FY17. I cannot support a budget that is growing faster than Vermonters’ ability to pay.
3. Work must continue on the consolidation plan in H.883 combined with a new education funding formula. I believe that education governance/structure and funding must be addressed together if we ever hope to strike the right balance between providing a quality education for kids at a price the taxpayers can afford.
4. I would like to see a comprehensive economic development bill passed that targets small and medium Vermont businesses. Much of Vermont’s economy is derived from these businesses. Essential elements would be workforce development and training. Aiding these businesses will grow the economy and undoubtedly improve the state’s overall financial position.
1. The water quality bill (H.586, died in Senate) was a blueprint for addressing non-point pollution discharges to waters of the state and was crafted from the Act 138 report with comprehensive input from the Agricultural Working Group. This bill would have provided in large part the “reasonable assurances” required by EPA for the Lake Champlain total maximum daily load.
2. Economic development, opiate addiction services, renewable energy, infrastructure and roads and bridges, state police, emergency readiness, disaster assistance, etc., are all items provided for by the budget. Everyone taxes and spends, and the test of being responsible is measured by our priorities and the depth of our resources.
3. H.883 had little to do with cost containment. While there may be some efficiencies associated with consolidation, the issues are mandates (like consolidation) that are not funded and the disconnect between local school budgets and one’s property tax (income tax) bill. There simply needs to be a better way to finance education.
4. Water quality legislation is needed to satisfy not only the TMDL for Lake Champlain but more so to establish state policy toward the abatement of non-point nutrient pollution. We are on the bubble of recovery and restoration for many of our resources, and it is in our best interest to act now.
1. For years, we’ve struggled to find long-term solutions to fund retired teachers’ health care. The structural shortfall jeopardized earned benefits and the state’s fiscal health. Included in this budget were funds and provisions for a permanent solution to provide promised benefits and save taxpayers more than $300 million over 25 years.
2. The budget addresses growing problems that, unchecked, threaten Vermont’s future: drug addiction treatment, affordable housing, the shortfall in retired teachers’ health care are responsibly funded. In job creation and economic development: $5 million in business incentives and access to capital, childcare, increased investments in housing construction and road construction jobs & RDCs.
3. Education costs are a shared problem that needs better coordination. Montpelier dictates funding mechanisms and regulations, which impact costs. Voters who ultimately pass budgets want local control, requiring many schools, but low taxes. School boards build budgets but have little flexibility in spending. Federal funding and regulations add more complexity.
4. We need a solid understanding of how we currently pay for health care (out-of-pocket costs, employer/employee premiums, charitable care shifted to other payers, existing taxes, etc.) and potential alternatives so we can make a decision next year on if or how to move forward with health insurance reform.
1. This question is difficult to answer because I am most proud of the bills I fought against and prevented from passing. I stood in the way of bills that would have raised taxes on small businesses, raised taxes on investments from lifetime savings and levied property taxes on non-profits like churches, cemeteries, Grange buildings and others.
2. I did not support the budget because it spent too much money. Vermont incomes are not going up fast enough to pay for the increased spending in this budget.
3. I believe this bill will come up again next year. There are certainly aspects of the consolidation bill that have value, but this year’s version came up too late in the session to get the attention it needed.
4. Next year I would like to see all high school students in Vermont get the advantage of dual enrollment classes. Currently only students in certain schools may use this taxpayer funded advantage.