The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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News from the Ledge

The two weeks prior to Easter/Passover weekend were intensely busy. Days that had been spent largely in committee (transportation, in my case) were given over to long full days on the House Chamber floor. After passing the transportation bill, the next big financial bills were the Ways and Means' committee's revenue bill, and the Appropriation committee's spending bill.

The revenue package that was passed includes a number of adjustments of existing taxes, and some new taxes. Forgiven is the business tax that supported Catamount Health Care, which will yield to the new Health Connect exchange plans. Adjusted taxes are income tax brackets. The 8.8 percent bracket will disappear, and move upwards, while higher income earners see their lowest income bracket move up one bracket. Sales tax exemption for pre-written software purchased "in the cloud" will disappear.  Meals will be taxed at 9.5% instead of 9%, and vending machine consumables will also be taxed.

Cigarettes will be taxed a additional 50 cents per pack, and non-essential "food" consumables (bottled water, candy, soda, and nutritional supplements) will be subject to sales tax.

Clothing items above $110 in price will be subject to sales tax, while less expensive clothing remains tax free. There are a few other adjustments plus an exception to tax law, allowing municipalities (like Rutland) to forgive taxes on blighted properties for up to five years to encourage neighborhood improvement.

Though I see this as a fairly balanced package, I voted no for this year, recognizing the still-present pinch of recession in the district.

The spending bill adheres to the Governor's proposal in many areas, and represents a
4.7 percent increase in spending. The challenging discussions were around capping the Reach-Up program, and the less-affordable move from Catamount Health Care to the new exchange.

The recipients of Reach-Up benefits will have incentives to find employment, while some safety net measures remain for mothers with young children. The health care issue is tough, as Vermont had successfully provided a generous affordability to low income workers, while the ACA (the federal Affordable Care Act) now will offer less generous buy-in. Though the intent is to provide a high affordability program, we will fall back at this time, and need to stay within the promised subsidies to create a sustainable program for the future and through this transition to provide universal health care.

Along with the work on these bill, last week brought the capital bill. This bill outlines expenditures on state owned buildings, school grants, college structures, and clean water  projects. The most significant part of the bill is the spending to build out a new mental health care delivery system. This will include an updated but smaller facility than the aged one destroyed by Irene, and satellite facilities in four other areas including Rutland. Having accessible care with available beds in our area will be a great improvement for the extended region.

Somewhere in there, we passed a strong Shorelands bill that sets new standards to protect our lakes and riverbanks. By restricting new clearing and impermeable surfaces (think roofs, driveways, etc.) on shores, the shore will maintain a protective vegetation, and development behind such a set-back will be less likely to cause erosion and save the waters from both natural and chemical run-off that affects water quality. If towns or associations have already put standards in place, those ordinances supersede this legislation, and  towns can still create their own standards before 2015.

There is more going on… access to Pre-K for all who want it, decriminalization of marijuana, licenses for immigrant works, and so much more. Stay in touch!

Contact me at: anne.l.gallivan@gmail.com or 802-558-0612.