On December 22, 2022

And the stockings were hung….

By Rep. Jim Harrison

The popular holiday poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore, was first published nearby in a Troy, New York newspaper on Dec. 23, 1823. With this past weekend’s fresh snow cover, the visions of St. Nick depicted in the poem should be alive and well this week. My best wishes to you and your family this holiday season and wonderful year ahead!

Since the general election last month, newly elected and re-elected legislators have been invited to a wide variety of meetings, both online and in-person, to educate and solicit support for various causes and agendas. In some respects, they might be viewed as a stocking waiting to be filled. All are important and beneficial, at least in the eyes of some.

And speaking of the Legislature, we know who the leaders will be (Jill Krowinski will be re-elected House Speaker and Phil Baruth will be elected as the new Senate leader, replacing outgoing Becca Balint, who was elected to U.S. Congress). However, with a third of the legislature being new, and many new committee chairs, its not easy to predict what stockings will get filled.

Some of the issues on the list:

  • Paid family leave — Democratic lawmakers have pledged support for a universal mandatory paid leave program possibly funded through a new payroll tax on all employees and/or employers. Gov. Scott favors a voluntary leave plan funded by those that wish to participate.
  • Child Care — With a shortage of affordable childcare options keeping some out of the workforce or creating strains on family budgets, advocates will be proposing that the state subsidize payments to ensure that no family pays more than 10% of their income for childcare. How to fund such an expansion of assistance is an open question. Some estimates have the cost pegged at over $200 million annually.
  • Universal school meals – Anti-hunger advocates support continuing the program that began during the pandemic that provides free breakfast and lunch for all K-12 students, regardless of family income. The estimated $30 million annual cost could put additional pressure on the state’s education fund and the revenues that support it (property and sales taxes).
  • Housing —A shortage of affordable housing options is making it difficult to attract and retain people in all professions, including education and healthcare. In addition to the allocation of federal funds, housing groups are expected to ask for funds from the current budget surplus to continue their work.
  • Homelessness — Since the pandemic began, Vermont has housed record numbers in motels through the state’s general assistance program. The temporary federal funding to support the hotel program is about to expire, prompting some advocates to request state tax dollars to continue. Additionally, some groups believe Vermont needs rent controls and “just cause” eviction protections to help renters.
  • Climate — A proposal to establish a clean heat standard (vetoed by Scott last session), designed to reduce usage of heating fuels like oil and propane will be reintroduced. The controversial measure, which failed by just a single vote, may now pass, given the new majority makeup in the legislature. Meanwhile, Vermont has adopted rules to follow California’s electric car mandate for new vehicles beginning in 2035.
  • Transportation Funding — unlike other areas of state revenue, which have been performing better than expected, the gasoline taxes used for the transportation fund are underperforming. Will the legislature respond with new fees or taxes on electric vehicles is an open question.

Complicating the list is a warning by the Legislature’s economist indicating that there could be a reduction of state revenues in the next budget year beginning July 2023 due to the threats of a national recession.

An updated forecast will be released in January.

The 2023 Legislature will begin on Jan. 4. I plan to prepare regular updates in the new year. Thank you for your continued interest and readership of my reports.

I am honored to serve as the state representative for Chittenden, Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

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