State News

Finding consensus proves difficult

Late last Friday, Jan. 19, members of the House Appropriations Committee unanimously agreed to proceed with this year’s budget adjustment bill. Called the BAA (Budget Adjustment Act) at the State House, it is an annual mid-year amendment to the current year budget approved the prior session.

Any individual member of the committee can find provisions of the BAA package to disagree with. While some accommodation was made to allow all of us to advance the draft prior to the weekend, new information and clarification on parts of the bill that came to light Monday, Jan. 22, caused a split vote in the end.

One of the major sticking points was related to the hotel voucher program. The program was once again extended (from April 1 to June 30), although language was added limiting what the state can pay for a hotel room night to $75. This contrasts with the average $133/night that the state currently pays. However, the eligibility guidelines were expanded from what they were a year ago, leading some to believe the expanded pandemic era program will never end.

The bill includes $30 million towards FEMA flood recovery matches, $10 million in municipal flood assistance, $9.5 million towards the EB-5 lawsuit, $9 million for housing, $4 million for shelters and up to $13 million for the hotel program.

Recap of other issues of interest:

Key lawmakers are having second thoughts about the unintended impact of a 5% cap on homestead tax rates approved last year if local school spending didn’t increase more than 10%. They now believe the cap incentivized spending increases in some cases. In a letter to school districts, the two tax chairs said, “It [the cap] was not intended as free money—in fact nothing in the education fund is free.”

State economists upgraded Vermont’s general fund revenue by $10 million for the next fiscal year. The good news is that it was a slight increase and not a decrease some were fearing. However, the total is still a reduction from this year.

This Tuesday, Governor Scott will address a joint assembly of legislators with his budget proposal for the next fiscal year. The overall spending increase is expected to be around 3%, which is less than the increases in wages and benefits of state employees. Some legislators have expressed doubt that spending can be capped at that level.

The House Judiciary Committee continues its work on changing retail theft laws. Last week Rutland County States Attorney Ian Sullivan and Rutland Mayor Michael Doenges traveled to Montpelier to testify before the committee to advocate for needed changes to the law in this area.

Environmental groups along with Democratic/Progressive lawmakers are proposing establishing a climate change superfund. The legislation, dubbed “Make Big Oil Pay!” would assess oil companies a cost recovery demand for their share of fossil fuel extraction or refinement contributing to greenhouse gas-related costs in Vermont. Skeptics have expressed doubt that such charges would be easy to prove in court.

A group of lawmakers, led by Rep Brian Cina, P-Burlington, have formed a caucus to advance discussions on taxpayer funded universal health care in Vermont.

The voluntary paid family leave program promoted by the Scott administration and insured by The Hartford will be open to employers on Feb. 15. Participating employers with two or more employees can opt for a variety of benefit options, including length of time off and percent of wage replacement. More information on the Vermont FMLI program is available at:

In a Vermont vs. Vermont case, State Auditor Doug Hoffer filed a suit against State Attorney General Charity Clark to require the AG’s office to provide his office with legal opinions when they are conducting audits. AG Clark called the suit a waste of resources.

Now that the House version of the BAA is almost complete, perhaps I will be able to recover from the hundreds of extra emails and lobbying that appropriation committee members receive from individuals and groups advocating for extra funding. That is until we begin the new budget for next year.

Jim Harrison is the state representative for Chittenden, Killington, Mendon and Pittsfield. He can be reached at or


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