By Sen. Alison Clarkson
The Vermont Legislature adjourned Friday afternoon May 21. We all agree, it was an historic session. It was the first legislative session to be conducted completely remotely during an international pandemic. And, we also agree that, despite our productivity, we all long to be back in the State House doing the people’s business in person.
We learned many lessons. We learned that with the innovations of the 21st Century, we could legislate remotely. Surprisingly, our 18th Century constitution and Chamber rules enabled us to respond nimbly to our current needs. We learned that high speed internet and childcare were essential for our economy and Legislature alike, and that telemedicine worked surprisingly well. We learned how fragile economic security was for many Vermonters. We learned how human we really are — that we all need human contact, miss facial expressions and hunger for hugs.
We also learned that public access to our legislative work was expanded with these technological innovations. Through YouTube and Zoom, many more Vermonters were able to watch the legislative process and follow issues they care about, without having to drive hours to the State House. In our virtual committee rooms everyone could fit. We are reminded that government, at its best, is an effective way of taking care of each other — in a time of lost jobs, lost business and lost life. We are reminded that Vermonters are resilient and rise to the occasion — and that we work together productively to make progress for our beloved state and its people.
I am proud of what the Legislature accomplished in this 2021 session. We responded to the ongoing needs of Vermonters with a wide range of help, from feeding Vermont families and increasing support for those suffering from mental health challenges and substance abuse disorders to economic recovery grants for businesses and essential support for the Vermont State College System. Our Vermont values have driven our policy work this year — our values of equity, safety and well being, social justice and economic security are reflected in almost every line of our $7.35 billion FY22 budget.
This year’s 188-page budget was unusually complex.
It blended many funding sources, each with different guidelines and criteria — general fund, transportation and education funds, one time state surplus and federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money. Its use of $599 million of ARPA money launches four years of transformational investments.
An illustration of this is the $190 million we are investing in housing initiatives. Previously, the most I recall us ever spending was in 2017, when we created a housing bond of $35 million.
In this FY22 budget we are able to fund extraordinary investments:
- Economic development, workforce development and communities ($158.7 million)
- Broadband connectivity ($150 million)
- Clean water work ($120 million)
- Vermont State College System ( $88.9 million)
- Updating state IT technologies ($66 million)
- Climate change mitigation ($54.5 million)
- Brownfield clean up ($25 million)
- Justice system ($15 million)
- Child care ($12.7 million)
These are sums we’d only dream of in years past. We have three more budget years to invest the additional $430 million. These federal dollars are enabling us to significantly invest in our future — ensuring that Vermont will build back better together.
For more information link to legislative committee meetings and to read the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: legislature.vermont.gov.
Alison Clarkson is a senator from Windsor County, she can be reached by email at: [email protected] or by phone at: 457-4627.