State News

Really?

By Rep. Jim Harrison

Last fall I had the opportunity to meet up with our son, Ben, and two of our grandsons, Luke and Graham, for a golf weekend. During round two of the excursion, Ben and I were teamed against the grandsons (12 and 10). Putting aside that their tee box was often 50-100 yards closer to the green than ours, the younger team was beating us badly. So, to mix it up and change the direction of the match, we decided to switch to an alternate shot format. As fate would have it, I was up first and was on a par 3 tee box about 150 yards from the green. I immediately proceeded to mishit the ball, which veered short and to the right into a hazard. Instead of some encouraging word, all I heard from my partner was “Really?” Of course, he was tasked with finding the ball and hitting it onto the green — both of which my tee shot made impossible! Needless to say, we lost another hole to Luke and Graham and ultimately the match.

Well, what does that have to do with anything you might ask (other than my golf game needs improvement). “Really” is what came to mind last week when the House Progressive leader, Rep. Coburn of Burlington, made a motion to overturn a ruling by the House Speaker. The Speaker had just ruled that an amendment offered by another Progressive lawmaker, Rep. Mulvaney-Stanek of Burlington, to exempt unemployment benefits from income taxes, was not germane to a technical tax corrections bill under consideration. Challenges to rulings of the Speaker rarely, if ever happen, and never succeed. The motion was defeated on a vote of 130-6.

The House reviewed and passed the major money bills last week, including transportation, capital construction and what is referred to as “the Big Bill” — the appropriations bill, H.740, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, was a record $8.1 billion, as it included the allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and the surplus funds from last year for several one-time expenditures.

Included in the budget:

  • $30 million to complete the updating of Vermont’s unemployment insurance IT system
  • Increases for state employees’ and teachers’ pension funding that is consistent with the Pension Task Force and pending retirement bill recommendations
  • $11 million in reserve to transition to a regional dispatch system, pending the report of a working group established with emergency response and municipal stakeholders
  • $10 million additional base funding for both the University of Vermont and Vermont State Colleges
  • $38 million increase (7%) for various Human Services designated agencies, such as long-term care and home health providers
  • $60 million investment in housing
  • $2.1 base funding increase to regional planning organizations
  • $131 million of federal funds for climate initiatives, including weatherization and electrical upgrades
  • $107 million of federal funds for clean water programs
  • $35 million for transportation electrification infrastructure and incentives

At his weekly press conference last week, Phil Scott called adding contractor or rental registry initiatives to affordable housing initiatives, “poison pills” and said lawmakers were playing “political games.” Scott vetoed both initiatives last year and believes legislative leaders are including the measures in bills he would otherwise support to get them to the finish line.

He was probably thinking “Really?”

Universal school meals, S.100, which passed the Senate last spring, is under consideration by the House Education Committee. The measure would require an estimated $35-45 million annually in new revenue to support the added expense. Everything from taxing candy or a new drink tax to raising property taxes is under consideration. For the coming year, $36 million in surplus funds from the Education Fund were set aside for universal school meals. It remains to be seen if the Legislature and governor will support new taxes this year.

The quote of the week belongs to my colleague from Grandy, a small town in Essex County. After a two-plus hour report from the House Commerce Committee on their workforce development bill, she rose and said, “Madam Speaker, I have prepared remarks on this legislation.” The rest of the House was probably thinking, we don’t need another long speech at this point. As she wrestled with her papers, Rep. Williams simply said, “Hallelujah,” and sat down, obviously referring to what was probably the longest floor report of a bill all session finally being over.

In the all-important State House March Madness competition, I am pleased to report I am still in the top 10. Although I have little chance to win this year, it has been all in good fun!

Jim Harrison is the State House representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at: [email protected] or harrisonforvermont.com.

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