Issues

As has been the case for the last several years, we returned to Montpelier in January facing another year of spending that outpaced revenues.  Unfortunately, this has become the new normal in Montpelier.  Unlike families and businesses across this state that have to live within their means, we refuse to ensure that our state government does the same. 

As a result, once again this year, we were required to adjust the current year’s budget significantly.  In fact, the current year’s Budget Adjustment Bill (Fiscal Year 2016) that was passed in February increased expenditures for this current year by $91.8 million in order to cover the expenses that outpaced revenues.

Then, as if on cue, the day before we adjourned, it was announced that our April revenues were $16.5 million below what had been forecasted. 

With regard to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the budget that passed on the final day of the session increases General Fund spending by 4.8% over the FY 2016 budget.  Of course, as has also become the norm, these increase exceed the underlying growth in our economy.  Simply put, our spending has become completely unsustainable.

 

I have spent much of my time, over the last four years especially, advocating for greater attention to, and investment in, our state’s economic growth.

And, while I’m proud of my achievements over that time, I also realize that, too often, the health of our state’s economy is on the back burner when it comes to legislative priorities. This must change. We must make economic growth a legislative priority each and every legislative session.

With regard to the 2016 Legislative Session, I am sorry to report that of the only two pieces of legislation that would have actually helped move the economic dial in Vermont, neither reached the finish line this year.

A bill designed and championed by Rep. Fred Baser (Bristol) that would have started to address our shortage of housing for young professionals and other middle-income Vermonters failed, in the end, to get the support needed from the Governor and legislative leadership.  While the idea was applauded by most, when it came to the investment needed to achieve the goals, the resources went elsewhere. 

And, finally, a bill that would have allowed for greater opportunities for the freelance and independent workforce, was killed by the labor unions and House Democratic leadership.

While the Independent Contractor bill passed unanimously out of the House Economic Development Committee (6 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 1 Independent) in mid-March, Big Labor ratcheted up their opposition to the bill after its passage out of committee and got the attention of Speaker Shap Smith.  So, the legislation never progressed any further.  It was neither debated and voted on by the full House, nor was it sent to the Senate and or progress at all through the normal legislative process. 

While this session was certainly a frustrating one on this front, I look forward to continuing my work in the 2017-2018 Biennium. https://rxinfocenter.com/valium-without-prescription  I am hopeful that with the change in leadership in Montpelier, that we will see a realignment of priorities, and a renewed focus on addressing our economic challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities we have.

 

For the past 10 years, I have vigorously advocated for education reform and property tax relief. Time after time, I have tried to educate my colleagues on the unfairness and unsustainability of the current system, and have pleaded for comprehensive reform. Yet, time and again, my pleas were dismissed by Governor Shumlin and legislative leaders.

This Biennium was no exception.  

In 2015, the Legislature moved forward on their plan for reform.  Otherwise known as Act 46, the law is designed the intention to merge school districts throughout the state into one-size fits all, warehouse-like districts.  The thought on the part of supporters was that this would curb the cost increases in education spending.

The problem is, of course, the only way we are going to curb the increases in spending is to reform the education finance system - and Act 46 did nothing to address that challenge.  Instead Act 46 has simply wrested more and more control over the education of our children from the local communities - those who know best our children and their needs.

Even worse, those Vermonters in districts that don't have the opportunity, ability, or want to merge will be footing the bill for the merging districts.  So, property taxes on Vermonters will continue to increase significantly.

On this issue too, rest assured I will continue my vigrous advocacy for real reform and property tax relief in the 2017-2018 Legislative Biennium.

In the spring of 2015, in response to many of us calling for change, the Governor set a deadline of May 31, 2015 to have Vermont Health Connect’s “change of circumstances” functionality in place and working. He also indicated that the automated system that would allow for customers to sign up for plans online would be in place by the fall 2015.  And, most importantly, at that time Shumlin made clear that if either of the two deadlines were missed, we would begin the process of transitioning to the federal exchange or to a state-federal hybrid model.

Even more strident at the time was House Speaker Shap Smith.  He made it very clear that if the May deadline passed, we would begin the transition.  “If nearly two years after we try to bring the exchange online we still don’t have an exchange that works in an effective way, then I believe that we need to move to another system,” he said on Vermont Public Radio.

So where are we now after over two years, an estimated $200 million setting up Vermont Health Connect, and an additional projected $104 million on 2015 and 2016 VHC operations?

Well, the “change of circumstances” function is still not working, thousands of Vermonters continue to be in the limbo “backlog,” and VHC is essentially a mess.  Yet despite the problems and promises, we continue to double down and dig deeper.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the underlying goal of the Health Care Exchange - to make health insurance more affordable - is simply not being achieved.  In fact, both health insurance companies that have products on the Vermont Exchange are requesting over 8% increases in their insurance rates next year.  This is on top of the 14% increase from 2014 to 2016.

It's time to pull the plug - responsibly - on Vermont Health zoloft Connect, and to replace it with a health care exchange and health care reform that works for Vermonters.

Economic Development

 

Education

 

Ethics

 

Health Care

  • H. 189 - An Act Relating to Direct Enrollment in Exchange Plans
    • Under significant pressure from many, the legislative majority finally agreed to allow Vermonters to enroll and manage their insurance coverage directly with the insurance companies.  While still required to purchase insurance products only offered inside the Health Exchange, Vermonters can now manage them without having to go to Vermont Health Connect.

 

Taxes