As expected, two weeks ago, the Vermont House passed a Fiscal Year 2018 Budget that does not rely on any new or increased taxes and fees.  As I said at the time, I don't recall the last time I voted for a budget – it certainly has been years if I have – but, I was pleased to lend my support to it this year.

My goal throughout my years in the House has been to start to rein in our state spending and live within our means.  I have long felt that we can create responsible state budgets that increase investments in certain areas, find efficiencies in state government and its programs and services, reduce spending where responsible, and protect the most vulnerable – all without raising taxes and fees.  And, while I probably would have made some different decisions in this particular budget, the Appropriations Committee has started us down the path to fiscal responsibility.

 

The Big Bill is now in the Senate, where the Appropriations Committee is doing its work.  I am hopeful that they, too, understand the need to live within our means and that they follow the lead of the House in not relying on any new or increased taxes and fees.

If you recall, however, earlier on, there was a proposal that passed the Senate Finance Committee that would institute a $2.00 Per Room Per Night Occupancy Fee on all of our visitor room nights to fund a Workforce and Supportive Housing Fund.

Essentially, this proposal would mean every bed and breakfast, every small inn, and every lodge/motel would be charged an extra $2.00 per room per night on top of the 9% (in some cases 10%) rooms tax.

The argument from advocates in support of the proposal is a simple one (albeit misguided and wrong): that this is a tax that would be paid by tourists, and it would, in no way, impact our hospitality industry.  This is absolutely inaccurate.  The advocates simply don't understand, or don't care to understand, the complexities and challenges of the hospitality industry.

The good news is that at this time, the proposal seems to be on hold in the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Some have even said the proposal is dead.  Rest assured, though, I am keeping my eyes and ears open.  

In politics, it is always good to remember the sage words of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, "There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.  Mostly dead is slightly alive."

You may also recall that in January, Governor Phil Scott issued three Executive Orders designed to bring greater efficiency to, and better outcomes from, state government.  In announcing the Orders, the Governor made cleat that the goal was to “create more responsive, nimble organizational structures that allow us to more directly align our economic development and workforce efforts, and provide more efficient, effective, and outcome-driven service to Vermonters.”

One of the Executive Orders would merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission into on Department of Liquor and Lottery, and was referred to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs (the committee on which I serve) for review.

To be clear, this is neither a new idea, nor a particularly controversial on for most Vermonters.  After all, the Department of Liquor Control and the Lottery Commission serve, essentially, the same clients (ie: stores and outlets that sell their products), and they are the business entities of the State in that one of their main purposes is to generate revenues for the state.  It makes complete sense to house them in one Department, governed by one Board, and led by one Commissioner.

Even more, at present, there is no Director of the Lottery, so the transition at this time would be ideal.

Yet, even as people on our Committee have supported this idea in the past, and have even introduced bills repeatedly to do just this, the Committee gave the idea just a cursory look before voting against the idea last week.

I was really disappointed to see this happen, as it was evident to me – and many others – that this was all about politics and power, not about good public policy and better service to Vermonters.

A Republican Governor proposed this government restructuring, and the leaders of our committee decided it was no longer a good idea for now.