Commentary

January 7, 2016

Vermont State Legislators returned to Montpelier this week facing significant, although not unexpected, challenges.

For at least the last seven plus years, we have gone from budget crisis to budget crisis, yet have never addressed the underlying structural deficiencies in our state government.  In what has become the new normal, we face tens of millions of dollars in budget deficits each year because we have increased state spending by 5% year over year, while our revenues have grown at less than 2%.

And, this year is no exception.

The first challenge is to resolve a $40 million hole in the current year’s budget, the majority of which is in the troubled Medicaid program, due to a higher than anticipated caseload and the 53rd week of this year that the Shumlin Administration purposefully excluded from its budget development last year.

Even more troubling, however, is the almost $60 million budget gap in Fiscal Year 2017.  How to address this challenge is the question now.  Will it be broad cuts to programs?  Will it be increased taxes and fees?  Will it be a combination of both?

May 28, 2015

I am pleased to report that we concluded the session with a sound economic development bill.  While not a comprehensive, long-term strategy for economic growth, the bill includes several provisions that will, indeed, move the economic dial here in Vermont. 

1) Necessary changes to the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive to ensure more Vermont companies are able to take advantage of this program that has more than proved its worth in helping to create jobs;

2) The elimination of the sales tax on prewritten software accessed remotely (cloud tax);

3) A first-time homebuyer down payment assistance program to help young professionals around the state into home ownership through the creation of a revolving loan fund;

4) An economic development branding and marketing initiative to complement and supplement our tourism marketing efforts - including a $200,000 appropriation to create and implement it; 

5) A Vermont-Quebec Enterprise Initiative to recruit and expand into Vermont Canadian businesses interested in a US location - including a $100,000 appropriation to fund the program; and

6) An increase in our Licensed Lender limit from $75,000 to $250,000.

May 28, 2015

As had been predicted, the 2015 Legislative Session – one of the most unusual sessions in my memory – came to a close late Saturday, May 16, 2015.

From opening the session with a Governor, who did not receive a majority of votes on Election Day, facing a challenge in his quest to retain his seat; to a large protest by angry single payer advocates dominating the Governor’s Inaugural Address; and from the unceremonious ouster of the longtime Sergeant of Arms; to the tragedy of the arrest in the final days of the session of a sitting Senator.

Between these bookmarks, however, there was work that had to be done. 

We again faced a significant budget deficit – this one at $113 million; had the EPA demanding a real effort on the water quality in Lake Champlain; and had Vermonters clamoring for property tax relief, and meaningful economic development efforts.  And, on these notes, there were both positive developments and significant disappointments.