Issues

As most would suspect, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended state revenues, and at this time it is unknown what, specifically, the impact to them will be for Fiscal Year 2021 and beyond.

That said, we were able to close out Fiscal Year 2020 General Fund without dipping into our reserves.  While, ultimately, we were $51 million short, the state used a short-term internal loan from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to cover that shortfall.  And those funds were repaid on July 27th due to relatively strong tax receipts at that time.

With regard to the FY 2020 Transportation Fund, though, the revenues were ultimately $20.4 million under the projections.

And the Education Fund came in at $21.3 below the January forecast.

The current Fiscal Year 2021, however, is where we are now focused.

By Tuesday, August 18, 2020, Governor Scott will present to the Legislature his proposed FY 2021 Budget for the remainder of year.  It is at that time we will know better the revenues coming in and the projections thru the year.

In the meantime, there is bad news on the Education Fund front, in that at this time, there is expected to be a $92 million deficit in that fund in FY 2021.  So this will be something we will have to address in the upcoming session as well.

We have a great deal of which to be proud here in Vermont with regard to the Coronavirus pandemic.  As other parts of our country are battling immense waves of COVID-19 cases, our trends have remained relatively steady - even as we have continued to reopen our economy.

We have one of the lowest number of total cases in the country, and our positivity rate has remained one of the lowest in the nation. 

This is all great news.  Clearly Vermonters are being very careful, are making smart decisions, and have the health and safety of our friends and neighbors at the forefront of our minds.

But, we must remain vigilant.  We all must continue to wear masks when in the presence of others, practice proper social distancing, and wash our hands with soap and water frequently.

I have spent much of my time over the past fourteen years 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 have found that far too often, the health of our state's economy is on the back burner when it comes to legislative priorities.

Unfortunately, our state's economy has taken a significant hit with COVID-19.  This is especially the case in the hospitality industry, a sector of our economy for which I have advocated vigorously throughout my career.  I am pleased that we have made the CARES Act funds available to our small businesses, but we have much more to do to ensure that our the hospitality industry, and our economy in general, emerges from this devastation successfully.

Toward that end, I am committed to doing all I can to get additional funds into the hands of our families and businesses, and to ensuring we continue to reopen our economy safely.  I am hopeful we will begin that work on day one when we return to session August 25th.

For the past 14 years, I have vigorously advocated for education funding 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 have been dismissed by the legislative leaders.

Unfortunately, I fear that instead of addressing the root cause of the problem - the education funding system itself, and reconnecting Vermont voters to the budgets they vote on and money spent - leaders in Montpelier will continue to wrest more and more control from local districts and voters, and put it in the hands of the state; continue to advocate for top-down mandates from Montpelier that they say will bring spending under control; and continue to blame local voters and school boards if spending increases.

To that, I simply say "ENOUGH!"

Vermont has traditionally had some of the highest quality educational outcomes in the country.  We should all be proud of that strong tradition, and dedicate ourselves to ensuring it continues.  In order to do so, however, we must work together to put into place sound educational policies and do so at a price we can all afford.

Responsible stewardship of our environment has made the Vermont what it is, and as a native Vermonter, I am proud of that tradition and am committed to ensuring it continues. 

Make no mistake, protecting our environment and ensuring our economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive goals.  Rather, they can, and must, go hand in hand.

My long, and sometimes lonely, quest to establish an Ethics Commission and develop a conflict of interest code of conduct for elected and appointed officials in Vermont finally came to fruition in 2017.

As background, in July 2013, the Telecom Czar appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin resigned to take a senior position with VTel, a company that had received $8.5 million in state funds in the two years this person was a voting members of the state board that authorized the funds.

In February 2014, a sitting Democratic legislator was hired as a director of a special interest group having just led the passage of the organization's legislation the prior year.  Her responsibilities as a new employee (while she was also a legislator) were to work with lobbyists to prepare for any future legislative action.

And, in March 2014, the Vermont House Majority Whip, a Democrat, resigned mid-term to become executive director of a single-payer health care advocacy organization.

While in my mind, and the mind of others, these - and other similar instances - raised significant ethical questions and perceptions of conflicts of interest, there was no support in Montpelier for putting into place an independent ethics commission or code of conduct for our elected and appointed officials.

Yet, I started my quest.

And, then continued my quest anyway - year ... after year!

Make no mistake, we have known for years that the lack of high-speed, high-quality internet service is one of the most critical issues facing Vermont.  Unfortunately, it has been, and continues to be, a very difficult nut to crack, including in a own community of Stowe.

First off, keep in mind, federal law expressly precludes states from having any authority over wireless and broadband services. Unlike telephone services, where the state has authority to demand last-mile coverage, they do not have that ability for broadband. And, because many times the build-out costs do not have the financial payback for telecom companies, such build out becomes that much more challenging. In fact, most state funds that become available go to provide service in unserved and underserved areas in Vermont not to expand service in areas that already have services. The Department of Public Service (DPS) is able to insert itself and demand some broadband expansion and service when there is a nexus between telephone or cable television and wireless and broadband, as they did when Fairpoint purchased the Vermont assets from Verizon, and they are doing when they can with Consolidated and Stowe Cable/Access. But, even as the entities invest in Stowe it is a challenge to keep up with the demand.

As this continues, though, I do try to address individual cases with the providers – both Consolidated and Stowe Cable/Stowe Access  Sometimes that results in success, but sometimes it seems the capacity isn’t there.

With regard to how to move forward, as a member of the House, I was always frustrated by the unrealistic promises made by state leaders of 1005coverage within a certain number of years.  It is simply not something the state ahas the financial capacity to take on.

I was pleased, therefore, as a member of the House Energy and Technology Committee, that we decided in 2019 to tackle the issue in a much more realistic and responsible way.