The 2017 Vermont General Assembly adjourned its legislative session on May 18, 2017.

Frankly, that day’s adjournment was a very disappointing end to an otherwise relatively good legislative session.  And, as most who know me know well, I don’t say that lightly. 

I have spent years frustrated by the ever-present desire by the Democratic legislative leadership to simply raise taxes and fees on our hard-working Vermont families and businesses to pay for unsustainable increases in state spending.  Thankfully, this year was different.

Newly minted Governor Phil Scott set the tone in early January when he made clear that he was not going to sign a budget that relied on any new or increased taxes and fees on Vermonters.

And, for the first time I can remember, the Vermont House heeded that call, and began to work in earnest to develop a smart, sustainable budget with no new or increased taxes and fees attached.  New Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson, deserves great credit for that important leadership.

In the end, while the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget itself was a sound one, I was extremely disappointed that the Legislature did not ensure the significant savings in the Education Fund that could be realized under the new teacher and school employees health care benefit programs.  Make no mistake, a total of $76 million in taxpayer funds could be saved in teacher and school employee health care benefits.  The Governor proposed to realize those savings, but to also use $50 million of that to fund Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs).  This would ensure that all teachers and school employees would be held harmless, financially.  The challenge is that the only way the Governor, our state’s School Boards, and our Superintendents see to realize these savings is to have a statewide health benefit plan for teachers and school employees.  Unfortunately, as we've seen through the years in the independent contractor battles, the labor unions wielded their incredible political power to prevent the change necessary to do so.

So, in the end, I voted against both the FY 2018 budget and H. 509, the so-called, "yield bill," and the Governor is expected to veto both as well.  When the Legislature returns for the Veto Session on June 21st and 22nd, I am hopeful a deal is reached to realize these savings and ensure the sound budget we passed is signed into law.

With regard to the session overall, however, it was a relatively positive one with some important successes that include the following:

  •  Fiscal Year 2018 Budget
  • o   We are poised to pass a sound, sustainable budget that protects Vermont’s most vulnerable, and invests in areas of critical importance, including housing for working Vermonters, economic development marketing, and efforts to address our opiate crisis.
  • ·      Ethics Legislation
  • o   My long, 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 this year.  While the final piece of legislation is not all I had hoped for, it is an important first step to ensure accountability and transparency in our government.  Vermont is way behind on this as one of only five states without an Ethics Commission, and ranked 37th in government integrity from the Center for Public Integrity.
  • ·      Immigration Bill
  • o   I was pleased to be the House Republican Sponsor of the Immigration Bill that was introduced – and passed – in response to President Trump’s Executive Orders on immigration and the refugee resettlement program.  Complying with all federal laws, the new law was designed to ensure that the State of Vermont and Vermont residents’ Constitutional rights will be protected.
  • ·      Housing
  • o   Thanks to Governor Scott, after many long years, the development of housing for Vermonters from across the income spectrum was a priority this year.  And, included in the budget is a $35 million housing bond that, in addition to leveraging tens of millions of additional funds, will be used to invest in the development of new housing and the rehabilitation of existing housing.  The funds for this bond are in the FY 2018 Budget, so when that is settled, I am hopeful this important investment will remain.
  • ·      Act 46 Alternative Structures Modifications
  • o   Given the challenges that many Vermont school districts are having under the school district consolidation law known as Act 46, some legislators put together a proposal that would be helpful to districts like Stowe seeking an Alternative Structure under Act 46.  While we didn’t get all we had hoped for, I was pleased that we were successful in making some necessary changes.
  • ·      Benefits Cliff Bill
  • o   The “benefits cliff” describes the disincentive many low-income parents have to either not work more hours, or not accept a raise in wages for fear the extra income will result in a disproportionate cut in the benefits they receive, including in Reach Up and in the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.  I was pleased that the legislature passed a law that would partially address this challenge.  The new law would instruct the state to “disregard” any income a person receives in a wage increase or increased hours if the income is put into a long-term retirement account or an education savings account.

While I am relatively pleased with the session overall, unfortunately, there were also some items of critical importance that continue to challenge us:

  • ·     We again failed to ensure our independent, collaborative workforce is able to grow and prosper because we failed again to address the independent contractor issues;
  • ·      The $2.00 per night per room occupancy fee proposal emerged again this year, and I expect it to continue to do so as a way to pay for any number of state programs;
  • ·      A payroll tax increase on each and every Vermont employee passed the House to pay for a brand new, multi-million dollar paid family leave program, from which many of these Vermonters paying for it will never benefit;
  • ·      The push for a $15.00 minimum wage continues, even as our small businesses try to explain to legislators how damaging it would be to their businesses and to job creation in general;
  • ·      The Governor's common-sense Executive Order to merge the Department of Liquor Control with the Lottery Commission was defeated for the time being.

It continues to be a tremendous honor to represent the people and community of Stowe, and I thank you for your continued confidence in my work.