By Heidi Scheuermann, Commentary

The 2019-20 legislative biennium is well under way, and my primary focus these first three weeks has been doing all I can legislatively to provide a one-year extension of the July 1, 2019, involuntary merger deadline in Act 46.

Toward that end, our Act 46 Legislative Working Group — made up of dozens of legislators from across the political spectrum — is working diligently to educate members of the House and Senate Education Committees and the legislative leadership about why this extension to July 1, 2020, is so important.

First, given the three lawsuits in process right now, it is absolutely critical that we allow some time for the courts to weigh in. While I am not too familiar with two of the lawsuits, I believe strongly that the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe lawsuit against the state is a very strong one. And, if we are required to merge, and that merger is followed by a decision in our favor, it will be virtually impossible to unravel the newly merged district.

For that reason, it is important we allow time for the court to determine the validity of the decision by the State Board of Education to merge our districts.

Second, the merger of two districts, especially coming on the heels of a so recently merged district (Morristown and Elmore), takes time to do well, and to do right. We have two very strong, capable school boards, both of which have the best interests of all of our students at heart. A shotgun merger will do an incredible disservice to those exact students.

I am confident our hard-working school boards can do this work well, but they deserve to be given proper time to put a merger together in a way that makes sense for all of our students and our dedicated faculty.

In addition, it is important that, as we move forward with a merger, our communities understand precisely the process, what a merged district will look like, and how a merged district will specifically work. As someone who has a great deal of experience trying to engage families and communities on issues of importance, I can assure you that, to do this right, this process will take significant time.

I can also assure you that if our communities do not understand what is happening, and don’t have time to digest this incredible change, we will find even more disillusionment and frustration with government than we see now.

I am pleased to report that the House Education Committee and the leadership in both the House and Senate have agreed to consider our request, and I was invited in to testify in the House committee last week. By the printing of this column, I will have testified again, in addition to both Penny Jones of the Elmore-Morristown board and Cara Zimmerman, the chair of the Stowe School Board, the Lamoille South Supervisory Union School Board, and the Transition Board. So, I continue to be hopeful that we will be successful, though the very tight timeline is a challenge.

As the Act 46 work continues, so too does other important work.

Governor Phil Scott's Budget

Gov. Phil Scott last week outlined his fiscal year 2020 budget — a no-nonsense one focused in large part on addressing the demographic crisis and our state’s fiscal health. But, while in past years there has always been considerable consternation after a budget address, the tone of the governor’s speech this year was a collaborative one, so it was relatively well-received by the Democratic legislative leadership.

Of course, there are going to be significant disagreements in various policy areas throughout the next weeks and months, but I’m hopeful the budget address kicked off a new commitment to working together on the important issues facing out state.

Among other items, the governor’s budget proposal includes the following:

  • Applying the 92 percent tobacco tax to e-cigarettes.
  • Removing, over time, the income tax on pensions for retired military members.
  • Raising the estate tax exemption to $5.75 million, thereby encouraging more affluent Vermonters to remain in Vermont. (Vermont is only one of 12 states to have the estate tax at all.)
  • Eliminating the land gains tax.
  • Creating a paid family leave program for state employees, which would be open for all Vermont employers and employees to enroll into. (The Democrats have proposed a mandatory program paid for by a payroll tax on all employees in Vermont.)
  • An additional $1 million in funding for last-mile broadband.
  • An additional $7 million in funding for child care subsidies for low- and middle-income Vermonters.
  • An additional $3 million in funding for Vermont State Colleges.
  • Funding our clean water efforts by using $8 million of our estate tax revenue.

As always, as our legislative session progress, please feel free to contact me at anytime. I can be reached at 253-9314 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Please also be in touch if you are interested in receiving my more in-depth, regular email newsletters.