Dear Editor, News from Montpelier: The end of the session

 

The Legislature ended the session passing a budget with no increase in taxes or fees. We still found the room in our finances to fund a $35 million bond that will build several hundred low- and middle-income housing units. And, we created a number of economic development policies that, if successful, will help our small- and medium-size businesses grow and allow several more communities to take advantage of special tax districts if they meet certain criteria in development.

We were also able to reduce the average residential property tax. We believe that there will be health care savings statewide that will show up in next year’s school budgets.

Several of you have asked why I voted the way I did on the teacher negotiations and health care, a discussion that consumed the last month of the session.

The short answer is I followed the money. At first, I thought the governor’s idea was a good one because how can one argue with an 80-20 split on health care costs with teachers while returning $26 million to taxpayers. I even co-sponsored the Republican Beck amendment when it came to the floor that was an endorsement of this idea.

However, as the month wore on and more facts came out, I realized Gov. Scott was going to return only one-third of the so-called $26 million to taxpayers. In fact, it was only $13 million because it was spread out over two fiscal years… have to be careful of those great sound bites that are the basics of politics, I found: keep it short and simple and catchy.

When it came time for a vote, I voted against the amendment I co-sponsored because the Democratic amendment would give all the money back to the taxpayers in the district. After going door to door in the campaign, all I heard about was local control and bringing the money back home for tax relief. Letting the teachers negotiate with the state, which takes it out of local control/negotiations, and taxpayers not getting all the money just seemed wrong for Weathersfield and Cavendish.

So, I really did my due diligence for the taxpayers. And, by the way, I worked very hard on the Act 46 amendment and got provisions into the bill to give us a longer timeline that works and more flexibility in what we come up with without being penalized.

No one will disagree in either party that the education funding formula needs to be fixed. We have just added patches on patches to a complicated formula that is not working.

The governor has threatened a veto on the budget and I will be returning to Montpelier on June 21 and 22, and will keep you posted as to the outcome.

For the status of other bills during the session, please go to my website www.annmarie4vt.org and click on Legislative Action.

Thank you,

Rep. Annmarie Christensen

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