Much has happened in Montpelier since my initial note to you starting with Governor Scott’s annual State of the Budget Address.
For the second year in a row, his proposed budget does not increase a single tax or fee. His General Fund Budget for 2019 exceeds this year’s amount by only $82 million, (a 2.2 percent increase) for a total state spending of $3.9 billion.
Scott’s priorities continue to be economic growth, affordability, and protection for the state’s most vulnerable. He is proposing nontraditional marketing programs to attract new Vermonters, as well as programs for first homebuyers; workforce development through job training; and assistance for entrepreneurs to expand their businesses.
To maintain a balanced budget without any new taxes, reductions were made to community grants, early intervention, child care, and disability services. Though he is also proposing investing in initiatives such as children’s dental health; additional family help for opioid abuse; and expansion for mental health outreach and community-based preventive health care. However, long term stable funding for cleaning up the waters of the state was not addressed and continues to be an unresolved issue.
Separate from the General Fund is the Education Fund, which is funded primarily with property taxes. Paying for the K-12 education will be more challenging than ever with a projected increase in property tax of 7 percent. The governor has proposed a memo of ideas to avoid these property tax increases such as a cap on per pupil spending and increasing the number of students per staff member through attrition.
The House Ways & Means Committee is currently working on a proposal to change the way in which Vermonters pay for education. The new plan would shift part of education financing from the property tax to a newly created dedicated-to-education income tax. Under this plan, revenues from the new income tax will make it possible for school districts to reduce school property taxes by one-third and allow for the elimination of the income sensitivity provision. The non-residential property tax would continue as is.
Whether this proposal will be ready to debate and vote on this session is still up in the air.
Close to 1,000 people turned out to offer arguments and testimony for and against proposed gun legislation at a public hearing at the Statehouse.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is now reviewing the House approved bill (my vote included) that would allow police to temporarily remove guns from the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident.
Another legislative proposal voiced at the public hearing is a universal background check law for all gun sales, which would require all private sellers of secondhand guns to run the names of purchasers through the national database.
My committee, Agriculture & Forestry Committee, recently brought to the floor the Rural Enterprise Development Bill (H.663) that passed the House unanimously and is now on its way to the Senate. This bill will prohibit municipal regulation and oversight of certain accessory farm-based enterprises. These farm enterprises provide additional income that can make a difference to the survival of our small farms.
As always, I welcome any questions, opinions, thoughts, or concerns you may have on any legislative issue. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or feel free to call me at home at 802-875-2222. I look forward to hearing from you.
Representative Tom Bock
of Andover, Baltimore, Chester, and North Springfield