And the legislative session is over. We adjourned for the year on May 12, likely for the biennium, unless the Governor vetoes the budget. Last month that veto seemed like a much stronger possibility than it does right now, but for what it’s worth, it did pass the Senate 30-0 and the House 133-3 in its final form. I once again intend to do a more thorough “end of session report” to recap the bills passed this biennium, but for an abridged version, the legislature passed 215 bills over the last two years, including a number of charter changes, which go through the normal bill process. So far, the Governor has vetoed 12 bills and the legislature overrode three of those vetoes. 122 bills have already become state law and 14 charter changes have been enacted. We passed 79 bills over the last two weeks of the session alone, which is why there are still 70 bills that the Governor has yet to act on, most of which have not even made it to his desk yet.
As often happens at town meeting, and as I’m sure I’ve written about here in the past, the budget is easily the “biggest” and most consequential bill, and yet it is often barely debated on the floor. And as consequential as it is, rarely does anyone ever reach out to me about it or about anything specifically in it, as opposed to other bills, which I hear a lot about. I think a lot of the lack of debate is a product of its balance and the collaborative process by which it’s crafted. While it is the role of the appropriations committees to review and craft the budget, they are very inclusive in their process and engage closely with the “policy committees” for input on the sections of the budget that are in their respective policy areas. So, every member ends up with an opportunity to weigh in on parts of the budget that are important to them and make their case why this appropriation makes sense or why they think that appropriation does not. Consequently, the closest anyone gets to critiquing the budget is something to the effect of, “There are some things in this budget that I don’t like but I can accept, because there are many more that I think are critically important.”
Some highlights from the budget as passed: It appropriates a total of $8.3 billion, of which $2.8 billion are state funds, $1.9 billion are from the Educational Fund and $3.6 billion are Federal Funds.
Some specific policy areas:
- $138 million in investments in workforce development, general business/economy supports, and community supports, including VOREC grants and Brownfield redevelopment grants. This was mostly a product of my committee, so it is something I know a lot about and I can go into specific grants in future articles.
- $60 million for housing, to support the unhoused, for affordable housing, and for the “missing middle” housing. Specifically for building units and to support landlords in renovating currently vacant units.
- $97 million to support the broadband build-out. Much of this is going to CUD’s, and I continue to urge all our communities to strongly consider joining/forming a CUD to make sure some of this money comes to our towns. Even though we have relatively good coverage, a CUD is a great opportunity to create competition in the broadband market.
- $207 million in specific climate change response initiatives. Includes $80 million for weatherization programs and $25 million for electrical upgrades for low-and-middle income family homes. $45 million for municipal energy system resiliency upgrades. And a number of new electric vehicle related programs. I would also add that climate change is a consideration in almost every appropriation and every committee at this point, so this is by no means an exhaustive accounting of the climate change initiatives. I know our workforce development initiatives also took into account the sectors that we expect to see the most growth because of and to respond to climate change.
- $109 million for water and sewer related projects. Helping to update municipal systems and assist with the new three-acre permitting and compliance.
As always feel free to reach out anytime about any of this or anything else. I keep saying in these articles that I want to restart my coffee hours and regret that I was unable to make the time while we were actually in session, but at the very least I hope to be able to now that we have adjourned and don’t have to drive to Montpelier four days a week.
In more personal news, I will add that we are expecting our second baby (another girl!) next month, I am transitioning into a new career in real estate now that the session is over, and I also plan to be knocking on your doors over the next few months as I start to campaign for re-election this fall (with one or both of the girls if my wife will let me!). So a lot of plans and a lot going on in the Nicoll household right now.
Ludlow, Mount Holly, Shrewsbury, Vt.