2022 Legislative Wrap-up
The House and Senate have completed their work in Montpelier, and with Thursday’s announcement that the Governor has signed the budget and transportation bills, the legislative biennium has effectively concluded. I’ve included some highlights below:
The state budget includes nearly half a billion dollars in federal ARPA funds, allowing for historic one-time investments in critical areas like broadband*; workforce and economic development; housing; and climate change mitigation and resilience. The base budget provides a long-overdue eight percent increase to UCS and other community mental health providers, increased funding for adult day programs like BPI, and an appropriation for Pathways Vermont to expand its Housing First program in Bennington. Funding for UVM and the Vermont State Colleges will each be increased by $10 million. The budget also doubles the appropriation for working lands initiatives, sets aside money to update our emergency dispatch system, and increases support for the Office of the Healthcare Advocate.
With revenue collections generally above expectations, the legislature also opted to reduce taxes. In the Ways & Means Committee, we passed an annual education tax bill that will lower the statewide property tax rates and reduce education tax bills by $35 million. We also recommended and enacted new and expanded tax credits that will support families and workers, and made significant changes to our corporate income tax statutes—while raising the minimum tax that the largest corporations must pay (see attached report for more details).
We expanded eligibility for the Childcare Financial Assistance Program, increased the state reimbursement rate for childcare providers, created capacity grants for expanding enrollment, and updated the state’s IT system—which will make it possible to compensate childcare centers based on enrollment rather than attendance. To strengthen the workforce, we funded scholarship loan repayment, pre-apprenticeship programs for early childhood educators, and retention bonuses for existing employees.
An analysis due in December will look at the feasibility of a system that ensures that no family pays more than 10 percent of household income on childcare, and that early childhood educators are compensated in a similar manner to elementary school teachers. Ensuring access to affordable childcare is critical to maintaining a broadly available workforce.
The largest budget item to combat climate change is $80 million for home weatherization (air sealing, insulation, etc.)—which carries the added benefit of saving home-owners money on their heating bills. Lower-income households are eligible for free weatherization in our area through BROC Community Action (I serve on the board), while others can work with Neighborworks for rebates and financing. Please reach out if you have any questions about getting your home weatherized.
We have also continued to allocate funding to assist car buyers with electric vehicle purchases, and to expand the network of EV charging stations across the state. If you’re thinking about an electric vehicle for your next purchase, DriveElectricVT.com is a helpful resource.
In an earlier update I mentioned the passage of the Clean Heat Standard (H. 715), a significant policy recommendation in the Climate Action Plan (established under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020). H. 715 would have incentivized fuel dealers and customers to switch to cleaner heating sources, such as heat pumps, using a credit system similar to the state’s successful Renewable Energy Standard for electricity production. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Scott and came up one vote short of the 100 needed for an override votes during the final week of the House session. Without the steps outlined under the Clean Heat Standard, the state will have to take other less cost-efficient steps to meet our desired (and required) greenhouse gas reduction goals.
With input from sportsmen’s groups and the medical profession, we enacted a bill that will help hunters, who as a group suffer from high rates of hearing loss, by legalizing the use of noise suppressors while hunting. Suppressors have already been legal at shooting ranges in Vermont.
Licensing fees have been established for the cultivation and sale of cannabis starting later this year. Farmers who want to convert a small amount of their agricultural land to grow cannabis will be able to do so without losing their use-value tax status.
Businesses that develop innovative approaches to reducing their energy consumption will be able to establish Energy Savings Accounts.
The new Office of the Child, Youth and Family Advocate will advocate for the welfare of children and youth involved in the child protection and juvenile justice systems. The Advocate will provide much-needed systemic oversight of the Department of Children and Families and will monitor the implementation of laws and policies.
Please see the attached End of Session report for information on other legislation. Unless otherwise noted, I supported the bills mentioned here.
* Good News on High Speed Internet
Many local residents who live on backroads (and even state highways) have never had access to reliable, high-speed internet. To help the state reach its universal broadband goals, the Legislature created a structure in 2018 for Communication Union Districts. Shaftsbury and Sunderland were founding members of the Southern Vermont CUD, which has been working since then to bring high-speed internet to Bennington County. That effort is now coming to fruition, and through a partnership with Fidium Fiber many more county residents will at last have broadband access by this fall. Homes at the very end of the road should be wired during 2023. The Legislature allocated $98 million in this year’s budget to help make this possible.