This week we will see vaccinations begin for those 75 and older (see details below) and on Tuesday there will be a Joint Assembly – to hear the Budget Message of the Governor at 1:00 P.M. The Joint Assembly proceedings, can be viewed at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/senate/streaming/joint-assembly
This week we have three significant financial reports making their way through the legislature. The first is from Vermont’s Treasurer Beth Pearce on recommendations for addressing approximately 600 million in unfunded liability and more then 1 billion dollars shortfall in the state employees and teachers pension funds. The reasons for the growing gaps are outlined in the report and include
- Great Recession impact
- Historical lack of funding in past years (1990’s – 2007)
- Demographic/Experience and Economic Assumptions vs. Actual experience
- Retirement incentive programs (2009-2010, 2016) that reduced short-term operating costs, but
- significantly increased pension costs
- Teacher turnover and retirements as a consequence of benefit changes and workforce changes
- (Act 46)
- Federal monetary policy impact on interest rates
- Impact of COVID through valuation date
The Vermont Business Roundtable has also produced a report detailing the severity of the situation
The unfunded liabilities for the pension plans have increased almost 110 percent in about a decade, from $1.1 billion in 2009 to $2.3 billion in 2018.
Due in part to these unfunded liabilities, for the first time in modern history, Vermont has a negative net worth, and the state’s bond credit ratings have been lowered, making it more expensive to borrow money for infrastructure improvements and other projects.
Unfortunately, given past investment performance for these plans, the situation is unlikely to improve. An August 2019 Institute for Pension Fund Integrity report identified Vermont as “one of the top 10 worst performing pension funds” in the nation.Policy Options for Vermont State Employee and Teacher Pension and Health Care Retirement Systems. Vermont Business Roundtable Pension Reform and Health Benefits Task Force
I have begun to hear from long time teachers and state employees in our district about the effect that some of the proposed changes would mean for their families as they approach retirement. This problem is not going to be easily or painlessly resolved, and the timing of addressing this issue coincides with our teacher’s extreme flexibility and creativity during the ongoing pandemic. Read more from VTDigger on the reactions to the Treasurer’s recommendations.
In addition, the legislature’s economists have provided a very optimistic report on current revenues. This report covers a lot of ground including 100% increases in property transfer tax revenues for calendar year 2020 vs. 2019 for Dover, Wilmington and Stratton.
The Vermont and U.S. economies continue to be driven by two dominant phenomena: the epidemiological path of the pandemic and the colossal federal fiscal and monetary policy responses to it. Both are without precedent in the past century, leaving little historical basis for current projections. As a result, the forecasts herein remain highly uncertain, pending further developments associated with each of these causal factors, and are best understood as order of magnitude estimates.
Revenue data from the first half of FY21, however, appear to indicate that if federal deficit spending is sufficiently massive, it can offset almost any recessionary event – including a pandemic. With nearly $7 billion in federal transfer payments to Vermont already in progress and as much as $3 billion more likely to come, economic “winners” are now more than offsetting “losers” and tax revenue expectations for both FY21 and FY22 have been radically upgraded from prior August projections. In fact, per the chart on the following page, total revenues in all funds are now expected to be only $20M below pre-pandemic FY21 estimates and $77M above FY22 estimates.January 2021 Economic Review and Revenue Forecast Update – Kavet, Rockler & Associates, LLC
Finally, a long awaited draft Tax commission report recommends using residents income tax to fund education, while maintaining a statewide property tax for businesses and second homeowners.
This past week the legislature took action to extend worker’s compensation connected to COVID-19
|S.9||1/21/2021||An act relating to extending certain workers’ compensation amendments related to COVID-19|
Bills/Resolutions Rep. Sibilia is sponsoring
|H.71||An act relating to exempting U.S. military retirement pay from income tax|
|H.C.R.6||House concurrent resolution designating January 2021 as School Board Recognition Month in Vermont|
Important Information on Phase 2 of Vermont’s Vaccine Distribution Effort
Who is eligible and when can they make an appointment?
The best way to make an appointment is through the Health Department’s website: healthvermont.gov/MyVaccine. The page currently has information for Vermonters to learn about the process, but you will not be able register until Monday.
Eligible Vermonters should plan to register online – it will be the fastest way to register. There will be a call center option, but we encourage you to use the online form. Both the phone number and the website link will be released when registration opens Monday.
From Department of Health:
- Check out our FAQs about COVID-19 vaccines
- Sign up for our weekly COVID-19 updates to stay up to date on who will be eligible next
New to Ice Fishing in Vermont?
Always wanted to go ice fishing but couldn’t find a good excuse to get away? With the 2021 winter ice fishing season firmly underway, and Free Ice Fishing Day coming up on Saturday, January 30, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VTFW) announced they have created an online Virtual Ice Fishing Festival to help new anglers learn about ice fishing equipment, gear, and techniques! Join Us At Our Virtual Ice Fishing Festival!
We encourage you to take this opportunity to learn about ice fishing, and then go out on Saturday, January 30 for Free Ice Fishing Day and put your new-found knowledge to use. If you enjoy it and have fun, which we’re sure you will, you’ll have a new winter hobby to continue with this winter and beyond! See you on the ice!
Videoconference Public Hearings on the Governor’s Recommended FY 2021 Budget Adjustment
The Vermont House Committee on Appropriations is seeking public input on the Governor’s Recommended FY 2021 Budget Adjustment and will hold a public hearing on Monday, January 25, 2021 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. (1:30 p.m.) via videoconferencing. The Committee will take testimony on the Governor’s recommended budget adjustment at the above date and time. Anyone interested in testifying should sign up in advance of the hearing through the following online form: https://legislature.vermont.gov/links/public-hearing-happ, no later than January 25 at 9:00 a.m. Instructions on how to access and participate in the hearing will be sent after you have signed up for the hearing. There may be time limits on testimony, depending on the volume of participants—expect a time range of 2–3 minutes. To view the Governor’s FY 2021 recommended budget adjustment, go to the Department of Finance and Management’s website or click the following link. https://finance.vermont.gov/budget/budget-recommendations/operating-budget/fy2021. The public hearing will be available to watch live on YouTube at the following link
https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/streaming/house-appropriations or on your local Vermont Access community cable channel.
You can find your local channel at the following link https://vermontaccess.net/amo/
Vermont Legislature’s Joint Government Accountability Committee Hearing
The State of Vermont annually reports on a wide variety of population-level indicators demonstrating quality of life for Vermonters. The Vermont Legislature’s Joint Government Accountability Committee is hosting a virtual public hearing on January 28th at 6pm in order to inform work on the selection of appropriate population-level indicators to demonstrate the quality of life for Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) and to expand the Legislature’s, the Administration’s, and communities’ understanding of the condition of wellbeing for BIPOC Vermonters.
Testimony is limited to 3 minutes per participant. Please register here. The hearing will be live streamed to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee YouTube channel here.
Testimony is encouraged to be focused on the following questions:
- What specific indicator addition(s) or change(s) would you recommend be made to the list of indicators in Act 186 to better understand the wellbeing of BIPOC Vermonters?
- What changes would you recommend in the process of reporting indicators and outcomes to improve our understanding of the condition of wellbeing for BIPOC Vermonters?
To submit written testimony, please send in MS Word or pdf format to firstname.lastname@example.org
Like many aspects of life in a global pandemic, serving in the legislature during this time has added complexities. The Vermont House and Senate are operating remotely which makes short conversations with many other legislators over the course of the day virtually impossible. It is these short conversations, checking in to see if another member supports a bill, or can explain why the bill is needed that are really important to building consensus. While every committee hearing is recorded and available for the public to watch and listen to, legislators simply can not watch every hearing – there are literally not enough hours in a day. Our district is very fortunate this year (and I am really grateful!) to have two UVM interns (including one from Dover!) assisting me – one is keeping track of committee activity on education finance/property tax reform and the other on legislation related to proposed gun laws as well as sentencing and policing reforms.
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss them.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or email@example.com. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham