Rep. Sibilia: Vermont Budget and End of Session Report 2021

Good afternoon,

If you missed my post immediately following adjournment I spoke specifically about the consequential bills passed on education finance and telecommunications this year. In this post I’ll update on the budget that was passed during this historic session and signed by the governor this week. It appears we are going back for a brief VETO Session to consider three items:

  • bill H.107 An act relating to confidential information concerning the initial arrest and charge of a juvenile that seeks to treat 18, 19 and 20 year olds as minors for the purposes of releasing their names publicly upon arrest
  • Montpelier Charter Change H.177 and Winooski Charge Change in H. 227. The voters in each of these Vermont municipalities voted to allow non citizen voting in municipal elections. While the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions prohibit voting by non citizens, in Vermont, the legislature’s attorneys have interpreted voting by non citizens in local elections as being constitutional.

In a typical January, the governor and his administration will propose a budget to the House and Senate that will fund Vermont government services and fund the governor’s priorities. The House Appropriations Committee will then review the governor’s budget, hear from his agency heads, make changes and add in House priorities. The House budget is then voted on by the entire 150 member House and sent to the 30 member Senate where they consider the governor and House priorities and propose a third budget that incorporates the Senate priorities.

This year, the governor started the process with a large amount of one time funds – close to 200 million – those are dollars that for one reason or the other are available this year, but likely wont be next year. As the governor’s initial proposed budget was making its way through the House, a massive influx of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds were awarded to Vermont just as the House was getting ready to send the Senate the budget. This meant neither the governor nor most House committees had fully considered how the ARPA funds should be used.

This year’s final budget was approved on Friday May 21st and signed by the governor this week. The detailed budget can be viewed here.

FY 2022 Budget Bill Highlights:

This budget appropriates a total of $7.35 billion to meet the ongoing costs of operating state government including programs providing services and benefits to Vermonters and investments in Vermont’s infrastructure and human capital from the federal funds available from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other sources. The budget sections are listed below showing both regular FY22 Appropriations and ARPA State Fiscal Relief Funds in bold

  • Sec. G.100 -FUNDING INTENT –See below in blue
  • Sec.G.200 -COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
  • Sec. G.300 -ECONOMY, WORKFORCE AND COMMUNITIES: $158.7 million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $109.2 million •General Funds $49.5 million
  • Sec. G. 400 -HOUSING INVESTMENTS:$190.0 million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $ 99.0 million •General Funds $ 40.0 million •APRA Rental Assistance$ 51.0 million
  • Sec. G.500 -BROADBAND INVESTMENTS:$150.0 million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $150.0 million
  • Sec. G.501 -TECHNOLOGY MODERNIZATION: $66.0million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $ 52.0 million •General Funds $14.0 million
  • Sec. G. 600 -CLIMATE ACTION INVESTMENTS:$54.5million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $ 50.0 million •General Funds $ 4.5 million
  • Sec. G.700 -CLEAN WATER INVESTMENTS: $120.0million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $115.0 million •General Funds $ 5.0 million
  • Sec. G.800 & 801 -TAX CONFORMITY AND ADMIN:$ 24.0 million •ARPA State Fiscal Funds $ 24.0 million

KEY BUDGET ELEMENTS:

The budget funds a 3 percent increase to mental health, developmental disabilities and Choice for Care providers

Provides base funding to address the court-related workload backlog due to the pandemic

Funds Child Care Program increases included in H.171.

Includes $41 million to support the Homeless Transition plan.

Provides the Vermont State College system with funding for the recommended transformation plan in Sec. G. 300

One-time dollars are used to shore up several special funds including Forests and Parks, Act 250, and Fire Safety. Also $9.5 million is sent to the Environmental Contingency Fund, of which $4.5 million is allocated for PCB testing in schools and $500,0000 dedicated to the Vermont Department of Health for the PCB testing in schools.

Retirement Obligations: Fully funds the Actuarially Determined Employer Contribution (ADEC) for State employees’ and State teachers’ pensions. The ADEC and OPEB funding provided totals $343 million and of this total $250 million is from the General Fund which is 14% of the General Fund available annually. Reserves $150 million General Fund and $14 million Education Fund for pension and OPEB once the Pension Task Force completes its work.

A key issue for the Governor with the massive influx of federal relief dollars was that they be used to make transformational once in a lifetime investments. Between the ARPA funds; other anticipated future federal funds for human and physical infrastructure; and State onetime funds that may become available, the budget includes language anticipating spending the following amounts over the next three years:

Sec. G.100 Multi-Year Funding Priorities for ARPA and Other State and Federal Funds for All Vermonters: Intent

  • Health, well-being, and recovery of Vermonters; workforce development; business supports 250,000,000
  • Housing Initiatives 250,000,000
  • Broadband Development 250,000,000
  • Climate Change Mitigation 250,000,000
  • Clean Water Initiatives 225,000,000

Total Four-Year Expenditures 1.225 billion


Voting

S.15 has been signed by the governor and makes universal mailed ballots part of all future general elections and will allow voters to fix or “cure” a ballot if a town clerk deems it defective after being submitted. A common defect is when a voter fails to sign the inner security envelope when returning a ballot. In the 2020 general election nearly 1,500 Vermont voters ballots were deemed defective.

Vermont Secretary of State Condos Calls S.15 the “Largest Expansion of Vermont Voter Access in Decades”


Watch what is happening with Education Funding

A look at the Preliminary Education Fund Outlook for FY2022 shows a number of new and state directed expenses that were contemplated to be added to the costs the education funds supports. This includes Universal Meals and additional pension costs on top of the normal pension costs beginning to grow. What is important to understand about this is that these are decisions on expenses being made by other districts and at the state level. That is on top of the expenses made at the local level. This reduces overall accountability and puts additional pressure on local school boards to explain tax rates that are impacted by decisions made by state officials. As we look to address the weighting issue and the inequitable access to taxing capacity – and therefore funding – this will create a significant shift in districts taxes and purchasing ability. A Task Force set up to address the inequitable weights will surely consider this broader picture.


Governance and financing of Vermont’s child care system: H.171

An effort to increase the availability of child care and to ensure Vermonters don’t pay more than 10% of their household income $12.7 million into childcare. Starting Oct. 1st, families making 150% of the federal poverty level will have child care costs covered. Families making 150%-350% of the federal poverty level will have smaller co-payments. The bill addresses pay for childcare professionals, by reimbursing facilities for what it actually costs to provide care for children and with loan repayments for childcare professionals receiving their associates or bachelor’s degree. A state IT system is receiving upgrades to help connect the program to more Vermonters.


Climate Change funding

Last year’s passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act requires the administration to put forward a plan to dramatically reduce green house gas emissions within a short timeline. The largest areas of focus are in reducing fossil fuel use in transportation and heating. The Climate Council which includes members of the governor’s cabinet and Vermonters is at work creating that plan. You can monitor their work at the link above. This year’s budget spends 50 million dollars on climate change and notes an intention to spend an addition 200 million in the coming two years. This year:

  • $20 million for weatherization for low- and moderate-income Vermonters through Vermont Housing and Finance Agency who will work on financing strategies to add leverage to the 20 million.
  • $20 million in funding to the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund will help expand renewable energy projects like community solar arrays and new subsidies for advanced wood heating systems.
  • In the Transportation Bill, $5 million was included in incentives for electric vehicle and $1.5 million for a program called “Replace Your Ride,” the helps Vermonters trade in older, low-mileage vehicles for $3,000 vouchers toward the purchase of high-efficiency vehicles.
https://www.eanvt.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/EAN2020-21-KF-historicalGHGemissions-1.png
See more data on Vermont’s Climate Change efforts

Housing, registries and evictions

The budget funded a plan to bring 5,000 housing units to market by the end of 2024 including $100 million in funding to house the homeless in shelters and develop rapid housing in the coming fiscal year with the intention to spend 150 million more in the next three years on affordable and mixed-income housing, renovating apartments, and building new housing for moderate-income families. 

A bill that did not pass – yet – was S.79 An act relating to improving rental housing health and safety. The bill ran out of time but is likely to be taken up and advanced during the VETO session scheduled for June 23 and 24. The bill would have:

  • allowed courts to oust tenants during the current eviction moratorium under certain circumstances including if a tenant was not utilizing the state’s emergency rental assistance program.
  • creates a statewide system to enforce safety standards in rental properties throughout Vermont and creates a registry for both long- and short-term rentals
  • up to 30,000 grant to landlord to bring out-of-date apartments back on line, and a revolving loan fund to purchase and renovate multifamily housing.

A 0.5% surcharge on the property transfer tax for properties over $1 million was proposed several times but ultimately did not pass.

From VPR: Housing Options For Middle-Income Vermonters Worsen During Pandemic


Commerce: Economic and Workforce Development

Economic Recovery Bridge Program
The Economic Recovery Bridge Program provides $30 million in funding to businesses who can show a net loss on their 2020 federal tax returns. The program will give priority during the first 30 days to businesses that have yet to receive any state or federal financial support from COVID-19 recovery programs. Program guidelines and frequently asked questions are available at the ACCD Recovery Resource Center.

Additional economic and workforce development initiatives include:

  • $2 million for tourism and marketing.
  • $800,000 to assist tech businesses with federal grant writing.
  • $1 million to UVM for the Office of Engagement.
  • $1.5 million to ACCD for the Better Places Program.
  • $2 million for the Economic Micro Business Recovery Assistance for the COVID-19 Epidemic (EMBRACE).
  • $150,000 for BIPOC business development.
  • $900,000 to the Entrepreneurs’ Seed Capital Fund for early stage investment.
  • $10 million for Priority Capital Investment grants
  • $2 million for new apprentice programs.
  • $75K for post secondary Adult Education and Training

Education and Training

Advance Vermont‘s free, online one-stop shop to help Vermonters make informed and empowered decisions about their education and career journey.

MyFutureVT.org showcases three interactive databases:

  • Vermont’s high-pay, high-demand careers;
  • the education and training programs in the state that prepare Vermonters for these high-pay, high-demand careers;
  • and a comprehensive collection of career and education support services

Spread the word about MyFutureVT.org and share it with education and job seekers today.

State Colleges – no cost tuition for certain programs

Castleton University, the Community College of Vermont, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College. Take up to 30 credits at no cost in certain fields next year at the Vermont State Colleges (not just for graduating high schoolers either!) Certificates and advancement towards degrees in the building trades, healthcare and business. Details here


From the Vermont AOT: Key themes along the Route 9 Corridor

Sharing known issues and collecting input from Partners along Route 9 between Bennington and Brattleboro in Fall 2020


Ductless Heat Pumps

Hire a contractor and get a $350-$450 instant discount on qualifying models at a participating distributor, plus a $200 bonus for income-eligible Vermonters.

https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/rebates/list/heat-pump-heating-cooling-system


From Vermont School Boards Association:

Governor Scott has stated that he will eliminate COVID-19 restrictions immediately when 80% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It is likely the state will reach this goal over the weekend. We expect the Governor will lift the state of emergency within 24-48 hours after eliminating the restrictions.

The temporary changes to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law which are in effect during the declared state of emergency due to COVID-19 will no longer be in effect when the state of emergency is lifted. At that point, board meeting warnings will need to comply with the Open Meeting Law by including a physical location where the public can attend and at least one member of the board or at least one staff or designee of the board must be physically present at the meeting location. Board meeting agendas must be posted at least 48 hours prior to a regular meeting. 

We recommend that board agendas for next week’s meetings include a physical location where the public can attend. The Open Meeting Law requires that at least one member of the board (or one staff or designee of board) is physically present at the meeting location. 

Additionally, these two model policies will terminate automatically when the state of emergency is lifted:

Delegation of Authority During State of Emergency Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

Modes of Instruction During State of Emergency Due to COVID-19 Pandemic


Next year will be a busy year in the legislature. We must resolve the state and teach pension crisis, vote on new redistricting maps for House and Senate Districts and correct the inequity in the education finance mechanism. I am hopeful we will also finally comprehensively address the usability of the Act 250/Agency of Natural Resources permitting and in my committee we are also planning to establish a legislative guardrails for artificial intelligence (AI). I look forward to sharing information and receiving feedback on all of these items this summer and fall.

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 lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com

Kind regards, 

Rep. Laura Sibilia 
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

One thought on “Rep. Sibilia: Vermont Budget and End of Session Report 2021

  1. Jeremy Schrauf

    Laura, we have always been blessed with State legislative representatives who were ethical and involve with their work in the House and Senate. But you go above and beyond to help us understand the whole myriad of issues being discussed, your positions and your actions. I don’t believe I have ever had such complete information about what is happening in state government and its implications for our local area. Thank You!

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