Featured

2019 survey on the #Vermont Legislative session for the Deerfield Valley

This year I’m collaborating with fellow Deerfield Valley legislator Rep. John Gannon on a brief 16 question survey which is designed for you to weigh in on what areas you’d most like the legislature to spend their time on. There are a few additional questions about issues that could emerge during the 2018 Vermont political discussion. We are hoping you will consider giving some brief input prior to the the legislative session which begins January 9th and will likely go through early May.

This survey is intended for our constituents in Dover, Halifax, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham, and Wilmington but our weekend residents and neighbors are free to weigh in.  The only required questions are name and town of residence. The survey should take you about 5 minutes to complete if you choose to answer all of the remaining questions.

Take the survey

A reminder about the Consolidated Communications hearing in Readsboro Monday November 26th:  After a significant increase in repair and new service complaints this summer, the Department of Public Service petitioned the Public Utility Commission for an  investigation to be conducted. There will be two hearings statewide – one in Readsboro at the school on November 26th starting at 6:30 and another in St Albans at BF Academy on December 6th at 6:30. Please share this information with your neighbors and ask them to attend or file comments with the PUC on case #18-3231 if they have experienced a service quality or new installation issue. It seems likely that Vermont’s policymakers are not aware of the extent of the service quality issues, or the results of the billions of dollars of deferred maintenance. While we all want to see more internet and cellular service, unreliable land line phone service in areas without cell or internet poses significant dangers for vulnerable populations and public safety.

Please stay in touch with issues of concern,

Rep. Laura Sibilia

Advertisements

Rep. Sibilia 2018 Town Meeting Update

Dear Friends and Neighbors: It’s an honor to represent you in our State Legislature and to communicate the activities of the General Assembly to you in this Town Meeting update.  This report is also available online at www.laurasibiliavt.com where it contains live links to supporting documents and sponsored legislation.  Please stay in touch on issues of importance to you: (802)384-0233 or lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us

PROPOSED INCOME TAX CHANGES: H.911 Lowers all income tax rates by 0.2% and collapses top two income tax brackets, creates a VT Standard Deduction, equal to $6,000 for single filers and $12,000 for married couples, creates a Vermont Personal Exemption equal to $4,150 per exemption, expands the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit, from 32% of the Federal EITC to 35%, creates a 5% tax credit for the total amount of charitable contributions up to $10,000. Taxpayers who contribute up to $10,000 will be eligible for a $500 tax credit, provides tax relief to Vermonters receiving Social Security benefits, taxable Social Security benefits below $45,000 for single filers and below $60,000 for married filers will be 100% exempt from State income tax.

EDUCATION and PROPERTY TAXES:

  • Education Finance Proposal: 911 Adds a School Income Tax Surcharge, built upon the reformed income tax system (noted under Proposed Income Tax Changes). Rates are 0.1% of lowest bracket, 0.5% for middle brackets, and 1% on highest income brackets; Raises approximately $59 million for education; Uses the $59 million to reduce average homestead property tax rates (on both property and income) from projected FY19 rates (average reduction of $0.15); Cost containment: future tax rates will rise faster for all spenders; Non-residential property tax rate: stays at current law = $1.591; Homeowner rebate: split into two components: education and municipal; Renter Rebate: maintained and transferred to General Fund; Separates municipal and education tax bills; General Fund transfer to Ed Fund repealed; Dedicates to the EF: 100% of sales tax and 25% of rooms and meals; Transfers adult education, flexible pathways, community high school of VT, renter rebate to GF ($21.5 million); Repeals excess spending penalty. The excess spending penalty is replaced.  I am concerned that this proposal doesn’t address the current lack of accountability to businesses and nonresidential taxpayers, that it doesn’t address the substantial inequities that exist for our students, and I am deeply concerned that the replacement cost containment measure will add insult to injury for rural students while failing to capture significant needed savings throughout the system.
  • Weighting study: A student Weighting Study passed by last year’s House, Senate and signed into law by the Governor has not yet been conducted.  The administration made a request for 300K in this year’s budget adjustment to conduct the study which has been turned down by the House and Senate.  The administration is required to conduct the study and has communicated that they have begun pulling together some of the pieces.  The House Education Committee has included the study and funding in it’s recently passed Special Education bill. An accurate weighting (equalizing) of students is critical for sustained property tax relief that reflects the Vermont Constitution’s requirement for equity.
  • VT/MA Interstate district: Kudos to the Stamford School Board and Interstate Committee for driving to Montpelier in a snow storm to attend an important hearing in front of the House and Senate Education Committees on their Interstate School District proposal with Clarksburg, MA. This proposal has been developed in response to Act 46 requirements.  Several elements of support for this proposal continue to move forward in both the House and Senate.  The proposal has been awarded financial support from the MA Legislature.

HEALTHCARE: The House Healthcare Committee advanced a bill H.696 out of its Committee on Friday that requires individuals to be covered by insurance and establishes a working group to report on administration and enforcement of the Individual Mandate requirement.

SALIVA TESTING: The House voted in favor of allowing law enforcement officers to administer a saliva test.  The test will indicate the presence of some drugs, including marijuana.  A person is driving under the influence of alcohol, can be asked to take a Breathalyzer test to measure their blood alcohol level. There’s no roadside test to determine if a person is impaired because of the use of certain drugs. If an officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a person is driving impaired, they can be asked to do a series of roadside tests to screen for sobriety.  If a driver failed those tests, and the officer didn’t think that alcohol was a factor, if this bill passes they can ask the driver to take a saliva test. This test would not measure an impairment level, but would confirm the presence of certain drugs in the driver’s system.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: 

  • VUSF Increase: The House passed a bill to raise more than $6 million to build out broadband infrastructure across the state. 582, would temporarily increase a fee on telecommunications services from 2 percent to 2.5 percent for four years, ending in 2022.  The money raised from the increase go to a fund that distributes grants to internet service providers that expand networks in underserved areas.  Readsboro and Stamford town internet committees each have projects that have recently been awarded VUSF funds.  The House approved the measure on a vote of 109-27.  The measure is now in the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Net Neutrality: Two bills in my Committee are seeking to ensure Vermonters have Net Neutral internet access. Senate bill 289, was approved by a vote of 23-5, and requires internet service providers to certify compliance with net-neutrality provisions as a precondition for winning state contracts. I am one of the lead sponsors on House bill, H.680, takes a wider approach to regulation, requiring internet service providers doing business in Vermont to apply to the Public Utility Commission for net-neutrality certification. Governor Scott signed an Executive Order similar to the Senate bill, but with flexibility for State Agencies to grant exceptions to some internet service providers.

PAID FAMILY LEAVE: Passed the House last year.  If approved by the Senate, and signed into law by the Governor, employees over age 18, who work at least 18 hours a week, who do not work for the federal government, who work more than 20 weeks for an employer in a 12-month period, will legally have access to paid sick leave. Covered employees will accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 52 hours they work. An employer may require a one-year waiting period before an employee may take accrued sick time. The employer may restrict the amount of sick leave that may be taken to and to 40 hours a year.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE:  Passed the Senate last month.  If approved by the House, and signed into law by the Governor, employers would be required to increase hourly pay every year through 2024. The first increase would come January 1, 2019, with a minimum wage increase from $10.50 to $11.50 an hour.

MARIJUANA: Recreational use of marijuana and a policy of limited “home grow” was legalized on January 22nd.  I support taxing and regulating marijuana use like we do with alcohol and tobacco.  This was not a tax and regulate bill and therefore I voted against this bill.  Thank you to all who contacted me regarding this legislation.  I expect Vermont will be working to adjust marijuana legislation on an annual basis for the next decade.   Details of the bill can be found on my website.

GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION:  There is a significant discussion about school safety happening throughout Vermont, and a sense of urgency to the conversations happening in Montpelier, led by the Governor, Speaker and Senate Pro Tem.   A memo from Governor Scott to legislators outlining proposals he is open to working on can be found on my website.  New school safety measures as well as legislation increasing regulation of guns are proposed.  Rep. Gannon and Rep. Sibilia are working with school, law enforcement and community groups a public forum for residents, students or employees who work in the Deerfield Valley on Sunday March 18th from 4-6 pm at the Twin Valley Middle/High School in Whitingham.

Education Finance Public Hearing this Wednesday 2/19

Public Hearing on Potential Changes to the Education Funding System
Wednesday February 21, 2018, 4:00-6:00 p.m.in Room 11
The House Committee on Ways and Means will hold a public hearing on

CTCT-20170330_144109_0

 Potential Changes to the Education Funding System on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. The hearing will be held in Room 11 on the ground floor of the State House in Montpelier from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Materials outlining the potential changes to the education funding system will be available and may be requested ahead of the hearing by emailing Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us.
Witnesses may start signing up to speak at 3:45 p.m. on the day of the hearing. Each witness is limited to three minutes to testify. The Committee will also accept written testimony.
For information about the format of this event or to submit written testimony, contact Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us.
If you plan to attend and need accommodations to participate, please contact Sorsha Anderson at sanderson@leg.state.vt.us by February 20, 2018 so that any accommodations can be made in advance.
Information on the proposal can be found here.
The Ways and Means Committee is expending a lot of time and effort to craft a solution to the perennial cry of high property taxes and should be commended.
I am concerned that this proposal doesn’t address the current lack of accountability to businesses and non residential taxpayers, that it doesn’t address the substantial inequities that exist for our students, and I am deeply concerned that the cost containment measure will add insult to injury for rural students while failing to capture significant needed savings throughout the system.  Nonetheless, I am listening and looking for opportunities to make positive changes for students and taxpayers.  Please be in touch if you submit testimony or plan to testify in person.
Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lhsibilia@gmail.com.
Kind regards,
Rep. Laura Sibilia
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

Time for a new session

This week I’m packing to head back up to Montpelier for the legislative session which starts on January 5th and will likely go through some unknown date in May. I’ve also been catching up with folks who have reached out to me on various issues they care about or problems they are trying to fix.

Being your Representative in the Vermont Legislature is a thought provoking and curious job.  Often the requirement is helping empower and inform citizens on how to better navigate their government. There are just as many times I’m learning from constituents who possess deep background and knowledge on specific issues and who are trying to make their town, their school, or their industry work better.  Thank you to all who have taken the time to reach out for assistance or to help me better understand their interest.

Topics of concern or specific issues ideas I have been hearing from you about since the end of last year’s session include numerous challenges with implementing the school governance reform Act 46, Vermont education finance, the clean-up of Lake Champlain, last mile challenges (in most of my towns!) with broadband and cellular, ATV access to state land, the uses of Act 250 fees, AirBnB regulation, emergency response times, Gilfeather Turnips!, the reliability of an eventually enacted state energy plan with 90% renewables, licensing of art therapists, a carbon tax and of course I have heard from folks both opposed and in favor of marijuana legalization.

In addition to the aforementioned issues and a host of other policy initiatives and ideas, Vermont is again facing a current year and project FY 17 deficit.  This is largely associated with Medicaid and is a direct result of having increased the number of Vermonters who are eligible for benefits through both the federal and state health care actions, but not increasing taxes to pay for the newly eligible recipients.   The situation is even more urgent due to inadequate reimbursement rates for healthcare providers.  Last year the Governor proposed a .08 payroll tax to pay for the increased eligibility demands, but the tax was not supported by the Legislature.   This year he is saying he will not propose new taxes but will reduce other services in order to pay for the medicaid expansion.  The solution almost certainly will involve either cutting benefits, raising taxes, or some of both.

In December I spent the day in Montpelier attending the pre session legislative briefing put together by the Joint Fiscal Office

The Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) was created in 1973. The primary mission of the office is to provide non-partisan financial analyses to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the House Ways & Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, the House and Senate Transportation Committees, and the Joint Fiscal Committee. The Office also provides additional non-partisan staff support to committees in a variety of fiscal areas including health care, education finance, institutions and general fiscal analysis.  There is a tremendous amount of financial information on there website, a great resource for Vermonters.

The chief economist for the legislature, Tom Kavet, gave his assessment of the current economic and demographic trends in Vermont.

Education Secretary Holcomb during the December 1 briefing

We were also briefed by members of the Governor’s administration including the Secretary of the Administration and the Commissioner of Finance on how the current year budget is doing (there is a 48M+ shortfall), and how the upcoming years budget will look if revenues and expenses stay the same (another potential 58M+ shortfall). The Governor’s Secretary of Education gave an update on implementation of Act 46.

On December 1st the Commissioner of Taxes released forecasts related to education tax rates for the upcoming fiscal year, FY2017. The statutorily required forecasts are a joint effort between the Agency of Education, Department of Taxes, and Joint Fiscal Office. This year the forecast shows that the projected average homestead property tax rate will rise by 1 cent to $1.535 per $100. The projected average nonresidential property tax rate will rise by three tenths of one cent to $1.538. The projected average income rate will go down slightly from 2.74% in FY2016 to 2.72% in FY2017 (which begins on July 1, 2016). The average tax bill for all three types of payers is projected to increase 1.12%.  Read more on this here

This year I hope to increase the number of updates from the State House – feel free to let me know if you are hearing too much or too little!  You can also monitor the work my committee is doing and check in on how I am voting on issues by going to the legislature website www.http://legislature.vermont.gov/

As always, I encourage folks to weigh in on issues that you care strongly about.  The best way to reach me is email at lhsibilia@gmail.com or cell at (802) 384-0233.  And if you are in Montpelier on business or to testify, give me a call and let me know if you’d like to try and meet.

 

 

Updates (and a laugh) from Montpelier

The Sugar Tax

Things are pretty serious in Montpelier, so let me start with “the laugh”.  As many of you know, I’ve  supported my family by working in a number of small food service establishments for almost 20 years.  It’s very often the owners of those little restaurants and bars that I think of first when calculating how some legislation I am hearing about will impact the business community.

This week I have been doing some research on the sugar sweetened beverage tax after a (not very well prepared) lobbyist for that effort came to see if I might be persuaded to vote in support of it.  He explained to me that this was a tax that would be levied on the distributors who presumably would pass it on to restaurants and bars and retailers who presumably they will pass it on to the consumer.  So the proposal is for a front loaded cost added to the product as opposed to a point of sale tax added to the consumer at the end.  I had asked him to get back to me with the cost increase for the 5 gallon bag in the box syrup that restaurants with soda fountains use.  The regular cost to a restaurant for one of these boxes is around $50.  The proposed sweetened beverage tax is a .01 cent tax per ounce of prepared beverage.

The lobbyist got back to me Thursday and when I read his response, I actually laughed out loud in my committee room.

“…. 5 gallon (640oz) bags of syrup that produce 3840oz of finished soda. That’s a $384 tax per bag of syrup at a penny an ounce.”

First there’s the math problem – it would actually be closer to a $38 tax per bag.  But at the end of the day I’m not voting in favor of a 70% or 700% increase in up front product costs for our small businesses.

Which actually has me a little concerned.  This sugary tax and a proposed payroll tax by the Governor have been the prime candidates proposed for fixing the Medicaid cost shift – a very real problem impacting everyone’s ability to receive and pay for health care, because more people are on medicaid, which reimburses our (diminishing number of) doctors and dentists significantly less then private insurance.  Which means many of our healthcare providers have put caps on how many medicaid patients they can accept.  A temporary increase in federal medicaid reimburse rates ended in December.

Discussion also seems to be happening around removing the exemption to the sales tax on soda and candy

 

5988599H.361 and the Map of Pain:

The map linked here is starting to tell some interesting tales outside of its original intent.  The towns highlighted here either don’t operate a school and tuition all of their students, or operate a school for some grades and tuition the other grades.  They are all “school choice” towns for some or all of their grades.

For equity reasons, with new integrated education systems, choice towns and non choice towns are likely not to be able to be integrated in the same consolidated Pre-K-12 district.  Unless you seek a waiver.

Because of that, tuitioning districts may have to be bigger geographically to get to 1100 students.  Unless you seek a waiver. 

Virtually none of these integrated education systems districts will include an integrated high school.  So a Pre-K – 12 integration education system is impossible.  Unless you seek a waiver.

The majority of these towns are “small school” towns receiving small schools grant.  Those grants will be lost by 2020. Unless you seek a waiver.

A small school grants waiver would be issued depending on whether or not districts participate in a merger study, or can show the drive, to the next school with enough capacity to absorb the students, is too treacherous, or has high student to staff ratios, or is successfully delivering high quality educational opportunities that meet the educational quality standards adopted by the state.

With so many waiver possibilities, I’m not sure anyone is clear on what success should, could, or will look like.

I am also interested in the white areas surrounded by the small choice towns, many of which, particularly in Southern Vermont, contain the larger schools, the secondary schools, and much higher poverty.  In addition to the largest concentrations of jobs.

This bill talks very little (if at all) about the 95% majority of the state student population, utilizing 95% of education funding, that doesn’t attend a small school.  It doesn’t address the corresponding high density areas of poverty.  The bill does address declining enrollments, a clear harbinger of a deteriorating economy, by removing financial protections to student opportunity.  This, like removal of the small schools grant, is intended to create pain to cause a desired behavior – consolidation.

I could not be more opposed to legislation that attempts to cause students pain in order to force consolidation. Or that ignores students in larger high poverty schools. 

Vermonters, including students are supposed to have equal protection under the Vermont Constitution.  These actions will only exacerbate an already inequitable situation statewide.

I’d rather see consolidation mandated and instigated by the state so that accepting responsibility for finally ensuring substantially equitable student opportunity is the primary objective.

This bill also does nothing to address why costs have escalated.  While the collection method for the statewide property tax is meant to ensure equity of opportunity for all students, equity of opportunity is only measured in unscaled dollars available per student. The bill does place a 2%, slightly variable, cap on existing budgets.  If your voters approve a budget over the cap, “the budget shall be deemed to have failed to pass”.

If you are a high spending large school now (of which there are plenty) – you may continue.  If you are a low spending small school, of which there are also plenty, like Readsboro and Stamford and you have an unexpected cost (like a leaking roof or possibly an increase in the payroll tax to cover the medicaid shift), the only way to cover the cost in a budget is to cut opportunity for students.

On the way home Friday, I picked up a copy of the Herald of Randolph.  On the front page was an article calling my name: “Small Schools Not the Problem”    (pay wall up till March 26).  Marty Strange of Randolph, the former policy director for the national non-profit Rural School & Community Trust says he has seen a pattern around unsuccessful consolidation efforts in other parts of the country.  Lawmakers don’t want “blood on their hands” so instead of making tough decisions they create circumstances – like fiscal pressures in school districts – so voters will close their own schools.  He says he calls it “fiscal asphyxiation”.   I call it irresponsible when there is a statewide education tax.

Some of you have asked me to keep an open mind on consolidation, so I’d like to be clear.  I am not opposed to consolidation to improve opportunity.  I am opposed to consolidation for cost containment – there is absolutely no correlation between size and cost in Vermont.  As your Representative, I will continue to also make the plea for real cost containment.

 

Vermont Veteran’s Home

The Vermont Veterans Home is another controversial topic in this years budget bill.  This is not as straightforward an issue as it may seem and there are a number of complicated factors and issues at play.  I’m relieved by the preliminary direction the House, General and Military Committee is recommending, but remain extremely concerned about the possibility of negative consequences to the veterans in this home due to a funding shortfall.  The recommendation to House Appropriations is here W~House General~Committee Memo to Appropriations Regarding VT Veterans’ Home~3-13-2015

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions – please be in touch via email at lhsibilia@gmail.com or 348-7131.

Laura