A handful of bills aimed at delivering more “equity” for Vermonters are under consideration as this year’s legislative session prepares to enter its final month.
“Free” school meals
One of the big proposals this session has been S.100, a measure that would provide universal, taxpayer-funded school breakfasts and create a task force adding lunches to that.
On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee took up the bill. Rep. David Durfee, D-Shaftsbury, from the House Committee on Ways and Means, met with colleagues to discuss the details on how the bill’s $29 million (for one year to come the state’s education fund) will impact taxpayers.
“So certainly this money, if it were not being spent this way, would either result in a surplus being carried over to next year, or possibly a reduction in the property tax rate,” Durfee said.
More funds may still be needed from elsewhere, as earlier estimates from the Joint Fiscal Office on this bill’s cost were around $36 million.
Rep. Peter J. Fagan, R-Rutland, said he generally supports the cause of providing the free meals, but he’s not pleased with the funding proposals.
“To me, there is one major flaw here: We are using education fund money that the taxpayers haven’t voted on to be used in this way,” he said. “When I went [campaigning] door to door, which I have done every single time … the number one issue I heard at the door for over 70% of the people whose door I knocked on, was property taxes.”
Elizabeth St. James, a lawyer with the Office of Legislative Counsel, will meet with the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. to review the bill.
Economic Development bill filled with EV subsidies?
Lawmakers are still hashing out differences still over H.159, which is “An act relating to community and economic development and workforce revitalization.”
This revitalization includes $8 million “towards the affordable, equitable implementation of AMI (electric car charging stations). Currently, less than 1% of the nation’s vehicles are electric and the average EV owner makes a median income of $150,000.
Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott has a budget proposal of his own which includes major investments in EVs. This included $161.5 million in climate change mitigation, about half of which would be allocated to weatherizing homes. In all, the plan outlines nearly $600 million in various economic development programs, which can be read in the governor’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget proposal for this year.
There are important differences between the governor and the Legislature on what the final state budget should look like. Scott wants investments in tax relief and infrastructure, whereas Democrats and Progressives want more for green energy.
They are at odds on how to spend excess federal funds. An $8.1 billion budget proposal from lawmakers wasn’t enough for the governor in addressing some pressing issues. In particular, Scott has criticized lawmakers for “kicking the can down the road” on the state’s pension funding crisis.
“I’ve talked about the need for true structural reform to right the ship, because this is a massive $5.7 billion liability. And without structural reform it will only get worse,” Scott said at his weekly Tuesday press conference.
“Unfortunately, our recommendations weren’t included, or for that matter, seriously considered,” he said.
State to dictate school mascots?
S.139, that would allow the state to dictate whether schools must change their mascots and other branding was also discussed again on Thursday. The bill could be voted out of committee as soon as this week. On Tuesday, lawmakers in the House Committee on Education will hear from Bor Yang, executive director and counsel, Vermont Human Rights Commission, to discuss the measure.