By Guy Page
The Legislature has the discretion to fund, modify, or not fund thousands of current and proposed line items that comprise the proposed 2020 General Fund budget, estimated at $1.6 billion. However it must by law fund $60 million in required new spending, House Appropriations Chair Kitty Toll, D-Danville, told the House Democratic Caucus today.
This $60 million in required 2020 spending is made necessary because previous legislatures incurred debt or committed future legislatures to pay for mandated programs. Here’s the breakdown:
- $6 million debt service
- $21 million committed for underfunded teachers retirement fund
- $6 million committed for underfunded state employees retirement fund
- $9 million committed in last year’s state employee pay increase
- $6 million committed for state employee job reclassification
- $11 million required for expected Agency of Human Services caseload growth in mandated services
There is no “wiggle room” in these allocations, Toll said. Revenue is up over last year, so the total budget gap is “only” about $7 million. But lawmakers and taxpaying Vermonters shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief (“hey, it could be worse”) because the gap for 2021 is expected to be between $38 million and $52 million. “We need to plan prudently now to limit the damage,” Toll said.
She spoke those words on Tuesday morning. One can only speculate that by Thursday afternoon the chair’s warning will still be ringing in the ears of the House Government Operations Committee members when they hear testimony on H.334, to “permit long-term temporary State employees to collectively bargain.” If H.334 passes, “An individual employed in a temporary capacity shall:
A. be paid in accordance with the job classification and pay plan for classified State employees that is most closely applicable
B. receive paid and unpaid leave, including sick and annual leave, parental and family leave, holidays, and other leave
C. not be terminated without good cause
D. after six months receive health insurance benefits that, at a minimum, satisfy the affordable minimum essential coverage standards of the Affordable Care Act and provide coverage for the individual’s dependents.
If approved, the new pay and benefits would take effect July 1, 2019. The bill doesn’t say how much money it would commit future legislatures to allocate.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.