Vermont House committee continues review of Scott’s fiscal year 2023 budget

By Dave Fidlin | The Center Square

From refugee services to tax administration, a Vermont House panel is in the midst of a department-by-department review of Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed $7.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2023.

The state House Committee on Appropriations has been holding daily meetings with department and agency heads in recent weeks. The reviews come on the heels of Scott’s Jan. 18 budget address to the General Assembly.

A sample of the disparate meetings occurred Jan. 28, when the panel heard from representatives within such agencies as the Department of Taxes and the Public Utility Commission.

The Jan. 31 session included a comb-through of the operations plans within the state refugee office. Mirroring a scenario seen across the U.S., the agency has seen an uptick in activity on the heels of President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Despite the growing activity within the office, Tracy Dolan, director of the agency, said no actual budget increase requests are on the table for the upcoming fiscal year because of federal contributions.

“Right now, with the Afghanistan money coming in, I think we’re OK – at least for this year,” Dolan said.

The Vermont refugee office has historically worked with a variety of resettlement agencies across the globe. Ethiopia is one such country.

Members of the House panel and Dolan described the resettlement efforts as a win-win, with the recipients and the state itself benefiting. While the refugees are able to forge a new life, the state is able to address some of its workforce shortages.

“Of those who are seeking work, we place almost all of them,” Dolan said. “It’s great for our state. These are highly motivated people who want to work.”

Some of the other departments, including the Public Utility Commission, are seeking additional funding in the upcoming fiscal year. The PUC’s budget request for state dollars is $192,000, or 4.9% more than the amount appropriated in 2022.

The legalization of cannabis in Vermont has been a topic of conversation throughout the recent string of appropriations committee meetings, including the Department of Taxes.

Andrew Stein, chief operating officer of the agency, said cannabis will be taxed at 20% – a 14% excise tax, in addition to the standard 6% retail sales tax.

“We’re asking for a March 1 launch date (of the tax), even though I don’t believe there will be any actual recreational sales by then,” Stein said.

The Department of Taxes’ requested budget for fiscal year 2023 clocks in at $22.4 million.

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