Democracy was in action this week with 3 significant bills passing the House and 1 given preliminary approval with a final vote on Tuesday.
As I’m sure most have heard, the House gave preliminary approval Friday to a suite of gun safety measures (S55) including; 1) a ban on bump stocks, 2) a ban on magazine that has a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition, 3) age restriction on purchasing a gun to 21 unless a hunter safety course was taken, 4) expanded background checks, and 5) the sale of seized and abandoned firearms. We expect amendments on Tuesday prior to a final vote. I voted yes for S55. I feel strongly that this law is not taking guns away from law abiding citizens, but may just save a life. Once we move through final passage of the bill, I will provide a detailed explanation of my vote for each section.
As we talk about gun safety legislation, there is a sentiment by many that we aren’t doing anything else to make our schools and communities safer. That is not accurate, it’s just that the gun safety legislation is at this time getting the attention. Through the budget we have provided additional resources to programs helping those having a mental health crisis. The Capital Budget, that we are voting on this week, as it’s written now has $5m allocated for school safety grants. A group appointed by Governor Scott has been assessing, since March, all of our schools to determine what operational and structural changes may be needed to ensure the schools are safe communities. We expect a report in late April. I don’t expect our efforts to stop with these actions. In next weeks blog I will provide more information on these initiatives.
The House passed a balanced budget of $5.8 billion. The all state funds grew only 1.2%; a rate that is one third of the F2018 forecasted gross state product and almost half the Governor’s growth rate target of 2.36%. Reserves are filled to their statutory levels. Commitments to sound financial planning were kept—one-time money was not spent for on-going needs, avoiding holes in future budgets. This budget addresses the needs of Vermonters and provides for the core services of State Government. It is a budget that helps families and communities thrive with investments in economic development, higher education, in preventing substance use disorders, and in reducing the ravages of mental illness. It fully funds development disability services and protects attendant care services for severely disabled individuals. House bill 924.
The House unanimously passed a bill (H897) fundamentally changing the way we pay for and provide special education services. The legislation changes the funding model from a reimbursement model to a census-based model, which provides more flexibility in how funding can be used, is aligned with the State’s policy priorities of serving students who require additional support across the general and special education service-delivery system, and simplifies administration.
The House also passed H911. The bill collapses the top two income tax brackets and lowers all personal income tax rates by 0.2%. It creates a Vermont standard deduction, personal exemption, expands the Vermont earned income tax credit and exempts taxable social security benefits from State income taxes for single filers with less than $45,000 in adjusted gross income and married filers with less than $60,000 in adjusted gross income. The bill also creates a School Income Tax Surcharge which will be used to reduce average residential homestead rates. There was a lot of good in this bill – changing our income tax structure to move away from the federal system so as things change at the federal level we aren’t tied so closely, as well as, the exemption of taxing social security benefits. However, I didn’t agree with the changes to the education financing portion. Specifically I felt that we were merely shifting pots of money while creating a school income tax surcharge. Although with this particular bill we would reduce property taxes approximately 10% (while adding an income surcharge), going forward our legislative body would now have two available tax sources to raise to fund schools. I also didn’t feel there was cost containment in the bill. This bill still as a long way to go, through the Senate, to conference committee then to the Governor’s desk. He has indicated he will veto the bill as is due to this income tax surcharge. I’m hopeful we will find a path forward to ensure at least the income tax and social security benefit changes can be implemented, but hopefully also with changes to the education financing system I can support.
We are doing a lot of work and providing all the details is difficult in one blog posting. I’m always happy to answer any questions, so please reach out firstname.lastname@example.org or 373-0599. Thank you for the continued opportunity to serve Essex Junction.