Lawmakers reach budget deal

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, said Monday that lawmakers have delivered on their promise to support the most vulnerable Vermonters during the pandemic. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

House and Senate lawmakers settled into place Monday on a key piece of the legislative jigsaw as they raced to complete their work for the year: Vermont’s more than $8 billion budget.

The budget bill, H.740, still needs to receive a positive or negative vote from the full House and Senate, and get Governor Phil Scott’s signature (or overcome another governor’s veto) before becoming law. . But a joint committee of House and Senate lawmakers tasked with reconciling differences between the chambers on the state’s annual spending plan has formally reached an agreement.

“I am very confident that we have honored the commitment we made to Vermonters at the start of the pandemic – that we would support the most vulnerable Vermonters throughout the pandemic and help Vermont recover strongly and recover. strengthen when the pandemic ends,” said Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, who chairs the House Budget Drafting Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers had nearly half a billion dollars in one-time money from the American Rescue Plan Act to spend in this budget. Hooper and his upper house counterpart, Senate Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, highlighted federally funded investments in climate, clean water and broadband as landmark achievements. Broadband development is expected to receive $96 million, according to Hooper, while water quality would receive $104 million and climate initiatives $130 million.

But federal stimulus spending has also boosted the economy and state tax revenue, and lawmakers have taken advantage of a higher revenue base to increase spending in long-neglected areas of state government.

Private, not-for-profit mental health agencies that provide services on behalf of the state, for example, are expected to receive an 8% reimbursement rate increase, as are home health aides.

“These are ongoing commitments to stabilize and strengthen these systems,” Kitchel said.

Vermont State Colleges, which nearly faced financial ruin at the start of the pandemic, would also get a $10 million increase in their base credit — the money they can expect year over year. another – just like the University of Vermont. State colleges would also receive nearly $15 million in one-time additional aid in the budget as they enact several reforms, including unifying the system’s four-year schools.

House and Senate leaders hope to adjourn this week, possibly even before Friday. But when lawmakers must crumble for good largely depends on what Scott decides to do. The Republican and Democratic-controlled legislature are still quite far apart on key things, including housing, economic development and taxes.

Although the governor has hinted that he may very well veto this year’s budget, when it comes to issues of contention between the legislature and the executive, the thorniest items largely do not feature. in the budget. Instead, lawmakers left placeholders in the annual spending bill to fund appropriations carried in separate policy bills.

And as of early Monday evening, legislative agreements between the two chambers were left pending on precisely those items — housing, taxes and economic development — most closely watched by the Scott administration.

S.226, an omnibus housing bill that carries $15 million for a “missing middle” program that the governor wants to subsidize the construction of middle-class starter homes (and a registry of contractors that he doesn’t), wasn’t quite at the finish line on Monday. Lawmakers had also failed to iron out their differences over the ‘yield’ bill, which sets school property taxes – and due to a large surplus there are plans to fund PCB remediation in schools. schools and universal school meals. A package of tax cuts including a new Vermont child tax credit (which the House wanted to spend nearly $50 million on and the Senate only $22.5 million) was fully disrupted on Monday.

Another joint House-Senate committee worked through Monday night to try to hammer out an economic development deal. A key request from Scott has been $50 million in one-time money for the state’s capital investment program.

While Senate and House lawmakers on that panel informally agreed to give a renamed $40 million community recovery and revitalization grant program, Senate Majority Leader Alison Clarkson, D- Windsor, asked aloud to his colleagues: “Does that mean more vetoes? ”

This committee was to meet at 9 p.m. Monday to try to complete its work.

Fred Thys contributed reporting.

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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