2012 Legislative Report

Home  »  News  »  2012 Legislative Report
Mar 5, 2012 No Comments ›› vdhc
Town Meeting Week Report

1.  Health Care Exchange.      Vermont is planning for the implementation of the health care exchange that is called for in the Affordable Care Act. Every state is setting up an exchange unless they prefer to let the federal government set one up for them. The exchange will make health coverage more affordable to middle class Vermonters by allowing them to access new federal tax credits and subsidies if they enter the Exchange as individuals. Two-thirds of Vermonters may qualify for tax credits in the exchange. That means households making less than $92,200 for  a family of 4 ($44,688 for an individual) will be eligible for help paying for their premium.  The exchange will allow consumers to compare insurance products with a transparent, standardized web portal or with the help of trained navigators who can help Vermonters enroll. Small businesses will be freed from the burden of administrating health benefits if they so choose.

2. School District Mergers/Consolidation.      In 2010, the legislature passed a bill to help school districts improve educational opportunities, increase administrative effectiveness, and save money through a voluntary consolidation process. Since then, dozens of school boards have engaged neighboring districts to discuss the costs and benefits of working together jointly. This year, school board members and superintendents asked the house education committee to modify the law to create even more flexibility. Based on their recommendations, and with little opposition, the legislature passed a bill to help schools work toward consolidation of services. It is lauded for preserving local control in deciding how schools can best achieve cost savings, increased student opportunity, and unify governance.  The “voluntary school merger bill” provides various incentives for collaboration. School districts or supervisory unions (SUs) can receive up to $5K in reimbursement for services performed to help explore the feasibility of cooperative governance and joint services. If districts or SUs proceedtoward shared services or duties, addition funds are available to reimburse for consulting services. Finally, $150K and either a tiered local property tax forgiveness or a $400 per pupil grant is available to towns and SUs that ultimately decide to merge.

3. Supporting Our Troops.      The 700 Vermont National Guard troops who were called up post-Irene worked alongside troops from eight other states.  Those other state guard members were awarded housing allowances by their states. Vermont law did not provide a housing allowance.  Current legislation requires that housing allowances be paid for future state service.  This multi-faceted bill also requires that Vermont employers protect the jobs and health care benefits of guard members providing state disaster services.  Further, it places in statute the authority of the Adjutant General to award medals and creates an administrative disciplinary process for the Vermont National Guard.  Finally, the bill expands the use of educational scholarships for our troops.

4. Working Landscape.     The House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed The Working Lands Enterprise Bill (H.496). Vermonters see the working landscape as key to our identity, our economic growth and as legacy for future generations.  The working lands economy – comprised of farms, forestry and value-added processing – holds tremendous opportunity for job creation and rural revitalization. The bill creates The Working Landscape Enterprise Fund to demonstrate the state’s investment in the working lands enterprise economy. The fund will focus on three key areas:  enterprise grants and loans to land-based and value-added businesses that are new or want to grow, wrap-around services to working lands enterprise start-ups or those in growth phases, and needed infrastructure to support cluster development and spur business success and rural prosperity.

To make sure the funds are leveraged and dispersed as prescribed, there will be a Working Landscape Enterprise Board to oversee and administer the Fund and coordinate all economic development efforts related to working lands enterprises. Find more information here: http://vtworkinglands.org

5. Redistricting. 

As a result of redistricting, Jericho and Underhill will now comprise a new Legislative District

Chittenden 3.   Bolton will join Huntington, Buels Gore and Waterbury in a new District: Washington/Chittenden.  Redistricting in the Vermont House was accomplished in a bipartisan manner with the House vote on the plan being 138-4.

6.  “Vermont Strong”. 
The “Vermont Strong” decorative license plate bill passed with overwhelming support from both bodies. With a cost $25, these plates are pre-selling in the thousands.  The funds received from the sale are to be allocated as follows: $5 to cover the cost of manufacturing, $18 to the Vermont Disaster Fund and $2.00 to the Vermont Food Bank. The Senate changes opened the opportunities for additional points of sale.

5.  Education Property Tax.      Every year the Legislature is required by statute to set the Education Property Tax rates.  The Tax Commissioner makes a recommendation in December and these are reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee in January.  After much testimony and discussion, the House set the residential education property tax rate at 88 cents and non-residential rate at $1.37, with the base education spending amount per pupil at $8,723 in bill H. 754.  The 70% of Vermonters who pay by income will still begin with a 1.8% base.  These rates are a base upon which local spending choices are added.  The rates are up a penny, largely due to a reduction in grand list value and the assumption that average school spending statewide will be up 1.7% – though the current figure is 2.6% with over half the districts reporting.

6. The Budget.    The legislature is wrestling with a budget gap for a 5th year in a row.  This $61 million is the difference between projected revenues and projected pressures on expenditures.  Each year the Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget, makes adjustments to bring the budget into balance.  Though this is the smallest gap in a number of years, Vermonters are feeling the cumulative effect of 5 years of cuts.  The job of meeting the needs of Vermonters within our budget is made even more difficult given the incredible pressures caused by rebuilding our state following tropical storm Irene. The upward pressures on the budget include increasing caseloads in human services, increased General Fund contribution to the Education Fund that will relieve pressure on the property tax, funding for more state troopers and public safety, responsible payments to retirement funds, and reduced federal contributions to Medicaid and long term care.  Thanks to good fiscal management in the current year, we have set aside $11 million in reserves to address some of the upcoming challenges. Better management of Medicaid services is estimated to conservatively save $5 million while improving health outcomes.  During the worst years of the recession, we made cuts to balance the budget while avoiding severe harm to core state services: 600 position cuts, deferred replacement of safety equipment, salary reductions, grants elimination, and holding essential service budget level while their caseload increased.   Though we have been through very difficult economic times, we can be proud that Vermont has maintained an excellent AAA financial rating.  This demonstrates our fiscal responsibility and lowers interest rates for our long-term borrowing.  This year alone, State Treasurer Beth Pearce saved the state nearly $5 million by renegotiating our debt service, which is essentially the state’s mortgage payment. Last year, in order to focus our limited state financial resources on top priorities, we began the process of asking agencies to describe the outcomes they are trying to achieve.  This year many agencies presented their budgets in the context of data that indicate their effectiveness.  In tying taxpayer investments to actual results we are making strides towards outcomes-based budgeting in which tax dollars are used to pay for specific, proven results, rather than spent to buy government activities.  This is a crucial step in making the budget process more transparent and holding government accountable to all Vermonters.

7 .Vermont’s Mental Health System of Care    Vermonters who have mental health conditions deserve to have high quality care available to them in the community and in the hospital. The purpose of H.630 is to strengthen Vermont’s existing mental health care system by offering a continuum of community services, as well as a range of inpatient beds throughout the state. H. 630 has passed both the House and Senate but with different language from each body. This situation is yet to be resolved.  The bill includes:

  •  a clinical resource management system
  • integration of treatment
  • enhancement of existing community services
  •  a residence for individuals seeking treatment with minimal use of psychotropic medications;
  • housing subsidies
  • new intensive residential recovery facilities (so-called “step-down” facilities)
  • replacement of the services provided at the Vermont State Hospital with beds at the Brattleboro Retreat, beds at Rutland Regional Medical Center, temporary beds at Fletcher Allen Health Care, possibly temporary inpatient services at another location, a 25 or 16 bed hospital in central Vermont (the House passed the bill with 25 beds, the Senate with 16 beds), and a secure residential facility. 

I am Honored to serve as your Representative to the Vermont Legislature and I thank you for that privilege.

George Till         contact:  Rep.georgetill@gmail.com