By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
With the legislative session scheduled to end by May 12, it remains a bit of a mystery as to how it will all come together. The veto of S.103, a chemical bill, could be a signal that the governor will stand firm on other bills that impose new taxes and fees, or in his view, hurt the state’s economy.
The only “must pass” legislation is the annual state budget before the session can conclude. With total spending, albeit some differences in priorities, close to the administration’s proposed cap, I don’t believe it will be the budget bill that holds up adjournment this year. However, even small differences can create significant obstacles at times.
It remains unclear to me, and perhaps others, how the current stalemate on education funding will get resolved in the final days. The governor has reaffirmed his opposition to H.911, which lowers property taxes but at the expense of a new income tax surcharge (House version). Town clerks aren’t fans of some of the changes either, as the House version requires them to send out two tax bills, one for education and another for municipal government.
The biggest obstacle to adjournment may be how to structure education funding to avoid an increase in the statewide property taxes, when latest estimates suggest a shortfall of $56-$58 million. Administration officials have suggested using one-time funds to bridge the gap this year in return for new requirements on school districts to lower overall staffing rations to 5.15-1 to be phased in beginning in 2020 (current statewide estimates are about 4-1, with the range going from 7-1 to as low as 3-1). The proposal, thus far, has been met with skepticism from school administrators and lawmakers.
Last week the Senate unanimously approved a new domestic terrorism bill in response to the Fair Haven situation. The House is expected to concur this week and send the measure to the governor. Meanwhile the House has been drafting a change to the definition of “attempt” so that in the future, plans put in place, like Jack Sawyer’s, could allow the state to charge the planner with attempted murder. As was evident in several briefings this past Thursday, April 26, there are a number of lawmakers concerned that the proposed change goes too far. ACLU has also raised strong objections.
S.204, which has passed the Senate, requires new tax registration of short term rentals, such as Airbnb properties. As amended by the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee last week, the registration fee was removed from the bill, but a requirement to have a rooms & meals tax registration was included. The bill also seeks to add some modest requirements to lodging offered to transient, traveling, or vacationing public for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year. The legislation requires that operators self-certify that their property is in compliance with relevant state and local health, safety and zoning regulations.
The $15 minimum wage bill was passed out of a House Committee on a 7-4 vote, but then sent to the House Appropriations Committee to review the potential costs to the state. It is unclear whether the votes are in the budget committee to advance the measure at this point. Meanwhile the Senate is advancing the paid family leave bill, which includes a new payroll tax. Both measures are opposed by the Governor.
Another bill to watch could be one that deals with clean water. Everyone supports clean water, but not necessarily when it comes to paying for it. S.260 was advanced by the House Ways & Means Committee on a 7-3 vote, with an increase in the rooms & meals tax and collection of unclaimed bottle deposits.
And now that recreational marijuana is set to become legal in Vermont on July 1, a last ditch effort to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis failed last Thursday, April 26, when the House indefinitely postponed action on the measure.
You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell. 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. I am also happy to meet district members coming to the State House.