End of Session Report
Representative Kitty Toll
Cabot – Danville – Peacham
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve Cabot, Danville and Peacham in the Vermont State Legislature. The 2016 legislative session has adjourned. I look forward to hearing from you.
INVESTMENTS IN CAPITAL INFRASTRUCTURE
Annually, the legislature reviews the condition of our state infrastructure to ensure it aligns with fiscal, policy, and safety goals. Major components of the Fiscal Year 2017 Capital Bill include increasing security in state buildings, supporting clean water, strengthening higher education, increasing internet connectivity, and financing building community grants.
Security in State Buildings: A total of $1,885,000 was approved to improve security in state buildings including state office buildings, courthouses, and the Statehouse.
Clean Water: Through the Drinking Water Revolving Fund and Municipal Pollution Control Grants, the State will be investing a total of $5,014,494 in grants and loans to local municipalities to improve drinking water and pollution control facilities.
Higher Education: Vermont State Colleges received $3,050,000 including funds for major maintenance, an engineering technology lab at VTC, STEM lab at Castleton and roofing enhancements to accommodate solar and equipment for wind sound monitoring at Lyndon. At UVM, $1,900,000 was invested for major maintenance and a capital contribution towards the new STEM lab. UVM, VTC, Lyndon and Castleton all have matching grant requirements in order to receive portions of their funding.
Internet connectivity: High-speed internet availability continues to be an issue for approximately 30,000 Vermonters – including some schools. To address this, $300,000 was appropriated for continued expansion.
Building Communities Grants: To assist with local needs in Vermont communities, $1,600,000 was appropriated in the form of economic development funds and historic preservation grants to preserve historic barns, renovate recreational and cultural facilities, and to make improvements to human services facilities and educational facilities. Added for a 2 year period is a new E911 grant program to provide funds to local schools to address connecting to emergency locations within schools.
The 2017 fiscal year state budget includes investments to stabilize existing programs throughout the state. Budget highlights include a 2% increase to local agencies providing critical services to elderly Vermonters and Vermonters with mental illnesses; provides $700,000 in need based aid to Vermont State College students; increases child care assistance payments by $1 million; increases funding to Parent Child Centers by $190,000; increases Medicaid reimbursements to primary care providers; grants $800,000 to the Working Lands initiative; provides funding the Child Protection Initiative-critical to Vermont children at risk of being harmed as well as important funding to support education and transportation needs.
Additionally the budget fully funds stabilization reserves at statutory levels; reserves $1.6 million for anticipated needs; includes $6.8 million in the Rainy Day Fund; uses available ‘one time’ resources for ‘one-time’ expenses – not for on-going expenses.
Rainy Day Fund; uses available ‘one-time’ resources for ‘one-time’ expenses.
S.260 – an act to improve the siting of energy projects passed the Legislature on the final day of the session following the veto of S.230. This critical piece of legislation enhances energy planning and siting at the municipal and regional levels by allowing Vermont communities a greater voice when projects are being considered for approval.
Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) can now add an enhanced energy planning section to regional plans that are consistent with the state’s goals and policies on renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction. Once an RPC finishes an enhanced energy plan and the Department of Public Service (DPS) approves the plan, town plans can then be submitted to an RPC for approval. If an RPC has not completed a plan, a municipality is allowed to submit a town plan directly to the DPS for a determination until July 1, 2018. Once a town has received this determination, the Public Service Board (PSB) must give substantial deference to the town plan regarding the siting of energy projects unless there is “clear and convincing” demonstration that other factors affecting the general good of the state outweigh the application of the measure or policy.
The bill requires the PSB to adopt sound standards for wind projects on or before Sept. 15, 2017. These standards will be required of all applications that receive a Certificate of Public Good from this time forward.
A Pay Act for Vermont State employees occurs every two years following a negotiations agreement between the Administration and the bargaining units representing classified State employees. While negotiations generally include wages, benefits, and working conditions, it is only pay increases which are included in the Pay Act. This year, the Administration and the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) could not reach agreement in negotiations, even after mediation and fact-finding. As a result, both entities were required to present a ‘last-best-offer’ to the Vermont Labor Relations Board. The Board heard oral arguments presented by both parties and in order to adhere to state law had to then select either the proposal of the VSEA or the Administration, without amendment. This year’s Pay Act (H.888) represents the decision made by the Labor Relations Board to accept the VSEA last best final offer. The offer includes a 2% increase in wages for fiscal year 2017 and a 2.25% increase for 2018 as well as step increases for eligible employees.
The House Appropriations Committee included a provision in the pay act that will target programs to generate savings in state government. The language passed by the committee calls for the Administration to report on state programs where efficiencies can be made to create savings and achieve better outcomes. Additionally, a $300,000 reduction must be made in the use of overtime through better management practices, as well as a thorough analysis to determine if the use of permanent employees is more cost effective than using temporary employees.
UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEALS
Farm to School grant funding enables Vermont schools to participate in the local food system by incorporating local food and farm education into their cafeterias, classrooms and communities. Farm-to-School inspires agricultural literacy, promotes healthy food choices, and creates economic development opportunities for farmers.
This year the Farm-to-School Program was expanded and strengthened by establishing a universal meals pilot program to provide meals at no cost to Vermont students in under-served schools around the state. The expansion of this program ensures:
- More students eat nutritious complete school meals;
- Students are no longer segregated by income – all students receive free meals;
- Stigma in the cafeteria is eliminated;
- Families do not need to turn in school meal applications and schools no longer need to distribute, collect, and process school meal applications;
- Administrators don’t have to spend valuable time and social capital collecting school meal debts.
Act 46 Update – Last spring, the legislature passed Act 46, a law that was designed to promote equity in quality and variety of educational opportunities to Vermont students and to create an affordable and transparent education system for Vermont taxpayers. Over the past year, 81 of Vermont’s school districts have voted or are scheduled to vote to unify into 15 larger districts. Act 46 has proven to be successful in some areas, but unifying has proven to be very challenging for many of our smaller communities. Vermont’s Agency of Education, the Vermont School Boards Association, and the Vermont Superintendents Association are working collaboratively with local officials and committees to develop and tailor local proposals to meet each community’s unique needs.
Last year, the legislature passed a temporary constraint on the growth of education spending in each district. Early in the 2017 session the Legislature passed a revised cost containment mechanism for fiscal year 2017 and repealed it in 2018. The statewide education growth is 1.5% this year compared to 3-5% in previous years.
The Education Tax and Finance Bill sets nonresidential property tax rate at $1.53 (down .005), the residential rate and the income based property rate. The formula used to compute local education tax rates was changed last year. Beginning this year, “yields” are set instead of the tax rates. The state education tax rate in the formula is now fixed at $1.00 and 2% of income for income-based payers. The bill also provides for the following:
- Maintains the current excess spending threshold at 121% of statewide average;
- Requires the AOE to collect data on local budget surplus amounts, reserve fund amounts, and reserve fund uses;
- Convenes a study group to examine the viability of moving merged districts to an aggregate common level of appraisal (CLA);
- Requires the Joint Fiscal Office to provide an annotated version of the Education Fund Outlook at least twice a year;
- Requires the Joint Fiscal Office to analyze and report on two different proposed changes to education tax calculations. One creates a hybrid property and income-based education tax system. The other establishes a local tax rate that includes an annually adjusted base amount (derived from the state’s total education fund revenues divided by the total number of equalized pupils) and is adjusted for how much higher or lower the local district’s per pupil spending is relative to the state average.
To support expenditures of the state, legislation was passed to increase revenue in the miscellaneous tax bill, the executive branch fee bill and the transportation fee bill. Highlights include an adjustment to initial and annual fees paid by mostly out of state large mutual fund companies raising $20.8 million. The revenue package also increases from $60 to $90 the registration fee charged to broker dealer agents. To support Vermont’s weatherization of homes initiative, the gross fuel receipts tax on energy sources was increased with no increase to electricity. An agreed upon ambulance provider tax was established to raise $1.2 million with the revenue dedicated to increasing reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients using ambulance services. Additionally, entities like AirBnB will now be subject to Vermont rooms and meals taxes like other similar businesses operating in the state.