We are done!

The longest legislative session I have experienced in my 17 years in the Vermont House of Representatives ended on Friday, June 29 when Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson brought her gavel down at 11:51 a.m. declaring adjournment.

In last week’s Reporter, Rep. Bob Bancroft gave you the report of the final full day of the session on Friday, June 22. The House met for a few hours on Monday, June 25 to reconsider the final vote on H.16, the budget/tax bill that had caused confusion for most House members on Friday. Two amendments were offered, both were defeated. A final voice vote was called and H.16 passed almost verbatim to the bill unanimously approved by the Senate the previous week. All that was left for the 2017-2018 legislative biennium was the fall of the gavel in the House and Senate on June 29. At that time the Governor had indicated he would let the bill become law without his signature.

While I continue to have issues with the $1.58 non-residential property tax rate which is 4.5 cents more than the Governor wanted, there are many provisions in H.16 that I wholeheartedly endorse. I am pleased that there is no increase in the residential tax rate of $1.50. Especially important to me is the reduction of all personal income tax rates.  Vermonters will keep $30 million by lowering income tax rates to align the state’s income tax structure with federal changes. Vermonters who receive Social Security will see an income tax exemption. Single tax filers with up to $45,000 in adjusted gross income, and married filers earning up to $60,000 will be tax exempt. The education fund will benefit from dedicating 100 percent of sales and use taxes and 25 percent of rooms and meals taxes to the education fund which will replace transfers from the general fund. H. 16 also established the Public School Employee Health Benefits Commission that will create a single state-wide allocation of premium expenses and out of pocket health care costs between public-employees and school districts.

The bill included a housing bond that will leverage an additional $100 million in private investment, the single biggest housing investment ever made in Vermont. And, of the most importance to me, H. 16 secured free college tuition to the University of Vermont and Vermont’s State Colleges for members of the Vermont National Guard and enhanced licensing reciprocity for veterans to help grow the State’s workforce with skilled employees in high-demand workforce sectors.

In my opinion, this was an extremely difficult year in the Legislature. I have seen an increase in partisanship greater than in years passed. Legislators worked hard to break an impasse at the end of the session but failed in the last day of the session. A fellow legislator commented recently that “the Legislature is a hard place to work, the hours are long, the demands many, the compensation little.” And that is true. But for me there are rewards in seeing bills that one has championed pass into law and having the opportunity to honor Essex residents with resolutions and honors to praise their accomplishments. It has been my pleasure to serve the Chittenden 8-1 district since 2002, and I hope to continue to do so in the 2019-2020 biennium. Thank you for your emails, letters and phone calls. Your support over the years has been very much appreciated. I will be available throughout the remainder of the year to help you with questions and concerns.