Rep. Steven Berry
Revenues for FY2016 continue to lag slightly behind estimates. Here are the January figures. The General Fund for January was down by just over a million dollars. Contributing to the General Fund were the Corporate Income tax and the Personal Income tax and both of them were up. But Sales and Use tax and the Estate tax was down, making the overall General Fund total below target for January and below target for the year. The Transportation Fund for January was down by nearly a million dollars for the month of January and down for the year. The Education Fund was down too, mainly because of the Sales and Use tax, the same problem we saw in the General fund. And the Ed Fund was below its yearly projected revenue. Property tax money will replenish the Education Fund once school budgets are passed and voters decide what they are going to spend. But there is a concern that the lack of snow has cut into the room and meals taxes. Despite these concerns there is some positive news. Compared to last year's disastrous revenues for January this year is better. In total the General Fund brought in more than $27 million, the Transportation Fund $1.8 million and the Education Fund was also ahead by $1.8 million over last year. Indications are that we might be seeing growth in the economy this year but I am not going to hold my breath. The reason: personal income is virtually unchanged and job growth is relatively slow. Further, the Vermont Economic Progress Council recently announced it had no applications for its program in over 8 months, which indicates that businesses are not looking to relocate to Vermont. This can change. Locally, we have some positive growth factors with the opening of the new luxurious Taconic Hotel and soon there will be a ground breaking for the Aeolus Mountain Spa.
Vermont Veterans' Home Update
On January 27, 2016 I introduced H. 650, an act relating to a General Fund appropriation to the Vermont Veterans' Home. The act if passed will fund the Veterans' home for FY 17. I am about to introduce a joint resolution calling for the Federal Government to assume all costs associated with keeping the Vermont Veterans' homes operative. Vermonters currently pay over five and a half million dollars per year to keep our veterans home open. In fiscal year 2016, the State will spend $5,894,000 on the Home, which is 28 percent of the Home's overall budget. The other money comes from commercial insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and private funds. Our Vermont Veterans' Home is not organized as an "official" State veterans' home, as are the veterans' homes in all other states, despite the fact that the Home's mission is similar to that of these comparable health care institutions. Some in the Vermont state government believe that Vermont should not fund the vets home simply because the costs are excessive for the 130 beds occupied and because of ongoing concerns around local administration of the home. They can't see how the state can justify the many millions of dollars it costs to provide the services. Those concerns are not the ones that I find most compelling. While I agree with cost containment in the Vermont budget as a whole (which I will address next time) I do not agree that cuts should come at the expense of the loss of the Veterans' home. The Vermont General Assembly's concerns about the operations and funding of the Home led to a recently released legislative study on this topic. One of the suggestions of the study was merging of the Home into the Administration. I would like to push to see this happen sooner rather than later. I want to see the federal government take the responsibility for injured veterans beginning with Vermont where one in seven Vermonters have served in the military.
Personally, post the Iraq War I find it morally reprehensible, a total outrage, that the federal government cares so little for our combat veterans once they come home. I think it is shameful that not-for-profit organizations are seeking to provide resources that our Congress and Senate refuse to pay. I find this to be a national disgrace! (Sadly, some of these organizations that say they serve our warriors are in fact making amazing sums of money off of the donations of citizens, the vast majority of which goes toward administrative personnel salaries and media campaigns rather than directly to helping mitigate the suffering of wounded veterans).
I am asking the Vermont General Assembly to seek to hold the federal government's feet to the fire for the funding of our vets home and all the vets homes in the U.S.A. The Administration in Washington needs to step forward and pay. I would like to see Vermont establish a nationwide model for the future governance of the nation's veterans' homes, and believe that a merger, requiring both federal and State statutory and regulatory changes, be set into motion in 2016. My proposal reads in part: Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives:
That the General Assembly requests that the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs start the necessary federal legislative and regulatory processes required for the Home to be merged into the Administration at the start of federal fiscal year 2018, and be it further
Resolved: That the Secretary of State be directed to send a copy of this resolution to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs and to the Vermont Congressional Delegation.
Steven Berry is a state representative to the Legislature from the district that includes Manchester, Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate.
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