Legislative Notebook

The 2013 Legislative Session ended Tuesday, May 14. I will cover some of the last minute developments here. If you want a copy of my full "End of Session" report please send me either your mailing address or your email address using my contact information below.

The final budget was more restrained in the growth of spending than earlier proposals. Projections of higher future tax revenue made it possible to avoid any of the many, many tax impositions that were considered - there is no extension of the sales tax to sugar sweetened beverages or to bottled water, nor any new tax on "break open" lottery tickets.

However, the Legislative majority did increase the gas tax and the base property tax rates. In terms of the former, I think that we could have found the money to match the Federal transportation funds without this increase.

In terms of the property tax increase, part of it was necessary due to increases in school budgets. But in my opinion the state continues to refuse to accept responsibility for part of this increase. The property tax rates could be considerably lower if the state had not reduced the transfer of state revenues into the Education Fund, if the state did not fund programs that subsidize home ownership, agriculture, and forestry within the Education Fund, and if the state did not continually impose mandates upon schools that increase costs.

Another tax proposal that did not move forward this session concerned reform of the income tax structure. The proposal was to lower the tax rates for all Vermonters by capping the total amount of deductions and credits it is possible to use to reduce taxable income. This kind of simplification can make the tax code both more equitable and more efficient, so the basic approach is valid. But given that the same proposal had earlier been put forth as a way to raise revenue, many were understandably concerned about who might pay more under these changes.

The new federally mandated Health Benefits Exchange is supposed to go into operation as an online marketplace for small businesses and individuals without insurance this October. Federal tax credits will probably help low and middle income Vermonters who purchase insurance through it. But the Governor still has not figured out how he might finance his own future state run insurance system, which might be proposed in 2015 or 2017.

The bill that would require that foods containing Genetically Modified Organisms be labeled as such has passed the House but not the Senate.

I understand that this provision might meet legal challenges from corporations should it become law. I supported it because I believe that markets function best when people have good information, and we deserve to know what we are eating. I do not believe that the Food & Drug Administration has done a good job regulating these new substances.

There was no Campaign Finance Reform this session - different versions passed each chamber. Legislators could not agree about contribution limits to candidates, to parties, or to PACs, for from parties and PACs to candidates. This question of who is donating to whom is significant because of the dominant role of special interests and their lobbyists in the state house. I think I see that narrow special interests achieve their goals at the expense of ordinary Vermonters.

At the very least we should have put in place a computerized searchable database at the Secretary of State's office that would allow the public to learn the major donors to candidates in a timely way. Vermonters deserve that information about those running for office or holding office.

Please contact me with comments and questions. I can be reached at 802-375-9019 or cynthiab@sover .net or PO Box 389, Arlington, VT 05250. I hold legislative "office hours" every Saturday morning from 8 to 9:30 a.m. over breakfast at Chauncey's Restaurant on Route 7A in Arlington.

Cynthia Browning is a state representative for the district which includes Manchester, Arlington, Sandgate and most of Sunderland.


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