Commentary: Montpelier at the halfway point
For the second year in a row, Governor Phil Scott submitted a balanced budget that requires no new fees or taxes. The legislature was able to follow through last year, and at this point mid-session, efforts are underway to repeat that performance, but the challenges are great.
While "natural growth" in state revenues provides room for some increased spending, "natural inflation" in salaries, benefits and other costs puts pressure on preserving social and economic priorities across all budget areas. There will be many decision points before the budget is finalized.
Meanwhile, I hear concerns about property tax increases driven by our current statewide funding formula. Just this past week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved a bill that would modestly reduce reliance on property taxes while at the same time increasing rates on income taxes.
I'm yet skeptical that this new proposal will increase the fairness by which we fund education, nor am I convinced that it includes the necessary control measures that address escalating costs in the midst of declining student enrollment. This issue will evolve over the coming weeks.
As a wild card to all this, another issue is the "unintended" state income tax increase related to changes in the federal tax system. Essentially, many Vermonters are facing a state income tax increase even as their federal taxes are reduced. The net change amounts to about $30 million dollars spread broadly across most income categories. Resolution of this issue will impact take home pay, and influence spending decisions.
In the midst of these difficult budget policy issues, like many of you I am increasingly concerned about the terrible events we've seen at schools. Even here in Vermont, we very closely avoided tragedy in Fair Haven, when a young student threatened violence.
On March 1, a group of BBA students came to Montpelier to talk with me about gun safety. Many of their comments were on my mind the next day, when the House approved a bill to give law officers and courts better tools to intervene when signs of danger appear.
This is a small step in what needs to be a broader discussion. The Governor, along with other state leaders, has proposed new initiatives, and I would welcome your thoughts on this vital topic.
Finally, I'm pleased to report that, H.854, I bill I introduced to promote television and film production activities in Vermont, has been improved and endorsed by the House Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Bill Botzow of Pownal.
When we return next week, Rep. Linda Sullivan, of Dorset, will manage House floor debate on the bill, as a cosponsor of the bill and a member of the Commerce Committee. I'm confident we'll pass the bill on to the Senate, where Senators Sears and Campion have voiced support for moving it through that chamber. So there is a lot going on, and I would welcome your input on any of these topics. My legislative email address is
Brian Keefe, R-Manchester, represents Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and part of Sunderland in the Vermont House of Representatives.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.
Other items that may interest you