The past few months have been filled with the hustle and bustle of the legislative session. Bills have been proposed, tanked, renewed, rewritten and debated over. Good work has been done and some have been left for another day. This week it all came to an end. The lead up to legislature adjournment on Thursday was filled with the typical last-minute deals, unforeseen circumstances, and passionate speeches on the floor that are to be expected.
In the end, the legislature passed the first statewide code of ethics for Vermont, took a step towards fixing our pension and housing crises, and invested nearly $100M into workforce development needs. In doing so, we also avoided tax increases on middle-class Vermonters and changes to Act 250 that would actually make our housing problem WORSE. There is a lot to be happy about.
We applaud legislators for their work and wish them all some much-deserved rest over the summer.Read more
This week the legislature overrode Governor Scott's veto of the pension bill unanimously. While only addressing less than half of the deficit, the legislature resoundingly chose incremental progress over sweeping reform. Other bills are following this trend, such as the Act 250 bill, shying away from bold reforms and towards minor tweaks to existing laws.
Other bills moving forward include housing and workforce development, economic development, student weighting (headed for the Governor's desk). Universal school meals were also approved by the Senate this week, setting up a likely slash to the $36M in property tax savings that were offered by the House.Read more
The pension bill is now in the Governor's hands after the Senate gave final approval on Friday. He will be faced with a choice to approve a bill he has criticized in recent weeks as not going far enough to address the pension deficit or accept the incremental progress that the bill offers.
We are also, by the way, waiting for the Governor to sign the ethics bill which passed over a week ago...
After the House more or less accepted Governor Scotts plan to return half of the $95M property tax surplus to taxpayers, the Senate may not be so quick to jump on the bandwagon. After testimony this week they seem inclined to reject the 20 cent decrease to property taxes in favor of providing funding for both PCB remediation and universal school meals.Read more
This week Campaign for Vermont introduced an extensive list of workforce development recommendations to the legislature covering a number of bills in motion, including H.703, H.159, S.226, and S.234. As a state we must recognize the issues before us and view them with clarity. Economic vitality is critically linked to workforce participation, recruitment, and housing. Our businesses are starving for workers and those that can move elsewhere will if the problems become worse – hampering the long-term prospects of our state. We cannot practically solve the housing crisis quickly enough to correct some of these issues, however, moves we make now will have profound impacts on that outcome and the equity of our housing system and even the broader economy in years to come.
The public pension reform bill is headed to the House Floor next week after the state treasurer poo-pooed a defined contribution plan for new hires. The current solution being offered only addresses less than half of the pension deficit and disproportionately impacts taxpayers. The legislature will need to come back for more in future years. At the same time, the legislature is considering pension divestment of fossil fuels, benefits for interim educators, new pension groups, and other measures that could actually have a negative impact on the deficit.
Two education initiatives - Student Weighting Factors and Universal School Meals - also passed key committee votes this week and are anticipated to hit the House Floor in short order.Read more
There was lots of action this week as the legislature heads into its final month of the session. The ethics bill passed the House unanimously this week and is now headed back to the Senate where we expect final approval before being sent to the Governor.
In a surprise turn of events, the House is now considering the pursuit of defined contribution plans for new hires. This has the potential to address the remaining $2.3B in unfunded liability that will remain in our public pension funds if S.286 passes (the bill currently only addresses about $2B of the $4.3B overall liability).
Workforce, housing, and economic development bills are all progressing towards final passage but there are concerns around "poison pills" added by environmental advocates that could draw a gubernatorial veto. All three of these bills are critical to addressing Vermont's short and long-term economic challenges.Read more
The bill creating a statewide code of ethics is headed to the House floor this coming week after the Government Operations Committee agreed with most of the provisions we and others asked for.
Pensions are heating up again, on multiple fronts. The "benefits overhaul bill" is being worked on in the House and there are two bills in the Senate that could negatively impact pension liabilities. One that would divest fossil fuels from the investment portfolios and another that would potentially allow retired teachers to temporarily come back to work while retaining their pension benefits.
Other bills, such as workforce development and housing are also gaining steam in the House and Senate. We are likely to see those bills move to the floor in the next week or two.Read more
Dear Members of the House Government Operations Committee,
I have been working since 1964 - a lot of years, I know. Much of that time I was involved with Human Resources and one of the persons responsible for overseeing pension plans. I was Vermont’s Commissioner of Personnel and Human Resources twice during my career and served on the House Government Operations Committee – the same seats you now sit in.Read more
While we are still wrapping our arms around it, the Senate passed the pension bill this week. The ethics bill is off to a good start in the House. Workforce development and housing efforts are making progress in both the House and the Senate. All in all, it was a pretty good week.Read more
Recently the Pension Benefits, Design, and Funding Task Force (Task Force) released their final report, which included recommendations to fix the retirement systems for state workers and teachers (Retirement Systems). Given the stakeholders involved and the desire to have majority approval, the report’s recommendations were seen as the best that could be done for now. A good start considering the circumstances, but they do not include the systemic solutions needed to make the Systems sustainable.Read more