Governor Eats Legislature's Lunch

Today we announced the partial results of a scientific public opinion poll of Vermonters. The survey interviewed 400 randomly selected Vermont residents to measure their feelings towards state leaders, various issues that policymakers are pursuing, and general sentiments about the direction the state is heading.

“What we have found is shocking. Vermonters have very clear opinions on a number of policy differences between the Administration and the Legislature. And consistently the legislature has missed the mark in setting their priorities.”

-Pat McDonald, CFV President

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It's Not Easy Being Green

If you have read my two latest Op-Eds on the Prisoner’s Dilemma Around Climate Change and Not Losing our Heads in the face of the same, then you know that I advocate for a thoughtful and balanced response to climate change. A response that conveys the urgency of the issue while also avoiding pitfalls of inhumanity and single-mindedness. But, what does that mean? What does it look like for Vermonters and for our state?

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Not Losing Our Heads

What is it about climate change that elicits such a panic in us? Perhaps it is the unrelating force of nature? The overwhelming sense of powerlessness we feel when storms, wind, fire, and water encroach upon our lives. In the face of such (un)natural disasters, maybe we clutch to whatever agency we can muster? Or, could it be that the prospect of our grandchildren not experiencing the same planet we did terrifies us. It could be a bit of both, or a whole host of other reasons.

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Prisoner's Dilemma & Climate Change

The Paris Climate Accords were ratified in 2015 and have gained 195 signatories since. Most experts agree that a 2-degree (Celsius) increase in global temperatures would avoid the worst impacts of climate change and that a 4-degree increase would be devastating. But how are we tracking towards those goals? Not well, it turns out. Most countries are on track to miss the 2050 net-zero emissions target. The top 7 emitters account for 50% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and none of them meet the most aggressive Paris targets. Three (China, India, and Indonesia) are considered highly insufficient, according to ClimateTracker.org. One (Russia) is listed as critically insufficient. The remaining three (US, European Union, and Brazil) are rated as insufficient.

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Clean Heat Standard (S.5) - Overview

The clean heat standard (which many have called a carbon tax) was undoubtedly the most controversial law passed during the 2023 legislative session. While its aim is a worthwhile reduction in carbon emissions from home heating, the mechanism employed raises the cost of heating fuels for households still using carbon-based fuels.

 

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Restrictions on Public Tuition at Independent Schools (H.483) - Overview

The pretext for H.483 was as a response to Carson v. Makin. The bill placed new restrictions around admissions policies and added reporting requirements on Vermont independent schools, restricted out of state options for students in choice districts, and placed a moratorium on the approval of new independent schools.

 

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Election Law Changes (H.429) - Overview

This bill does a number of things to change election laws in Vermont, including wide sweeping voting method reforms (ranked-choice voting), new restrictions on independent and write-in candidates, changes to donation limits and required candidate information, the introduction of electronic absentee voting, and strengthened financial disclosure rules.

 

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New 2023 State Revenues (adding up the bill)

 
Excuse me, can I get some child care subsidies for upper middle class folks?    
    Sure
Also a massive helping of new electric-powered heating systems?    
    Sounds great
Of course we also have to get universal school meals.    
     
Oh, and don't forget a side of universal fee increases!     
    ...
So what does that come out to?    
    Uh, a few hundred million more than you have in your account.
No worries, these other folks are picking up the tab for us...    
    ???

While the hypothetical conversation above highlights the approach the legislature seemed to take with spending this year, in all seriousness a historically high state budget (growing at nearly twice the rate of inflation) and a number of new landmark initiatives left us wondering how much more Vermonters can expect to pay in taxes and fees in the years to come. This is the question we set out to answer for you and boy did we find some interesting stuff!

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Legislative Compensation & Benefits (S.39) - Overview

S.39 was introduced by Senators Ruth Hardy and Alison Clarkson in January 2023. As introduced, the bill would make legislators eligible for the State employees' health benefit plan at no cost, allow them to participate in any flexible spending account program offered to State employees for health care expenses or dependent care expenses, or both, and provide compensation during adjournment (something not currently offered). The bill also significantly increased compensation levels.

 

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Universal Early Education (H.217) - Overview

The bill was introduced by Representative Michael Marcotte in February, 2023. It was reviewed by the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee, the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, and the relevant money committees. The bill incorporated many of the provisions from S.56, which the Senate had worked on.

The bill is intended to make significant investments in Vermont's child care system by increasing the quality of early childhood education and afterschool programs, provide financial and workforce stability, address workforce shortages, and maintain a mixed-delivery model which assigning schools with providing pre-k services for 4-year-olds.

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