Education Spending (H.850) - Feb 12, 2024

On Monday afternoon, the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) walked the House Appropriations Committee through a fiscal note of H.850, which would remove the 5% property tax cap in Act 127 and replace it with a step-down mechanism to phase in the property tax hit from 2025 over the next five years. They were unable to calculate the impact of repealing the previous transition mechanism because of its “complex and circular nature,” but the new mechanism will cost the Education Fund $30M in FY2025. JFO pointed out that the property taxes will need to absorb this cost unless another funding source can be found.

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Education Spending - Feb 6-9, 2024

The House Ways & Means Committee pushed through an adjustment this week to Act 127 that would remove a 5% tax rate cap and instead put in a graduated 'step-down' program that phases in the tax rate impact of the legislation over a five year period. This is the first in a series of actions that the Committee is considering to address the historic school spending and property tax increase this year.

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BE Home Bill - Feb 6-9, 2024

The Senate Economic Development Committee spent most of the week working on their draft bill titled 'BE Home'. The bill would overhaul the current Act 250 framework and development designations into a new mapping structure.

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GMCB Oversight of Drug Prices (S.98) - Feb 8, 2024

Charles Becker (Staff Attorney, Office of Health Care Advocate (HCA)) testified before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee on Thursday morning about S.98, an act relating to GMCB authority over prescription drug costs. He specifically addressed Copay Accumulator Adjustment Programs, considering them to be a problem in need of a solution. He believes at least part of the problem is that we have a system based on hidden discounts and rebates that incentivizes high drug list prices.

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Housing Development and Rehabilitation (H.719) - Feb 8, 2024

Legislative Counsel started reviewing Section 15 of H.719 for the House General Committee on Tuesday afternoon. This section creates some time limits on and on venues where they can be brought.

Under the current language, appeals must be brought within 60 days following the case being filed with the Environmental Division in the court system. Legislative Counsel worried that this may be a first for courts (having time limits imposed) and worried there may be some constitutional issues here. They will continue investigating and report back.

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Government Ethics - Feb 8, 2024

The Vermont State Ethics Commission presented a $210,353 budget to the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, plus its annual report for 2023. Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Vermont State Ethics Commission) noted that the Commission received fifteen complaints (a 400% increase), twenty-nine complaint inquiries (a 163% increase), four advisory opinion requests (a 100% increase), and twenty-five guidance requests (a 19% increase) in 2023. 

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New Housing Initiatives - Feb 8, 2024

The first witness that the House General Committee heard from on Thursday was Chris Donnelly (Director of Community Relations, Champlain Housing Trust) who lead by saying that “the biggest risk we can take is not acting.” He called for “permit reform, Act 250 reform and more in the form of resources to really help low- and moderate-income people.”

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Vermont Pension Investment Commission - Feb 8 , 2024

Tom Golonka (Chair, Vermont Pension Investment Commission) introduced himself to the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday and noted that the portfolio has done well when compared to pension plans in other similar states.  Vermont has always been in the top quartile when the market was both up and down. He highlighted S.42, which is a bill that was passed out of the Senate last year and is currently in the House. The bill proposes to require the Vermont Pension Investment Commission (VPIC) to review the assets of the three retirement systems to determine the extent to which they are invested in the fossil fuel industry and submit plans to divest from the fossil fuel industry by 2030.

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Wealth Tax (H.827/H.828) - Feb 8, 2024

Cristobal Young (Associate Professor of Sociology, Cornell University) gave his presentation to the House Ways and Means Committee called ‘the Myth of Millionaire Flight” on Thursday.  He first reviewed a case study he did from New Jersey, where he started his work on this topic. Back in 2003 New Jersey passed a millionaire tax (NJ has the highest percentage of millionaires in the country). It was the first tax of its kind and at the time New Jersey had marginal tax rates but raised them to nearly 9% in 2004. Neighboring Pennsylvania had a flat tax rate of 3%. There was concern about millionaires moving across state lines. 

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Letter to House Ways & Means on 20% Property Tax Increase

Chair Kornheiser and members of the House Ways & Means Committee,

I have worked on education finance and policy issues in Vermont since 2014, including navigating the leadup to Act 46 and its aftermath. The crisis before you today is perhaps the gravest we have seen in decades. Sadly, nearly everyone who is part of the education system is culpable.

The basic facts are that we have more adults in our schools than any state in the country (and it’s not even close), resulting in the second highest cost per student. Over the past decades, we have seen steady spending increases[1], while staffing levels have persisted. Further, test scores have declined compared to other states who spend less[2].

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