Leonine: Scott's methodical approach, money bills advance

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Leonine: Scott's methodical approach, money bills advance

Sat, 05/16/2020 - 9:44am -- tim

WARNING SIGNS

Leonine Public Affairs Governor Phil Scott continued the cautious reopening of the state this week while extending the stay at home order that was set to expire on Friday to June 15. In the legislature the House took the first key step toward addressing the budget challenges created as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the Senate resumed work on non-COVID-19 related bills for the first time since the pandemic hit. The governor noted on Friday that Vermont now has the lowest growth rate of COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Governor Scott announced that lodging establishments will be allowed to begin reopening with strict limitations in place starting on May 22. He also announced a limited reopening of retail establishments throughout the state effective May 18. Employees at these retail stores will be required to undergo safety training, wear masks and maintain six-foot social distancing. Stores will be required to limit the number of customers to 25 percent of the store’s fire safety capacity. Patrons will not be required to wear masks, although the governor said the rate at which patrons wear masks will be monitored and he may mandate it at a later date. Although lodging establishments will be allowed to reopen on May 22, for the time being bookings will be limited to Vermont residents or out of state residents who can prove they’ve met the 14-day quarantine requirement.

The governor also offered a proposal this week to allow towns that have already approved school budgets to re-vote. Scott’s rationale is to allow districts, the vast majority of which approved budgets on Town Meeting Day, to reconsider their 2020-2021 budgets while accounting for the COVID-19 impact. This proposal mirrors the budget process the state is undertaking in that it would require two votes – one for the first three months of the fiscal year and then another for the remainder of the fiscal year. The first vote would have to happen before July 1, 2020 and the second in the fall of 2020. Administration officials said this week the purpose was to try and help address the more than $160 million shortfall currently facing the education fund in FY21.

The proposal met with heavy criticism from the Democratic chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, who said they believed the idea would cause more chaos and would be harmful to districts. The proposal is one of the few points of contention that have emerged between the Republican governor and Democratically-controlled legislature since the COVID-19 crisis began. Administration officials noted that without the proposal they may need to lower education payments to districts anyway, without voter input.

In the legislative arena the second FY20 budget adjustment bill cleared a key hurdle in the House and the governor proposed an eight percent decrease from FY20 funding levels for the first three months of FY21. More on this later. The Senate started to work on non-COVID-19 related bills for the first time since the crisis began. This included passing some top priority bills that had been sitting on the Senate calendar since March, and releasing a list of committee bills that would be allowed to move forward.

With summer approaching a key benchmark in the 2020 legislative session is becoming clear. The target date of June 19 to have the budget adjustment and preliminary, three-month FY21 budget finalized sets a goal of ending at least one chaotic chapter in what is an unprecedented year. 


MONEY BILLS ADVANCE

This week three major money bills - the supplemental FY20 budget adjustment bill, the miscellaneous tax bill and the capital bill - moved in the House signaling legislative leaders have agreed on a plan to begin to address Vermont’s fiscal crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday the House gave preliminary approval by a vote of 141-1 to H.953, the supplemental FY20 budget adjustment bill. Only two months ago the state had a projected budget surplus but then COVID-19 hit and blew a $51.7 million hole in this fiscal year’s budget that ends on June 30. The bill uses $61.88 million from a dozen sources to fill the hole and leaves a bit of a cushion. The bill also authorizes funds to be borrowed from the $1.25 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), and to the extent necessary the state’s reserves, to cover the estimated $143 million in “deferred revenue” moving from FY20 to FY21 due to the extension of tax payment dates from April 15 to July 15. The deferred tax payments made this summer will pay off these interfund loans. Finally, the bill appropriates federal CRF funds including $750,000 to extend the legislative session until June 19th as well as funding to UVM, the Vermont State Colleges and VSAC, among other items. Here is a link to the JFO’s bill highlights.

This week the House Ways and Means Committee approved the miscellaneous tax bill, H.954The bill contains technical amendments to various tax laws including property, income and sales taxes, among others. Here is a link to a summary of the bill. Notably, the bill reduces revenues by up to $1 million in FY21 due to changes in the safe harbor levels for the Use Tax, according to JFO’s fiscal note

This week the House Corrections and Institutions Committee also advanced H.955, the capital construction and state bonding budget adjustment bill, which makes investments into various capital projects around the state.


2020 CENSUS

It’s census season! Data collected for the census every 10 years helps to determine how federal dollars are divided up among states. Vermont uses this money to fund crucial projects such as infrastructure construction and disaster relief. The U.S. Census Bureau had temporarily suspended home-delivery of forms due to safety concerns around the pandemic. But they have since resumed their work gathering data in Vermont, which has seen some of the lowest rates of participation in the nation. Please help Vermont receive these much needed resources by completing your census online here.

It only takes a few minutes and makes all the difference for Vermont. 


TOP #VTPOLI TWEETS 


TO OUR READERS

Leonine Public Affairs Please visit our website for our in-depth reporting on COVID-19 throughout the United States. This site is courtesy of Leonine FOCUS, our 50-state legislative regulatory, tracking and reporting service. The site is frequently updated and includes information on executive orders, legislation, regulation, tax deadlines and more from across the country.

Source: Leonine Public Affairs, Montpelier, Legislative Report Week 18. May 15, 2020. leoninepublicaffairs.com. 

Through a special arrangement with Leonine, Vermont Business Magazine republishes Leonine's legislative report on vermontbiz.com