Scott: Act now to save

e have an opportunity to save up to $26 million a year — up to $100 million over five years, adjusting for inflation — in our education system, without program cuts or asking teachers to pay more for benefits. But the Legislature must act now. The federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama put high-valued health plans at risk of a Cadillac tax. The Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) is transitioning to new plans, which are projected to cost substantially less than existing plans and will not be subjected to the federal penalty. That’s why I’ve put forward a proposal — developed with the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association — that creates a statewide health benefit where the state bargains with employee unions, maximizing the savings of these new plans. Continue Reading →

Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 4.27.17

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Freelance journalist and VTDigger columnist Jon Margolis joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld this week. Topics include accomplishments of Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature in their first 100 days and lingering disagreements over the state budget. Subscribe to the Capital Beat Podcast on iTunes for the latest episodes. Continue Reading →

Senate advances budget and tax bills unanimously

MONTPELIER — The Senate advanced its version of the 2018 fiscal year state budget and a corresponding tax bill Wednesday on unanimous votes. The Senate’s spending plan, passed on a 30 to 0 vote, includes a $1.56 billion General Fund, which is 1.7 percent higher than the current 2017 fiscal year budget. It is slightly lower than the House-passed version, however, which grew 1.8 percent over the current year. Overall, the Senate’s total state budget including all state and federal funds totals $5.83 billion — slight more than the House’s $5.815 billion in total spending. The Senate version spends more than $13 million in ways that differ from the House proposal, which cleared the House on a 143 to 1 vote. Continue Reading →

Scott seeks teacher health care overhaul as Dems, union balk

MONTPELIER — With the legislative session winding down, Gov. Phil Scott is pushing a proposal for a major overhaul of the way Vermont teachers negotiate their health care benefits, leaving Democrats puzzled as to why he did not present a detailed proposal sooner. Scott held a State House news conference Tuesday, surrounded by superintendents and school board members, to tout his proposal to have teachers across the state negotiate their health care benefits with his administration, rather than with local school boards. He said the state is in a unique position this year to save Vermont’s property taxpayers $26 million. That’s because the health care plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative are changing as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As a result, all local school boards across the state are negotiating new health care benefits with teachers. Continue Reading →

Senate rejects raising the legal age for tobacco products

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate rejected legislation Tuesday that would have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The legislation, S.88, was sidelined by its supporters several weeks ago when it became apparent that it lacked the votes to pass the chamber. But Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayer, D-Addison, brought the bill back to the floor Tuesday where it was defeated on a 13 to 16 vote. Ayer said before the vote that she thought it was “possible” it would pass, but interest groups seeking to raise the legal age to purchase and possess tobacco products to 21 said it still lacked the votes. Ayer, and Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, a strong proponent of the bill, said they were willing to risk its defeat. Continue Reading →

Finance commissioner to depart at end of fiscal year

MONTPELIER — Vermont Department of Finance and Management Commissioner Andrew Pallito is planning to leave his post at the end of the current fiscal year for a position with the Green Mountain Care Board. Rebecca Kelley, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Phil Scott, confirmed Monday that Pallito is planning to work for the administration through the end of June before departing. “He is leaving but he is committed to seeing the budget process through. He will continue to work with us on that and will be with us through the end of the fiscal year,” Kelley said. “There should be no change in how we’re moving forward on the budget process.”

Pallito did not return phone and email messages Monday, but Susan Barrett, the board’s executive director, said Pallito has accepted a position to become the director of health system finances for the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health care regulatory body. Continue Reading →

Senate passes marijuana legalization bill with tax-and-regulate language

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate, frustrated by inaction in the House and hoping to apply pressure on the chamber down the hall, advanced a seed-to-sale marijuana legalization bill Friday by a veto-proof margin. The action in the Senate Friday was no surprise — members of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday a plan to amend a House bill to include language creating a tax-and-regulate legal marijuana market in Vermont. After clearing procedural hurdles, the effort prevailed on a 21 to 9 vote — large enough to override a potential veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, was the lead sponsor of the amendment that mimics legislation passed last year by the Senate, but failed spectacularly in the House. Members of the Senate were expecting the House to pass its own version of marijuana legalization this year, but that effort stalled when the bill made it to the House only to be jettisoned by Democratic leaders in the House back to committee because it lacked the votes to pass. Continue Reading →

Scaled-back paid leave plan clears tax committee

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee passed a paid parental and family leave bill Thursday that would provide six weeks of paid time off to Vermonters, but the bill still faces long odds. The committee’s version of the paid leave legislation was drastically scaled back from what the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee passed earlier this year. That committee’s version, which was sought by interest groups, included 12 weeks of 100 percent paid time off and a 0.93 percent payroll tax, which raise about $80 million to pay for the benefits. The Ways and Means Committee version passed Thursday — on a 7 to 4 vote — offers six weeks of paid time off and includes a 0.141 percent payroll tax on the first $150,000 of wages. It will cost about $17 million per year. Continue Reading →

Senators look to advance discussion on legal pot

MONTPELIER — Frustrated by a lack of action in the House, the Senate will consider two amendments in the coming days that would put the state on a path toward legalizing marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee laid out its plans Tuesday to offer various amendments. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said there is “general frustration” in the Senate that the House has been unable or unwilling to act on its own bill this year, which prompted a review among some senators on how to move the conversation forward. “We had fully counted on the House passing H.170 this year. When they got to the floor I think there was a big deflation for us in the Senate. Continue Reading →

Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 4.19.17

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Stewart Ledbetter, an anchor and the senior reporter at WPTZ, joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld on the podcast. Topics include the Scott administration’s concern about an appointment to the Green Mountain Care Board by the previous governor, Gov. Phil Scott’s first 100 days in office and the latest wrinkle in the effort to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Vermont Lottery Commission. Subscribe on iTunes for the latest episodes of the Capital Beat Podcast. Continue Reading →