Appropriations

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Leahy chooses leadership role in Appropriations

Sen. Patrick Leahy

MONTPELIER — U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is giving up his ranking member status on the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy, currently the Senate’s longest-serving member, announced his decision to his staff Wednesday morning, according to spokesman David Carle. “The results of this election have reshaped the policymaking landscape in Washington and show the need for checks and balances, now that one party controls the White House as well as both houses of Congress,” Leahy said in a statement. “There are many challenges ahead. Against this new backdrop, I have decided that I will best be able to represent Vermonters’ voices, and reflect Vermont values and ideals, as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

Leahy turned down an opportunity in 2012 to become chairmen of the Appropriations Committee after the death of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, but chose to remain at the helm of Judiciary. Continue Reading →

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LIHEAP benefits to increase this winter

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MONTPELIER — State officials said Thursday that a home heating assistance program will increase its benefit level for most beneficiaries during the upcoming winter season. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, funded by both state and federal dollars, will see its average benefit rise from $699 last winter to $865 this winter, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen and Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz. The average benefit is expected to cover about 54 percent of heating costs for households. The state officials said they anticipate receiving $18.9 million in federal funding this year for the LIHEAP program. That will be added to about $3.8 million in leftover money from last year plus the state contribution approved in the 2017 fiscal year budget. Continue Reading →

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VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard calls for lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract at a State House news conference. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

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VSEA prevails with the Vermont Labor Relations Board

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MONTPELIER — The Vermont Labor Relations Board ruled in a split decision Tuesday in favor of the Vermont State Employees Association in its contract dispute with the Shumlin administration. Both parties agreed to seek a two-year labor contract to succeed the current deal that is set to expire on June 30. The two sides had difficulty agreeing to terms, however, and reached in impasse. A deal was still elusive after mediation efforts, resulting in the appointment of a mutually agreed upon fact finder who held two hearings in January. Both sides submitted their last best offers to the Vermont Labor Relations Board last month and it was tasked with choosing between them. Continue Reading →

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House Appropriations passes budget with a 2.6 percent increase

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, right, confers with Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, center. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee voted to advance a 2017 fiscal year state budget Monday on a 10 to 1 vote that will hit the House floor later this week. According to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, general fund spending under the committee-passed budget is set to rise by nearly $58.88 million, or 4 percent, from $1.48 billion to $1.54. The total budget is set to rise by about $144 million, or 2.6 percent, from $5.63 billion to $5.77 billion. That includes an increase in federal funds of about 2.2 percent, rising to $2.04 billion. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the committee has made gains with structural problems in the state budget that critics have complained about for years. Continue Reading →

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Child care, disabled services and after-school activities top budget hearing

MONTPELIER — Advocates for child care, after-school activities and the disabled called for greater funding for their causes during a hearing Thursday night at the State House. Perhaps it was due to the regional public forums happening next week, but Thursday’s hearing before the House Appropriations Committee drew a modest turnout. But, those people who did show up offered passionate testimony on behalf of their issues. Currently, the committee is reviewing the proposed budget from the Shumlin Administration for FY 2017, which includes a 3.1-percent increase compared with the current fiscal year, taking into account mid-year adjustments. According to Gov. Peter Shumlin, the proposed budget increase matches projected revenues. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin seeks 3.1 percent boost in FY2017 budget, expansion of provider assessment

Gov. Peter Shumlin delivers the final budget address of his governorship inside the House chamber. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is looking to address a deficit in the state’s Medicaid program by expanding a tax on health care providers in the $1.537 billion 2017 fiscal year budget proposal he revealed Thursday. Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, delivered the final budget proposal of his tenure to lawmakers Thursday. His proposal, outlined in his 30-minute address inside the House Chamber, would boost spending by 3.1 percent over the current fiscal year — after mid-year adjustments are put in place. Shumlin touted his budget as responsible and necessary, noting he closed a projected $68 million gap between anticipated revenues and spending without the use of one-time funding for ongoing expenses for the first time since before the Great Recession. The 3.1 percent spending increase matches projected revenues, he said. Continue Reading →

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Budget adjustment goes to the House floor

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson speaks to the committee about the annual budget adjustment bill. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the annual mid-year budget adjustment bill after settling on how to appropriate the final $450,000 in available revenue in a give-and-take between members. The adjustment to the current 2016 fiscal year budget addresses about $85 million in needs. The majority of that — $52.6 million — is in the state’s Medicaid program. The budget adjustment covers the state’s $22.9 million share of the Medicaid gap. “We’re funding the Medicaid caseload,” Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said. Continue Reading →

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State revenues get slight downgrade

Economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr deliver an updated revenue forecast to the Emergency Board. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Economists for the Shumlin administration and the Legislature have revised projected state revenues downward for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next fiscal year for the general and education funds. The new consensus forecast was delivered to the Emergency Board Tuesday by Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr, consulting economists for the administration and lawmakers. The general fund is now expected to see $4.7 million less revenue in the current 2016 fiscal year and $9.1 million less in the 2017 fiscal year. The education fund, meanwhile, is expected to see $1 million less in the current fiscal year and $500,000 less in the 2017 fiscal year. The transportation fund is now expected to grow by $900,000 more in the current fiscal year and $1.1 million more in the 2017 fiscal year. Continue Reading →

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State officials not banking on windfall from Keurig sale

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MONTPELIER — The pending sale of Keurig Green Mountain is set to make a number of shareholders wealthy, but it also could deliver a significant windfall to the state’s coffers through the collection of capital gains taxes. The acquisition of Keurig, the Waterbury-based coffee giant, by JAB Holding Co. was announced in December, but is expected to close some time in the first quarter of 2016. The $13.9 billion transaction is an all cash deal and will pay shareholders $92 per share. Generally speaking, anyone earning income through a capital gain can exempt the first $5,000 in earnings, according to Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson. Continue Reading →

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