Vermont Press Bureau Chief Neal Goswami speaks with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe about Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed state budget. You can watch new episodes of Capital Beat on Vermont PBS Plus Monday nights at 7:30 p.m.
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Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:15 p.m.
MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has proposed a massive makeover of the state’s education system that focuses on students from pre-K through college and asks lawmakers to impose new conditions on local school districts to help achieve his vision. Scott, who was sworn in as governor earlier this month, delivered his first budget address to the Democratic-led Legislature Tuesday, laying out bold, controversial proposals that face long odds with lawmakers. The new governor is asking lawmakers to force teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care insurance premiums to bring them up to the level paid for by state employees. That will save the state $15 million. But facing down the Vermont National Education Association — the state’s largest labor union — is not likely something many Democrats, or even some Republicans, are likely relishing. Continue Reading →
MONTPELIER — Vermont House Republicans say they are gunning for a substantial pick up of seats and will be pursuing a two-year state budget process and a complete focus on fiscal issues rather than new policies. More than two dozen House Republicans and Republican candidates gathered for a State House news conference Tuesday to highlight their goals for the upcoming general election and legislative biennium. House Minority Leader Don Turner, of Milton, said he hopes to lead the House in a new direction after the election. “It’s time for a new direction and a new way of thinking in Vermont. I want to lead that change in the House and I want to be looking for support from all the Republican colleagues, across party lines — independents and Democrats — because I believe that we cannot sustain this pace of heavy spending and recklessly taxing Vermonters to no end,” Turner told reporters. Continue Reading →
MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil to pass budget bills and ultimately adjourn for the 2016 Legislative Session. Members of the House and the Senate worked late into Friday night to approve a budget for fiscal year 2017 that amounts to an overall increase of 2.4 percent. Lawmakers approved a spending appropriation of $2.46 billion in state funds, including spending for the General Fund, transportation and other special funds. The appropriation amounts to an increase of 3 percent when compared with current spending. Annual growth for the spending appropriation has averaged 3.9 percent over the past five years. Continue Reading →
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 →
MONTPELIER — The Vermont House overwhelmingly voted to fund an independent review of Vermont Health Connect Wednesday, appeasing minority Republicans who have been clamoring for an in depth study to help determine the future of the online insurance marketplace. By a vote of 136 to 5, the House approved an amendment to an unrelated housing bill that appropriates $400,000 for the review. The House Appropriations Committee included language in the 2017 fiscal year state budget it has already passed calling for the study, but did not include funding — angering some Republicans. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and House Health Care Committee Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, promised to find the funding. Johnson told her colleagues Wednesday that the promise was kept. Continue Reading →
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 →
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 →
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday he will scrap a $4.9 million budget-savings initiative he proposed just one day earlier that would have changed Medicaid eligibility requirements for pregnant women. Shumlin, who delivered his final budget address to the Legislature Thursday, had planed to raise the income level at which pregnant women qualify for the Medicaid from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 213 percent. That equates to about $16,000 and $25,000, respectively. Women who no longer qualified for Medicaid under the governor’s proposal would have been eligible for subsidized health plans on Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. A change in state law would be required, however, to allow pregnant women to enroll in a health plan outside of the open enrollment period. Continue Reading →
MONTPELIER — Depending upon whom you ask, the proposals offered by Gov. Peter Shumlin during his final budget address are either steps to improve Medicaid and educational opportunities for children, or yet-another call for new taxes. Shumlin offered a number of ideas as he rolled out his final budget, such as new taxes for doctors and dentists to make up for the Medicaid funding shortfall, and and increased fees for mutual funds to offer savings accounts for every child born in Vermont. Sen. Majority leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, compared the speech to a host offering prizes on a game show. “I don’t think it should be anybody’s prerogative to stand at the podium like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right,’” said Benning, who took issue with the governor’s statement that last year’s rejection of an increase in the payroll tax resulted in federal matching funds being left on the table in Washington. “We have a wicked opiate problem in this state, and this legislature has a wicked addiction of its own, and that’s its enslavement to federal funding,” Benning said. Continue Reading →