By Rep. Mike Yantachka
The Legislature moved closer to final adjournment last week with the passage by the House of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget. Since all money bills, both taxation and spending, must originate in the House, the next step is for the Senate to weigh in. With a tri-partisan vote of 140 to 4, the House-passed budget (H.969) preserves services to vulnerable Vermonters while also seeking to ease the burden of pandemic impacts by appropriating federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). It is a full-year budget that incorporates the first quarter elements that were passed in June.
H.969 allocates dollars to make child care more affordable, integrates physical and mental health care funding so that health care services for Vermonters are coordinated, provides resources for existing businesses and for vulnerable Vermonters looking to start a business, and invests in public transportation and incentives to reduce the cost of electric vehicles. The bill also ensures Vermont colleges are strong by making a record investment in post-secondary education, including $23.8 million in bridge funding for the Vermont State Colleges System. This is a balanced budget that ensures there are no cuts to the services Vermonters count on. At the same time, it fully funds future obligations and keeps our reserves full to ensure we are in a strong financial position heading into the uncertain months that lie ahead.
In a separate bill, H.968, the Vermont House voted 129 to 15 to create a Coronavirus Economic Stimulus Equity Program that will provide $5 million in relief payments to Vermonters ineligible for federal assistance because of immigration status. Approximately 4,000 adults and 1,000 children without Social Security numbers who reside in Vermont, including green card holders whose spouses cannot work, will be granted one-time payments mirroring the federal economic stimulus payments that most Americans received last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic ($1,200 for adults; $500 for children under age 17).
These workers, many of whom have kept the state’s dairy and vegetable farms operating seamlessly through the crisis, were declared “essential” by executive order. Governor Scott included this concept of aid to immigrant and undocumented Vermonters in his recently proposed FY21 budget. The House Appropriations Committee recommended a stand-alone bill apart from the budget to fund this program and identified additional monies to cover all potential recipients statewide. The program would be paid for with General Funds ($2 million) and monies from the 2018 Tobacco Litigation Fund ($3 million). All payments would be awarded by June 30, 2021, and any unspent funds would revert back to the Tobacco Fund.
The House also took a major step toward addressing climate change, a priority voiced by Vermonters for several years, by accepting the changes proposed by the Senate. On a vote of 102 to 45, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), H.688, was passed and sent to Governor Scott. Scott has five days to sign it, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature. The veto-proof votes in both the House and Senate demonstrate that Vermont takes its responsibility to fight climate change seriously. The GWSA converts Vermont’s emissions goals into achievable and realistic requirements that meet the targets in the Paris Climate Accord. The Climate Action Plan will be created by a Climate Council composed of representatives from state agencies and departments and from the business community and environmental organizations. Details of the GWSA can be found on my website at mikeyantachka.com/2020/02/legislative-report-2202020-building.html.