By Rep. Mike Yantachka
The Vermont legislature wrapped up a historic session that took place 100% remotely from January 6 to May 21. While 2020 began normally and then abruptly shifted to remote operation in reaction to the spreading coronavirus, which caused the session to run into September, the 2021 session started smoothly in January and ended on schedule in May. Per tradition, the Budget, a.k.a. H.439 “the Big Bill”, was the last bill passed. This Fiscal Year 2022 budget, a $7.34 billion package of investments that prioritizes the people of Vermont, passed unanimously 148-0.
H.439 strengthens systems and services that increase physical and mental health and well-being. It invests heavily in broadband and connectivity for rural communities. It invests in childcare to increase affordability and accessibility. It makes a massive investment in increasing affordable housing stock for low- and middle-income Vermonters. It prioritizes climate change, clean water, and begins to center racial and social equity in more of our investments. And it begins a process of resolving our public pensions crisis.
This budget incorporates state General Funds, CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal dollars in creating an equitable recovery plan that invests in people – leaving no Vermonter behind – and rebuilds the economy in all 14 counties. Of the $1.2 billion provided to Vermont by ARPA, the legislature has appropriated $581 million and reserved the remaining $600 million for future use.
Of the many things we learned from this experience, one is that we are not only dependent on each other, but that today’s society relies heavily on technology for our mutual resilience. We also learned that lack of access to that technology has left many Vermonters less secure and more dependent than they were when 2020 began.
Last year we talked about how providing access to high-speed broadband to every Vermonter would cost upwards of $300M, and how it would take a decade or more to accomplish that. Thanks to the American Recovery Plan Act, we have been given an extraordinary opportunity to shorten that time frame by an order of magnitude. By appropriating $150M in this budget to encourage Communication Union Districts and municipalities to work cooperatively with existing Internet Service Providers, we are making the accomplishment of that goal possible in just a few years. At the same time we will be creating many well-paying jobs and training the workforce to fill them.
With the weather turning nicer and the COVID precautions easing, I hope opportunities for in-person meetings will be increasing. In the meantime, I welcome your emails or phone calls at (802) 233-5238. This article and others can be found at my website.