Town Meeting marks the halfway point in the Vermont legislative session, and it’s a good time to highlight some of the work the Legislature has accomplished. The House passed some significant legislation in these first two months, and we will continue to work on our key priorities in collaboration with the Senate prior to our anticipated May adjournment.
One of our priorities is to use Vermont’s share of federal stimulus funds to boost recovery and set the stage for a strong future while building a balanced budget that reflects our values as we tackle the complex and interconnected challenges of housing, workforce and childcare. Of the $1.049 billion Vermont received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), over $600 million was allocated for fiscal year 2022 (FY22) investments, leaving more than $400 million available. This infusion of federal dollars will not be sustained over time, nor will state revenue levels, which have been outpacing forecasts. In developing the FY23 budget, our challenge is to make strategic use of one-time money to address extraordinary ongoing needs in order to support and strengthen Vermont communities, families and vulnerable Vermonters now and into the future.
Workforce development is another one of our legislative priorities this year. With 25,000 job openings in Vermont and an unemployment rate of just 2.5 percent, we’re trying to identify and remove the barriers that are preventing people from working or returning to work. We’re also listening to education and training providers to see if we can provide better opportunities for Vermonters to gain postsecondary credentials and degrees of value, which increase earning potential in rewarding careers. Vermont’s 17 regional Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers provide critical pathways to improve career readiness for students and adult learners and play a big role in workforce development. Stakeholders across Vermont in the business, nonprofit, education and government sectors have committed to a common goal of having 70 percent of Vermonters possess a postsecondary degree or credential of value, such as an apprenticeship, certificate or license. The Legislature is considering several proposals to revamp and support CTE, with bills under consideration in several committees. While there are worker shortages across the board, the shortage of nurses has put severe pressure on our health-care system due to COVID-19. This is exacerbated by a shortage of nursing professors. The Legislature is looking for ways through scholarships and grants to support Vermont’s colleges in expanding their nursing programs, attracting nursing professors and helping current RNs who wish to become professors.
The Legislature recognizes that climate change is an existential threat to our way of life, and several bills aim at reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the two categories producing the most emissions: transportation and heating. I have previously written about two bills from my committee, Energy and Technology, that promote municipal energy resilience and help Vermonters reduce their dependence on fossil fuels for heating. The House Transportation Committee is reviewing the Governor’s “Transportation Bill,” which recommends approximately $40 million in investments to support a state highway electric vehicle (EV) charging network and incentives for EVs as well as electric bicycles, ATVs and snowmobiles. The Transportation Innovation Act (H.552) has similar objectives and also includes funding for transportation programs for lower-income Vermonters and continuation of zero-fare public transit. These initiatives will be helped by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden in November 2021.
There is a lot of work being done in many other areas, including pension funding, support of the forest economy, registration of construction contractors, support for mixed-income and multi-family housing, racial and social justice, telehealth initiatives, toxic waste and more. Bills dealing with these issues will be coming up for a vote in the two weeks after Town Meeting to meet the crossover deadline when bills need to be passed in order to be considered by the Senate. Stay tuned.