Leonine: One more step | Vermont Business Magazine
The Senate Appropriations Committee finalized the fiscal year 2022 budget bill, H.439 on Monday. On Friday, the Senate gave its final approval to the bill and thus paved the way for a conference committee where the House and Senate will reconcile their respective versions of the bill. While overall base spending has changed little from the House adopted version of H.439, the Senate spending plan is significantly different due to the inclusion of appropriations from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA ). The House had little time to consider funding ARPA, as the federal spending bill had just been enacted when the House passed H.439. As a result, the Senate Appropriations Committee did most of the work in deciding how to allocate ARPA funds. When the budget reached the Senate, Gov. Phil Scott offered his own proposal on ARPA spending. The Senate version of H.439 generally aligns with the governor’s proposal in terms of targeting ARPA funding. The Senate spending plan differs significantly from the governor’s proposal in terms of the amount of ARPA funding allocated.
Governor Scott asked the Senate to appropriate approximately $ 1 billion in ARPA spending, the total amount available for the state budget. The Senate has decided to approve about half of the funding in fiscal year 2022, with the intention of returning in the next session to allocate the remainder. The governor’s and Senate’s plans would spend ARPA money over several fiscal years, as federal guidelines allow. Because the spending will take place over several years, the Senate decided not to allocate about half of ARPA’s money, allowing the legislature to have more of a say in budgeting for the. next year. If the legislator approved the full amount in FY2022, it would give the administration more leeway to allocate funds during the duration of the spending process.
The result is a disagreement between the Senate and the administration over the budget. The administration takes the position that by limiting appropriations to half of ARPA’s funding, the Senate is not acting quickly enough to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate maintains that approving all the money now would give the administration too much control over the process and that its budget does not limit recovery since those dollars will not be spent for years to come anyway. Another added twist in the end-of-session budget reconciliation is the fact that the House didn’t have much time to consider funding ARPA.
These dynamics combine for a potentially turbulent conference process for the budget in the final weeks of the session. The legislature plans to adjourn by the third week of May, and as with most legislative sessions, the past few weeks seemed poised to include a healthy dose of political posture between the House, Senate and the office of the governor.
The Senate approved ARPA funding in the following installments (in millions):
- Health, Welfare and Justice System – $ 27.5
- Workforce, higher education and economic development – $ 132.7
- Housing – $ 18.5
- Connectivity, Broadband, and Technology Modernization for Government Systems – $ 153.8
- Climate action investments – $ 31
- Clean Water Investments – $ 115
- TOTAL – 478.5
On Thursday, the House Education Committee voted unanimously to approve its version of Article 13, a bill that proposes to create a legislative task force to create an implementation plan for an updated education funding formula. The updated formula was recommended in the Student Weighting Factors report prepared by the University of Vermont and Rutgers University in 2019. The report conclusively documented that although Vermont has the constitutional obligation to provide all students with equitable educational opportunities, the real costs of educating children of different circumstances have not been taken into account. This includes children who attend small schools, children in rural areas, economically disadvantaged children and children who are learning English. Because the funding formula does not meet the real needs of these populations, and because districts that spend beyond a certain threshold are penalized, districts that educate these types of learners have a lack of fiscal capacity and are unable to provide the necessary resources to their students.
The version of section 13 adopted by the Senate creates a wide range of considerations for the task force to take into account. Supporters of an updated formula objected to the bill’s breadth because it did not bind the task force to creating a plan to implement the report’s recommendations. The House Education Committee had long and heated debates on how they should be prescriptive with task force accountability and they narrowed it down somewhat. The House Education Committee amendment requires the working group to consider how to integrate the ratio weighting calculations with the Vermont equalized student calculations, the overspend threshold, and the performance calculations. The House Ways and Means Committee is currently reviewing Article 13. Stakeholders who advocate the implementation of the corrected weights continue to push for a narrower focus.
THE HOUSE APPROVES THE YOUTH VOTE IN THE ELECTIONS IN BRATTLEBORO
After vigorous debate, an unsuccessful attempt to re-engage the bill in committee, and a recorded vote from 102 to 42 parties, the House approved H.361, which allows young people to vote in local elections in Brattleboro. Specifically, the bill amends the City of Brattleboro charter to allow 16 and 17 year olds (and 15 year olds who vote early if they turn 16 on election day) to vote for the candidates for the Brattleboro Selectboard and the representatives in the unique form of town of Brattleboro. meeting where three people represent groups of 180 voters in the municipal assembly. The debate featured interesting discussions on child psychology and citizen engagement in the electoral process.
This week, Bill H.433, The Transportation Program Act and Various Changes to Transportation Acts, was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill contains the annual budget for Transportation Agency projects as well as changes to a number of AOT programs, including electric vehicle sales incentive programs (New EV Incentive program, MileageSmart Replace Your Ride). Click here for a side-by-side summary of H. 433 as it passed the House and the Transport Committee version of the Senate. Even though the bill did not pass in the Senate, this week the House Transport Committee got a head start on considering changes the Senate Transport Committee made to the bill. law. The other major bill related to transport is S.86, the law relating to various changes in laws relating to vehicles and ships. S.86 passed the Senate earlier in the session and is on the House floor for action. The bill contains numerous amendments to the DMV laws relating to motor boats, motor vehicles, snowmobiles and ATVs.
On Wednesday, the House approved article 66, the law relating to electric bicycles. The bill seeks to clearly define electric bikes in Vermont laws. S.66 reflects language adopted in 29 other states and defines three classes of electric bikes. It provides that electric bicycles can be used where human-powered bicycles are permitted, unless a municipality chooses to limit their use on cycle lanes, multi-use trails or sidewalks. The entities that manage the mountain bike trails could always limit the use of e-bikes if they wish. The bill also ensures that electric bicycles are not subject to registration, insurance or licensing requirements.
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