Gov. Scott has provided a $7.93 billion budget to the Legislature, which outlines his priorities for the state. Included were increases for early childhood education, higher education, workforce training, and housing. The governor proposed paying for cradle-through-college services through the state’s education fund, increased efficiencies and effectiveness opportunities through combining the agencies of commerce and labor as well as the liquor and lottery commissions. These proposals have been met with a fair amount of push-back in the Legislature, particularly due to the significant increase proposed to the property tax and concerns about worker protections. I have voiced my opposition to both the governor’s office and to our House leadership regarding increases to the property tax resulting from added services being paid for out of the education fund. The House Appropriations Committee has been working through the proposals and has hosted public hearings around the state to gather feedback. We will vote on the House’s proposed budget in the coming weeks, and then the process will move to the Senate.
Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcomb has been reappointed by Gov. Scott to lead the Agency of Education.
Act 46 - Many legislators in the House support consideration of a number of changes to Act 46, including clarity around alternative structures and increased time for districts, through H.15. There has been resistance by the education committees toward making any changes to Act 46 prior to Town Meeting when a number of merger votes will take place, but the Senate Education Committee has been working on a bill that would increase Act 46 timelines if certain criteria are met and provided more flexibility in establishing a side by side district.
Education finance: I have been named to an Education Finance Committee that Speaker Mitzi Johnson has established. We have been told that our goal is to produce options for changes to the financing mechanism for next year. This year, we have at least six different education finance proposals. I have co-sponsored H.183, which proposes a temporary funding solution for school districts with declining student enrollment like Twin Valley and Leland & Gray. I have also proposed H.274, which asks the Agency of Education to make a recommendation on the addition of a school district population density factor to the weighting factors used to determine equalized pupil counts, an outline of the minimum high schools located in rural Vermont should be required to have, and an opinion on the consequences of schools in rural Vermont closing.
This year the House created the Energy and Technology Committee, to provide greater focus for both telecommunications and IT projects. This is the committee I have been placed on for the next two years. We have been working on H.250, which reauthorizes Act 248a for three more years. Act 248a was enacted to provide an easier means of erecting telecommunications technology than Act 250. My colleague Rep. Yantachka has written a helpful brief history of Act 248a. I’ve also introduced H.347, which seeks to have the Vermont 10-year telecommunications plan developed in consultation with education, health care, and public safety agencies, in addition to commerce. Locally, I have been working with the department of public service and CoverCo, a company contracted to deliver limited cellular services to communities isolated during Tropical Storm Irene. Both Readsboro and Whitingham have these sites operational, though in some cases the placement has not been optimal. Wardsboro was to have two sites, which to date have not been installed. We are working with the company to do some Town Meeting surveying to better inform next steps. Along with Rep. Chip Conquest, I’ve introduced H.459, a bill looking to help municipalities finance telecommunications infrastructure projects.
Much of this year’s focus on economic development is on workforce training and recruitment needs, and career and technical training. There are also a number of communities who are looking to lift the limit on the number of tax incremental financing (TIF) districts in the state. TIFs are a municipal infrastructure-financing tool, used widely throughout the country. In Vermont, almost all TIFs exist in Chittenden County, and there is a ban on establishing any new districts.
In my committee, we have been looking at what impact energy storage can have both on helping us achieve our renewable energy goals and on providing more stability to the energy grid. Our neighbors are getting ahead of us in developing storage, which could have negative impacts for Vermont ratepayers in the future.
On the horizon:
Paid family leave insurance program, $15 minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, and a fight over how to pay for the clean up of Lake Champlain.
Federal impacts on the state:
There are a number of federal impacts to workforce, education, and health care that are being continually monitored. It is not clear how our budget, heavily dependent on federal funding, may be impacted by changes to health care. Working with Gov. Scott, both the House and Senate have bills which address possible over-reach by the federal government with our law enforcement personnel and with the collection of personal information. H.228 has passed the Senate 30-0 and is likely to be voted on in the House this week. More information on what these bills do and do not do can be found on my website www.laurasibilivavt.com.
I look forward to seeing folks at Town Meeting and over the Town Meeting week legislative break. As always, don’t hesitate to call me at (802) 384-0233 or email if I can answer questions or be of assistance.