End of Session Report
Looking back at the 2022 Legislative Session, I wanted to share some top level accomplishments. Of course, some notable legislation was vetoed by the Governor and in all but a few cases the legislature fell short of the votes needed to override those vetoes. This was true for the Clean Heat Standard, a particular priority of mine (and of the entire climate caucus). Despite that and other setbacks, there was a lot to celebrate in this legislative year, including the historic $8B budget. Buoyed by Federal support, we have taken major steps forward in multiple policy areas.
A Balanced and Transformative State Budget
The FY2023 state budget (H.740) totals $8.3 billion, a 5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The budget honors the commitment the legislature made at the beginning of the pandemic: to support Vermonters, their families, and their communities across all 14 counties, and to leave no one behind in a strong statewide recovery.
That commitment includes investing $453.7 million in federal COVID relief in five broad areas: Economy, Workforce, and Communities; Housing; Broadband Connectivity; Climate Action; and Clean Water. Those investments, added to FY2022 investments, complete the allocations of the $1.2 billion received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
The budget includes a long-overdue rate increase of 8 percent to community mental health providers, designated agencies, specialized service agencies, and home health care providers. It provides millions to support substance abuse disorder prevention and recovery. It includes increased funds for Adult Day programs, Vermont Legal Aid and the Vermont Health Care Advocate.
We’ve invested $96 million in broadband projects and $137.8 million in community, workforce and economic development. The University of Vermont base budget is increased by $10 million, the first increase in 14 years. The Vermont State College System also has a base increase of $10 million, plus $14.9 million to serve as a “bridge” in their ongoing transition to fiscal and operational stability. Coverage is expanded by $4.9 million for working families within the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
This year’s investments in housing programs, including the “missing middle” and manufactured housing, tally $90 million. Transformational climate and water initiatives include $80 million for weatherization and $45 million for municipal energy resilience grants. There is also $8 million for advanced metering infrastructure and over $60 million for additional electrification initiatives.
Education Funding Reform
S. 287 incorporates updated weights from a UVM/Rutgers study into the education funding formula, providing greater taxing capacity for many districts. The bill also creates a glide path of tax-rate protection for districts that will experience reduced taxing capacity. The new weights will be implemented in FY25, giving districts time to plan and prepare. In Vermont, we have a shared commitment to education: No matter where we live, we’re all responsible for educating all of our students. By updating our funding system through S.287, we take another important step toward making that vision a reality.
Free Universal Breakfast and Lunch for the 2022–2023 School Year
Vermont made huge strides in combating food insecurity during the pandemic. With federal support, public schools provided free breakfast and lunch for all students during the last two school years. But this federal funding ends in June. To maintain this critical program, the legislature passed S.100, a bill to continue universal school meals through the 2022–2023 school year with $29 million from the Education Fund surplus. S.100 reduces hunger and erases stigma in our schools by ensuring that breakfast and a hot, nutritious lunch is available to all students. Under the old pre-pandemic program, not all food-insecure students qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch: the income limit was set very low, at $32,227 for a single parent with one child. During the upcoming school year, we’ll collect solid data around the cost of universal school meals and study the potential long-term funding opportunities for this program.
Technology: Universal Access to Broadband Last year, we passed H.360, dedicating $150 million of federal stimulus funds to the construction of publicly controlled broadband infrastructure in the most underserved parts of the state. The Vermont Community Broadband Board, established by H.360, has already distributed the $150 million in pre-construction and construction grants to all nine of Vermont’s Communication Union Districts. This year, we’ve allocated an additional $95 million of ARPA funds to support this infrastructure build. These funds will be supplemented by an additional $100+ million from the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act funds in the next year with the aim of reaching every Vermont household with affordable, high-speed internet.
Supporting Vermont Families with a Child Tax Credit
Building on the success of the federal CTC,H.510creates a new Vermont Child Tax Credit. It will give $1,000 per year to parents and guardians for every qualifying child five years of age or younger. The bill increases the Child and Dependent Care Credit to 72 percent of federal CDCC, and increases our Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit to 38% of federal EITC — making us the highest state EITC in the country. The bill creates a deduction for all interest paid on student loans, increases income thresholds for existing Social Security benefits exclusion by $5,000, and creates new exclusions for $10,000 of retirement income from military, Civil Service Retirement System, or other states’ noncontributory retirement systems. It increases funding for three programs: an existing housing tax credit to increase access to manufactured home purchase and replacement, the Aid for the Aged, Blind, and Disabled program, and the Child Care Worker Retention Grant Program. This bill is a big win for Vermont families. We’re creating a clear and significant message in our tax code that Vermont is a place that supports families and workers. We understand what it means to parent, to carry student loan debt, and to care for aging parents. Overall, H.510 will provide more than $41 million in tax relief affecting at least 70,000 Vermonters, and likely more. It is an historic and significant bill.
Commerce and Economic Development
Investing in Workforce:
S.11 is a significant workforce and economic development bill that addresses the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 on our employers, workers and families and establishes opportunities to grow Vermont's economy for the future. The bill creates or enhances programs to increase workforce participation, and to reinforce and sustain workers in nursing, mental health care, childcare and the trades. It includes scholarships, forgivable loans, education, training and internship programs.
In total, $113.5 million is appropriated using ARPA, General and Education Funds to achieve these goals. A few highlights include:
Forgivable loans for businesses ($19 million)
Support for creative economy ($9 million)
Nursing and healthcare ($12.5 million)
Support for trades ($4.5 million)
COVID paid family leave ($15.18 million)
Unemployment insurance ($8 million)
Encourage new Vermonters ($5.93 million)
Community recovery and revitalization grant program ($10 million)
Downtown and village tax credit ($2.45 million)
Continuation of Everyone Eats program ($1.3 million)