Legislative Update – July 12, 2018

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Jul 12, 2018 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

The Legislature is Adjourned!

Budget

We were able to prevent a government shutdown. Although the budget and tax bills passed with tri-partisan support, the Governor vetoed both bills twice. After weeks of discussion and debate, the House was able to find agreement with the Senate and the Governor at the end of June to fully fund our local schools, pay down some of the state’s long-term debt, and hold residential property tax rates level.

This year’s budget supports a healthy economy, strong families, and gives communities the resources they need to thrive, today and for years to come. We have a tradition in Vermont of focused, smart budgeting. Revenue we can count on receiving annually is used to pay for ongoing expenses; windfalls, like receipts from the recent tobacco settlement, are invested in paying down state debt and building our savings. This protects us from the uncertainty brewing in DC, the likelihood of a recession, and ensures we can continue to make the kind of investments that support our working families.

Included in the budget are protections for vulnerable Vermonters. The bill restores the cuts the Governor proposed to those with disabilities and who receive developmental services. It provides a 2% increase to community service providers like the VNA and increases funding for meals on wheels. It directs federal dollars to reimbursement for infant and toddler care. It makes strategic investments in our economy and significant investments in the justice system, enabling families crippled by the opioid crisis to move on. It helps struggling dairy farmers. It invests in supportive housing for people with mental illness and creates more hospital beds for those suffering from mental illness and diverts them from hospital emergency rooms.

Provisions in the budget focus on Vermont’s fiscal health and move the state into a stronger financial position. We held the rate of budget growth to half of one percent. Investments are made in state pension funds that will save Vermont taxpayers over $100 million in interest payments. All of our reserves are filled, further guarding us against recession. Strong fiscal management protects our bond ratings, ensuring that local government dollars are well invested.

Every year, the Legislature must also pass a bill making adjustments to the state property tax rates, which provides financing for school budgets voted on at town meeting. In addition, this year we had to react to the impact of the Trump tax cuts which would have resulted in an additional $30 million in tax revenue if we hadn’t acted.

Among this year’s noteworthy accomplishments, the income tax changes simplify Vermont’s tax code and make the code more fair for low and middle income taxpayers, working families and seniors. The bill expands the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is generally viewed as our most effective poverty reduction program. Given the annual budget difficulties we face as a state, these investments are remarkable. Some highlights: 

  • Expands the exemption of taxable social security benefits for single filers with less than $45,000 in adjusted gross income and married filers with less than $60,000 in adjusted gross income
  • Eliminates itemized deductions and creates a new Vermont standard deduction equal to $6,000 for single filers, $12,000 for married couples and $9,000 for heads of household
  • Creates a new Vermont personal exemption equal to $4,150 per exemption, an exemption which benefits families
  • Collapses the top two income tax brackets and lowers all personal income tax rates by 0.2%
  • Expands the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit from 32% of the Federal EITC to 36%
  • Creates a 5% tax credit on the value of charitable contributions up to $20,000
  • Creates a Vermont Tax Structures Commission and a Staff-to-Student Ratios Task Force

In addition, average residential property tax rates were held flat with last year’s rates and the non-residential rate increased by 4.5 cents.  

My Summer and Fall Work

As House Judiciary Chair, I serve on other committees that meet either all year or during the summer and fall. One committee that meets in the Legislative off session is the Joint Justice Oversight Commission (JOC). This committee is made up of members of the House and Senate. During the session, legislative committees assign tasks to JOC. Here is what we will be looking at:

Expungement

Consider the implications of expanding the list of qualifying crimes eligible for expungement to include any nonviolent drug-related offenses. 

Juvenile Jurisdiction

Consider the implications, including necessary funding, of expanding juvenile delinquency jurisdiction to encompass persons 18 and 19 years of age beginning in fiscal year 2021, and review whether milestones have been met to effectuate this expansion. 

People of Color Incarcerated in VT

Review data regarding all nonwhite offenders in the custody of the Department of Corrections, including comparison data with neighboring states. 

Statewide CHINS (Juvenile law) Reform

Review proposal to reform the system by which CHINS cases are processed and consider recommendations on allocating funds to reflect those reforms and achieve certain outcomes. 

Heath Care Services to Inmates

Review analysis of whether there is potential for the State to achieve savings in providing health care services to inmates and whether the State is contracting for appropriate services.

Vermont Justice System

Undertake a review of Vermont’s justice system, including both State and local functions. Review shall focus on reducing crime, improving public safety, decreasing recidivism, and increasing accountability and cost-efficiencies.

 

I also serve on the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission. We will be looking at a regulated market and continue our work on highway safety and prevention. The goal will be to decrease the illegal market while ensuring highway safety and prevent underage use.

I will continue my work on the Supreme Court Commission on Family Treatment Dockets to help families get the services they need.

Finally, I serve on the Judicial Nominating Board (JNB). In Vermont the governor appoints all but probate judges. The JNB interviews applicants for judgeships when there are openings and makes recommendations to the Governor.

 

I will continue to keep you updated about resources and other issues. Please stay in touch: mgrad@leg.state.vt.us. 802-552-8065.