It's Town Meeting Week, the midway point of the Vermont legislative session which runs from January-May. Legislative committees aren’t meeting this week, and I’ve had time to pause, catch up, and get ready for cross over week when we return.
Thanks to the input of all of you, I’ve been working with my caucus on a few key policy goals:
- Creating an equitable COVID-19 recovery plan that rebuilds the economy in all 14 counties
- Increasing affordable housing options for working families
- Investing in the state’s child care system to improve access, affordability and quality
- Expanding broadband service to rural roads and communities so all Vermonters can access telehealth, - education and remote work
- Crafting policies with a revised lens of racial and social equity
The federal landscape— (we’re all Keynesians now)
So far, our Joint Fiscal Office estimates that the federal infusion of Coronavirus Relief dollars to Vermont (adding together stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and funds directed appropriated to the state) has topped $5 billion or 20 percent of our total economy. With the next aid package finalized in the U.S. Senate as we speak (and an additional $1.3 billion projected to come to VT), we’re seeing an unprecedented opportunity to invest strategically in our communities. Read on to learn about some of the bills that will soon come to the house floor.
Below you'll find:
- Updates From the Floor
- In Committee
- Issue Caucuses
- Bills I'm Working On
- Covid Connections
- Opportunities to Participate Feel free to hop around!
Updates From the Floor
In the last few weeks we’ve passed out the budget adjustment act as well as a mid session COVID relief spending bill (H315) that seeks to address health disparities, increase social equity, and stimulate economic recovery. The COVID-19 relief package includes funding for:
- Small businesses that received no federal assistance
- Pandemic-related services for New American and immigrant communities
- Housing and community supports for Vermonters struggling with mental health issues
- One-time stimulus checks for the poorest Vermonters on Reach Up
- Added investment in VT Farmers to Families Food Box program
- Improving the indoor air quality of school buildings for student safety
- New housing creation for homeless Vermonters
- Increased data collection to track disparities and improve health equity
- Additional investment in pensions systems for state employees and teachers
We also voted out H81, a bill that restores the rights of school staff and teachers to bargain for different contribution rates for their healthcare. We know that school staff are often the lowest paid members of their school communities and we want to ensure that they can negotiate a package that meets their specific needs.
You can find a list of all the other bills that we voted out over the last 6 weeks here. Please reach out if you have questions about any of them.
In the next two weeks we plan to move significant legislation to improve the lives of Vermonters and increase the capacity of government including:
- Rural Broadband Deployment invests in our Communication Union Districts so Vermont communities can meet their connectivity needs. Brattleboro is part of the Deerfield Valley CUD and you can learn more about it here.
- Transportation Modernization Act proposes transportation initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. The bill sets out policies and projects for inclusion in the State’s 2022 Transportation Program that reduce carbon emissions, make strategic infrastructure investments, and give all Vermonters greater access to lower-cost transportation options.
- Expanding Access to Childcare by raising the pay of workers, increasing opportunities for people to enter the field, and increasing the range of income and the total benefits available for child care subsidy.
- Modernizing IT infrastructure. Many of our state’s computer systems are DOS based legacy programs from the 80s. These systems aren’t nimble enough to meet our community needs, nor have the capacity to share the data needed to ensure accountability.
- An Act Relating to Sexual Violence proposes to update our legal definitions of consent, ensure data tracking, and access to care for people who experience sexual violence.
- Expanding our Bottle Bill to ensure that more waste is diverted into high quality recycled content and grow our Clean Water Fund.
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission so Vermonters can take responsibility for the legacy of institutional violence against Vermonters who are black, indigenous, and people of color. This bill might be connected to a formal apology for eugenics.
- Community Schools Pilot Program provides wrap around services to students and their families within the school community. This is just a sample of the many bills that will leave committees in the next two weeks, please be in touch if you would like to discuss these or any other bill in the pipeline.
The Ways and Means Committee views our work in the context of six pillars that underlie good tax policy: sustainability and reliability, economic competitiveness, fairness, simplicity, accountability and tax neutrality.
- School Budgets & Yield Bill: Every year the legislature sets the education property tax rate in the “Yield Bill.” This is a complicated formula based on the sum of school district budgets, the number of equalized pupils, and the balance needed in the Education Fund after other revenue is taken into account. This has been a difficult year for revenue projections (along with everything else) and a letter from the Tax Department sent in December, based on outdated projections, pointed to significantly increased tax rates. Fortunately, thanks to significant federal spending and direct federal payments to individuals, we saw increased consumer spending statewide that led to revenues in the Education Fund above and beyond our expectations. Much of this spending happened online and Vermont has been well-poised to collect sales tax on those online sales because of recent legislation allowing us to collect taxes on such purchases sold into the state.
Additionally, proposed spending from school districts, as reported to the Agency of Education and not yet approved by voters, points to a lower increase in school budgets than anticipated. If this trend continues, the average education spending increase—which is what tax rates are based on—will be less than 1 percent. We will continue to work on this issue and on final rates, but this is the latest in a series of signals that our education property tax rates are likely to be substantially lower than were predicted in December. The yield bill that was passed out of committee (H.152) will likely keep property taxes close to flat across the state.
Tax Structure Commission: Approximately every 10 years, the Vermont Legislature charges an independent tax commission with looking across our system of taxation to make recommendations for the future. We just received a draft of their report, and it includes recommendations for moving to a fully income-based system of education taxes, broadening the sales tax base, and seeking to tax wealth more accurately through capital gains, estate tax changes, and more. Their recommendations are not immediately actionable but will help guide our work over the next few biennium.
Corporate Income Tax Changes: Proposed corporate tax changes in H.189 are intended to shift the tax burden away from corporations with a significant physical presence in Vermont by (1) changing to a “single sales factor,” a switch many neighboring states have made as our national economy moves towards a higher proportion of service-based corporate income; (2) changing methodologies to determine how to apportion profits (from the “Joyce Rule” to the “Finnigan Rule,” and (3) changing how to consider any corporate sales not taxed in any other state when assessing total and apportionable sales. Our intent is for the corporate tax burden, in general, to continue a shift to out-of-state corporations and support our Vermont employers.
I’m a member of five different issue caucuses in the legislature. We meet weekly to work across committees and chambers to move legislation forward. Priorities for the year:
- The Climate Caucus meets every two weeks and is closely engaged with the work of the Climate Council we formed through the Global Warming Solutions Act last biennium. You can follow our work here.
- The Social Equity Caucus has been meeting for the past month and has discussed issues related to addressing systemic racism and meeting the needs of Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Specific topics the group is focused on include declaring racism a public health emergency, ensuring all Vermonters understand the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and tracking economic data tied to BIPOC businesses and communities. Members of the caucus have also recently introduced the BIPOC Land Access and Opportunity Act and have discussed introducing a health equity bill in the future. The Caucus will continue to work with organizations such as the Racial Justice Alliance, the NAACP, the Community Equity Collaborative, and the Racial Equity Task Force to ensure the needs of BIPOC Vermonters are heard and met. The Caucus meets every Wednesday at 8am.
- As a co-chair of the Working Vermont Caucus, I am very happy with the work the caucus has done since the beginning of the Biennium. The Caucus plans to continue to work on issues and discuss legislation surrounding COVID safety, protecting low to middle income Vermonters, women, and BIPOC communities. The Caucus has discussed bills such as the Majority Sign Up bill, and a Just cause for Firing bill. We plan on continuing working in the subgroups of education/workforce development, finance, and workers protections to discuss meaningful ideas and legislation that will further improve conditions and protect the workers of Vermont. The caucus meets Wednesday at 5pm and you are welcome to attend!
- The Women's Caucus has spent most of their meetings since the beginning of the Biennium discussing issues that are crucial to the wellbeing of women in Vermont. The caucus plans to continue to have conversations on issues and bills that improve childcare, help social workers, look at ways to help Vermont's DCF, and improve our correctional facilities. The caucus will keep hearing from organizations along with individuals to discuss different issues and solutions that we believe will help the people of Vermont. The caucus meets Fridays at 12pm and is open to the public.
- The Rural Economic Development Working Group has been meeting since the beginning of the year to work on ways to improve the infrastructures and systems supporting Vermonters. Over the past few weeks, the group discussed the way that education funds are distributed through a system of assigning weights to different types of students, and an associated proposed bill that hopes to improve this system. The group also discussed a bill currently being worked on that is aimed at increasing broadband internet access across Vermont, which would ensure that every Vermonter has access to the internet in their home. The working group meets on Thursdays at 8am, and guests are always welcome.
Bills I'm Working On
In the last newsletter I ran through the nine bills I’m lead sponsor on this biennium. You can find hyperlinks to all of them, as well as bills I cosponsored here.
- More Vaccines are here! Starting tomorrow, March 8th, Vermonters 55 years and older with certain high-risk health conditions, as well as teachers, onsite staff in K-12 schools, and child care workers will be invited to register for COVID vaccines. Vermonters 65+ are already eligible. Register for a vaccine appointment here (preferred), or call 855-722-7878. You will be asked to provide your name, date of birth, address, email (if available), phone number, and health insurance information (if available, but not required). If you have any challenges with sign up please reach out to me or Senior Solutions at (802) 885-2669.
- We recently were able to reinstate both rental assistance and utility assistance programs. You can learn more about both locally through SEVCA or by going to the Vermont State Housing Authority and the Vermont Public Service Department websites.
- Unemployment assistance continues to be problematic— extended benefits should be available and tax documentation should be straightened out— if you need any help, please be in touch.
Opportunities to Participate
Meet the Team:
In the middle of this wild year, I’m incredibly grateful to be working with three interns from the poli-sci department at UVM:
Lily Kelleher is a Junior at the University of Vermont studying Political Science with a minor in Public Policy Analysis. She is originally from New Jersey, and has loved calling Vermont her home these last few years. Lily is very excited to be interning with Representative Kornheiser this semester!
Jake Wiener is a Junior at the University of Vermont. Originally from Long Island, NY, he is studying Political Science with a minor in Business Administration. In his free time, Jake captains the club tennis team at UVM and likes to ski and play hockey. Jake is really excited to intern for Representative Kornheiser this semester!
Lina Yudin is a Junior at the University of Vermont studying Political Science with a minor in Community and International Development. She came to UVM from Boston, MA, and her family is originally from Moscow, Russia. Lina loves to ski and her cat, and is passionate about sustainable community development. She is very excited to continue working with Representative Kornheiser this semester!
As always, please connect with me through:
- My weekly virtual coffee hour every Sunday at 11am, registration link here;
- The Montpelier Happy Hour where I unpack legislation with Olga Peters each Friday. These last couple weeks we talked about childcare, the Older Vermonters Act, the promise and peril of Town Meeting, and meeting the needs of folks with Substance Use Disorder; and
- My newsletters and social media feeds (facebook, twitter, insta links below.) You can find past newsletters on the “blog” tab of my website.
And please keep in mind, I’m still available for help navigating any services (or lack thereof) with you: unemployment insurance, housing challenges, health care. Now more than ever, I’m honored to do this work with all of you. Thank you, and please be in touch.
Yours in solidarity, Emilie