Every week when I return home from Montpelier a new flower is blooming on one of our houseplants. I’m sure this is a metaphor for something.
This is our last week before we recess for Town Meeting Day. My colleagues and I will head back to our communities for conversation and a rare moment of reflection at the half-way point of the session. Brattleboro folks get a chance to vote on our selectboard, school board, and town meeting representatives as we gear up for Representative Town Meeting next month. You can check out the ballot here and vote in person next Tuesday or absentee any time before that. If you’re still interested in serving as a Town Meeting Representative for Brattleboro it isn’t too late to either register as a “write-in” candidate or to attend a nominating caucus meeting in March. Our town clerk can tell you more about how to get it done.
On the Floor:
H.411 passed this week and is headed over to the Senate. Often described as the “wanton waste bill,”H411, an act relating to the retrieval and use of covered animals, requires that any carcasses be used for their meat and fur rather than being discarded. (fun fact: the term covered animals doesn’t refer to turtles but to any animal that is “covered” by the legislation– for example deer are covered but not fish.)
H.556: An act relating to exempting property owned by Vermont-recognized Native American tribes from property tax passed the House and is headed to the Senate. My committee on Ways and Means took the lead on this bill which has a small fiscal impact to the state but is a step forward in acknowledging and repairing the legacy of our colonial past and present.
H.628: An act relating to amending a birth certificate to reflect gender identity enables the Department of Health to clarify and align guidance on amending birth certificates to reflect an applicant’s gender identity, including a new non-binary marker.
H.447: An act relating to approval of amendments to the charter of the Town of Springfield passed the House after some debate on the details of a provision that penalized owners of decrepit properties. I think these ordinances are regressive and classist and based on discredited theories of broken windows strategies of community development. However, the voters of Springfield voted for their Charter Change and while I would fight such a policy here in Brattleboro, or statewide, I think it’s important to respect voters and uphold Charter Changes as they pass through the legislature.
You can read more about each of the bills here.
One day last week, we worked on six different bills in a single day, but I’ll spare you all the details of that and focus on some of the bigger topics we’re working on.
There are big changes expected this year in Education Finance and we’re slowly working our way through the complexity of our existing system. Following up on the recommendations of the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report, the committees on Ways and Means and Education are diving into two aspects of our system: how the differing costs of educating students are accounted for (weighting) and how the capacity to pay is accounted for (residential education taxes.) Currently Vermonters pay their education taxes in a few ways– most folks with a household income of less than 100k pay based on income, and folks making more pay based on property, renters pay based on property, but indirectly through their rent, and then some get a credit based on income. It’s incredibly complex, and that complexity detracts from Vermonters ability to make informed decisions about their school budgets. We’re discussing the idea of moving to an entirely income determined education property tax– this is not a new idea and has been debated since Act 60. You can learn some of the history in this recent episode of Brave Little State.
Vermont covers the approved budgets of each school district through our collective education fund. Revenues go into the fund throughout the year through sales tax, meals and rooms tax, and other revenue sources. The difference between what is in the education fund from regular revenue sources and what districts require, is raised through our statewide education tax and is called the yield bill. Every year we set the yield through statute, and determine the tax rate per one dollar of spending on an equalized pupil in a school district. We try to vote out an initial yield bill before town meeting week to inform voters, but the final bill isn’t sent to the governor until we adjourn for the year.
The Use Value Appraisal Program or current use as we usually refer to it, enables land that is being farmed or logged to be taxed at a rate commensurate with the value it brings through use– meaning that a farmer is taxed based on the agricultural value of the land rather than the possible resale value of the land. This shift in appraisal has allowed Vermont lands to stay open, our farms more viable, and our forest industry robust– all key values for the common good in Vermont. However there is a third way to value land– and that is what it provides for our ecosystem. We’re working with the Committee on Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife to add a third “use” for the land, and that is old or protected forest which provides valuable carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat. We’re currently figuring out the details of how best to value this land for the purposes of taxation and what consequences (long and short term) might arise from this shift in a statute that passed in 1978.
More opportunities to participate:
*Weekly office hours, Sundays at 4pm. You can register here— come for an hour or just pop in with a quick question or piece of feedback.
*The next Community Conversation, scheduled for March 16th at 7pm, will focus on our collective sense of safety— we will talk about criminal justice, mental health supports, economic realities— and the role of state government. You can register here.
*The Montpelier Happy Hour had some technical challenges in our podcasting apps but things are fixed and humming back along. Subscribe wherever you find podcasts or catch back episodes on our website. We’ve recently talked with Speaker of the House, Jill Krowinski, about vetoes.
*There is still significant funding to help pay the bills: mortgages, rent, utilities, internet, and heat. Even if you don’t have back bills yet, please be in touch with SEVCA to learn if you’re eligible. Or reach out to me with any questions.
*Want to find all the Covid resources in one spot? Check it out? What’s missing, what should we add?
Take good care and please be in touch.