Vermont Legislature Returns To Session
The Vermont Legislature reconvened Tuesday after a month-long break. Just before the virtual session, key House leaders discussed the priorities for the mini-session.
The Vermont legislature usually ends its session in May and returns to Montpelier the following January. But the timetable has been skewed this year because of the pandemic and uncertainty over federal coronavirus aid allocations. Lawmakers extended the session into late June, passing a first quarter 2021 state budget and appropriating about 46 percent of the $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds allocated to the state. They recessed for a month until the end of August.
The House was gaveled back into session – virtually – on Tuesday morning by Democratic Speaker Mitzi Johnson. “Welcome to the Vermont House of Representatives. Will the House please come to order? We are back in session because of the budget and the pandemic. Our work will be focused on those things and where we have time we will be moving forward on some of the other bills. It’s a relatively narrow list. But our timeline for this session will be determined by the budget. When the budget is finished we will be wrapping up.”
Governor Phil Scott delivered his fiscal ’21 budget proposal August 18th. House Appropriations Committee Chair Danville Democrat Catherine Toll noted that the committee has been reviewing the fiscal plan since then. “It appears that it’s a fairly steady state budget. There are 5 percent reductions within many of the agencies and departments. So we’re going through that five percent reduction to fully understand the impact of those as well as there were three percent General Fund targets to many departments and agencies. One area that we’re concerned about is there’s really no provisions for education. And we will also be reviewing the CRF dollars. Do we need to do any readjusting at this point as well as the remaining dollars that need to be appropriated as we still have a December 30th deadline for those not just to be appropriated but for the money to be used.”
The Republican governor later addressed concerns that the proposed budget has no provisions for education. “In the first quarter budget we did come to a conclusion with about $50 million and we have utilized a lot of the relief money for that need. Obviously there could be more. I’ve heard that Congressional action could include more dollars which would be much needed. But at this point in time we believe that we’ve presented a budget that works. Obviously with every budget that’s presented there are negotiations and there are thoughts on both sides on how to improve and we’re welcoming their input. And we’ll make adjustments as necessary as we do with every single budget that we present.”
Virtual public hearings on Vermont’s proposed budget will be held Thursday and Friday.