The Vermont Legislature adjourned late last Friday night until August. This week, the House Speaker and finance committee chairs discussed how federal COVID-19 recovery funds have been appropriated and what work remains.
The Vermont legislature usually ends each session sometime in May and leaves Montpelier until the following January. But the coronavirus pandemic this year upended the usual timetable, forcing legislators to leave the statehouse, conduct business virtually and extend the session. House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson says the main focus of the extended session has been the COVID crisis and appropriating nearly $577 million of the $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds allocated to the state. “A very significant piece of that is a $275 million investment in stabilizing our health care system. This is a large part of the Coronavirus Relief Fund money. It’s really about making sure we keep all of these providers afloat. Everything from mental health clinicians and independent docs and adult days to our hospital systems.”
House Appropriations Chair Catherine Toll, a Democrat from Danville, reported that two economic development bills have passed totaling $163 million to benefit communities and businesses. “Additionally we passed out a hazard pay provision which includes $28 million and the focus really was on high risk front line workers primarily in the health care fields. We passed out $12 million to support the parent-child centers and our child care system. And also included in this package was $20 million for connectivity.”
House Ways and Means Chair Janet Ancel, a Democrat from Washington County, says committee members did not want property taxpayers burdened with the cost of the pandemic and worked to hold the line on any increased or new taxes or fees. “We made a decision about property tax payers. We passed a bill. It’s a very modest increase. It basically would be the increase that would have happened even if we had not had a pandemic. We also included deficit spending and borrowing and leave open the possibility for additional revenue. But I don’t see additional revenue as being a significant part of the solution to that problem.”
Speaker Johnson says the first portion of the session allocated the bulk of the Coronavirus Relief Funds and the remainder will be disbursed when legislators return. She also plans to address other bills that had been set aside. “We will be coming back to more racial justice work. We have a long way to go for true equality. We’ll be picking up the climate change legislation, the Global Warming Solutions Act. And of course our state colleges are going to get a lot of attention in August. We had between the budget adjustments and the Quarter-1 bills about $80 million worth of assistance to our higher education institutions but there was specifically money for that beginning bridge funding for the state colleges. Certainly more decisions to be made in August regarding that.”
The Vermont Legislature adjourned until August 25th.