The House spent some very long hours on the floor during the latter part of last week, debating the annual Miscellaneous Tax Bill and the FY 15 State Budget. Since the beginning of the session, the Ways and Means Committee (my committee) devoted a good deal of its daily agenda to the tax bill, while the Appropriations Committee put in an enormous amount of time and effort over the past four months in getting the budget piece right. The big picture challenge that both committees worked hard to overcome entailed the final $14 million general fund budget gap that became the focal point when Ways and Means said “no” to the Governor’s proposed health insurance claims assessment. To come to a landing, Appropriations ended up making $11.9 million worth of cuts from the Administration’s December proposal, while Ways and Means came up with $0.9 million by scaling back income sensitivity adjustments and renter rebates, and by raising taxes by $1.2 million on snuff and e-cigarettes.
When all was said and done, the FY 15 House-passed budget totaled $7.3 billion. This amount is $36.7 million less than the Governor’s recommendation, and is 3.4% above the current fiscal year. The all-important General Fund portion of this total equals $1.4 billion, a 3.8% increase above the final FY 14 spending blueprint. The only significant monetary amendments to the tax and budget bills would have raised income taxes by $10 million on high income folks to compensate for Federal cuts in the food stamp program. Both of these proposed interwoven changes were defeated on lopsided roll call votes. Although a number of my colleagues criticized the budget as “too big”, not a one of them backed up their hollow rhetoric with a single amendment to reduce the spending they so cavalierly criticized. I guess it’s the same old story — talk is cheap, action is hard.
The Miscellaneous Tax bill passed on a 103 to 42 vote (Wilson voting yes), while the budget won final approval by a margin of 89 to 36 (Wilson voting yes). These bills now make their way to the Senate for review and consideration by the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative