I think the best way to describe the tenor of the House in the fifteenth week of the legislative session would be – the calm before the storm. The House, having already approved the major, must-do bills, was largely waiting for the Senate to wrap-up its work. And the Senate, was anything but calm, cool and collected during parts of that Chamber’s busy schedule this past week. Here’s a few items from the week that was:
Federal Impacts – Because there is a three month overlap between the first quarter of the State fiscal year, and the fourth quarter of the Federal fiscal year, the FY 11 Federal budget deal recently worked out by the Obama administration and Congress will affect the first part of Vermont’s FY 12 spending plan. To date, the Shumlin administration, along with the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, have been able to identify roughly $17.6 million in direct state budget impacts. It is anticipated that the State’s general fund will see $4.8 million less than originally anticipated, while the State’s transportation fund will be “shortchanged” by $12.8 million. The financial team believes that the State will be able to sustain these cuts without any serious disruption in services. The real challenge will come when the Feds construct their FY 12 budget. There’s little doubt that states will take a substantial funding hit in the next go around.
Senate Action – The Senate had a very ambitious agenda last week. And, if they hadn’t hit a couple of bumps along the way, they would have cleared the bases. As it was, the Senate completed work on the state budget, the capital bill, the transportation bill and the miscellaneous tax bill. It was the tax bill that had a bit of trouble staying on course and caused some angst for my Senate colleagues at the end of a very long week. Questions and proposals swirling around how best to raise the $24 million in revenue necessary to balance the budget caused a brief impasse on Thursday evening (4/21). By Friday, things began to move once again and the tax bill garnered more than enough votes for final approval (22-8). The new revenue in the Senate version of the bill will come from a mix of provider taxes, a 53 cent cigarette tax increase and a new insurance claims assessment fee. The one big bill the Senate did not move forward as planned was H. 202 – the health care bill.
The Speaker once again reiterated his goal of adjourning the 2011 session no later than May 9th. Week 16 will see conference committees getting down to work, to sort out the differences between the House and Senate on a variety of bills. And if the Speaker is right, this will leave the last week for both branches to finalize legislation and move it on to the Governor. I think this is achievable, but you just never know what surprises may jump to center stage. We’ll see, stay tuned.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative