Over the past week, the House tackled three significant pieces of legislation, and one of my bills made the final grade in the Senate.
Miscellaneous Tax Bill – Passage of a tax bill of this nature is typically an annual event; one that truly includes a miscellaneous mix of tax provisions ranging from the technically mundane, to eye-popping changes in tax policy. This year, the changes called for in the bill are a little more on the mundane side of the equation, as evidenced by the 11- 0 Ways and Means Committee vote and Wednesday’s (3/28) 125 – 14 roll call on the bill. Three of the more noteworthy decisions made in concert with this year’s legislation, include: 1.) The imposition of new electric generation taxes on Vermont Yankee, to replace monies VY had been paying to the State by agreement. These new taxes, the brainchild of my Ways and Means colleague, Oliver Olsen (Jamaica), should bring in about $6 million annually, and will be allocated to the Education Fund (50%), the Clean Energy Development Fund (25%) and a new Windham County area Economic Development Fund (25%) to help that part of the state plan for life post-Yankee. 2.) The House also made a decision to eliminate the less-than-popular interest/dividends “double counting” provision that was conjured up a couple of years back. It was thought that this approach would help to better gage who should get income sensitivity help under Act 60/68, but it turned into a confusing, convoluted and unwanted surprise for most. 3.) And finally, this bill updates existing law to clarify that independent living facilities, like Equinox Village, are not subject to the Rooms and Meals Tax.
Capital Bill – This legislation, laying out a roadmap for capital projects and the borrowing strategy to pay for them, was approved by a voice vote on Thursday (3/29). Given the fact that the Corrections and Institutions Committee crafted a two year capital plan last year, 2012 was supposed to be a breeze for the Committee. Unfortunately, that game plan went out the window with tropical storm Irene, and Committee members (including Arlington’s Cynthia Browning) put in many long hours trying to devise a coherent plan to rebuild/replace the State Hospital and office complex decimated by Irene in Waterbury. Although uncertainty surrounding final FEMA and insurance payments will require the Committee to revisit this matter again next year, the approved bill does allocate $12 million for funding state office complex work in Waterbury, $5 million to begin tackling the replacement of state hospital beds and $1 million for Natural Resource office space in Montpelier.
Working Landscapes – On Friday (3/30) the House approved the “Working Lands Enterprise Bill”. This legislation creates a working landscape fund that will be used to facilitate and stimulate economic development directed at, and entrepreneurial investment in, the agricultural and wood products sectors of the Vermont economy. To jumpstart this effort, the bill appropriates $2.1 million into the Enterprise Fund, to be used for enterprise grants and infrastructure investments. The bill moved forward on a preliminary roll call vote on Thursday by a margin of 131 – 5 (Wilson voting with the majority).
Ordinance Fine Collection – With the ever able assistance of Senator Sears (Bennington County) and his Judiciary Committee colleagues, one of my bills (H. 634) secured final Senate passage on Friday (3/30). This bill should make it a good deal easier for cities and towns throughout Vermont to collect unpaid ordinance fines from recalcitrant scofflaws. This legislation now moves on to the Governor for his signature (I hope).
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative