It was relatively quiet on the House Floor last week, with most of the work taking place in committee. The House Appropriations Committee continued its long slog through the State budget, while on Thursday (2/16) the House Health Care Committee voted out its health care insurance exchange bill by an 8-2 vote. This complicated piece of legislation seeks to position Vermont to comply with Federal health care reform when the Federal law ramps up in 2014. After a stopover in Appropriations, this bill should make its way to the House floor by the end of next week (Week 8).
My committee, the Ways and Means Committee, voted out Part 1 of the so-called Executive Fee Bill on Friday (2/17) by a vote of 11-0. This bill, which includes around $8.6 million in new fee revenue, received a very thorough going-over in Ways and Means over the last few weeks, with committee members challenging Administration officials to demonstrate that their fee recommendations comported to the cost of the various services they rendered. One of the few fees that is slated for a reduction, is one that I’ve been pushing to reduce for the past 2 ½ years – the Tax Department’s local option tax collection fee. Based upon new analysis requested by Ways and Means, the Tax Department’s most recent review of this matter concluded that the Department has been overcharging local option and payment in lieu of taxes municipalities by roughly $250,000 annually. The new proposed collection fee for the next fiscal year will be 37% lower than the current fee and should result in a savings for Manchester taxpayers of about $19,000 per annum. The Fee Bill will be on the House floor for consideration next week (Week 8).
State Revenues – Last week, Secretary of Administration, Jeb Spaulding, offered a cautionary note in his review of the State revenue picture for January. Spaulding revealed that sales, rooms and meals and personal income tax receipts were all “disappointing” for January. In all, January General Fund revenues equaled $129.17 million, a disquieting 3.49% below the consensus General Fund revenue target. For the fiscal year thus far (7/1 thru 1/31), the picture is a good deal brighter; General fund revenues are only 0.66% below estimates. Speculation by Spaulding and others is that the warm winter, with its lack of snow, has hurt the winter tourism season, along with economic activity and tax revenues. Although one month does not make a trend, I think this is some cause for concern and budget writers may have to consider a mid-course correction if the February numbers turn out to be equally dismal.
Next week I think there will be more floor action to report. How about one big snow storm before its time to get the bike out.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative