2012 Legislative Update: Week 9 (2/28 – 3/2)

by Jeff Wilson

Tax Billing Confidentiality – This past December, the Town of Manchester fought the good fight before the Supreme Court and won a determination, stating that a property taxpayer’s income sensitivity adjustment data, under current law, is not public information and should be treated by public officials as confidential. The Town successfully made the case that this type of information could be used by any Tom, Dick or Harry to piece together an individual’s personal income picture. With the Supreme Court decision the law of the land, the House Ways and Means Committee (my committee) has been trying to develop workable legislation that would thread the needle in a way that would allow certain professionals to obtain this information to efficiently conduct business, while at the same time shielding it from any data miner or curiosity seeker who may come off the street. Not an easy task – trust me. The Committee’s challenge on this matter has been further complicated by the lack of consensus surrounding the issue. We heard from a number of folks who thought the information should be public – no questions asked – while others would like to keep it sheltered from any and all. This past Wednesday (2/29), Ways and Means approved a bill that would enable the distribution of this information to bankers, lawyers (typically for closings), escrow agents (payment of taxes) and auditors. All others seeking this data would need to acquire written permission from the affected taxpayer. The bill including the confidentiality provisions has been sent to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.

Solid Waste Bill – Although Vermonters tend to think of themselves (as least I do) as the cream of the crop when it comes to recycling, our record on this score is far from earth shattering. The cold hard facts show that our rate of recycling stands at a rather dismal 39%, our municipal solid waste load is growing and our landfill space is running out. Recognizing that we have to do better, the House passed a beefed-up waste management bill on Friday (3/2). Over the next five years, the legislation phases in mandatory recycling, so that more traditional recyclables (cardboard, glass, paper, etc…), yard waste (leaves, etc…) and organic material (food, etc…) are diverted from landfilling.

Bond Rating – Given the fiscal pitfalls that have rocked all levels of government over the last few years, it has been commonplace to hear of bond rating downgrades by Moody;s, Fitch and S&P (the big 3 of rating agencies). And, if the credit rating goes down, then borrowing costs go up. Thankfully, State Treasurer Beth Pearce had some good news for Vermont on this front this past Wednesday (2/29). All three rating agencies reaffirmed Vermont’s high bond ratings – two AAA and one AA+. – best in New England. Pearce indicated that the agencies cited Vermont’s strong financial management, conservative debt oversight practices, prompt action to keep the budget in balance and maintenance of budgetary reserves at their statutory limits, as reasons for their stellar ratings.

The Legislature takes a break during Town Meeting week (3/5-3/9) – so no report next week. We’ll be back at on the 13th.

– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative

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