Crossover is finally over which led to the House of Representatives meeting late into the night most of last week. I believe there was only one day I was home before 8pm! We had many important money bills to get out and sent over to the Senate for their review. A few of the bills were the Capital Bill, the Transportation Bill, and the Budget Bill.
The nearly $8.1 billion budget is the state’s largest budget in its history. The budget focuses on climate change policies, clean water, broadband, and made significant investments with the Vermont State Colleges, while spending the last of the Covid relief money from the Federal Government. House Bill H.740 did a pretty good job working within the Governor’s proposed budget but left out over $100 million in funds that were proposed. I did express my feelings with the body: “Madame Speaker, I appreciate the hard work done by the House Committee on Appropriations. Although I ultimately voted in favor of H.740, I was disappointed to see that the budget cuts $100 million of proposed economic recovery spending. Businesses across the state are struggling and these funds could be crucial in helping them recover.”
In House Education we have begun looking at a few contentious bills. The mascot bill has been one I have spoken about before. S.139 is an act relating to nondiscriminatory school branding. We are also looking into S.219 which is an act relating to ensuring compliance with the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions in the use of public funds for tuition. The bill we have spent the most time on this week is Senate Bill S.100 which is an act relating to universal school meals.
S.100 would provide every school child free breakfast and lunch, expanding on the Federal program set up during the Covid-19 pandemic. I am in full support of this bill and believe it would be a great service for the State of Vermont to provide every child free breakfast and lunch regardless of their parent’s income. My issue with the bill is how we are looking to fund it.
The overall cost for this new program would cost the state between $30 and $50 million annually. The proposed way to fund this would be a new “cloud” tax that would extend the sales tax to all cloud-based software. This new tax would generate close to $13 million. This bill could potentially hurt small businesses and restaurants. These are businesses that were shut down during the pandemic and are continuing to struggle to get their businesses back up and running. The next tax would be an excise tax on sugary beverages, adding one cent per ounce of a sugary beverage. This would raise over $17 million. The final way would be to extend a sales tax on candy. The revenue from this tax would be around $3 million.
Other ways of supporting this would be to take the money off the top of the Ed Fund. This would mean we would just take the proposed $30-$50 million out of the Ed Fund which is a comprised of funds from the sales & use tax, meals & rooms tax, the Vermont State Lottery, and through property taxes. Whatever funds are not raised through the sales & use, meals & rooms and lottery are raised from property taxes. I am afraid this bill could raise property taxes on Vermonters at a time we are spending $8.1 billion in our budget and when we have a $95 million surplus in our Education Fund.
We still have a lot of time to discuss this bill over the next two months before we finally adjourn for the session. I am hoping to find a good compromise on this universal meals bill to ensure children can go to school without being hungry and they can focus their time on their education instead of an empty stomach. I am also hopeful we don’t pass legislation that would raise taxes on the people of St. Albans when we have the largest budget in Vermont’s history.
I thank you all for reaching out and following along while allowing me to serve you in the Vermont House of Representatives. I am always available via email at [email protected]. I appreciate your time.