Report from Montpelier: May 15, 2014

Kate Webb

Kate Webb

By Rep. Kate Webb

When I entered the legislature in 2009, the Great Recession dominated our work. Two years later, Tropical Storm Irene and the spring floods took center stage. This biennium, we experienced the slow crawl out from the Great Recession and opened fertile and often emotional conversations about moving forward with less money and more need.

On Saturday, May 10 at 7:20pm, the gavel fell, adjourning the 2013-14 legislative session, ending long weeks and late nights of negotiating, maneuvering, and shuffling to bring things to conclusion before the clock ran out.

Our 150 representatives and 30 senators hail from different communities and backgrounds, coming together to do what we believe is right for Vermont and Vermonters. Although we usually break along party lines, many of those lines blurred this year. In Vermont, we are essentially all independents.

The size and location of our communities, for example, were far better predictors than party affiliation as to support for the education governance bill. Although all but three members voted to increase the minimum wage, party lines did not determine whether one supported the committee plan to speed up the process with less predictability in four years; or supported the Senate plan, to slow the process but guarantee a higher rate in four years. Ultimately the late hour determined that there would be no time for debate and the only way to move a bill forward before adjournment was to stick with the Senate version.

In the end, we passed a $1.4 billion General Fund budget, a $1.5 billion education fund, and set in place conditions to bring in approximately $2 billion in federal funds. E-cigarettes will not be taxed as a tobacco product but snuff and smokeless tobacco will. Delinquent taxpayers and tax scofflaws will see more effort to collect. The education homestead property tax rate will rise four cents, and those who pay based on income will see no change in rate.

I was sad to see items I had supported on the cutting room floor. Changes to education governance, and changes to clean up Lake Champlain and other surface waters did not make it through the process. Although no changes in finance or policy emerged on these topics, a robust conversation did. In the final hours, a bill I had supported requiring a January financing report on Green Mountain Care was struck in the Senate version. In the final hours, the Senate version prevailed.

On the business front, we will see a new “Entrepreneurial Lending Program” and stronger efforts to connect entrepreneurs to capital through networking events.

We will see increased support for workforce development and training. We will see a new license to professionalize property inspectors, something the industry, banks and real estate professionals have sought for many years.

With over 1,200 bills introduced this biennium, less than 200 will be signed into law. Over the next few weeks, Representative Lenes and I will speak to a number of these in our “Report from Montpelier” column.

On a final note, I will be running for election once again. I can be reached over the summer and fall by email, katewebbvt@gmail.com, or phone, 233-7798.

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