You are out on a walk and you see the dark clouds nearby. Do you seek shelter or take a chance on the storm passing by?
Last week there was a fiscal briefing for all new and returning legislators at the State House. While some of the information shared was positive, some should give us pause. And perhaps like being out for a walk with dark clouds appearing overhead, we are taking a bit of a gamble if we don’t change course in some respects.
For the good news, personal income tax receipts, the state’s largest revenue source, was 6% over projections through October (for fiscal year beginning July). However, just like the wind starting to pick up could be a warning, Vermont’s bond rating took a little slip, from AAA to AA+, still a very good rating, but a downgrade, nonetheless.
A statement on the change by Governor Scott highlighted two factors, “While Vermont continues to have the highest overall bond ratings in New England, our transportation bond rating is stable and we’re getting stronger every day, it’s no surprise that Moody’s Investor Services highlighted Vermont’s aging demographics and the unfunded retirement liabilities that have accrued over the last several decades. These are our most significant economic and budgetary challenges. In fact, they foreshadowed this in last year’s report.” State Treasurer Pearce also pointed to the changing demographics of the state as a significant red flag.
The demographic signs are clear:
· There are nearly 30,000 fewer Vermonters under the age of 20 than there were in the year 2000
· There are over 30,000 fewer Vermonters in the working age category of 25 to 45 than there were in 2000
· There are nearly 40,000 more Vermonters 65 or older compared to 2000.
· Outside of Chittenden County, we are just three to four years away from having just one worker for every retiree, child or dependent.
In addition, Vermont has the lowest fertility rate for all 50 states in 2017 as measured in births per 1,000 females age 15-44. Vermont was 49.7 vs a national average of 60.3 (South Dakota was highest at 76.4).
In part due to underfunding pension obligations for state employees and teachers during the 90’s, the catch up payments are taking an increasing share of the budget. In the coming year alone, the General Fund contribution to retiree pensions and benefits is expected to increase by $30 million from $162 million to $192 million, singlehandedly taking any projected revenue increase off the table. Are the annual increases sustainable or is Vermont ready for a pension reform conversation?
Couple that with normal increases in the budget, such as pay hikes and health care costs and you have a shortfall. The committees writing next year’s budget plans will have their work cut out for them.
Where is the silver lining in all this? For starters, recognizing the signs may spur constructive discussion and solutions to our demographic challenges, which is hampering our economic growth. Hoping the dark clouds will pass or business as usual is not an option if we want to brighter future.
The Vermont Legislature will convene on January 9.
Thank you to all who voted in the November 6 General Election and most specifically, the towns of Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon that also supported me for a new term as state representative. I was both honored and humbled to receive a majority of votes in each of the towns.
A combination of hundreds of home visits, meet and greets and the “dump & donut” events provided me with wonderful opportunities to meet, listen and learn from fellow residents. Thank you for sharing suggestions, concerns, kind words and encouragement along the way.
Thanks also to Gina Ottoboni for running a positive and issues oriented campaign. Running for state representative in a rural district comprised of four spread-out towns requires quite a time commitment and I commend her for taking up the challenge.
I look forward to doing my best for you in the new term as your representative.
State Representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
This Saturday I will be at the following town transfer stations with fresh Jones Donuts from Rutland:
8:00 am-10:00 am – Bridgewater Transfer Station
10:30 am-12:30 pm – Killington Transfer Station
1:00 pm-3:00 pm - Chittenden Transfer Station
Stop by to say hello as our campaign for a new term nears completion and enjoy some of the best donuts in Vermont!
Meet & Greet with Governor Phil Scott
Monday, October 29, 5:30 – 7:00 pm
Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Rd, Chittenden
Jim Harrison, State Representative for Chittenden, Mendon, Killington & Bridgewater
Rutland County Senate Candidates
Brian Collamore, Jim McNeil, Ed Larson
Rutland County Probate Judge Candidate
Butch Shaw, State Representative for Pittsford, Sudbury & Brandon
Hors d’oeuvres provided, cash bar
Thank you Governor Douglas for your support!
I have had the opportunity to get to know Jim Harrison, first as a leader in the state’s retail and grocery community, and now as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives. He is exactly the type of legislator we need in Montpelier and I encourage voters of Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon to support him on Nov. 6.
Jim has always been willing to share the perspective of those he represents with his deep knowledge, clarity and often with a bit of passion. When I served as governor, I valued his input on a wide variety of issues.
He understands the needs of small business, knows the legislative process and has a wealth of experience to bring to the table. He works hard, is willing to talk with others and brings a commonsense approach to issues important to Vermont’s future.
I’m proud to endorse Jim Harrison for a new term as state representative.
James H. Douglas
A special thank you to longtime Rutland retailer, Bonnie Hawley, for her words of support:
“I worked with Jim Harrison for many years while serving on the Board of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Assn. He is a true professional with the knowledge and experience to serve his district well. And he is a gentleman and man of honor. We could use many more like him in the political world today.”
In April of last year, when I was deployed with my US Navy Seabee unit, I had to resign as the State Representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. When that day came I made it clear to Governor Scott that our district was being afforded the opportunity to send a real game-changer to Montpelier - if he were to appoint Jim Harrison to the vacated seat. Fortunately for the Rutland-Windsor 1 district (and the entire state in fact), the Governor did just that.
There are 3 main reasons I asked Governor Scott to appoint Him.
1. Jim Harrison is Vermont’s preeminent small-business mind. When Vermont is able to reverse the troubling trends of our mounting costs and disappearing youth, it will be because our business community will have regained its footing. Nobody in Vermont understands this better than Jim. During his 25 years as the president of the Vermont Retail and Grocer’s Association, Jim gained matchless insight into what Vermont’s businesses truly need to be successful and the many ways Montpelier can either help or hobble them. His knowledge is not just of the academic and bar-graph variety. It is salted with real world examples, meaningful relationships across the state and a deep understanding of how our business community lives in harmony with Vermont’s values.
2. Jim enjoys deep respect, affection and admiration across party lines. During his years as an advocate for businesses and their employees in Montpelier, Jim established an unrivaled reputation for integrity, original thought, good humor and a love of solutions. That has not changed. He showed up ready to work on our behalf in a legislative body eager to hear what he had to say and never doubting that he meant every word of it – knowing he was working in the best interest of his neighbors and not for anyone else. In this hyper-politicized environment we all find ourselves in, Jim is a welcome antidote to the sometimes rigid and tribal nature of modern day political discourse. He is a man that believes Vermont’s path forward should be paved with universal respect, compromise and inclusiveness – and he lives it every day.
3. Jim gets things done. The obstacles in Vermont’s way are serious ones and they can’t be talked to death. Jim is not only equipped with the skillset, knowledge and temperament to articulate a path forward, he is unusually gifted in his ability to move the ball. He understands the algebra of legislation while still maintaining his clear-eyed grasp of what it all means to you and me…refusing to do anything but work to improve the lives of his neighbors in our beautiful community.
My friends, Jim is a simply outstanding representative. He has raised our district’s profile and worked to bring our concerns front and center. We need him to return to Montpelier and persevere with this important work. I guarantee he will continue to be a results-driven leader motivated by nothing other than being the strong and respected voice our district deserves.
Very Respectfully –
I am both humbled and honored to receive such a strong endorsement from Job, who was elected our state representative in 2014 and again in 2016. Jim
With the November 6 Election Day coming fast, it may be time to take a look at potential issues that may be before the Legislature next January. No doubt, the ones listed are just a sampling of topics. There are also inevitably “sleeper” issues that seem to pop up each session that may not have been on anyone’s radar beforehand. In addition the annual budget plan and spending priorities always garner a lot of debate.
Act 250 – A special commission has been holding meetings around the state to gather input on priorities of Vermonters with the Act 250 land use law. Recommendations to update the 50 year old law are expected to come before the legislature in January.
Affordability – The Governor has made affordability in Vermont a key political issue since the campaign in 2016. The conversation will continue and will definitely be part of the undercurrent for most issues before the general assembly in the coming year. Scott has made it clear in the past two years that he will take a dim view of new tax and fee proposals.
Carbon Tax – Several groups are expected to push hard for enactment of a new carbon tax (or as some now refer to it, carbon pricing). Included in the recently enacted budget for this year was also an appropriation of $120,000 to study the issue, which will bring recommendations back for consideration by lawmakers.
The Joint Fiscal Office of the Legislature contracted with Resources for the Future (RFF), to complete a study of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. RFF will examine 4 decarbonization policy approaches (including the much publicized ESSEX Plan) and will provide qualitative analysis for other options to reduce carbon.
I do not support a new carbon tax in Vermont that would increase the price of gasoline and heating fuels.
Clean Water Funding – Everyone supports clean water, except perhaps when it comes time to how to pay for it. Scott has indicated he might favor redirecting a current state tax to fund clean water programs, while legislative leaders and a number of advocacy groups want new taxes or fees rather than reduce state spending in other areas.
Dairy – With recognition that the state’s dairy farmers continue to struggle with low milk prices, there will likely be discussions on how to help support this important segment of our state. However, with milk pricing policy coming from Washington and with an estimated 90-95% of Vermont’s output going out of state, solutions are often evasive. Meanwhile, State officials are hopeful the new trade deal with Canada will open up some new markets for Vermont dairy products.
Drugs and Opioid Addiction – Discussions will continue on how the State can best curb to the drug addiction problems and build on some of the current work being done.
Economic Growth – While the legislature attempted to spend some time on solutions for the economic divide that is apparent in Vermont between the more populated areas of Chittenden County and the rest of the state, it is clear much more needs to be done.
I hope to be working with our State Commerce officials to propose support for our small businesses that want to grow and creative new ways to market Vermont through social media and the ThinkVermont initiative. Additionally, more emphasis needs to be placed on the importance and opportunities at our trade schools to prepare for a number of good paying jobs.
Education funding – With Vermont’s system of state funding determined by local budgets, lawmakers grapple every year with how best to contain the growth of per pupil costs while ensuring quality education for our students. Another look at the funding formula and resulting taxes is also expected, although finding consensus is difficult. Compounding the challenges of high per pupil cost is the changing demographics in Vermont, which is resulting in fewer students and therefore smaller schools. The cost of pre-K to 12 education now approaches $1.8 billion and is the largest line item in the overall state budget.
Firearm restrictions – Depending on the makeup of the new legislature, there could be new proposals for gun restrictions beyond those passed this year.
Marijuana – Following the legalization of recreational marijuana in Vermont this past summer, there appears to be growing interest in a “tax and regulate” market for cannabis. Additionally, impairment while driving could be revisited. Last session a proposal for saliva testing passed the House but was rejected by the Senate.
Minimum Wage – Another debate on increasing Vermont’s minimum wage to $15.00 over several years from the current $10.50, which is indexed to CPI, will be on the docket. Scott vetoed the measure last year, citing an estimated 2,800 loss of jobs in Vermont as well as the impact on small businesses and consumer prices.
Non-Citizen Voting – The city of Montpelier will have a referendum on the ballot this November that would allow non-US Citizens living in Montpelier to vote on local matters. If approved, it would need to also be sanctioned by the legislature, which could prove to become a politically charged issue.
Paid Family Leave – Gubernatorial candidate, Christine Hallquist, and Democratic leaders have renewed the call for a new paid family leave program funded by a payroll tax on employees. Governor Scott vetoed the measure this past session because of the new tax on workers.
Thank you Bridgewater Grange for hosting last night's candidate forum for state representative as well as the Windsor County Senate. It was great to see some 50 people in attendance who were very engaged on a number of topics.