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Note: Blog posts entitled "Legislative Report" have been published in The Charlotte News, and those entitled "The Word in the House" have been published in The Citizen.

Legislative Report /Word in the House 5/16/2018 - Not Quite the End of the Session

The last two weeks of a legislative session are a whirlwind of activity. Dozens of bills that have been worked on during the previous 16 weeks of the session in both the House and the Senate reached final stages of passage. Most traveled back and forth between the two bodies as amendments were made to reflect the different concerns of the responsible committees. Twenty-eight bills this year required a conference committee made up of three representatives and three senators to resolve disagreements in language that couldn't be settled by amendments. 

The budget is the final bill passed in a session. Any bill that was still outstanding when the budget passed would be dead. As the session ended just after midnight Sunday morning, we managed to complete all of those bills as well as many more. The bills included raising the minimum wage, providing paid family leave, establishing toxic materials responsibility, protecting sexual harassment victims, funding clean water efforts, setting appliance efficiency standards, helping Vermont manufacturers improve energy efficiency and productivity, providing free tuition for National Guard members, several consumer protection and economic development bills, and an income tax reform and education funding bill as well as the budget.

Our legislative agenda reflected in the bills we passed promote a caring economy that makes Vermont more affordable for lower and middle income families, protects all Vermonters from various social and environmental impacts, and provides opportunities for economic growth. While we did not adopt the Governor's proposal for using one-time money to keep our education property taxes from increasing, the funding changes made by the legislature will hold the residential property tax rate increase to two cents in a sustainable way that avoids the need to find one-time money again next year. One-time money is just that. There’s no guarantee that it will be there next year, which just defers a tax increase. Instead, this year's one-time money will be used to pay for one-time expenses like fully funding our reserves and paying down the teachers' retirement fund obligation saving Vermont taxpayers $100M in future budgets. Our income tax changes will return $30M in extra tax revenue generated by the federal income tax changes back to Vermonters by lowering the income tax rates for everyone. Overall state spending increased less than 1 percent, significantly lower than the rate of inflation. Here are links to the details of the tax changes and to the budget.

Unfortunately, the Governor has stated that he plans to veto the budget as well as several other bills that address affordability and the health and welfare of Vermonters. The budget passed with a tri-partisan vote of 117 – 14. If he does carry out his veto promise, he will have to call the legislature back into session. There have been plenty of opportunities for the administration to engage with the legislature to work out a compromise, but that didn't happen. Now we are faced with the additional expense of an extended session.

Finally, I would like to make a correction. It was called to my attention that in my previous article about the minimum wage bill, I reference some total wage numbers that seemed to be based on different assumptions. The $15/hour total should have been $31,200 based on the same 40 hours/week and 52 weeks/year used for $10.50/hour.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

Legislative Report 5/2/2018 - A Case for Raising the Minimum Wage

We are now in the last weeks of the 2018 legislative session. Barring any surprise demands by the Governor or legislators, like the call for passing a taxing and regulating marijuana sales that occurred last week, we should be finished by mid-May. There are a number of important bills that we continue to deal with before we pass the budget and adjourn. One of these bills is the Minimum Wage bill (S.40), which was passed by the Senate and has been studied for several weeks by the House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee.

The current Vermont minimum wage is $10.50/hour which became effective on January 1, 2018. The bill under consideration would continue increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2024, about a 75 cent increase per year on average, starting at 60 cents in 2019. The minimum wage exemptions would remain the same, including for students under age 18, agricultural workers, nannies/babysitters, newspaper deliverers, and employees of nonprofits that receive state funds. The bill would also adjust state child care subsidies to account for the minimum wage increases in order to maintain those benefits for low wage workers with children.

So, why do we need to keep raising the minimum wage since Vermont has one of the highest minimum wages in the northeast? The simple answer is that for a large number of people, it is simply not enough to live on. Governor Scott has talked repeatedly about making Vermont more affordable and protecting the most vulnerable. For the approximately 25,000 Vermonters who work one or more minimum wage jobs, it is still too hard to pay for the basic necessities of supporting their families. For single parents making minimum wage, there are repercussions for their children as well. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) of all minimum wage earners in Vermont, 62% work full time, 88% are at least 20 years old with an average age of 38, 56% are women, and 22% have children. On average, those with families earn 55% of their family's total income. A person working 40 hours per week at the current minimum wage makes about $21,840/year, slightly above the federal poverty level for a three person family. However, according to the EPI study, a modest but adequate standard of living in Vermont for one adult without children costs about $32,000/ year, including housing, food, transportation, taxes and health care. With children, necessitating child care, the costs are even higher. At $15/hour, the 2024 target, a full-time minimum wage job would pay $31,200*, which would no longer be a poverty-level wage.

Objections to raising the minimum wage revolve around the increased costs to business, the potential loss of jobs, and economic impacts. Most minimum jobs are in the service sector of the economy. In the first year, a full-time employee's earnings would increase $1250, a cost to the employer. This cost would presumably be passed on to consumers. However, the increased income would also be spent, thereby injecting more money into the local economy. The impact on jobs would be minimal compared to the increase in wages. Moreover, the high turnover rate seen in minimum wage jobs may be reduced thereby saving employers training costs. The EPI study estimates that while 2% of low wage jobs would be lost, 98% of low wage workers would benefit. Overall, the economy would benefit from raising the minimum wage gradually over several years while improving the affordability factor for those who need it most.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

*Note: The original publication of this article incorrectly had $26,500 as the annual income at $15/hour for a full time job.

Legislative Report 4/18/2018 - A Profile in Courage

n 1957, three years before he was elected President, Senator John F. Kennedy wrote his best-selling book Profiles in Courage. In it he described events in the lives of eight U.S. Senators who bravely cast votes in defiance of their party and public opinion, thereby jeopardizing their chances for re-election. These were acts of personal integrity that they believed were the responsible thing to do in those circumstances. I was privileged to witness a similar act of courage on the front steps of the Vermont Statehouse this past Wednesday. At 2:00 in the afternoon, Governor Scott, accompanied by his wife, stood at a podium with news cameras, legislators and members of the public both in support and against the action he was about to take: signing three bills that would impose regulations on gun sales, prohibit certain gun accessories, and provide law enforcement with the authority to confiscate guns when responding to domestic violence incidents and under court order from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.

The scene in front of the statehouse was alive with tension as opponents dressed in hunter orange and carrying signs that read “One term Governor”, “Traitor” and “See you in court” vied with signs saying “Thank you Governor Scott” and “March for our Lives.” As the Governor stood at the podium, he was greeted with chants of “Traitor! Traitor!” which were countered by chants of “Thank you! Thank you!” He began his speech over the shouting, speaking carefully, deliberately and directly to those in front of him. He endured constant interruption by opponents yelling their disagreement almost continuously during his speech while supporters clapped enthusiastically when he made points supporting his decision to sign the bills. At one point Governor Scott said, “I understand I may lose support over my decision to sign these bills today, but those are consequences I'm prepared to live with.” As I stood behind the Governor with dozens of my colleagues and members of the Governor's staff, I felt I was witnessing history in the making and an event that was clearly a profile in courage.

My positions on many issues differ from those of Governor Scott. We have different perspectives on issues like raising the minimum wage, finding a way to pay for cleaning up the waters of our state, and looking for a way to price in the true costs of fossil fuels while incentivizing conversion to renewable energy sources. On other issues, like the opioid crisis or helping businesses use energy more efficiently, the Governor and the legislature have been able to work collaboratively toward a common goal. It is my hope that differences can be overcome to achieve results that benefit Vermont and Vermonters. Governor Scott is correct in saying that “public safety is the top priority of any government.” He should not become a one-term Governor simply because he did the right thing to improve the safety of Vermont citizens.

As always, I can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com).

Statement on Gun Regulation Bill Signing Ceremony of 4/12/18

I was privileged to witness the bill signing ceremony on the front steps of the Vermont Statehouse this past Wednesday for three pieces of legislation: S.55, a universal background check bill;
H.422, a domestic violence bill; and S.221, a “red flag” bill. These bills impose regulations on gun sales, prohibit certain gun accessories, and provide law enforcement with the authority to confiscate guns when responding to domestic violence incidents and under court order from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Governor Phil Scott, accompanied by his wife, stood at a podium before news cameras, legislators, and members of the public, both for and against the action he was about to take. He began his speech over the shouting of opponents, speaking carefully, deliberately and directly to those in front of him. Despite constant interruption by opponents, he spoke of the events and reasons for his decision to change his position regarding gun regulation in Vermont. At one point Governor Scott said, “I understand I may lose support over my decision to sign these bills today, but those are consequences I'm prepared to live with.”

I commend Governor Scott for his courage in taking this position. He is correct in saying that “public safety is the top priority of any government.” It is my hope that the Governor and the legislature will continue to work collaboratively together on the many challenges facing Vermont to achieve results that benefit Vermont and Vermonters.

Legislative Report 4/6/2018 - 2018 Doyle Poll Report

The Doyle Poll, created and still conducted by former Senator Bill Doyle, has been a tradition of Town Meetings in Vermont for decades. 113 Charlotte voters shared their opinions this year, about the same as last year's number. Of the fifteen questions, three dealt with affordability. A strong majority feel that Vermont is currently not an affordable place to live. Similar majorities believe that the minimum wage needs to increase and that employees should have paid family leave. These policies would mitigate the affordability problem for many low income Vermonters and dual income families.

Clearly, most people think we need to do a lot more to address the opiate crisis, water quality, and finding alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. A question not answered is whether this translates to a willingness to increase spending tax dollars on these problems?

There's a strong consensus that we rely too heavily on property taxes for education, but respondents are also quite satisfied with the quality of education our district provides. The bill H.911, recently passed by the House, takes steps to relieve some of the burden on property tax by relying more on income and consumption taxes.

Governor Scott's approval rate exceeds his negative rating by 34%, which bodes well for his re-election at this time. About 34% also had no opinion on the question. About 2/3 of respondents favor a four-year term for the office of Governor. This would require a change to the Vermont Constitution, however.

There is also strong support among respondents for increasing the scope of the bottle deposit system. There are many ways to expand it including adding non-carbonated beverages such as bottled juice, water and tea, as well as adding a deposit on wine bottles. I would favor this if the law were also changed to have the state collect and manage the system. This way the deposits for unredeemed containers would accrue to the state rather than the beverage distributors.
Here are all the results of the poll in Charlotte.

Q# Question Yes No Not Sure
1 Are you concerned about the Vermont opiate crisis? 95% 3% 2%
2 Do you believe water quality is a major issue in Vermont? 79% 12% 9%
3 Should Vermont increase the minimum wage? 60% 26% 14%
4 Do you believe Vermont is an affordable place to live? 9% 65% 26%
5 Are you concerned about the decrease in Vermont's population? 60% 34% 6%
6 Should Vermont have a four year term for Governor? 65% 16% 19%
7 Should Vermont's bottle deposit law be expanded? 72% 15% 13%
8 Do you believe Governor Scott is doing a good job? 50% 16% 34%
9 Should Vermont have paid family sick leave? 61% 24% 15%
10 Does Vermont rely too heavily on property taxes to fund education? 79% 9% 12%
11 Are you satisfied with Vermont's health care? 45% 32% 23%
12 Are you optimistic about Vermont's economy? 35% 35% 30%
13 Do you think that Vermont values are a reason that many people live in Vermont? 75% 12% 13%
14 Should we reduce Vermont's prison population by using alternatives for non-violent offenders? 90% 5% 5%
15 Are you satisfied with the quality of education in your local school district? 69% 12% 19%

As your representative in Montpelier, I appreciate your input on these and other issues. Your comments help me look at issues from several perspectives, and that is a valuable opportunity for me. You can always contact me by phone at 802-425-3960 or email me at myantachka.dfa@gmail.com.