The Word in the House 1/7/2016 - Gearing Up

The second session of the legislative biennium began on Tuesday of this week. Once again we are faced with fiscal year expenses that exceeded revenues and require some adjustments to the budget. Fortunately, revenues came in a little better than expected, but were outpaced by increases in Medicaid expenditures.
The Appropriations Committee has already been taking a close look at areas where spending has not been as high as projected and is looking for money to move around to fill the Medicaid gap. The ability of the Joint Fiscal Office and the legislature to predict the state’s financial picture continues to be inadequate despite our best efforts last year. It appears our crystal ball needs an upgrade.
While the budget adjustment is a high priority, the effects of Act 46, the Education Reform Act, are even more pressing. The caps that school boards across the state are facing on per-pupil spending increases have been greater than anticipated. This is especially affecting school districts that are continuing to experience declines in student population. In CSSU Charlotte, Williston, Hinesburg, and CVU are in this situation. Charlotte will be assessed a significant penalty unless it can reduce its budget by more than $500,000 under the current formula. The repercussions throughout the state have caused the House and Senate Education committees as well as the Governor to work on changes that will mitigate the impending pain. Since school boards have to settle on a budget recommendation by the third week in January, the legislature must act within the first two weeks on this.
There are three proposals going into the session. The House Education Committee’s bi-partisan proposal is to increase the cap from 1.48% to 2.38%. This would make the required spending reduction for Charlotte a more manageable $53,000. The Governor is recommending that the caps and penalties be suspended for a year to allow more districts to consider and vote on consolidation. Since the purpose of the spending caps and penalties was to give a push for consolidation, it makes sense to allow time for consolidation studies to be completed and, if appropriate, be presented to the voters. The Senate’s proposal is to scrap the Act 46 caps and revert back to the pre-Act 46 spending caps and penalties. This issue will be a major news story, so watch the news and you will know the outcome as soon as I do.
I look forward to publishing my weekly reports in our local papers throughout the session, altenating between The Charlotte News and The Citizen, to keep you informed. I also welcome your comments and can be reached by phone (802-233-5238) or by email (