Legislative Report 4/16/2020 - 2020 Town Meeting Survey Results

It’s been more than a month since Town Meeting, and oh, what a month!  In past years I published the results of the Legislative Survey, which 140 Charlotters filled out this year, within a week or two of the meeting.  This year we have all been preoccupied with something else called COVID-19. Unfortunately, that little problem has sucked all the oxygen out of the legislative chamber and reset our priorities for the rest of the session, rightfully so. Nevertheless, I appreciate everyone who took the time to fill out the survey.

While we are now focused on one existential crisis, the novel Coronavirus pandemic which is an immediate threat, we mustn’t forget about the other existential crisis of climate change.  Ironically, the former crisis is having a mitigating effect on the latter. The abrupt and broad economic shutdown is resulting in a significant reduction in transportation fossil fuel consumption, which had been the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont and the United States. I think we could all agree that this is not the way we would have liked the reduction to occur. (Is Mother Nature telling us something?)  A preferable approach would have been a controlled reduction by making a conscious choice to wean ourselves off fossil fuels by transitioning to cleaner electric energy with incentives to do so.  That, however, would require what I consider to be a small sacrifice in the cost of transportation and heating fuels to generate revenues for weatherizing homes, electrifying transportation, and actually saving consumers money in the long run.

Three of the questions in the survey tried to assess the support for that approach in our community. While 90% of respondents consider climate change to be an important problem, only 76% seemed willing to spend an extra 2 cents per gallon to generate revenues that could be reinvested in fossil fuel reduction.  While 78 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels, or $1.95 of every gallon, leaves the state, the 2 cents per gallon would generate $15M that would be spent in-state.

There’s pretty strong support for a tax and regulate system for recreational marijuana sales, but Charlotters are pretty evenly divided (39% Yes, 37% No) on whether we should allow sales in Charlotte. A significant percentage (24%) were undecided.

Establishing a Paid Family Leave Insurance Program for employees was favored by a 3 to 1 margin, with 11% not sure. Ironically, the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress contains funding for paid family leave during the emergency. This could be a catalyst for continuation of the program beyond the emergency. 

Because the efficiency of the country’s vehicle fleet has been increasing as a result of the EPA vehicle efficiency standards, which the current EPA just set aside, the state Transportation Fund has experienced a decline in revenues. There is less money each year to support our roads and bridges, including municipal infrastructure. Increasing the gas tax, a move supported by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, would help fund municipal roads.  Slightly more than half of respondents are willing to pay 4 cents more per gallon for this.

Finally, there is strong support for banning flavored vaping products, which appeal to young users and increase addiction to nicotine after decades of successful reductions in youth smoking rates. I included the last two questions regarding composting and appeal of electric vehicles to assess respondents’ attitudes on those policies.

Yes %
No %
Not Sure %
Is climate change an important issue for you?
Are you aware that 78 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels (gasoline, natural gas and heating oil) leaves Vermont?
Would you support a 2 cent per gallon increase on fossil fuels to support programs in Vermont to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the major contributor to climate change?
Do you support a tax and regulate system for recreational cannabis (marijuana) sales?
Should Charlotte allow recreational marijuana sales in town?
Should Vermont establish a Paid Family Leave Insurance Program for all employees with a 0.2% premium payroll deduction (20 cents per $100 of wages)?
Would you be willing to pay 4 cents more per gallon of gasoline to maintain municipal roads?
Should flavored vaping products be prohibited in Vermont?
Do you compost or pay a hauler to compost your household organic waste?
Do you own or are you considering buying an electric vehicle (EV) in the next two years?

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 valuable for me.  You can always contact me by phone at 802-233-5238 or email me at myantachka.dfa@gmail.com.

Legislative Report 4/2/2020 - Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

The unofficial slogan of the U.S. Marine Corps is “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”  When faced with the unexpected, the success of a mission requires the ability to change tactics quickly. The COVID-19 crisis has certainly been unexpected and has forced us to adapt our lifestyle quickly. The last two weeks also marked a significant shift in the work of the Vermont legislature. The leadership of all three parties - Democrat, Republican and Progressive - worked hard to keep abreast of the state's efforts to manage the Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency and figure out a way to keep the legislature working.  Daily meetings of the Joint Rules Committee, chaired by Senator Tim Ashe, got updates from the heads of departments and agencies via conference calls that were open to the public. These calls were regularly attended by other legislators and were the source of my communications with you on Front Porch Forum. Last Wednesday the House, by a quorum of legislators who made a special trip to Montpelier being careful to maintain "social distancing", changed its rules to allow remote voting both in committee and on the floor, matching what the Senate had approved the week before. Following that vote House committees began meeting online to conduct the business of taking testimony on bills. 

As we all settle in to maintain Governor Scott's "Stay home, stay safe" directive, we all have questions about how long this will last, how our incomes will be affected, when the kids will go back to school, how our small businesses will stay afloat, and so forth. There is no definite answer to these questions, but recent actions taken by the state and by the federal government have provided some certainty to some of them. During the brief session last Wednesday, the House also approved two bills in concurrence with the Senate amendments to support both working Vermonters who are forced to stay home and our health care system and workers who are on the front lines of defense against COVID-19.

Employees are immediately eligible for unemployment benefits and their employers are held harmless from Unemployment Insurance (UI) rate increases.  While childcare centers have been ordered closed, a certain number will remain open to serve families where both parents are essential workers, a designation determined by the administration. The provider tax on medical providers, including hospitals, is being abated during the emergency, and emergency authority is given to the Departments of Financial Regulation and the to react to evolving needs, including considering requiring insurance companies to eliminate copays for any prescriptions during the crisis. Testing for COVID-19 according to Department of Health guidelines will be free. The healthcare workforce will be boosted by temporarily relaxing licensing rules, and delivery of health care services by telemedicine will be reimbursable by insurance companies.

Because self-employed persons do not pay into the UI Fund, they are not currently eligible for unemployment benefits.  However, the COVID-19 relief legislation passed by Congress will extend benefits to self-employed and "gig-economy" workers as well as boost the maximum UI benefit by $600. Each adult will also receive a $1200 federal check and $500 per dependent child. The legislation provides $2 Trillion that will include aid for businesses, hospitals and states.  Vermont will receive $1.25B for COVIID-19 expenditures.  The aid is not intended for revenue replacement, however, and can only be used for expenditures not in the most recent budget.  This still leaves Vermont and other states in a precarious position since expected revenues will be impacted due to the economic shutdown jeopardizing existing programs.

While individuals will be receiving some income from the state and federal government depending on their situation, it may not be enough to continue meeting monthly payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.  Federal legislation has put a moratorium on foreclosures of federally backed mortgages and on evictions. In Vermont the Judicial system has made it clear that during the COVID-19 emergency, when everyone must stay at home, evictions will not be processed. Vermont banks have also agreed not to proceed with foreclosures for delinquent mortgage payments for the next 90 days. To be clear, however, this does not mean that rents or mortgages are forgiven.  They will still have to be paid in full after the emergency ends.  Furthermore, if homeowners or renters can afford to pay, they are encouraged to do so in order to make future payment easier on themselves and provide cash flow to help landlords meet their obligations.

This will be a trying time for all of us.  As I told my granddaughter, by keeping ourselves and each other safe with social distancing and willingness to help when needed and able, we will come out stronger in the end. Be well and stay safe.

I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com), phone calls (802-233-5238), or in-person contacts.  

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