2019 Legislative Session — Town Meeting Break Update

The General Assembly adjourned Friday and began its weeklong break so lawmakers can return home for their Town Meetings. The break comes at the 8 week point of the session, which is roughly the mid point of the 18 week session. So far, the House Education Committee has looked at a range of topics. Likewise, the other 13 standing House committees have collected extensive testimony relevant to their subject area and jurisdiction.

When the House returns on March 12th, we will begin to move forward the bills that can pass into law this year. March 15th is our first committee deadline. By the following Friday, March 22nd, all bills impacting revenue or spending must be moved out of the House’s money committees. These dates serve as the check-in point for our legislative agenda.

The major pieces of legislation that must pass the House each March include the Budget and Tax bills. We also advance a Transportation bill to fund improvements to our transportation infrastructure, and a Capital bill to fund buildings and other capital needs. All of these bills interlock to address the core functions of Vermont.

In preparing for our break, I wanted to pull together some statistics about Vermont to share with neighbors. In looking at the facts, it’s clear Vermont is doing well on a number of fronts. These highlights notwithstanding, we face challenges that mirror those in neighboring Northeastern states, and these issues will require changes in coming years to adapt to forces beyond the borders of Vermont.

Our education system remains an asset, attracting families to Vermont communities. Essex Junction is one of the state’s premier education destinations.. I frequently hear this from residents who recently relocated to Essex Junction from out of state. Our local anecdote is supported by data in the January 2019 National Movers Study, which found that Vermont is the US state with the highest percentage of inbound migration (72.6 percent).

On average, Vermont students rank among the highest performing in the US, including on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. High levels of student achievement have remained as the state education system transitions to personalization of learning, including flexible pathways, creativity, health and wellness, technology education, and applied learning. Our education focus translates into opportunities for many Vermont adults pursuing career paths. Vermont’s unemployment rate is currently 2.7%. In 2018, Vermont was tied for the 5th lowest unemployment rate in the USA.

Many national health studies rank Vermont as a great state for public health outcomes. Today, more Vermonters are covered by health insurance than ever before. In an era when health budgets continue to stretch public and private sector budgets, broad coverage is critically important to maintaining a stable health insurance market. Vermont’s uninsured rate has steadily declined over time, regardless of sex. In 2005, Vermont’s uninsured rate for males was 12% — today it is 4%. In 2005, Vermont’s uninsured rate for females was 8% — today it is 2%. Our state commitment to health care has moved Vermont to the #2 national rank for covered residents, which boosts our standard of living and provides stability for Vermonters.

Vermont is a leader in what I like to call the craft and fancy foods industry. People travel to Vermont and to grocers all across the country to shell out big bucks for our products. Tourism spending in Vermont is close to $3 billion annually. Vermont Craft Beer totals $378.2 million in overall economic impact, of that $126.7 million is direct to tourism. Vermont is a leading producer of maple syrup. Our dairy products are sought out around the world. These Vermont “blue chip” brands drive our economy, and are increasingly augmented by a growing tech industry.

Our economy is sturdy and is chugging along well. Our primary challenge mirrors the Northeast region’s shift in age and demographics. Vermont is the second oldest state in the nation, second only to Maine, and demographers expect Vermont will rank #1 in the next decade. Rapid aging could mean an exodus of workers from key industries. To meet the needs of our state, we will need more young Vermonters to fill these gaps. Of course, these trends will be impacted by the economic cycle. We are currently in the midst of the longest period of sustained economic growth in modern US history.

These factors, and more, are at the top of my mind as I weigh decisions at the State House. We live in a time of profound economic, social, and environmental change. My goal is to listen and learn from different ideas and perspectives. To that end, we will hold our next community forum on Sunday, March 17 at 2:00pm at Nest Bakery and Café. Please join us and let me know what’s most important to you.