I hope everyone is holding up as we enter longer days and warmer weather. With COVID-19 touching every aspect of daily life, adjusting to summer will probably feel unusual, and possibly unfamiliar. The Essex State Reps continue to work closely together to ensure our community needs are met as changes are made to the Stay Home Order that was first issued in March. Please be in touch with me or Rep. Houghton if we can be of any assistance. I am available at [email protected] or at (802) 734-8841.
Last week the Vermont House completed what would have normally marked our 18th, and final, week of the 2020 legislative session. COVID-19 disrupted the General Assembly’s workflow in March, which caused a temporary pause and quick transition to online meetings. Because of this, the House is expected to continue holding remote hearings and periodic sessions until we can finalize a summer budget process with the Administration.
The central piece of legislation the House annually passes is a budget to fund the operations of government from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. Unlike some states, Vermont always balances its budget. This fiscal discipline has become commonplace over several generations of Vermont lawmakers and governors.
As I noted in my last update, our state budgeting process is a bit different this year. We first have to rebalance the FY 2020 budget that was passed last spring to fund operations through June 30, 2020. On Friday, the House gave preliminary approval to a supplemental budget adjustment bill (H.953). The bill makes reversions while pumping needed resources into cash strapped systems that were impacted by COVID-19, like the Vermont State Colleges System, VSAC, UVM, and our state courts. With these types of increased needs and pressures, House budget writers had to work creatively to make these adjustments against falling revenues. H.953 is up for a final House vote Wednesday before it heads off to the Senate.
The supplemental budget adjustment bill is the first step to creating a budget for FY 2021 (June 30, 2020 – July 1, 2021). To give you a sense of the toll COVID-19 has taken on the state budget, here are the latest estimates for what we expect next fiscal year: General Fund revenues are expected to decline by 14 percent ($266 million). Transportation Fund and Transportation Infrastructure Bond revenues will decline by about 1.6 percent ($52 million). The Education Fund is projected to see non-property tax revenues decline by $113 million. That means state budget writers, and the House, will need to build a budget with 11.5 percent less resources than was expected before COVID-19 took hold.
These are important figures to ground us in our work. They put a dollar amount on the enormous toll COVID-19 has taken on Vermont. Its clear Vermonters are hurting. Many are buying less goods and services, purchasing less gas for travel, and making different decisions about how they budget and conserve money. The State of Vermont, and all organizations, will need to do the same as we weather this crisis.
We’re in a time of great hardship and anxiety. I recognize the above information is sobering. As public officials, we have an obligation to be straightforward with our neighbors about what this means, and what it will mean for the future of Vermont. Please know that your State Reps will continue providing updates to ensure you can weigh in on decisions. Our next community meeting will be held from 9:00 – 10:30am on Saturday, June 6. We’ll share information about how to join as we near the date. Until then, please be in touch if I can be of any assistance.
Rep. Dylan Giambatista