(Host) The Vermont Legislature appears to be moving toward adjournment sometime Friday night. Earlier Friday the Senate approved the state budget and the House adopted the compromise Act 60 reform bill.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) As House and Senate conferees struggled to find some common ground on permit reform, many of the “must pass” pieces of legislation worked their way through the legislative process.
One of those bills is the state budget for next year. The Senate gave its near unanimous approval to the plan. The bill increases overall state spending for the fiscal year beginning in July by roughly 1.5%. The contract for state employees was also added to the bill at the last minute because of a break down between the House and the Senate over the pay act. The dispute centered on a House plan to increase legislative pay – it’s a proposal that is now dead for the year. A special commission will study the issue over the summer.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett (D-Lamoille County) noted that the budget contains a small increase in spending because Vermont is in much better fiscal shape that many other states in the region:
(Bartlett) “At the beginning of the year I said my goal was going to be to basically tread water, to be able to continue to provide the services that we were providing when we began this budget year. I am aware of no reduction in services in this budget, modest increases to providers and a significant expansion of services in the area of substance abuse.”
(Kinzel) The budget is expected to be considered in the House this evening. By a vote of 95 to 38, the House this afternoon gave its approval to the compromise Act 60 reform bill. The legislation creates a two-tiered property tax system – one variable rate for residents and a second fixed rate for businesses. The plan also increases the sales tax from 5% to 6% to help reduce property tax burdens.
Representative Alice Miller (D-Shaftsbury)voted for the bill because she said the compromise contains some critical provisions:
(Miller) “H480 preserves the equity and fairness of Act 60 for children. It protects income sensitivity and puts an end to the divisiveness of the sharing pool. Moreover it simplifies how we fund our schools.”
(Kinzel) The Act 60 bill now goes to the governor for his signature.
The House this afternoon also gave its strong approval to the jobs bill. The measure expands the loan capabilities of the Vermont Economic Development Authority and, at the insistence of the Senate, it increases the state minimum wage by 50 cents next January and another 25 cents in January of 2005. Commerce Chairman Mark Young (R-Orwell) said the bill would help create new jobs in the state:
(Young) “It pumps some $105 million worth of capital into the economy of the state of Vermont to help business create jobs.”
(Kinzel) While it’s possible that a last minute snag could develop at the Statehouse, it appears likely the session will end Friday evening.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.