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December 16th, 2017

A Republican Look Back on the 2017 Legislative Session

 

Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley are co-hosts of the show “Vote for Vermont.” With this show, Ben and Pat finished up their series of talking to House leadership from the Democrat, Progressive and now the Republican Party. They interviewed Brian Savage, Assistant House Minority Leader (a/k/a WHIP). Back in January Brian was on the show and stated that the priorities of the Republican Party were: Property Taxes, an Affordable Vermont, School Choice, Vibrant Economy, Good Paying Jobs and an Affordable Health Care System.

Ben’s first question was about whether Brian felt the House Republicans achieved their goals or at least set the stage for moving their ideas forward. Brian noted they had limited success but their actions did set the stage for next year’s session. He felt the budget was a huge achievement by coming in level funded, with no new taxes and no cuts in services and by being passed by the House with an overwhelming majority vote. Brian was especially pleased about the $35M in housing initiatives, particularly as housing impacts economic growth. Pat commented that all legislatives guests on the show agreed they all heard the message from constituents about property tax, jobs, health care, etc. but thought that somehow the message seemed lost based on the bills from this past session.

There were only two economic bills passed out of the Legislature. Brian said his personal view of the on Vermont’s economy was to streamline the permitting process. Everyone agreed that you can fix permitting while still continuing to protect the environment. It is not an either/or approach. Brian talked about the appeal process and how that needed to be reviewed and streamlined as well. Pat mentioned that in her experiences and through guests on the show all business people want is predictability in time and cost. Everyone agreed.

Brian was asked about the change in leadership in the Legislature and all the new members. Brian noted that it was understandable that things were a little confusing with so many changes and the loss of some institutional memory. He was impressed however that the Speaker of the House brought with her a new style of managing where Legislative members were encouraged to vote their conscience rather than vote straight party line. A bold and much appreciated change of style.

We talked about the teacher’s health care savings proposal the Governor mentioned in early January. Many members were a little taken aback when the issue came up again through the recommendation of a $26M savings opportunity which included the use of health savings accounts (HSA’s), an 80/20 split in cost, etc. The Governor vetoed the budget, which set in motion discussions and a compromise. At the end of the session some savings were realized. There were no HSAs or across the board 80/20 split agreement included but all health care contracts were rescheduled to open back up in 2019, which means teacher’s health care discussion could return.

Brian also mentioned that in the special session called by Legislative leaders, the Republicans and several others from the Legislature voted not to suspend rules so that the Marijuana Bill could be taken up for discussion. It will be back in January.

Brian also talked about Independent Contractors. Apparently nothing was done and the issue remains in limbo for yet another year.

Lastly we talked about the $54M identified for water cleanup. Brian reviewed the breakdown of the total amount of funding but was discouraged that while we know the amount going to various areas like Lake Champlain, there is no plan on how and where to use the money effectively.

Asked what’s next, Brian said we will all have to wait to see what the Federal Government is going to do if there will be a reduction in the amount of federal funds coming our way. There is another special session tentatively scheduled in October to deal with any adjustments that will need to be made to the budget. We will need to wait and see.

Note: The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by our guests. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and Facebook pages of VFV and CFV. If you would like to see the show please go to vote802.com for a complete listing of Vote for Vermont shows or our YouTube channel.

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