A few months ago, the Legislature adjourned without passing a full fiscal year’s budget. The hope by the majority party in Montpelier was Congress would come to the rescue and appropriate more money to the states so we could plug our budget holes with federal dollars.
Some of us voted against that first quarter budget bill, knowing this wishful thinking by Democratic Leadership was not wise. Unsurprisingly, Congress has not stepped in, and we are left to fend for ourselves.
Indeed, the Legislature’s economist is predicting a $182 million loss for this year’s General Fund alone, almost entirely due to COVID-19 and its economic fallout. This shortfall cannot be overstated.
Thankfully, despite the pleas by some to resort to tax increases, Governor Scott has proposed a plan to balance the budget without raising taxes, borrowing from reserves, or making major cuts to crucial programs.
The Governor’s plan relies on a multi-pronged approach, including:
Relying on previously-appropriated COVID-19 relief funds to fund investments;
Utilizing $40 million in additional Medicaid funding thanks to an enhanced federal Medicaid provision; and
Utilizing carry-forward funds from the previous fiscal year.
The last bullet point includes both a rise in income tax collections (Vermonters’ income tax filings were delayed from April to July), as well as common-sense government savings due to COVID-19, such as reduced travel budgets for state employees.
Additionally, the Governor’s revised budget plan still invests in initiatives important to Vermonters. This includes eliminating the tax on military retirement income, increasing tax incentives for growth in Vermont’s downtowns and village centers, expanding assistance for individuals and businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19, boosting access to broadband, and more.
On the education side, Governor Scott has proposed using Coronavirus Relief Funding to help stabilize the Vermont State Colleges’ budget shortfall, as well as appropriating much-needed funding to expand child care capacity ahead of kids returning to school (and as more Vermonters return to work). These initiatives are key bipartisan priorities.
The ability to balance a budget without raising taxes, borrowing from reserves, or making deep programmatic cuts during a major recession and public health pandemic is alone an incredible feat. But to do it while also making crucial investments in our state’s future is especially remarkable. The Governor and his administration deserve credit for standing up to the challenge.
Now, it is the job of us in the Legislature to pass this common-sense budget and provide relief for Vermonters as soon as possible.
This commentary is by Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, the Vermont House minority leader. She serves on the Vermont House Committee on Transportation, House Committee on Rules and the Joint Rules Committee.