Welcome to the last 2015 issue of News from the Campaign Trail, legislative updates from Cyrus Patten and Campaign for Vermont. Rather than offer you a comprehensive recap of everything that happened, I decided to provide a what-you-need-to-know issue. Getting right to it, here’s the rub:
What you need to know about the 2015 legislative session
Things that were discussed, but will not be happening.
An excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, candy and bottled water
A payroll tax to pay for healthcare initiatives
The increased employer assessment (a tax on businesses that don’t offer healthcare coverage)
Mandatory paid sick leave
A ban on teacher strikes
Mass layoffs of state workers
Property tax relief. Instead, the legislature opted to give school districts a nudge to consolidate, under the belief that this will reduce costs.
The creation of an ethics panel in the Senate. This was derailed by the one Senator most in need of ethical oversight (Pro Tem John Campbell)
Cuts to the state budget. Instead, the budget grew by 4.8%, far in excess of the growth in wages and our economy.
Things that will be happening.
A extension of the meals tax on soda and vending machine foods.
A 33% increase to the cigarette tax
A fee on property transfers to pay for mitigating runoff into Lake Champlain and our waterways.
The philosophical exemption for child vaccinations will be removed as an option (leaving in place the religious exemption)
A 3% minimum tax on those who make over $150,000 per year.
A cap on itemized deductions, applying primarily to the mortgage interest deduction. Charitable and medical expense deductions were exempted from the cap.
Restrictions on the purchase of firearms by those with criminal convictions and mental health disorders.
State income tax paid is no longer deductible.
Beginning in 2017, you will be able to register to vote on election day.
Lobbyists will no longer be able to donate to leadership PACs during the legislative session and any advertising done by a lobbying firm will have new disclosure standards.
A recap of recaps
There’s no shortage of recapitulations of the legislative session. Described by most as some version of “the strangest session in a long time”. These various reports provide a nice snapshot of this session.
It’s worth mentioning, but not spending a great deal of time on, a few events that pushed this session into the record books: The legislature had to elect the Governor; a sitting Senator was arrested for sex crimes; the session started with a major budget shortfall; the Governor wanted to spend more, then less; the EPA threatened to step in if Vermont didn’t start paying attention to our waterways; and the legislature responded to calls for lower property taxes by increasing property taxes.
The Peculiar and Perfunctory Policy Playhouse
Seemingly conflictual policies are passed all the time. Sometimes conflict exists within the same bill. But these two examples stand out as a bit odd: 1) the legislature simultaneously increased restrictions on gun owners and permitted the use of gun silencers. 2) They raised the property transfer tax while offering first-time homebuyers $5,000 in down payment assistance.
This is the first year we’ve done a separate legislative update for those who wish to dive deeper into the policy, political and relational issues that are found in the Statehouse. And there’s been a strong signal from readers that this information is useful.
Thank you for being a part of this movement, and for engaging in the policymaking process by staying informed.