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Legislative Report by Rep. Fred Baser: Finances hang over legislative goals

What are some of the major agenda items for the coming Legislative session? The list includes: funding the Clean Water Act, continuing to focus on mental health and opioid abuse, advancing paid family leave, the $15 minimum wage, carbon tax, independent contractor clarity, and affordable/workforce housing.
As we consider all these matters and more, the financial realities and uncertainties surrounding the state’s finances will be hanging over our heads.
There are three major financial situations on the horizon for 2018.
First is a likely 8- or 9-cent increase in the state’s education property tax. This means about a $160 increase in the property tax on a home appraised at $200,000. In our efforts to make Vermont more affordable this tax increase is not good news.
The second financial reality to consider is the lack of strong growth in the state’s tax revenue. The United States is in one of the longest economic growth periods in the nation’s history. While Vermont’s economy is advancing, growth has been anemic. Without a more vigorous increase in the state’s GDP (growth domestic product), plus job and wage growth, our ability to pay for existing promises, to say nothing of new programs, is made much more difficult.
Finally any federal legislative actions that reduce federal funding to Vermont could make our job to protect the most vulnerable and at the same time fund other promises and goals a difficult task. To put this in prospective, federal dollars equal about 35 percent of the state’s appropriations.
Despite these financial uncertainties I hope we will see action on many measures:
•  We need to make a funding strategy to meet obligations in improving our waterways.
•  The mental health and opioid abuse situation is damaging to the fiber of Vermont’s society and as a result we cannot put things on hold. We must press ahead in finding solutions for those afflicted, and prevent more people from succumbing to these sicknesses.
•  I support the Paid Family Leave Bill as passed by the House last year.
•  Clearly defining who is an independent contractor will be a big plus for many small businesses.
•  And finally I plan on continuing to sponsor and support legislation to increase the availability of sound affordable/workforce housing.
In 2017 we had a new governor, House speaker and Senate pro-tem. The session was relatively non-eventful as the parties became comfortable with their roles. In 2018 the financial challenges that face us could put the various power brokers at odds with each other on important issues. Time will tell if this happens.
My hope is that we are able to work out what differences that may crop up. Yes, politics is played in Montpelier; however, we aren’t the gang in Washington.

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