Senate appropriations advance $8 billion budget bill

Senator Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, speaks during a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Statehouse in Montpellier last month. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

The Senate Appropriations Committee completed its proposed budget of more than $8 billion from Vermont on Friday. The vote was 7-0.

House lawmakers passed their own budget bill, H.740, in March. With the work of the upper house budget drafting committee now complete, the full Senate could vote on its version of the budget as early as Tuesday.

In some ways, the Senate’s spending plan is more generous than the House’s: under the construction of the Senate Appropriations Bill, for example, colleges in the state of Vermont would get a $10 million increase. dollars from their base budget — plus an additional $14.9 million in one-time assistance as schools embark on a series of reforms. The budget passed by the House also included a base increase of $10 million, but only $2.5 million in one-time bridge funding.

Community mental health agencies in Vermont, whose employees often earn near minimum wage, had this year requested a 10% increase in the state reimbursement rate to address a crippling labor shortage. The governor proposed 3%. The House offered 7%. The Senate raised it to 8%.

But the upper house tightens the purse strings in other ways. The Senate cut $10 million of the $50 million in one-time money the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board was to receive for mixed-income rental housing in the budget passed by the House. (The Senate, however, maintained a $10 million increase in base housing board funding as proposed by the House, which was not included in the governor’s original housing proposal.)

The appropriations committee also gave the Senate Finance, the chamber’s tax drafting committee, a smaller box to work in when it comes to tax cuts. The House passed a nearly $50 million child tax credit, which Senate Finance is expected to cut to $22 million in a vote scheduled for Tuesday.

The Senate budget bill ultimately leaves $40 million to pay for — but not directly fund — two separate housing bills, S.210 and S.226. The move seeks to tie funding for housing initiatives that Gov. Phil Scott has identified as top priorities with the consumer protection measures lawmakers want — and which Scott is not doing at all.

S.210 includes a statewide rental registry and rental inspection system, as well as $20 million to help landlords rehabilitate off-code and vacant properties. S.226 includes a variety of housing reforms, including a registry of contractors and $15 million for a housing program to subsidize the construction of homes for middle-income families, plus $5 million for manufactured homes .

Scott repeatedly called the records “poison pills” and, in remarks at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, reiterated his displeasure with lawmakers.

“I think I’ve shown that I’m perfectly willing to veto legislation, including budgets and things that may look good on paper, but when you dig deeper it does more harm than good. And I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” he said.

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