Inquiring minds have asked what the House Appropriations Committee has been doing since the FY2020 budget proposal was sent to the Senate. Well, we have not been at the State House on Mondays, and during the regular legislative week of Tuesday through Friday, we have generally been on the floor for debate and action on legislation rather than for roll call votes only.
In committee, we have considered bills from the policy committees that have an appropriations component. The first bills that we received included H.107, the act relating to paid family and medical leave; S.40, the act relating to testing and remediation of lead in the drinking water of schools and child care facilities; and H.334, the act relating to temporary state employees. Each of these was thorny, as we worked out the appropriation needed. We also dealt with S.131, an act relating to insurance and securities … a piece of cake compared to those other bills.
As I write this, it is May 7. Just today, we worked on S.58, an act relating to the state hemp program, and S.113, an act relating to the prohibition of plastic carry-out bags, expanded polystyrene, and single-use plastic straws. We passed both out with their appropriations intact.
The committee also had testimony today regarding S.96, the clean water bill. The Senate, incredibly, had sent that bill to the House with zero dollars identified. The committee is slated to vote tomorrow on both the underlying bill and a House-proposed revenue package to support it.
Unhappily, we still have S.23, the act relating to increasing the minimum wage. This bill is complex and challenging in terms of potential consequences. We have been working on it for many days and will continue tomorrow.
In addition to this requisite bill consideration, we have been doing a deep dive into some “big picture” issues. We have been focused on how best to prepare for a downturn in the economy, as well as how best to prepare in the event of additional settlement money coming in. We are also looking at how, or if, long-existing programs might be reconfigured to better serve and support Vermonters. The Secretary of the Agency of Human Services has been willing to have this conversation with us. The mere mention of any programs embedded in Human Services sets off “red alert” signals … as it should, given that these constitute the safety net, the support system for our most vulnerable Vermonters. It is all that much more important that, collectively, we have the “spine” to ensure that the “system” and its “delivery” are as smart as possible.
A myriad of data regarding the Vermont labor market and the economy has threaded through our “deep dive.” Particularly informative was our tutorial on the recessions of 1990, 2001 and 2007. We looked at their respective causes, the impact on numbers of jobs, the impact on different industries, the length of time for recovery. We looked at each in terms of the county by county “experience,” as well as for the state taken as a whole. We came to understand more completely why, in Vermont, the 1990 recession was considered “major,” the 2001 recession “minor” and the 2007 recession “moderate.”
In the process, not wanting to fall prey to our own marketing, we carved out time to look at the industry of tourism in particular. The linkage of our economic well-being and our environment was confirmed, and is shown by data to be true for both individuals and for the state as a whole. Some nuggets of information: The tourism industry supports 32,204 jobs, about 10 percent of the state workforce, with wages at $1.05 billion. Vermont’s “hotel sector” is three times as robust as the national average, and the approximate total spent annually by people visiting Vermont is $2.8 billion. After manufacturing (yes, manufacturing!), tourism represents the largest contribution of out-of-state money into the state’s economy. The tax revenue which comes in from this industry totals $391 million. This revenue then supports services which would otherwise require $1,450 more in taxes from each Vermont household. Bring on that clean water bill!
Please, if you would like to sit and look at a multiplicity of charts relevant to our “big picture” study, give me a holler. Likewise, regarding any of the bills passing through my committee. Contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com, by phone at 802-862-7404, at my home at 232 Patchen Road, on the street, or at Trader Duke’s from 8:30 to 9:30 Saturday mornings.