Vermont Legislature

Changes in the federal tax code could make it harder for economists to predict how much Vermont will collect in state revenues next year.
Angela Evancie / VPR file

The Legislature is settling into its session, with most of the work taking place off the floor and in committee. Some of the main issues before lawmakers this week were health care and transportation funding.

Broadcast on Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 8:35 a.m.

Learn more about VPR's coverage of the Vermont Legislature.

VPR/Peter Hirschfeld

It’s being called the fiscal sinkhole. And it could be coming to a road near you.

In his budget address last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled a plan for record-setting transportation spending. But partisan politics in Washington, D.C., could soon threaten some of that money.

The problem is in the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a multi-billion dollar pot of money that accounts for about half of Vermont’s annual road budget. And it’s going to run dry in September unless Congress votes to fill it back up.

When federal lawmakers finally came to a budget deal last month, they did so at the expense of military retirees. The congressional spending plan reduced cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ pensions. And that provision is expected to cost former service members $6 billion in lost income over the next 10 years. 

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

Vermont lawmakers are at a critical juncture in their quest for a publicly financed health care system. And they’re bringing aboard a $10,000-a-month consultant to help them get it right.

The Legislature already has a small staff of fiscal analysts to call on. But as lawmakers undertake the most ambitious health care reform agenda in state history, they’re spending some money on outside experts.

Taylor Dobbs / VPR

A push by privacy advocates last year to protect job applicants from being required to give prospective employers access to their social media accounts has fallen flat.

A legislative report published this week said the committee tasked with exploring the issue was unable to agree on any recommendations for the legislature. That inconclusive report led Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, to a dead end on an issue he thought would be an easy sell.

In a State of the State address devoted entirely to what he says is Vermont’s “full blown heroin crisis,” Gov. Peter Shumlin on Jan. 8 announced $10 million in new spending on an addiction treatment infrastructure plagued by long waiting lists and a shortage of providers.

“Let’s start treating drug addiction as the immediate health crisis that it is by dramatically increasing treatment across Vermont,” Shumlin said.

It was a big week for news at the Statehouse. The governor unveiled his budget plan for next year, because of ongoing problems at the state’s new health care exchange, he offered another contingency plan for small businesses, and debate started over property tax reform.

Eric Davis is a retired Middlebury College political science professor. He spoke with Vermont Edition about the political dynamics of these issues.

File photo of the Vermont House Chamber at the Vermont Statehouse
Toby Talbot / Associated Press File

Governor Peter Shumlin revealed the details of his budget this week in his annual budget address. Peter Biello recently spoke with VPR’s Bob Kinzel for a look at what the numbers in the budget mean.

Broadcast on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 8:35 a.m.

Learn more about VPR's coverage of the Vermont Legislature.

Anya Rader Wallack

The man in charge of developing the financing mechanism for Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer health care plan made his first appearance of the year before the Legislature Friday.

That man is Michael Costa, a lawyer whose title in the Shumlin Administration is deputy director of health care reform.

But Costa isn’t tipping the administration’s hand about what taxes will be used to pay for the new system.

VPR/Peter Hirschfeld

Four years ago, lawmakers worked to help wrongfully convicted inmates obtain the DNA evidence needed to win their release. This year, the Legislature will try to prevent innocent suspects from going to jail in the first place. 

Dennis Maher had to spend 19 years in prison before the arrival of DNA evidence  proved he wasn’t guilty of the rape charge that landed him there. Maher can trace the roots of his wrongful conviction to a photo line-up in which the victim misidentified him as the perpetrator of the crime.

AP/Toby Talbot

The governor gave his 2014 Budget Address to lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon, an annual speech in which the governor outlines state spending priorities to lawmakers.

Thursday on Vermont Edition, we examine the direction that Governor Peter Shumlin is setting for the Legislature, and hear criticism of his approach. Our guests are Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding and House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton).

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

Lawmakers, administration officials and the media have spent months spotlighting the $70 million shortfall that was threatening to bust next year’s budget.

But Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday outlined a fiscal year 2015 spending plan that will use previously undisclosed windfalls to balance the state ledger in a way that administration officials say won’t impact government services.

Governor Shumlin's 2014 Budget Address

Jan 15, 2014
Angela Evancie / VPR

Full text, audio and photos of Gov. Peter Shumlin's budget address delivered before a joint session of the Vermont House and Senate.

Read the full text of Governor Shumlin's 2014 Budget Address:

The Vermont Republican Party is hoping to leverage the power of the crowd in its efforts to track problems with Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health insurance exchange.

A new website operated by the party, VT Health Report, offers users a form where they can provide their name, email address, town, zip code, and their experience with Vermont Health Connect.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Looming increases in the statewide property tax rate have prompted calls for education financing reform. But the most powerful Democrats in Montpelier say they’re not yet convinced that Vermont’s school funding system needs fixing.

VT DEC

Lawmakers are again seeking new environmental protections for the more than 200 lakes and ponds scattered across Vermont. But, as was the case last year, the push for shorelands legislation is running into resistance from some waterfront property owners.

A new campaign finance bill that would regulate contributions for state and local officials seems likely to pass after a conference committee merged differing legislation from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Critics say the bill allows more money into Vermont’s politics, a reality proponents say will keep money from independent expenditure political action committees, better known as Super PACs, from drowning out political parties.

VPR/Angela Evancie

Vermont’s legislative session began this week. Governor Peter Shumlin delivered his State of the State speech, and now lawmakers are beginning the work it’ll take to check off items on a long to-do list. For a look at the coming legislative session we turn to VPR’s Bob Kinzel, who will join us on Saturday mornings for a close look at the goings-on in Montpelier.
 

Listen to the full audio of Gov. Peter Shumlin's State of the State address, delivered in the Vermont Statehouse on Jan. 8, 2014.

Download a PDF of the address and read the speech embedded below.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted Wednesday's State of the State Address to the problem of opiate addiction, outlining a four-point plan that is meant tackle the public health and criminal consequences of opiate addiction. Friday on Vermont Edition, Shumlin discusses his plan with Bob Kinzel.

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