Rep. Tom Bock: Government shutdown avoided

By Rep. Tom Bock
Windsor 3-1

Time was of the essence. Without a budget passed by July 1, Vermont government would be closed for the first time in history.

After the biennium session ended on May 17 without a spending plan, a special session was reconvened, and over a period of four weeks the legislature passed two budgets, both with strong tripartisan support, but both vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott.

The difference boiled down to how to use the unexpected one-time surplus funds of $57 million.

The legislature opposed Scott’s plan to use one-time surplus funds to offset an increase in the education property tax rate. Education property taxes are set each year to simply reflect the decisions of voters on their local school budgets. Neither the legislature nor the administration decides education spending. Local voters in local school districts decide. Our role is to raise the necessary money and distribute it equitably to fund the local decisions. Voters approved nearly all school budgets with full awareness that the property tax rates would go up as a result.

In fact, those rates were predicted to go up much more than they did. The overall state spending on education went up 1.7 percent, far lower than the 2.5 percent the governor wanted.  The problem with Scott’s approach, using one-time money for ongoing education expenses, is that it will result in a higher annual property tax rate increase next year.

The problem with Gov. Scott’s approach, using one-time money for ongoing education expenses, is that it will result in a higher annual property tax rate increase next year.

The legislature preferred that one-time money be used for one-time expenses. Democrats initially proposed to use the one-time surplus funds for teacher pension obligations, which would save the state more in the long-term in avoided interest. Investing $34 million of one-time funds in teacher retirement obligations will yield $100 million in taxpayers’ savings over 20 years.

After weeks of discussion and debate, we were able to find agreement with Gov. Scott to fully fund our local schools, pay down some of the state’s long-term teacher pension obligations, and hold residential property tax rates level. The legislature also included a provision to establish statewide teacher health-care negotiations – a top priority for Gov. Scott.

Finally, on June 25, Scott allowed the third revised version of the $5.8 billion budget to become law without his signature, days away from a government shutdown. The governor and legislature were originally $57 million apart, but the legislature moved $37 million closer to the governor’s position to ensure Vermont’s government continued to function.

Provisions in the budget focus on Vermont’s fiscal health and move the state into a stronger financial position. We held the rate of budget growth to less than 1 percent.

Provisions in the budget focus on Vermont’s fiscal health and move the state into a stronger financial position. We held the rate of budget growth to less than 1 percent.

Although the session ended with much political maneuvering and the news was dominated by budget woes and vetoes, the work of the House, the Senate and the administration resulted in some significant successes and progress for Vermonters this year.

As always, I welcome any questions, opinions, thoughts and concerns you may have on any legislative issue. You can contact me at tbock@leg.state.vt.us or tmbock@vermontel.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

State Rep. Bock represents Andover, Baltimore, Chester and North Springfield

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