Messages from Montpelier

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The ceremony and tradition of the first days of a biennium are both comforting and challenging. It’s comforting in that change happens within the bounds of law and that our institutions prevail while faces change. Every legislator who previously held my seat has faced his or her own challenges and worked through them to better our state.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson appointed committees on the first day, which is unusual. All committees met and started work immediately. Smart move. With so many changes in leadership and so many new legislators, members were understandably anxious. The majority of our time is spent in committee, and one hopes to land in a committee that aligns with personal priorities.

I have challenges and opportunities this biennium with my appointment to the Appropriations Committee where I served when I left the legislature in 2004. Having spent seven years on the Commerce and Economic Development Committee, economic development issues will be well represented on Appropriations.

I’m one of three new members on the 11-member committee. Two of us are incumbents, and the third was a legislator several years ago. (He has an extensive background in Medicaid and human services.) I can’t remember a time when a first-year legislator was appointed to Appropriations.

Each of us will be assigned sections of the budget to delve deeply into. Eventually that work will result in a recommendation to the full committee for discussion and decision. Most returning members want to keep their sections because of the expertise they’ve gained. I suspect I’ll get some less complicated sections with smaller budgets this year. We work from the governor’s budget that will be presented on January 24.

In the meantime, work begins on the mid-year budget adjustment act this week. We have about two weeks to get it to the floor. The gap is around $68 million. Remember, we don’t deficit spend so that gap must be closed.

Medicaid and education are the biggest chunks of the budget by far. The Clean Water Bill passed last year requires a lot of money. I was happy to hear Gov. Phil Scott say we will continue to help the most needy and vulnerable citizens among us. He also says there will be no tax or fee increases. I just don’t see how that can be but anxiously await his ideas.

“Affordability” was the word most heard during the first week. However, it is clear that affordability means different things to different people.

Colchester is well represented on House committees. Rep. Jim Condon returns to Ways and Means, Rep. Curt Taylor gets his first appointment to the Corrections and Institutions Committee and Rep. Pat Brennan retains his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee.

Stay tuned, and be in touch!