The House and Senate have now both passed their own versions of the FY2024 budget, setting up the home stretch of the legislative session when the budget conference committee negotiates the final spending package. The budget conferees have been appointed – House Appropriations Chair Diane Lanpher, Vice-Chair Robin Scheu and House Human Services Chair Theresa Wood. On the Senate side the conferees are Senate Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel, Vice-Chair Andrew Perchlik and Senator Richard Westman. Westman is the only Republican on the conference committee as all House Republicans voted against the budget.
While the FY2024 budget is on its way to the conference committee there are still questions about major Democratic priorities and their potential funding mechanisms. The House Ways and Means committee is zeroing in on its proposal to fund universal child care while advocates for universal paid family and medical leave (PFML) held a press conference this week urging action on H.66, the universal PFML that has stalled out in the Senate. The Senate version of the FY2024 budget includes almost $90 million for childcare, most of which is allocated to getting the program off the ground, with a small percentage dedicated to the parental leave program included in the Senate child care bill.
The Senate and House remain at odds over the funding mechanism for universal child care. Some of the disagreement stems from the House having an additional and longstanding priority of creating the PFML insurance program which they have proposed to fund by using a payroll tax. The Senate has also proposed to fund child care with a payroll tax. The House Ways and Means committee is considering a revenue package that would raise $126.8 million annually by FY28 and an additional $51.3 million annually in FY2029 and FY2030 by progressively increasing all corporate income tax bracket rates and personal income tax brackets.
There are many other significant provisions in the $8.5 billion budget bill passed by the Senate this week. Here is a link to a summary of the Senate proposal. Beyond child care and PFML two of the more high profile provisions in the bill relate to housing and Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) fees. Housing advocates urged the Senate Appropriations committee to continue the pandemic era emergency housing program that allows Vermonters to stay at hotels in some circumstances. The Senate voted down a floor amendment that would have extended the emergency housing program. Appropriations Chair Jane Kitchel argued that the Senate bill makes $188 million in investments in housing assistance and affordable housing. The Senate bill also increases DMV fees by $21 million to help fund transportation infrastructure. Governor Phil Scott
opposes these fee increases. The governor issued a statement shortly after the Senate passed the budget. He said lawmakers are increasing spending at twice the rate of inflation and criticized legislative proposals to increase taxes.
After minimal debate, The Senate gave initial approval to H.230, a bill aimed at preventing suicides in Vermont. The bill establishes a 72-hour waiting period to purchase a firearm, and contains a so-called “safe storage” provision which would require firearms to be locked up in certain instances. The bill passed by a vote of 21-9.