Legislative Update- February 19, 2024
Saturday, February 17, 2024
by: Matt Musgrave

Section: Legislative Update

senate ag committee
Town meeting week is only two weeks away and that means that legislators have to be prepared to speak to their electorates on their week off from the legislature. The question the will be asked the most will be related to the 20% increases projected in their education property taxes. There will be questions of the spending and legislation that lead to the unexpected increases that are a result of a change in pupil weighting formulas and the unexpected shift in the common level of assessment (CLA) which is used by municipalities to asses taxes.

The Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees have been working on finding solutions to the expected property tax increase. They are well aware that it will not only impact homeowners but it will also have a major impact on renters due to the non residential tax rate which will bear the weight of the increases. They are seeking to pass bills to allow municipalities to delay their school votes and pulling other "levers" to find solutions without penalizing districts that were operating within the law while crafting their budgets. One thing that is clear is that the expansion of other taxes are being explored to supplement the education fund to avoid the property tax increase and none are attractive to Vermonters. 

In the same week that the property tax increases are top of mind its also apparent leaders are focuses on shoring up the transportation funding match. As most Federal funds for our programs require a match we are conscious that over the past 5 years there has been a reduction in the state match for the formula funds. A combination of electric vehicles to the reduction in miles traveled as witnessed since the COVID pandemic has led to a significant reduction to the gas tax nearing $5 million/year. While the House Transportation Committee worked on the budget program this week during mark up the Senate Committee on Transportation was hearing from professionals on the newly proposed miles traveled, public charging and one time purchase fees for electric vehicles to make up for the shortfall although decisions on those seem far off.

Senate Agriculture took up testimony on the House passed right to repair agriculture bill H.81. The bill seeks to require original equipment manufacturers to make available all parts, manuals and diagnostic or specialized tools to the public and uses language like "reasonable" to describe terms of the cost of parts. AGC/VT member Chris Palmer of Woods CRW Corp. testified in 2023 on the bill and was successful in the language "reasonable" costs of parts as the original bill had language that would have fixed prices in a way that would harm local dealers. The lobbying team will continue to monitor this bill although the committee was critical in the nature of the bill in that the public could be unintentionally hurting themselves if they endured to fix equipment they were not qualified to do. What is more than likely is that this and a couple of similar bills including one for wheelchairs will end up in the Senate Economic Development Committee to be discussed as its a major commerce issue.

The legislature seems occupied on the serious issues of unanticipated tax increases and flood recovery bills. Of the hundreds of bills introduced this year seems unique that they are focused on few issues other than must pass bills. This being an election year the intent is likely to adjourn as soon as possible and that means that the tax, public safety, housing and must pass bills we knew were priorities from the beginning stay front and center.