Guv signs $7.2 billion budget, vows action on commercial cannabis, Act 250 next week

Budget includes $5 million in state funds for $1200 stimulus payments to people not covered by feds, including illegal workers

By Guy Page

October 2, 2020 – Gov. Phil Scott this morning signed into law the $7.17 billion 2021 state budget, he said at today’s press conference. 

Responding to a question by WPTZ’s David Schneider, the governor also said over the weekend he will mull over other approved legislation – including S54, commercial cannabis – and will issue his decisions next week. The governor has until Wednesday to sign or veto S54, an aide told Schneider. Governor Scott also characterized the Act 250 bill that passed the Legislature as “a shadow of its former self.”

The 2021 state budget avoids an income tax increase, despite a projected revenue deficit as high as $450 million. The Legislature leveraged one-time federal CARES funds wherever permitted. Also, better-than-expected state revenue reduced the expected deficit. 

Controversial budget spending items include:

  • $5 million from the General Fund and the Tobacco Settlement Fund to pay $1200 each to about 5,000 Vermonters not included in the one-time federal stimulus payments, including illegal workers. About a quarter of the payments will go to farm workers present illegally. Supporters argued that migrant farm workers are doing essential work and are entitled to stimulus payments, regardless of citizenship status. (This allocation prompted comments on social media, including this: “Why are illegal aliens a higher priority than Vermont children at risk? That’s who it’s being taken from.”)
  • $450,000 to implement H688, the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA). See page 50 of this Sept. 17 Senate document allocating the sum for “full-time limited service positions (to bedetermined), costs associated with providing administrative, technical and legal support, per diems, hiring consultants and experts and other necessary costs andexpenses associated with implementation of H.688.” The GWSA creates an appointed 23-person Climate Council to plan and implement steep carbon emission reductions without needing approval from either the Legislature or the Executive branch. 
  • Aggressively funds public transportation funding and incentives for purchasing electric vehicles. 

According to the website of the Vermont Legislature, the following bills passed both the Senate and the House but have not been enacted into law. Most, but not all, have been sent to the governor. Click on the bill number for more details. 

H.99trade in covered animal parts or products
H.954miscellaneous tax provisions
H.952approval of charter changes for City of Burlington, City of Barre
H.926changes to Act 250
H.607increasing the supply of nurses and primary care providers in Vermont
H.673tree wardens
H.674the definition of housesite for use value appraisals
H.611the Older Vermonters Act
H.833surface water diversions and financial surety requirements for holding tanks
H.934renter rebate reform
S.187transient occupancy for health care treatment and recovery
S.54the regulation of cannabis
S.234miscellaneous judiciary procedures
H.795increasing hospital price transparency, hospital sustainability planning, provider sustainability and reimbursements, and regulators’ access to information
H.663expanding access to contraceptives
H.962the duration of temporary relief from abuse orders
S.220professional regulation
H.880Abenaki place names on State park signs
H.967provision of child care at family child care homes during remote learning days
H.683the protection of migratory birds
H.578proof of financial responsibility
S.233uniform licensing standards
S.337energy efficiency entities and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the thermal energy and transportation sectors

Vermont Daily polled readers for questions, and then asked Gov. Scott these two suggestions: 

Can you tell us what discussions your administration had about saving Rutland County’s legendary Thomas Dairy?

Gov. Scott responded: “That was a bit of a surprise to me as well. I’m not sure how much we were having discussions in house. I’m not sure we were notified.”

Agricultural Secretary Anson Tebbetts was not on the press conference call to comment. However, at 2 pm he provided this information:

“Yes, the Agency was aware Thomas was having difficulties through the pandemic as well as many others.  All milk processors are challenged. That is why Governor Scott and the Agency proposed milk processors be eligible for grants. It was one of the first programs proposed because of how important dairy is to our economy. The total dairy program is $25 million and $8.5 for Working Lands.

“Those grants are in progress. The deadline to apply is Nov 15th. Here is latest press release and other info on our dairy and working lands programs.”

https://agriculture.vermont.gov/covid-19-information/vermont-covid-19-agriculture-assistance-program

Vermont Daily also asked Gov. Scott:

I know you are not the Secretary of State, but as chief executive, can you explain what will happen if a voter shows up at the polls in November and the town clerk informs the voter a ballot was mailed in his or her name, and the voter alleges he or she did not complete a ballot?

“I don’t know for sure. The Secretary of State has made it clear he is the expert in elections. I would defer to him,” Scott said. 

Photo Credit: Caleb Kenna, from Migrantjustice.net.


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