The Vermont legislature completed the 2021 session on Friday, May 21, according to a report by Leonine Public Affairs. They passed a $7.35 billion budget and Governor Phil Scott offered the traditional closing message.
On Thursday evening the budget conferees virtually shook hands on their report on H.439, the FY2022 budget bill. While legislative leaders had previously targeted Tuesday as the date for closing out the budget negotiations, a disagreement over how to fund retired teacher health care obligations (OPEB) delayed a final agreement. After several proposals and counter-proposals the conferees reserved $150 million in General Funds and $14 million in Education Funds for pension and OPEB obligations. Separately, the legislature this year established a Pension Task Force to look at the issue of state employee and teacher pensions. The compromise gives the task force time to do their work.
Beyond that the $7.35 billion FY2022 budget allocates nearly $600 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, including $190 million for housing, $150 million for broadband and $66 million for IT modernization. While budget negotiators hammered out the final details of the FY2022 budget, the House and Senate spent long hours on the floor working to get other bills across the finish line. The House and Senate are expected to approve the conference committee report on the budget and adjourn soon thereafter.
Both bodies signed off on an adjournment resolution that would allow, but not require, the legislature to return in October if Congress passes an infrastructure stimulus bill. This would allow the legislature to return in order to allocate those funds before the start of the 2022 legislative session. A veto session has been scheduled for June 23-24, when the the legislature could attempt to override the governor’s action on any bills he vetoes. With the governor agreeing to the budget, a veto session seems unlikely.
After a very long 14 months of legislating remotely, the pending adjournment looks like a more normal end to a legislative session. Legislators and their staff are exhausted from long hours on zoom and looking forward to a potentially more normal in-person session when they return in January, 2022. Details on what an in-person session will look like post COVID-19 are still being hammered out by joint legislative committees.