By Sen. Russ Ingalls
For a legislative session that was supposed to focus on getting through the pandemic, it’s proven to be just the opposite. There are some harmful bills you ought to be aware of. So here we go.
S-10 started out as a simple bill to shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund. But not anymore. We started the pandemic with over $500 million in our Unemployment Trust Fund. It was in the top three nationwide in healthiness. During the worst of the terrible pandemic, the Fund held up, retaining nearly 40% of its value standing at $216 million. For the unemployed in their deepest, darkest times, the Fund worked. Yes, there may have been some rough patches as the demands were something unimaginable. But the State rallied. Thousands of Vermonters received timely benefits.
So what’s the problem? It was proposed that to help businesses get going again and refill the coffers, the State would let employers forgo $66,000,000 repay the Trust Fund over 10 years. The Trust fund is 100% supported by Business.
Now mind you, this wasn’t something that Business was advocating for. Business was fine with no deferment. It was driven by the Democrats. And because Business was going to get something for free, which they weren’t getting anything for free as it was just a deferment, that labor should get something too.
So the Democrats proposed to raise the Fund to $1 billion, when $500 million sufficed to get us through the worst disaster ever. Also, even though when people are unemployed and staying home, $50 per child in the household should be added to the unemployment check for daycare. That adds an additional $15 million a year to be paid by employers.
That was to only last for five years and then end. But once you start paying something to Montpelier, it never ends. But the most harmful part of this bill? Unemployment was extended indefinitely with no requirement to look for a job. One could stay home and collect unemployment without fear of losing benefits should a job come up that suited the claimant. I was on one call with employers that represented over 800 employees. They had 400 jobs to fill but yet they couldn’t get their employees to come back to work because with what they were receiving from the State and the Federal Government, they were making more to stay home.
None of this was asked for. Not by Business or Labor. The bill was strongly oapposed by almost every organization on either side as being plain harmful for Vermont and the business climate. It was only the anti-business faction of the State that wanted this to pass. But it passed the Senate 18 to 12 anyways. It’s in the House now. I would urge everyone to call their House Reps and urge them to vote no.
S-15, Unsolicited Mail-in Ballots. This is as simple as it gets. Every address and person in Vermont will receive a mail-in ballot in the mail. When it used to be that you could request one – very simple, orderly, easy to track – now they will be passed out like Monopoly money. Our election integrity is no more. And in fact, when Secretary of State Condos was on a radio program a few weeks back, one caller in Middlebury who owned a large apartment building told how 25 mailed ballots left uncollected were seized, filled out and mailed in by college students. Ask any Town Clerk: how would you know where or who any ballot came from or who filled them out? There is no way to know. I voted no. It passed the Senate 28-2.
S-30, Prohibiting Carrying of Firearms. This is pretty simple too. The Democrats hate that you have guns. This anti gun bill started out that guns would be prohibited in all public buildings, daycares and hospitals. When that had no support, it ended up being just hospitals. Which are already banned anyways through trespassing laws. Long story short, when no evidence could be produced that this was a problem, it passed the Senate 20-9. It’s in the House now. It’s expected to pass and we are holding our breath that the Governor will veto this legislation.The scary part of this, and it’s on public record, there are many Democrats that have stated that this is just the first part of banning guns in Vermont.
S-79. This bill is trying to kill any AIRBNB type rental in the state of Vermont. The Democrats say that it’s simply a registry of all rentals, long term and short term. Anyone and everyone who rents any property in this State has to register and be inspected and pay a $35 fee annually. Why does this matter so much? Because now, when the State calls you because they cannot house someone, and you have that room in your home, and the State ensures that they will pay the rent, you cannot refuse them or you will face discrimination lawsuits.
It is the quickest way to meet the Human Rights commission that you will ever know. For those of us who have long term rental companies, we know this. So all of you who are renting a portion of your property to help defray the high costs of living in Vermont, get ready. The Government is knocking at your door and you had better let them in. That passed the Senate 22-7.
And last but so very important. Our State Employees and Teachers Pensions Retirement and Healthcare funds. This is what keeps me up at night. Our State has $5.7 Billion dollars in unfunded, unaccounted for liability in these Pension and Healthcare accounts. Let that sink in. $5,700,000,000 unfunded liability. As simple as I can say it: you agreed to it, people have made life decisions on it, you owe it, now pay it.
There is no doubt that the current plan is unsustainable. It needs to be fixed. The House Democratic leadership took a half hearted effort at it and got absolutely pounded, as they should have. But what we did find out in the process is who actually controls the Democratic party. Several of the Labor Unions reminded Democratic leadership who was responsible for getting them elected and they quickly fell back in line. But honestly, I don’t care about all of that. It’s just politics. There’s plenty of blame to go around. When your roof is leaking so badly that it’s causing damage to your home, you don’t keep blaming the last roofer, you fix it.
Here’s why I believe that we need to keep a conversation going on how to fix the plans vs. studying them.
We received $1.25 Billion from the feds in the first round of Covid funding. It’s gone. We received $700 Million the second round. It’s gone. This time we are to receive $1.45 Billion. And trust me, that will be spent shortly. I promise you that. When that last $1.45 Billion is gone, which I believe that we should take as much as that as we can to come up with a new solution, then there is real trouble and pain for all of our State Employees and Teachers as well as the Retirees. I would urge all of you to get to your representatives at all levels and ask that they stop the fearmongering and come up with a real solution that will work for all.
I’m routinely pounded by the Unions as being against you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the biggest problem in front of us besides COVID that affects my friends and constituents. Let’s work as Vermonters and fix it.
The author is a Republican state senator from Essex-Orleans counties.