COVID, Money On Our Minds – Legislative Update, Feb. 2021

We have just completed the fourth week of what traditionally is an 18-week legislative session — last year being a huge outlier because of the pandemic, emergency declaration and the huge influx of federal funds.

Evaluating the impact of our response to the pandemic to date, while also responding to the ongoing challenges and opportunities it presents, continues to take the bulk of our attention.

In an interesting twist, the revenue news is dramatically different today from what was known back in December when the education tax rate letter was issued.

Vermont revenues have been stronger than forecasted back in August, owing mostly to significant federal fiscal stimulus which has flowed through to our revenues via several channels. Across all funds, total revenues are above their forecasted targets.

This is good news for the education fund and for property tax rates. The Legislature is now looking at a much lower increase on property taxes of roughly one penny then the 9.5-cent increase on the average education property tax rate that had been forecasted in a Dec. 1 letter to superintendents. This is based on the revised revenue update and projections that the state economist issued in his Jan. 19 report to the emergency board.

As we get more information about actual school budgets this may change, but we don’t expect it to change dramatically. The final rate will be set later in the session after results from school budget votes are known.

The Vermont House recently approved a mid-year technical adjustment to keep the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget in balance. H.138 passed with strong support and also included investments to support the Legislature’s continuing response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The following are a few of its highlights.

It allows us to provide $2.8 million in targeted rental assistance addressing a backlog of 1,500 households which had gone unfunded up to this point based on ever changing federal guidance.

It supports continuation of “Everyone Eats” through the end of the fiscal year, supporting farmers and restaurants in feeding hungry Vermonters.

It authorizes the state to provide “extraordinary relief” funding for the stabilization of long-term care facilities and adult day programs which have been so strained by the pandemic.

Additionally, it allows us to authorize continued use of CRF dollars to support safe, stable housing opportunities for Vermont households experiencing homelessness. It provided additional funding to the Vermont State Colleges for their additional expenses related to COVID-19.

This bill had to be crafted in six days. There was simply not enough time for all concerned from a policy perspective to shape proposals related to additional economic recovery grants, or reinvestment in Reach-Up and child development subsidies. It is now in the Senate where there will be further opportunity to do so.

Vermonters are invited to weigh in on Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed 2022 budget, about the state programs and services they care about. The House and Senate committees on appropriations will be hosting hearings to receive public input on Monday, Feb. 8, from 1-2 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. via videoconference. To testify, register in advance through the online form at

Our community health and economic recovery will depend on government’s response, our continued vigilance and cooperation.

With every challenge there are opportunities for meaningful change.

Please reach out if you need help and I hope to “see” you on Zoom at our next monthly Legislative Community Conversation on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Most importantly please stay healthy and safe and continue to wear your mask.