Vt. House approves $7.1 billion budget with aid for state college system

The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.
The Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.(WCAX)
Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 11:36 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:38 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers have agreed to pump millions of dollars into the ailing state college system and fill gaps in K - 12 schools as part of a $7.1 billion budget passed by the House Thursday afternoon.

The budget leans heavily on the $1.25 billion federal CARES Act approved by Congress earlier this year in response to the pandemic. Without subsequent action from Congress to help state budget shortfalls, lawmakers had to get creative without breaking federal rules on how the CARES Act funds could be spent. They say the funding was critical to minimize school property tax increases and save the cash-strapped Vermont State Colleges.

Under the plans, the VSC system will get $51 million in an annual appropriation and in bridge funding that college leaders say they need to state afloat while they develop a more sustainable system.

Though this budget is balanced without big budget cuts or tax increases, top lawmakers say it’s a struggle to understand how the pandemic will affect state coffers in the months going forward.

“We’re budgeting for an unknown fiscal landscape in the future. We do not know the full impact of COVID-19 and the impact on the future of Vermont -- whether it’s this January or an entire year from now -- we don’t know about a second wave of COVID and whether businesses will be closed down again,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville.

The budget now heads to the Senate after a final vote in the House Friday. Although it has several differences from the governor’s proposal -- including about $30 million less in economic stimulus -- he is expected to sign it. House lawmakers say the funding of the state college system is a form of economic development as well, because if the colleges go under, the communities of Johnson, Randolph, and Lyndonville will feel the impact.

There’s also some $15 million for hazard pay for frontline workers like grocery clerks, who were left out of the first stimulus package.

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