Following flood of pandemic cash, Vt. lawmakers face more austere times

Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 4:17 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont lawmakers will head back to the Statehouse in just under a month where they’ll look to continue efforts on long-standing priorities including child care and emission reductions. But with uncertain economic times ahead and federal pandemic cash drying up, figuring out how to pay for the all programs will be a challenge.

Lawmakers new and old gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday to get an update from economists on where the economy is heading and what programs they can fund.

“We have these two opposing forces that are occurring. One is the foot on the gas and the other is the foot on the brake,” said Tom Kavet, a legislative economist.

State coffers are flush with cash thanks to a collective $10 billion in COVID relief cash winding through the economy. But at the same time, the fed is trying to tamp down inflation by raising interest rates.

Kavet says that over the next biennium, the country -- including Vermont -- could be heading toward an economic downturn. “You could have steep declines in some revenue sources including income tax and personal and corporate income tax,” he said.

Democrats, who hold large majorities in the House and Senate, have their eyes on costly items including big expansions of affordable housing, PCB cleanup in schools, universal paid family leave, and improved child care.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, says the General Assembly needs to be strategic where they invest. “We have to be thinking about the years out and the investments we make today and tomorrow -- how that impacts our investments 10 years down the line,” she said.

Republicans say they hope to raise many issues about affordability in committee when bills are being drafted. “You have to look at the policies, and not just the policies, but also how they plan on affording those policies for Vermonters. We cannot tax Vermonters out of their homes,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-Rutland.

While the pandemic is still affecting the state economy, it does not appear to be affecting the process of lawmaking in the coming weeks. “I think there’s a lot of folks happy to be back in the building legislating, not on Zoom,” Krowinski said.

There is still no decision on whether lawmakers who don’t show up in Montpelier will still be able to attend and vote remotely as they have over the past two years. And there are still many details to be worked out including lawmakers’ committee assignments before the session gets underway on January 4.