MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont legislative leaders are highlighting their accomplishments after moving millions of dollars in federal money during the historic legislative session that wrapped up last week.
A slate of senate committee chairs gathered on the Statehouse steps Wednesday for the first time in 15 months after being kept apart by pandemic restrictions during the session.
“We were incredibly productive despite the obstacles,” said Senate President Becca Balint, D-Windham County. She highlighted policies passed during the pandemic-dominated session, including a $7 billion budget with historic investments in child care, clean water, climate change, higher education, and broadband.
“I think this is going to have a huge impact on Vermont,” said Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington County.
The spending also focuses funding on workforce training, free college courses, and a new vote by mail system. “More people voting and a more informed electorate and more informed voters,” said Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham County.
Lawmakers also focused on public education funding and criminal justice reform efforts. All of the investments were jump-started by $500 million in American Rescue Plan dollars. “We’ve been able to really make all of the political promises become a reality,” Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia County.
But as lawmakers reflect on their work, some in the GOP minority wish the state charted a different path. Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock says lawmakers didn’t come up with a long-term vision for transforming Vermont with the extra federal money. Instead, he says the once-in-a-lifetime cash is being spent piecemeal on existing programs. He also says Montpelier should have tacked the state’s $3 billion unfunded pension liability this year instead of pushing the issue to a summer study committee. “We should have dealt with it now. It is not an easy situation. Nobody is going to be happy with a solution and we all know that, but it’s something we know now, not something we have to wait ‘X’ number of months to find out,” he said.
Looking to next session, lawmakers are considering how to spend the remaining $400 million in federal funds. They’ve already earmarked cash for broadband and climate change, but they also say they are touring the state in the coming weeks to hear from Vermonters about how the remaining cash should be spent. “I don’t want to speak for Vermonters. I don’t know what will come out of that but I am curious to get out there,” Balint said.
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