By Senator Alice Nitka, Windsor County, April 29, 2011
During the past two weeks the Senate members have spent many hours in the Senate Chamber hearing bill presentations, questioning the presenters, debating the bills, amending them, voting them up or down and then hearing immediately from persons around the state who either loved or hated the bill. The bills presented included the so called, “Big Bill” (H-441) which is actually the Appropriations or Budget Bill and the one must pass bill of the session. The Budget is 109 pages long and has its own separate booklet as opposed to being in the regular calendar. The numbers are greater than its size as it contains $4.6 billion in total spending for Fiscal Year 2012 which is down 3.7%. The budget year starts July 1, 2011. This spending includes federal pass through money for the feds share with regard to roads, bridges, the National Guard, airports, education, Medicaid, nursing homes, hospitals, social services, Veterans, law enforcement, etc. The state General Fund spending which is included the previous number is $1.2 billion. These are your VT tax dollars and come from sources such as the income tax, sales tax, purchase and use tax, property tax and on and on as we all know. The gas tax, at close to 20 cents per gallon raises $70 million in an average driving year. With the price per gallon so high right now, sales are down and the projected revenue for FY 2011 is $62.3 million. Eighteen million is generally raised from the diesel tax but the revenue forecast for this year is expected to be $15.6 million. It is still a lot of money.
The Agency of Natural Resources spending which is included in the overall budget is $88.8 million. The Fish and Wildlife Division of ANR, ten or more years ago used to be fully supported by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses however this is no longer the case due to fewer sales. They are however still drawing money from sales around the country of hunting, fishing and camping equipment. They are meeting their goals with matching funds and not leaving any federal money on the table so to speak. Over the past three years they have downsized to meet their budget and reduced their employee numbers by 88 staff. At this point they need employees for certain positions and are actively recruiting. They do have Game Warden positions to fill as well. For this position a polygraph test is required and honesty counts among other qualifications.
Other bills to reach the floor were the Miscellaneous Tax Bill, the Transportation bill, “Pete the Moose” (ownership of the animals of the state) and the Health Care bill as well as many, many others. A woman who has been following the Health Care bill and has attended all the committee meetings, the hearings and most of the gatherings around the state about the bill has put in enough hours to knit six sweaters while in attendance. She seemed to be starting her seventh as she sat in the back of the chamber.
Farmers are still struggling around the state. A year or so ago I wrote about a House member feeling distraught about having to sell his cows and go out of the farming business because of the overwhelming difficulties his farm was facing. Today a member of the Senate spoke of his father’s poor health and sadness at having to sell their herd because his father could no longer manage the farm and the finances of staying in business could no longer be justified. One of the few remaining farmers in the building reported that if you have to sell your cows, it isn’t a bad time to do so as Canadian farmers are buying cows and paying a decent price. At a recent sale the price paid was close to $1000 per cow as well as for heifers. Freshened cows went for $1600.
If you are trying to track a particular bill, please give me a call or send and e-mail with your phone number as bills are being put on other bills provided they are germane. It is sometimes difficult to keep track even in the building, never mind outside, as they go onto the other bill without the number showing up.