Jim and Tim’s Legislative Forecast on Taxes, Pot and Healthcare

Representatives Tim Briglin (left) and Jim Masland previewed the 2017 House session at the Norwich Public Library.

Plus — a $1.3 billion expense facing Vermont that most people don't know about.

Jim Masland and Tim Briglin, the House reps for Norwich, Thetford, Sharon and Strafford, met this week with voters in Norwich and Strafford and outlined the issues facing Vermont's legislature.

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Money, as always, is a central issue. Masland, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, reported that by raising various fees the state’s structural deficit has been closing. The state is also trying to collect more money from existing taxes. Vermont might begin collecting sales taxes on Internet purchases because of a U.S. Supreme Court case that allowed Colorado's so-called "Amazon Tax" to stand. Not only will the state be in a position to collect more money, said Masland, but collecting the sales tax allows local merchants like the Norwich Bookstore to better compete with Internet giants.

Speaking of money, Briglin said that very few people know about a huge expense facing Vermont: $1.3 billion will be required over the next 20 years to put the state in compliance with federal clean-water mandates.  “It is a very big funding requirement that people will become aware of,” said Briglin.

A project that size will have to be bonded, added Masland.  “Taxes and fees can’t go up. Vermont has a great bond rating that will be put to the test for big projects.” The upshot is that bonding for clean water projects will cut into the state’s bonding capacity for other needs, like affordable housing, which are typically funded with bonds.

A big change in 2017 is that the legislature has to work with a Republican governor and a Republican-controlled federal government. The big issue on the table is healthcare. Governor-elect Phil Scott campaigned on getting rid of Vermont Health Connect and President-elect Trump wants to repeal Obamacare. 

"How the Obamacare repeal goes will have a major impact on Vermont, especially the Medicaid program and abortion and contraceptive funding,” Briglin said. Closer to home, Briglin believes there are three reasons Scott will change his mind about doing away with Vermont Health Connect, the exchange that serves about a quarter of insured Vermonters, after he takes office.

*The Vermont Health Connect system is finally working correctly.
*Health Connect is intertwined with Vermont’s Medicaid system and it will be difficult to take break them apart. 
*Dropping Health Connect and moving to the federal exchange will increase the average Vermont family’s insurance premium by $600 to $800 a year."

“It will be very difficult to unplug Vermont Health Connect right now,” said Briglin. “It would not be something I would support.”

Another worry for Vermont: Trump’s campaign promise to get rid of NAFTA could have a negative impact on the state's economy.  “How Trump deals with trade is another question,” said Briglin.  “The average state economy is 5 to 6 percent trade. Vermont is double that because we border Canada. Trump is not a fan a NAFTA  and that could change how we deal with trade with Canada.”

While advocates of legalizing marijuana argue that legalization could add to the state’s coffers, it probably won’t happen in 2017. Vermonters probably will see some action in that direction, according to Masland. A more realistic goal in 2017 is what Masland calls “super decriminalization.” Pot won't be legal, but someone growing a couple of plants in their yard would just get a ticket.

Another perennial issue that comes before the legislature, universal background checks to purchase firearms, probably won't pass under Scott’s administration, said Briglin. 

Keep up with the legislature by subscribing to the free Jim and Tim Report.


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