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2024 Legislative Town Meeting Day Report

Rep. Ashley Bartley and Rep. Carolyn Branagan


At the 2024 Fairfax Town Meeting. From left to right. Reagan, Rep. Bartley, Sen. Wrenner, and Rep. Branagan.

At a time when political divisiveness is at an all time high; especially as social media continues to dominate our day to day lives and we enter into a very contentious presidential election year, we both are working hard to be good listeners first. 


While the political make-up in Montpelier is skewed (123 to 37), our voices and willingness to work with the other side has strengthened our ability to represent Fairfax and Georgia. Neither of us want to be the “Party of No” and legislate in a way that requires listening, debate, deliberation, and then action. This is why we need to continue to hear from you. If there is a bill that you’re interested in, please reach out. If you have questions, we’ll do our best to answer them. Even if we may disagree on legislation, it’s really important to hear your opinion and what’s behind it. We do not go to Montpelier to represent a Party, we are there to represent you.


A lot has occurred over the last year since we last updated you. Some are very positive, some not so much. We sit on two different standing committees in the house; both of which have very important impacts on our communities. Ashley sits on the House Committee on General & Housing and has been a leading voice on labor issues and housing reform. Carolyn is on the critically important Ways & Means Committee which controls how revenues are raised.


This year, there are many requests for increased revenues and, unfortunately, are coming by way of tax increases. We continue to work to keep them at a minimal, if not zero. Here are a few key pieces of legislation that we believe you should be up to speed on.


We want to hear from you!

Please reach out to us at any time! We want to hear from you. Is there information you are looking for? Are there certain updates you’d like? We’re your voice in Montpelier!


Ashley Bartley | abartley@leg.state.vt.us | ashleybartley.org | Facebook.com/AshleyBartleyVT | Instagram: AshleyBartleyVT | Twitter: AshleyRBartley 



Priorities

Governor Phil Scott kicked off the session with his State of the State address, highlighting the administrations’ priorities: Public safety, housing and education. We concur that these need to be the major focus of the Legislature this year, but unfortunately, we have yet to see substantial movement in these areas.


Education Funding

Governor Scott has been preaching for years a breaking point in education funding and the taxes needed to be raised to cover them. We are both huge supporters of our local schools and those who mold, or help mold our future generations. We need to continue to invest in our future, but the cost is becoming a major obstacle to our system; pricing many out of our state. This year alone, spending as a whole is going from $1.71 billion in fiscal year 2024 to $1.94 billion in fiscal year. What are the drivers?


  • $42 million – 16% increase in health insurance 

  • $31 million – loss of pandemic-era funding while retaining expanded staff hired from these funds

  • $87 million – 6% increase in salaries and benefits for school staff 

  • $50 million – capital construction

  • $29 million – attributed to general inflation 


Act 127 has dominated the conversations on how our system is funded. We are pleased H.850 started to help address the pending massive property tax increases, but it still doesn’t address the root cause. We need more people and a large grand list to help fund our school systems.


Housing and the “Homeless Bill of Rights”

Ashley has been very vocal about her work to provide reasonable solutions to the Housing Crisis experienced by not only our most vulnerable but by all Vermonters. We both sponsored H.719, a comprehensive and tri-partisan housing reform bill. Ashley was one of four lead sponsors and over 30% of the House signed on. Ashley spoke at Governor Scott’s press conference announcing the Legislation. Unfortunately, since it was introduced on January 10th, it remains “on the wall” in the House Committee on Energy and Environment where it will stay. 


S.311, the “Be Home” bill was also announced at the same time. The bill contained many of the same elements as H.719 and passed through the Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs Committee on February 13th. It was then sent to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment; notorious for being against any Act 250 reform. The Chair of the Committee, Senator Bray of Addison County went so far to say “It’s very hard to prove a negative, but the cases where Act 250 has really been problematic are far and few between,” Bray said. “It’s become a pretty convenient whipping boy for difficulties in development.” 


For the tri-partisan groups of Legislators working hard on housing reform, we are dismayed the committee will not take a look at S.311 and pass it out of their committee by crossover. Thus, killing the momentum behind reform. They will debate they are still looking at housing reform by cherry-picking small items out of S.311 and attaching them to a housing bill coming out of the sister committee in the House that actually expands Act 250’s jurisdiction to cover nearly 90% of the state - the direct opposite of H.719 and S.311. 


Many in Montpelier believe the way out of the housing crisis is raising taxes and spending more money. On that, Ashley stated it best in her committee on February 29th when General & Housing debated $200 million in spending.


“...Money doesn’t solve everything. I don’t think money is going to solve our housing crisis and I think without Act 250 jurisdictional reform, this bill is going to be absolutely inconsequential. I think it’s ridiculous that our jurisdiction (General & Housing) is not Act250 because it’s about housing, it’s about land use. And where do you put houses? On the land. We said last year, you can’t build houses in the sky. So while the policy of this bill is fantastic, it’s well intentioned, it will quite literally be inconsequential after it makes it through Approps. We don’t have the money. We have had Representative Bluemle in here telling us we don’t have the money. Appropriations has continued to tell us we don’t have the money. So why are we spending our time presenting a bill that has close to 200 million dollars in it, without any substantial housing reform? Right now, an actual housing bill is stuck on another wall in a different committee. And I don’t know about you guys but my constituents sent me here so I had a say. So I could bring their voices to Montpelier. And I feel like an utter failure knowing that this bill that we are putting forward and it’s all about money, when we don't have money, and again I think it’s going to be regressive. I think it’s going to hurt the most vulnerable of Vermonters. Because the only way to raise revenue right now is through taxation. And I just cannot support that and it kills me because we are in a housing crisis. We have Vermonters who do not have homes, who are struggling for their most basic needs, but this is not the solution.”


One key win for us was Ashley’s work on H.132 is an act relating to prohibiting discrimination against persons without homes. Ashley worked very hard on the bill, striking a compromise that eventually led to those experiencing homelessness being made a protective class. If it passes, it will be illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their housing status. Because of Ashley’s work, the bill left her committee unanimously.


As it relates to the motel voucher program, unfortunately, there is no longer an influx of pandemic era funds and as legislators we have been asked to keep the budget in mind. A rate cap will allow for our state funds to go further; providing the state more leverage to buy or lease these hotels. By moving towards this route, the state will be able to aid and provide services in these buildings.


Budget

Last year, the Legislature voted to override the Governor’s veto on a record breaking budget. We both voted to sustain the budget. It relies on a new payroll tax, increases DMV fees by 20%, and grows base spending by more than twice the rate of inflation. This year’s budget is being drafted. 


We agree with Governor Scott’s statement in his budget address: “So let’s put them first by doing the hard work to fix – not just fund – the problems they face, put party labels aside, and listen to each other so we help our communities, just like the Vermonters I highlighted in the State of the State helped theirs.”


Carolyn’s committee has a lot of work in front of them with the budget, transportation, and other important financial bills. You will receive many more updates on them.


Did you know? 

*By dialing 211 on your phone you will be connected to the Governor’s communication system which can help you get answers to any question related to state government? You can also connect one of us at our email addresses at the bottom of this message. 


Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit

Here is some information which may help you get financial support just by filing a tax return. These are Vermont's anti-poverty tax credits - the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. These programs are available to low income Vermonters. 


If you do not  apply for these credits, you won't receive it. In 2020, more than  20 percent of eligible Vermont filers missed out on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.  If you qualify, you should apply. 


Go to TaxCreditsVT.org for more information about Vermont anti-poverty tax credits and how to file for them. Get in touch if you have questions. 




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