Senate Backs Budget, Scales Back TV and Candy Taxes | Off Message

Senate Backs Budget, Scales Back TV and Candy Taxes


The Senate Finance Committee - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • The Senate Finance Committee
The Vermont Senate passed a $1.47 billion budget Friday afternoon, shortly after approving $34.2 million in new taxes.

Though the body rejected most of the last-minute cuts Gov. Peter Shumlin proposed Thursday morning, some will likely reemerge in the next week or two as the Senate and House resolve differences between their respective bills in conference committee. Just one administration suggestion, to realize $1.3 million in savings from a pharmacy benefits program, was approved by the Senate.

Shumlin spent much of the week denouncing the Senate's plan to cap mortgage interest deductions at $12,000; eliminate deductions for out-of-state charitable contributions; extend the 6 percent sales tax to soda, candy and bottled water; and impose a 5 percent excise tax on satellite television providers. 

On Friday morning, two powerful senators managed to scale back two of those taxes.

Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle), who owns a Colchester general store, offered an amendment to skip the sales tax on candy, arguing that it would be complicated for clerks to distinguish between goods that qualify as candy under federal definitions and those that don't. Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), meanwhile, pushed to eliminate the satellite TV tax.

The Senate Finance Committee ultimately agreed to scrap the sales tax on candy and to cut the TV tax in half.

The committee's chair, Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), explained on the Senate floor that his committee had been persuaded that it would be too difficult for a clerk to decide whether chocolate-covered potato chips count as candy or not.

"I don't know if I should say I'm saddened to say there are such things," he joked. "But it's even worse that the senator from Grand Isle carries them in his store."

Ashe said the committee had decided to reduce the satellite tax simply to accommodate opposing sides of the debate.

In total, the changes carved roughly $3.5 million off the tax bill. 

On Thursday, the budget passed the Senate by a 22-to-7 vote, while the tax bill passed 23 to 6. On Friday, both bills passed by voice vote. 

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly.

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