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The Final Countdown


Published May 9, 2009 at 10:29 a.m.

Barring some last-minute item that throws a wrench into the works, the Vermont Legislature will wrap up the session later this afternoon. I will be down there later today after some family commitments this morning, and will provide updates on Twitter and the Fair Game Facebook page.

The House convenes at 10 a.m, while the Senate will start its work at 1 p.m.

Here are two summaries of yesterday's events from the Times Argus and the Burlington Free Press.

Today, the focus will be on two items: The economic development bill and the budget.

Conferees on the economic development bill worked late last night, with negotiations centering largely on tax increment finance districts, permitting changes, and control and use of the Clean Energy Fund, among others.

Top legislative leaders worked hard yesterday to shore up support for their budget plan. The plan is a tough sell to the more liberal members of the caucus due to its reliance on program cuts and regressive taxes.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith argue that their plan is a solid balance between program cuts, transfers from the Education Fund, tax increases — mainly from closing the capital gains tax loophole. The latter item will raise about $35 million in taxes, but most of that money is used to provide across-the-board tax cuts.

The tax cuts mostly benefit "middle class" filers in the $100,000 to $300,000 range, and average more than $500. For those not in the middle class, reductions are: $14 if you make $25,000 to $49,000; $38 if you make $50,000 to $74,999 and $79 if you make $75,000 to $99,999.

Not sure how I'll spend my $14 yet, but glad I'll have some time to plan.

The leadership's plan doesn't take into account the increased taxes people will pay when they buy booze, tobacco, satellite TV, digital downloads and gas — or when it comes time to pay property taxes. Those taxes will go up under the Democrats' plan. The governor's original budget, it should be noted, would have raised property taxes by $65 million, and had more layoffs and program cuts, as well as plenty of fee increases (rather than gas taxes) to pay for repairs to roads and bridges.

A number of Progressive lawmakers, and liberal Democrats, do not like many aspects of the legislative leaders' package —they argue the budget still puts much of the burden on low-income Vermonters, as well as others including the disabled, elderly and children. See this week's "Fair Game" for my take (see additional note at bottom of the post).

The Senate's 18 to 10 vote shows just how unhappy some Dems are with the overall framework of the plan. Republicans, by and large, also don't support the plan — they don't believe it cuts enough spending.

Of the 10 in the Senate who voted against it, five were Democrats: Sens. Doug Racine, Ed Flanagan, and Tim Ashe of Chittenden County joined Dick McCormack (Windsor) and Mark MacDonald (Orange) to oppose the plan.

Racine told me before the Senate vote that he couldn't justify voting for a budget that cuts services, lays off workers, and at the same time gives him a personal tax break. After the vote, McCormack said he was impressed with Ashe's vote, and glad to welcome him into the gang of "usual suspects" in the Senate.

The Senate rift in the Democratic caucus is carrying over into the House.

As of last night, House leaders appeared to have the 76 votes needed to pass the plan, but only barely. Several Democratic House members told me they wouldn't vote for the budget, even if they were the 76th vote. Without 76 votes, lawmakers could find themselves working a bit later today than expected. We'll see.