Between January, 2009 and adjournment, 2010, 1092 bills were introduced in the Vermont Legislature. Their status is as follows:
|Number of bills introduced||1092||794 from the House
298 from the Senate
|Bills passed both the House and Senate||189||80 in 2009
109 in 2010
|Bills enacted into law||131||As of 5/21/10|
|Vetoes overridden||2||2009 Civil Marriage
|Vetoes “let lie.” No further action taken.||1||2009 Decommissioning funds for Vermont Yankee|
|Bills which became law without the Governor’s signature||3||2010 Primary election date change
2009 Renewable energy and efficiency bill
2009 amendments to education law
As of this writing, approximately 58 bills still await action by the Governor. The cordial ending to the 2010 legislative session saw the big bills pass by high margins and administrative support. Although the remaining bills are expected to be enacted into law within the coming weeks, two still remain elusive. These are S.88, the Health Care Reform bill and H.485, the Current Use bill.
Although there is widespread support for the “Blueprint for Health,” two sticking points remain for the Governor in S.88. The first is the requirement that pharmaceuticals register where free prescription samples are dispersed. The second is the funding for the health care option study.
Many folks still think the pharmaceutical reporting will mean doctors can no longer receive free samples or if they do, they will be required to break confidentiality by reporting patient names. This is not correct. The burden here is on the pharmaceutical companies, not doctors, includes no patient names and is merely an extension of the new federal legislation.
The second bone of contention is the health care option study. This section of the bill authorizes Vermont’s Health Care Reform Commission to hire one or more consultants to produce at least three different system designs for delivering health care. One must be single payer; one a public option; and a third is left to the commission to determine. The Governor has expressed concern about spending money on a study when health care has been studied before. What distinguishes this study is the degree of design detail and it takes into account the new federal reforms.
Let’s look now at Current Use. Since 1978, the Use Appraisal Value or “Current Use” program has allowed farm and forest lands in active production to be valued and taxed based on productive value rather than market value. The law recognizes that if we tax 50 acres of land used for growing vegetables at the same rate we tax 50 acres of land slated for development, all farmers would likely throw in the towel.
There are currently close to 16,000 parcels totaling 2.2 million acres or one-third of Vermont lands enrolled in the program. It has become ever more popular over the years particularly as farmers and foresters have struggled to stay in business. Current Use accounted for approximately $44 million in savings to property owners in 2008 and $49 million in 2009. Our tourism industry derives great economic benefit from our farms, forests and scenic vistas, which more than makes up for this difference. Each year, the state sends approximately $11 million dollars to the municipalities to help offset some of these reduced revenues.
In an effort to address a nearly $160 million dollar General Fund deficit, legislative leaders put all government taxing and spending on the table including Current Use. Following two years of study, members found that some changes could be made that would protect the original purpose of the program while reducing some of this year’s budget pressures. A goal to find $1.6 in savings was put into action.
Three aspects of this bill have proven problematic to the Governor. First, the bill assesses a one-time fee of $128 on all property owners in the program. Second, it eliminates a tax break which will now require a buyer to pay the full 1.25% Property Transfer Tax instead of the reduced 0.5%. Third, it brings back the pre-1993 legislation to restore higher penalties for those who decide to take their land out of Current Use and sell it for development.
None of these should be a deal breaker; in fact, it is my hope that this will strengthen a program that has received increasing public criticism. Town officials have reported that speculators have received huge tax breaks on land ultimately intended for development. This was never the intention of the program. Farmers will still be able to remove parts of their land for development, however this will not be as lucrative. While open land is easily developed, I have yet to see developed land return to open land. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
The bill has received support from a variety of organizations including the Vermont League of Cities and Towns; the Vermont Land Trust, the Vermont Assessors and Listers Association.