Vermont lawmakers OK budget, wrap up session

Wednesday May 15, 2013

MONTPELIER -- A 2013 legislative session marked by fiscal caution and an adventurous approach to social issues closed Tuesday night as lawmakers passed a nearly $1.4 billion general fund budget and put off a bid to put new limits on political campaign contributions.

"We stood together for Vermont, and we did so without raising general fund taxes, which will help keep our economic recovery squarely on track," Gov. Peter Shumlin told lawmakers as he thanked them for good work this year.

The session was marked by moderate spending initiatives and bolder social ones. Lawmakers decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana and hashish, agreed to allow physicians to supply lethal medications to terminal ill patients who request it, and set up a new type of driver's license for the immigrants in the country illegally who staff many of the state's dairy farms.

They did not get new limits on campaign contributions and requirements for transparency of money in politics into law, however.

"We'd rather wait until we get a really good bill than start making compromises," Sen. Jeanette White, who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, said of the campaign finance bill.

A House-Senate conference committee can continue deliberations when lawmakers return for the second half of their two-year term, she said.

The general fund budget brings total spending -- including for education and transportation -- to about $5.2 billion, including about $3 billion from the federal government.

The total represented an increase of about 4.2 percent over the current fiscal year, but only the transportation part of it would require higher taxes, lawmakers said. The gasoline tax rose 6 cents per gallon on May 1, and the diesel tax will climb 2 cents per gallon on July 1.

At the insistence of the Democratic Shumlin, a Legislature dominated by fellow party members beat back calls for additional tax increases. Lawmakers announced Monday they would accede to the governor and drop plans to make Vermont's income tax more progressive.

In the end, House and Senate budget writers were able to provide a general fund budget to their colleagues that they said "balances the budget with no new taxes."

But doing business with the state will get more expensive for many Vermonters.

Licenses for barbers, cosmetologists and others will be more expensive, as will be official certificates of service showing court papers have been delivered. The cost for a certificate copy will go from $5 to $25.


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