MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Senate passed its version of the fiscal 2021 budget on Friday, making a number of changes from the state House of Representatives' version of the $7.15 billion spending plan.
A second reading of the bill on Thursday and Friday's third reading, with minor amendments, passed by a unanimous 30-0 vote. The budget, bill H.969, now returns to the House for consideration of the Senate's changes.
Like the House budget, the Senate's spending plan includes $23.6 million in bridge funding for the financially troubled Vermont State Colleges System, and a combined $20 million in federal coronavirus funds for the state's private colleges and the University of Vermont, split equally.
The Senate version provides $22 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for hazard pay for front-line workers who have risked their health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, $7 million more than the amount set by the House. The increase brings the total hazard pay allocation to $50 million.
It appropriates $53 million in CARES Act coronavirus relief funds to K-12 education — a $21 million increase over what the House appropriated from those federal dollars.
In all, the Senate version of the budget allocates $230 million in CARES Act funds, about $7.3 million more than the House.
The Senate budget also differs from the House in how it funds an equity stimulus bill for Vermonters who didn't receive CARES Act checks in the spring due to their immigration status.
In Gov. Phil Scott's restated budget proposal, that program was funded with $2 million from the general fund. The House increased it to $5 million, finding the rest in a tobacco settlement-funded account for the Children in Need of Carte and Services (CHINS) program.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, headed by Sen. Jane Kitchell, D-Caledonia, proposes using $3 million from a human services reserve fund to pay the difference, over concerns that the CHINS funding ought to be used for its original purpose.
"In our mind, [diverting] money that was to benefit Vermont children to fund a new program was not where we wanted to go," Kitchell told the Senate on Thursday.
Another change proposed by the Senate is reducing the appropriation made for the Global Warming Solutions Act. The House provided $566,000 to fund three positions for the climate change proposal. The Senate cut that funding to $450,000 on the assumption that the $566,00 figure represented a full fiscal year allocation.
Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.