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Vermont House passes $6.99 billion budget for fiscal 2022

By Greg Sukiennik, Brattleboro Reformer

MONTPELIER — The House on Friday gave unanimous approval to its version of the fiscal 2022 budget for Vermont, a spending plan that relies heavily on anticipated federal relief funding for its $6.99 billion in allocations.

Of the $1.3 billion in federal funding the state is expecting from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the budget allocates nearly half that sum — $650 million or 9, 2 percent of the entire spending plan.

The budget process now goes to the Senate.

Within the spending plan, bill H. 439, are $150 million for broadband expansion, $100 million for clean water projects and information technology upgrades, and $250 million for yet-to-be-determined ““investments in the health and wellbeing of families and small businesses.”

While House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy voted in favor of the budget, she expressed concern at the reliance on federal funds before federal guidelines are finalized. “My hope is we take a step back step to pause and regroup and come back in January to appropriate the remaining ARPA funds, as well as make adjustments if needed,” she said.

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Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Washington 4, helming the process for the first time as chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, told House members that last year, she had felt a sense of dread about the fiscal 2022 budget and the hard choices it would force the state to make. But that was before leaders realized the state’s revenues had rebounded well ahead of schedule, and before the American Rescue Plan had passed Congress and been signed into law.

“Similarly, I was deeply worried about what we were going to do for folks who were living in homeless, who were homeless, and living in really desperate circumstances. And we have come up with a remarkable path forward,” Hooper said. She also credited the House Human Services for its work on the child care bill, and Appropriations Committee member Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland 5-1, and the House Education Committee for their efforts.

The budget would allocate the $210 million in one-time project finds proposed by Gov. Phil Scott, as well as a one-time payment of $150 million to address the state’s unfunded pension liability and $316 million in required payments to the pension system.

It includes a total of $97 million for the Vermont State Colleges system, including a base appropriation of $30 million, $21 million in “bridge funding’ to address the system’s operating deficit and $20 million to fund the system’s transformation over the next four years.

“This is an incredible signal of support from state leaders,” said Chancellor Sophie Zdatny.

“We know that lawmakers do not make this investment lightly, as there are many worthy proposals for state support across Vermont. We will do our part in the coming months and years to modernize, ensuring our campuses and academic offerings remain relevant and consistent with what our students and our economy require,” Zdatny said.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.