public policy

Vermont’s Shadow Budget: How The State Forgoes $1 Billion In Taxes Each Year

As the Vermont Legislature works to overcome a $100 million budget gap for fiscal year 2016, one of its largest fiscal liabilities remains outside the reach of the annual budget bill. The state gives up about $1 billion in tax breaks annually through policies that have remained largely unchanged in recent years, even as lawmakers struggle to balance budgets.

Unlike state spending, most of the tax breaks are permanent – unless they’re amended. They’re not voted up or down annually like the budget. But every two years, the state tallies how much money it’s not collecting. Here’s the latest glimpse of who gets to keep it.

5-cent education property tax increase needed

801 words / VTDigger.org

Statewide base property tax rates might increase again — by a nickel in 2015 — to meet the rising cost of education. But in recommending the rate bump, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson also suggests looking for a way to get schools to curb spending.

User’s guide to Vermont Health Connect

Reporting by Andrew Stein, data visualizations by Hilary Niles / VTDigger.org

Three interactive information graphics produced to accompany a user’s guide to the new state healthcare exchange in Vermont.

Unfunded health care obligations threaten teacher pensions

916 words / VTDigger.org

State Treasurer Beth Pearce might soon run out of metaphors for the chronic funding shortfall in Vermont’s teacher retirement system.

It’s a “monster,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “It’s at a tipping point,” she said. It’s like a credit card that charges 18 percent interest, when a 2 percent deal sits idle on your desk. “It’s taking the wind out of the sails of (the pension system’s) recovery.”

State announces ‘open data’ pilot project

1220 words / VTDigger.org

As Vermont’s state government takes its first baby step into the giant world of open data, the state’s civic hackers are lining up to help.

Harry Bell of Vermont’s Department of Information and Innovation announced Tuesday that the state would be stepping out of its website shell and into the “open data” movement — a growing international trend toward making government data more available to the public.

Unemployment Trust Fund tapped for fraction of potential relief

2276 words / VTDigger.org

Vermont legislators agreed in May to offer up to $8.67 million in refunds and discounts to businesses that laid off workers in the wake of 2011′s disastrous floods.

But only 75 employers, among the untold eligible businesses hailing from every county in the state, applied for the unemployment insurance relief. Instead of giving breaks for a “worst-case” scenario of 11,247 layoffs, the state forgave at least partial charges on just 299.

On their July 1 unemployment insurance bills, 54 businesses accepted $264,178.53 in refunds.

“Really, that’s all? Wow,” said Steve Moyer, CFO of Woodstock Farmers’ Market.

Federal reforms pushing flood insurance rates ever higher

1199 words / VTDigger.org

When it comes to flood insurance in Vermont, it’s federal reforms that worry Susan Donegan.

“You can debate global warming,” Donegan said, “but you can’t deny that we’re having more severe and more frequent severe storms.” Known as BW-12, the Biggert-Watters Act was crafted to address that reality and shore up federal flood insurance in its wake.

Donegan doesn’t argue the intention, but she’s concerned about what its drastic changes will mean for Vermont property owners.

Leahy proposal would alter EB-5 job creation formula

946 words / VTDigger.org

Proposed changes to the controversial EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program would tweak the job creation requirement. Full-time employment defined as one person working at least 35 hours per week would be replaced by the equivalent of a full-time job, “regardless of how many employees fill the position.”