New Vt. relief bill becomes law without governor’s signature
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott let a nearly $100 million COVID-19 relief bill become law without his signature.
When the governor does that, it means he has concerns about the law. In a letter to lawmakers, Scott says the Legislature unnecessarily spent nearly $60 million of Vermont’s share of the American Rescue Plan funds on initiatives that shouldn’t be funded with federal cash.
This bill was in the works before Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, and before the governor laid out his plan for spending the money. The new package funnels more than $68 million toward mental health, business grants and food assistance. It also includes $5 million in CARES Act funds for homeowner assistance and $4 million for the Vermont Agency of Education. Scott and Democrats in the Legislature largely agree on what to spend the money on, but there’s disagreement over which money to spend. The governor is concerned the state is spending the American Rescue Plan money too soon. He says any stimulus package using federal funds should be passed as one big omnibus bill potentially including broadband, climate change measures, and others.
“I feel very strongly that we need to invest federal American Rescue Plan Act money in a truly strategic and fully transparent way, preferably in a single piece of legislation,” Scott said in his letter to lawmakers. “These investments should be in tangible infrastructure that provide the greatest economic benefits and will truly transform our economy – especially in the parts of the state that need it most.”
Democratic lawmakers say they understand the governor’s concerns but say they aren’t in a recovery phase just yet. From cases rising among young people to the need for mental health supports, top lawmakers say we aren’t out of the woods yet. They say they spent the American Rescue Plan Funds to preserve state general fund dollars, which don’t have any strings attached to them.
And they say that there could be a major infrastructure package coming in the fall, and some of those funds could be used for initiatives like broadband. “There are considerable bricks and mortar investments he’s trying to make in his plan,” said Sen. Becca Balint D-Windham County. “But there will be other funds coming that are specifically targeted to infrastructure.”
The governor is also concerned about new taxes on paycheck protection program loans. In the bill, lawmakers also opted to tax PPP loans from last year. Lawmakers say this is only a one-year initiative as there are new tax programs from the American Rescue Plan such as the child tax credit coming down the pike and lawmakers want to spend more time examining tax policy. Until then, Scott is calling on lawmakers to reverse their decision to tax the loans.
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