Bennington – On a $8.3 billion budget, $390,000 might not seem like a lot of money. If you do the math, it comes to about 0.005 percent of the fiscal 2023 spending plan approved by the Vermont legislature on Thursday and sent to Governor Phil Scott for approval.
But for Bennington’s leaders and elected officials, the $390,000 for Pathways Vermont to help about 30 individuals and their families find permanent home, is a lottery win.
“It’s not a lot of money when you’re talking about billions in the state budget. But it means a lot to that end of the state,” said Senator Dick Sears, a Bennington Democrat. “It helps solve a really difficult problem of homeless people who are very problematic. ”
“Pathways Vermont has been successful in other parts of the state, and I expect them to be here.”
The compromise spending plan was passed in the House of Representatives 133-3 and opposed by three Republicans, by a vote in the Senate.
It includes a total of $60.4 million earmarked for Vermont’s college system, including $45.5 million in annual operating funds — a $10 million increase — and a windfall of $14.9 million in one-time funding.
The state’s colleges are undergoing a transformation as the campuses of Castleton University, Lyndon and Johnson University of Northern Vermont and Vermont Tech will become a single multi-campus institution known as Vermont State University. Chancellor Sophie Zdatny said the extra money will be used in part to freeze tuition fees for the second consecutive academic year.
Sears also noted the investment in support of the state Victims Compensation Fund ($3.22 million) and Victims Defense Fund ($2.56 million), which he said has been depleted by delays in criminal prosecutions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sears said the money would help boost funding for programs like Project Against Violent Encounters in Bennington.
Thursday also saw a pair of Scott’s vetoes uphold one vote in the House of Representatives.
The Clean Heat Standard, a bill aimed at tackling climate change by requiring fuel merchants to buy clean fuel credits, was defeated 99-51 — one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill into law. Democrats Nelson Brownell of Bownal and Linda Joy Sullivan of Dorset joined the united Republican opposition in voting “No.”
Supporters said the bill would help the state transition from fossil fuels to more environmentally friendly sources of heating, while opponents said the bill failed because it did not require a plan drawn up by the Public Utilities Commission to return to the legislature for a vote.
Sullivan, who will be stepping down from her seat, said she would comment on her vote at a later time. Brownell had not responded to messages seeking comment as of press time on Friday.
Overriding a second veto, H. 708, would have exempted expiring lease agreements from “justified” evictions in Burlington. Brownell and fellow Democrat Tim Corcoran II of Bennington voted against the Republican members.
“I shared the governor’s concern. I thought it was bad policy,” Corcoran said of the proposal. “I’ve heard feedback from both sides, and I’ve taken the case down because that’s not a good direction to go.”
The legislature also approved two bills that would amend Law 250, the land-use planning law for which it bears the signature of the state. One bill, S.226, includes Act 250 reforms which, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, “include permit reforms and land use regulation that will make it easier to develop new housing where we want to see it most, in the midst of vibrant towns and villages.” which can be walked in.
The bill also includes money to help first-time buyers purchase manufactured homes, and grants for mobile home owners and mobile parks to support foundations.
Scott said Tuesday that another 250 bill, S. 234, would likely be overturned, because he felt it would make building new homes more difficult.
Another housing law, S. 210, is taking another swing at the statewide rental property registry. Scott vetoed similar efforts.
In other actions before Thursday’s adjournment, the legislature agreed to use $95 million from the Education Fund’s surplus to cut education poverty taxes, provide free school meals, pay retirement benefits to public employees, and fund technical education programs.
A portion of the money will be used to clean up PCBs on school property, after the state required that schools test the chemical, a suspected carcinogen.