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Legislative Notes for March 31, 2011

March 27, 2011

This was a very challenging week at the Statehouse.  We were on the House floor most of the week debating each of the major bills miscellaneous tax, healthcare reform and the budget.  The debate on the healthcare bill was a total of fifteen hours over two days ending at 12:45 AM on Thursday morning.   The miscellaneous tax and budget bill debates were each at least eight hours long.  Long debates generally lead to elevated tension and agitation amongst the members.  We did see some of this occur this week but, for the most part all of the members remained calm and did their job.

The health care reform bill sets in motion a restructuring of our current healthcare system and is very concerning to me.  It is intended to lead us in the direction of a single payer health care system.  It did not outline the benefits package nor does it project the costs or the mechanism of payment.  It is unbelievable to me  that the Governor and the majority party have developed a plan with very little detail or direction on one of the most basic and important issues in our lives; our health.  We have outstanding health care in Vermont and it is very clear to me that the uncertainty surrounding this plan will ultimately have a negative impact on our level of care.  During the debate on this bill it became very clear to me that there are far too many questions that remain unanswered for me to support the bill.  However, I did support an amendment that was offered by another member which would have moved us closer to federal compliance and entitled the state to receive federal dollars.  Unfortunately, it failed.  Therefore, I ended up voting against passage of this bill and hope that it will be improved or terminated in the Senate.

The miscellaneous tax bill will raise approximately $23 million in new taxes.  This includes an increase in cigarette taxes and new provider taxes to healthcare facilities.  It also sets the new school tax rate which will be increasing your property taxes.  I can’t understand why we want to raise taxes on the healthcare facilities in this bill when we are asking them in the previous bill to cut costs.  This philosophy does not make sense to me and I voted against passage of this bill.

The appropriations (budget) was on the floor Thursday and Friday and led to some spirited debate.  This proposal utilizes the increased taxes mentioned above to balance the budget and grows overall spending.  My caucus members proposed a series of amendments to reduce spending by as much as $26 million, re-allocate $10 million to the low income fuel assistance program, prevent a three cent increase in your property taxes next year FY13 and to establish a reserve fund in anticipation of less federal dollars coming into the state.  Unfortunately, all of our proposals were defeated and I had to oppose yet another proposal that increases taxes and spending.

As your representative, I look forward to representing you and your concerns in Montpelier.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you.  During the session, I can be reached at the Statehouse by calling 1-800-322-5616 or by cell at 373-5960. My email address is dturner@leg.state.vt.us. My web-site address is www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you and have a great week.

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