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Budget, Tax Bills Compromise in Eleventh Hour of Vermont Legislature

The two big must-pass bills in the Vermont Legislature made it out of conference committee at the last moment Friday night.
MONTPELIER - The two big must-pass bills in the Vermont Legislature made it out of conference committee at the last moment Friday night.

The FY 2015 budget and the miscellaneous tax bills needed to be compromised on by Friday in order for the Legislature to adjourn Saturday. Both the House and Senate have to pass the bills before the session can adjourn.

The budget proposal is a balanced, $1.4 billion general fund. The House and Senate had to compromise after each body passed a different proposal. Friday, they landed on a 1.6% increase to the Medicaid reimbursement, which will cost $2.6 million.

The budget, which includes millions for treatment of opiate addiction, does a lot for low-income Vermonters.

"We were able to provide a 1.6% increase for medicaid providers. And I think make some really good progress on affordable housing and access to child care," said State Rep. Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), a member of the conference committee and co-chair of House Appropriations.

The budget called for $5.5 million in new revenues, which had to be raised by the miscellaneous tax bill, also in conference committee after the House and Senate passed different tax bills. The compromise was scheduled to be put forth at 8:30 Friday morning, but after a full day of closed-door negotiations, the conference committee met to sign off on a deal at 11 p.m.

The deal includes a 13 cent increase on the cigarette tax, down from 30 cents proposed by the House. The compromise removed a provision that would redefine e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which would have significantly increased the tax on them.

The deal did include a proposed tiered employer assessment, which would hike up the tax already in existence on large employers that don't provide health insurance to their employees. A large employer is defined as one that has 51 employees or more.

The legislature is scheduled to adjourn Saturday.
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