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Vermont House Backs $1.4 Billion Budget Bill

They call it the "big bill" for a reason.
UPDATE: At 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the House voted 91-46 to give preliminary approval to the budget. It will go to third reading for a final vote Friday.

MONTPELIER - They call it the "big bill" for a reason. It's 167 pages and it details where your tax dollars will go for an entire year. Here's a one-page summary.

 The budget is finally on the House floor after months of crunching the numbers.

The proposal made by the appropriations committee totals $1.438 billion. It's a 3.8% general fund increase from last year. It doesn't raise income taxes.

"We didn't want to ask Vermonters to pay more out of their pockets if we could find other ways to close the gap," said State Rep. Martha Heath (D-Westford), chair of the House Appropriations committee. Her committee had to whittle Governor Shumlin's proposed budget down by $14 million, because a claims assessment tax he proposed was rejected by Ways and Means.

"In the end, we closed all but $3.3 million," said Rep. Heath. "Then there were some revenue changes that closed that gap completely," she said. One of those changes was to ask the Ways and Means committee to raise $1.2 million, which they did by re-defining electronic cigarettes and snuff as tobacco products, levying new taxes on those products. This part of the tax bill prompted a hefty debate on the floor.

"This represents a danger, and I applaud the committee for putting the tax on this," said State Rep. George Till (D-Jericho).

"Being a retailer, I have concerns on the new tax on e-cigarettes and raising the tax on snuff," said Michael Marcotte (R/D-Coventry).

Highlights in the budget including $10 million to battle opiate addiction, help for the homeless by doubling the housing rental subsidy that helps them pay for a place to live, and a $1.2 million increase to Reach Up, a program that helps low-income families get on their feet.

"I don't think anyone ever likes every section of the budget bill, including myself," said Rep. Heath before heading to the floor to report the bill. "But we certainly hope the majority, and expect the majority will support the bill."

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