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Rep. Mulvaney-Stanak on the Just Transition Coalition's Efforts to Keep Vermonters Housed

From "Vt. elected officials seek elusive deal on state budget as deadline approaches" by Peter Hirschfeld, Vermont Public, June 2, 2023

Congress and President Joe Biden may have averted a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt, but elected officials in Vermont are hurtling toward another crucial deadline as they work to resolve outstanding disagreements over the state budget before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the state budget last week, saying it would “hurt everyday Vermonters now and into the future.”

Scott said Vermont is in the midst of an affordability crisis that’s created a hostile economic landscape for businesses and individuals. And he said the state budget, which relies on a new payroll tax to support increased child care spending, and has a $20 million increase in Department of Motor Vehicle fees, will have a pronounced and negative effect on people who are already struggling to get by.

“Whether it’s young Vermonters just starting out, seniors on fixed incomes who’ve lived here their whole lives, or working families just trying to get by, we’re simply too expensive for far too many people,” Scott said this week.

Scott’s veto would at first glance appear to be a moot point. Democrats and Progressives hold 109 seats in the Vermont House of Representatives, and 23 seats in the state Senate. That gives them more than enough votes, on paper at least, to override a gubernatorial veto.

A coalition of Democratic and Progressive lawmakers in the House, however, says the budget needs to include more funding to extend an emergency motel housing program that’s provided shelter to about 1,800 low-income households over the past three years.

And Burlington Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, leader of the House Progressive Caucus, said those lawmakers won’t cast a vote to adopt the state budget until that funding plan is in place.

Mulvaney-Stanak said the group, which calls itself the General Assistance Just Transition Coalition, isn’t calling for the indefinite continuation of the emergency housing program.

“What we’re trying to propose though is a just transition to ramp down the program, and not just create this cliff … for folks who have significant needs and need to be able to figure out how to transition into more permanent housing,” she said.

On Thursday, the state evicted about 760 households from the emergency housing program. Another 1,050 households are slated to leave on July 1. Members of the Just Transition Coalition are working with legislative analysts on a funding package to at least partially extend the program.

Motel residents, including Cheri Rossi, at the podium, held a press conference outside the Statehouse to ask lawmakers to extend the emergency housing program.

Montpelier Rep. Conor Casey, a Democrat, said members of the coalition “haven’t wavered” in their resolve. And he said if House leadership wants to secure the 100 votes needed to override the governor, then it’ll need to put more funding toward the motel housing program.

“A lot of them have been out there themselves talking to people, which I think has even made them more determined to use whatever power they have to make a difference here,” Casey said.

The coalition isn’t looking to increase overall spending on the fiscal year 2025 budget. Instead, they propose reallocating money from existing line items, such as the $40 million that’s been set aside this year to provide a state match for federal grants that won’t be available until 2025 or later.

“There’s money that’s literally going to be just sitting there waiting for a federal match in years out,” Mulvaney-Stanak said. “I view it as, what is the need right now? And what do Vermonters need most desperately right now? And that is a humane response to up to 2,000 households about to lose their housing.”

House Speaker Jill Krowinski told Vermont Public this week that she’s convinced she’ll be able to sell holdout Democrats and Progressives on the merits of the existing budget proposal and succeed in getting the votes needed to override without an additional funding package.

She said the spending plan includes $200 million for affordable housing construction and rental subsidies. She said it also has a $100 million funding increase for mental health and community-based service providers that will help the very people that members of the coalition are worried about most.

“I think that there are so many critical investments in this budget that it can’t fail. I think the money for housing is critical. The money for child care is critical. The money for workforce development is so important,” Krowinski said. “These are ongoing conversations and we’ll be working on this over the next two weeks.”

Lawmakers don’t convene their veto session until June 20 — 10 days before the end of the fiscal year. And if House leaders can’t get the budget they passed last month into law, then they and other elected officials in Montpelier will have only a few days to craft a budget that will win either the support of Phil Scott, or a supermajority of lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature.

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