Final Reading: No call on Senate vote next week, lawmakers brace for coronavirus tax revenue fall

Jon St. Amour, owner of the Jericho Center Country Store, puts a food delivery order in the back of daughter Kayley St. Amour’s vehicle on Thursday.

The delivery service is one of the adjustments the owner of Vermont’s oldest continually operating general store has had to make in the wake of the coronavirus. “We’re trying to switch gears and become something new,” said St. Amour. “We just want to survive.” Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

IN MARCH 19’S FINAL READING:

— While Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P Chittenden, previously said he hoped a decision would come Thursday evening about whether or not the Senate would meet next week, there hasn’t been a call yet. This question will be discussed at tomorrow morning’s Senate Rules meeting at 11 a.m. 

On an all-House member call today, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, confirmed that no House committees will meet next week in the Statehouse. She said the money committees will meet remotely via Zoom conference video calls that will be open to the public. – Grace Elletson — Representatives from Sen.

Bernie Sanders’ and Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office briefed Joint Rules members about the work that is being done at the federal level to bring relief to Americans as the coronavirus rocks the country financially.  Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, criticized the two federal relief packages that have been passed for not doing enough to help small businesses that don’t have enough cash to stay afloat. “The businesses around me are just absolutely desperate,” Benning said.

Two more federal relief packages are expected. – Grace Elletson — Senate Health and Welfare Committee members are still working through the House’s COVID-19 health care legislative package. Committee Chair Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, said committee members would finalize tomorrow what elements of that bill need immediate legislative action.

Devon Green, of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, interrupted Lyons and urged the committee to move the package out soon. “There are things in this bill that we needed yesterday,” Green said. “When can we get this passed?” She said some of the providers she represents are worried about financial collapse. – Grace Elletson — The Joint Fiscal Office presented a document to Senate Finance Committee members that projects the state could face a revenue shortfall of £200 million due to diminished economic activity and delayed tax payments. The state’s general fund could lose £30 million-£50 million because of a reduction of personal income and meals and rooms taxes.The education fund could take a £35 million-£45 million hit due to lost sales tax, purchase and use and meals and rooms tax revenue. – Xander Landen

VTDigger is underwritten by:

— Erin Sigrist, president of Vermont Retail & Grocers Association, told the Senate Economic Development Committee that some warehouse employees are working 14-15 hour days and that distributors are hiring more commercial truck drivers to make sure products are delivered in a timely manner.

Sigrist said she is working with the Department of Motor Vehicles to amend some weight limits so trucks can carry more products. She added that the large grocers in the state are forecasting that essentials like bread, milk, eggs and cheese will be completely restocked throughout Vermont in another week or two. “We are seeing that the most difficult products that we’re trying to get back on the shelf are paper,” Sigrist said about the run on toilet paper and hygiene products. “These will take a little bit longer than anticipated.” – Kit Norton

— Michael Harrington, acting commissioner of the Department of Labor, told lawmakers on Senate Economic Development that he’s uncomfortable opening up unemployment insurance to people who leave work out of fear of catching the virus with “validation” from medical professionals.

Harrington said this could create a “slippery slope” in which people would take advantage of the system and dramatically draw down the state’s unemployment trust fund — which is currently at about £500 million. “Right now we are already maxing out on benefits,” he said. – Kit Norton

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