ACT NO. 82
Education; education cost containment; education funding; income sensitivity; special education; governance
This act makes numerous changes to education law, including amendments designed to ensure transparency for voters regarding education spending, to provide more assistance to districts with extremely high and low special education costs, and to help legislators understand educational cost drivers in a more comprehensive and meaningful way, as follows:
Sec. 1. Findings.
Secs. 2-3. Property Tax Adjustment Cap. Amend 32 V.S.A.
§ 6067 by reducing the maximum property tax adjustment available to income sensitized taxpayers from its current level of $10,000.00 to a maximum of $8,000.00 (effective for claims filed in 2008 and after).
Sec. 4. FY08 Education Property Tax Rates. Lowers the 2008 education property tax rate by an additional $0.02 for both nonresidential and homestead property resulting in rates per $100.00 of $1.36 (nonresidential) and $0.87 (homestead).
Secs. 5-6. Divided Question for Voters. Require that if a school districts budget exceeds both the statewide average per equalized pupil and a benchmark amount (the previous years statewide average spending per equalized pupil adjusted for inflation plus 1%), the district must present its budget to the voters in two articles:
1st article on the budget up to the benchmark amount
2nd article on spending above the benchmark amount
The divided voting requirement applies to budgets for fiscal years 2010 through 2014.
Secs. 7-9. Weighted Membership. Lower the weight assigned to secondary students (grades 7-12) from the current weight of 1.25 to a weight of 1.13 in fiscal year 2009 to reflect the relative cost of elementary and secondary students. In addition, it requires the commissioner of education to review the accuracy of the weights on a biennial basis.
Sec. 10. Fiscal Review of Special Education Spending. Amends 16 V.S.A. § 2974 to require the commissioner of education to review districts with low and high special education spending. The department must help high spending districts (that do not present a satisfactory explanation for their level of spending) to identify reasonable alternatives and develop a remediation plan. Districts that do not make progress on the remediation plan after two years are subject to a financial penalty.
Sec. 11. Excess Spending Study and Exemptions. Requires the commissioner of education to explore reasons that districts exceed the excess spending threshold and to propose circumstances in which it would be appropriate to exempt certain types of spending (e.g. tuition; special education costs).
Sec. 12. Transparency for Voters. Requires that each homestead property bill include a document, updated annually for the taxpayers town, that explains the relationship between district education spending and taxes based on property value and on income.
Secs. 13-19, and 27. Studies. These sections require studies regarding education cost drivers; the effectiveness and efficiency of the department of education, special education; human services-related services provided by schools; Medicaid money available to schools; unfunded mandates; financial management of school districts; governance; and rolling reappraisals.
Sec. 20. School Construction. Requires the commissioner of education to consider other options when reviewing a districts request for state aid for school construction.
Secs. 21-26. Special Education. Address special education in several ways, including removing from the calculation of excess spending the special education costs for one student in excess of $50,000.00.
Sec. 28. Small School Grants. Allows for a gradual decrease in grant funds for a small school that results from the consolidation of two small schools if the grant is less than the total of the grants each small school would have received if there had been no consolidation.
Secs. 29-41. Collective Bargaining. Require collective bargaining to occur at the supervisory union level except in certain, specified circumstances. In all cases, a school board retains its current authority to reject a contract negotiated by its representatives.
Sec. 42. Effective Dates. Varied.
Appropriations; budget adjustment; fiscal year 2007
This bill passed the House and Senate as the Budget Adjustment Act of 2007 to make adjustments in the Fiscal Year 2006 Omnibus Appropriations Act. It was vetoed by the Governor on April 3, 2007. For the Fiscal Year 2007 Supplemental Appropriations Act, see No. 16 of the Acts of 2007 (H.547); and for other adjustments in appropriations for FY 2007, see No. 65 (H.537), the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act.
Effective Date: Not applicable.
Public service; renewable energy; economic development
This act makes it a state goal to produce 25% of energy consumed in VT from renewable sources, particularly from farms and forests, by 2025. It amends the Act 250 definition of farming to include on-site production of energy from agricultural waste or products produced off the farm, as long as 51 percent is from on farm feedstock. It makes the agricultural economic special account available for wind, solar, or other technology that consumes resources at or below natural regeneration rate. It amends the Commercial Building Energy Standards (CBES) law in a number of ways: requiring substantial compliance with the code; expanding the CBES advisory committee; enabling granting of variances and exemptions; revising design certification requirements; and requiring certification that construction took place in substantial compliance with design documents. It repeals a requirement that a copy of the certificate be kept in town records. It makes it clear that any civil enforcement action shall take place in superior court.
It requires the public service board to investigate opportunities for electric utilities to install smart metering so as to allow users to respond cost-effectively to price signals, with a progress report by 1/15/07 and a final report and implementation plan to be issued by 6/15/08. It requires the board to hold workshops to examine residential inclining block rate; alternative rate designs to encourage efficient use of energy; and exemptions from residential block rates for special needs or extraordinary situations, with a report and plan based on results to be issued by 6/15/08.
It revises the net metering law, raising the existing cap on non-farm net metering systems to 150 kw capacity; allowing micro-combined heat and power systems of 20 kw or less; increasing the maximum size of farm system from 150 to 250 kw; allowing use of group net metering systems subject to various provisions controlling use of farm systems; limiting net metering systems to customers within the service area of the same electric company; allowing multiple buildings of a municipality to qualify; and granting the public service board the authority to allow noncontiguous groups, if to do so promotes the general good. It also increases a companys system cap regarding how much net metered power it must accept, from 1% up to 2% of companys peak demand in 1996. It repeals the provision that allows an electric company to receive from farm systems any tradable renewable credits for which the farm system is eligible. It provides that the public service board annually may allow 10 non-farm systems that are larger than 150 kw but smaller than 250 kw.
The act makes it clear that when local government provides tax breaks for alternate energy sources, renewable net metering systems are eligible. It requires the public service board to create a rule or order governing application, issuance, and revocation of certificate of public good (CPG) for temporary meteorological stations. These are exempt from being reviewed for being in the companys electric plan. It allow the board to waive section 248 requirements that are not applicable to meteorological stations, but does not allow it to waive review of construction effects on aesthetics, historic cites, air and water purity, natural environment, and public health and safety. It requires these applications be processed so as to assure that a proposal for decision shall be issued within five months of receipt of a complete application.
The act amends the definition of new renewable energy as it appears in the SPEED program, so as to include additional energy from changes in operation (for example, at the MacNeil plant) to the extent that those changes increase kwh output beyond the average output for the 10 years ending as of 12/31/04. It requires each electric company, by July 1, 2008, to implement a renewable energy pricing program for its customers, or offer customers the option of making a voluntary contribution to the Vermont clean energy development fund. It repeals the provision that a renewable energy pricing option would only be provided to customer classes determined by the board. It provides that when a company selects the option of paying into a fund in order to avoid purchasing credits to meet portfolio standards, payment shall be made into the Vermont clean energy development fund. It requires the public service board to create a standard contract price, or a set of maximum and minimum provisions, or both, for qualifying SPEED resources over 1 MW of capacity. In setting a standard contract price, the board shall consider the goal of developing qualified SPEED resources, least cost analysis, and the impact on electric rates. It adjusts the statutory mechanism for determining whether portfolio standards will be imposed and provides that if the board determines, by 1/1/13, that resources in service or issued a certificate of public good between 1/1/05 and 1/1/12 are greater than growth in statewide retail electric sales and that SPEED resources then produce at least 5% of 2005 retail sales, or if SPEED resources provides 10% or more of 2005 retail sales, then the portfolio standards shall not be in force. The act makes it a state goal to assure that 20 percent of total statewide electric retail sales before 7/1/17 shall be generated by SPEED resources. The board is to report on progress in meeting the goal by 12/15/12 and again by 12/15/14, in the latter case, if necessary, with appropriate recommendations to make attaining the goal more likely
The act requires a report by the department of public service, in consultation with the agency of natural resources and the agency of agriculture, food and markets, by 1/15/08, with recommendations on how best to create an ombudsman office to assist those who want to develop renewable energy projects and how best to aid communities in assessing and implementing renewable resource options.
The act imposes a kilowatt hour tax on electric generating plants having a nameplate capacity of 200,000 kilowatts or more (e.g. Vermont Yankee). This kilowatt hour tax would go into effect on 7/1/08. At that time, it would replace both the current general fund megawatt hour production tax and the electric generating plant education property tax repealed by the act. The kilowatt hour tax will be phased in over three years beginning in fiscal year 2009 with a rate of $0.00225 per kWh; a rate of $0.0025 per kWh in fiscal year 2010, and at a rate of $0.003 per kWh in fiscal year 2011 and after.
42% of the revenues received from the tax will be allocated to the education fund. 58% of the revenues will go to the general fund.
The act adds a wind-powered electric generating facilities tax as an alternative education property tax on buildings and fixtures used in the generation of electric energy from wind. All of the revenues raised from the tax will be deposited in the education fund. Municipal property taxes on wind-powered generating facilities would not be affected. The wind-powered electric generating facilities tax is also a kilowatt hour tax and will be phased in over three years beginning in fiscal year 2009 at the same graduated rates as the tax imposed on large electric generating plants. The act directs the department of public service, the commissioner of taxes, and the joint fiscal office to study and report on the methods of evaluation of electric generating facilities and options for taxation of such facilities.
The act allows the pass-through to individuals and corporations of 100% of the Vermont property portion of the business solar energy investment component of the federal investment tax credit. It requires the joint fiscal office and the department of taxes to report recommendations on changes to the business solar tax credit, including the option of replacing the pass-through of the federal credit with a state tax credit.
The act requires the public service board to report by 12/15/07 with recommendations for a simple, predictable, environmentally sound way to issue a certificate of public good for small hydroelectric projects not subject to net metering. It also requires the secretary of natural resources to report before 12/15/07 with recommendation for a simple, predictable, environmentally sound way to complete water quality certification review of small hydro facilities per Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. In addition, the board and agency are required to work with communities seeking small hydro facilities to facilitate the progress of projects through the existing permit process.
The act contains findings on wood boilers, stating that agency of natural resources rules do not effect current owners. The act requires the public service board to report by 1/15/08, regarding the likelihood of qualifying SPEED resources coming into service in time to meet the standards established in the act. It creates a plumbing solar system specialist, who can hook up solar heating systems. It allows the public service board to approve rates that provide reduced rates to low income customers, meaning those at or below 150% federal poverty level. The board shall take into account the impact on other customers.
The act establishes the general purpose of and rationale behind expanding efficiency services. It requires the public service board to establish a non-electric energy efficiency services fund, which will contain appropriations and other funds that may be provided by law. It provides that the fund may be used to support delivery of energy efficiency services to heating and process consumers of oil, kerosene, propane, coal, and wood; and to carry out efficiency measures and greenhouse gas reductions from energy consumption sectors other than natural gas and electric. It requires the board to submit a report that explains expenditures from the fund and includes segments, established through a collaborative process, that evaluate the adequacy of funding and make funding recommendations. It requires the board, by 12/15/07, to report to specified legislative committees with a proposed revised energy efficiency utility structure, together with appropriate proposed legislative changes. The report is to be developed in collaboration with representatives from specified stakeholders, and is to include options for ongoing funding of the energy efficiency entity. It requires the department of public service to represent consumers interests in matters involving the efficiency utility, and requires ongoing oversight by the public service board. It requires the board to appoint an energy efficiency utility on a schedule that provides time to start providing services by 1/1/09. It authorizes the board to allow Burlington Electric and VT Gas Systems Inc. to continue their own efficiency services. It provides that the efficiency utility shall have the same unrestricted term of appointment and process for termination of appointment as is most common for electric and gas utilities in the state, and makes other provisions regarding the powers of the efficiency utility.
The act requires regulated companies, in preparing their least cost integrated plans, to consult with the efficiency entity. It provides that forward capacity market revenues resulting from the activities of the efficiency utility shall go to the efficiency utility, with a priority use of developing positive cash flow financing for energy efficiency investments.
The act requires the low income weatherization fund be used solely for low income weatherization (LIW), although the general assembly can lend money to LIHEAP if to do so will not affect cash flow to pay weatherization contractors and if provisions for repayment are made by the end of the fiscal year. It provides that the LIW program is to be based on a 5-year strategy, with a 3-year detailed work plan, developed by a weatherization oversight committee, and updated yearly, with drafting assistance provided by the office of economic opportunity. The initial plan is to be provided by a weatherization oversight committee to the general assembly by 12/20/07 and is to include matters specified in the act.
The act adds references to reductions in pollution, and continuing reductions in the generation of greenhouse gases throughout sections of law dealing with electrical energy planning, state energy policy, and the comprehensive energy plan.
The act requires specified state agencies to report jointly by 1/15/08 on the feasibility of and recommendations for state government use of biofuel. The department of buildings and general services is to report on: current use of blends; recommendations for increasing use of blends in office buildings to 5% by the end of 2008 and 10% by 2012; obstacles; and a work plan to increase use. The department of public service is to report on current production, storage, and distribution capacity; current performance of biodiesel blends for heat and vehicles; a summary of quality assurance and control measures for blending; and a work plan to increase use. The agency of transportation is to report on current use of biofuels in the state fleet and in state garages; how to increase use to 5% by the end of 2008 and 10% by 2012; obstacles; and a work plan to increase use.
The act requires the VT housing finance agency and the VT economic development authority to report to legislative committees on the feasibility of providing residential and commercial energy mortgages of up to 15% of building value, and with regard to which the monthly rate of payment does not exceed the likely monthly reduction in heating costs for the building. It requires the land use panel, in consultation with the efficiency utility, to adopt rules to define the meaning of Act 250s criterion (9)(F), which requires use of the best available technology for efficient use or recovery of energy. It creates a 14-person study committee on incentives for efficient transportation. It discourages local restrictions on use of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy saving devices and restrictions that impede non-motorized transport on state and town highways, and it requires a triennial report on the extent to which private covenants restrict those uses.
The act requires the commissioner of labor to develop a green building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy workforce development plan in consultation with specified stakeholders. It requires the commissioner of public service to work with specified stakeholders to develop recommendations for the General Assembly on incentives for limiting energy usage; how to assure weatherization where owners lack incentives; and how to encourage better disclosure of energy efficiency leading up to time of sale of building.
Effective Date: Upon passage, except Sec. 30, establishing the efficiency utility, is to take effect on March 31, 2008.
Elections; campaign finance
This bill would revise comprehensively Vermonts campaign finance laws. Specifically, the bill would: (1) clarify and establish a number of exceptions to the definitions of contribution and expenditure; (2) establish contribution limits for candidates for elected office from single sources, political action committees, and political parties on a per-election basis; (3) establish aggregate contribution limits from single sources; (4) adjust contribution limits for inflation; and (5) establish limits on contributions to political parties from single sources, political action committees, and other political parties.
Effective Date: Not Applicable
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street