[00:00:00] The Center for Research on Vermont and today is Wednesday. Research Live.

[00:00:06] We have a special guest, Paul Cillo who is the executive director of the Public Assets Institute.

[00:00:16] A Montpelier based research and think tank that focuses on issues related to taxes, the state budget, economic fairness. Paul is a longtime policy thinker in Vermont. Some of the people may remember. Welcome, Paul.

[00:00:36] Hi, Richard. Nice to see you.

[00:00:40] I was just saying that you're a longtime policymaker in Vermont.

[00:00:44] I remember when you were in the House majority leader representative of the district of Hardwick and I think very active in educational equity, tax reform issues back in the whatever that was the 80s. And I think you said maybe 17 years you have been the founder of the Public Assets Institute and have been producing high quality research, think tank stuff about Vermont's budget and tax policy and all those issues that you know so well.

[00:01:20] So.

[00:01:22] We are going to talk about state tax policy.

[00:01:29] We're going to talk about

[00:01:32] Issues related to the budget. This terrific hole that we have in the budget right now because of the pandemic and also related to the

[00:01:45] Enormous amount of funds that may be coming from the federal government, about 1.2 billion dollars.

[00:01:51] I believe that the state has to spend.

[00:01:56] By December of this year, how we're going to spend that money, how we may transition out of this.

[00:02:06] Terrific hole that we are in are all things that Public Assets and Paul thinks about a lot. So.

[00:02:13] We welcome Public Assets, I think, although technically Paul is calling in from Hardwick in there are some challenges with his broadband there in Hardwick, I believe.

[00:02:32] If you haven't, spend a minute on the public assets site, maybe we can do that, Brianna, while we wait for Paul to come back.

[00:02:42] Public Assets is a go site when you think about 

[00:02:49] Understanding the state budget. Examining and analyzing state revenues and how we spend our funds, so if we look at their website here.

[00:03:05] There's a piece about how the budget is affecting kids and how the budget is affecting low income people in Vermont. The equity of how we fund education in Vermont.

[00:03:21] And then I know from spending a lot of time on this site that you can click on these various links and you get these very helpful one page synopsis, very accessible and presentable information about these various issues. So, for example, here's the education equity project.

[00:03:44] Which I know from

[00:03:47] Paul's previous work and the other people there who include Steff Hough looks at, educational equity issues where education funding is going and how it's helping

[00:04:02] Vermont's kids. And Vermont education equity project goals.

[00:04:16] So maybe we should pause here. Wait a minute for Paul to come back and restart this Lifestream.

[00:04:49] Mr. Cillo!

[00:04:49] Hi, I'm sorry I disappeared for a while.

[00:04:52] That's all right. We're spending some time on your amazing Web page.

[00:04:55] OK.

[00:04:56] Tell us about Public Assets in a few sentences and then let's go on and talk about what you're going to talk with us today.

[00:05:02] OK, great. Yeah. Public Assets. I started. Public assets in 2003, so we are in our 17th year. We as a staff of five we have an office in Montpelier where a 501c3 nonprofit, which means we're we're a nonpartisan public policy think tank. And we look at the state budget, taxes and economic policy in Vermont. That's our focus. The we publish on our Website, which I think you were just talking about with the viewers PublicAssets.org and  we do blog posts, reports, one of the things we focus on is or we make sure we do is produce things that are readable. We do not produce long reports, you know, lengthy reports. Often they're just one page or a blog where we take a topic and work it and develop charts. And our biggest report is our State of working Vermont report that we publish each December, which is kind of the big view. So that's Public Assets.

[00:06:14] Yeah and it is so true.The one page, the way you take issues condensed down into a page, present them with graphics, just so helpful as a way to have an understanding of issues. I'm going to turn it over to you, Paul, just for a few minutes. Talk about some of what you're working on right now. And then we do invite anybody who's watching, feel free to post comments, write us, and we'll talk more about these issues with Paul in a minute.

[00:06:36] So, Paul, turning it over to you.

[00:06:39] Great.

[00:06:42] So I just want to you know the topic today is Covid-19, and Vermont's state budget. Obviously this is a very big crisis. You know, it's the pandemic, it's global and it has a huge impact on Vermont in a lot of ways. You know, beyond health and employment and businesses and the economy, it has an impact on the state budget. So that's what I want to focus on today. But just to give you an idea of the scale, the first slide I want to show you. 

[00:07:22] The numbers in Vermont are way, way bigger than anything we've seen certainly in my lifetime. And what we do is compare with this chart: the unemployment claims, the initial unemployment claims a result of covid with the Great Recession, which is the biggest economic decline certainly in my lifetime. And during the Great Recession, in the peak unemployment was May of 2009, we had about twenty five thousand Vermonters who were unemployed. As of April 18th, which is what you're seeing on the slide. We had about 80,000 claims, unemployment claims. That's actually as of May 2nd, then updated to 90,000.

[00:08:12] So the scale is much bigger and it's faster. We're talking about from March through May. So  basically in a two month period. Ninety thousand new unemployment claims. Thisis the direct result of the governor issuing an executive order on March 13th, which is just exactly two months ago, where he basically shut down whole sectors of the, 

[00:08:48] since then has shut down whole sectors of the economy. For example, restaurants and bars, child care centers, except for essential workers. Schools were closed. So essentially businesses other than essential businesses are closed. So the unemployment is the direct result of that action. And so that has obviously an impact on incomes.

[00:09:12] The federal governor and the state have both worked to mitigate those impacts on individuals. The state suspended the requirement for people to seek work in order to get unemployment insurance so that they can get unemployment benefits.

[00:09:32] The federal government added six hundred dollars a week to the unemployment benefit that people would get at the state level. You know, at the state level. So that actually has done a lot to help people who are working and then became unemployed.

[00:09:47] And there's a variety of other ways that the federal and state have worked together to help Vermonters in terms of the luxury. I'll look at the next slide.

[00:10:02] In terms of the state budget, we have a state budget. And what you see in the bottom bar here is about a little over $6 billion dollars, that's the you know, the current budget that we're in now,  six point one billion dollars in the fiscal year from July 1 to June 30th. The Covid aid in federal funds that came to Vermont, this is actually money that's already come to Vermont is one point five billion. So you get a sense of the scale of that and the amount of in the orange and the lower bar you see is two billion dollars is the state or the federal share of the state budget. And this one point five billion,  granted, it wouldn't be used necessarily. Well, it probably will be used.

[00:10:54] in  mostly one fiscal year it'll be used in fiscal 2021. It's a big chunk of money. So that's good. And I just want to say I  give a lot of credit to the governor and the legislature for the response to this pandemic. I think that they have been making good decisions. I think they're being appropriately cautious about the above Vermonters health, which is really the key to opening the economy back up again. So I think that those decisions so far have been very good. And I think we're going to be getting into some tough decisions around the state budget as we move ahead.

[00:11:38] But the the other things I want to point out is that there are issues that the legislatures,

[00:11:48] well, actually, let me just go through I'm just trying to think here about what to let you know at this point.

[00:11:55] Just to give you a sense of the scale of the budget problem in Vermont, the state budget problem. And we just got the April numbers on revenues and in April alone, the general fund was down. The general fund is the fund that funds most of state government. The education fund funds the pre-K to 12 public education system. And the transportation fund is obviously our transportation system. But the general fund, which is most of state government, was down about  hundred forty one million dollars in April alone. And so the current projections is that F.Y. 20 with the year we're in now is going to end the year about one hundred and forty six million dollars down from what the projections were in January in F.Y. Twenty one, the budget that the legislature is currently working on for next year, starting July 1st. They're expecting revenues to be down four hundred and thirty million over that year. So mentioning these in the context of the federal aid and  the scale of this, they're updating these these projections regularly. And by the end of this week, early next week, they'll have a new projection, which may be different than what I'm telling you now, but that's essentially where we are.

[00:13:29] So as they get into the budget discussion, I just want to point out a couple of things that are an issue. One is Internet access.

[00:13:38] And I live in Hardwich, I'm talking to you from my house in Hardwick. And when I went offline for a minute, theat was because we have very slow DSL Internet access.

[00:13:54] So that and for many, you know, so we sort of get along with it here. We use our cell phone to make it work or whatever. But for many Vermonters who lack Internet access, that means their kids who are no longer going to a school building and being with teachers in person and rely on Internet access in order to be able to do their work, their schoolwork. And teachers are in touch with students. Now, in some cases where they don't have Internet access, Internet access, access, teachers are actually going to kids homes with materials.

[00:14:32] But what you see in this chart is that the Internet access or the lack of access disproportionately falls on those in lower income categories.

[00:14:43] That could be they live in areas that are lower income areas that don't have Internet. They don't have broadband.

[00:14:54] It could be that they can't afford to actually if even if they're in an area that has broadband, they can't afford the monthly fees or they can't afford equipment, equipment needed to actually access it. But in terms of being able to access and use the system we're seeing in this pandemic is that's a critical part of the discussion. And I think in the budget that the legislature is going to be discussing for next year, this is going to be a topic that they take up.

[00:15:24] Another one that I want to talk about is, is the the impact of children, of parents having their children at home.

[00:15:38] So normally when pre-pandemic and just what we took for granted as normal life, kids are in school for roughly nine months of the year. There are summer programs for kids so that parents who are working have a way for, you know, where their children are occupied. There is somebody responsible to take care of them during that time. That's changed now where kids are now at home. And so people that are working have their children and that they have to have time for their children in their home  despite the fact that they're working. We happen to have two of our employees at Public Assets, have young children at home with them right now.

[00:16:22] And so the whole issue of child care, because child care was shut down as part of the governor's executive order.

[00:16:33] The whole issue of child care, however, was a problem even before the pandemic in terms of access to affordable child care that was universal across the state so that people who wanted to work could access it. I think we're going to see child care bumped up as a discussion. If not undoubtedly in the fiscal 21 budget, but certainly in budgets that follow. So these are just some of the issues that I think we're gonna be facing. And I don't want to take up too much time with the introductory remarks.

[00:17:07] So I just would be happy to answer questions. Or if Richard wants to pose a few, that would be fine too.

[00:17:18] Thanks, Paul. Really thoughtful

[00:17:22] Nobody clearly could have ever thought of something like this coming.

[00:17:27] Right? Yeah, that's right.

[00:17:30] These impacts. Can you talk a little bit more about the. As I understand it, it's something like 1.2 billion that the state may have to spend by the end of December?

[00:17:43] Yeah, right. So the 1.5 billion that I mentioned is a number of federal grants.

[00:17:52] I guess they are federal grants that are coming to the state that the legislature will be appropriating. One of the biggest ones is the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is a one hundred and fifty billion dollar program nationally. And it's money that goes to each state. Vermont got a small state minimum grant of one point five billion dollars. If we had just gotten the money based on a formula, the formula, it would have been about three hundred million, about a quarter of that. But because there's a small state minimum, we got one point two five.

[00:18:30] We just published a blog yesterday. I just mentioned this. Since this group is interested in Vermont history and research that that small state minimum was actually introduced in Congress by Senator George Aiken and that still is serving Vermont very well.

[00:18:49] I'm sure, you know, we get the same amount of money as Wyoming, Montana, Maine, New Hampshire, you know, because they're in the small state category. But I think you're right that the money has to be spent by December 30th. I'm not sure why it wasn't December 31 first, but it's has to be spent by December 30th.

[00:19:09] And the recent guidance from the federal, there's been several issues of guidance, says that it  has to be spent for direct things that are the result of the Coronavirus and the impacts. And it has to be spent on new initiatives that cannot be spent to backfill the things that I was just talking about.

[00:19:39] The revenue lost and that's a problem for the state. That's Really what the state needs to use the money for is, as I mentioned, that in next year's budget they're looking at a four hundred and thirty million dollar currently revenue shortfall.

[00:19:57] I think that's probably gonna be bigger than that when they actually finalize the project actions. But right now, under current federal guidance, they can't use it for that purpose. Other states are just, I've been on calls with our national partners and other states are all over the place in terms of the way they're interpreting the law and what they're doing with the money.

[00:20:23] I think the danger, the thing that the legislature or the state is concerned about is that they don't want to be in a situation where they use the money in a way that's not allowed. And then the federal government asks for the money back and then we have a big problem. So that's the dilemma. There is now and the hope is that the current bill that is starting in the U.S. House will address this problem. I know that the House wants to do that. This would be the fifth Coronavirus relief bill. And there and other states and think governors across the country are clamoring for this kind of response to be able to use this money to backfill for revenue loss that are clearly the result of of the Coronavirus.

[00:21:16] So thinking about how we might spend the money then in this case, which has to be not to backfill, as you said, and by the way, this is research live Wednesday, if you have a question or comment for Paul Cillo, feel free to just type it there on Facebook and we will ask him. But I understand the governor has appointed a taskforce of five people who have some ultimate advisory role. Who are those people and what is the process as far as, you know, it deciding how that 1.2 billion is spent?

[00:21:45] Actually, I don't know off the top of my head who those people are, but the process.

[00:21:51] I think there's agreement that in Vermont at least that the the legislature needs to appropriate these funds, which means  how it gets spent is ultimately going to be the decision of the legislature.

[00:22:03] And and I know that we've been part of conversations that are ongoing about what's possible.

[00:22:14] But I think some of the issues like broadband, I think are one of the areas that the legislature will be looking at and hoping to use these funds. But keep in mind also that under the current rules, the money has to be spent and the work completed. So whatever is going to be done has to be done by December 30th. If it's, for example, construction or that sort of thing. So one possibility is that the legislature could wait until September, October to decide and see if Congress, you know, it loosens up the requirements that allows them to spend it, but then they'll have less time to spend it unless Congress also extends the deadline for when it has to be spent. But I should mention that the in terms of the budget process, that the legislature right now is working on a budget adjustment bill for fiscal 20 year we're in now and it's their second budget adjustment. It passed one in March, signed by the governor. And they're doing a second one, a supplemental budget just to account, because the last one they did was before the Coronavirus pandemic was an issue and with revenues. So that's one thing they're working on. The second thing they're working on is the 2021 budget that starts July 1st. What they've decided to do is not do an entire budget for the entire year. They're doing  what they're calling a skinny budget, which is three months. The first three months of the fiscal year just to get them until August. And then the idea would be they could go home late June and come back in August and hopefully have more information to deal with the budget questions and finish the entire budget for the rest of the year. The other thing of note is that the federal fiscal year ends on September 30th. So the new federal fiscal year starts October 1st. So those are all the things that are in play in your question about how are they going to spend this money? And also when they're going to decide.

[00:24:31] You know, it's always such a reminder of how detailed the work of government really is. I know I send students to the Capital all the time and they're like, wow, so amazing.

[00:24:44] And then they're like, I didn't realize it was so complicated.

[00:24:48] Right. Yeah.

[00:24:49] But to me, there's a really, you know, an obviously people are thinking about this

[00:24:53] but the ability to authorize or appropriate that amount of money that quickly for things that can actually get done is going to suggest that it's going to go into kind of existing infrastructure. I mean, how I understand there's a big proposal to expand broadband. Right. Something so maybe talk about that. But the idea of doing new and innovative things is particularly challenged to me by having to actually spend that money, and then that's going to suggest you spend it in the ways that we already know how to spend. It's not that easy to spend that much money.

[00:25:32] That's right.

[00:25:33] For example, we wouldn't be upgrading a computer system, for example, you know, it would take much longer than that to get that work done. The state, I mean, wouldn't be able to do that. But for things that are either ready to go that have been in the works. But for the money or expenditures that have been needed and assuming they make the rules, they've loosened them up a little bit.

[00:26:04] You know, they could spend close to half of this money just to backfill for revenue loss. Because keep in mind, none of us have any idea, including the legislature and the governor, how long this is going to go on. You know, I think we hope it's gonna be done this summer.

[00:26:20] But, you know, the governor's already loosening up some of the health related and social interaction related policies with the recent executive order amendment. But we don't really know. I mean, the governor acknowledges that, you know, we could open it up and we start seeing a resurgence, in which case we have to close it back down. And certainly the scientists and doctors all over the country have warned of this, that if by opening too early, you could end up with a resurgence that just requires everything to be shut down big time. And I think the governor's approach being appropriately cautious in avoiding that. But we really have no idea of how long that's going to go on. So we really don't have any idea of what the need is going forward. So I think when the original 1.25 billion was put in place, they were thinking, oh, it's going to be over by December, you know. But I think, you know, now I think one of the things they may need to do is extend the deadline for when these funds need to be spent.

[00:27:26] Yeah. Let's just switch gears for a minute and we'll come back to that. But one of the things that you, Public Assets thinks about is how do we make government accountable and also transparent? How do we follow what's going on in government?

[00:27:40] And it does seem like in this moment you and I were talking briefly about this, but it has been easier to listen in on committee hearings or to listen to the governors press conference or to kind of so in some ways. Is there something here about government being more transparent?

[00:27:56] Yeah, I think there is. I know it is pretty amazing that. You know, the last time the governor issued his executive order on March 13th, that was the last day that the legislature met, they adjourned at that point and have not met as in whole since that. You know, the Senate, some senators have gone back, some House members have gone back to do, you know, some sessions just to kind of keep it moving. But they haven't had everybody back in the building since March 13th. And since then they've figured out how to do this through video conference. And all the committees now are meeting by video conference. And now both chambers have met by videoconference. It's a little still a little stiff in terms of, you know, having robust debate and all that for the whole body. But the committee stuff is actually working very well. And actually, the whole body is, too.

[00:28:59] It's just that it's slow and, you know, until they get the process down. But I think it does open up, you know. So what that means is that for us or for anybody, you anybody in the state who has internet access can actually see the committee deliberation, the House deliberation, the Senate deliberation for everything that's going on.

[00:29:25] You know, all the discussions, all the votes, you see all the materials. It's really unprecedented that we could actually do that and not have to be in the statehouse and which is amazing. And so I think, you know, we're gonna get used to this. And frankly, especially the people in Bennington or Brattleboro who you know, or Rutland who are not going to make it to the statehouse with any regularity, this really opens up the whole process. And I think in the interest of transparent government, we really need to do this.

[00:30:00] Other states have done this where they wire the community rooms so that whenever the committee is in session, it's live on camera so that any of us could could watch it and also tape it so that if you can't be there in real time, you can actually watch it later, which is how this is happening now as well. So, yeah, I think that's a definitely a lesson to be learned from this. I think, you know, what we hope to do is it's you know, it's forcing us to be creative as a state to deal with this stuff. And what we hope to do is come out of this better and stronger when we come out, you know, when we're done. And I think this is one of the ways that could happen.

[00:30:41] So coming back then to broadband, are you a supporter of a big investor trying to use some of these funds to do a big investment in expanding Internet access across Vermont?

[00:30:53] Well, I'm not an expert in in broadband, and I don't actually know what the investment is that's required. So it's a very technical conversation. But what we definitely have, we put out every couple of years during the election year a framework for progress. We call it which is a way for candidates running for office or legislators, as they're thinking about the next biennium, can think about at least see what we think are the priorities.

[00:31:26] And broadband has been one of the things that's been on our list for a number of years.

[00:31:32] And for the reasons that we've been talking about today, that we and also for our economic development, you know, that there are at least the communities need to be, you know, the small communities who don't have currently have access need to have access. Whether it's to the last mile is another question. But I think it would be you know, I think what we're seeing is that it's important that Vermonters have this. It's that it's a necessity, just like electricity or telephone was, you know, back in the mid 20th century. So I think we're going to have to deal with it when what the cost is, I don't know. And what the right way to do it is, I'm not sure either. And, you know, there may be a way to do it that involves public investment, that leverages private investment. But I think it can't be this continued. You know, a decade of kind of slow movement. I think we actually need to move on this.

[00:32:37] So I think our public assets is paying particular attention to issues of social justice and equity. As just thinking for what are the kinds of things you're going to be watching as these budget conversations continue in this federal funds are at play.

[00:32:55] Yeah. One of the things we're certainly watching is public education. That education, the education fund is one of the three big funds that the state you know, all of our public education dollars are state generated, some of them through the statewide property tax. But some of that through the sales tax and other general fund to general statewide taxes. So education is one where if the pandemic has resulted in a sales tax reduction in rooms and meals, tax reduction, because many of those places are closed and there and, you know, not producing not collecting the tax that they can send to the state. So. If that can't be backfilled with federal dollars, that's going to mean it's going to fall under property tax payers with a significant increase to get through for the next fiscal year for the budgets that have already been voted for fiscal 21.

[00:34:03] So that's a big issue that we're following very closely about how that happens. And this money also can't be used even to send individuals for property tax relief. According to the recent guidance. So that's a big one. It hasn't. We've just we just wrote a blog about that that, you know, we really feel like just because some Vermonters happen to be school age during a pandemic. Doesn't mean that their education should be curtailed during that time. And and so we want to make sure that the resources are there and we're not actually cutting back those resources, especially during this time. And broadband, as I mentioned, is another part of that discussion. So that's one in general we're interested in. Equitable tax policy, where we're always looking to improve the progressivity of the system so that lower income Vermonters don't pay more as a percentage of their income than upper income Vermonters. Health care is another area that we're that we follow and are interested in.

[00:35:17] And, you know, has implications in this

[00:35:20] you know, in the use of Medicaid dollars through this pandemic and the need for health care and also protecting our health care provider, our institutions, where many of these are closed, the revenues are down.

[00:35:36] And that is creating a problem that may, as it is for child care providers, for the institutions we make being able to get through this and come out the other side and continue to be available to provide services that they have the revenue they need to do that.

[00:35:54]  Thank you for the good work you do. And we can find it at Public Assets.org. Just on a different note are you enjoying I mean,I've just completed a survey where people say in some ways they're enjoying being at home a little more.

[00:36:14] I know. I was just talking to some friends of mine yesterday and they were saying they're having a great time not having to commute to work. You know that they're working from home. And that's great. That's not true for everybody. And especially if they have young children. That's you know, as I mentioned earlier, that's challenging.

[00:36:32] But, you know, personally, we have done a lot of this working from home at Public Assets. So we all do it to some extent. We have all been doing it to some extent already. So now we're doing it. We just went from doing it half the time to doing it all the time. So it's not really that big of a change for us. We're used to communicating with each other through videoconference and telephone conference calls and having staff meetings that way. So it is nice to you know, I don't mind not being in the car and I don't mind not burning the gasoline, frankly.

[00:37:09] We have one question that I want to just put to you, Paul, Rich Cassidy writes us this is there some concerns that the cost, if we have to increase taxes, will affect, well, rich people choose again to move out of Vermont. I know you've written a lot about this.

[00:37:26] I thought yes.

[00:37:28] Yeah, it's a great question. I think, first of all, I think it's tough to talk about raising taxes in this time just because people's incomes are down. You know, whatever. But I think over time, we may have to be looking at that. And so I'm not going to talk about that. Answer that question is if it's happening in this, what I hope is a narrow window of a finite window of this pandemic. But in general, it has been that  all the research that we've seen that we've done ourselves, but research from all over the country is that you don't sit with, you know, oh, modest tax increases.

[00:38:17] You don't see people leaving the state or leaving the country as a result of tax increases. Most people stay put. And in Vermont, even regardless of why people move, about 96 percent of people in Vermont stay put and a 4 percent move in a given year. So it's not really a big factor in surveys. People have to ask to but asked this question, you know, how big of a factor were taxes in your move? It's not a big factor. Mostly people move to be closer to family. To take a job or to be in someplace where they want to live. They want to live in a different climate. Like they want to leave Vermont to be in a warmer climate or they want to be in a rural setting, leaving a urban setting or the reverse. You know, there's just people that want to change their, you know, their lifestyle.

[00:39:14] Another question has come up and then I'm I'm going to turn this over to Brianna and I'm going to leave you for a minute, because this has come up a couple of times now in our research lab. I wonder if you could talk for a minute or two about the possibility of more people wanting to move to Vermont and how we might dominate that?

[00:39:33] Apparently, there's a survey out now. A Harris poll says something like a third, 30 percent of the people in the poll said they want to move from urban place to a more rural place.

[00:39:43] And this will continue. If it's just the thing at the moment. But could you just talk

[00:39:48] you must think about that a little bit. Does Vermont have the infrastructure, how would that possibly work? Who might these people be? And you can imagine Cherrie Morse was a guest and she talked for a while. She's a rural human geographer about the impacts on rural places and people here. So thank you. I'm going to go out, Brianna. Goodbye. And tell us about our next week. But thank you all for coming.

[00:40:14] Thank you. So in terms of the impact of of people moving to Vermont or the idea that people may want to move to Vermont. I will say a couple of things. One is that there's about 15 to 16,000 people that move to Vermont each year. There is  about the same number, about the same numbe leave Vermont and come to Vermont every year. So there are fifteen to sixteen thousand people who choose Vermont as a place where they want to live. And this is according to IRS statistics and they take up residence here and pay taxes here. One thing in terms of infrastructure. What you mentioned our schools, one of the things that's been a big issue over the last 20 years is that we've been having We have a declining. We've been having a declining population in our schools. About 1 percent a year. And so that has led to calls and efforts by the legislature to consolidate schools, consolidate school districts. There have been calls to reduce spending on schools. The problem is that schools, particularly in rural rural areas, provide a hub for the community. They're actually in some some cases the one remaining community institution that isn't just a school where kids go during the day. It's also a meeting place for, you know, a group that wants to get together, you know, sports events or whatever. So I think, for example, we have capacity in our school buildings. And the idea that people might want to move to Vermont. In fact, the governor has been encouraging people to move to Vermont. And in some cases offering to pay them to move to Vermont. So I think we Vermont can handle a modest increase. I think if it were a huge increase very quickly, I think that that could create a problem. I think we certainly could handle, you know, a few percentage points growth each year over the next several years as people decide that Vermont is more a place they want to live more than where they're living now.

[00:42:38] Paul, thank you so much for that wonderful presentation. I believe that was our last question.

[00:42:43] So I'm just going to switch to introducing our speaker for next week, but I can't thank you enough for showing up today and having your presentation. It was a pleasure. Thank you. So. I'm just going to introduce our speaker for next week.

[00:43:04] Who is Mary Wesley from Vermont Folklife Center. And next week at 12:00 on Wednesday, she will be talking about Vermont Folklife Stores of stories in Vermont. So tune in next week on Wednesday at 12:00 to hear Mario Wesley from Vermont Folklife Center.

[00:43:25] Thank you.