(Host) Vermont Business Magazine editor and commentator Tim McQuiston suggests that the best source of funding for the repair and maintenance of our roads and bridges may in fact be found at the neighborhood gas pump.McQuiston: The Gas TaxFriday, 02/17/12 5:55pmLISTEN (3:04)MP3 | Download MP3 By Timothy McQuiston, Produced by Mike Smith(McQuiston) Congress is wrestling with how to fix the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Needless to say, it’s been a political struggle. One of the big issues is where new revenue would come from. The most obvious is the gasoline tax. But no one ever got elected, that I can think of, by promising to raise taxes, any tax. This is an election year. Don’t hold your breath. Here in Vermont, there’s a similar effort among some in the Legislature to raise our gasoline tax. With government being controlled by Democrats, Montpelier would not seem to have the same political obstacles we see in Washington. And the need in Vermont is even clearer than it is nationally. Tropical Storm Irene tore away big chunks of infrastructure and damaged a lot more. While major repairs have been done and nearly every road and bridge has been repaired, at least temporarily, there is still much work ahead. Permanent repairs need to be done, stream beds re-set, culverts upgraded and there needs to be some environmental remediation, not only because of what Irene did, but to avoid what the next storm might do. Some of our history was damaged or simply washed away. Decisions also will have to be made about that. But there is also the pre-existing infrastructure that needed upgrades and repairs before Irene even hit town. There is ongoing maintenance needs. Irene sucked up a lot of our regular transportation budget, as did the impressive new Champlain Bridge. So the suggestion is that Vermont raise the gasoline tax, but only the gasoline tax, to raise money to repair and enhance our infrastructure. Admittedly, the gas tax has suffered recently because people are driving less and driving more fuel efficient vehicles. Fewer tourists haven’t helped either. Gas tax revenues were down nearly 5 percent in January. So finding the appropriate increase might be difficult. But the gasoline tax would go directly into the transportation fund to boost the generous federal match and especially help local towns recover from Irene. The gas tax is also a bit “exported” by visitors and is somewhat invisible because it’s lumped into the price. I’m guessing it could be a bit of a tough sell with gas prices creeping back up and the regressive nature of it. But all in all it seems like the logical tax to raise for this purpose and one we could handle if it comes with a strict sunset. One cent of tax raises about 3.3 million dollars. My general thought is that the exact right time to fix a problem is right after a calamity. History shows clearly that when government fixes something fast, the fix is more effective and it costs less in the long run. Look at the Vermont budget deficit from the early 1990s. Governor Snelling and Speaker Wright raised taxes, cut spending, got rid of the deficit and Vermont has been in a better fiscal position than nearly every other state in the nation for more than a generation. Now is the time to do the same thing for roads and bridges.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announced today that Vermont will receive a $2.4 million grant from FEMA for recovery services for survivors of Tropical Storm Irene. The funds will assist with unmet needs, including housing, social services and more. The grant will be managed by the Vermont Agency of Human Services, which will contract with three Community Action agencies to hire 11 case managers through August of 2013. Those case managers will work with the same clients from start to finish, identifying the assistance already received, prioritize what disaster related needs remain, and locating the resources available. Case managers will follow up with individuals to ensure all needs are met. The case managers will be working in partnership with 11 Long Term Recovery Committees around Vermont. Those who are still in need of case management services should call 2-1-1 to be referred to the appropriate Long Term Recovery Committee. The funding request was prepared and submitted by the Vermont Agency of Human Services and strongly supported by Vermont’s Congressional delegation. ‘I am grateful that FEMA is recognizing Vermonter’s efforts to respond to Tropical Storm Irene. Through the creation of partnerships at the state and municipal level and the creation of long-term recovery centers Vermonters worked together to recover from Irene’s devastation,’ said Gov. Shumlin. ‘This grant will help fill the gap for individuals who need the most long-term help to rebuild their lives.’ Senator Patrick Leahy added, “This grant makes clear that federal agencies will ‘stay in the game’ with Vermonters coping with Irene’s aftermath, supporting state and local recovery needs well into 2013. We know that the damage done by a disaster of this magnitude lasts long after the headlines have ebbed and the State of Vermont showed great foresight and planning by pursuing this grant.” Senator Bernie Sanders said, ‘It is impressive the degree to which Vermonters have rebounded from the devastating impact of Tropical Storm Irene. However, there are many Vermonters who have had trouble navigating the array of federal, state, private and non-profit assistance, and there are others who have regrettably fallen through the cracks. This grant will provide much-needed resources so the state and community action agencies can work with these individuals and families to make sure they are getting all of the assistance they are eligible for.’ Congressman Peter Welch said, “In characteristic fashion, Vermonters are getting back on their feet with neighbors helping neighbors and communities rallying around those hit hardest by Irene’s wrath. But the storm caused immense damage in many parts of Vermont, from which it will take years to recover. These funds will assist organizations doing great work and helping in that long-term recovery effort.” Governor’s office 2.21.2012
by Anne Galloway | March 15, 2012 vtdigger.org State workers will move back to Waterbury and the replacement facility for the Vermont State Hospital will be 25 beds.Governor Peter Shumlin announced the double-whammy decisions today at a hastily called press conference with a phalanx of Democratic leaders and members of key committees standing behind him. In remarks, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, lauded the plan.Governor Peter Shumlin. VTD/Josh LarkinShumlin said lawmakers and his administration have agreed to replace the state office complex that was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene with ‘Plan B,’ the option presented by the architectural firm Freeman French Freeman last Friday that calls for restoration of the historic buildings on the Waterbury campus and construction of a new ‘state of the art’ facility.The Waterbury compound offices had been home base for about 1,500 workers from a handful of agencies. The new state offices would accommodate 900 employees, all from the Agency of Human Services. About 100 Department of Health employees would remain at offices in the Burlington area and 300 workers with the Agency of Natural Resources would be moved to the National Life office complex in Montpelier. About 200 AHS and Department of Public Safety employees have already returned to buildings in Waterbury.The original pricetag for Plan B was roughly $135 million. Shumlin said he would be asking architects to go back to the drawing board and design a smaller ‘state of the art’ facility that could be constructed at a much less cost. He declined to name a target figure for the project, except to say it would be greatly reduced.The state’s insurance company has offered $15 million to $20 million for replacement and renovation costs. FEMA reimbursements would be similar. That could leave the state with $40 million to $50 million in out-of-pocket costs, depending on construction estimates.Shumlin told reporters: ‘I want it to be as cheap as possible.’‘We’re going to push as hard as we can with Freeman French Freeman to lower the costs that came forward,’ he said.The House is working on a capital bill that is supposed to be voted out of committee in the next week. Shumlin said the administration will work as aggressively as possible to nail down costs this legislative session.‘I do want to suggest it’s quite possible we won’t have all numbers we need before the Legislature adjourns,’ Shumlin said. He said legislative leaders need to find a way to work together to approve figures after adjournment.The governor wants renovations to start immediately and he hopes to start construction in the fall. He said the construction will be phased, starting with renovations, and moving forward with razing damaged buildings.The governor had pushed for a 16-bed psychiatric facility to replace the Vermont State Hospital, which was located on the Waterbury state office complex campus and was also ruined by floodwaters. He maintained that the federal government would only provide operating funds for a 16-bed facility.Lawmakers have been wrestling on the right size for the hospital, which under federal law is an institute for mental disease. The administration has said the state would not be eligible under Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rules for operating funds for a facility larger than 16 beds. The House voted for a 25-bed facility; the Senate and the administration wanted 16 beds.At the press conference, Shumlin announced he had negotiated an agreement with Kathleen Sibelius, the secretary of the federal Department of Human Services, at 4 p.m. on Wednesday that will allow the state to continue to receive federal reimbursements through 2013.‘We have an agreement from CMS that we will be unaffected by any reimbursement issues, should we build a 25-bed facility until that global commitment waiver expires 2013,’ Shumlin said.After that, he said CMS will allow the state to pull its license for 25 beds if the federal agency decides against a waiver for a 16-bed facility.The administration is looking at sites in Berlin near the Central Vermont Medical Center. FEMA would pay for 90 percent of the cost of the replacement facility for the Vermont State Hospital. March 15, 2012 vtdigger.org
by Anne Galloway vtdigger.org The House Appropriations Committee approved a $1.3 billion fiscal year 2013 General Fund budget Monday evening on a 7-4 vote along party lines.Democrats lauded the Big Bill as a fiscally responsible plan; Republican members rejected the expenditure proposal because they said it accelerates state spending.Representative Martha Heath. Photo by Josh Larkin/VTD.Representative Martha Heath, chair of Appropriations, is proud of the work of committee members who try to reach consensus on tricky details of the money bill. She pointed to the $16 million set aside in reserves as evidence that the budget prepares the state for future uncertainties with regard to federal funding and possible revenue downgrades. Last year, the put about $10.88 million in reserve for changes in revenues, and the state spent about $7 million of the total.Heath is unhappy with the partisan split.‘I am disappointed in the vote,’ Heath said. ‘I think we did a good job. I think we have room for the future. I understand my definition of planning for the future and can be different from others’ definition of planning for the future.’The General Fund budget pays for the state’s government operations from the prisons and preschool subsidies to game wardens and social workers. The governor submits the original budget proposal after asking each department in state government to make an appropriation request. The House and Senate then each take up the Big Bill and tweak the administration’s proposal.The governor’s budget and the House proposal are just $7 million apart, with lawmakers budgeting the slightly higher amount. The biggest factor is the $5.1 million in set-asides for federal cuts. In addition, the governor wanted to reduce Temporary Assistance for Needy Families by $927,000, but it turns out the plan to count Social Security payments to individuals as part of the program formula was illegal. There were $700,000 in other changes due to Medicaid costs going down and debt service bonding going up.Total spending would increase by 5.8 percent in 2013, if the measure is approved. In 2012, General Fund spending went up by 6.1 percent; in 2011, the total was 6.9 percent above 2010 expenditures.The state would have an operating deficit of $8.73 million.The budget includes a number of new/reinstated positions. A breakdown of just how many and how they are classified was not made available.The budget-writers set aside $75 million in reserves, but several members of the GOP felt the spending bill didn’t go far enough to protect taxpayers from future economic uncertainties, including recent revenue downgrades totaling $14 million, federal cuts to state programs, further reductions to the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program that could run between $6 million and $12 million, and a mistake in the corporate tax economic forecast calculation that reduces revenues by about $5.8 million this year and next.All of these factors caused Rep. Joe Acinapura, R-Brandon, who has over the last few years voted with the Democrats on the budget, to reject the 2013 plan. He could accept the revenue downgrades, the corporate tax mistake and the fact that the federal government will likely take a bite out of state programs, but Acinapura couldn’t abide the idea of increasing state spending by 5.8 percent. What bothers him most is the way the Joint Fiscal Office plans for budget increases. JFO typically projects a 3 percent or 3.5 percent bump in expenditures when, Acinapura says, spending goes up by at least 5 percent annually.The projected budget gap for fiscal year 2014, for example, is $22.3 million, he says, when it could be at least $26 million higher, if JFO’s base spending increase estimate was 5 percent, not 3 percent. JFO estimates show a $39 million base rate growth at 3 percent.‘So next year, we’re going to have to find more money by raising taxes or cutting dramatically,’ Acinapura says.The 2014 budget projects $83.2 million in tax revenue growth. The estimated expenditures for that year include $45.5 million in one-time budget fixes carried over from 2013.Steve Klein, chief of JFO, explained to lawmakers that the percentage increase in this year’s budget would have been 2 percent lower but for a change in the enhanced Medicaid match increase of $20.5 million, additional state pension contributions for teachers and state workers of $13.6 million and a shift in $6 million toward the tobacco fund.‘You’re not just paying for growth in spending,’ Klein said. ‘You’re also paying for things like federal FMAP declines.’Heath said Vermont’s Medicaid match has increased because the state’s unemployment rate has dropped.‘The FMAP can swing both ways, it’s a calculation done every year, one that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s happening in Washington, it has to do with how well we’re doing.’The Big Bill goes on notice tomorrow, portions of it will be read by each member of the committee on Wednesday and it will be taken up by the House for second reading on Thursday.Other details:Appropriations has put $2.1 million into the budget for the working landscape bill, which promotes agricultural and rural economic development.The Legislature’s budget goes down by $500,000. That’s because lawmakers went home in 17 weeks last year instead of the 18 it budgeted for and it looks like they’ll leave early again this year. A week costs the state about $250,000.Other direct applications and revisons in the budget includes a $80,000 reduction from the Sargent at Arms office, $25,000 from Legislative Council, $25,000 from the Agency of Agriculture, $900,000 from the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration and $2.7 million in new funding from the Attorney General Office’s mortgage settlement windfall.The committee’s wish list for cuts that could be restored in the budget when it reaches Senate Appropriations includes: $22,000 for agricultural fairs, $100,000 for conservation districts; $33,000 for Vermont Legal Aid (leads to equivalent cut in federal funds), $165,000 to lift a cap on dental services for Medicaid patients (comes with $208,000 federal match).vtdigger.org March 20, 2012
The Vermont Department of Health has awarded a grant to Idle-Free VT Inc., Bristol, VT, to implement Idle-Free for Fleet$, a vehicle fleet operators educational effort. The grant award supports the Vermont Asthma Program’s efforts to reduce the burden of asthma and improve air quality through the reduction of vehicle idling. The Idle-Free for Fleet$ project, under the direction of Wayne Michaud, Idle-Free VT director, will invite up to 90 business and municipal fleet operators in Addison, Orange and Washington counties to join in the benefits of idling reduction and adopting policies to reduce idling. The project will be in effect from July 1 to October 1, 2013. Idle-Free for Fleet$ will offer fleet operators resources ‘including an information flyer, dedicated webpage, and 30 minute PowerPoint and video presentation ‘that explain the technical facts on diesel and gasoline idling, myths and realities, health and economic impact, and model policies. Wayne Michaud will offer to give the on-location presentations at no cost to business fleet or operations managers, and town department of public works supervisors or highway department road commissioners and foreman. Their drivers/operators will be encouraged to attend. Business and municipal fleets will learn how idling reduction and adopting formal policies benefit them and their communities. Drivers and operators will better comply with an official policy, the company’s social responsibility and “green” image will be enhanced, and the resulting avoidance in fuel use and engine wear will increase company profit. For municipal fleets, town residents will benefit in savings of taxpayer dollars, improved health, conserved energy and lessening of the town’s carbon footprint. Idle-Free VT Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a primary goal to raise awareness of unnecessary vehicle idling (idling when parked) in Vermont by encouraging adoption of policies, practices, resolutions and curricula to reduce vehicle idling. It also advocates the enactment of local and state laws, regulations, and rules to limit vehicle idling.Burlington, Vermont, June 10, 2013 ‘ idlefreevt.org
The Power-Gen 2014 Women in Power committee has announced that Green Mountain Power’s Mary Powell has been named a finalist for the Power-Gen 2014 Woman of the Year Award. The finalists were selected from nominations received from members of the power community and represent diverse facets of the industry. Along with Powell, the finalists are Diane Drehoff, Director of Maintenance Marketing at Siemens Energy, a global technology company that is active in more than 200 countries, focusing on the areas of electrification, automation and digitalization; and Colleen Layman, PE, Associate Vice President and the Resources Business Group Water principal for HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm with 8,500 employees in more than 200 locations around the world. Powell is president and CEO of GMP, an electricity utility based in Colchester, Vermont, that serves approximately 265,000 residential and business customers.Mary Powell photo courtesy of PRNewswire“I am so honored to be among two other great women energy leaders as a finalist for this award,” said GMP President & CEO Mary Powell. “I am proud to represent the great work that is being done in Vermont. GMP is working hard to partner with customers to accelerate the pace of change in our industry by offering new energy products and services that will allow our customers to save money, use less energy and be more comfortable.”The Woman of the Year nominees were judged in three categories with the most weight being given to how she advanced the power generation industry. In addition to advancement of the power industry, judges considered the impact that the nominees made on their communities and their ability to lead.In order to encourage more women to enter the power industry, PennWell Corporation decided to recognize and award female trailblazers in the power industry, like these 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year finalists.“My message to all women out there, especially young women who are working in industries dominated by men, is to work hard and advocate for yourself. We need more strong women in positions of power in the energy industry,” Powell added.”If the accomplishments of the ‘early adapters’ are not recognized, the growth of women in power could be jeopardized,” said Rich Baker, Senior Vice President with PennWell.Each of these finalists has dedicated her life to working in the traditionally male-dominated field of energy and each woman has exhibited determination to get where she is today. Estimates of the percentage of women working in the power industry vary but in general the number hovers around a 1:4 female to male ratio. And as you climb the ranks, that percentage of women in leadership roles gets smaller.”We hope that these women will serve as examples to young women considering careers in power that amazing accomplishments can be achieved through hard work and dedication,” said Jennifer Runyon, Chair of the Women in Power Committee. One of these three finalists will be named the 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year at the Annual Gala Awards Dinner on Monday, December 8, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. The Gala will be held at Disney’s Odyssey Pavilion, located at EPCOT and kicks off Power Generation Week. The 2014 Power-Gen Woman of the Year will give a keynote speech during the Women in Power Luncheon on Tuesday, December 9th in Orlando, Florida, at the Orange County Convention Center.Registered attendees may attend either or both the Banquet and the Luncheon by purchasing tickets to the events. More information may be obtained by visiting the Power Generation Week(link is external) website or the conference websites: POWER-GEN International(link is external) Conference and Exhibition; the co-located NUCLEAR POWER International(link is external) Conference and Exhibition, Renewable Energy World(link is external) Conference & Exhibition, North America and the Financial Forum(link is external).Power Engineering magazine is the voice of the power generation industry. More than 70,000 power generation professionals read Power Engineering magazine for expert coverage of the industry’s important news and emerging trends.RenewableEnergyWorld.com is the website for Renewable Energy World magazine. With more than 52,000 magazine subscribers, 200,000 registered website users and a global readership in 174 countries, it is the No. 1 renewable energy network for news and information and the largest renewable energy information source.The magazines, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, POWER-GEN International, NUCLEAR POWER International, Renewable Energy World Conference & Expo North America and the Financial Forum are all owned by PennWell Corp., a worldwide media company based in Tulsa, OK.SOURCE TULSA, Okla. and NASHUA, N.H., Nov. 13, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — PennWell Corporation
Burke Mountain Ski Area,Vermont Business Magazine Warm conditions and even rain have caused Q Burke Resort to reset its ski calendar to a January 8 opening. “As we look ahead, the 7-day forecast may include some much needed colder temperatures and perhaps even a sprinkle of natural snow, but this week has been tough and we will need to go back and resurface Warren’s Way training hill, Upper Willoughby, and Bear’s Den once again,” Q Burke said in a statement. “During our operations meeting yesterday, we discussed a timeline and game plan so we are ready to go when Mother Nature says so. With the projected time table and the amount of running time it will take to resurface sections of trail, we are projecting a new target open date for skiing and riding Friday, January 8th. Jay Peak will continue to honor Q Burke season passes at their resort until we are open.”Today is the last day to save for our Dinner and Comedy show happening this Saturday evening, 7pm in the Sherburne Base Lodge. Not only can you save some money by pre-purchasing your ticket but you also receive one complimentary drink with every pre-buy ticket.”
Expenditure changesThe House did reject the governor’s proposals to fund higher-education savings accounts for children and the Step-up program, which provides a free semester of college classes to first generation and low-income students to encourage them to pursue higher education. The House also cut the governor’s proposed $1 million for additional security at state facilities, but may include it in the annual bill to fund long-term construction, maintenance, and improvement projects. The House added a 2 percent increase for designated regional mental health agencies that ensure services throughout the state, and $1 million for the child care subsidy program, which helps low-income families pay for child care. The $1 million is a small step toward funding the additional $9.2 million the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) needs to operate at current market rates as estimated by the Department for Children and Families.Revenue ChangesThe House agreed with many of the governor’s spending recommendations, but rejected several of his revenue and savings initiatives, including a proposal to shorten the process to involuntarily medicate certain mental health patients and a $17 million assessment on dentists and independent doctors. The House did embrace the governor’s proposal to increase the fee on mutual funds, but went further than the governor’s proposal, to bring in an additional $7.6 million. This change brings the fee more in line with what other states charge and will be passed on to mutual fund investors. Providers of ambulance services would pay a new assessment, which will generate $1.2 million annually, if the House version stands. This change was supported by the Vermont Ambulance Association.Some employers who don’t provide health insurance also would see a fee increase. Currently, employers with four or more full-time equivalent employees not covered by the company’s health insurance plan pay an annual assessment for each uncovered employee to help defray the state’s costs for uninsured individuals. The House plan would raise the base fee and change to a tiered system where businesses with more uncovered employees would pay higher fees. This change is estimated to add $4.8 million to the General Fund. Public Assets Institute The House passed its fiscal 2017 budget along with tax and fee bills raising approximately $49 million in new revenue to support it. The House budget came in at $5.81 billion, approximately $1 million above the governor’s recommendation. Overall, the House made minor changes to the governor’s spending plan. The House bills are H.571 (driver restoration), H.872 (fees), H.873 (tax changes), H.875 (appropriations), and H.877 (transportation funding). Source: Public Assets Institute, Montpelier. http://publicassets.org (link is external)Vermont Business Magazine photos.
by Tom Pelham Vermont’s energy policies enacted and implemented over the past six years by the majority party parallel the same wasteful and undemocratic pattern as their healthcare and education policies. This 2015 report (CLICK HERE(link is external)) by the federal Energy Information Agency (EIA) provides baseline context for Vermont’s CO2 emissions. It reports that at 5.6 million metric tons, Vermont’s CO2 emissions are the lowest in the nation and on a per capita basis are second lowest among the 50 states.Further, this 2015 profile (CLICK HERE(link is external)) from Vermont’s Department of Forest and Parks and Recreation indicates that Vermont is near net neutral relative to CO2 emissions. The profile states:“Statewide greenhouse gas emissions are estimated at 8.37 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year. Vermont forests remove an estimated 8.23 MMTCO2e per year.”Bottom line, Vermont contributes little net C02 to the atmosphere while other states like Texas and Pennsylvania are the real culprits, with large emissions on both total and per capita bases. So, given this context, is it vital that Vermonters allow their political leaders to hand over our iconic ridgelines, meadows and pastures to large renewable developers who, without hesitation, rip apart and deface the landscape of Vermont?This question is of special importance when considering the source of Vermont’s C02 emissions. From the EIA report: “For example, in Vermont the largest share of emissions in 2013 came from the transportation sector (56%), predominantly from petroleum, but the electric power sector share was 0.2% because Vermont had almost no generation using fossil fuels. Vermont’s residential sector share was 23%—indicative of a relatively cold climate where petroleum is the main heating fuel.”Given these two primary sources of Vermont’s C02 emissions, the obvious question is whether there is a direct and powerful connection between industrial ridgeline wind and valley solar projects and the mitigation of C02 emissions from tailpipes and furnace chimneys? I think not.Further, our complicit political leaders have Vermont’s state and federal taxpayers and electric rate payers handing over millions of dollars annually to subsidize renewable energy developers. This May 2016 report (CLICK HERE(link is external))by UVM’s Legislative Research Service profiles the lengthy list of direct subsidies, tax credits, sales tax breaks, property tax breaks, feed-in-tariffs, electric rate surcharges, among others which fuel Vermont’s renewable energy developers, who without such could not survive on their own.And this 2016 Public Service Board order (CLICK HERE(link is external)) profiles how just one such ratepayer subsidy sets expensive price caps relative to the market and allows developers an enviable rate of “return on equity”. The Order states: “Rate of Return: continue to assume 9.6%, which is equivalent to GMP’s current return on equity.” Surely, a nice investment for those so privileged but one that contrasts sharply with the 2% to 3% annual returns average Vermonters earn on long term investments. And, to cap it all off there’s this absurd result. The Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) created with taxpayers and rate payers subsidies are most often sold out-of-state and as our Attorney General informs us, once sold cannot be counted as “renewable” in Vermont. Perversely, such REC’s cannot count toward Vermont’s official goal of “meeting 90% of the state’s energy needs through renewable sources by 2050.” By selling the REC’s, Vermont has created a perpetual money machine for renewable developers as the 90% goal can never be achieved if REC’s are sold. The best I can say about all this is it’s far removed from the Jeffersonian Vermont I grew up in and another shameful example of the concentration and abuse of power under the Golden Dome. With energy, health care, and education policies, among others, the demands of politically connected special interests take precedence. The worst I could say is its Tammany Hall type political corruption done the “Vermont Way.” The majority party has morphed to an amoral political machine at taxpayer and rate payer expense. Our political leaders and special interests scratch each other’s backs, fueled by higher taxes, higher electric rates, higher fees and higher health care premiums forced upon Vermont’s citizens. It’s all about the money and centralized power; and when there is criticism of such behavior a high priced Montpelier lobbyist or law firm or both are hired to spin their narrative more favorably and defame their opposition (think Annette Smith), just like lobbyists on K Street in Washington, DC.There’s only one hope for a cure to this sickness and it’s at the ballot box. Vermonters need to trust more what they see directly in key areas such as energy, health care and education and less what they’re told, as much of what passes as information is manufactured by the special interests and for the special interests. Absent voter action, Vermont will continue down a path of one party cronyism funded by tax payers, fee payers, rate payers and insurance premium payers, among others.This commentary is by Tom Pelham, formerly finance commissioner in the Dean administration, tax commissioner in the Douglas administration, a state representative elected as an independent and who served on the Appropriations Committee, and a co-founder of Campaign for Vermont.
Through a special arrangement with VBM, Leonine Public Affairs (link is external)provides a summary of legislative activity in Montpelier for the week ending May 12. 2017.Leonine Public Affairs(link is external) While the Vermont General Assembly initially planned to adjourn Friday, May 6th, a disagreement between the Democratic-controlled legislature and Republican Governor, Phil Scott regarding education spending and teacher health insurance contracts prevented that from happening. As a result, the plan was to come back on Wednesday of this week for a two day session to wrap things up. However, even after going an extra day through today (Friday), the legislature and administration still had not reached an agreement. As a result, the full Senate plans to return on Wednesday or Thursday next week (5/17 or 5/18). The full House could return as early as Tuesday (5/16) and will be notified by email as to the exact return date.The point of contention has been Governor Scott’s proposal to cut property taxes by utilizing savings from a change in teachers’ health care plans. The Governor’s proposal included changing how teacher health benefits are collectively bargained – negotiating on a statewide basis instead of district by district.Governor Scott has said the state has a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to lower property taxes by $26 million without hurting school programs and ensuring teachers are held harmless. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have criticized the proposal, saying a statewide teacher’s health benefits plan eliminates the union’s ability to collectively bargain. House and Senate Democrats offered a counter proposal they said would save $13 million in FY18 but keeps collective bargaining at the district level. The Democratic plan reduces education spending and requires school districts to realize the savings. On Thursday the Governor rejected the Democratic plan, saying it only addresses one year of savings and does not ensure education programs will remain intact. In the meantime a handful of conference committees continued work to on their respective bills, and in some cases agreements were reached. CHEMICALSS.103, a bill that would create an interagency task force to identify, inventory and recommend changes to chemical management practices in Vermont has been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee after passing the House. The bill became controversial when the House Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife Committee added provisions that would amend Act 188, the program that regulates chemicals in children’s products. The proposed amendments to Act 188 gave the Commissioner of Health unilateral power to ban children’s products in Vermont if they contain certain chemicals. They also changed the scientific standards required for regulating the use of chemicals in Vermont. Since Act 188 passed in 2014 there have been efforts to expand its scope from children’s products to all consumer products, which would have a broad impact on manufacturing in Vermont.An effort on the House floor to strip some of the Act 188 amendments out was narrowly defeated and the bill was messaged back to the Senate. Senate leadership said the House amendments required further consideration and the bill was referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It is unclear if any further action will be taken on the bill this year. LIQUOR-LOTTERY MERGERH.238, a lengthy bill that updates Vermont’s alcohol laws, got caught up in the controversy regarding the Governor’s proposal to merge the Department of Liquor and the Lottery Commission. Earlier this year the Governor issued an Executive Order proposing to merge the department and the commission. The House voted for a Resolution that rescinded the Executive Order in April. The Senate then added the merger proposal to H.238 but the House balked. The conference committee report, approved by both the House and Senate this week, creates a “Department of Liquor and Lottery Task Force,” to draft a plan and legislation to merge liquor and lottery on or before July 1, 2018. This six-member Task Force consists of a member of the House, a member of the Senate, the Chair of the Liquor Board, the Chair of the Lottery Commission and two members that the Governor appoints. The bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature. MARIJUANAThe House gave final approval to a bill allowing small amounts of marijuana possession for personal use. S.22 would allow adults age 21 and above to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and allow home growers to have two mature and four immature plants. The law would become effective in July of 2018. It was a drastic turn around for a bill that appeared dead for the year. It marks the first time a legislature has legalized marijuana for recreational use. Other states, like Colorado and Washington, legalized marijuana by referendum. The bill now goes to Governor Phil Scott for approval. He can sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. He can also veto the measure. After S.22 passed the legislature Governor Scott declined to say what he plans to do. He said he does not believe legalization is a priority in Vermont right now. He is also concerned there is no reliable roadside test for marijuana. LICENSE PLATES AND INSPECTIONSThis week the House and Senate approved a conference committee report regarding S.127, the Department of Motor Vehicle Miscellaneous bill. The final version of the bill makes numerous changes to DMV laws including the following:Preserves the current requirement that vehicles have two license plates and authorizes Vermont Strong license plates to be displayed indefinitely on the front of a vehicle. Requires the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, in consultation with the Commissioner of Corrections, to estimate the cost savings that would result from eliminating the requirement that most vehicles display front license plates and examine whether the redesign of Vermont’s license plate could lead to cost savings associated with the production of the plates, among other things. A report is due back to lawmakers by January 15, 2018. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to develop an educational resource for property owners related to the prevention of injuries arising from recreational use of property.Deleted the so-called “Keefe” amendment that authorized by law, and extended until May 1, 2018, DMV’s “conditional pass” policy for vehicles inspected under Automated Vehicle Inspection Program (AVIP) that fail the on-board diagnostic (i.e., emission-related) portion of the inspection but pass the safety-related portion of the test. The result is that DMV’s current “conditional pass” policy remains in place.