Scott proposes level budget, seeks education mandates from Montpelier

Gov. Phil Scott delivers his first budget address to lawmakers on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Scott proposed sweeping changes to the state's education system that would impose mandates on local school districts. (Times Argus/Stefan Hard.)

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:15 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott has proposed a massive makeover of the state’s education system that focuses on students from birth through college and asks lawmakers to impose new conditions on local school districts to help achieve his vision. Scott, who was sworn in as governor earlier this month, delivered his first budget address to the Democratic-led Legislature Tuesday, laying out bold, controversial proposals that face long odds with lawmakers. The new governor is asking lawmakers to force teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care insurance premiums to bring them up to the level paid for by state employees. That will save the state $15 million. But facing down the Vermont National Education Association — the state’s largest labor union — is not likely something many Democrats, or even some Republicans, are likely relishing. Continue Reading →

Amazon to collect state sales tax


Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include comments from the governor’s office. MONTPELIER — Online retail giant Amazon has agreed to begin collecting and remitting the state’s sales tax, providing a boost in revenue as the state faces another gap between revenues and spending in the 2018 fiscal year budget. News of Amazon’s decision to collect and remit Vermont’s 6 percent sales tax beginning Feb. 1 emerged on Friday. It is expected to provide a significant boost to state revenue. Continue Reading →

Economists downgrade state revenue projections

The Emergncy Board, compromise of Gov. Phil Scott and the chairs of the Legislature's four money committees, met Thursday to receive an updated revenue forecast from economists. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Economists for the Scott administration and lawmakers say the state is expected to take in $24.6 million less in revenue during the remainder of the current fiscal year because of a significant decline in corporate income tax it is owed. Economists Jeff Carr and Tom Kavet, who work for the governor and Legislature, respectively, issued their twice yearly revenue forecast Thursday for the state’s Emergency Board. They declared Vermont’s economy is growing, albeit slowly, and prompting businesses to expand and hire. But that, in turn, is causing a drop in their profits as their expenditures increase, resulting in less corporate tax revenue for the state. “Revenues … absent one category would be upgraded this time. Continue Reading →

Shumlin to be a visiting Harvard fellow

Gov. Peter Shumlin

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Two former governors and a former U.S. senator have been named visiting fellows at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The school announced Thursday that former Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont; and former Democratic Gov. Ray Mabus of Mississippi will serve as visiting fellows this spring. Mabus is also a former Navy secretary. They will meet with students and faculty as part of the institute’s efforts to encourage interest in public life and increase interaction between the academic and political communities. Continue Reading →

Democrats propose hike to minimum wage

House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, unveils a proposal to increase Vermont's minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — House Democrats rolled out a proposal Wednesday to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022, laying the groundwork for a significant showdown with Republican Gov. Phil Scott who made clear during the fall campaign that he opposes such an increase. House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, laid out the proposal at a State House news conference Wednesday. Under the Democratic proposal, which has nearly 50 co-sponsors so far, the hourly minimum wage would remain at $10.50 in 2018 before increasing to $11.50, $12.50, $13.50 and then $15 on Jan. 1 of each subsequent year. After 2022 the wage would rise by the lesser amount of 5 percent or the increase in the Consumer Price Index. Continue Reading →

Welch warns state lawmakers about pending health care changes

Democratic Congressman Peter Welch speaks to Vermont lawmakers about potential changes to federal health care policy that will impact the state after Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office Friday. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Congressman Peter Welch told Vermont lawmakers Wednesday that he is working to thwart Republicans from completely unraveling the Affordable Care Act, an action he said would be “one of the most reckless fiscal actions.”

Welch, a Democrat and the state’s lone member of the U.S. House, will begin serving under his third president Friday when Republican President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office. He was first elected in 2006, and served two years under President George W. Bush and eight years under President Barack Obama. During Obama’s tenure, House Republicans voted 65 times to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act, a landmark health care reform bill Obama signed into law. Now, with a Republican Congress and an incoming Republican Congress, Welch warned Wednesday that major changes are coming that could be disruptive to Vermonters and all Americans. “It’s as though the discussion is ideological, that getting rid of this will give people more freedom,” he told lawmakers. Continue Reading →

An independent ethics commission is still needed

Secretary of State Jim Condos

he Vermont Constitution (Chapter 1, Article 6) demands that our elected officials are open, transparent, and accountable. The authors understood how transparency in government is the very basis of trust. State statute also demands access and accountability:

It is the policy of this subchapter to provide for free and open examination of records consistent with Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont Constitution. Officers of government are trustees and servants of the people and it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize their decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment. (1 V.S.A. § 315)

The overwhelming majority of our dedicated local and state public officials are trustworthy, hard-working individuals striving to better the lives of those they serve. Continue Reading →

Scott proposes changes to the executive branch

Gov. Phil Scott, right, and Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Michael Schirling discuss proposed changes to the executive branch. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott Scott is looking to consolidate some areas of state government in a bid to create operational efficiencies and some potential cost savings, but critics say it could weaken enforcement in a key area of government. Scott, who took office earlier this month, signed three executive orders Sunday and briefed reporters at the State House Tuesday on how they will reorganize the executive branch. One will combine the Department of Liquor and the Lottery Commission into the Department of Liquor and Lottery. Another will reconfigure the state’s Department of Information and Innovation into a new Agency of Digital Services. The third order combines the Department of Labor and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development into a single Agency of Economic Opportunity. Continue Reading →