Monthly Archives: February 2011

Survey says…?

Sen. Bill Doyle, who has served in the Legislature since 1969, has for decades done a Town Meeting Day survey to gauge Vermonters’ opinions on the issues of the day.

This year a freshman lawmaker has started a survey of his own.

Rep. Sam Young, a Democrat from Albany, is starting on online survey that he says will build on the tradition created by Doyle but cater to younger residents.

“With questions that tend to focus on technology, energy and other issues important to a younger demographic, Rep. Young invites you to participate in his town meeting day survey and to voice your concerns on the many challenging issues facing Vermonters,” a news release announcing the survey said.

The survey can be done at www.repsamyoung.com.

McDonald elected chair of Vermont GOP

Pat McDonald, who most recently served as campaign manager for Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, was elected chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party at the party's state committee meeting on Saturday at Montpelier High School. McDonald has also served on the staffs of several governors, including Howard Dean, Jim Douglas and Dick Snelling, and served two terms in the Vermont Legislature.

She has proposed a transition plan and a longer-term plan for the VT GOP, which is outlined here. According to the budget proposed in the plan, she'll make $20,000 a year as chair. McDonald replaces Steve Larrabee.

Albee becomes a blogger

Former Secretary of Agriculture Roger Albee has started a blog on the history of agriculture in Vermont. “Each week I will post some particular information on the history of agriculture in Vermont as I continue to do more research on the subject.  Some of you too may want to use this blog “What Ceres Might Say” to share what you know as well,” he said in an email this week. So far, one post is up at: www.whatceresmightsay.blogspot.com.

As the snow flies, VTrans to test new ‘TowPlow’

In the never-ending war on snow, the Vermont Agency of Transportation announced it will start testing a new “TowPlow” to clear Interstate 89 and urged drivers who come across the new apparatus to use caution.

The TowPlow is a snowplow trailer equipped with a 26-foot plow and a salt spreader, according to VTrans. In combination with a standard plow truck, the TowPlow can cover a 24-foot pathway – the width of two typical traffic lanes. This allows the truck and TowPlow to cover as much ground as two standard plow trucks.

“The Agency is looking forward to seeing the results of testing this equipment during a storm” noted Scott Rogers, Director of Operations for VTrans in a news release. “We are always looking to improve our service for Vermonters and are focused on becoming more effective and efficient. We hope new technology such as this can help us better achieve our goals.”

The TowPlow will be tested during the next few snowstorms along Interstate 89 between Brookfield and Berlin, a stretch of highway that sometimes sees a relatively high number of accidents.

In the initial test, the TowPlow and plow truck combination will be deployed during “normal hours” (4 a.m. to 10 p.m.) to clear the travel lane and breakdown lane, VTrans said.

During night patrols (10 p.m. to 4 a.m.), the TowPlow and plow truck combination may be used to clear the passing lane and travel lane. During the first few test runs, the TowPlow and plow truck combination will be followed by a VTrans pickup with flashing strobes. 

Drivers are advised to use caution when approaching or passing the TowPlow and plow truck combination.

Say what!?!

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget proposal – which includes more than $44 million in cuts to human services – has drawn fire from advocates for low-income Vermonters, and at least a couple pieces of tax-raising legislation aimed at eliminating the need for the reductions.

The issue of raising taxes, of course, is a hot one in Montpelier. So it didn’t go unnoticed  when Shumlin said during a press conference Wednesday that House and Senate leadership “mutter to me every day that we’ve got to raise taxes, it’s only way out. You can bet that chorus is going to grow as we get closer to passing a budget.”

House and Senate leadership on the record supporting tax increases? That would be big news, if it was true. Shumlin said he misspoke though. What he meant to say was that House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President John Campbell have conveyed to him that “there are some members of the Legislature who are going to be proposing raising taxes as way to balance the budget.”

“Leadership is not proposing that,” Shumlin clarified.

Sen. Anthony Pollina is one of those members proposing tax increases. Legislation sponsored by the Washington County Democrat would assess a surcharge on the incomes of people making more than $250,000 annually. Pollina says the rich can afford it, given the money they’ll save as a result of the continuation of the Bush tax cuts.

Shumlin kind of agrees with him, though he’s rejected out-of-hand Pollina’s proposal. Shumlin said he too supports the discontinuation of the Bush-era tax cuts, but only if the federal government takes the lead.

Going it alone, Shumlin said, would compel the state’s richest residents to move to New Hampshire, or Florida, or another state that didn’t assess the income-tax surcharge.

“The federal government can do things Vermont can’t, like raise income taxes on the wealthiest Americans who got a huge income-tax cut when Bush was president,” Shumlin said. “We can’t do that in Vermont. We have to complete with other states.”

 

 

Shumlin takes aim at proposed federal cuts

Gov. Peter Shumlin is headed to Washington, D.C., this weekend for a meeting of the National Governors Association. Top on the Democrat’s agenda: fighting back against a budget-cutting proposal by Congressional Republicans that would force major cutbacks to human services in Vermont.

“If you look at some of the cuts they’re proposing to our 2011 budget, it is so draconian … that (some agencies) would have to send back money they’ve already spent in order to stay in this year’s budget,” Shumlin said during his weekly press conference Wednesday.

The so-called “Continuing Resolution” offered by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives would halve the state’s fuel assistance program for low-income residents and force hundreds of children out of a federally funded preschool program. The budget cuts would additionally eliminate all federal funding for Vermont’s 10 Planned Parenthood clinics.

“It appears this Tea Party Congress is bent upon undermining low-income people and undermining the economic recovery to make a political point for their base,” Shumlin said.

The governor isn’t alone in his opposition. On Wednesday afternoon, representatives of the state’s geographically scattered Community Action Agencies converged on the Burlington offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy to denounce the proposed cuts.

The cuts aren’t likely to make it far – Democrats still control the U.S. Senate. And Shumlin said he isn’t vain enough to believe his opposition alone will compel Republicans to rethink their approach. With 50 governors speaking in concert though, Shumlin said he hopes the message will resonate.

10-year-old speaks truth to power

Sometimes it takes a young person to speak truth (or just plain common sense) to power.

That was the case on Wednesday in the Statehouse room where the House Committee on Human Services was taking testimony on a controversial piece of legislation that would give collective bargaining rights to Vermont’s childcare providers.

A sound rang out in the committee room that some lawmakers thought was a Statehouse alarm.

Legislators considered what to do and whether they should vacate the premises. They placed a call to the Sergeant at Arms to find out of there was in fact something to be alarmed about. (There wasn’t).

Lawmakers hemmed and hawed a bit and decided to stay put.

After the interruption and as the hearing was resuming, Joseph Charles Gonyaw, 10, of South Burlington chimed in and said that maybe the legislators should act on what could be an alarm. That’s what they would do at school, said Gonyaw, who was at the hearing with his mother.

Rep. Ann Pugh, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Human Services – who thought the issue had been resolved – put her head down on the pile of papers in front of her.

“We’re supposed to stay in our rooms,” she told Gonyaw.

Later, Pugh and another Statehouse employee worked up a little certificate for Gonyaw with an official state seal and presented it to the lad for his willingness to speak up about safety.

“I appreciate being taken to task by someone more thoughtful and responsible,” said Pugh.

VPB Morning reader

The labor union protests at Montpelier yesterday in support of Wisconsin's labor protests drew a lot of press and some commentary from both the left and the right. 

Rutland pol pushes for John Deere monument (paywall) – Thatcher Moats, Vermont Press Bureau

Shumlin supports natural gas pipeline to Rutland  (paywall)- Cristina Kumka, Rutland Herald

Telecom effort seeking stimulus (paywall) – Thatcher Moats, Vermont Press Bureau

Bill would put Education Secretary in Governor's cabinet – Anne Galloway, VtDigger.org

Hartford arrest records should be public - Editorial, Brattleboro Reformer

Vernon still mulling stabilization committee - Staff Report, Brattleboro Reformer

Bennington career development center waits on Education Secretary – Dawson Raspuzzi, Bennington Banner

Vermont labor protests in support of Wisco unions - JDRyan, Green Mountain Daily

On WisconsinVermont Tiger

Mixed Messages from Montpelier – Emerson Lynn, Vermont Tiger

Illuzzi calls $2M SoverNet grant a "sham" – John Briggs, BFP

Lawmakers seek $20K for John Deere memorial

John Deere was born in Rutland on Feb. 7, 1804.

Though people around the world know the green and yellow tractors emblazoned with Deere’s name, not enough people know the basic facts surrounding Deere's birth, according to Rep. Bob Helm, a lawmaker from Fair Haven.

Helm and more than a dozen other lawmakers hope to change that with a bill they are sponsoring that would appropriate $20,000 for a memorial to Deere that would be placed in Rutland.

Helm said people should be aware that Deere, one of Vermont's famous sons who invented the plow that broke the plains, was born in Rutland.

“I think it’s something people should know and be interested in,” said Helm.

Helm said he envisions a stone monument, about five or six feet high, and said one city leader suggested a South Main Street location near the Vietnam veterans’ memorial.

Group plans ‘stroll-in’ at Leahy’s office

MONTPELIER – Head Start, a program that serves low-income children up to 5 years of age, would face drastic cuts under the spending plan passed on Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Central Vermont Community Action Council sounded that alarm on Monday, saying the spending legislation – called a Continuing Resolution – would mean a 22-percent cut in the federal funding Head Start receives.

Head Start, which provides early education and other programming for 1,506 Vermont kids, would have to lay off workers, close classrooms and cut 336 kids from the program, according to CVCAC.

In response to the proposed budget cut, Head Start is organizing a national “stroll-in” at Senate offices on Wednesday, and CVCAC is inviting supporters to join them at Sen. Patrick Leahy's office in Montpelier from 1 to 3 p.m.

Though the Continuing Resolution passed the House, it does not have support among the Democratic majority in the Senate, and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill, according to ABC News.

Another job for the Secretary of State

One of the sticking points on H.73, the open government bill that is currently before the House Government Operations committee, is whether or not to create a 'Government Transparency Office' within the Secretary of State's purview, where appeals on denied requests for public documents would be adjudicated and processed.The sticking point comes from both questions about funding the office when money is tight, and whether giving that office this kind of centralized function would be wise.

On the other hand, why not give the SoS responsibility for spaying and neutering dogs and other pets? That's what a new bill, S.74, proposes to do by transferring the responsibility for the state's spay and neuter program for dogs, cats and wolf hybrids from the Agency of Agriculture to the Secretary of State.

This also transfers a revenue stream to the Secretary of state: $2 of the $3 surcharge from every pet license processed in Vermont.

-Rob Mitchell

Senate committee approves pre-K bill

Given that all five members of the Senate Committee on Education sponsored the bill that would "lift the cap" on pre-Kindergarten in Vermont, it’s not surprising the legislation made it past that committee. 

Still, advocates for early education were thrilled Thursday after the committee took its vote, calling it an endorsement of the plan and a step in the right direction.

"They really believe pre-K is a good thing and that towns should be able to decide to use it as an educational strategy or not,” said Mary Schwartz, the director of Pre-K Vermont, a coalition of advocates, businesses and public education leaders who support early education.

The bill, S.53, would erase a state-imposed limit that allows only 50 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in Vermont school districts to enroll in pre-K.

The limit was part of a 2007 law and was a compromise between proponents of pre-K and those who feared unlimited enrollment would increase property taxes and hurt private day cares.

Proponents say that early education can save on education costs by avoiding the need for expensive special education. Some lawmakers, however, worry that lifting the cap will burden the state education fund.

The pre-K bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. On Friday, the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.

Human trafficking bill reaches House floor

The House of Representatives will give preliminary approval today to proposed legislation that aims to uproot the problem of human trafficking in Vermont.

Rep. Maxine Grad, a Moretown Democrat and vice-chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, says the lack of an effective anti-human trafficking law has kept crimes out of public view.

“This is happening,” Grad told the House Democratic caucus Tuesday.

The bill, H.153, does create some new criminal penalties, including a prohibition on human trafficking for “labor servitude.” But Grad says the force of the legislation lies primarily in the human services the bill would offer to victims of trafficking.

Often, Grad says, victims fear law enforcement as much as their perpetrators. The threat of deportation or of prosecution, Grad says, compels victims to flee, undermining criminal cases against the people responsible for trafficking.

The proposed law would offer guidance to law-enforcement and other agencies on how to protect victims, and ensure they receive whatever services they need to live safely and comfortably while police gather evidence in the case.

Gubernatorial musical chairs

Vermont has had three acting governors in the past 12 hours, including Senate President John Campbell, who seemed to enjoy his first crack at the high-powered gig this morning.

When Peter Shumlin took Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott on a diplomatic junket to Canada this week, the office’s constitutional powers fell to House Speaker Shap Smith. Campbell was next in line on the succession chain, and when Smith departed the state for a conference in Washington, D.C., this morning, Campbell rose to power.

The Windsor County Democrat decided a trip to the governor’s ceremonial Statehouse office was in order.

“I went up there, sat in the big chair, put my feet on the table and got a picture,” Campbell says.

Campbell jokingly said he considered making a few pardons as well.

On the more serious side, Campbell had to supply all his contact information to the governor’s security detail.

“They do need to be able to get a hold of you, in case of an emergency,” Campbell said.

Campbell’s tenure began at 6:03 a.m. and ended when Shumlin came back over the U.S./Canada border at about 11 a.m. Does the five-hour experience have Campbell thinking about a two-year term in the future?

“Being Senate President is a big enough job as it is,” Campbell said. “And I’m a big fan of the current governor.”

Revenue results in for the state

Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding just released the January revenue results for the state, which were below projections by $1.6 million. That means you can subtract $1.6 million from the roughly $26 million extra (which is the amount projected in excess of the original projections used to create the FY11 state budget) that Gov. Shumlin planned to carry over into the FY12 budget to help plug the budget gap.

Looking a little deeper into the numbers, the income tax receipts and the sales & use tax receipts were down, while the corporate income tax receipts were above the target. At the Emergency Board meeting in January, the state's economists warned that while revenues for the last 6-12 months have been doing slightly better than expected, they project that this probably does not signal a rapid turnaround. Rather, slow growth will be the case for the next year or two.

However, one month does not make or break the state. The full report:

Download Jan 2011 Revenue Press Release1