Monthly Archives: November 2011

As heating oil subsidy cuts fuel concerns, House committees to meet

MONTPELIER – Worries over heating oil subsidies for low-income Vermonters haven't cooled off, and three House committees are planning a hearing Dec. 13 to tackle the issue, a lawmaker said Tuesday.

Reduced federal aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, rising oil costs, and greater need are combining to create the potential for a tough winter for low-income Vermonters, said Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

The hearing will be a way to make sure the state programs related to heating, such as home weatherization, are coordinated well so the state is getting the most bang for its limited bucks, said Klein.

“My understanding is these programs don't coordinate very well with each other, and that just seems silly to me,” Klein said, a Democrat from East Montpelier. Klein said he may be corrected on that point during the hearing.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced earlier this month he was transferring $2.5 million from a weatherization program to help with fuel oil subsidies.

Klein was critical of that move.

“That doesn't make sense to me,” Klein said. “You take it from the program that helps you use less.”

Shumlin said the money would be paid back, but Klein said he's “not going to hold is breath” on that one.

The three House committees scheduled to meet are Natural Resources and Energy, Human Services, and Ways and Means, said Klein.

The tax committee is involved “because we're going to have to look at revenue raising to supplement” cuts in LIHEAP, said Klein.

— Thatcher Moats

Dollar bills falling like snowflakes; $15M headed to Vt. for road repairs

Vermont's congressional delegation announced $15 million in emergency aid for the Green Mountain State…. 

From the announcement:

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 22 – The U.S. Department of Transportation will release $15 million in emergency funds to help Vermont rebuild and repair roads and bridges destroyed or damaged by floods, Vermont’s congressional delegation announced today.

The Federal Highway Administration emergency grant includes $14 million for repairing damage caused last August by Tropical Storm Irene, according to Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

Another $1 million will help cover repair costs for highways and bridges washed out during heavy spring flooding.

The funding was released less than a week after Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed legislation funding emergency relief for Vermont and other states recovering from natural disasters like Tropical Storm Irene.

Vt. health care reformers want to hear from you

Here's a news release sent out this a.m. by Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding's office…

Listening Sessions Announced on Health Care Reform Financing

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Administration is hosting four listening sessions across Vermont to help inform the design of future health care reform financing plans. These sessions will include presentations on the challenges facing Vermont’s health care system, possible principles for a health care financing system, and an overview of potential funding sources. 

Participants will use these informational presentations and their own experiences to offer input on the potential principles and funding sources for health care reform financing.   

Attending the sessions will be Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson, and Director of Health Care Reform Robin Lunge, as well as Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller, BISHCA Commissioner Steve Kimbell and DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson.  The sessions are designed for the general public, as well as stakeholder groups specifically identified by the Legislature — health care professionals and employers.

The sessions are:

  • November 29 at Marlboro College Tech Center, 28 Vernon Street, Brattleboro, 7:00pm – 9:00pm 
  • December 13 in the Fox Room at the Rutland Free Library, Rutland, 10 Court Street, 6:00pm – 8:00pm 
  • December 14 in the large conference room at the  Department of Vermont Health Access, 312 Hurricane Lane, Williston 6:00pm – 8:00pm
  • TBA in the Northeast Kingdom, location to be determined, 7:00pm – 9:00pm 

Parking will be available at each site or on the street adjacent to the site.  All sites will be ADA accessible.  

Information will be available and updated here


State to aid cash-strapped towns

MONTPELIER – The town of Halifax has 300 to 400 year-round residents. Its annual budget is $800,000. And the small southern Vermont hamlet is facing an estimated $7 million in infrastructure repairs as a result of Tropical Storm Irene.

For Halifax – and numerous other towns in a similar situation – the massive effort to rebuild roads has strained municipal coffers as federal aid is slow to come from Washington, D.C.

But top officials in state government on Tuesday outlined steps they are taking to ease the cash-flow problems that have arisen for some hard-hit towns as a result of the rebuilding effort.

The state plans to disburse $6.4 million in road funds and $125 million in education money earlier than it normally would. Flood-damaged towns that are required to send education money to the state by a Dec. 1 deadline also will not penalized.

The new deadline for education fund payments to the state is Feb. 28 for towns that suffered extensive damage.

Vt. GOP elects officers, seeks to end Democrats’ dominance

MONTPELIER – The Vermont Republican Party still hasn't announced who will run against Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2012, but they did announce the officers elected last weekend at the annual organizational meeting.

Pat McDonald was re-elected as party chair.

The Vermont Republican State Committee members also chose the following Vermonters to serve as state GOP officers, the party said in a news release.

  • Paul Carroccio, Vice-Chair

  • Mark Snelling, Treasurer

  • Steve Webster, Assistant Treasurer

  • Rob Roper, Secretary

  • Senator Randy Brock, At-Large Delegate to the Executive Committee

  • Mary Daly, At-Large Delegate to the Executive Committee

The GOP's new executive director Mike Bertrand told the crowd a key message for the party in 2012 will be returning balance to the Statehouse and ending one-party rule, the news release stated.

"The simple truth is that Vermonters want elected leaders to act in the best interests of all Vermonters, and to develop sound policy solutions to our shared problems,” Bertrand said. “One party rule is not what Vermont needs at this critical time."

— Thatcher Moats

Savage becomes assistant minority leader for Republicans

Second-term Swanton Republican Brian Savage will take over as assistant minority leader for the House Republican caucus.
In an Oct. 12 letter to his 47 GOP colleagues, Savage promised to maintain a civil tone without compromising his conservative ideals.  
“In the three years that I have served in the House, I have always been respectful to those whom opinions I totally disagree with, while at the same time standing firm in the face of opposition,” he said.
Savage takes over for Rep. Patti Komline, a Dorset Republican and former minority leader who stepped down this summer, in part because of differences of opinion with Minority Leader Don Turner.
Savage was elected at a Republican caucus Thursday. He faced no challenger.

Green Guvs

What does Peter Shumlin have in common with Arnold Schwarzeneggar? Both are recipients of the so-called “Green Governor of the Year” award, handed out annually by the business group Opportunity Green.
Shumlin earned the nod for his efforts to position Vermont to “get a piece” of the economic activity he anticipates as a result of the renewable-energy boom.
Shumlin hit the West Coast this week for a daylong swing in Los Angeles to pick up the hardware. Accompanying him was former campaign manager and current Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs Alex MacLean. New York-based private-sector energy developer Beautiful Earth Group picked up travel expenses for both.
Shumlin spokeswoman Susan Allen said there was no fundraising during the trip.

Progs to labor: We love you!

Looks like the pro-labor resolution quashed by Vermont Democratic Party Chairman Jake Perkinson will get an up-or-down vote after all. By members of the Vermont Progressive Party.

On Saturday, Perkinson raised the hackles of his pro-union membership by refusing to allow the Democratic State Committee to vote on a 180-word resolution chiding Peter Shumlin for his public criticism of an Irene-related grievance filed by state workers.

Perkinson cited a failure on the part of the resolution’s author – Lamoille County Democratic Chairman Peter Burgess – to notify properly the state committee’s membership in advance of Saturday’s meeting.

Connor Casey, director of legislative affairs for the Vermont State Employees Association (and member of the Vermont Democratic Party) said Perkinson’s reasoning “doesn’t pass the straight-face test.” Clearly, Casey and other Dems said, Perkinson was looking to insulate the first-term governor from public recriminations from within his own party.

“We have been railroaded,” Lamoille County Vice Chairman Albert Thompson said after Perkinson blocked the vote.

He added, “I may look for a Progressive to support in the next election” for governor.

Progressives are surely willing to save Thompson a seat at their convention later this month, where Progs – and sour Dems, perhaps? – will be assured a chance to vote on a virtually identical version of the labor resolution.

“Whereas; The Vermont Progressive Party believes that working people in Vermont have a right to seek redress of contractual grievances free of any public condemnation by public officials,” the resolution reads, “The Party urges elected and appointed public officials to desist from castigation of the efforts of working Vermonters to seek an adjudication of contractual grievances through proper and recognized means.”

Washington County Sen. Anthony Pollina, the biennial Progressive candidate who took more than 20 percent of the vote in the 2008 governor’s race, said Monday that, in light of Shumlin’s stance against the workers’ grievance, Progs may have to rethink their partnership with the Democratic governor.

“At this point, I’m not contemplating (a third-party gubernatorial candidacy),” Pollina said. “But I know that conversation is beginning to percolate around.”


U.S. Senate okays Irene help for Vermont

The U.S. Senate just passed a transportation bill that, if enacted into law, would solve some of the state’s chief post-Irene fiscal dilemmas. The bill to repair damage to the state system alone could hit $250 million. That’s down drastically from the $620 million officials initially projected, but still a significant chunk of money in a state where yearly transportation spending totals just more than $500 million.

If approved, the Senate transportation bill would see the feds cover 80 percent of all Irene-related repairs above $100 million (the federal government, by statute, is already responsible for the first $100 million).

The bill additionally waives the 180-day time limit usually imposed on federally funded emergency repairs. In Vermont, where things like ice and snow tend to complicate the road work season, the six-month time limit could prove problematic.

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernard Sanders are leading the charge on Vermont’s behalf, though it’s still unclear whether the proposed legislation will make it through the U.S. House. The emergency funding provisions, which would also help other Northeast states pummeled by Irene, would require an additional $1.9 billion in transportation funding.

Vt. Disaster Relief Fund hits $1.7M; new ad campaign planned

MONTPELIER – Money keeps coming into the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund – some of it on roller skates, according to Chris Graff, a board member at the new nonprofit that manages the fund.

The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund, one of the largest pots of money devoted to flood recovery, continues to compile cash; it had $1.3 million about five weeks ago and now has $1.7 million, said Graff.

The most recent large donation, which was for $120,000, came from the Argosy Foundation, said Graff.

But smaller donations from fundraisers at City Market in Burlington, a community theater, and even a roller derby “bout” have also helped add to the fund, said Graff.

“It is remarkable the extent and breadth of the donations that are coming in,” said Graff.

But the Vermont Long Term Disaster Recovery Group, which manages the disaster relief fund, also plans to unroll an advertising campaign in the coming weeks to keep the need for donations in the spotlight, said Graff.

“We've been talking to some large donors, but we plan to expand that and actually do a much more visible campaign to reach all Vermonters and make them understand that for many people Tropical Storm Irene may be in the rearview mirror, but it's not for all flood victims, and the unmet needs are going to be huge,” said Graff.

— Thatcher Moats

Single-payer savings could hit $1.8 billion, report says

The Joint Fiscal Office this morning unveiled an in-house analysis examining the potential long-term savings under Act 48 – the health care reform law passed earlier this year.

Headlines will likely focus on the number “$1.8 billion,” the amount by which Vermont could reduce overall medical expenditures by 2020 under a best-case scenario, according to the report.

Really, though, it’s impossible to say.

The report, prepared by members of the Joint Fiscal Office and BISHCA (with “assistance” from Policy Integrity, LLC, a firm that specializes in the development of health care policy), compares two parallel realities: one with Act 48, and the other without it.

Act 48, the controversial law that aims to create a publicly funded, universal system of care, will produce savings – anywhere from $553 million to $1.8 billion annually by 2020 – the study’s authors say.

Without Act 48, or any of the reforms contained therein, total health care expenditures will rocket from $4.7 billion in 2009 to $10 billion in 2020.

The 45-page report, however, is saturated with caveats underscoring the difficulty of producing statistically meaningful savings projections.

“It is important to understand that projection of health care spending and estimation of savings are inexact sciences,” the authors write in the executive summary.

Despite basing the findings on the “best available information and methodologies,” the findings, authors say, “will still have a substantial margin of error.”

Members of Joint Fiscal and BISHCA will hold a press availability in about an hour to brief reporters on the document.