Monthly Archives: November 2012

Legislators mourn loss of Greg Clark

By Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief

MONTPELIER – Elected officials of all political stripes are mourning the death of Rep. Gregory Clark, the five-term Republican from Vergennes killed in a traffic accident Friday morning.
Police say Clark was killed on Route 7 in Waltham early Friday morning after stepping out his car to clear his windshield and being struck by another vehicle.
As law enforcement officials pieced together the circumstances surrounding the deadly incident, Clark’s House colleagues recalled his compassion for his constituents, and the humor with which he often advocated on their behalf.
“He was a great guy who really cared about Vermonters, and in particular young Vermonters, and making sure they had the tools they needed to be successful,” said Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith.
Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan, chairwoman of the House Education Committee on which Clark served, called him one of the “most popular” members of the entire body. Continue reading

Campbell admits to past failures, then wins second term as Senate pro tem

Following a lengthy mea culpa in which he acknowledged his “deficiencies” as a leader, Sen. John Campbell was nominated by his Democratic colleagues Tuesday evening to a second term as pro tem of the Vermont Senate.

Campbell had come under withering criticism during his first two years on the job, much of it from fellow Democrats who blamed the Windsor County lawmaker for a “chaotic” environment that at times resulted in dramatic procedural breakdowns on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ann Cummings, the Washington County Democrat who mounted a challenge to Campbell Tuesday, lamented a “dysfunctional Senate” that had, under Campbell’s aegis, become a body of which she was embarrassed to be a member.

“I was really hoping there was going to be a change in how things ran (after the first year with Campbell as pro tem),” Cummings said in a plea for votes Tuesday. “There wasn’t. It got worse the second year.”

Campbell acknowledged “shortcomings” that he said stemmed largely from his failure to engage all members of the body. He vowed to do better during the next biennium.

“I won’t back away from (my mistakes), I’m not going to make excuses for them,” Campbell said. “But I can tell you this – I’ve certainly learned from them. Me, who is always preaching to have communication be the most important asset that any leader can have, and I think I failed there.”

Campbell’s plea for a second chance ultimately earned him a lopsided 15-6 victory over Cummings, the longtime chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Finance. And while Republican Sen. Diane Snelling has said she’d like to take over as pro tem, Campbell is almost certain to win the title when the full Senate reconvenes on Jan. 9.

Look for a full rundown of Tuesday’s proceedings in tomorrow’s editions of the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Pot decrim and death with dignity? According to Shumlin, “we’re going to get them done.”

From death with dignity to marijuana decriminalization, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday said he aims to seal the deal on several notable pieces of unfinished business from the last legislative biennium.

Shumlin in his first term was unable to deliver on some of his highest-profile legislative initiatives, including union rights for child care workers. At a morning press conference Tuesday, Shumlin said he’s confident lawmakers will send those bills to his desk in 2013.

“I’m confident that regardless of who leads the various bodies in the Legislature, that we can pass decriminalization of marijuana, death with dignity and the (unionization) bill for childcare workers,” Shumlin said. “We’re going to get them done.”

Key lawmakers aren’t so sure.

Sen. John Campbell, the Windsor County Democrat aiming for a second term as Senate president later this afternoon, was the Statehouse’s most prominent opponent to the death with dignity and childcare unionization bills. He said Tuesday his positions on those issues have not evolved in recent months, and that he’s not convinced either has the support needed to make it through the Legislature.

Campbell, however, said he won’t try to squelch a vote on any death with dignity legislation. In fact he said the topic in 2013 will receive more attention from Senate committees than it did in either of the last two sessions.

“I recognize that this issue is not going to go away, and if the majority of people want to have a debate, then that debate should happen,” Campbell said.

Campbell said he envisions joint hearings between Senate committees on  judiciary and health and welfare. He said the hearings come in response to requests for additional debate from people on both sides of the issue.

“If it passes it passes. If it doesn’t it doesn’t,” Campbell said. “But I think everyone involved in this conversation agrees there are issues that need to be vetted, so I think it’s worth taking the time to vet them.”

Look for more on the governor’s wishlist for 2013, and what lawmakes have to say about it, in tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.

Pollina to push state bank idea

Anthony Pollina, a Washington County Progressive, Democrat and Working Families senator, wants the state to try again at looking at the possibility of a state bank.
Currently, the vast majority of incoming tax money or federal money the state receives goes to TD Bank, which earns a profit and charges fees, Pollina says. Through a state bank, which would use existing local banks or a state agency like the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the state could earn interest and use the money to re-invest in businesses or student loans, advocates say.
In 2010, a preliminary analysis by the Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office wrote the system has a number of potential long-term benefits, but it would likely have a complicated and controversial transition.
Committee hearings have gathered testimony about the possibility, but banking representatives have opposed the measure.
A bill to study the issue was introduced last year by Pollina and Chittenden County Sen. Ginny Lyons, a Democrat, but the proposal ultimately was tabled.
Pollina said during an interview last week a state bank would work in partnership, rather than competition, with banks. He also said he believes that public support is more receptive now than it was two years ago.
He also said the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics has supported the idea.
A fellow with the institute, Gary Flomenhoft, was part of the legislative testimony on the issue.
He’s suggested the North Dakota state bank was a key part in the state having a budget surplus after the 2008 stock market crash when other states came out with deficits. He’s pointed to how in 2009 the North Dakota state bank returned $30 million to the state based on investments.
A conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 7 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier has plans to discuss the issue of state banks. The conference, called Vermont’s New Economy, costs $25. Attendees can register at global-community.org/cgi/gc/neweconomy/.
Pollina is also working to draft a bill for another study group to try to undo declining state funding to state colleges for the cost of college education.
The state currently funds about 12 percent of the cost, Pollina said. In 1980, state funding paid for about half, and tuition covered the rest, he said.

Taylor, Ellis to run for assistant majority leader

Waterbury Rep. Rebecca Ellis, and Barre Rep. Therese “Tess” Taylor are seeking a Democratic caucus vacancy in the Statehouse as the assistant majority leader, a position that helps facilitate communication between legislators and party leadership.
“I think in that process it’s really important for the individual legislators to know that they’re being heard and have an opportunity to speak and have an opportunity to discuss ideas and priorities,” Ellis said.
Ellis was appointed as a state representative by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2011, and was recently elected to a full term.
She has also served on the Waterbury Select Board for seven years, including four years as chairwoman. She also served on the Waterbury Planning Commission from 2001 to 2006.
Ellis said in addition to helping build consensus through the funding and construction of two firehouses in Waterbury, she was moved by the ability of a group of people to work together in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene and that her experience was something she could bring to assistant majority leader.
During the immediate aftermath of the storm, a key group of about 20 leaders often met daily for about a month, and Ellis also helped facilitate 22 long-term recovery projects.
Taylor was first elected as a state representative in 2008. She served two three-years terms as a school board member with Spaulding High School and Barre Technical Center, which included time as chairwoman. She’s also been on the board of the Barre Supervisory Union, which she’s also chaired.
One of her major accomplishments in working with others includes helping resolve an 11-day teachers’ strike in 2005.
She also has board experience with the Central Vermont Workforce Development Board and Barre Partnership, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the city’s downtown that she has headed as president.
Taylor said she’s been able to reach out to others because of her experience with the Vermont Historical Society, where she previously served as the director of education and public programming.
As reported in Seven Days, the opening comes as the current Democratic whip, Addison County Rep. Willem Jewett, is seeking the position of majority leader. Caledonia County Rep. Lucy Leriche held that position, but she didn’t run for re-election.
The caucus will vote on the decision Dec. 8.

Waterbury state office complex project plugging along

Updates from the Legislative Joint Fiscal Committee on Thursday:

-WATERBURY – The Legislative Joint Fiscal Committee signed off on the Modified Option B plan for the Waterbury state office complex Thursday. The current project cost presented Thursday was $124,655,000, and it will provide space for 974 occupants.

-REIMBURSEMENT – The state learned last week that the Brooks Building and an annex at the Waterbury state office complex is eligible for repairs by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the 500-year floodplain level, not just the 100-year floodplain, Agency of Administration Deputy Secretary Michael Clasen said.

The state plans to demolish both buildings, but the increased threshold means more money for the state.

-COMMISSIONER – Department of Mental Health Commissioner Patrick Flood, who plans to pursue other options, will have his last day Friday. He plans to take two weeks of vacation. His deputy will fill in as acting commissioner.

Gov. Shumlin announces second-term staffing changes

Peter Shumlin

Peter Shumlin

Gov. Shumlin announced the following second-term staffing changes in a press release today:

Chief of Staff Bill Lofy will leave the administration to take a position with the Democratic Governors Association, which Gov. Shumlin is expected to chair in 2013. Lofy will step down as chief of staff at the end of the year; he will work for the DGA primarily from Vermont. Lofy formerly worked for U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, and held senior positions at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Alex MacLean, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs, will leave the administration in early 2013 to take a position in the private sector. MacLean staffed Gov. Shumlin during his tenure as President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and has run his two successful gubernatorial campaigns. Continue reading

State budget talks: Input wanted

State budget talks begin tomorrow, and the state wants your input. A draft copy of the presentation is available here, and an edited press release follows:

The first of two public forums occurs tonight to discuss the state budget process, revenues and expenditures.

As required by state legislation, public participation is required in the development of budget goals and general prioritizing and evaluation of spending and revenue initiatives.

“We hope to engage the public in a discussion about the goals, opportunities and complexities of putting together the State budget,” Finance & Management Commissioner Jim Reardon said in a statement. “We’ll discuss revenues and expenditures and conduct a budget exercise about priorities for how state funds might be directed.”

The meetings will be held from 5:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today, at various sites around Vermont, through Vermont Interactive Technologies (VIT), including Montpelier and Rutland.

Another session will occur from 4:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Monday.
For more information on Vermont Interactive Technologies, a list of all the sites, and directions, go to www.vitlink.org/.

Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding will moderate the forums.

Reardon will begin each forum with a 15- to 20-minute presentation about funding sources, revenues and how funds are currently spent. He will also analyze budget challenges.

The public’s comments will be considered as the governor prepares the upcoming budget recommendations, which will be submitted to the General Assembly in January.

Both meetings will have live streaming. The link will be posted on the Department of Finance and Management’s main webpage, finance.vermont.gov/.

Welch, Sanders to discuss budget and deficit

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is going to be talking about his priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress.
Rep. Peter Welch is planning to discuss the issues in his Burlington office on Monday before he returns to Washington.
The Norwich Democrat will outline his efforts to pass a farm bill and the need to avoid what is being called the looming fiscal cliff of tax increases and dramatic budget cuts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh off reelection, will also be holding a press conference at his Church Street office at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the budget deficits. Sanders as well will return to Washington in time for the start of ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations between both houses of Congress and the White House, which are expected to start  Tuesday.

Middlesex couple resists state psychiatric home

MIDDLESEX — State officials trying to resolve the psychiatric patient housing shortage have come into conflict with a Middlesex couple seeking to protect their children and avoid depreciation of their property.

The state is seeking to construct a seven-bed secure residential facility near a State Police barracks and state archives and records offices on Route 2, but a neighboring couple has turned to the state’s environmental court to intervene.

The state has gone so far as to consider buying the couple’s property in order to move the project forward, but legislators rejected the proposal.

The state believes it will prevail, but the court could take months to resolve the issue.

The state is trying to expedite the matter, citing the emergency need of housing for patients after Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Vermont State Hospital. Following the storm, the state dispersed VSH patients to facilities across the state, which has overtaxed emergency rooms at hospitals.

Two conference calls with legislators and state officials have sought to address the situation, but representatives said buying the property was an unfavorable solution, a stance led by Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Colchester, and Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Dorset.

Read today’s paper for a full report.

Citing autocratic style, Poirier plans to challenge Smith for Speaker post

BARRE — Rep. Paul Poirier, a Barre independent, said Friday he’s planning to challenge House Speaker Shap Smith, a Morrisville Democrat, for the leadership post in January.
“I’m quite sure that is what I’m going to do,” said Poirier, who plans to make a formal announcement Wednesday. But leaving the door open to a change of heart, he said he’s about “90 percent” certain he’ll run.
A longtime Democrat who first ran as an independent in 2010, Poirier said he has been troubled by what he sees as Smith’s autocratic leadership style — a style he said has marginalized minority parties and chilled debate in Vermont’s House of Representatives. Continue reading

Success for House Dems was no accident on Tuesday

On Jan. 2, 2011, before their newly elected crop of lawmakers had even been sworn in, House Democrats hired a 24-year-old Harvard graduate to begin plotting a strategy for 2012.

On Tuesday night in Burlington, as polling results streamed in to an election-night headquarters in Burlington, the Democrats’ long-term investment yielded its dividends. A party that already held a near supermajority in the Vermont House of Representatives will see a net gain of two seats when the body reconvenes in January.

“It was an incredible amount of pressure and I was very prepared to lose seats,” says Nick Charyk, the man tapped by House Democrats in 2011 to run their political arm.

Democrats next year will see their numbers go from 94 to 96.

“The realist in me and the statistician in me understood how high a bar I was looking at,” he said.

In the face of a well-funded conservative super PAC, anxiety over single-payer health care and concerns over one-party rule, Charyk managed to fend off all but two Republican challenges to incumbent Democrats, and picked off a few GOP officeholders with candidates he began recruiting early last year.

“As it turns out, investing in the best candidate possible wins out over carpet-bombing the state with negative ads,” Charyk says.

In much the same way that a better-funded, better-staffed Vermont Democratic Party helped carry its slate of statewide candidates to resounding wins Tuesday, House Democrats’ field advantage likely proved the difference in close local races.

Continue reading

Long-term disaster recovery funds move forward, but some projects rejected

State officials and the Vermont Community Development Board, which have more than $21 million in federal money to distribute, recommended approval of four projects across the state Wednesday and denied two Waterbury projects.

The unsuccessful projects included a plan to study reusing the flood-damaged heating plant at the Waterbury state office complex, which board member Sarah Carpenter questioned due to the delayed rebuilding there, and a local development corporation the town has been seeking to create.

A $100,000 grant to study options for building a new municipal complex in Waterbury and to help with pre-building site work was recommended for approval, though.
Another $100,000 grant to study rebuilding or renovating options that could affect three Brattleboro Housing Authority sites that involve elderly tenants or tenants with disabilities.

One housing site there, Melrose Terrace, is located in a severe flooding area that normally wouldn’t be eligible for rebuilding funds, but the federal government has given a special exemption.

Up to $509,000 was targeted for re-developing a supermarket in Johnson, which has been without one since May 2011 flooding.

The largest grant, $1 million, was for three regional business development corporations to help with business assistance.

The recommendations become final when the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development secretary, Lawrence Miller, signs off on the measures.

State officials soon expect 10 to 15 more applications. Nearly $10 million is already being transferred for home-related projects, such as commercial and residential buyouts of properties damaged by natural disasters.

See Thursday’s paper for a full report.

With Illuzzi concession to Hoffer, last statewide race decided

Republican candidate for auditor Vince Illuzzi moments ago called Democrat/Progressive Doug Hoffer to concede. Hoffer gave an extremely short victory speech, saying he’s a numbers guy, not a speechifyer.

We’ll bring you more tomorrow on Hoffer’s win, and how his tenure could make for an interesting one over the next two years.

 

In victory speech, Beth Pearce celebrates defeat over super PAC-backed foe

In one of the more boisterous victory speeches tonight, incumbent Democratic Treasurer Beth Pearce celebrated a win in one of the most closely watched races of the 2012 campaign.

Pearce a short time ago received a call from Republican challenger Wendy Wilton conceding the race. Pearce, a former seven-year deputy treasurer appointed to the post when Jeb Spaulding resigned to join the Shumlin administration, thanks her “Vermont family” for delivering her a victory Tuesday.

The race was viewed in some circles as a referendum on super PACs. The conservative super PAC Vermonters First poured about $800,000 in the 2012 elections, much of it on behalf of Wilton.

The super PAC lost,” Pearce said. “Vermonters won.”