Vermont Dems wonder where Bernie is

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a primary night rally in Essex Junction, Vt., Tuesday, March 1, 2016, on Super Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

MONTPELIER — With about five weeks to go before the general election, some Vermont Democrats are wondering why U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is sitting on the sidelines of what appears to be a toss-up election for governor. Sanders, the state’s junior senator who saw a meteoric rise in popularity during his failed effort to topple Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary, has personally endorsed Chittenden County Sen. David Zuckerman, who won the nomination of both the Democratic and Progressive Parties. But Sanders has remained silent in the race for governor, where Democrat Sue Minter is engaged in a battle with Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. Sanders, who is in the process of writing a book, launched a political group, Our Revolution, after the presidential primary that has endorsed some progressive candidates around the country. But Minter and the Vermont Democratic Party have yet to see Sanders use his personal star power or his political group to their benefit, something that is beginning to cause some consternation. Continue Reading →

House GOP seeks shorter session, narrow focus on fiscal issues

Rep. Linda Myers, R-Essex Jct., leaves the podium after speaking at a House GOP news conference highlighting the caucus' electoral and legislative goals. (Times Argus/Stefan  Hard)

MONTPELIER — Vermont House Republicans say they are gunning for a substantial pick up of seats and will be pursuing a two-year state budget process and a complete focus on fiscal issues rather than new policies. More than two dozen House Republicans and Republican candidates gathered for a State House news conference Tuesday to highlight their goals for the upcoming general election and legislative biennium. House Minority Leader Don Turner, of Milton, said he hopes to lead the House in a new direction after the election. “It’s time for a new direction and a new way of thinking in Vermont. I want to lead that change in the House and I want to be looking for support from all the Republican colleagues, across party lines — independents and Democrats — because I believe that we cannot sustain this pace of heavy spending and recklessly taxing Vermonters to no end,” Turner told reporters. Continue Reading →

Haley cancels Vermont visit, former Massachusetts Gov. Swift to fill in

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

MONTPELIER — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has canceled her scheduled Wednesday appearance at a Vermont Republican Party fundraiser as Hurricane Matthew steams toward the U.S. and threatens her state’s coastline. Haley was slated to serve as the key attraction at the party’s Hilton Hotel fundraiser, which was supposed to feature a “roundtable” and private reception with Haley for sponsors before the dinner. A dinner ticket to the event will cost $75, according to the Vermont GOP’s website. The top level sponsorship for the fundraiser costs $4,000 and includes two tickets to the roundtable, four tickets to the reception with Haley and four reserved seating dinner tickets. Lesser sponsorships will cost $2,500, $1,000 and $500. Continue Reading →

FBI reviewing post card sent to Vermont Dems

The front of a questionable post card sent to the Vermont Democratic Party from an unknown source. (Courtesy of the Vermont Democratic Party)

MONTPELIER — A postcard with racial undertones received by the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, which could be construed as a threat, has been sent to the FBI for review by the state’s federal prosecutor. The postcard, received on Sept. 27, was sent to Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Conor Casey. It features a picture of the late, former West Virginia Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd in a Ku Klux Klan robe, and another picture of Byrd kissing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The postcard, postmarked in Delaware, states “See you on the 8th” on the back, perhaps a reference to the Nov. Continue Reading →

Scott rolls back proposed capital gains tax cut

(Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial nominee Phil Scott is scaling back a proposal to cut taxes on capitals gains in the economic plan he rolled out two weeks ago after it was based on incorrect information. Scott, the incumbent lieutenant governor, distributed a glossy pamphlet at a news conference in Colchester on Sept. 15 that included a number of proposals he intends to enact as governor. Included in the pamphlet was a plan to restore a 40 percent exclusion on capital gains earnings that was reduced in 2009. But Scott spokesman Ethan Latour said the campaign made a mistake when crafting the proposal and based it on wrong information. Continue Reading →

Merger of Johnson, Lyndon State Colleges approved


MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to merge Johnson and Lyndon State Colleges into a single institution with separate campuses. Thursday’s vote followed preliminary approval from the board in July. Officials say merging the two colleges will expand opportunities for students and improve finances within the state college system. “Unification will create new academic and experiential opportunities for students, a bigger and more diverse faculty environment, advantages for recruiting new students and a significantly strengthened financial foundation,” VSCS Chancellor Jeb Spaulding told the board. “They are pivotal institutions in their regions and they are beloved by their alumni, faculty, staff and current students. Continue Reading →

State, feds reach deal on all-payer model

Green Mountain Care Board Chairman Al Gobeille, second from left, and Gov. Peter Shumlin, second from right, discuss the terms of an agreement with the federal government to transform the way the state pays for health care. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Vermont has reached a deal with the federal government to move forward with a plan to overhaul the way health care is paid for in Vermont by basing payments to providers on the quality of health outcomes rather than the volume of services they provide, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday. Shumlin, a Democrat whose tenure in office will end in January after three terms, has been seeking the transformational shift in the state’s health care payment system for more than two years. Negotiations with the federal government have resulted in a draft agreement that will now be presented to the public for review before the state and federal government sign off on it. “We have now a draft agreement from the federal government that will allow us to take on a challenge that I believe effects the pocketbooks of every single Vermonter,” Shumlin told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. “This is probably the single thing that hurts Vermonters the most economically. Continue Reading →

RGA changes tack, attacks Minter


MONTPELIER — The Republican Governor’s Association has shifted tactics from boosting Phil Scott’s image to attacking his Democratic rival. The Republican Governors Association released a new television ad Wednesday through its Vermont-based super PAC, A Stronger Vermont, that seeks to tie Democratic gubernatorial nominee to outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. The ad refers to Shumlin as Minter’s mentor. “It’s no secret Sue Minter’s mentor is Peter Shumlin,” a narrator says in the ad. “They worked together, raised taxes together, and now their allies are running negative ads against Phil Scott.”

The ad, which is paired with a website, claims Shumlin has failed and is now “pushing Sue Minter to continue their bad policies of higher taxes on us and fewer Vermonters working.”

“Sue Minter has spent years working alongside, raising taxes with, and learning from her mentor Peter Shumlin,” RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson said in a statement announcing the ad. Continue Reading →

Shumlin planning to name new Vermont Supreme Court justice

Gov. Peter Shumlin is planning to name a replacement for Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, front left, who will retire from the court in March. (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin’s office said Tuesday that he plans to appoint a successor to replace retiring Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, even though he won’t leave the bench until after Shumlin leaves office. Dooley, who has served on the Vermont Supreme Court since former Democratic Gov. Madeleine Kunin appointed him in 1987, has announced that he will not seek retention and retire from the court in March. The 72-year-old justice will retire as the third-longest serving member of the state’s highest court. Shumlin, who is not seeking re-election and will leave office in early January, is planning to appoint Dooley’s replacement, according to spokeswoman Susan Allen. Allen said state statute and the rules governing the state’s Judicial Nominating Board call for the sitting governor to begin the process of choosing a successor when a justice announces retirement. Continue Reading →

Minter outlines tax policy


MONTPELIER — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Sue Minter says she will seek tax fairness as governor and look to lower the burden on low- and middle-income Vermonters by closing loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and corporations. According to Minter, the tax policies she will propose as governor may incorporate some elements of the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission report released in 2011. The report, which was shelved by policymakers in Montpelier, recommended expanding the sales tax to “all consumer-purchased services with limited exceptions for certain health and education services and business to business service transactions.”

Minter expressed an interest in dusting off the commission’s report during a WDEV radio debate on Sept. 14, saying she would look at expanding the base of the sales tax to include services. Her Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Republican Party pounced, announcing to Vermonters in a coordinated effort that Minter wants to tax hair cuts, among other services that Vermonters pay for. Continue Reading →