Unemployment remains at 3.7 percent

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s seasonably-adjusted unemployment remained level in October at 3.7 percent, the Vermont Department of Labor announced Friday. October’s unemployment rate matched the revised number from September. The national average in October was 5 percent, according to the department. The October rate, the eighth-lowest in the country, makes the night consecutive month of unemployment below 4 percent. Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan noted a sharp drop in the labor force from September to October of more than 2,000 people. Continue Reading →

Commentary: Welch’s Stance Against Corn Ethanol


hen a Washington-based lobbying outfit started airing television ads in Vermont that attack Rep. Peter Welch because he wants to scale back federal support for corn ethanol, the erstwhile Vermonter in me took offense. It has been a few years since I lived in Vermont, but I was born in Burlington, grew up in Essex Junction, and graduated from Essex High. I now live near Boston, but I’ll probably always consider myself a Vermonter and I think I still have a working sense of what Vermonters value. Related:

Welch responds to attack ad

Vermonters value follow-through, which partly explains Rep. Welch’s skepticism about the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal law that effectively requires Americans to put billions of gallons of biofuel into our cars each year. The policy is sustained mainly by Iowa’s peculiar role in presidential politics and by the corn ethanol lobby, which has a history of big claims and poor follow-through. Continue Reading →

Possession, edibles top legalization debate

Sen Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, studies marijuana legalization

MONTPELIER — Possession limits and edibles topped a discussion Thursday on how the state might go about marijuana legalization. The Senate Government Operations Committee spent most of the day mulling how, not if, pot would be legalized during the upcoming legislative session, with an eye toward everything from the way Vermonters would be allowed to cultivate to the items that would be available at shops selling pot products. Numerous bills related to legalization are pending, including one from Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden – who is running for lieutenant governor – calling for legalization, to another from Rep. David Potter, D-West Rutland, whose bill calls for a saliva test to determine if a motorist is driving while stoned. All of these bills are set against the backdrop of a state-commissioned study from the Rand Corporation released in January stating the taxation of marijuana could generate as much as $70 million in revenue, an attractive proposition for some lawmakers as the state is looking at a projected $66 million deficit. In some ways, the committee’s take on marijuana mirrors existing laws governing alcohol. Continue Reading →

Outside Audit Finds Vermont Health Connect Out Of Federal Compliance


he first independent, external audit of Vermont Health Connect has arrived, and Virginia-based auditing firm says the state is out of compliance with federal regulations for state health insurance exchanges.

There’s a term of art in accounting called a “adverse opinion.” It means an institution isn’t in compliance with generally accepted accounting principles, or that documents needed to prove compliance are either missing or inaccurate. Continue Reading →

Commentary: Security That Protects Our Values


n this time of intense emotion, we must keep a level head, respect everyone’s concerns, refrain from rushing to judgment, avoid politicizing the issue and remember what unites us as Americans. It has been inaccurately suggested that I oppose the resettlement of refugees in Vermont. These claims are based on one news story that reported only one part of my view on a complex issue. I want to set the record straight. First, I believe the first responsibility of any government is to keep its citizens safe. Continue Reading →

Commentary: Reversing the trend of rising incarceration rates


or most of the last two decades, Vermont’s prison inmate population has been rising. Between 1997 and 2008, it grew by 86 percent. Projections made in 2007 said that Vermont’s inmate population would grow to 2,619 by November 2015. After years of work to reform Vermont’s criminal justice system that trend has been reversed, and today Vermont has 1,734 inmates, 885 less than projected. When I first ran for Governor I made reforming the criminal justice system a priority because it is the right thing to do. Continue Reading →

School spending thresholds might undergo “tweaking”

Jeff Francis and Nicole Mace address the House Education Committee.

MONTPELIER – Spending thresholds for school budgets might undergo some “tweaking,” but a repeal seems unlikely. Members of the House Education Committee on Wednesday expressed reservations in repealing a provision of the state’s school district merger law intended to curb spending, but were open to making changes to the threshold formula. The committee – which, during the last legislative session crafted Act 46, which seeks to merge school districts with the goals of reducing costs and expanding educational opportunities – took testimony from a host of education experts who spoke in opposition to a provision intended to cap education spending statewide at 2 percent for the next two years. “The provision was put in because of the widespread agreement that property taxes are burdensome to Vermonters,” said Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol. “I’ve heard widespread concern that it won’t put downward pressure on property taxes because they (the districts) will be forced to spend above the threshold and will be forced to spend more in property taxes.”

The spending threshold formula looks at a district’s per-pupil spending and compares it to the current fiscal year’s statewide average of $14,096. Continue Reading →

Story and podcast – Shumlin: U.S. and Vermont should welcome refugees

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks about welcoming Syrian refugees to Vermont on the Capitol Beat podcast. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin says Republican gubernatorial candidates, like their fellow Republicans seeking the presidency, are stoking fear and bigotry by calling for a halt to Syrian refugees relocating in America. Less than a week since the terror attacks in Paris jolted the world and sparked new fears about the threat of global terrorism and the reach of ISIS, conversation across the U.S., including Vermont, has focused on the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country, and the extent of America’s responsibility and moral obligation to help. Listen to Gov. Peter Shumlin discuss Syrian refugees on the Capitol Beat podcast:

Shumlin, in an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau Wednesday, said Syrian refugees, like immigrants from all nations in past years, will make American and Vermont a better place. “I really feel that America was created on the backs of folks who emigrated to this country under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Some were fleeing war, some were fleeing death squads. Continue Reading →

VSEA presents security requests

Trissie Casanova, left, and Nancy Lynch present the Vermont State Employees Association's request for additional security measures for Department for Children and Families workers. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association is calling for a cap on case loads for social workers and added security measures in the wake of the slaying of a Department for Children and Families worker in August. Nancy Lynch, a legislative specialist for the VSEA, and Trissie Casanova, a social worker and chairwoman of the group’s Labor Management Committee, presented the union’s proposals to the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee Wednesday morning. Worker safety has been a major concern for state workers following the August slaying of Lara Sobel, who was gunned down in the parking lot outside a DCF office in Barre. Casanova told the panel that VSEA wants to cap case loads for social workers at no more than 15 per worker. In addition, the union wants to limit investigations per worker to no more than 17 at a time and have one administrative assistant for every 12 social workers. Continue Reading →

Retirements impact Agency of Education

Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe (Courtesy photo)

MONTPELIER — The Agency of Education is reviewing its priorities and deciding what services it will no longer be able to offer after losing staff members to a retirement incentive program. As the agency works to implement Act 46, the state’s new school district merger law, it is doing so with five fewer members of its staff, which will leave the agency unable to provide the same services it has in the past, says Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “There are some things we’re just not going to be able to do,” Holcombe said Tuesday during the monthly meeting of the State Board of Education. “We’ll just have to be highly strategic in how we target our staff.”

Earlier this year, the Shumlin Administration proposed offering financial incentives to encourage employees who were eligible to retire to do so, part of an effort to balance the 2016 state budget. The offer was open to as many as 300 employees and was projected to save as much as $2.6 million dollars, with the plan contingent upon the requirement that 75 percent of the positions being vacated would remain unfilled. Continue Reading →