Paul Dame

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House lawmakers approve change to school spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given their approval to changes in school spending thresholds that are expected to both give local school boards some breathing room and raise property tax rates. For more than a month, House lawmakers have wrestled with the school spending thresholds imposed by Act 46 of 2015, which calls for the creation of larger school districts to both save money and improve educational opportunities for students. The thresholds themselves, which vary from district to district, were intended as a two-year stop-gap effort to offer property tax relief while districts made plans to merge. However, a number of factors, such as the 2016 roll out of universal Pre-K education and a projected 7.9-percent increase in health insurance costs found many districts struggling to meet those thresholds. Thursday afternoon, House lawmakers approved a bill that would raise every school district’s threshold by 0.9 percent, and reduces the financial penalties a school district would face for exceeding its threshold by 75 percent. Continue Reading →

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Story & Video: Lawmakers divided over budget address

MONTPELIER — Depending upon whom you ask, the proposals offered by Gov. Peter Shumlin during his final budget address are either steps to improve Medicaid and educational opportunities for children, or yet-another call for new taxes. Shumlin offered a number of ideas as he rolled out his final budget, such as new taxes for doctors and dentists to make up for the Medicaid funding shortfall, and and increased fees for mutual funds to offer savings accounts for every child born in Vermont. Sen. Majority leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, compared the speech to a host offering prizes on a game show. “I don’t think it should be anybody’s prerogative to stand at the podium like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right,’” said Benning, who took issue with the governor’s statement that last year’s rejection of an increase in the payroll tax resulted in federal matching funds being left on the table in Washington. “We have a wicked opiate problem in this state, and this legislature has a wicked addiction of its own, and that’s its enslavement to federal funding,” Benning said. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin delivers final State of the State Address

MONTPELIER — In a speech that was free of protests, Gov. Peter Shumlin offered direction for his final year in office, with Republicans complaining he is ignoring the plight of property tax payers and state finances. It was one year ago during Shumlin’s 2015 State of the State Address when hundreds of protestors flooded the State House to protest his abandonment of a single-payer health care system. On Thursday, a very visible police presence screened people entering the building and prevented the general public from entering the balcony of the House Chamber. Perhaps it was the lack of an issue to protest, or the upcoming appearance of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, but either way, Shumlin’s speech Thursday featured an absence of chanting and banners. And Shumlin’s speech erased any thoughts he sees himself as a lame-duck governor, as he outlined proposals touching on education, opiates and marijuana legalization. Continue Reading →

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