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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen




It looks like the 2007 legislative session is down to its final two weeks, though one never knows for sure.

The Senate will be taking up the 2008 budget today (yes, they'll be working on a Monday). Then it goes to conference committee.

Some of what's also still to come:

- The energy bills, which will be rolled into one, with their controversial taxes (on Entergy's profits and on setting a way to tax wind turbines). They just might be controversial enough for a veto, if they make it that far.

- The big broadband/cell phone coverage bill, still working its way toward the Senate floor.

- Education funding has gone to conference committee, and it's hard to say what will come out of that, though no one expects huge tax relief to come of it.

- Next Generation money for college scholarships and workforce development. Also working its way toward the Senate floor.

- Instant runoff voting. Who knows if this one will make it through the House. It faces a fairly certain veto if it does.

- Pre-kindergarten. This compromise on how to allow for pre-K programs but not let them expand too much still awaits Senate action.

- Farm "viabilitity." We still don't know if restaurants will be able to serve uninspected poulty or if the legislature will manage to help farmers keep more of the money for their milk.

Those are some. Which legislation are you watching closely? What has to happen for this session to be measured a "success?"

- Terri Hallenbeck



Fill in the issue

When I was a college student a long time ago, I worked for a semester as a congressional intern. One of my tasks was to respond to letters from constituents, who sometimes asked arcane questions about issues that mattered to them and about five other people. My job was to research those issues and write a response on the congressman's behalf. As an unpaid intern just barely old enough to vote, I'm guessing I wasn't given the most volatile letters, but as the most naive person in the office, I also didn't care. The research was usually interesting.

This was more than a few years ago, in the pre-computer days. I must have used a typewriter.
I'm sure I was given guidance on how to structure the letters. I'm sure we didn't use entirely fresh wording for every letter, but I don't recall using a specific formula for the letters.

Technology has changed that, apparently. A Vermonter has shared with us a letter he received from our new congressman, Peter Welch. It reads:

Thank you for contacting me about (INSERT ISSUE). I appreciate your
feedback on this important issue.

I share your concern about (RESTATEMENT OF ISSUE). (2-3 SENTENCES OF

I will keep your thoughts in mind and carefully consider any measures that
come before Congress that may (INSERT ISSUE).

Thank you again for contacting me. Please continue to stay in touch, and I
look forward to seeing you in Vermont soon.


Peter Welch
Member of Congress

It's nice to know that Peter shares concerns with every constituent about every issue that is brought to him, but it would sound a little more sincere with the issues filled in.

UPDATE: I understand that the recipient of the letter in question received an apologetic phone call from Welch's office.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The vote is in

The results are in on the House vote on urging Vermont congressman to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

The vote: 87-60 against.

The pre-vote debate lasted about an hour and a half in a House chamber oozing with onlookers. The were spilling out of the balcony, sitting in the hallway outside the chamber, and filling every sqaure inch of public space inside. While the vote was being counted, far more than the usual number of members read explanations of their vote for the record.

"This vote was a statement ... ."

"... This vote was inappropriate ... ."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Statehouse madness

Good thing Sen. Dick Mazza was putting on his annual lunch for his fellow senators and others around the Statehouse today, or they never would have managed to eat. The building is swarming with those calling for presidential and vice-presidential impeachment. Some 300 of them had a rally about 11 a.m. today in the House chamber.

As senators were streaming toward their chamber about that time, they could hear the cheering from down the hall, and a few of them paused to wonder what had overcome their House colleagues. Floor debates in either chamber might be tough at times, but never raucous. In fact, the House was not in session; it was the impeachment folks revving themselves up for this afternoon's vote in the House.

See, things are different in the House than in the Senate. The Senate voted on impeachment quietly at 8:30 a.m. Friday. Throw that ball over to the House's court, and it's a messier game.

No matter which side of the impeachment debate you come down on, you have to marvel at the beauty of the fact that a bunch of people can come to the Statehouse, have this debate about impeaching the president in open, and no federal agents, as far as I know, are taking down names and planning to come to their homes later and break their kneecaps or move them to Siberia.

- Terri Hallenbeck



For and against impeachment

House Democrats heard two sides of the impeachment question during their caucus this afternoon.

Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, has been gathering sponsors for the resolution and explained his reasoning to the Democrats. He argued, "If we don't take this action and say it is not worth it, that it is too political," it tells future presidents "you can get away with it." By it, Zuckerman means acts of questionable legality.

Democratic House Speaker Gaye Symington then stood before the packed caucus to explain why she would vote 'no' if she had the chance to vote. (As speaker, she won't vote unless there is a tie. Not likely) Last Friday, Symington said she would send the resolution to committee, but changed her mind, she explained. "It's clear to me we should bring up the resolution for a vote in order to get back to our work."

Things got emotional when Symington explained that she "deplores the values and actions of this president and vice president." Choking on her words, she said she's horrified at the"damage that has been done."

She said the last election brought political change and led to investigations that have caught the attention of all Americans, regardless of what color state they come from. "We're coming back together as a country again," she said. "I want to keep the country on track, moving forward." She worries that impeachment proceedings would fracture the country -- again.

Zuckerman also spoke to the House Republican caucus. Rep. David Sunderland, R-Rutland, criticized the time that will likely be spent debating the resolution. Lawmakers ought to focus on the important bills still pending during these final weeks before adjournment, he said.

Zuckerman countered that even if the House spent several hours on the impeachment debate, it wouldn't make any difference on how soon work wraps up on major legislation. He said there are plenty of other reasons that bills are currently stuck.

The word in the building is, the resolution will fail by a significant margin.

-- Nancy Remsen


Random items

... Word has it that the House will vote on impeachment tomorrow. And that it probably will not have enough votes to pass.

... The Senate skipped over instant runoff voting today. If the vote ever happens (a growing question) it could be close.

... That tax on Vermont Yankee that Peter Shumlin proposed yesterday is going to generate quite a battle. Do not expect Entergy to go quietly into the good night on this.

... If you didn't get your paper, you should call the Circulation Department (1-800-427-3124).
If you're waiting for the mucky-mucks to read the blog postings, well, I just don't know how long that might be.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Entergy efficiency tax

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin rolled out his new proposed funding source to pay for the efficiency utility that is supposed to help make your house more energy efficient. It is - drumroll please - tax on Entergy Corp.'s increased Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant profits.

It would start with $2 million this year, increase to $5 million in 2008 and then by $2 million each year after that through 2012, when Vermont Yankee's Vermont license expires.

The premise is that Vermont Yankee has increased revenues more than anticipated since it was granted permission last year to operate at a higher capacity. Also, that storing nuclear waste in dry casks on site along the Connecticut River is proving to be a longer-term engagement than once thought, so Shumlin argues, Vermont Yankee should pay Vermont for that.

I expect any minute now to hear the reasons from Entergy why this is a bad idea.

The reality is that there are no funding sources for anything that won't make somebody yelp. Shumlin, whose Windham County district plays host to the nuclear power plant, will win support for this from many of his constituents who would just as soon tax Vermont Yankee right off the map.

This fight in the Statehouse is likely to come down to what is the best way to promote energy-efficiency in homes and businesses. Many Democrats want this Efficiency Vermont-style utility, and if they create that, they need a way to pay for it. Four Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committe question whether that's the right method at all.

Shumlin's proposal is also bound to set off another debate about nuclear power , a debate that has taken a new turn amid all the talk about global warming. Nuclear power plant companies such as Entergy are pitching their product as green because they don't contribute greenhouse gases.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Senate impeaches Bush, Cheney

A couple of odd things happened in the Senate this morning. They started on time, bright and early at 8:30 a.m., and then without a word of debate they voted to urge Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Barely anyone was there to witness it (don't worry, your intrepid vt. Buzz team was there), all part of the smoothness of the move. It was done before some members even realized the session had started.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, who earlier in the week reiterated to impeachment supporters that there just wasn't enough time for the Senate to take up such a resolution, ended up introducing the thing himself, along with fellow Windham Democrat Jeanette White. With Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie out of town, Shumlin found a way to make this happen in seconds.

After the vote, I ran into impeachment advocate Jimmy Leas, who was just on his way toward the Senate. Quickly, he dialed fellow supporter Liza Earle on the phone. "It passed," he said. "Tell everybody."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Worrying about the future

Lawmakers have plenty to worry about these days. Foremost is whether they will get done in a timely manner. Then there's all the tough spending decisions they are making as the big money bills come up for action. In transportation, for example, many lawmakers believe there's a need for $150 million more than will get spent in the coming year.

John McClaughry offered the Legislature the chance to shoulder some long-term worries, too, by sponsoring a noon-time roundtable discussion ominously titled, "Where will the state get the money to pay for its programs in 2030?" McClaughry, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, has run these kinds of discussions at the Statehouse for five years. Today was the first of this legislative session.

The roundtable discussion keyed off a study, sponsored by the Ethan Allen Institute, that examined demographic and governmental spending trends for the next 25 years. Check out the study here. The study predicts calamity unless there's a change in the state's appetite for spending or a whole lot of young folks move in because of the state develops a hot job market.

The seminar drew a tiny audience. House members had a group photo scheduled on the steps of the Statehouse. The Senate was on the floor debating the transportation budget bill.

Dick Heaps laid out the reason for the gloomy predictions in the study. Boomers will be retiring and the generation behind them is much smaller. Despite declining school enrollment, spending continues to increase. Human service spending also continues to rise. Heaps argued that the state couldn't increase economic growth enough to overcome the demographic and spending trends.

Tom Kavet, an economist who advises the Legislature, praised the long look taken by the study, but wasn't convinced of its conclusions. "There are many variables that can change."

He suggested, too, that just because boomers would retire, didn't mean they would become a fiscal drain. "The elderly is one of the wealthiest population cohorts we have in this state." He also said increased productivity might turn out to be another factor that could change the trend.

Two administration representatives -- Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham and Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon -- noted the steps that the Douglas administration and --yes, they said, lawmakers, too, -- were taking to curb spending. "There is a healthy debate going on right now on school spending," Pelham said. "We should be able to bend that curve."

Paul Cillo, former Democratic legislator who now heads his own public policy organization -- Public Assets Institute, questioned whether the trend of increased school spending over the past 20 years indicated the future direction. He said two reforms had taken place during that period that required financial investments. Beginning in the 1980s, he said the state moved from ranking 47th in teacher pay to middle of the pack. In the late 1990s, Act 60 helped close the gap between low-and high-spending school districts. He said that even without the cost containment measures under consideration this session, the increase in school spending has shrunk in recent years.

McClaughry's message to the handful of lawmakers who dropped by: "You don't have to do anything about this issue between now and the end of the session, but it will bedevil Legislatures to come."

Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, didn't minimize the challenges. In fact he added to the list. Still he suggested marching forward with more optimism, based on past experience. He noted that towns like his and the state have faced significant challenges before. "We should look back and see how we have responded in the past."

So what do you think? Is state government headed for a "train wreck" or will things work out in a way we can't yet imagine?

-- Nancy Remsen


Martha makes her move

So it's finally official.

Former Vermont adjutant general and Republican Congressional candidate Martha Rainville is outa here, off to Washington to take a job as close advisor to the head of the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rainville started work at her new job on Monday, according to a memo circulated among FEMA staff by her new boss, FEMA Administrator David Paulison. Her job is to recommend policy and organizational changes for the agency which, in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the agency surely can use.

FEMA's gain is Vermont's loss, particularly from a Republican standpoint. Rainville didn't run the smartest Congressional race last year, but she was also swimming against a powerful anti-Iraq war current and running under the Republican banner in a state about as anti-Bush as any in the country. Still, Vermont Republicans don't have many potential stars on its bench, and she was one of them.

Don't hold your breath expecting she will come back and run for office anytime soon, either. She left without bothering to issue a statement to her supporters or return a phone call from a reporter. And FEMA is hardly what you'd call a stepping stone to higher office.

So long, Martha, and good luck.

-- Sam Hemingway



Where's it go now?

So Peter Shumlin pulled the rabbit out of his sleeve and turned it into the governor's education spending cap. Now what?

Shumlin made no bones about the fact that he doesn't like the cap, that this move was not about him finding the governor's religion. So one is left to figure that he either hopes the cap gets defeated in the House for lack of support by Republicans or he lets the cap become law and hopes everybody hates it.

That's not such a stretch since voters tend to hate everything related to property taxes, including all attempts to fix them. Shumlin's also made it clear this year he doesn't seem some great solution out there, that there will be no ticker tape parade from voters on property tax.

But will voters: a) hate the cap; b) hate it in time for next election; c) take it out on the governor, or will they spread their discontent to the Legislature that passed it?

Gov. Jim Douglas, at his news conference today, said he was surprised at Shumlin's move, but that whatever Shumlin's strategy is, Douglas doesn't see a downside for himself. "They're curious, but irrelevant," he said of Shumlin's actions.

Anybody got this Rubik's cube figured out?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Good theater

Plenty of good drama played out at the Statehouse today. The Senate approved the governor's education spending cap in a well-scripted piece that featured the lieutenant governor breaking the tie vote. I wasn't there for it - my co-worker Nancy covered that one - but it sounds like everybody stuck to their roles perfectly.

Another scene I did catch was in the Cedar Creek Room, where about 100 Vermonters who want to see President Bush and Vice President Cheney impeached bantered with, questioned, lectured and yelled at House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin for about 45 minutes.

Ten-year-old Jackson Bressor of Richmond stepped forward in the crowd and asked, "Isn't democracy showing the views of the people?"

Jackson is a fifth-grader who skipped school to come to the Statehouse with his father.
"I came to really try to have the Legislature notice us," said Jackson, who gets fired up talking about the president's handling of the war in Iraq, wiretapping and torture.

Like others in the crowd, Jackson found the event emotionally gripping - that so many people had come from all over Vermont to speak so passionately about this issue to the leaders of the Legislature.

"Being able to speak to Gaye and Peter really let out a lot," he said, referring to them by their first names so you got the impression that along with wiretapping, the Vermont Legislature is a common topic around the Bressor dinner table. "Just to be able to talk to them. I'm really glad I came to this."

Fifty-three-year-old Kurt Daims, a retired engineer from Brattleboro wearing a red beret, was taken by the power of the people too. "I was on the verge of tears," he said.

This sense that they were working the muscles of democracy came even though Symington and Shumlin were flatly telling the crowd that they could not justify taking the time to debate impeachment. These particular people were all for the Legislature spending a few hundred thousand dollars to extend the legislative session, but hordes of people outside the Statehouse would be less eager to see that.

Symington told them she believes that even in Congress impeachment proceedings would suck up all the energy and divert attention away from getting the U.S. out of Iraq. This crowd wasn't buying that argument. "The best way to get him out of Iraq is to impeach him," Daims yelled from the cluster of people.

"I just think that's weird," Jackson said afterward of Symington's argument.

Shumlin and Symington did, however, remind the group that a single legislator could bring up the resolution and force a vote on whether it should be heard.

Sen. Dick McCormack, a Democrat from Windsor County whose been called the Senate's most liberal member, was the only legislator lurking in the crowd of pro-impeachment folks. He said afterward they might just have left him with no choice but to push for the resolution. "I've been shamed into it," he said. "These people are right. I wish they'd go away. Their refusal to go away means you have to confront the fact that they're right."

- Terri Hallenbeck



Give and take

The Douglas administration is bristling over the Lunderville-Fitzgerald incident, claiming that Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville is being unfairly raked over the coals by allegations that he offered Rep. Jim Fitzgerald help with a road project in return for his vote to sustain the governor's veto on the budget adjustment bill. Lunderville said no such connection was made between the vote and the road.

I wish I'd been there for their conversation because I don't know how we'll ever know what was really said or implied.

The administration claims that a conversation that took place last month between Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and Rep. Daryl Pillsbury, an independent from Brattleboro, amounts to the same sort of thing that Lunderville's being accused of.

Pillsbury called Shumlin at home on a Friday night and asked him to speak at a Brattleboro global warming event. Shumlin told him he couldn't because he was scheduled to speak at a Montpelier event at the same time. Shumlin asked Pillsbury how he was going to vote on the impending veto. Pillsbury said he wouldn't vote with the Democrats, and launched into a litany of complaints he has against them. One of those complaints was a lack of state money to pay for the Brattleboro Union High School construction project.

Shumlin said he offered to set up a meeting for Pillsbury with House Speaker Gaye Symington, Majority Leader Carolyn Partridge and Assistant Majority Leader Floyd Nease. "I told him I wasn't interested," Pillsbury told me.

Pillsbury said Shumlin offered him nothing more than to set up that meeting, but he speculated he would have been offered more if he'd gone through with the meeting. "I don't know what I could've gotten out of this, but I think I could have gotten something," Pillsbury said. "I can't prove it."

"How can you speculate about what would have happened?" Shumlin asked. "Daryl's expectations and mine are different."

Pillsbury said, however, he didn't think his conversation with Shumlin was on par with the Lunderville-Fitzgerald accusations. "I think there's a huge difference," he said. Legislators help each other out with support for issues all the time, he said, but not with a check.

The administration is angry that the Pillsbury-Shumlin conversation is not getting the media play that the Lunderville-Fitzgerald conversation did. Is it the same thing?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Liz Jeffords dies

Liz Jeffords, the wife of former U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, has died at the couple's Shrewsbury home, the Associated Press has just reported. She was 68.

Liz Jeffords' battle with cancer was one of the reasons her husband chose not to seek re-election to the Senate in 2006.

"I just felt strongly that I wanted to spend more time with my wife, be
more relaxed and have more time on my hands," Jeffords said in 2005.

She was a woman who married Jeffords not once but twice. They were divorced for eight years in the 1980s before remarrying. He called her outspoken and affectionate. The couple had two children.

The Burlington native had battled ovarian cancer years ago, and suffered a heart attack in 1998.

She was a liberal long active in Vermont politics and last fall, she was still in political mode, endorsing Peter Welch for Congress alongside Marcelle Leahy.

Our thoughts are with the family.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Dorks are us

Give people an anonymous billboard and they turn into mean little critters. The phenomenon would make an interesting Lord-of-the-Flies-like study.

I will grant you that yesterday's downed-computer posting was not the most insightful or earth-shattering. It was but one morsel thrown out while I was eating my ham sandwich that might make somebody go "huh." I could've just concentrated on the sandwich and left you with nothing to read at all.

So what does one of our dedicated, politically thirsty and ungrateful blog readers call it? "Dorky." I haven't been called dorky, at least not to my face, since the 7th grade.

It's all right, I can take it. I see that you all moved on from my dorky comment and found your own thread. And new reasons to lob mean-spirited bombs at each other and the handful of politicians whom you blame for every ailment you've ever heard of.

I don't mean to be (even more) dorky here, but I wonder if it's possible to have a lively discussion without the mean-spirited bombs that you're only making because you sit behind the mask of anonymity.

Let's take a stab at the tete-a-tete between Neale Lunderville and Rep. Jim Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, for his part, says he doesn't want to talk about it anymore, would like the issue to die down. No doubt, the governor would too, but he was asked a number of questions about it at today's news conference.

He says he believes it was a matter of two people interpreting an exchange in two different ways, and not a matter of either one of them lying. Though Lunderville and Fitzgerald agree that they had two quick discussions in which both the road project and the veto vote came up, the governor doesn't find it odd that both topics managed to get squeezed into both conversations.

He did say that the exchange of one's vote for a favor would be completely inappropriate. And that the politics behind which road project gets built is less under his administration than previous ones because of a point system that's attached to each.

Give it a shot - express yourselves on this one. But let's see if you can you do it without the cheap, mean shots.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Does not compute

The Statehouse computers were down this morning, ironically delaying work on a bill that aims to bring high-speed Internet to every corner of Vermont. Remember when life was simpler? Harder maybe, but simpler.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Encouraging business

The Vermont House is tackling two bills this week intended to make it easier for some local businesspeople to connect with their customers.

Tuesday, the House gave preliminary approval to a bill (H.94) that would allow local stores that sell beer and wine to carry high-test beers -- those with up to 16 percent alcohol by volume. This would let some micro-brews reach out more broadly. Currently they may be sold in state liquor outlets but not where you pickup your "Bud."

Wednesday, the House will consider a bill (S.120) that would allow wine-tasting at farmer's markets. A wine-maker could get a special license to offer "local grape juice" to folks buying the fixings for a salad.

There were critics of the beer bill, Tuesday, although their voices were pretty weak when it came time to vote. They worried the bill would encourage youthful drinkers who could now get drunk quicker because of the increased alcohol by volume.

Supporters said this kind of high-test beer is an acquired taste> It's beer that one sips! And it's pricey.

Rep. John Rodgers, D-Glover, argued that anyone looking for a drunk would be smarter to invest in a bottle of 100 proof vodka for $10.

"I don't believe kids will drink it," Rodgers told House members. "I don't believe they will spend the extra cost." Rodgers, lead sponsor of the bill, put the bill in perspective -- the kind that usually delivers votes. "Support economic development and agricultural diversity and our successful microbreweries."

Sounds like a toast. If he had just started with "Here's to ...."

--Nancy Remsen


Trying to hold it together

The House speaker has gotten considerable grief for not being able to hold together every last member of her 93-person caucus, plus the 6 Progs and 2 Indies. Imagine the grief when the Burlington City Council Democrats couldn't hold together their tiny little caucus of six for the election of a council president last night.

Bill Keogh, a Democrat who doubles as a member of the city council and the state House, made that point to his Statehouse colleagues this afternoon.

Kurt Wright, who like Keogh plays double duty on the council and in the House, was warned this morning not to get too used to the title of Mr. President.

Tis a bit odd, Keogh and other Democrats acknowledged, that they allowed a Republican to sneak through as council president in the land of the liberals. Ironic, too, that the vacancy for council president came after Democrat Ian Carleton resigned because he found the council work to be too much on top of his lawyer work, his family life and his role as the state's Democratic Party chairman.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Go figure

Here's a case where you couldn't predict what side of the fence the politicians would sit, though you probably could've predicted they'd be on opposite sides from each other.

The Douglas administration wrote new toughest-in-the-nation rules restricting the emissions on outdoor wood furnaces. Those who make the furnaces say they can't meet these rules. Agency of Natural Resources officials say that's nonsense.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin stumbled on that debate Friday while waiting his turn to be on Mark Johnson's radio show. DEC Commissioner Jeff Wennberg and lobbyist Ed Larson were on the air point-counter-pointing the wood furnace debate.

Shumlin said he found himself agreeing with Larson, who represents one of the chief makers of the furnaces and thinks the restrictions go too far. If you're talking affordability (as the governor so often is), these furnaces offer Vermonters a cheaper way to heat their homes and barns, Shumlin said. If you're talking global warming (as Shumlin so often is), these furnaces don't add to the problem, he added.

Puts him once again on the opposite side of the fence from the governor, but who'd-a-figured which side they'd each be on with this one.

Just two days earlier the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted 6-2 to support the rules, and it was the Democrats who voted for them. Two Republicans voted against.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Peace offering

This happened Thursday night on the House floor, after all the media had left. It was a sort of peace offering in light of the partisan contentiousness that had just taken place. Rep. Rick Hube, a Republican from Londonderry offered these comments thanking the speaker for not slipping the veto vote in when no one was watching:

“Madam Speaker:
I rise on a point of personal
privilege. I would like to share with the body words that I shared with
you earlier today.
It has been a tough long and
difficult week. We have argued and fought to serve the people that sent us
here. Undoubtedly we will continue to fight and argue until we close this
You and I do not often agree, but I know
that we both have a love for this institution and all it
I know the outcome of this bodies’
earlier action on H. 302 was not the outcome that you had hoped
I am aware of the power and authority vested in
you which allows for great flexibility. That flexibility extends to
allowing you when to bring up for action those bills that are on the action
You could have delayed action on H. 302
well in to the night. I applaud you for your commitment to fairness to all
Vermonters in taking up for action H. 302 when all Vermonters’ voices could be
You have reinforced my faith in this
institution in the stewardship you provide. I thank you Madame

- Terri Hallenbeck



Veto fever

The Statehouse was still abuzz today over yesterday's House vote on the governor's veto, where Democrats fell just three votes short of an override. After the weekend, this one will be far in the rear-view mirror, but for now it's a more catchy conversation than, "Hey what do you think about the 2008 budget?"

Legislators have a way of blaming the media for suggesting that a veto-proof majority exists in the House. I'd like to suggest that if we didn't point out that there was this first-time-ever-for-Democrats theoretical veto-proof majority if the Progressives and the independents cooperate, everybody'd be after us.

So this fragile, first-time-ever thing was challenged for the first time Thursday. Two Democrats and one independent didn't go along. One D was also at the dentist. One of the wayward Democrats was Ron Allard of St. Albans, who's often gone against the party and so was no surprise. Independent Darryl Pillsbury is labeled an independent for a reason, so his vote's not very predictable.

The surprise of the day was newcomer Jon Anderson, in his third day in the Legislature. He's listed as a Democrat, but he was the fifth of five choices among Montpelier Democrats making the nominations to the governor. Now people are really wondering what kind of Democrat he is.

Does a real Democrat back the governor? Does a newcomer in his third day on the job not realize how politically charged this vote is? Does a newcomer think, more than old-timers, that such a vote shouldn't be so purely political? Where do you draw the line between voting with the party and voting with your own self? Thursday's vote raises these questions and more.

- Terri Hallenbeck



We're Number One

The supposedly non-partisan Tax Foundation put out a special report ranking the 50 states in terms of the burden of state and local taxes on taxpayers and guess who's Number One.


Not Tax-achusetts, Not Taxas. Not Ca-ching-alifornia. Not New (Yikes!) York.

For the second year in a row, the state/local tax burden carried by Vermonters was heavier than any other state -- 14.1 percent of our income went into state and local coffers, nearly 3 percentage points above the 11.0 percent average nationally.

There will be those who say the study fails to recognize that more than $100 million of tax revenue collected in the name of the Act 60 school funding reform law is recycled back to a majority of our taxpayers, this year via a credit against their property taxes.

But then why is it that only since 2002 has the state's ranking been steadily climbing the charts, from 7th in country to 6th, then 3rd, then 2nd and last year, 1st. Curiously this march toward ignominy has occurred entirely on Gov. Jim Douglas' watch. The last three years Howard Dean was governor, the ranking sat in the 7th position and didn't move.

Republicans will argue that the increasing burden took place as Democrats consolidated their control of the House and Senate, but hey, the buck stops with the guv. He's still the guy who has the last word on what becomes law and what doesn't.

What do you think? What's it like to know Vermont leads the country in a category that we are confident won't be featured in the state's promotional literature?

-- Sam Hemingway



Chasing turbines

The showdown over how to tax wind projects was going on quietly and sort of behind the scenes Wednesday in the Statehouse. It was another sign that legislative Democrats are not quite thinking in unison.

The House Natural Resources & Energy Committee had set a rate of a third of a penny per kilowatt hour produced. The House Ways & Means Committee, feeling less fond of wind power, chose a rate twice as high.

The last thing House leaders wanted was a floor fight among their own on this, so they spent the day shuttling to and fro, trying to avoid that.

Democrats reached a compromise that would put the tax at just over a half-penny, but it didn't seem like a very fair compromise to those who went into the session believing global warming legislation was a priority. The idea they left with Wednesday was that they'd work on lowering the tax rate in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate set aside the funding for its global warming legislation - a heating oil tax - with the idea that they'd work on a new funding source in the House. So it appears they're about to trade each other their problems with no sure sign of a solution.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Committee shuffle

New legislator Jon Anderson of Montpelier landed on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee on Tuesday as House Speaker Gaye Symington did some minor committee shuffling.

Anderson is replacing Francis Brooks, who left the Legislature to run the Statehouse as sergeant-at-arms. Brooks had been on the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee (he was chairman last session but yielded that this year in anticipation of his job change).

Symington appointed freshman Democratic Rep. Virginia McCormack of Rutland to House General. McCormack had been on the Health Care Committee.

Rep. John Zenie, a freshman Democrat from Colchester who had been on Fish & Wild, goes to Health Care.

Somebody put it to me this way: House General Chairwoman Helen Head needed a woman to join her on the panel and she needed a liberal woman at that.


New guy seated

Jon Anderson became Rep. Jon Anderson, D-Montpelier, on Monday and took his seat in the Vermont House of Representatives at 11:10 a.m. today.

The man Anderson replaced -- Francis Brooks -- announced his arrival to House members. Brooks resigned the Legislature to become sergeant at arms at the Statehouse.

Anderson didn't even get to sit down. The House promptly recessed so members could caucus on two education bills, so district-mate Rep. Warren Kitzmiller, D-Montpelier, guided him down to Room 11 for the party's briefing. Ready or not, Anderson will be casting his first votes by the end of the day.

-- Nancy Remsen



Survey says

Sen./Professor Bill Doyle's town meeting day survey results are in. Here are samplings, keeping in mind that this thing is not fodder for the mind but not scientific:

Barack Obama leads the way for president among Vermonters who attended town meeting and filled out a form. Hillary Clinton, Rudy Guiliani, John McCain and John Edwards followed in that order.

People were tied on whether gay marriage should be legalized in Vermont - 46-46 percent with 8 percent unsure.

Statewide cell and high-speed Internet service are important to the state's future, 82 percent said. Eight percent said that's not so. Ten percent were not sure, which does make you wonder if that 10 percent is sure of anything.

Sixty-eight percent liked the idea of commercial windmills on Vermont's ridgelines.

Sixty-eight percent also said Vermont should reduce its prison population through alternatives for non-violent offenders.

The ubiquitous 68 percent also would prohibit people from using cell phones while driving.

Public financing of political campaigns won the hearts of 30 percent, but 51 percent don't like the idea. Nineteen percent had no idea what that meant.

Fifty percent said Gov. Douglas is doing a good job, while 29 percent said he wasn't and 21 percent weren't sure.

Thirty-seven percent said the Legislature is doing a good job, while 35 percent said not so, and 28 percent were not sure.

If that last one lead you to believe that people thought the Legislature was wasting its time on global warming, then explain this one: Sixty-one said Vermont should take the lead in addressing global warming.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Tracking votes

Last week, I wrote a post dissing Jim Barnett's idea that the Vermont Legislature needs electronic voting boards so people can more easily see how legislators vote. A day later, I had the occasion to guide someone through the process of looking votes up, and it gave me pause to reconsider.

Not the electronic scoreboards. I still think that'd be mighty gaudy in our quaint Statehouse. But is there a better way of archiving votes on particular bills so that the ordinary person could navigate the minefield?

Want to know how a particular legislator voted on everything? You can call his or her votes up on the Leggie Web site, but you've got to have a pretty good understanding of how things work to understand what the vote is.

Want to know how your senators voted last week on the campaign finance bill? You can look it up in that day's journal. Here's what you would find:

Thereupon, the bill was read the second time by title only pursuant to
Rule 43, the recommendation of amendment was agreed to and third reading of
the bill was ordered on a roll call, Yeas 28, Nays 0.
Senator Sears having demanded the yeas and nays, they were taken
and are as follows:
Roll Call
Those Senators who voted in the affirmative
were: Ayer, Bartlett, Campbell, Carris, Collins, Condos, *Coppenrath, Cummings,
Doyle, Giard, Hartwell, Illuzzi, Kitchel, Kittell, Lyons, MacDonald, Maynard,
Mazza, McCormack, Miller, Mullin, Nitka, Racine, Sears, Shumlin, Snelling,
Starr, White.
Those Senators who voted in the negative were: None.
Senators absent and not voting were: Flanagan, Scott.

Not up to speed on your jargon? Well, the simplest way to check on roll call vote is to look it up by bill on the Leggie web site. You'll get list of all the members and how they voted. Maybe that's the best we can do.

Anybody have any better ideas for simplifying things?

- Terri Hallenbeck

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