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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



802 rappers strike again

Montpelier's young rappers, who got a little buzz a couple months ago with their take of life in the 802 area code, are at again, this time on behalf of the the Legislature's energy bill and in conjunction with VPRIRG.

You can catch it HERE, as Colin Arisman, Luke Martin, and Kevin Hartmann take to the fields and lakes, rhythmically rapping about global warming, leaf season and hybrids.

"Let's start solving climate change in the 802," they opine. "1990 to 2000, 10 of the warmest years."

They also chant for a two-thirds vote, referring to what the House needs July 11 if it is to override the governor's veto of the bill, which of course is in the snowball's chance category of likelihood.

As we learned from their previous video, these kids have got a knack for this stuff, but I would pay money to hear Gov. Jim Douglas deliver a counteracting rap video. Something about Shumlin and Symington disregarding our taxes, them's is the factses?

Sorry, it's Friday afternoon.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Back in seventh grade

The more I think about this standoff between the Legislature and the governor on the energy bill, the more moronic it seems. The posturing is a la seventh grade.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin puts out a news release announcing his willingness to compromise rather than just telling the governor. He cites as a reason for this that that's how he learned of the governor's plan. Seventh-grader: "He hit me first."

Gov. Jim Douglas cancels a meeting with Shumlin because he doesn't like Shumlin's behavior. Shumlin may have told some members of the media the location of the meeting, according to Douglas' staff, and you know what that means, right? No, I don't quite know what that means. That media might be standing outside the meeting place seeking comment afterward? Heavens no! Plus I can't find a single member of the media who was going to go to Woodstock and stalk the meeting.

There's something about these two people - Douglas and Shumlin - that they just set each other off. Yes, they have substantive differences on policy, but what really seems to be getting in the way here is their utter dislike for each other. Neither can stand to see the other one gain an edge.

What we need in these negotiations is for the vice principal to step in, sit both of them down, threaten to call their parents and knock their heads together.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Meeting's off

The governor has postponed the meeting he was going to have this evening with legislative leaders about the energy legislation, with his staff saying that Democratic legislators are negotiating through the media and until they stop it, he won't meet with them.

Gubernatorial spokesman Jason Gibbs charged that Democrats are urging members of the media to crash the meeting.

Being a member of the media, that puts me in sort of an odd position. I don't want to be part of the story. I just want to maintain my status as the socially challenged, poorly paid, current events junkie in the back of the room.

Here I am squarely in the middle on this one, though. I'm the one who first wrote about the meeting and I can tell you it wasn't a case of the Dems spinning me on it. It was simply a case of me looking for a new angle on a story that was growing mold. Here's how my knowledge of the meeting unfolded:

I spoke last Thursday with House Speaker Gaye Symington. Knowing that she was leaving Friday for an overseas vacation and that I was trying to put together a couple stories on the energy legislation, I wanted to catch her before she left. I asked her if she'd spoken to the administration about the governor's energy proposal and she said no, but that while she was away Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Robert Dostis would be talking to the governor. At no time did she say that meeting might involve a compromise, just that they'd be talking.

Ding, went the bell in my head. If they're going to meet with the governor, maybe that will give my story a timeliness. I called Dostis to talk generally about the issues surrounding the bill and the governor's alternative proposal, and I asked him whether they'd be meeting with the governor any time soon. He said he didn't know the specifics, that Shumlin was in charge of that, and he was Shumlin's guest, but that he expected there would be a meeting in the near future. Dostis mentioned that he didn't think the governor's plan was enough, but maybe it could enhance the legislature's.

Another bell went off in my head and I got the notion that if these guys were going to meet, maybe I'd frame my story - which was going to be a comparison of the bill and the governor's alternative - around the question of whether a compromise between these two proposals was possible before the July 11 veto session.

Friday came. I was diverted into writing a story about housing prices. The weekend arrived and I pretended to have a personal life. Monday came around and I resumed my devotion to the energy story.

I put in calls to Shumlin and to Jason Gibbs, the governor's spokesman. Gibbs got back to me first. I asked when the governor would be meeting with Shumlin and Dostis, and he told me Wednesday, late in the day, somewhere halfway between Montpelier and Putney, which is where Shumlin lives and works. I started crafting the story around the idea that a meeting meant a compromise was at least possible, all the while thinking that a compromise was a long shot.

Later in the day, Shumlin returned my call. I verified the meeting and because I didn't just want to say in my story somewhere between Montpelier and Putney, I asked him where. He said Woodstock. Because I wanted some time frame about when I might inquire how the meeting went, I asked what time. He said 5:30 p.m.

After my story about the meeting and the chances of a compromise ran in Tuesday's paper, Shumlin and Dostis came out with a press release announcing they'd be offering a compromise. It surprised me as much as anyone. Though I had explored the idea of a compromise, I had no idea that a specific offer was in the works.

Gibbs said today that he's been getting calls from other media who want to attend the meeting, and he said clearly the Democrats have put them up to it by revealing details about time and location. Combined with yesterday's press release, that's a clear sign that Democrats are negotiating this through the media, Gibbs said.

I will grant you that Tuesday's press release from Shumlin and Dostis was an oddity. Other Democrats were surprised by it and were not entirely sure it was a good move. You could argue that it's a way of negotiating through the media. I can see why it would make the governor's office leery. But the other part, about Democrats encouraging the media to crash the meeting, I can only tell you that must be other media. I was just looking for what we call a "nut graf" for my story.

That's my story. Now let me retreat to the back of the room.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Not so fast

The volley has been returned. The governor has indicated that just removing the Vermont Yankee tax won't be enough to buy his love on the energy bill. He still considers the energy-efficiency utility a new, unnecessary bureaucracy.

He also still wants the Legislature to adopt his simpler version that would have banks offering no- and low-interest loans to homeowners for efficiency work. That's not happening in a one-day veto session, says Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

So when Gov. Douglas gets together tomorrow with Shumlin and Rep. Robert Dostis, they'll already be pretty well aware of where each other stand. Does that allow them to motor ahead to new territory or is that all the territory left to cover?

- Terri Hallenbeck


And so it is

Word just came over from the pro tem's office that legislative leaders will indeed offer the governor a compromise. They'll set aside the funding for the all-fuels utility until January. Peter Shumlin and Robert Dostis will make that pitch to Douglas when they meet with him tomorrow.

Will he agree?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Compromising positions

With politics fighting like a magnetic force against it, what are the prospects of a compromise on the energy bill before the July 11 veto session?

In case you missed it, that's a topic we explored in today's paper.

Is it in the governor's interest to compromise? Could his base of supporters live happily ever after without the bill? If there is a stalemate, Democrats will surely try to make the governor pay at the polls by saying he doesn't care about global warming or the state's energy independence. Will that argument stick?

Is it in the Legislature's interest to compromise? Some very much want the "other stuff" in the bill - renewable energy incentives, goup net metering that allows small clusters to generate their own power and sell the excess to the grid. But by compromising, do the Democrats water things down beyond their own liking?

What is in the best interests of Vermont? Oh, that old thing.

- Terri Hallenbeck



If it sticks

I saw my first Gore-Obama bumper sticker on my way to work today. Is this a case of if we build the bumper sticker, they will come?

- Terri Hallenbeck



The China connection

When Gov. Jim Douglas took his Vermont delegation to China on a trade mission this week, the Shanghai bureau chief of Forbes magazine took special interest. Russell Flannery grew up in Rutland and is a 1981 graduate of the University of Vermont. He's been a journalist in Asia since 1991.

Flannery took the occasion to interview Douglas. His story appeared today on Forbes.com. You can read the article "Catamount strokes The Dragon" HERE.

He notes Douglas' success in landing a meeting with Shanghai's mayor. He also notes how few Vermont companies and investors chose to join the governor on the trip. Most of the delegation is made up of chamber and trade organization representatives.

Via e-mail, Flannery told me, "I was surprised that more Vermont companies didn't take the opportunity to come here with him."

Flannery said he sees a demand in China for kind of high-quality environmental products and services Vermont offers. China's poor environmental standards present an opportunity for U.S. businesses, he said.

Does Vermont stand a chance in nabbing some of that business? The fact that Vermont does not have global companies with deep pockets that makes it tough to make individual inroads. "For a lot of companies that don't have anything going in China so far and don't have deep pockets, it would be good to try to think about how to pool resources with other companies as much as possible to share markets or intellectual-property related information, and also to tap into organizations with some degree of China-related business information and expertise such as the Vermont Chamber to get some help starting up."

- Terri Hallenbeck


Fueling the debate

Democrats in Washington tried and failed yesterday to do what some Democrats in Montpelier wanted to do this year: tax big oil companies to pay for alternative energy.

In Washington, Republican lawmakers blocked the move to raise taxes on oil companies by about $32 billion and used the money on tax breaks for wind power, solar power, ethanol and other renewable fuels.

In Montpelier this past winter there was talk of taxing big oil to pay for the energy efficiency program that’s now the subject of a gubernatorial veto. Trouble here was that the Exxons of the world are not based in St. Albans or Bennington, so there were jurisdictional issues. Instead, the Legislature opted to tax Vermont Yankee, the governor vetoed it and there we sit.

The bill in the U.S. Senate would raise gas mileage standards from about 25 mpg to 35 mpg by 2020. Sen. Bernie Sanders also touted grants in the bill for state and local energy efficiency projects and job training for "green-collar" jobs.

The New York Times story on the bill includes a photo of the Greening the U.S. Capitol news conference depicting part of Rep. Peter Welch’s head behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Getting in the spotlight

The news came over this afternoon from Rep. Peter Welch's office: "Welch joins Pelosi, congressional leaders to announce carbon neutral U.S. Capitol."

The release from Welch's office touts Welch's role in bringing his leaderhip on global warming to Congress and quotes Speaker Nancy Pelosi as saying, "Peter Welch has been a leader on the issue." He was the only non-chairman, non-leader listed as joining Pelosi in the announcement.
There he is, standing behind the speaker in the photo at right.

The speaker mentioned Welch a couple times during the news conference, Welch spokesman Andrew Savage said. Pelosi's own news release on the same event, however, doesn't mention Welch. Not even when she refers to plans for the House to purchase carbon offsets, as Welch did for his office earlier this year.

He gets a little recognition, but not quite that much.
At the news conference, House and Senate leaders announced the completion of the "Greening the Capitol" initiative, which includes operating the House in a carbon-neutral manner by the end of the 110th Congress and reducing the House's carbon footprint by cutting energy consumption by 50% in 10 years.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Off the bench

With Gov. Jim Douglas off in China this week, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie is acting governor. He took a public action today, but not without consulting the governor.

Dubie ordered flags flying over state buildings to be lowered to half staff Friday in honor of the nine South Carolina firefighters who died with a roof caved in while they were fighting a fire. Dubie also sent the state's official condolences to the South Carolina governor.

"We reach out with our prayers to their grieving families, their friends and fellow firefighters, knowing that the loss they suffer is both profound, and beyond our imagination," Dubie said in his letter.

"As acting governor in Governor Jim Douglas' absence, I am asking today that State of Vermont flags on all buildings be lowered to half-staff on Friday, June 22, 2007, the day that Mayor Riley has declared as the City of Charleston’s day of mourning. In addition, Governor Douglas has ordered that the flag of South Carolina fly over our State House that same day. "

- Terri Hallenbeck



Got your passport?

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, has strong words today for federal officials who want to push ahead with passport requirements for border crossings. I hope the folks in Derby Line have already applied for their passports given the backlog that exists now. They are going to need them just to cross the street to see their neighbors in Stanstead, Quebec.

Here's Leahy's comments. WHTI stands for Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and DHS is the Department of Homeland Security.

“WHTI in the hands of DHS is like a skydiver who jumps first and tries to pack his parachute on the way down. Today’s huge passport backlogs, prompted by the launch of DHS’s requirement for air travel passports, are just a taste of the chaos that’s likely next summer when they want to start enforcing passport checks at our land and sea borders, which account for ten times the volume for air travel.

“Month after month and hearing after hearing, DHS and State have high-handedly rushed to impose this new border-crossing plan on the American people before they are ready with the necessary technology, infrastructure and training, and at every step their rosy assurances have been wrong. Their record on this is clear, and it has been abysmal. These hollow demands to ‘just trust us’ don’t cut it anymore from the agency that defined competence down after Katrina.

“There is another train wreck on the horizon if they continue pushing forward with full implementation of WHTI before the necessary policies and procedures are in place to handle the surge in applications, to resolve potential complications in producing a new and untested passport card, and to prepare for the lengthy border delays that are in the offing.

“Frustrated Americans by the thousands have been calling congressional offices for emergency help during the current passport backlog mess, and we have been doing what we can – passport by passport. The State Department and DHS vastly underestimated the passport demand for WHTI’s air component – which is a small percentage of all cross-border traffic – and I remain concerned that their continued public insistence of full implementation of the land and sea travel provisions in January 2008 is unrealistic and unachievable on that timetable. Let us not set the American people up yet again for failure and frustration.

“Since DHS keeps saying that the WHTI is a ‘congressionally mandated’ program, they should stop opposing the bicameral and bipartisan legislation now moving through Congress to shift the new passport requirement to June 2009. They have been warned repeatedly, yet even the fresh embarrassment of this passport debacle hasn’t knocked sense into them. Unfortunately, this impracticable timetable announcement today shows that DHS and State are not committed to making fundamental reforms to the program before they unleash it on the public. By maintaining the fiction that they will be ready to implement the largest phase of this program next January, they are recklessly risking the travel plans of millions of Americans and the economies of scores of states and communities.”

--Nancy Remsen


Postal flashback

It was like a flashback to the fall, when we were getting fliers from political candidates every day, sometimes five in a day.

There in the mail yesterday was one from Peter Welch, our just-elected congressman. It looked a lot like the campaign fliers. Pastoral picture on the cover. "Working for Vermont," it says. Open it up and there he is in jeans and checked shirt, talking to a farmer.

This time Welch says he wants to hear from constituents about the issues that matter to them. There's a card you can tear off, fill out and send in ranking your issues. It's about constituent services, which are after all the number one purpose of a member of Congress.

Don't kid yourself, though, it's also about getting re-elected. These are two-year terms, so there's no time off from campaigning. There doesn't seem to be any question Welch wants to keep the seat he fought so hard to get. It's exhausting work, he told me recently, what with the trips to Iraq and Jordan, and bouncing between Washington and Vermont, but he likes it.

Which brings us to the next question. Who will the Republicans run against Welch in '08? They are in a spot where they can't afford to give Welch a free ride and let him take easy street into a lifelong career in Washington, yet they don't have an obvious budding candidate. We've heard Randy Brock's name floated out there, but he might also want to take a legitimate stab at snaring back the auditor's job.

Who should run? Who will run? Have at it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Trying to find China business

Gov. Jim Douglas phoned in from China this morning for a conference call with media. It made, I'm sure, riveting live radio on Charlie & Ernie's show in WVMT.

The governor ate jelly fish yesterday, and didn't particularly like it. But he thinks he and his 16-person delegation are making solid connections with Chinese leaders and businesspeople that will translate into business for Vermonters.

How will he measure success of the trip? Douglas didn't have specifics. He's offered a bunch of invitations to leaders there to visit Vermont. He's got deals in the works he doesn't want to reveal lest he put them in peril.

He met with Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng, he said, and not many other governors and the like get to do that. "It is significant that he chose to give our delegation some of his time," Douglas said.

Douglas said he was impressed with Chinese officials' knowledge of Vermont's geography and environmental ethic. Douglas, in turn, was impressed by the hotel's motion sensors in the halls and escalators, but not by the jelly fish.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Symington answers Adams

The date for the veto session is settled, but the political discord between House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, and House Republican Steve Adams continues. Here's Symington's response to Adam's Friday response to her suggestion that the session be bumped up a couple of months to accommodate the scheduling conflicts of five Democratic House members.

Dear Representative Adams,

This is to respond to your email regarding changing the date of the veto session and your desire to pass new legislation on July 11. I need to clarify that I did not reverse a scheduling change decision. When you and I spoke I was seeking your input as to whether to postpone the date. As I said then, there were two reasons for considering a change. One, I felt it would be appropriate to allow more time for members to understand the Governor’s new suggestion regarding the weatherization program. Two, there are several members who cannot attend the vote on July 11th. When we spoke in person, your response was fairly casual so I continued to seek input from other caucus leadership. But based on your more forcefully negative response in the press, I decided not to make the change.

I am disappointed that the same courtesy that has been allowed in the past for members to be present for important votes cannot be offered to those for whom July 11 is impossible to attend. However, without cooperation the change would be logistically difficult and so we will meet as planned for the veto session on July 11.

The purpose of this session is to consider whether the legislature will vote in favor of H.520 and S.194, the Governor’s veto notwithstanding. Legislators will decide whether to vote for a comprehensive approach to addressing our energy future and whether to put reasonable restrictions on the influence of money in electoral politics.

You claim that the Senate’s work on H.520 is purely political and without merit. I disagree. I have made it clear from the start of our work on global warming that our work would be presented in one package that includes both renewable energy and energy efficiency proposals. I am not willing to pass only the parts you and your caucus claim are worthy of consideration, at the expense of really addressing the challenge ahead of us, and at the expense of the portion of the bill that will most reduce energy costs for Vermonters – the section the Senate developed. I would also point out that the new version of H.520 you are proposing includes a revised tax rate for wind relative to what the House passed. To claim that you are simply proposing what the House passed already, when in fact you are cherry picking those sections of the bill most to your liking, without regard for the comprehensive work of the final version of H.520, is disingenuous.

During the session I asked Governor Douglas whether H.520 could be modified to address his concerns. The conference committee made adjustments based on the governor’s concern for more accountability regarding the design of the energy efficiency utility. However, he never engaged in a serious conversation regarding the proposal. Now he has proposed some re-packaging of current programs, in the name of an alternative energy efficiency plan. The legislature will consider that proposal, but not on the fly, as we have scattered to our jobs and families.

If the veto of H.520 is sustained, we will do our due diligence on that proposal when we return in January. I refuse to take part in the Governor’s continued disrespect for the legislature by giving credence to a proposal cobbled together without full consideration and involvement of the legislature.

Just to repeat myself, the purpose of the July 11 session is to consider whether the legislature will vote in favor of H.520 and S.194, the Governor’s vetoes notwithstanding. I also understand the Government Operations Committee will present a new bill regarding the South Burlington Charter, consistent with the most recent vote in that community. If everyone is willing to move that legislation in one day, I will not stand in the way of that decision. It would not be my preference, but if there is no hassle over it, I am willing to have the bill considered. If hassles develop, we will consider it in January.

I hope you enjoy your summer and I’ll see you on the 11th.

Representative Gaye Symington
Speaker, House of Representatives

--Nancy Remsen



July it is

House Speaker Gaye Symington has decided to leave the veto session on the July 11 date, she announced this morning. It seems Minority Leader Steve Adams' opposition to changing the date pulled some weight.

I'm sure you've read about how she considered delaying the veto session two months to Sept. 11. If not, click HERE or go out and plunk 50 cents down at your favorite little store and settle with the print edition.

Five Democrats can't make it July 11, Symington says. That's four more than weren't there for the last veto override vote - on the budget adjustment bill in April. She said she wanted to make sure as many people as possible could be there.

She will take heat for even considering the move. An override on the energy bill would be tough to pull off no matter when the session is held. The campaign finance bill, though, might be a different story. Can the Democrats pull that one off.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Down on the boulevard in Barre

Barre was teeming with politicians last weekend. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders made their way across the stage at the Barre Opera House. So did Rep. Peter Welch and Barre Mayor Thomas Lauzon.

They all wanted a piece of the crowd’s attention before Jackson Browne played Saturday and Sunday nights, perhaps not realizing that the crowd was packed with Jackson Browne devotees from all over the country who can’t vote for them.

The occasion – no, the 70s singer-songwriter doesn’t play Barre regularly – was a grand opening/fundraiser for LACE (Local Agriculture Community Exchange), a project initiated by the late rocker Warren Zevon’s daughter, Ariel, who’s a Barre resident with a penchant for healthy foods and is also Jackson Browne’s goddaughter.

Browne plays his politics on his sleeve and his guitar. He was no-nukes in the 70s, no-war in the 2000s. Leahy said he and Browne chatted politics Saturday afternoon, pretty much agreeing all the way. Except that in Browne’s new "Drums of War," he sings, "Why is impeachment not on the table?" Apparently, they don’t agree on everything.

None of the politicians were there because they’re big fans of Browne’s music. Leahy’s more of a Grateful Dead fan. Sanders didn’t stay for the whole show. Welch admitted he didn’t know many of Jackson’s songs, though he wanted to hear "Stay." ("Won’t you stay just a little bit longer?") He didn’t get to, though I did deliver a refrain of it myself that would make anyone yearn for David Lindley’s strangled voice on the original.

I was there because my sister and I grew up palpitating over Jackson Browne’s sum-up-life-and-its-failings lyrics in the 1970s.

'Cause I've been up and down this highway
Far as my eyes can see
No matter how fast I run
I can never seem to get away from me
No matter where I am
I can't help feeling I'm just a day away
From where I want to be
Now I'm running home baby
Like a river to the sea

There was nothing particularly political about our adoration of him and his music. You can argue, as my husband does, that it’s all about Jackson’s hunky-dreamboat looks, or, as I maintain, that it was about the words. Anyway, our sisterly reunion to re-explore that devotion is a beautiful story, really, but this is a political blog. So let’s get back to the politics.

One politician conspicuously absent from the concert stage or the grand opening - despite his penchant for ribbon cuttings – was Gov. Jim Douglas. Could it be there are politics to choosing ribbon cuttings?

When push comes to shove, Douglas probably connected with more voters by going to the Girls on the Run race Sunday morning than the LACE ribbon cutting. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts represented the Douglas administration, said the ag agency has worked steadily with LACE to put this thing together, but the governor skipped this one.

Anthony Pollina was there, staffing his Vermont Milk Co.’s newfangled creamie machine. Scudder Parker was milling around. It might not have been Douglas' kind of thing.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Primary problem

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has gotten plenty of slaps on the back for his role in helping Democrats win back the House and Senate in the 2006 elections, but he's facing a new problem that could put him on the outs with some of those state party chairs he's been so chummy with up to now.

The Detroit News is reporting this morning that Michigan Dems want to move up their presidential caucus to Jan. 29 or even earlier -- whatever it takes to be in position to have maximum impact on who becomes the party's presidential nominee. Michigan Dems say it's time big states like theirs get to call the shots in the primary process, instead of allowing puny population states like New Hampshire and Iowa have all the glory. For the full story, click HERE.

The potential move by Michigan Dems comes one day after Florida Democrats basically thumbed their noses at Dean and said they planned to go ahead with a primary on Jan. 29. New Hampshire has already reset the date for its traditional first-in-the-nation primary to Jan. 22, and has vowed to make it even earlier in order to remain Number 1. Dean has threatened to strip Florida of its delegates to the national convention if Sunshine State Dems persist in trying to push the usual early birders to the sidelines.

Dean saw his own presidential fortunes flop in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2004, but as the former governor of our small state, he is understandably an admirer of retail politics. Plus, he knows that when a small state is at the head of the primary schedule, White House wannabes are forced to go face-to-face with the voters, instead of simply paying for face time on TV to get their message across.

But it's also understandable why the big states want the prestige, power and, uh, the money that flows from being in a pole position in the race for the party's presidential nomination. Michigan Dems say they'll do whatever it takes to supplant New Hampshire primary's traditional first-in-the-nation status -- even if it means having their caucus in late December. Imagine that, deciding on the party's nominee 11 months before the general election!

Exactly how Dean navigates his way through this internecine minefield will be interesting to watch. He can stick to his guns and stick it to the delegates of Florida and Michigan if their state parties ignore his warnings, but does he really want alienate Dems in such important electoral states?

"This thing could be a total mess unless we find a way out of this," Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told the Associated Press this week.


-- Sam Hemingway



How busy were they?

The final piece of legislation that Gov. Jim Douglas had to make a decision on was the education cost containment bill. He signed that Monday afternoon.

In all, the governor and his staff had to review 100 bills. During the session, some folks said this was a "do-nothing" Legislature. One hundred bills isn't nothing, although quantity doesn't always mean quality. Some folks would look at a tally of 100 potential new laws and worry the Legislature had done too much.

The final tally of the governor's action on the 100 bills is as follows:

Three vetoes

  • The budget adjustment bill back in the middle of the session because it didn't include the scholarships.
  • The campaign finance bill
  • The energy bill

Four bills that became law without his signature

  • Revisions to the medical marijuana law
  • Insurance provisions for naturopathic physicians
  • Tax exemption on payments to foster families caring for adults
  • Optional change in signature requirements for reconsideration of local votes.

Once all the paperwork makes it way to the Secretary of State, there will be 97 new acts.

Lawmakers could add a couple more to the list if they could muster enough votes at the special veto-override session scheduled for July 11. House Republican Leader Steve Adams of Hartland said Monday, however, that overrides on the energy and campaign finance bills weren't likely if his vote-count was accurate. He said at least one member of the Republican House caucus was flying back from vacation to participate.

-- Nancy Remsen



Political fighting

We have our share of political disagreements, stonewalling and gamesmanship here in Vermont, but I don't believe we've sunk to the kind of political fighting that took place in Alabama yesterday.

To wit:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Simmering tensions in the Alabama Senate boiled
over Thursday when a Republican lawmaker punched a Democratic colleague in the
head before they were pulled apart.
Republican Sen. Charles Bishop claimed that Democratic
Sen. Lowell Barron called him a “son of a (expletive).”
“I responded to his comment with my right hand,” Bishop said.
Alabama Public Television tape captured the punch.

Barron denied saying that to Bishop. He said the Jasper
senator used an expletive to him and he was trying to get away when he was hit
by Bishop on the side of the head near an ear.

Let that be a lesson to Vermont politicians. The Alabama fight was about campaign finance reform - a topic the Vermont Legislature will be revisiting at a July 11 veto session. In Alabama, Republican senators were using delaying tactics to force Democratic leadership to bring up an election reform bill to ban transfers between political action committees.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Who said what to whom when?

The Douglas administration is in a fevered state over proving that the Department of Public Service proposed the idea of helping people take out lower-interest loans to make their homes more energy efficient back in February and April. So fevered that gubernatorial spokesman Jason Gibbs has this morning sent two "urgent" e-mails on the subject.

This is in response to legislative leaders' accusations that the proposal Douglas made public yesterday a last-minute attempt to pre-empt Al Gore's input.

The proposal made to legislators during the session looked like this:
As part of the Departments review, it shall identify opportunities
including but not limited to the following strategies:
- Empower consumers
through better education and improved access to energy efficiency service
through an efficiency information clearinghouse;
- Promote greater access to
financing for investments in thermal efficiency at favorable rates;
- Encourage the development of a stronger and more effective market for efficiency
- Empower local public institutions and community groups to better
access capital, knowledge, and professional advice for efficiency
- Encourage thermal efficiency improvements through tax
- Establish more effective thermal efficiency programs that
strategically target opportunities at the time of consumers make major
investment decisions in homes, businesses, or equipment;
- Foster improvements to existing standards and codes to ensure that all new construction and remodeling designs are built and maintained according to the best standards that can cost-effectively be achieved.

Indeed, it indicates that the administration was thinking along the lines of the sort of program Douglas proposed yesterday. But it's not exactly fleshed-out with specifics and it's not something the governor apparently persisted with in meetings with legislative leaders. He might have been having too much fun watching them hang themselves over the ever-changing tax that goes with their bill.

This is a case of the two entities - the governor and the Legislature - sitting with their backs to each other, arms folded stubbornly, entrenched in their own ideas. Will they ever come together on this issue? It's hard to imagine.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The energy of energy

You know, there aren't many pieces of energy legislation that generate this much public interest, but H. 520 has grabbed the people and set them squarely on one side or the other of the issue.

Heard from a couple people today who don't think much of Al Gore, or of him weighing in on Vermont business. Gore will do that on the energy bill, from a seat in New York City, later today.

The governor, of course, vetoed that bill last night. He says he will "implement" some of the unobjectionable measures from the bill by executive order. "Implement" might be overstating it. In several instances, he's going to have the Public Service Board or Department or the Agency of Natural Resources review the issue.

Want to read all seven pages of his veto letter? Here it is:

State of Vermont
June 6, 2007
The Honorable Donald G. Milne
Clerk of the House of Representatives
State House
Montpelier, VT 05633-5401
Dear Mr. Milne:
Pursuant to Chapter II, Section 11 of the Vermont Constitution, I am returning H.520, An
Act Relating to the Conservation of Energy and Increasing the Generation of Electricity
within the State by use of Renewable Resources without my signature because of my
objections described herein.
There is no question that doing our share to reduce carbon emissions is important. At the
beginning of the session, I was hopeful that the Legislature - having joined me in
identifying this issue as a priority - would put Vermonters first and work with me to pass
bipartisan legislation that builds on the progress we have already made. Unfortunately,
that was not the case.
H.520 as it passed the House was a good bill - a positive step forward for Vermont's
energy future - and a bill that I would have signed into law. Unfortunately, despite my
frequently voiced concerns, both public and private, an unnecessary and shortsighted tax
was added to the bill. That tax is not in the best interest of Vermonters or the long-term
economic and environmental security of our state.

Our small state is doing its part to combat climate change. Long before this Legislature
began working on this bill my Administration had established climate change as a top
priority. Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); establishing new state
energy and environmental purchasing policies; introducing hybrid technology and
biodiesel into our vehicle fleet; pursuing clean air enforcement and strict automobile
emissions standards in federal courts; expanding Vermont's renewable energy portfolio
through grant programs and tax incentives; implementing green power pricing structures;
and the work of my Commission on Climate Change are just a few examples of the steps
we've taken.

In total, the work of my Administration to address climate change and promote
environmentally responsible economic growth is more aggressive and far reaching than
any previous Administration. It's about who we are - a clean, green, pro-business, pro-growth
state. But I know there's more to do.

The vast majority of Vermont' s carbon emissions come from heating our homes and
businesses and driving our cars and I began this session by introducing an agenda
targeted at reducing these emissions.
Specifically, I offered an affordable and commonsense set of solutions to advance the use
of biofuels in homes and businesses with a fuel rebate program and direct consumer
incentives to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. Here we would have had a triple
play: a kick-start to the bio-fuel industry, a reduction of carbon emissions and a reduction
in our reliance on foreign oil. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, these proposals
languished in the Legislature. Instead legislative leaders focused on creating a new,
undefined government bureaucracy and levying an arbitrary tax to fund it.
The Affordability Agenda and my Administration's focus on fostering a favorable
economic environment - one that embraces innovation, new investment and job creation in environmentally preferable industries - is central to securing our economic future. A
major component of this bill -the tax proposal -is entirely inconsistent with these
A tax on the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon sends a chilling message
to our current and prospective employers at the same time we are seeking to support and
strengthen job creation. In addition, policymakers have an obligation to honor the
commitments of previous Legislatures and treat all businesses fairly and honestly.
It is simply puzzling that the Legislature is proposing to tax a non-carbon emitting
resource to pay for carbon producing efficiencies.
The Legislature has proposed that we risk increasing electric rates, undermining our
power supply and damaging our business climate in the name of reducing carbon
emissions. I reject the notion that environmental protection comes at the expense of
economic development.
1 According to an analysis conducted by the Governor's Climate Change Commission, fuel use in homes and businesses in 2005 accounted for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont, transportation accounted for 44% and electricity consumption account for 7%.
Our clean air and water and our commitment to environmental protection are integral to
our economy - reasons many people want to live, work and raise their families in
Vermont and why many people visit us each year. As I've said before, the choice we
face today is not between jobs or the environment. It's a choice between both or neither.
There has to be a better alternative to this tax-and I'm committed to finding it.

I cannot ignore the likely negative reaction by financial credit rating agencies that this
arbitrary tax would trigger. All rating agencies use regulatory uncertainty as one of the
metrics in evaluations.
The new and unanticipated predatory tax on a single company sends a chilling message
not only to Vermont businesses but any company that might be interested in locating or
even doing business here. Businesspeople are smart, they expect that government
policies will change in a macro sense over time but they cannot tolerate the
unpredictability of a legislative body selecting an individual business, or even an entire
industry cluster, and assessing a punitive tax against them. Business leaders cannot take
a risk with a government partner they cannot trust; Wall Street cannot either.

I am also rejecting this bill because it creates an entirely new bureaucracy without
sufficient deliberation or planning. Before rushing into the creation of a massive new
bureaucratic entity - that might itself be inefficient and wasteful - analysis is necessary to
determine its structure, costs and benefits.
Asking Vermont taxpayers to expend what could be an additional $15 million a year on
an unknown and hastily planned bureaucracy is not sensible public policy. That is why
my Administration offered during legislative deliberations to produce detailed
recommendations on how best to achieve improved fuel efficiency. These
recommendations would be based on a thoughtful methodology and involve stakeholders
over the summer and fall. The unwillingness of the Legislature to engage in this process
is startling. Nevertheless, my Administration will carry out this review. This is a far
more responsible approach.

I recognize this legislation contains opportunities to move toward greater conservation
and reduction of greenhouse gases. As I noted earlier, I support the House-passed version
of the bill. That is why I have decided to implement the following items contained in
H.520 administratively:
1 25 x '25 - The Vermont Steering Committee for this national initiative will report
Vermont's farm and forest capacity and work with the Administration to
formulate recommendations for action to achieve our goal of having 25 percent of
our energy produced from farms and forestland by 2025.
2. Smart metering- In April, the Department of Public Service( DPS) requested the
Public Service Board (PSB) to investigate opportunities for Vermont electric
utilities to cost-effectively install advanced smart metering equipment.
Workshops have been scheduled over the summer and deliberations before the
board are scheduled this fall.
3. Conservation rates- The Administration will review alternative rate designs
within the context of the smart metering workshops underway by the PSB.
4. Self Generation and Net Metering - The Administration will request that the PSB
consider the concepts of group net metering and size expansion in their current
rulemaking on net metering.
5. Temporary Siting of Met Towers- The Agency of Natural Resources will
review and report on its current practices in siting meteorological towers under
the Section 248 process.
6. SPEED- DPS will work with the utilities and other stakeholders to collaborate
with neighboring jurisdictions to help ensure that the Sustainably Priced Energy
Enterprise Development (SPEED) goals - a Vermont program run through the
Public Service Board designed to encourage contracts for electricity between
Vermont utilities and renewable project developers-are recognized as consistent
and complementary to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) goals of
neighboring states.
7. Technical Assistance- DPS will report on how best to assist those interested in
developing renewable energy projects in dealing with the regulatory process.
8. Wind Assessment - The Agency of Administration and DPS will formulate a
recommendation to meet the goal of creating a fair and predictable tax in lieu of
the non-residential property tax for wind facilities while ensuring that there will
be no negative impact on the Education Fund.
9. Business Energy Credit - The Agency of Administration and DPS will report on
the best way to allow Vermont businesses to take advantage of the business
energy credit component of the federal investment tax credit.
10. Permitting Small Hydro - DPS and ANR will provide a recommendation for a
simple, predictable, and environmentally sound process for issuing a certificate of
public good for mini-hydroelectric projects.
11. Water Quality Certification - DPS and ANR will provide a recommendation for a
simple, predictable, and environmentally sound process for completing a water
quality certification review for mini-hydroelectric projects.
12. Small Hydro Pilot - DPS and ANR will work with communities seeking to
develop small hydro projects to facilitate those projects through the existing
permit processes.
13. Report on SPEED- DPS will provide a status report on SPEED resources and the
likelihood of bringing them into service in time to meet the standards.
14. Solar System Specialist - The Department of Public Safety will work with the
Plumbers Examining Board to create a separate special category for people
working in the solar heat collection trade.
15. Weatherization Report - The Agency of Human Services will work with
stakeholders to create a five-year strategic plan with the purpose of improving the
comfort, safety, and affordability of low-income housing and to reduce fuel use
and greenhouse gas generation in that housing.
16. Electric Plan- DPS will take into consideration the environmental impacts,
including those involved in the generation of greenhouse gases, in Vermont's
existing Electrical Energy Plan.
17. State Energy Policy - Vermont's Energy Plan will consider environmental
impacts and continuing reductions in the generation of greenhouse gases in the
production or use of energy.
18. State Comprehensive Energy Plan- The plan will continue to include a
comprehensive analysis and projections regarding the use, cost, supply, and
environmental effect so all forms of energy resources used within Vermont and
regarding all pollution, including greenhouse gases generated within the state and
the state's progress in meeting greenhouseg as reduction goals. It will also
include strategies to increase the efficiency in new buildings, to facilitate
weatherization in multiple dwellings, and to encourage the disclosure of a
building's energy efficiency and weatherization needs prior to a sale.
19. Biodiesel Use - The Agency of Transportation, the Agency of
Administration and DPS will provide recommendations on how to increase the
use of biodiesel blends in state buildings and garages and in the state
transportation fleet.
20. Energy Efficiency Mortgages - DPS will work with the Vermont Housing
Finance Agency and the Vermont Economic Development Authority
to report on the feasibility of establishing programs to support energy
efficiency mortgages for residential and commercial buildings.
21. Study on Efficient Transportation- AOT will study ways to provide incentives
for more efficient transportation.
22. Right to Conserve- The Agency of Commerce and Community Development
(ACCD) will report on the extent to which private covenants within the state
restrict the use of solar collectors, clotheslines, or other energy-saving devices.
23. Workforce Development - The Department of Labor (DOL) will develop a green
building, energy efficiency, and renewable energy workforce development plan in
conjunction with current planning.

Additionally, I am committed to working with the Legislature next January to enact
legislation that contains the following:
1. An amendment to the definition of "farming" to include the on-site production
and sale of fuel or power from agricultural products or waste.
2. An expansion of the use of Agriculture Development funds to include wind and
3. The creation of fair liability standards for Commercial Building Energy Standards
for builders, architects and designers.

4. An addition of net metered systems to a list of alternative energy sources allowing
residents to seek municipal tax exemptions for alternate energy sources.
5. An amendment to the definition of "new renewables" to include capacity
6. Language directing a retail electricity provider to pay the Vermont Clean Energy
Development Fund an amount per kilowatt-hour as established by the PSB in lieu
of purchasing renewable energy credits (REC's) to satisfy a RPS that would be
applicable if SPEED goals are not met.
7. Direction for all Vermont utilities to implement a renewable energy pricing
program or offer customers the option of making a voluntary contribution to the
Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund.

It is truly regrettable that H.520 was poisoned by an ill-defined bureaucracy and an
unnecessary tax that would undermine our economic security. There remain, however,
opportunities for the Legislature to join me in advancing the conservation and renewable
energy initiatives outlined above, as well as others.
There is also an opportunity to pursue improved fuel efficiency without creating a poorly
contemplated, cumbersome bureaucracy funded by an arbitrary tax. There has to be a
better way to achieve this shared goal and I am committed to finding it.
While we are already a national leader in energy conservation and efficiency and our
emissions are a tiny fraction of those emitted by other states, we will continue to do more
to combat climate change. That's the Vermont Way.
James H. Douglas

- Terri Hallenbeck



Presidential politics in Vermont

So the candidates for President have all been in New Hampshire, again, to debate the issues, press the flesh, take out voters' garbage, pick up the kids from school -- whatever it takes to corral a vote.

Vermont, when it comes to presidential primaries, remains a potted plant. Candidates visit us when Lebanon, N.H., runs out of conference rooms and there's meeting space available in White River Junction. Nevertheless, Vermont politicians have begun to choose up sides, I learned by making some calls recently.

The top officeholders in both parties -- Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch -- are still cautiously on the sidelines. But Sen. John McCain corralled endorsements last month from 27 GOP state legislators, including House Minority Leader Steve Adams.

That puts the legislators in a different place than their town and county chairpeople. The GOP took a straw poll at a May 12 meeting of grassroots volunteers, "just for fun," according to state Chairman Rob Roper. The winner? Former Sen. Fred Thompson with 27 percent of the 80 votes cast -- and Thompson isn't even in the race yet. Mitt Romney finished second with 24 percent of the vote, followed by Rudy Giuliani with 16 percent. McCain was fourth, with 15 percent.

On the Democratic side, State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding has signed on with Sen. Barack Obama. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin says he's "Obama all the way." House Speaker Gaye Symington is "leaning Obama," while former Gov. Madeleine Kunin says she's leaning toward Hillary Clinton. The Democrats all were officially excited about the party's slate and said they'd be happy to support whichever of the top three candidates wins the convention.

For their support to matter in the 2008 primaries, the pols will probably have to stuff envelopes at hqs in New Hampshire. By the time Vermont's March 4 primary rolls around, both parties will have chosen 60 percent of their convention delegates and the races may be over.

-- Candace Page



Energy wars

House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, welcomed news Tuesday that Vermont's energy efficiency policies earned the state a number one ranking by a national organization. (The state shares top ranking with Connecticut and California.) It bolstered the argument she made at one of her community meetings early Tuesday morning that the state should continue down the leadership path set out in the Legislature's global warming bill.

That's the bill Gov. Jim Douglas has promised to veto because of the tax increase it would impose on Vermont Yankee to pay for a special utility that would help Vermonters cut their energy costs. The utility would be an expansion of the concept behind Efficiency Vermont, an organization that helps residents and business save on electricity through efficiency measures. Look for that veto by week's end.

"The report ... by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy once again demonstrates that Vermont leads the nation innovative and effective approaches to energy efficiency," Symington said in a statement. " As energy bills continue to climb, Vermont can choose to sit back and let other states take the lead, or we can move ahead with more innovation. The climate change bill that is currently on the Governor's desk would expand the award-winning Efficiency Vermont to include all-fuels conservation. By passing this legislation we will once again be creating a model for other states and other nations for how to save money and create jobs for Vermonters while reducing our carbon footprint."

To read the report, go here.

--Nancy Remsen



Veto still pending

Some people talk like Gov. Jim Douglas has already vetoed the Legislature's prize energy bill. He hasn't. In fact, he still hasn't received it from the Legislature for review. Now it's not because House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, has held off signing it. She made a special dawn stop at the Statehouse last week to afix her signature to the bill. No, it's that bills are sent over slowly so the administration's legal staff has time to carry out its review without being under a five-day gun on 30 or 40 or 50 bills simultaneously. The governor has five days after receiving a bill to decide whether to sign or veto it, or it becomes law without his signature.

According to Jason Gibbs, Douglas' spokesman, the administration expects to receive all the rest of the bills by the end of the week -- including the energy measure. So the long-awaited veto could happen by the weekend, Gibbs said.

Still out there are a prescription drug bill, which Douglas has. Gibbs said the review is underway, but not complete. Douglas had raised some concern about the provisions in the drug bill that gave doctors the opportunity to restrict access to the record of their prescription-writing. A federal judge in New Hampshire struck down that state's law banning the sale of this kind of data to drug companies that use it to help market drugs.

The budget for state government also awaits a Douglas decision.

By the way, if you are counting vetoes, the energy bill will be number three this year. Early in the session Douglas vetoed the budget adjustment bill because it didn't include scholarship money. Then he vetoed the campaign finance bill.

-- Nancy Remsen

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