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vt.Buzz ~ a political blog

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



Destination: adjournment

Fasten your seat belts. They are talking Friday adjournment at the Statehouse.

One lobbyist mentioned that the building was too quiet this evening for that to be possible, but plenty of conference committees are close to agreement and it seems in the realm of possibilities.

Early in the session, Republicans suggested adjourning a month early to save money. Now that it comes down to a potential two-week early adjournment it could be a problem for the Republicans.

That's because the party's spring dinner is Thursday night. There will be a whole lot of chicken gone uneaten if the legislators are tethered to the Statehouse.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Compromising poses

Legislators appear to be all set for the end of the session this week.

In the Democratic caucus today, House Majority Leader Carolyn Partridge and Assistant Minority Leader Floyd Nease warned members about their behavior in these final long days.

Beware of becoming the subject of a news photo that features you yawning, sprawled head-over-your-desk asleep, reading a novel or shooting rubber bands. None of those poses are good for one's political career or the Legislature's reputation, they indicated.

Fear not, photographers. Push comes to shove, somebody won't be able to help him- or herself.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Jericho seeks candidate

Over in Jericho tonight, Democrats were meeting to talk about possible legislative candidates.

This is significant because it means somebody thinks one of the Democratic incumbent legislators from the two-person Jericho-Underhill-Bolton district must be at least considering not seeking re-election. And it's not Bill Frank.

Instead, it's Frank's district-mate, Gaye Symington. Symington, the speaker of the House, is "seriously considering" running for governor. Some people say that even if she doesn't run for governor she may not seek re-election to the Legislature.

Town Democratic Chairwoman Deb Fitzgerald said the meeting was intended to share political ideas of all kinds, but that the notion of who might be interested in serving in the Legislature would likely come up.

Frank said it was just in case there was an opening - that Symington hadn't indicated, not even to her homies (he didn't really use that word, but I am) what she planned to do.

- Terri Hallenbeck



By one vote

The House just proved that every vote counts.

With all members present this morning, the House fell one vote short of overriding the governor's veto of the campaign finance bill. The vote was 99-51. Democrats needed 100 votes for a veto.

Democrats couldn't pull Rep. Ron Allard, D-St. Albans, into the fold. He was the only one with a D listed after his name to vote against the override. Democrats were also unable to win the support of independent Darryl Pillsbury of Brattleboro.

Rep. Dennis Devereaux, a Republican on the House Government Operations Committee, voted for the bill on the floor but joined his party in sustaining the veto.

Without Allard or Pillsbury's support, Democrats needed a few absences among Republicans, but it was perfect attendance on a Friday.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Top woman

Last night, legislators crowned the Women Legislator of the Year. She was characterized by one of the presenters as "congenial."

Drumroll, please. Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor, was the winner.

Sweaney is the unflappable - I guess that's congenial - chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee.

As they introduced the nominees, the presenters addressed the issue of whether it's still valid to note a female legislator of the year vs. something that included both genders. Haven't we, it'd be easy to say, gone beyond that now that girls can play Little League?

In the Statehouse, there are a bunch of women in positions of power - the chairs of both appropriations committees, the House speaker.

House Speaker Gaye Symington said, though, there aren't enough portraits of women hanging on the walls of the Statehouse.

Rep. Sandy Haas, P-Rochester, said the nominees for this year's female legislator of the year included women from four decades, which puts them all in different eras of equality, or lack thereof. In her situation, Haas said she thought (God help her) at one point that she wanted to be a journalist, but she was told by an editor (never trust an editor is journalism's lesson no. 1) that they really didn't have female reporters.

There's also nothing stopping the men from organizing a male legislator of the year award. They would just probably all vote for themselves.

Here are Sweaney's comments made on the House floor today:
I want to thank the General Assembly for the honor bestowed on me as Legislator of the Year. My name appears on a beautiful plaque with outstanding people like Karen Kitzmiller, Marion Milne and Gaye Symington. Not only do I stand with these women but the outstanding women nominated for this honor, Avis Gervais, Helen Head, Martha Heath, Sue Minter and Alice Nitka.
Any success I have here I also owe to my mentor and friend Rep. Cola Hudson. He once told me that a committee chair only has power that he/she derives from the committee members. I do have a wonderful committee.
I am proud to serve among all the amazing women members of this House and Senate as well as the wonderful men who sit beside us and support us.
Thank you so very much for your generosity.”

- Terri Hallenbeck



Wheels on the bus

Are the wheels coming off the bus on the legislative session?

Today featured a dust-up between IBM's John O'Kane and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin over Vermont Yankee. With credit to VPR, here is the exchange:

O'Kane "Money has time value, and you're changing the time..

Shumlin: "We are not asking for the money. You're lying about that. We are not asking for the money. The bill says..."

O'Kane: "Peter, that is.. You just called me a liar.."

Shumlin: "I said you're not telling the truth about that, John."

O'Kane: "You called me a liar. That is unacceptable. You're the president of the Senate, and you're calling me, a representative of the largest employer..."

Shumlin: "You're representing what is not true, John, to the public..".

Then Gov. Jim Douglas issued a statement:

"I’ve called IBM to let them know that the disrespect and contempt displayed by Senator Shumlin today does not in anyway reflect the point of view of the State of Vermont."

Meanwhile, on the economic stimulus front, legislative leaders created a committee that will study the governor's proposal released Saturday. Here is the paragraph from their news release that indicates they are "dubious" through their use of "quotes" around the words "economic stimulus," yet they want on the other hand to show that they knew before Douglas did that the economy was tanking and were trying to do things about it.

"The Committee on Economic Recovery and Opportunity will also review the
Administration’s “economic stimulus” plan to assess how it will
impact Vermonters’ lives today and for years beyond the current budget
cycle. Governor Douglas’ announcement of his economic growth
initiative last week signals that he has begun to understand the extent
to which the recession is hitting Vermont families. We are pleased that
he has included ideas that have been offered by the legislature and that
have been in rejected by the Governor's Office in the past."

You know how the wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round? I don't know if that's true once the wheels come off the bus.

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bernie can laugh

Didn't stay up late enough to catch Sen. Bernie Sanders on the Colbert Report, but the wonders of the Internet allowed me to tune in anyway.

I am not such a hip person to have ever seen the Colbert Report before, on TV or online. They have, don't worry, found a way to burden you with commercials in the online version.

Sanders showed he has an ability to laugh, though not for very long. He was hell-bent on delivering his doctrine.

He said when Colbert asked him if such luxuries as health care should be provided even to losers: "If countries like Finland can provide free college education and graduate education to their people we can do it as well."

Asked if he was saying he'd increase taxes, Sanders said: "Damn right I am."

You can see it yourself HERE.



One item at a time

As the Legislature looks to cut $25 million from next year's budget ($28 million if they adopt the package the governor outlined Saturday), the least you could do while sitting there on your buttocks in front of the computer is help.

The list of possible cuts includes Vermont promotional items, which means state agency staffers won't be getting new fleece vests with the state logo next year. We all interact with state government in our daily lives, making us all eligible to be experts in our own minds about what items the state live without. What do you recommend be cut from the state budget?

To start things off here's mine:

As a rough estimate it seems to me that in the last 10 years we have gone from having four traffic lights in the state to having 2.4 million traffic lights, one every 12 feet except on Williston Road where there is one every 4 inches. I can't help thinking that we're all set on the traffic light front for now.

Hinesburg just got its second traffic light, and it is a fine addition. People coming off the Charlotte Road can actually get onto Route 116 without waiting until the dead of night. But now there is talk of a third traffic light, and that's pushing it.

This one would go on Route 116, at the Estey's hardware plaza. The new bank going in just past the plaza would have to pay for installation, but the state would be doing the studies and presumably paying the upkeep. I'm offering it up on the chopping block of expenses.

How about you? (Keep in mind that your ideas - and mine - are at best ill-informed and probably bad.)

- Terri Hallenbeck



Hot time in the Junction

For those of you who didn't spend the afternoon of THE most beautiful day we have seen in seven months at the home show listening to Gov. Jim Douglas' economic stimulus plan here's his speech.

Turn the temperature up to 75 degrees all of a sudden and us pale folk from the north wilter. The governor was mopping his brow after standing on a sun-baked platform.

He wants to bond for roads and bridges. He wants to sell more state timber and he wants to help you buy a mobile home, among other things.

"As Governor, I have no more important job than securing and strengthening the economy for all Vermont families. Indeed, the foremost responsibility of all elected officials is to tackle the economic challenges that face our state. And the dimensions of our current challenge are clear.

Over the last several years we’ve taken a number of positive steps to make our economy stronger, but the unusual conditions of the national economy—a sub-prime mortgage crisis, spiking energy costs, and an international credit crunch—require Vermont to take decisive action.

As the national economy softens and the country confronts a recession, our families are feeling the economic squeeze. Vermonters want Montpelier to take immediate and aggressive steps to strengthen the economy, create jobs and provide relief from rising costs for those who need it most. Those actions will be my main focus with the Legislature in the coming weeks.

The majority in Montpelier must understand these economic realities – and must refocus their attention away from boutique issues, endless studies and pet projects; they must join me in the hard work of economic relief.

On Tuesday, we heard from the State’s economists who reported that Vermont would not be immune from the effects of this national downturn—confirming what Vermonters already feel at the gas pump and grocery store.

It may not be a problem of our making, but some of the solutions to the recession are in our hands today. That’s why, in anticipation of Tuesday’s economic analysis, I asked my team to pull together a robust and responsible plan to get Vermont back on track.

I asked them to reach beyond the usual solutions of Montpelier. I told them clearly – and this plan reflects it – that Vermont cannot tax or regulate its way out of this downturn.

We must promote business growth. We must welcome new jobs and new industries. We must tear down barriers to recovery, and keep them down for a return to prosperity. We must control spending and lower taxes. And we must work tirelessly for the people of Vermont.

Today, I present a 15 point initiative that will encourage immediate economic growth, create jobs, and help to ensure that Vermont emerges from this challenge with a stronger and more resilient economy. In total, this package has the potential to generate more than $214 million in direct economic activity and millions more in indirect economic multipliers.

The proposals I present today are by no means the only steps we can take—in fact, there is more we can do over the long term—but these are steps that we can take before the Legislature adjourns.

Today, I offer the Legislature a simple invitation: join me in helping Vermont become the first state to emerge from the national recession. Join me in shaping an economy for the future. Join me in the hard work we were sent to Montpelier to do.


Expanding the economy requires that we put homeownership within reach of every family and help those who may be perilously close to seeing that dream slip away.

With the lowest foreclosure rate in the country, Vermont has done much better than other states. Because of our strong consumer protection laws Vermont continues to have one of the lowest percentages of sub-prime adjustable rate loans of any state in the country. Nevertheless, Vermonters have not been entirely immune from predatory lending practices or the repercussions of the national economic down turn in the real estate markets. I believe we must do more to help families at risk of losing their homes.

That’s why I am pleased to announce today the creation of the Vermont Mortgage Assistance Program. This program will have a dedicated Mortgage Assistance Specialist within the department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISCHA), who will staff a new toll-free assistance line for Vermonters who are at risk of defaulting on their mortgage. That number is 1-888-568-4547.

I’ve asked the Banking Division to help Vermonters on the brink of foreclosure negotiate with their lenders 60 day grace periods. This will provide relief and time for our mortgage assistance specialist to help homeowners and lenders map out other financing mechanisms and alternatives to foreclosure.


In 1976, as my wife Dorothy and I were just starting our family, we struggled to find a lender to finance the purchase of our first home. Luckily, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency was there to help. Through one of VHFA’s assistance programs, we were able to buy our home in Middlebury that we still live in today.

During this economic crunch, we need to extend assistance to homeowners who are having trouble making ends meet or first-time buyers who need an extra boost. Through VHFA, I am proposing to leverage state retirement funds to provide $17.4 million in additional capacity that will provide affordable and responsible financing and refinancing options for low and middle-income Vermonters.

This initiative will make $10 million available for Vermonters to finance manufactured homes and an additional $7.4 million available for cash down payment, closing or repair assistance to other borrowers.

I’m also proposing that we pledge a portion of the State’s moral obligation commitment to back $30-$60 million that the VHFA can use to provide low interest mortgage financing to eligible low and middle-income borrowers.

These targeted proposals are an important bridge for those Vermonters who need a helping hand to afford their first home or simply to stay in the home they love.


Safe and affordable homes are important economic assets for families, peace of mind for workers who want to live near their job and their children’s school, and important recruiting tools for employers. The economists have been clear: housing development and related industries are key to our economic success, and making homeownership more accessible to working Vermonters has to be a significant piece of our economic growth strategy.

The problem we have is a simple one: Supply. There just aren’t enough moderately priced, affordable houses being built. Permitting costs and a short supply of developable land are instead driving the market to produce expensive homes that are priced out of reach of working Vermonters.

I’ve advanced responsible, common sense reforms to address the housing crisis—without increasing the tax burden. The most important proposals are the creation of a land bank to make surplus state land available for housing, and the New Neighborhoods initiative to expedite permitting for housing in existing residential areas.

I again call on the Legislature to pass the updated New Neighborhoods initiative—or something substantially like it—that streamlines our permit process and provides incentives for communities to approve new construction.

They should also act on my Urban Homestead proposal. All throughout Vermont’s downtowns there are buildings with thriving commercial space on the first floor but underutilized space on the upper floors. By providing Urban Homestead tax incentives, we can encourage first-time homeowners to invest in these spaces—helping to significantly increase economic activity in our downtowns and village centers.

The economic value of these housing and job creation provisions alone are very substantial. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development projects that over the next year the New Neighborhoods initiative can result in more than 400 new homes, create more than 600 new jobs and inject into our economy nearly $22 million in direct construction wages, while adding $44 million to the grand list. Over three years, this initiative could result in 1,200 new homes, over 1,000 new jobs and $90 million or more in construction wages.

I want to thank Senator Illuzzi, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee, for proposing language that moves the pending housing bill in the right direction.

The House, on the other hand, has resisted this idea. But I’m hopeful the Speaker will recognize that now is not the time to erect barriers to job creation and economic growth. Now is the time to remove these barriers and put the economic security and prosperity of our families ahead of politics.


To help create more jobs, I also call on the Legislature to pass my proposal to immediately target up to $10 million in Vermont employment growth (VEGI) tax credits toward Vermont businesses that use environmentally friendly processes or create environmentally friendly technology. And I will also present to the Legislature Tuesday a package establishing Opportunity Zones—Industrial facilities that have been vacant for five years or more and can be renovated and leased tax free to employers who locate there and create more jobs.


The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) can provide an economic stimulus by offering very low-interest capital to businesses. The Economic Growth Subsidy Program I propose would offer $18 million in low cost capital for business expansion and start-ups. These resources are a proven means of stimulating business capital investment, which in itself encourages additional economic activity.


In addition, I am offering a Targeted Manufacturing Payroll Tax Credit designed to provide support to manufacturing companies in areas of our state with the highest unemployment rates. These companies are particularly important to their communities—in many cases employing multiple generations of the same family—and they are important to the manufacturing legacy of Vermont.

Based on an analysis conducted by the Department of Labor, this 2% credit on taxable payroll would apply to manufacturers in many northeastern and northwestern communities.


Vermont’s wood product industry has faced difficult times in recent years. I will be asking the Agency of Natural Resources to continue to increase the amount of timber offered on state land each year. This will be done in a sustainable manner, in keeping with our commitment to the health of forest ecosystems. By extending the State’s forest resources responsibly, we can provide an important opportunity to an industry that is essential to the Vermont way of life.


On a beautiful spring day like today, it’s easy to forget that we had such a long and difficult winter. The most visible reminder is what we see on our roads – the heaves, cracks and potholes brought out by Mother Nature. But weather is not the only culprit: the State has underfunded proper maintenance of our roads, bridges and culverts for decades and the cracks – both literal and figurative – are starting to show.

While we have been spending more on preventative maintenance in recent years with my Road to Affordability approach, there are few Vermonters who would disagree that we need to spend more on our aging infrastructure. The real question is: where do we find the money?

Over the years, I have expressed my frustration regarding the annual raid on the transportation fund. For some 20 years now, hundreds of millions of dollars have been siphoned out of that fund and into the state’s general coffers for non-transportation-related programs.

Some have suggested big-ticket borrowing – well above the annual bonding cap – to help pay transportation expenses. Bonding is an important tool, that—when used properly—can help our state prosper. But borrowing more money than the state can reasonably afford threatens the long-term financial stability of Vermont, and would saddle our children with unnecessary debt. Bonding for transportation should be done judiciously and with support of all political leaders.

Both the House and the Senate Transportation committees have offered proposals to study how we can increase transportation funds through bonding. In light of Vermont’s economic situation and the pressing needs of our infrastructure, now is the time to move this idea forward, to build our state’s future, and put people to work today.

That’s why I am also proposing a five-year, $80 million transportation plan that will infuse new capital into the repair and rehabilitation of Vermont’s infrastructure and create hundreds of new jobs.

The funding will come from a combination of responsible levels of new bonding – expressly for transportation projects – and by ending the raid on the transportation fund over the next five years. The money will be directed to critical road, bridge and culvert projects in all parts of the state. In 2008 alone, my proposal will create more than 450 new transportation construction jobs.

To ensure that additional bonding does not threaten Vermont’s long-term economic health, I will seek approval of my plan from the State’s nonpartisan Capital Debt Affordability Advisory Committee. This Committee is constituted to provide balanced advice on bonding and the State’s financial stability.

I understand that a bonding proposal of this breadth is difficult to implement during the final weeks of the legislative session. That’s why, once the current budget process is complete, I will work with legislative leaders to convene a special committee to review my proposal and make recommendations before July 1st on how Vermont can obtain $10 million that the Agency of Transportation can put to use this year. Putting the money to work now, means putting people to work right away.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that called for Congress to include transportation projects in its economic stimulus bill. It was a great idea, but Congress didn’t act and that was a mistake.

In Vermont, we’ll get it right. I will strongly urge the Legislature to move on my transportation package as soon as possible. Transportation jobs are good jobs, and Vermonters know that repairing our roads and bridges is money well spent.


To further encourage immediate economic activity, I am proposing to suspend the State sales tax for a Sales Tax Independence Weekend. And, to provide Vermonters with a second opportunity to make an investment that can help reduce their energy bills, I propose to suspend the sales tax for an entire week on Energy Star rated appliances.

Working with Vermont’s retailers, we will select dates that provide the most substantial economic value.

These sales tax holidays will provide Vermonters, and visitors, an opportunity to save on purchases large and small. It’s a great way to encourage economic activity, help local businesses and enhance the value of the federal economic stimulus rebate checks.


Before I conclude, I want to take a moment to address concerns I’ve heard from legislative majority leaders.

I have heard complaints that this Economic Growth Initiative will disrupt the current budget process. My response to that is simple: Vermonters need help now and their prosperity is more important than process. With a willing Legislature, these proposals can be easily accommodated within the budget.

Some claim that a focus on economic growth will jeopardize our environment. That’s simply not the case. The choice we face is not between jobs or a healthy environment. We must have both, or we will have neither.

And, some have said that the Legislature won’t have time to consider these proposals. While the timing is not ideal, our response must be swift. In the past, we’ve enacted bipartisan property tax reform and landmark farm aid packages in a matter of days. Two weeks is enough time to get this work done if legislative leaders agree to put prosperity ahead of politics. And my entire administration is prepared to work with them, night and day, to get the job done.


These proposals are a roadmap back to prosperity.

As I said earlier, I will work for Vermont to be the first state to emerge from the national recession, not the last. I will work for Vermont to emerge with a smarter, leaner government that puts innovation ahead of regulation. I will work for a Vermont where families can grow knowing their kids will be able to stay here for college, find a job and start families of their own.

It is clear to me Vermonters demand Montpelier move from the trivial to the crucial: a focus on real issues like job growth, economic relief and a firm foundation for future prosperity.

Vermont is unique in so many ways. We have a deeper and richer tradition of citizen involvement in government than any other state. We have a state where people know one another, depend on one another and are neighbors in the truest sense. We have a sense of compassion for our fellow Vermonters—a connection that helps us join together to move forward as one in meeting the challenges of this economy.

We are Vermonters, and there is no challenge we cannot face together.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Delicate balance

As Gov. Jim Douglas' news conference ended Thursday afternoon, Rep. Martha Heath marched up to the governor with flames shooting from her eyes.

The House Appropriations Committee chairwoman had been listening to the news conference and was angry that he had said that the Legislature's staff had come up with the list of possible budget cuts.

No, she told the governor, it was a joint effort between Douglas' fiscal staff and the Legislature's fiscal staff.

Douglas was not terribly apologetic. He corrected his comment for the benefit of the two or three people within listening distance. He did nothing to douse the flames shooting from Heath's eyes.

The significance of the comments?

The legislative and the administrative staffs had quite intentionally shared compilation of the list to share the blame (and the credit) for the ideas. Heath had spent the last few days getting hammered by her fellow legislators and advocates outraged that some certain item was on the list. She explained to her caucus the day before that it was merely a list of possibilities from both branches. Douglas was, in her view, selling her up the river.

It may have been inadvertent on his part - he would be less attuned to the delicate balance of whose list it was than those doing the actual negotiations. But he seemed to kind of enjoy doing it.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Budget bomb-shell

Legislators walked out of a meeting about budget cuts this morning with Douglas administration officials, angry over word that Gov. Jim Douglas is working on a $100 million economic stimulus package they knew nothing about.

"We can't do this," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille.

She and other legislative met a short time later with Douglas, but came out of the meeting saying he offered little information. He told them the stimulus package is not ready and that he would clarify his position at his regularly scheduled 1 p.m. news conference, House Speaker Gaye Symington said.

"We've just been blind-sided," Bartlett said. She and other legislators were angry at the notion that Douglas could be considering $100 million in economic development while they are trying to figure out how to salvage program for poor Vermonters from the cuts.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said the package would not cost $100 million but would generate $100 million in economic growth. It includes some of the governor's previous proposals, most notably his New Neighborhoods housing proposal that the Legislature has largely rejected. That would stimulate $22 million in economic development, according to Gibbs.

Symington characterized that figure as a far-fetched assumption, and said if the governor's economic stimulus package is based on proposals like that, calling it a stimulus package is inaccurate.

"Is this $100 million of a economic stimulus package or a $100 million sham?" Symington asked.

The proposal is a bomb-shell not just to the budget-cutting discussion, but because it comes just two weeks before the Legislature is do to finish its work for the year. The Legislature's own housing bill is in the midst of heated negotiations.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Unusual process

Wednesday morning, four legislators and two members of the Douglas administration sat around a conference table while a financial analyst from the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Office went over a list of 90 items that could help the state dig out of a financial hole.

The list included $7.5 million in new revenues, most transferred from special purpose funds plus $1.8 million raised from fees that would be increased a year early. (The original list had $7.8 million in revenues, but one item was off the list by afternoon.)

The proposed cuts -- $38.4 million -- drew more frowns. Cut another 200 jobs, bringing the total by July 1, 2009 to 600. Close the St. Albans prison and send all the inmates out of state where their stays are cheaper.

Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, said the administration and legislative leaders wanted a lot of choices. "We really felt it was important for everything to be on the table."

Or most everything. Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland asked later in the day at the House Democratic caucus if anything had been taken off the list before it was made public.

Yes, replied Rep. Martha Heath, D-Westford. She offered an example. Not giving a cost of living increase to an aged and blind program was scratched.

The four heads of the Legislature's money committees will join the finance commissioner and secretary of administration again today to see if they can reach consensus on what part of the list to use to fill the $24.5 million hole in General Fund revnues.

It will be a strange give and take -- an experiment in bipartisan cooperation conducted in public rather than behind closed doors, which is where most deals are hatched.

If they agree -- by Friday, then the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to incorporate the changes into its budget, vote it and send it to the Senate floor.

Once approved, the Senate version of the budget returns to the House, which is expected to concur with some changes -- to give House members a chance to debate the big changes made because of the revenue shortfall.

Will there be the usual two weeks of budget negotiations between the House and Senate? That's not what seems to be planned -- not if lawmakers want to leave May 2.

Any bets on whether this process will work?

-- Nancy Remsen



Ready to spend

Freshman Rep. Peter Welch so far has no opponent as he seeks re-election to a second term. But that hasn't stopped him from raising big bucks for his campaign fund - just in case.

The Democratic congressman and former Vermont State Senate president pro tem raised nearly $171,000 in net campaign contributions during the first quarter of this year, according to a report he filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.

Welch had $828,711 in cash on hand at the end of March. Is it enough to scare off all but the wealthiest challengers?

- Erin Kelly



Forestalling foreclosure

You may have heard that housing foreclosures are all the rage. As with most things, Vermont is coming up against this trend later and more softly than some of those elsewhere in the country.

Nonetheless, foreclosures are happening here.

In a story on that topic on WCAX-TV, Tom Candon, Vermont's deputy commissioner for banking, said:

"We've been concerned we are going to see an uptick in the numbers as we go through the spring and fall of this year. I wasn't surprised to see them go up. We're keeping our fingers crossed that they won't go up much more."
Today, the Vermont Democratic Party criticized Republican Gov. Jim Douglas for not taking charge of the issue, sounding an increasingly familiar refrain that Douglas lacks leadership. The party issued a news release that outlines efforts to forestall foreclosures in other states. To wit:

California: Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger partnered with the private sector to provide bridge loans to California homeowners facing foreclosure, brokered a deal with mortgage companies to streamline the loan modification process to help sub-prime borrowers keep their homes and has led efforts to press the White House to raise federal loan limits to help reduce the rate of foreclosures.


"In some states more than others, working families have proactive leaders standing up for them and fighting for concrete steps to ease the pain in their states. The Douglas Administration's approach, on the other hand, is a little less proactive: Vermont families and homeowners should just keep their fingers crossed that they can weather the storm."

Is it up to the state to act on the foreclosure issue? If so, what should it do?

- Terri Hallenbeck


Bringing the war home

Tomorrow, when taxes are due, Rep. Peter Welch will join with a couple of colleagues for a news conference on how much you owe for the war in Iraq.

Actually, they'll tell you today:

The Iraq War has already cost U.S. taxpayers a staggering $526 billion in direct costs and roughly $1.3 trillion to the economy. That’s $16,500 for each U.S. family of four, or roughly $3 billion for each Congressional district in the country. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz calculates that the eventual cost of the war in Iraq will be about $3 trillion.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Spreading the word visually

Trying to raise awareness about a loophole that could exempt overseas contracts from a provision that requires contractors to report fraud, Rep. Peter Welch has tapped in to new media. (PHOTO OF WELCH WOULD GO HERE IF THE DANG SYSTEM WOULD COOPERATE)

Welch's office made a quick little video and posted it on You Tube. So far, 213 viewers have called it up - two of whom were me and I don't know how many of whom were Welch's staff. But posting a video on an open site other than one's own Web site offers another way to reach the world.

"The hope is to raise awareness about what is an agregious loophole," said Welch spokesman Andrew Savage, who posted the video "The pubilc should hear about this."

You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lqqLXiuV1U.


Bernie on Parade

Parade, that Sunday newspaper magazine you'll find in mucho Sunday papers around the country (but not the Free Press) is publishing its annual "What People Earn" feature this weekend, and the only Vermonter in the 117 people singled out in this year's package is freshman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Sanders, reports Parade, makes $165,200, plenty more than the nation's median salary of $36,140, but plenty less than some of the rich and famous among the lucky fols whose smiling faces, job titles, hometowns and salaries adorn the pages of the April 13 Parade.

Most of the high rollers in the group of 100 featured in the Parade "survey" are actors, actresses and celebrities. In case you care, Dr. Phil (McGraw) makes $90 million, Oprah Winfrey makes $260 million and rapper 50 Cent makes $33 million.

On the low end of the totem pole, there's Titus the Titan, a pro lacrosse mascot from East Rockaway, N.J. His masked face appears right next to Sanders on Page 17, and poor Titus hauls in just $3,000 a year.

Exactly the point of all this is hard to say, but there you have it.

For the record, a spokesman for Sanders said Friday he had no clue that Bernie would be appearing in the Parade issue. "Is he on the cover?" asked Mike Briggs.

Ah, no. That honor went to the likes of 15-year-old actress Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, who made $18.2 million, and Trouble, Leona Helmsley's dog, which made $12 million.

-- Sam Hemingway


Voter training wheels

Here's a constitutional amendment the Vermont Senate is considering: if you're 17 at the time of the primary, but would be 18 by the election, you could vote in the primary.

Not clear at this point whether there is time left in the session (they're talking May 2 adjournment, but talk does not always equal action) for this voting thing to go through.

What do you think of it - should 17-year-olds who are going to be making the November decision have a say in the March or September decision?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Fightin' Dems

Okay, so now Judge Dennis Pearson has TWICE told Jacob Perkinson, atttorney and chairman of the Burlington Democratic Committee, to drop his effort to impugn the integrity of City Hall's handling of the Ward 7 city councilor election on March 4 in Burlington.

Do you really think Perkinson is going to follow Pearson's advice? It would seem not, because looks more and more like this squabble is about the control of City Hall after the next mayoral election, not how city elections officials handled or mishandled the ballots in the close Ward 7 contest on March 4.

To recap: Perkinson, representing former Councilor Jean O'Sullivan, D-Ward 7, is alleging city workers under the control of Jonathan Leopold, Burlington's chief administrative officer, cracked the seal on a Ward 7 ballot box three times between the election and a March 10 recount to tally up the votes on their own. That happens to be against the law.

No argument there from Leopold or his assistant, Ben Pacy, who actually did the seal breaking. Their explanation is that it was all harmlessly done to resolve confusion on the vote count, and no vote tampering took place.

This week, Perkinson came up with a new allegation: Leopold falsely testified before Pearson last week that he'd been told by an assistant city attorney that the Secretary of State's office had no problem with the ballot box seal breaking. Au contraire. It did have a big problem, and the city and Leopold were forced this week to concede making another goof in this weird case.

So maybe, as Pearson has said, the whole thing about Leopold is a red herring. Or maybe we're going back to the future, to a time when Democrats and Progressives were more enemies of eachother than either party was with city Republicans.

Whadaya think?

-- Sam Hemingway


New Yorker thinks VT adorable, but gov wrong

The New Yorker's political blog includes talk this week about instant runoff voting and Vermont. The bill was, of course, vetoed last week by Gov. Jim Douglas. Calls our state "adorable." Is that an insult or a compliment?

It makes a point about Douglas' veto message (What was unexpected was the message’s laughably abysmal intellectual quality.) that advocates of IRV have been making around these adorable parts the last few days.

It says of IRV's prospects: "Never fear, I.R.V. fans. One of these days, Vermont will have a different governor."

Here's the link:

- Terri Hallenbeck


Where would you look?

Beginning tomorrow, I understand, four legislators will join two members of the Douglas administration in a search for money. They may wish it was as easy as looking for colored eggs on a grassy lawn.

The good news, said Senate President Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, is that Gov. Jim Douglas and his aides agreed to work with legislative leaders to draw up a list of proposed cuts in advance of learning Tuesday just how much the state's revenue projections will be downgraded.

No one believes there will be good news on Tuesday and all parties (the Progressives were invited to this meeting, too) agreed that getting ready would be a good idea. Lawmakers don't want to delay their May 2 adjournment -- not in an election year when they could be blamed for adding to the state's financial woes by needlessly extending the session.

The governor wrote a budget. The House wrote and passed a budget and by Friday the Senate Appropriations Committee will have its version ready -- ready, it seems to be slashed.

Where should lawmakers and the administration be looking to find what they think will be spending changes amounting to about $25 million? Don't forget to say why you would make any cut you are suggesting.

-- Nancy Remsen



Fraud OK, as long as it's far from home

Rep. Peter Welch, the man without opposition, is getting some ink for his push to rectify a loophole where the government wouldn't require contractors to report waste, fraud or abuse on overseas contracts, as it will on domestic contracts.



Here's a previous story that explains the issue:


- Terri Hallenbeck



Congress anyone?

Got a missive in the mail from Rep. Peter Welch the other day offering me advice for how to make sure I get my tax rebate.

Without saying anything in it about how the government can't really afford to send us this money, he reminds us to file a tax return even if we don't normally if we want to make sure we receive the dough.

OK, so file everybody.

What it really reminded me of, though, was that Welch STILL doesn't have a known opponent in this fall's election. I know, it's almost as ridiculous as the Democrats not having a known candidate for governor.

Think of the potential consequences. Freshman Welch runs the risk of getting bullied by his congressional classmates for sitting there without an opponent while all of them are sweating their political lives.

What's the word out there about possible contenders?

- Terri Hallenbeck



Two vetoes

Democrats were suspicious of/angry at the timing, but Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed two bills late Friday afternoon - campaign finance and instant runoff voting.

The timing, the Dems claim, is meant to keep the moves under the radar because no one reads the Saturday papers.

I won't argue that the governor must have had some motive for doing this on Friday afternoon, and heaven knows, it wasn't for my convenience, but I feel quite sure that you all turn religiously to the newspapers every day, no rest.

I do know this - that the governor's office has not posted the veto message on the governor's Web site. Must not have been convenient for them late on a Friday afternoon.

- Terri Hallenbeck



Slippery topic

It's almost like a vague memory now, but not too many days ago I was in Texas. The purpose of my visit was to celebrate the marriage of my sister's oldest child. We packed a lot of celebrating into a few days.

You can't celebrate the whole time, though. Some of the time you spend driving and flying to and fro, Texas being a large expanse of a state. The course of our travels took us past oil rigs and the headquarters of Halliburton and ConocoPhillips and their friends. You could just about smell the money oozing out of the buildings. While the economy is swan-diving everywhere else, it's hopping in Houston. Times are good in the oil business, no question about that.

Flash forward to the Vermont Statehouse today and a group of senators decried those oil profits, asking the state attorney general to investigate the companies for price gouging.

Down the hall, Gov. Jim Douglas urged Congress to close the "Enron Loophole," (named for that shamed, deposed and demised former Houston company) that exempts oil price speculation from government regulation. Congressman Peter Welch is a sponsor of legislation to do that, but it has not found its way through the system.

The senators suggested without many specifics that the prices we're seeing at the pumps are unfair. After all, who among you is going to suggest that you should be paying more? But can anyone prove price-gouging? Oil companies are at least partly raking in the dough because people in China and other emerging nations are using their product like never before, with no let-up in sight.

Douglas wasn't ready to say that oil company profits were unfair, but both he and Senate Majority Leader John Campbell veered into talking about how perhaps the price of this product that is so vital should be regulated.

On the one hand it looks like an insurmountable challenge for local politicians to do anything about the price of oil. On the other, you figure the cry for change has to come from somewhere. You can't help but feel that Congress and everybody else is flailing at the problem.

- Terri Hallenbeck



The scene changes

Eight months ago, Gaye Symington told me she'd like to be governor someday, but it was not the right time. Work and family were taking precedence. Now, apparently, it might be becoming the right time.

The speaker of the House has said she is unlikely to return to working at the Intervale Center, where she was development director during the half-a-year when the Legislature is not in session. So there goes the work part.
As for the family, she said she's talked it over and they're thinking about it, just as she is.

"I am considering running for governor," she said. "This came up in response to a lot of people asking me to run and because I hear such a hunger in Vermont for wanting a sense of vision for where we're going."

Progressive candidate Anthony Pollina says he has no plans to step aside. Of course, as we've seen, plans change.

What are your predictions for percentage of vote for a three-way, Douglas-Symington-Pollina race?

What about Douglas-Symington?

And Douglas-Pollina?

_ Terri Hallenbeck



They'll meet the candidate

The Lamoille County Democratic Committee is going where the state committee was unwilling to go. They have agreed to meet with Progressive Anthony Pollina to discuss his run for governor.

The meeting is due to take place right out in the public - April 29 at the 7 p.m. at the Hyde Park town clerk's office.

The vote was unanimous Monday night, said committee member John Burgess, who is also a member of the state committee that put off a decision last month whether to grant an audience to Pollina. Some state committee members expressed heebie-jeebies over breaking bread with a man who has been known to rain on their party.

If they're not ready to break bread, Lamoille Dems seem to be saying they're willing to have tea with the Prog. Burgess said he thinks anybody who's interested should be heard. He also said he supports Pollina's right to run a write-in campaign in the Democratic primary.

Does that mean he and his fellow Dems are ready to sign on with the Pollina campaign?

"I'm not prepared to lock arms with anybody," Burgess said. "I think it's fair to say if there were a vote taken last night as to whether we support Anthony, I don't know how that would have come out."

Burgess said there was also some talk of landing a meeting with Peter Galbraith, the Democratic candidate many consider the most promising prospect the party has to field its own candidate. Galbraith's decision on whether to run should come within the next couple weeks.

- Terri Hallenbeck

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