Thursday, September 29, 2016

Board Unanimous: Johnson, Lyndon State Colleges to Become One

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 12:42 PM

Jeb Spaulding - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • jeb wallace-brodeur
  • Jeb Spaulding
Vermont State Colleges’ board of trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to go ahead with a plan to unify the Johnson and Lyndon state colleges.

A combination of fewer college-age students and rising costs  drove Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding to propose it.

“The chancellor’s analysis and explanation of the financial, academic, and community benefits of unification is substantive and convincing,” Martha O’Connor, the board chair, said in a statement released after the two-day annual meeting in Fairlee. “Unification will make a stronger college with new opportunities for students and a promising future for both campuses.”

The plan is for Johnson and Lyndon to operate as one accredited college starting July 1, 2018 — with two campuses, two NCAA sports programs and one president. Elaine Collins, the current Johnson St
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ate College president, will become the leader of both colleges in July 2017.

The board took its unanimous vote Thursday despite pleas from some campus groups to delay it.  The day before, Lyndon State College professor Jay Shafer tried to persuade the group to make a different decision. Addressing members as they debated the issue, he suggested that merging would damage the brands of the two colleges and demoralize their respective staff.  

"The unification process has not incorporated the talents and institutional knowledge of our faculty, staff or alumni," Shafer said . "The exclusionary nature of the unification process is disturbing."    

Merging the two colleges is expected to save $2 million a year, Spaulding said, largely through the elimination of four high-level administrative positions. It is also projected to bring in $2 million in new revenue.

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Implementation of the plan is expected to cost $2 million in one-time expenses for marketing and technology. The board asked Collins and a unification advisory panel to recommend a new name for the entity in time for its next meeting, on December 1.

On the Johnson State College campus, professor James Black, chair of the Business & Economic Development Department, said he and his counterparts at Lyndon have already started collaborating . One course on federal taxes has eight Johnson students and four Lyndon students this semester. If not for the combined effort, the course likely would have been canceled for under-enrollment, he said.

“I think it’s essential,” he said of unification.

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Vermont Delegation Divided Over Spending Bill Extending EB-5

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 12:19 PM

Left to right: Congressman Peter Welch, Bill Stenger, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Ariel Quiros and William Kelly in Newport in September 2012. - COURTESY: BILL STENGER
  • Courtesy: Bill Stenger
  • Left to right: Congressman Peter Welch, Bill Stenger, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Ariel Quiros and William Kelly in Newport in September 2012.
Vermont's typically unified congressional delegation split Wednesday on a key vote to fund the government through December 9. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined 25 of his peers in opposing the stopgap spending bill, which nevertheless passed the Senate with 72 votes in favor. The veteran Democrat pledged last week to vote against the so-called continuing resolution if it did not include reforms to the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program. Instead, the legislation simply extended it, as written, until December. 

According to Leahy spokesman David Carle, his "nay" vote was "a direct result" of his reservations on EB-5.

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After Scott Pledges to Sell Construction Business, Minter Moves the Goal Posts

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 10:13 AM

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (left)  announces Saturday that he would sell his share of DuBois Construction if he's elected governor. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (left) announces Saturday that he would sell his share of DuBois Construction if he's elected governor.
Last Saturday, when Lt. Gov. Phil Scott announced he would sell his share of the excavation business he co-owns if he is elected governor in November, the Democratic Party was clear.

The Republican candidate's decision fulfilled one of the two options that would resolve any perceived conflict of interest over state contracts DuBois Construction bids on, said Christina Amestoy, the party’s spokeswoman.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter seemed to agree. "I'm awfully glad he's finally recognized there is a conflict of interest," she said Monday at an unrelated press conference.

Since then, however, Minter has moved the goal posts, urging more stringent standards for what counts as conflict of interest.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At Rutland Debate, Minter Backs Away From Health Exchange

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 11:58 PM

Sue Minter and Phil Scott - FILE: JAMES BUCK AND MOLLY WALSH
  • File: JAMES BUCK AND MOLLY WALSH
  • Sue Minter and Phil Scott
Throughout her campaign for governor, Democratic nominee Sue Minter has said that, if elected, she would fix the state's struggling health insurance exchange. But at a debate Wednesday night in Rutland, the former transportation secretary suggested that she was willing to abandon Vermont Health Connect and move to the federal exchange.

"If I learn from the independent assessment that the legislature funded that there is a way to move, I will move," Minter said, referring to a $250,000 study due to lawmakers in December. "If I learn that there's a way to complete and make the system functional, I will do that."

At her first debate last month with Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, Minter expressed confidence that she could make Vermont Health Connect "fully functional." In a written statement provided to Seven Days three weeks ago, she said she would "work to fix the investments that we have made" in the system. And as recently as last Friday, at a forum in Manchester, the Democrat "pushed back" against the idea of abandoning the exchange, according to VTDigger.org

Minter continued to express concern Wednesday that abandoning Vermont Health Connect could imperil the state subsidies enjoyed by some 17,000 Vermonters. But she appeared to open a door to a new approach, saying that she was "willing to transition off of this," if she could guarantee that those with subsidies wouldn't lose them.

"I think Vermont Health Connect has failed many Vermonters and that Vermonters deserve better," she said. 

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Shumlin Using State Plane to Commute from Putney

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 8:59 PM

State aviation program administrator Guy Rouelle with Vermont's Cessna 182 - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • State aviation program administrator Guy Rouelle with Vermont's Cessna 182
Since moving to southern Vermont last month, Gov. Peter Shumlin has been catching more rides in a state-owned airplane.

Shumlin rode the Cessna 182 to or from public events three times in September, according to spokeswoman Sue Allen. He was scheduled to take a fourth trip last Friday, as WCAX-TV first reported, but it was canceled due to inclement weather. 

The governor, who moved in August from East Montpelier back to his hometown of Putney, used the plane just four times in the year prior to his relocation.

At an unrelated press conference Wednesday, Shumlin defended his frequent flier status. He said that taking the plane from Hartness State Airport in nearby Springfield saves his Vermont State Police detail from having to make the 220-mile roundtrip from Montpelier to Putney to pick him up and drop him off. But he conceded that the plane has its limitations.

"It can only fly when it's blue sky," the governor said. "It can't fly at night."

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With Backing from Key Institutions, Burlington to Pursue District Heating

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 8:57 PM

From left: Burlington Mayor Weinberger, John St.Hilaire of Vermont Gas, Corix senior vice president Eric van Roon, Dawn LeBaron of UVM Medical Center, Don Sinex, BED director Neale Lunderville and Jan Schulz announce plans to pursue district heating on Wednesday. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • From left: Burlington Mayor Weinberger, John St.Hilaire of Vermont Gas, Corix senior vice president Eric van Roon, Dawn LeBaron of UVM Medical Center, Don Sinex, BED director Neale Lunderville and Jan Schulz announce plans to pursue district heating on Wednesday.
Updated September 29, 2016 at 8:50 a.m. to include corrected information from Burlington Electric about greenhouse gas emissions.

Several major Burlington institutions are backing a plan to create a district heat system that would harness waste heat from the Joseph C. McNeil Generating Station.

A group of residents has been trying for decades to convince city leaders to implement this type of system, which works like an electric grid — but for heat. The idea has been formally studied at least six times, with the most recent report  concluding that it didn't make financial sense.

Now, city officials say the calculus has changed because the Burlington Town Center has joined the University of Vermont and the UVM Medical Center in supporting the project. If built, they would depend on the system for heat transported from the biomass plant through an underground system of pipes.

Surprisingly, Vermont Gas is also backing the proposal. It would eliminate some of its biggest natural gas customers, but the company could pick up other business in the process — laying the pipes for the system, for example.  

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Proposed ‘All-Payer’ Health Care Funding Advances in Vermont

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 7:49 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin (right) and Green Mountain Care Board chair Al Gobeille discussing an all-payer waiver system for reimbursing health care providers. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin (right) and Green Mountain Care Board chair Al Gobeille discussing an all-payer waiver system for reimbursing health care providers.
Vermont has won long-sought approval from the federal government for an “all-payer waiver” that is intended to change the way health care providers are reimbursed by government and private insurers, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday.

Doctors, hospitals and consumers have three weeks to weigh in on the plan before the state’s Green Mountain Care Board signs off on it.

“It’s complicated,” Shumlin acknowledged of the plan, after his staff handed out piles of paperwork detailing the draft five-year agreement that’s been in the works for two years. Nonetheless, Green Mountain Care Board chair Al Gobeille said health care providers should be able to readily determine what they think about the plan.

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Burlington Mayor Wants Building Height Issue on November Ballot

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 7:33 PM

Rendering of proposed mall from the Cherry Street side - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Rendering of proposed mall from the Cherry Street side
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger wants city voters to have a say on a controversial zoning change that would increase allowable building heights downtown.

He will ask the city council Thursday to approve the change, and to also put the zoning question on the November 8 ballot for voters to decide.

Weinberger is a staunch supporter of the height increase, which would allow 
buildings up to 14 stories tall at the site of the proposed $250 million Burlington Town Center redevelopment. The current height limit is about ten stories. 

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RGA Goes Negative, Labeling Shumlin as ‘Minter’s Mentor’

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 1:59 PM

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Updated at 3:59 p.m.

In the seven weeks since Lt. Gov. Phil Scott won his party’s gubernatorial primary, a super PAC funded by the Republican Governors Association has been flooding the airwaves with positive television advertisements. 

On Wednesday, the national GOP group went negative — releasing a tough new ad labeling Democratic nominee Sue Minter as a protégé of retiring Gov. Peter Shumlin, whom it refers to as a failure. The spot features bobblehead dolls loosely resembling the two Democrats. 

The size of the ad buy was not immediately clear. But according to a disclosure filed Monday with the Secretary of State’s Office, the super PAC, called A Stronger Vermont, spent $244,362 last Friday on media placement. That same disclosure indicated that the RGA had transferred another $600,000 to its super PAC in September, bringing its total investment in the race to $1.2 million.

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Feds Approve Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Rutland

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 10:34 AM

Rutland - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Rutland
Updated to include a statement from Vermont's congressional delegation.

The State Department has approved the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Rutland, according to the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program.

"The Syrians are coming to Rutland, Vermont! This outcome was expected, Rutland is a welcoming community," according to a statement posted on the VRRP's Facebook page. The agency is a field office of the U.S Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

It isn't clear when the first Syrians will arrive in Rutland, but VRRP hopes that the resettlement will begin before the end of the year. The agency also said that there will be an office in Rutland with trained staff to help the Syrians settle in their new country.

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