Tuesday, December 1, 2015

State Budget Shortfalls Projected This Year and Next

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 4:33 PM

Agency of Administration Secretary Justin Johnson discussed budget issues Tuesday with legislators at  the Statehouse in Montpelier. - TERRI HALLENBECK/SEVENDAYS
  • Terri Hallenbeck/SevenDays
  • Agency of Administration Secretary Justin Johnson discussed budget issues Tuesday with legislators at the Statehouse in Montpelier.
The Legislature is looking at $40 million in unanticipated budget expenses to operate state government this year and a $58 million gap between projected revenues and spending next year.

Gov. Peter Shumlin's budget writers and the Legislature's fiscal advisors identified Medicaid as the cause of most of the money troubles.

Of the $40 million of unplanned expenses in the current budget, $36 million is in Medicaid. That includes $10 million needed to cover a 53rd week of Medicaid payments. The Shumlin administration and the Legislature failed to plan for this expense in the budget bill enacted last spring.

Similarly, $53 million of next year's projected gap of $58 million is in the Medicaid program.

Medicaid is a subsidized health insurance program that has seen its rolls swell and use increase. The state budgeted $1.68 billion for Medicaid this year. The state's share of this cost is about $700 million, with the federal government picking up the tab for the rest.

The Shumlin Administration will present its plan to address the current budget gap on Dec. 14.

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Burlington Suspends Taxi Company for Violations

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 10:45 AM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
A panel overseeing taxicabs in Burlington has suspended one of the city's largest cab companies for three months and revoked its owner's taxi license following numerous complaints against the company. 

Burlington’s Taxi Licensing Appeals Panel issued the three-month suspension against Blazer Transportation on October 16, citing a “pattern of disregard for the city’s regulations.” Allegations against the company, which Seven Days has previously reported, included “brazen and unapologetic overcharging of customers” and employing a driver whose license had been suspended for driving under the influence.

The panel also revoked the taxi driver’s license of Blazer owner Ricky Handy, and suspended the taxi driver’s license of his son, Christopher Handy, for three months.

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Champlain Parkway Reviewed at 'Unexpectedly Civil' Meeting

Posted By on Tue, Dec 1, 2015 at 12:18 AM

  • Molly Walsh
About 120 people turned out Monday night for an update on the long-stalled and not universally loved Champlain Parkway in Burlington's South End. At the outset, moderator Greg Marchildon schooled the crowd on the purpose of the event, saying it was to provide information, rather than to be a forum to protest the $30-plus million, 2.5-mile road project.

"We are not here to litigate the design,'' said Marchildon, executive director of  Vermont AARP, which hosted the event with cooperation from city leaders backing the project. "The Parkway is moving forward."

The meeting at Champlain School unfolded in an orderly manner with no rabble-rousing to speak of. After presentations on the road design by state and local officials, including Chapin Spencer, director of Burlington Public Works, a panel took questions from the audience, not via microphone, but submitted on index cards, which Marchildon read aloud to the panelists for responses.

Explaining the format of the meeting, Marchildon said he wanted avoid allowing anyone to dominate at the microphone. At the end, he said that he had enough time to ask all but three questions, adding that he "read them all verbatim" and "did not editorialize." 

The format was undemocratic said Burlington resident Barbara McGrew. There were people in the audience Monday who had things to say about improving the design of the road, but they didn't get a chance to speak because of the meeting's format, McGrew said. "The city is very good at coming up with processes that seem like they are orderly, but silence a lot of people."

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Still Seeking Students, Burlington College Cuts Tuition Rate

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2015 at 8:10 PM

Burlington College - FILE: NATALIE WILLIAMS
  • File: Natalie Williams
  • Burlington College
Burlington College announced Monday that it’s reducing tuition — bucking a national trend.

The “sticker price,” as the college called it in an announcement, which doesn’t include room or board, will be $21,500 for the 2016-17 academic year — down from roughly $23,500 today. 

Burlington College’s decision comes at a time when many colleges are raising tuition, and then offering more generous discounts to those students who can’t afford it. 

The tiny liberal arts college has kept tuition flat since the fall of 2014.

That's despite being in serious need of cash. Burlington College officials are hoping the tuition break will bring in new students — a critical need, given that its student body has shrunk in the midst of its financial struggles. But because the college will be taking in less revenue, the move also makes the need for new students all the more urgent.

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Sanders Undergoes Hernia Repair Procedure

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2015 at 3:25 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was scheduled to undergo an "outpatient hernia repair procedure" Monday, spokesman Michael Briggs announced in a press release. 

Sanders, 74, was to be treated at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and was expected to return to his Senate duties Tuesday, Briggs said. The procedure was planned and was not expected to interfere with the senator's presidential campaign, according to the spokesman. 

Sanders' office offered no further details.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

In Reversal, Phil Scott Backs Syrian Refugee Resettlement

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 3:33 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Lt. Govt. Phil Scott
A week after calling for a "pause" in the nation's resettlement of Syrian refugees, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said Wednesday that he now supports the program.

"I have personally satisfied my concerns about the process and I am comfortable with continuing with the process," he said. "I think it is safe and well-run and we should continue."

Like fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman and more than 30 governors across the country, Scott questioned the security of the program after the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, allegedly perpetrated by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

But as WPTZ's Stewart Ledbetter first reported Tuesday, Scott had a change of heart after taking part in a U.S. Department of State conference call last Friday and meeting with Vermont Department of Public Safety officials Tuesday in Waterbury. The meeting included DPS Commissioner Keith Flynn and Deputy Commissioner Joe Flynn.

"I learned a lot from [DPS officials] about where some of the security risks really are," he said, pointing to student visas and the Canadian border as areas of concern. "I came away being much more comfortable than I was and having a better understanding of what that process is. I've also reached out to the [Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program], hoping to meet with them as well."

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sanders OK'd for New Hampshire Primary Ballot

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 at 4:25 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in New Hampshire this fall. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns in New Hampshire this fall.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ name will be on the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary ballot in February.

The Vermont independent won a 5-0 ruling Tuesday from the New Hampshire Ballot Law Commission, after a local lawyer challenged Sanders' eligibility to run as a Democrat.

Sanders, the longest-serving independent in Congress, has chosen to run for the Democratic nomination for president. In filing his petition to be on the ballot in New Hampshire, Sanders had to affirm that he is a Democrat. The commission’s ruling concurs.

Sanders has caucused with the Democrats during his time as a senator and had previously as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sanders’ campaign cheered the news. "The commission's ruling today ensures Bernie's name will be on the New Hampshire ballot, and puts this issue to bed for good," state campaign director Julia Barnes said in a press release. "For our part, we'll keep our attention where it always has been: on making calls, knocking doors and spreading the Senator's message about a political revolution that finally takes on the billionaire class to put working families first."

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Meet the Winners of the Sanders Sound Off!

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2015 at 5:16 PM

The people have spoken, and they've crowned a winner in our Bernie Sanders imitation contest.

More than 40 contestants had called our hotline and recorded an imitation of Brooklyn-born Sanders' speaking (and shouting) voice. They touched on crucial themes — underwear, billionaires and damn emails — from the Vermont senator's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many were quite impressive. Others weren't, but we respect the effort. Our panel selected five finalists, and we posted their audio takes online for you to vote.

The winner is Sam Pelletier of Maine, who delivered with his bit on ordering cheesy bread for Sanders volunteers. Congratulations, Sam, and we hope you can make it to Burlington to use your prize: tickets to see Bernie imitator and comedian James Adomian at the Vermont Comedy Club!

In second place: a rant on global warming and underwear by Tony O'Rourke of Williston, who noted in his message that he's "one of those dirty Republicans."

In third place is Joel Levin of New York City, who railed against the Republicans who are double-dipping and triple-dipping their chips. (You'll notice there's a food theme to many of these imitations.)

The fourth-place winner, David Houston, had this suggestion for Ben & Jerry's:

Fifth place went to Joel Najman, whose voice you may recognize from his show on Vermont Public Radio.

And although this one didn't make the final round, it made us laugh.

Thanks to everyone who entered. And now, do we need to have a talk about how much time you've been spending in front of your bathroom mirror perfecting your Bernie impression?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Bernie Bits: N.H. Union Splits With National Group to Endorse Sanders

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 10:22 AM

The 2 million-member Service Employees International Union dealt Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign a serious blow Tuesday by endorsing rival Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

But on Thursday, its 11,500-member New Hampshire affiliate broke ranks with top union brass and threw its support behind the Vermont independent.

Richard Gulla, president of the State Employees' Association/SEIU Local 1984, explained in a press release that the New Hampshire group's endorsement process proceeded separately from the international union's. A majority of the local's members backed Sanders, Gulla said, and its board of directors ratified their decision after meeting with the candidates. 

“While we differ in our endorsement, we share the same values, hopes and dreams for our country,” Gulla said of the intra-union divide.

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Group Condemns Calls to Block Syrian Refugees

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2015 at 9:20 AM

Yacouba Jacob Bogre, far left, and Rev. Debbie Ingram, far right, stand with supporters of Syrian refugees at a press conference Thursday. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Yacouba Jacob Bogre, far left, and Rev. Debbie Ingram, far right, stand with supporters of Syrian refugees at a press conference Thursday.
In front of a sculpture with granite jigsaw pieces spelling out “Democracy” on Burlington’s Main Street, a group of activists began a counteroffensive Thursday evening against calls to stop Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

Rev. Debbie Ingram, executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, credited Gov. Peter Shumlin for taking the “courageous and compassionate” stance that Vermont should welcome refugees from the war-torn country. “Also,” she continued, “we have come to speak out against those in Vermont who would not applaud and support Governor Shumlin’s decision."

In the wake of the terror attacks that killed 129 people in Paris, both Republican candidates for governor have said Vermont should temporarily refrain from accepting Syrian refugees until the federal government can prove the rigor of its vetting process. Nationwide, at least 28 governors have made similar calls, and on Thursday, the U.S. House passed a tougher screening process for Syrian refugees. The White House has said President Obama will veto it if the Senate follows suit.

A Syrian passport found after the attacks ignited concerns about refugee screening. Vermont doesn't currently have any Syrian refugees, but officials expect some will arrive during the coming year.

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