Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lawmakers Outline More Than $28 Million in Potential Cuts

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 7:24 PM

A sign outside the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • A sign outside the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday
After weeks of closed-door meetings, the Shumlin administration and top legislators on Thursday released a new list of budget cuts they could deploy to save more than than $28 million. 

As they outlined the potential savings in a Statehouse hearing room, lawmakers described them as everything from "tough" to "painful" to "incredibly difficult."

It's unclear which of the cuts will actually see the light of day. House Appropriations Committee Chair Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) emphasized that the two-page document she presented was merely a menu from which legislators could choose as they seek to close a $113 million gap in next year's budget. 

"This is an all-in list," she said. "It doesn't mean that we're doing every single thing on this list. It's that we feel like it's the right thing to do to be as transparent as we can be with the magnitude of this problem, what it's going to take to solve it and the kinds of things that we're looking at."

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Eagles Landing Project Clears Final Legal Dispute

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 6:44 PM

  • Courtesy
Two years ago, Champlain College began seeking permits to build a dorm in downtown Burlington. The Development Review Board turned the college down. Champlain appealed and came to a compromise, but by that time, two different groups of neighbors had filed suit.

Now, the last of those legal disputes has been settled, clearing the way for the 104-unit project known as Eagles Landing to move forward. The dorm would house 290 students off St. Paul Street, supplanting the vacant Eagle’s Club and a parking lot. 

David Provost, Champlain's senior vice president for finance and administration, and Mayor Miro Weinberger — who's been a strong supporter of the project — celebrated the news at a press conference on campus Thursday. "I think this is a really good thing for the city," said Weinberger, who noted that it will generate roughly $400,000 in property tax revenue and will fill a need for student housing. 

Neighbors raised concerns early in the process about the size of the building, its design and the impact it would have on parking.

Weinberger, who thanked Provost for his persistence, acknowledged that he had been unhappy with the delays. But both he and Provost said the process — though tortuous — ultimately resulted in a better building design. Joining them at the podium was Ron Wanamaker, the director of the nonprofit Preservation Burlington and one of those who pushed for a design that blended in with the neighborhood.  

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What's All That Stuff on the Burlington Ballot?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 5:32 PM

Burlington's mayoral candidates at a recent debate - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Burlington's mayoral candidates at a recent debate
Dear Burlington voters:

If you are planning to show up at the polls next Tuesday, fill in a few bubbles, and then jet, you might want to budget a little more time. This year's Town Meeting Day ballot is 1,300 words long. In addition to picking your mayor, city councilors, school board members and inspectors of elections, you’ll be asked to answer eight questions. And chances are you haven’t heard about half of them. For your convenience, Seven Days has annotated a sample ballot with some pointers.

Let your mouse hover over the ballot to see stars. Click on them and you'll get explanations of the questions — and links to our Town Meeting Day stories.

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Tune In for Town Meeting Day 2015

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 10:14 AM

Are you a politics wonk? Curious about a particular town meeting issue? In need of moral support as you wait for vote tallies? Join us on Town Meeting Day.

Starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, we’ll host a live blog on our homepage, There, we'll hear live reports from our reporters covering the Burlington and Winooski races and keep an eye on events around the state. We want to hear from you, too, so join us with your Town Meeting Day questions, observations and intel.

Until then, catch up on recent Town Meeting Day coverage:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

House Panel Balks At Rising Efficiency Vermont Fee

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 10:52 PM

Rep. Adam Greshin (I-Warren) speaks in favor of freezing an energy-efficiency charge that Vermont electric customers pay in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Rep. Adam Greshin (I-Warren) speaks in favor of freezing an energy-efficiency charge that Vermont electric customers pay in a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday.
Discontent over Efficiency Vermont’s ever-growing budget boiled over Wednesday in the Statehouse. A key House committee voted for a two-year freeze on an electricity fee that funds the energy-efficiency program.

“The amount we’re investing in energy efficiency is unparalleled,” said Rep. Adam Greshin (I-Warren), who led the effort to halt its growth. “Is there any other budget in Vermont that has grown by 11-and-a-half percent?”

The House Ways and Means Committee, on which Greshin serves, voted 8-2 on Wednesday to keep the energy efficiency charge that Vermonters pay on their electric bills at its current rates until 2018. The rate is set by the state Public Service Board, but Greshin successfully amended a larger renewable energy bill to mandate the freeze.

For residential customers, this year's fee is $0.01173 per kilowatt hour. This month, Greshin said, that came to about $9.50 cents on his $119 Green Mountain Power Corp. home electric bill.

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Gun Control Supporters Concede Defeat on Background Checks

Posted By on Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 12:24 AM

Gun rights supporters in front of the Vermont Statehouse - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Gun rights supporters in front of the Vermont Statehouse
Gun Sense Vermont cofounder Ann Braden conceded Tuesday that her group is unlikely to achieve its goal this year of requiring near-universal background checks for gun buyers. But she expressed hope that two other provisions in a controversial gun control bill may still move forward before the end of the legislative session.

“We have a very long view on this,” Braden said. “Two years ago, there wasn’t any way any gun provision would be debated. This is a long-term campaign to really change the conversation, so we can pass legislation to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”

As written, the bill faces steep odds in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Its chairman, Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), opposes requiring those buying guns in private sales to undergo federal background checks. But Sears said Tuesday his committee may still vote on the bill's other two components after legislators' Town Meeting Day break next week.

Those provisions would:

  • Make it illegal for convicted felons to posses guns under state law, as they are under federal law;

  • Require the state to report to a federal database the names of those deemed by a court to be dangerous and mentally ill.
“I don’t know what we’ll do,” Sears said.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

After Constituent Outcry, Senate Delays Child Protection Debate

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 8:00 PM

Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington) - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington)
Faced with a barrage of constituent complaints, the Vermont Senate delayed consideration of a comprehensive child protection bill Tuesday. Instead of voting as scheduled, Senate Democrats huddled in a Statehouse meeting room at lunchtime to air the concerns they've heard and discuss their accuracy.

"I've gotten a couple of emails," Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) said wryly, prompting laughs from his colleagues.

Supporters of the bill, which would dramatically reshape the way the state protects children from abuse, complained that many of those flooding lawmakers with phone calls and emails have their facts wrong. 

"Somehow in this building, frequently, things are misconstrued, so that's part of what you might be hearing," said Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and helped draft the bill. 

Sears noted that his committee had scaled back the scope of the bill in the weeks since it was first introduced, and he wondered whether irate voters were responding to the current version or previous iterations. The chair sought to remind his fellow Democrats why they were considering the legislation in the first place: the deaths last February and April of two young children whose families were under state supervision.

"This is about a child-protection system that has significant problems," Sears said.

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Winooski Water Torture? Residents Told to Run Water 24-7

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2015 at 4:42 PM

Frozen pipes - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • Frozen pipes
Updated at 12 p.m. Wednesday to reflect billing adjustments. 

Winooski residents are becoming all too familiar with the sound of running water. On Thursday, city officials asked everyone to keep a faucet running 24-7 to prevent the city's water pipes from freezing. Some residents might be asked to keep the water running into April, city officials say.

In recent weeks, city hall received a burst of notices about pipes freezing and residents being stuck without water. At the peak of the crisis, 23 of the 1,700  properties connected to the city's water system were without water, city manager Katherine Decarreau said.

The reason for the problems is the snot-freezing, car-battery-destroying, soul-numbing temperatures that are assaulting Vermont this winter.

Most water pipes in Winooski are buried five feet underground, Decarreau said. But, for the first time anyone can remember, the frost in Winooski has reached that depth, if not farther. 

"I have people here 30 years who haven't seen five feet of frost," Decarreau said. "That's a lot of frost."

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Weinberger Campaign Raises More Than $100,000

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 9:28 PM

The candidates, from left to right: Loyal Ploof, Greg Guma, Steve Goodkind and Miro Weinberger - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • The candidates, from left to right: Loyal Ploof, Greg Guma, Steve Goodkind and Miro Weinberger
In terms of cash, the race for mayor of Burlington is anything but close. Incumbent Miro Weinberger continues to rake it in while his three opponents remain far, far behind.

The Democratic incumbent has raised $103,562, collecting $10,505 in February alone. Steve Goodkind, the Progressive candidate, has raised $6,262. Greg Guma, who is running as an independent, said he's raised roughly $12,000. (His campaign finance report shows a slightly different amount — Guma said his treasurer was having computer problems when submitting it.)

The Vermont Secretary of State's online database had no report for Libertarian Loyal Ploof as of Monday evening, suggesting he hadn't hit the required $500 threshold.  

The mayor has received donations from 260 people, and most of his money comes from donors who gave $100 or more. He's spent $84,702 so far, including $7,184 on media buys. (Weinberger's campaign finance reports show lower fundraising and spending totals because they exclude money he raised prior to August 2013.) 

His opponents have spent all — or more — of the money they've raised. Goodkind has spent $5,451, while Guma said he has spent $13,742. 

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Welch Names New State Director

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 7:06 PM

  • Courtesy photo
  • George Twigg
George Twigg will have two fewer flights of stairs to climb when he changes jobs next month.

Twigg, 45, of Underhill, will be leaving Vermont Energy Investment Corp., the entity that runs Efficiency Vermont, to become state director for Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). Both offices happen to be located in the Innovation Center of Vermont, on Lakeside Avenue in Burlington’s South End.

Twigg will replace Tricia Coates, who left Welch’s office to become director for external and governmental affairs for Vermont State Colleges.

Twigg’s job has been to lobby state and federal policy makers on energy issues for VEIC. That brought him into contact with Welch’s office. Twigg said when he heard Coates was leaving, he jumped at the chance to apply for the job. 

Twigg’s background includes a fair bit of politics. He spent 10 years working for the Wisconsin state legislature and the Madison, Wis., mayor. He was that state’s director for John Kerry’s presidential campaign.

Welch has yet to name a replacement for deputy state director Jon Copans, who recently left to work at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

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