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Friday, September 14, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Ethics Panel to Draft Tougher Opinion on Sale of Scott's Business

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois
Members of the Vermont State Ethics Commission are not satisfied with a draft opinion about Gov. Phil Scott's sale of his share in a construction business and are seeking a stronger rewrite.

When Scott became governor, he sold his half-interest in DuBois Construction to the company for $2.5 million. The deal was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, since DuBois frequently bids on state contracts. But the sale was financed by Scott himself, which means that he retains a large financial stake in DuBois. He receives monthly loan payments from the firm that totaled $75,000 in the year 2017.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group claimed that the DuBois deal clearly violates the Ethics Commission's code of ethics and sought an advisory opinion from the commission. VPIRG chose not to file an ethics complaint against Scott because complaints are handled behind closed doors and the process is exempt from public disclosure. The advisory opinion process is entirely open.

At its meeting on September 5, the commission voted unanimously to have executive director Brian Leven prepare a draft opinion for the full body to consider. On September 12, Leven issued his draft, which he made available to the media.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Cannabis
Commission Discusses a Taxed-and-Regulated Cannabis Market for Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 7:16 PM

LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman
Officials in states that have legalized recreational cannabis think Vermont misstepped by not implementing a taxed-and-regulated market, Health Commissioner Mark Levine told a panel tasked with studying the issue.

He spoke Monday during a Statehouse meeting of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, which Gov. Phil Scott created by executive order in 2017 shortly after he vetoed a cannabis legalization measure. In January, Scott signed into law a bill that allows Vermonters to grow up to six plants at home and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It did not legalize the sale or distribution of cannabis.

The commission has continued its work, which one of its cochairs, Tom Little, said was to determine what a taxed-and-regulated system in the state should look like if the legislature chooses to create one. Its final report, due in December, will not include a recommendation as to whether Vermont should — or should not — create such a market, according to Little.

The eight other states that have legalized cannabis allow, or will allow, licensed stores to sell the drug. And Levine, as chair of the commission’s education and prevention subcommittee, said he’d heard from officials in Colorado and Washington state who thought Vermont’s half-measure was a mistake.

“They’re kind of saying, the home-grow route did not allow the degree of surveillance, the degree of monitoring, the degree of regulating that a different environment would have provided,” Levine said. “So their hopes were that we would learn from them and actually graduate from that to another structure.”

He added: "Their recommendation was: Go to tax and regulate."

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Ethics Panel Ponders Sale of Scott's Business

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 5:15 PM

Paul Burns - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Paul Burns
Updated at 7:50 a.m., September 6, 2018.

The Vermont State Ethics Commission voted Wednesday to consider the propriety of Gov. Phil Scott's financial ties to a construction firm that does business with the state.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group formally requested an advisory opinion on the matter in an August 31 letter. At a Wednesday meeting, the five commissioners asked the panel's executive director, Brian Leven, to write a draft opinion for their consideration.

When Scott became governor, he sold his half-interest in DuBois Construction to the company for $2.5 million. There was no down payment, and so far Scott has been receiving interest-only payments. (In 2017, those payments totaled $75,000.) Technically, Scott had divested himself of his ownership interest. But the bulk of his net worth remains tied up in the loan, which gives him a strong financial interest in DuBois' success.

Last week, Scott disclosed a recent ownership change at the company. According to VTDigger.org, Scott's former partner, Don DuBois, has sold his half-interest to company president Jeff Newton and vice president Wayne Lamberton. The deal increases the firm's debt load, but Scott expressed confidence that its finances remain sound.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Longtime Broadcaster, State Rep. Jim Condon Dies After Cancer Battle

Posted By on Fri, Aug 24, 2018 at 7:18 PM

Jim Condon - VERMONT GENERAL ASSEMBLY
  • Vermont General Assembly
  • Jim Condon
Jim Condon, a longtime state representative from Colchester and local radio personality known for his "golden pipes," died Thursday of esophageal cancer.

He was 60.

"Smart, witty, thoughtful — just a guy you want to be around," his wife, Ginny McGehee, said on Friday. "I lost the smart half of me, I have to say."

Born in Connecticut, Condon moved to Vermont in the early 1980s when he took a job as news director of several radio stations. He met McGehee at WJOY in 1984; the couple married in 1993. They have a son, Tom, who is a journalism student at Syracuse University.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Vermont Likely to See Short-Term Revenue Boost

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 5:34 PM

State economists Jeffrey Carr (left) and Tom Kavet - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • State economists Jeffrey Carr (left) and Tom Kavet
Vermont's state economists are forecasting continued revenue growth in the next two years, with a downturn likely after that. They estimate an additional $33 million in revenue in fiscal year 2019, which just began on July 1, and another $18 million the following fiscal year.

Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr presented their consensus report Friday afternoon to the Emergency Board, a panel that includes Gov. Phil Scott and the chairs of the four legislative money committees: House Appropriations, House Ways and Means, Senate Appropriations and Senate Finance.

"Any way you slice it, this is an upgrade," Carr told the board. "We have a reasonably positive outlook on the economy, at least in the near term."

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Scott Blinks in Vermont Budget Battle, Will Allow Third Bill to Become Law

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 5:07 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), left, speaking with Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), left, speaking with Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)
Updated on June 26, 2018.

Gov. Phil Scott announced late Monday night that he will allow the legislature's latest budget plan to become law, a decision that will prevent a July 1 government shutdown.

"I’m left with no choice but to allow [the budget] to become law without my signature," Scott said in a statement Monday evening.

The budget is largely the same as the one Scott vetoed June 14. The House passed the proposal Friday, then revoted on it Monday — and approved it again — after allegations of a procedural error. The votes came after a compromise deal that would have ended the impasse fell apart Friday.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Vermont House Approves Resolution Opposing Family Separation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Rep. Gary Viens - VERMONT LEGISLATURE
  • Vermont Legislature
  • Rep. Gary Viens
The state House approved a resolution Friday condemning the Trump administration's recently reversed policy of separating members of immigrant families who cross the border seeking asylum.

The resolution also expressed "a profound hope that the family separation policy will not be reinstated," and that federal authorities would reunite separated families "immediately."

The measure had 90 cosponsors. The final tally was 106 in favor and 17 against, with the dissenting votes all coming from Republicans. There was no floor debate before the vote, but some members rose to explain their votes afterward. The longest statement in opposition came from Rep. Gary Viens (R-Newport), a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent.

"Any time parents and children come to the United States illegally, they are processed," he said. "They have two choices: Family members can admit they crossed the border illegally and return home, or face detention and prosecution."

Viens continued, "It's terrible what's going on, but it was the parents' decision that led to the separation, not the government's."

The 16 other no votes came from Reps. Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby Line), Steve Beyor (R-Highgate Springs), Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester), Thomas Burditt (R-West Rutland), Bob Frenier (R-Chelsea), Doug Gage (R-Rutland City), Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton), Rodney Graham (R-Williamstown), Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), Mark Higley (R-Lowell), Marcia Martel (R-Waterford), Constance Quimby (R-Concord), Carl Rosenquist (R-St. Albans), Brian Savage (R-Swanton), Brian Smith (R-Derby) and Warren Van Wyck (R-Ferrisburgh). 

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Scott, Legislature Still Talking Past Each Other

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 5:07 PM

Administration Secretary Susanne Young addresses three Senate committees - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Administration Secretary Susanne Young addresses three Senate committees
Three Vermont Senate committees met Wednesday morning to begin work on the legislature's third version of a budget bill, the first two having been vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. By day's end, the three panels had approved a proposal that moves slightly in Scott's direction — but only slightly.

"I would not predict a veto," Administration Secretary Susanne Young said after the hearing. "But this new proposal is not substantially different from the last one."

The most recent budget, H.13, would have held residential property tax rates level but would have not stopped a 5.5-cent statutory increase in nonresidential rates from going forward. The committees' new plan reduces the nonresidential rate by one penny.

The Appropriations, Finance and Education committees convened jointly due to severe time constraints. If there's no budget on July 1, state government would be forced to shut down. And so far, the Scott administration has refused to disclose contingency plans for that eventuality.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Opinion
Walters: Vermont House Fails to Override Scott's Budget Veto

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 3:46 PM

House Minority Leader Don Turner speaking to reporters after the veto override vote - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • House Minority Leader Don Turner speaking to reporters after the veto override vote
The Vermont House failed to override Gov. Phil Scott's latest budget veto Tuesday afternoon in a vote that broke almost entirely along partisan lines. A two-thirds majority was needed to override; the final tally was 90 yes, 51 no.

Every Republican present voted to sustain their governor's veto, including those who had previously voted "yes" on the budget bill. Only three Republicans were absent.

There was no debate before the roll call. It appeared that all sides knew how the vote would turn out and saw no reason to delay the inevitable.

Legislative leaders crafted the budget bill, H.13, to include the vast majority of a new spending plan while setting aside the few areas of disagreement with Scott. It would have lifted the pressure of a pending government shutdown, which would happen on July 1 in the absence of a budget. But the governor vetoed the bill because, he argued, it would have done nothing to prevent a statutory increase in nonresidential property taxes. (Democratic leaders have said they would have addressed the automatic increase in separate legislation.)

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Scott Vetoes Vermont Budget as July 1 Shutdown Looms

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 2:00 AM

Gov. Phil Scott in April - JOSH KUCKENS
  • Josh Kuckens
  • Gov. Phil Scott in April
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the latest iteration of the Vermont state budget on Thursday, sending legislators back to the drawing board as a July 1 government shutdown looms.

The governor's veto came as no surprise. He had warned legislators that he would oppose any tax increase. The bill, H.13, would have resulted in an automatic 5.5 cent property tax increase on nonresidential landowners. Earlier Thursday, both Scott and legislative leaders appeared to dig in at separate press conferences about the spending bill stalemate, which has lasted more than a month.

Scott had until midnight Thursday to sign or veto the legislation. He announced his decision around 8 p.m.

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