By DON TURNER
It is an honor to represent you in our state legislature. Communication is a very important part of this job and I appreciate the opportunity that the Milton Independent gives me to communicate the activities of the general assembly to you on a weekly basis. This summary focus’ on a few key issues.
Budget and tax issues
The governor’s proposed budget increases spending by over $88 million. This is a 5 percent increase over last year’s approved spending plan. Our caucus has proposed the following items:
• Limit FY15 budget growth to 3 percent or an additional $54 million in spending over FY14.
• Eliminate use of one-time dollars to fund base programs.
• Increase fund reserves to at least $20 million.
• Resolve funding for teachers’ pension healthcare fund to include some restructuring.
• Limit tax increases, address the governance and cost drivers in education.
• Promote an economic development plan.
Our caucus’ goal is to craft a responsible budget that will allow for a reasonable and sustainable growth rate, sets aside reserves in the event of additional reductions in federal funding, funds all state pension funds at agreed upon actuarial amounts and scrutinizes the performance of every program for maximum efficiency while discouraging the creation of any new state program or backfilling of federal programs with state funds.
Health Care: Vermont Health Connect (the exchange, 2014)
As you all have heard and read in the media and may have experienced first-hand, Vermont Health Connect went live last fall for Vermonters to sign up to have insurance coverage in place on Jan. 1, 2014. This has been a rocky start with many issues coming to our attention in Montpelier.
While the debate rages under the golden dome as to who is responsible for the continuing problems, the bottom line is that Vermonters must be covered. I urge you to contact me if you have experienced or are experiencing any problems with signing up for coverage on the Vermont Health Connect website.
Today, Vermont’s per pupil cost for education takes first or second place as the highest in the nation, while the student population continues to decrease. Also, the state’s achievement scores don’t illustrate a return on investment, when compared to states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which spend less on average per student. We cannot afford to continue to walk down this path.
The 2014 transportation bill has a total cost of $685 million and includes a number of infrastructure improvements throughout the state, along with continuation of highway re-surfacing. The state aid to municipalities for their respective highway departments will be level funded at 2013 levels.
Shoreland protection / lake cleanup
These are two very controversial items. I agree that our brooks, streams, rivers and lake need the utmost attention to be clean for the overall enjoyment of all Vermonters, not only for those of us here now, but for generations to come. The Shoreland Protection Act that was voted out by the Vermont House sets in place new state regulations concerning any building or development in a buffer zone when on a shore of a lake. The Senate version also passed and now the two versions are being examined to see what will ultimately prevail as the final legislation.
Meanwhile, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the state of Vermont to significantly lower the maximum daily load (TMDL) of phosphorus draining into Lake Champlain. This will be very costly, reaching tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars. At this point in time no concrete cost estimate or plan has been determined.