By DON TURNER
After a many long days and numerous starts and stops, the session finally came to an end on Tuesday, May 14 around 10:30 p.m. with the final gavel of the session. It is the custom of the legislature for each party leader to speak prior to adjourning the session. As the minority leader, I conveyed my appreciation to my caucus and to everyone else that I have had the opportunity to work with this session. The governor was then whisked in to the chamber to convey his views on what had been accomplished during the session and to thank everyone for their service.
The relationship I established last biennium with the Speaker [Shap Smith] and Senate Pro Tem [John Campbell] was an important factor in our success this session. I feel like the time I spent in Montpelier this year was much more productive than in years’ past. I did make a contribution to improve Vermont this year.
Here are many of the issues I worked on this session:
Fighting against new and/or increased taxes was a priority. I opposed the gas and education tax increases.
Eliminating the 1 percent surcharge on health exchange users. This will result in $2 million in saving for Vermonters utilizing the health exchange in the first year alone.
I helped lead the charge for campaign finance reform, even though that bill did not pass this session.
Offered numerous amendments and engaged in respectful debate on marijuana decriminalization, agency fees, end-of-life choices, GMO labeling and the immigrant driver privileges card. Unfortunately, all of these items were passed by the majority party despite the compelling arguments that were made on the floor. I could not support any of these bills. These issues were very emotional, took up a lot of legislative time and will likely affect less than 1 percent of Vermont’s population. The cost of living is skyrocketing, and we are dealing with issues that affect very few Vermonters. Each year, Vermonters are finding it more and more difficult to live, work, raise their families and do business in this state.
I voted against the initial House budget because it needed $27 million in new taxes to balance. However, I did support the budget committee of conference report (final budget) as it was much more fiscally responsible and did not include increased taxes. Although, it included the creation of 62 new state positions, does not address the pension shortfalls and relies on $55 million of one-time money to balance, which I do not like. I found more things to like than dislike in this budget, and it is a reasonable budget – not a perfect budget but definitely reasonable. Understanding that you have to be engaged in the process if you want to be successful is why I decided to support passage of the final budget this session. I played a role in helping to bring the spending growth rate down to a more sustainable rate without the need for any new taxes. The speaker’s willingness to compromise on the most important piece of legislation of every session garnered my “yes” vote. I want to be known for being a legislator of reason, not for always voting “no.” I will continue to fight for fiscal responsibility which should include a sustainable spending plan as long as I serve in the legislature.
I hope that this is my final report on TIF districts. I remain hopeful that the legislation passed this week will resolve Milton’s $3 million issue as reported in the auditor’s final report. The town has already had to expend hundreds of hours of staff time and thousands of dollars in professional services attempting to resolve this issue. Therefore, I hope that the Selectboard will take the time necessary to review it with their counsel and then ratify the resolution as soon as possible. This legislation provides an amicable resolution for all involved parties and should have no impact on Milton taxpayers. Most importantly, it puts this big issue behind us once and for all.
It has been truly an honor representing you in the legislature over the last eight years. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone, and yet there is still so much more work to be done. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. I am very interested in hearing from you. I can be reached by calling my cell at 373-5960. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My website is www.donturnerjr.com. Thank you for your continued support.