February 5, 2009
The State House has been a busy place with many people wanting to weigh in on the issues facing our state in these troubled times. We are currently spending about 85% of our time in individual committees and this week, agency commissioners visited us to present budget information and the status of recent rescissions. In addition, over 100 bills have been sent to committees. I currently serve as clerk on the Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee and have been placed on an additional joint committee to address issues related to Lake Champlain. I will present this in a later column. Here are a few highlights from last week:
SCHEDULE CHANGE: Speaker Shap Smith has informed us that the legislature will be in recess (unpaid) for the first two weeks in March rather than the traditional one week. Dropping a week in March allows flexibility to add it back in May when we have a clearer picture of the Federal Stimulus Package. After April 15th, we will be better able to quantify additional revenue downgrades.
APPROPRIATIONS: The Committee had a full week of testimony on the proposed FY 2010 budget and the Governor’s proposal to cut over 600 state employees. Administration has given the various state agencies targeted employee reduction numbers and a dollar figure. This will be the fourth round of cuts.
TRANSPORTATION: The Ethan Allen Amtrak route is still a hot topic in this committee and the hall has been filled with people and groups providing testimony. The possibility of upgrades to the passenger rail tracks between Rutland and Burlington using federal earmarks and stimulus money is being studied. Across the state, ridership on public transportation has shown a 20% increase over last year. The Committee is also trying to match federal stimulus dollars with transportation projects and to determine the strings attached.
AGRICULTURE: Pending full House approval, the Agriculture Committee will take on a new topic: “forest-based products and their markets.” This should help raise the profile of forest products which accounts for $1.2 billion in revenues and is the second largest industry in the state. I am sorry that I do not have anything to report this week on the recent drop in milk prices.
ENERGY: This week, the Commerce Committee took testimony on spent nuclear fuel, low-level radioactive waste and the decommissioning fund. I will take a tour of Vermont Yankee this week.
HEALTH CARE: H100 was introduced last week, the goal being universal access to essential health care services. The bill proposed to establish health care service in Vermont through a publicly financed, integrated, regional health care delivery system. You can follow this bill by going to the website: http://www.leg.state.vt.us and plugging in the bill number.