Commentary

As we enter our sixth week of this 2017 Legislative Session, the differences in priorities between Governor Phil Scott and the Democratic majority in the legislature seem to be getting clearer.

 

As Governor Scott has demanded no new taxes and fees on Vermont families and businesses this year, legislative efforts that seem to be gaining traction include increasing the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour and instituting paid family and medical leave for workers.  And, as the Governor proposed a level-funded Fiscal Year 2018 state budget, the legislature last week dealt a serious blow to his proposal by defeating his proposal to change the date of school budget votes.

As expected, it has been an extremely busy couple of weeks in Montpelier.

 

Our new Governor, Phil Scott, and his team are working in earnest to ensure his priorities are front and center, and in doing so, are making it very clear that things are going to change.

 

In one of his first orders of business, he issued three Executive Orders that would restructure State Government.  The goal is to “create more responsive, nimble organizational structures that allow us to more directly align our economic development and workforce efforts, and provide more efficient, effective, and outcome-driven service to Vermonters.”

The 2017-2018 Legislative Biennium began last week with great anticipation as our new Governor, Phil Scott, was sworn in.

In his first Inaugural Address, Governor Scott was sincere in his conviction and humbled by the task before him.  He reflected on his youth in Barre, and the strength, kindness, and compassion of Vermonters he has experienced first-hand throughout his life, as the American flag that draped his father’s casket, after the double-amputee died of injuries sustained in the D-Day invasion, flew in front of the State House.

 

Governor Scott then continued with honesty about the challenges we face, and he made clear again that his priorities would be exactly what they had been on the campaign trail: a renewed focus on economic growth, a promise to end unsustainable increases in state spending, a vow to protect our most vulnerable, and a commitment to make Vermont affordable again.

https://vtdigger.org/2016/10/05/heidi-scheuermann-ethics-reform/

Instead of Vermont leading the way in this regard though, we are one of three states without conflict of interest laws, one of three states without financial disclosure laws, and one of seven states without an ethics commission.

For all of these reasons, I began efforts in 2013 to create an independent ethics commission, and establish a code of conduct for all statewide elected officials, appointed officials in the executive branch, and all state lawmakers. I introduced legislation, testified in front of committees, and wrote op-ed after op-ed. Yet, almost four years later, because of strong opposition from the Democratic majority in the Legislature, and no support from Shumlin or his staff, we have no laws in place.

So, to now see Democrats waving the flag of ethics reform - after years of opposition - smacks of political opportunism.  After all, when they had the opportunity to speak up and act, they refused.

 

May 17, 2016

The gavel fell on the Vermont General Assembly's 2015-2016 Legislative Biennium late Friday, May 6, 2016.  And, while there are usually myriad opinions of how successful legislative sessions are, there is not much disagreement about this one being one of the least productive in recent memory.

This is especially the case in my view when considering the lack of any substantive measure at all that would have helped to grow our state’s economy.

So what did we do?

May 28, 2015

I am pleased to report that we concluded the session with a sound economic development bill.  While not a comprehensive, long-term strategy for economic growth, the bill includes several provisions that will, indeed, move the economic dial here in Vermont. 

1) Necessary changes to the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive to ensure more Vermont companies are able to take advantage of this program that has more than proved its worth in helping to create jobs;

2) The elimination of the sales tax on prewritten software accessed remotely (cloud tax);

3) A first-time homebuyer down payment assistance program to help young professionals around the state into home ownership through the creation of a revolving loan fund;

4) An economic development branding and marketing initiative to complement and supplement our tourism marketing efforts - including a $200,000 appropriation to create and implement it; 

5) A Vermont-Quebec Enterprise Initiative to recruit and expand into Vermont Canadian businesses interested in a US location - including a $100,000 appropriation to fund the program; and

6) An increase in our Licensed Lender limit from $75,000 to $250,000.

May 28, 2015

As had been predicted, the 2015 Legislative Session – one of the most unusual sessions in my memory – came to a close late Saturday, May 16, 2015.

From opening the session with a Governor, who did not receive a majority of votes on Election Day, facing a challenge in his quest to retain his seat; to a large protest by angry single payer advocates dominating the Governor’s Inaugural Address; and from the unceremonious ouster of the longtime Sergeant of Arms; to the tragedy of the arrest in the final days of the session of a sitting Senator.

Between these bookmarks, however, there was work that had to be done. 

We again faced a significant budget deficit – this one at $113 million; had the EPA demanding a real effort on the water quality in Lake Champlain; and had Vermonters clamoring for property tax relief, and meaningful economic development efforts.  And, on these notes, there were both positive developments and significant disappointments.