report from montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

The second installment of a two part series by Representatives Joan Lenes and Kate Webb.

Kate Webb
Kate Webb

Education Reform

The public’s demand for a more affordable funding system and equitable education structure has driven the work of the House Education Committee this year. Organizational complexities, small school viability, program evaluation, local control and rising costs in the face of declining enrollment are key topics under review. An education reform bill passed the House Education Committee on a unanimous bi-partisan vote. Here are a few of the components:

  • Creates education districts of at least 1100 students unless a waiver is granted.
  • Temporarily caps local spending increases at 2 percent.
  • Restructures grants to small schools.
  • Requires specific ballot language that includes specific per pupil disclosures.
  • Places a moratorium on spending bills that increase property taxes.
  • Reduces the time a school can claim an artificial student count when facing rapid decline in enrollment (phantom students).
  • Limits out-of-state tuition payments.
  • Requires a universal, integrated accounting and data system.
  • Requires the Secretary of Education to propose alternate methods of delivery and payment for special education services.
  • Seeks changes in income-based property tax calculations.
  • Creates a joint oversight committee pertaining to financing, policy, student outcomes, economic development, healthcare, incarcerated students, and human services.
  • Creates a work group to consider alternatives to addressing the high cost of employee health care.

These proposals will undergo additional scrutiny and refinement in the coming weeks.

Renewable Energy Standard and Energy Transformation (RESET) Program

Twenty-nine states, including most New England states except Vermont, have renewable portfolio standards. These standards require electric utilities to include renewable generation and to sell renewable energy to their customers. The demand for renewable energy is spread throughout the region using renewable energy credits (RECs), which can be purchased and sold by utilities to satisfy the renewable requirements.

With its strong renewable energy sector, Vermont has traditionally been an exporter of these credits.  In 2014, Vermont utilities sold roughly $50 million in RECs, over total revenue of about $830 million.

Vermont needs a renewable portfolio standard now because the viability of our RECs has been in question.  If New England states disallow the purchase of Vermont RECs due to the absence of a Vermont renewable portfolio standard, Vermont utilities may suddenly find themselves $50 million short on revenues, which would result in an immediate 6 percent increase in electricity rates.  A proposed bill, H.40, addresses this problem by creating a renewable portfolio standard for Vermont.  And it goes beyond other states’ renewable portfolio standards by creating a unique energy transformation tier that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money on energy bills.  Together these initiatives are known as Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard and Energy Transformation (RESET) Program.

Water Quality and Lake Champlain

Clean water is a huge economic driver in Vermont. Held deeply as part of the “Vermont brand,” clean water helps contribute nearly $2 billion in tourism activities, providing joy to Vermonters and visitors alike. Yet our lakes, rivers and ponds are struggling from pollution, and our efforts over the decades have not kept pace with the impact of storm water runoff and high water events. Lake Champlain is the poster child for this, resulting in the EPA stepping in in 2011 to say our efforts to protect the lake are simply not enough. The State has been working with the EPA for the last 4 years to develop a new plan that provides “reasonable assurances” that the State will do a better job.

This year, a comprehensive and far reaching water quality bill is making its way through the House that will not only address the needs of Lake Champlain, but the impaired and pristine waters around the state as well. The bill, H.35, engages all land use sectors, including roads, highways, agricultural operations, development in urban areas, wastewater treatment plants, and forestlands. All will be required to improve practices and all will be required to participate in providing resources to fund and finance a long-term sustained effort. Expect to see this emerge on the House floor in early March.

Are you on the Unclaimed Property List?

There are more than 350,000 claimable properties in the database totaling more than $67 million. Could some of them be yours? Check the list here – you never know!