2011 Legislative Update: Week 13 (4/5 – 4/8)

by Jeff Wilson

With the must-do legislation (Budget, Capital Bill, Transportation Bill) approved by the House and now in the Senate for consideration, the House has turned its attention to more discretionary types of could-do, should-do pieces of legislation. Here’s a taste of lucky Week 13:

Energy Bill: Normally, things are fairly well choreographed between the Senate, House and Administration, and it’s also typical that respectful communication takes place between the Republican, Democratic and Progressive leadership about process, priorities and procedure. This effort at communication reflects a common courtesy that helps the system work more efficiently and seeks to avoid surprises (surprises are frowned upon in Montpelier). However, there are times that things do go astray in this regard. This past week, the so-called “energy bill” served as a prime example of how the train can derail before reaching the station. The bill had two primary components: to renew and expand net metering provisions, and to effect a short-term (1 year) financing bridge to fund the State’s Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF). The net metering portion of the bill expands the possible range of benefits for those who install small renewable energy systems to get credit from their utility for the power they produce. No problem here, it was the CEDF funding provision that ran into trouble. With Vermont Yankee’s license expiring in 2012, the State has to come up with a new revenue source for CEDF in order to continue to subsidize alternative energy projects throughout Vermont. The plan, as set forth in H. 56, called for a one year 55 cent monthly surcharge on a consumer’s electric bill. This fee would raise $2.3 million. Even though this charge is pretty small potatoes any way you slice it or dice it, there was a contingent of naysayers who rolled out some rhetoric about it being unfair and regressive. Supporters held their ground and the House gave preliminary approval to the bill by a 99 to 39 vote (Wilson voting yes) on Tuesday (4/5). However, right after the House vote, the Governor let slip to the press that he had a better idea for funding CEDF. Surprise! So, the next day, sort of left in a lurch, the House pulled the CEDF funding section for the bill, and passed it with the CEDF question unresolved. I guess we now wait to see what the Governor’s better idea is. Hopefully it will be coming down the pike pretty soon, because time (and patience) is running short.

The Doyle Poll – Sen. Bill Doyle (Washington County – R) recently released his 42nd annual Town Meeting poll. Although an unscientific sampling of Vermont views on a dozen contemporary issues, it’s always good fun to peruse the results. This year, Sen. Doyle received completed survey information from 150 towns, 15,341 Vermonters (32 from Manchester). His #1 question for the 2011 survey asked about the relicensing of Vermont Yankee. Statewide a plurality of Vermonters said “yes” – 45% to 41% (although this question was asked prior to Japan’s earthquake). In Manchester only 34.4% answered in the affirmative, while 50.0% said “no”. Other items of interest included the support for a ban on cell phone use while driving (75% VT, 91% Manchester), the willingness to pay more for locally grown food (63% VT, 72% Manchester) and support for an expanded bottle bill (79% VT, 75% Manchester). On the question of physician assisted suicide/death with dignity – this was supported 50% to 36% statewide and 53% to 31% in Manchester.

– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative

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