By the end of the week, things started to move along in the Senate and by Saturday (4/28), Conference Committees had been appointed in both branches to work out differences on the State Budget and the Miscellaneous Tax Bill. On Friday (4/27), the House and Senate agreed to a final version of the Capital Bill and that legislation moved along to the Governor. A host of lower profile bills were still being worked on by both bodies (House & Senate), in an effort to beat the final buzzer for the session – which now looks like it might be May 5th.
GMP-CVPS Merger – There was lengthy debate on Thursday and Friday over an amendment offered by Representatives Browning, Komline and others that would direct the Public Service Board (PSB) to satisfy its 2001 “windfall sharing requirement” by requiring CVPS to make cash payments to ratepayers. Under the proposal, the payments, estimated to be in the range of $21 million, would be distributed by rate class to current commercial and residential customers. Although a number of mechanical and equity-oriented concerns were raised about this initiative — (like – does the guy who moved in next door last Thursday get the refund, while the prior homeowner who actually paid the higher rate over the last 11 years is left out in the cold?) — but the primary opposition to the amendment was based upon process. Both the House Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources and Energy Committee vigorously opposed this measure, arguing that it:
- would be highly improper for the Legislature to intervene in an open, ongoing PSB docket;
- presupposes that the PSB would make an imprudent decision in the pending case;
- would undermine the PSB’s independent, quasi-judicial authority;
- would have a devastating impact upon a system that has worked extraordinarily well for 52 years.
In the end, the House voted to reject the amendment by a vote of 87 to 54 (Wilson voting with the majority). However, an important amendment by Rep. Olsen, seeking to better clarify what’s in play when it comes to what costs electric companies can recover through rate increases, was approved on voice vote on Friday. Representative Olsen was the one who uncovered one of the more disquieting aspects of the Administration’s deal with CVPS-GMP, whereby the new merged utility could recoup its windfall refund through higher rates in the future.
New District – It looks pretty well assured that Manchester will be joined by Arlington, Sandgate and part of Sunderland in a new two-member district. The Conference Committee on redistricting gave its final blessing to the new plan on Thursday. Throughout the session-long redistricting process, it was an ongoing struggle to try and get the Bennington County House districts right (within an acceptable population deviation). At one time or another, there were plans laid on the table that would have upended districts currently held by Representatives Miller, Browning, Olsen, Malcom and Komline. Although Representative Browning may disagree (because she is impacted the most), the new two-member Manchester/Arlington/Sandgate/Sunderland district seems to be the most logical resolution to a sticky problem, and overall, results in the least havoc of any of the preceding plans proposed for the region. I’m game and look forward to making the new district work.
– Jeff Wilson, Manchester, Vermont, State Representative