Making sense in Montpelier?
Last year the Governor announced that a community based system of mental health care would replace the flood damaged Vermont State hospital. There would be a new, smaller hospital for acute care patients, and other facilities for care distributed around the state. The current spending plan apparently fails to fund three of the originally planned community facilities, so that the system will probably not have enough treatment capacity. This would compromise the health and safety of Vermonters, create difficulties for families and communities, and burden our emergency rooms with patients that do not belong there. That doesn't make sense.
Governor Shumlin is a devout supporter of renewable energy sources - going so far as to support mountain top industrial windmills that destroy ecosystems in the name of saving them from climate change. However, he has now proposed building two new state buildings for over $50 million without incorporating even solar panels on the rooftops. That doesn't make sense.
The Governor has proposed building a big new state office building in Waterbury to replace some of the buildings damaged by the Irene flooding. The new building will be in the flood plain but raised up on fill so that the occupied floors will be above the level of a 500 year flood. However, the new building appears also to be in what is called the "Fluvial Erosion Hazard" zone. This is the section of the Winooski River corridor in which significant erosion and channel cutting might occur during a high flow event. So that means in some future flood there is some small chance that the new building could be damaged by erosion of the filled embankment upon which it is built.
This Governor has asserted that we must all prepare for climate change and more extreme storms like Irene. Does it make sense to put a new building costing millions of dollars to Vermont taxpayers and U.S. taxpayers through FEMA in an area potentially subject to the kind of erosion that caused much of the Irene damage? Especially when the state has been urging towns to restrict development in the fluvial erosion hazard zones along rivers?
The Governor proposes to finance an expansion of subsidies for child care for some low income working Vermonters by reducing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that benefits all low income working Vermonters. That seems kind of contradictory.
In the Governor's plans needed funding for transportation to draw down federal funds for roads and bridges is raised by increasing the gas tax. This tax will now be a percent of the gas price, so that when gas prices rise, the resulting tax increase could intensify the burden of the price increase on Vermonters. That doesn't make sense to me.
I am unwilling to make such a lasting change in the gas tax or the EITC when we have not done any kind of overall reform of the entire tax system. I would defer the increase in child care subsidies to another year, and fund transportation by reducing other proposed initiatives.
Governor Shumlin has repeatedly sworn not to raise "broad based taxes." But his own personal definition of that term apparently excludes the gas tax, and even the property tax, which he is also proposing to raise. That doesn't make sense to me.
The Governor proposes but the Legislature disposes. I am not without hope that common sense will prevail, although it does sometimes seem that common sense is uncommon in Montpelier. I will be working to ensure that the Legislature fully funds the mental health system, invests in renewable energy on state buildings, pulls the Waterbury building back from the river, and funds transportation without unduly burdening Vermonters.
Cynthia Browning represents Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate, and Sunderland in the Vermont House. She can be reached at 802-375-9019 or firstname.lastname@example.org.