Rep. Kelly Pajala: Internet bill a step in the right direction
One of the very first things I did when I came to Montpelier was to join the Rural Economic Development Working Group (REDWnG), which meets once a week to discuss ways that the Legislature can help support the rural communities like ours. Not surprisingly, providing adequate internet/broadband service is one of the priorities of the working group, along with assisting municipalities in water and wastewater challenges and supporting the market for Vermont forest products.
Much of rural Vermont does not have the population density to make it profitable for for-profit telecommunications providers to invest in the infrastructure necessary to bring true high speed internet connectivity to every Vermonter. Therefore it is essential that there be public funds available to assist in building out the "final miles" of this infrastructure. Although there have been attempts at achieving this goal, it is still a challenge left unmet. With no money in the budget committed to this goal, members of the REDWnG supported H.582 which proposes to raise the Vermont Universal Service Fee by one-half of one percent generating approximately $1.5 million annually for the Connectivity Fund over four years.
H.582 is not designed to fund one big project. Rather, rural municipalities that have the need and the will to solve the problem of internet connectivity can access the fund in ways that serve their communities best, for instance as seed money to leverage local dollars to get a project off the ground. It encourages public/private partnerships and local buy-in. For those of us who still believe that community and local control means something in Vermont, I look at this as an encouraging step in the right direction.
As your Representative in the House, and also as a Town Clerk, I am not new to dealing with the repercussions of laws passed in Montpelier. With that in mind, I have a word of caution about the current education funding proposal that is being discussed in the House Ways and Means Committee. I know that everyone wants to see our education funding formula changed, myself included. However, I do not see this current proposal as being either a simplification of the education funding formula or a means of containing cost. In fact, the only supposed cost containment measure is to apply a more punitive tax rate to spending that is above the proposed base amount of equalized per pupil spending. As a result, our communities would not see any substantial relief in their education tax burden.
As to the other proposed changes that are meant to simplify the formula, they are creating a more complex, less transparent system of funding. Shifting from an income sensitized property tax to a joint property and income tax with adjustments for ability to pay is semantics. The real nut that needs to be cracked is cost containment.
I will be watching proposal closely. Please feel free to contact me at anytime with questions or concerns. My email is email@example.com or call 802 770 4987.
Kelly Pajala, I-Londonderry, represents Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Weston and Winhall in the Vermont House of Representatives.
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