Democrat, Republican legislators say 2019 session will focus on economy, affordability, environment

With the 2018 election season behind them, Vermont lawmakers are enjoying an end-of-year respite while preparing for the new legislative session in January.

To get a sense of how the election results might impact the 2019 legislative agenda, True North interviewed three senior state legislators about their views: Sens. Christopher Bray, D-Addison; Brian Collamore, R-Rutland; and Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven.

According to the lawmakers, the economy, affordability and the environment loom large on both sides of the aisle.

Democratic perspective

In rural Addison County, where Democrats did very well in 2018, Bray, the chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy, said he won by running on his past legislative record. His re-election, he noted, provided evidence that he’s on the right path.

“I’ve always believed that elections are a form of job interview and that incumbents must run on their record,” he said. “After all, we are asking to be rehired, so the natural question on the part of constituents is, ‘Before you ask for another term, tell us what you got done while you’ve already had the job?’”

state of Vermont

State Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison

Bray said in the upcoming session he will continue to focus on the state and local economy, energy use as it’s related to climate change, as well as clean water concerns.

“I have led the development of major bills in three areas over the last decade: food and agriculture, most visibly in the form of the Farm-to-Plate bill; the Vermont Clean Water Act; and a suite of clean energy economy bills, including our renewable energy standard and energy siting,” Bray said. “All of these create local jobs and keep Vermont dollars in the state, feeding and growing our own economy.”

Bray believes that making Vermont more affordable and livable means starting at the local level with the help of the taxpayers.

The Addison County senator is a notable supporter of Vermont’s Farm-to-Plate program which, he said, has expanded the agricultural economy statewide as well as in his own backyard.

Farm to Plate is implemented statewide as a means “to increase economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improve access to healthy local food for all Vermonters.” Funding for the effort comes from taxpayers, private sector businesses and nonprofits.

“Since Farm to Plate began operating in 2009, we have added 842 new businesses/farms, created over 7,700 jobs and grown state revenues by $200 million,” Bray said. “As encouraging as these results are, there is much more we can do; Vermont still imports 87 percent of the food we eat and each imported food means exported dollars and wages for someone outside our state.”

Bray also has been a proponent of solar energy projects. His hometown of New Haven boasts the most solar-related projects in the county, despite some local opposition. He also sees big government-funded projects such as cleaning up Lake Champlain as a major boost to the state’s economy.

“Our clean-energy economy — clean generation, such as by solar, weatherization and efficiency — now provides 18,800 Vermonters with all or some of their living,” he said. “And our clean water work — of which we have decades to deliver — represents the largest infrastructure investment project (approximately $2 billion over 20 years) in our state’s history. Much of this work will be performed by Vermonters acting as engineers, surveyors, excavators, concrete workers, plumbers, electricians, landscapers and more.”

Legislative work in Montpelier, as Bray sees it through the eyes of being in the state’s supermajority of Democrats and Progressives, will focus even more on “sustainable economic development.”

“In short, a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand,” Bray noted.

He added that he will be introducing legislation to help create adequate long-term funding for clean water work: “Vermont has legal obligations under its own laws, as well as under federal law, so we must act and fund this work in a steady way. In addition, poll after poll reveals that Vermonters highly value our natural landscape and they want clean water for drinking, recreation, and hunting and fishing.”

Republican Gov. Phil Scott made it known during the 2018 election season that he will veto spending measures that increase taxes and fees. However, election results indicate that Democrats and Progressives have enough votes to overturn a governor’s veto. Bray said he expects paid family leave and minimum wage bills to advance in 2019, despite being vetoed in the last legislative session.

On the idea of passing a new carbon tax, Bray said Vermonters already have a form of it.

“Vermonters have been paying carbon taxes since 2009 through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” he noted. “The fees are so modest that most Vermonters don’t know that this carbon cost is part of every electric bill.”

He nevertheless thinks new carbon taxes could pass in Vermont.

“When the price of gas rises 70 cents in a year, there is a little grumbling, but remarkably acceptance (of) ‘that’s just the way business is.’ We should be able to agree to raise the price of gasoline, for example, by a nickel and then to use the revenues — entirely disbursed back to Vermonters — to help them make the switch to clean fuels and vehicles.

“The clean energy economy represents a great opportunity for Vermonters to create more of the energy they need and use every day, all while keeping Vermont dollars in Vermont, rather than sending our money out-of-state and out-of-county to buy in the roughly $2 billion worth of energy we consume each year.”

Republican perspective

Acording to Sen. Brian Collamore, reading the 2018 election tea leaves shows that even the normally conservative bastion of Rutland County has shifted in a more liberal direction.

Lou Varricchio/TNR

State Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland”

“There were people expressing their dislike of President Trump. I think they voted that way,” Collamore told TNR. “That’s not to take anything away from Democratic Sen. Cheryl Hooker, as I think she’ll do fine, but I was a little surprised that we didn’t return three Republican senators from the county to Montpelier. I think there was some anti-Trump sentiment expressed, but I was more surprised the Second Amendment gun rights folks didn’t have a better showing. If they were sincerely that upset with the governor (over gun control), I would have expected more of a closer gubernatorial race, which didn’t turn out to be true. So, I wonder how many of those folks voted. That probably would have helped the three GOP candidates here in Rutland County.”

Collamore said he can’t tell if new liberal voters are moving into the area or whether Republicans simply failed to get out the vote. He added that he thinks all of Vermont, not just Rutland County, may be shifting in a more liberal direction.

“While we’d like a little more balance, I think in the upcoming legislative session we’ll see that (Democratic) Blue Dogs will become way more important than they have been in the past,” he said, “especially in the House where there are now 43 Republicans and a 51 total is needed to sustain a veto. So there will be a move to bring more independents and more moderate Democrats into the fold on some, not all, issues.”

Collamore says he was shocked by the defeat of interim Republican Sen. David Soucy in the August primary.

“David was sworn in back in June 2017 and you assumed people knew him,” he said. “I know Dave worked hard on the campaign, but it wasn’t enough. He finished last in the primary; I was shocked, absolutely shocked.”

Collamore said that, without a doubt, the No. 1 concern of his Rutland County constituents is affordability, and that’s where he plans to focus his efforts.

“People are having a tough time getting their paycheck to cover all the weekly and monthly expenses, let alone saving anything for the future. The governor has begun a great process to make Vermont more affordable. So, yes, the election was all about the economy here in Rutland County,” he said.

Like Bray, Collamore expects the left-wing supermajority to push for paid family leave, the $15 minimum wage and the carbon tax.

“It will be the minority party’s job to make sure we hear both sides of the issue — we need to point out our side,” he said. “I think the governor will never sign a carbon tax bill, but if vetoes are overturned it will be a challenging session. We don’t have a good balance in Montpelier. We’ll need the Blue Dogs,” Collamore said of the Republicans.

A view from the House

State of Vermont

State Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven

Rep. Harvey Smith, of Addison County, concurs with Collamore’s assessment that the upcoming session will cater to the Democratic/Progressive wish list of legislation.

“For sure, a number of bills the governor vetoed last year will return starting right out of the box,” he said. “For example, the minimum wage and paid family leave will be on the front burner.”

Smith, a livestock farmer in New Haven, is concerned about more land-related regulations and restrictions, including steps by Montpelier to render more agricultural lands into protected wetlands.

“I looked at a new map of Addison County soils, and most of the county agricultural lands would be considered wetlands under some of this new kind of thinking,” he said. “So I’ll be paying close attention to this issue in 2019. We have to go slowly on this one because it will hurt farmers.”

On the subject of Act 46 school mergers, Smith said that any efforts of mergers in his Addison-5 District won’t bring any property tax relief, as far as he can tell. Plus, he believes that local residents, not the state, should decide on mergers.

“It makes common sense to be more efficient,” he said, “however, the people involved have to decide, not Montpelier.”

In the final analysis, while Bray, Collamore and Smith appear to agree about the importance of issues like affordability and the environment, the rub is finding common ground on solutions — and ways of paying for centralized state-government desires.

“We need to find ways to make Vermont affordable and control increases in the budget — we’ve kept that around 3 percent, around the cost of living,” Smith noted. “This year we have a surplus on the books, so we’re not filling a tax-revenue hole. I’d like to see fiscal constraint, and that will be my role being in the minority. But I have to credit the Democrats for their restraint. So, I am optimistic that we can work together for the good of all Vermonters.”

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR, state of Vermont, Lou Varricchio/TNR and State of Vermont

17 thoughts on “Democrat, Republican legislators say 2019 session will focus on economy, affordability, environment

  1. If anyone thinks focusing on affordability for Vermonters will solve the livable wage problem they must recognize what is causing it in the first place, Programs!

    Programs never solve problems because they produce nothing other than a drain on the standard of living of those who do produce. Any program created by either party is only a multiplier of negative impact because more programs will undoubtedly be created to address the damage each additional one creates!

    • Wells stated. The other half of the equation is that programs foster and encourage dependency. Democrats and other power-lovers and program-lovers pretend they are doing great things, but they are actually harming people by keeping them down, keeping them on the dole, and robbing them of realizing their full potential of self-determination. Bottom line is democrats rob the working class and use the money to create dependent voters who will keep them in power.

      • ” to create dependent voters who will keep them in power.”

        Ding…ding… ding.

        They are creating the first “perpetual motion machine” And they are succeeding at it.

  2. For someone my age who has watched and paid attention to things that activists and sometimes even governments themselves involve themselves in, it is amusing as well as expensive and many times the drumbeat is just flat out wrong. Back in the early 70’s I was employed in the petroleum business, dealing mainly with credit issues customers were exposed to. The big drumbeat getting louder at that time was that in 10-20 years we were to run out of oil, a scary thought indeed back then. These same clowns predicting that are now hollering for a carbon tax; for what? A misguided, pure unadulterated load of non-sense that if put in place will extract money from us’ns to the tune of who knows what. This cannot be allowed to happen. There is plenty of reliable research to prove that the basis for a carbon tax is just flatout wrong. I saw an extensive interview a while back with Patrick Michaels, who has facts and info to refute just about all the arguments for this proposed boondoggle.I would recommend researching Patrick via the search venues at our internet fingertips.
    We will need Patrick’s extensive data in the next few weeks i believe.

  3. Vermont has had the highest minimum wage or one of the highest in the country and the world. So why are people broke? Because VT takes the raise from them every time they give it.

    The state is currently “not raising taxes” through local option taxes in every economic hub in the state. Conveniently they get to take a hefty percentage. But they didn’t raise state taxes! Yet we’ll be sending in $300k to the state if we pass our lot tax. We don’t even have a plan to spend this “free” money yet. How about we fund the teachers retirement? We’re broke for God’s sake.

    Hurts the common man, yeah it’s only $30 they say, then a soda tax, then raise fees for registration, inspecting car, make thing more difficult for inspections, promote lottery which is just a tax on the poor, yup….

    We could have affordable homes, that would be relief, you won’t be able to buy anything with you’re new minimum wage, just like you haven’t for the past 20 years…..they’ll take it out of your back pocket when you aren’t looking.

    • “Vermont has had the highest minimum wage or one of the highest in the country and the world. So why are people broke? Because VT takes the raise from them every time they give it.”

      Yet NH across the river that follows federal guidelines has the highest median income in NE bar CT yet at the same time has better (less) income inequality then VT with it’s high Min wage and highly progressive income tax…’

      • You’re making sense, isn’t it amazing how people don’t connect the dots? It’s all part of a well oiled con job. I always wondered watching the westerns, how did people fall for the snake oil salesman? Times may have changed but people are still people.

        • Folks are connecting the dots… and like me they realize that there in no stopping this machine in VT. You may have small wind here and there (election of Scott) but you’re not going to win the war. You either sink with the ship or get the heck out of dodge. My wife and three children all born in VT never to return to live. Heck I lived there for nearly 25 years.

          Sorry to say it but it’s a fact. Vermont needs to fall hard to get back on a better foundation. I just wasn’t willing to take my family along for the ride.

    • Neil, you are right on. Also, VT’s job growth is negative…minus 0.9% while job growth nationally is significant. Part of this is that the labor supply is shrinking, but the other is that uber-regulation (Act 250, high electric rates) and high taxes (electric subsidies and social programs) are draining the lifeblood from the economy. Where we are today is the result of 30 years of the liberal bent of the voters. Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing. The same people who voted for this legislature also wring their hands over the fact that their children cannot make a living here, but fail to connect the dots. Lou, this is a well done article, BTW.

  4. Vermont democrats’ idea of affordability means fleecing the working people of the state and redistributing to their favorite constituencies. Other than that, they would not know affordability if it fell out of the sky and landed on them.

  5. It’s amusing that Chris Bray thinks that “government funded” Lake Champlain cleanup will be a major boost to the state’s economy. What a Godsend! Puerto Rico’s economy should be roaring after Hurricane Maria! And It’s amazing that he thinks Vermonters are paying a carbon tax now through RGGI. Vermont has almost zero fossil fuel electricity generation – one occasional GMP backup gas plant in Colchester – so we pay almost nothing, and pocket $3 million a year from other states dependent on coal and gas.

  6. Democrat and Republican ” legislators” say 2019 session will focus on the economy, affordability,
    environment…….. Give me a break !!

    The Liberal DemocRATs will jam through all their frivolous bills knowing that the Governor has no
    veto power…….

    As soon as a see my TAX bill is reduced, State Debt Reduced and Controlled Government spending
    is in place………. it’s only rhetoric !!!

  7. WOW, Collamore blames President Trump then blows a kiss to Sen. Elect Hooker, D-P…
    P is for Progs, BIG govt, tax and spend, more govt regulations, free everything. Truly weak Brian. The reasons we are in this situation.

  8. Act 46 school mergers, forced – not selected by parents or citizens or tax-payers.

    No One I have asked has been able to identify a single job, or person, who is/was eliminated to save money by forced schools merger. I asked at a town school meeting who/what job could be eliminated to save money in merger – their faces turned ashen, and they could literally not utter a single word.

    Just that the new Super-Superintendent needs all the other staffs to support his dynasty. Bigger Bureaucracy !! Further, Control is taken far further from parents and tax-payers!! and from teachers?.

  9. Until someone reals in the VTNEA any talk of affordability in VT is nothing more then window dressing. Like it or not the VTNEA runs Vermont, and they have no interest in making it affordable.

    Think about it, they have done nothing but reduce the work load of their members. Student population has dropped 20% is 15 or so years. While the budget has exploded. More money reduced work load. Win win for everyone but the the taxpayers. The VTNEA rules the roost in VT.

  10. Until someone reals in the VTNEA any talk of affordability in VT is nothing more then window dressing. Like it or not the VTNEA runs Vermont, and they have no interest in making it affordable.

    Think about it, they have done nothing but reduce the work load of their members. Student population has dropped 20% is 15 or so years. While the budget has exploded. More money reduced work load. Win win for everyone but the the taxpayers. The VTNEA rules the roost in VT.

    • You’re absolutely right, the big public education monopoly owns Vermonts left. I guess the dems like the promised votes and campaign cash.

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