A few highlights from the 2021 Legislative session

Dear Editor,

Senators serve on two standing committees. My morning committee is the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, and my afternoon committee is the Senate Committee on Institutions. Here are a few thoughts on the work of those committee’s work this year.

The Environment

The big environmental issue, indeed the overarching existential issue of our time, is climate change. The Legislative discussion of global warming has long since moved away from debating whether or not the science is real. For many of our fellow citizens though, including some legislators, “science denial” has been replaced by “denial lite.”

“Oh, I’m all for doing something about global warming, but you’ve got to be realistic and reasonable.” For too many folks, being “realistic and reasonable” means taking only easy steps that don’t challenge us to actually make real changes.

My colleague from Orange County, Sen. Mark MacDonald points out that “the Greatest Generation” took a mere 1,336 days to mobilize industry, raise two war forces, and defeat the formidable alliance of Germany and Japan. They did so by treating the war as an overarching imperative, requiring a national “all hands on deck” approach. The American people rose to the need. As far as we know, few people said, “I’m all for beating the Axis, but you have to be realistic and reasonable. Rationing sugar and gasoline? Victory gardens? No nylon stockings? No new models of cars? A military draft?”

We need to be willing to sacrifice to keep the planet livable. But, happily, much of what we need to do is painless, or even beneficial in ways other than environmental. Weatherization, for example, makes homes more comfortable and valuable, lowers fuel costs, and creates well-paid jobs. Fuel-efficient cars save their owners money. Air-drying laundry reduces greenhouse gasses, but also saves money and makes pillowcases smell wonderful.

The worst producer of atmospheric carbon dioxide is transportation, and this year the big carbon savings came from the Transportation bill. The Legislature extended the No Fare Public Transportation policy, and funded programs to help drivers trade gas for fuel-efficient cars including electric cars. We also continued the state’s policy of helping people purchase electric vehicles with grants of up to $4,000. Second to transportation, the big carbon villain is heating. We appropriated $50 million for weatherization in fiscal year 2022, which begins this July 1.

The Climate Council’s recommendations are due in December. Millions in federal funding for climate have yet to be allocated. So stay tuned.

Capital Construction

H. 438 appropriates over $127 million to the state’s capital spending in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The term “capital spending” refers to long-term infrastructural investment, buildings, etc. A family tries to pay bills with current income, but typically borrows for a long-term capital purchase such as a house. Similarly, the state bonds to fund capital investments that are expected to outlive the bond. The bill authorizes this bonding.

Of the total appropriation, the bill appropriates $44.1 million to state buildings, $13.6 million to corrections facilities, including planning for a women’s facility; $4.2 million for a long, varied list of grants, arts, historic preservation, regional economic development, fairs etc.; $3 million to UVM; $4.1 million to state colleges; $21.3 million for natural resources including state parks; and $22 million for clean water.

The bill also addresses the ongoing development of policy on women’s corrections, mental health facilities, and on the spacial, air quality, and security needs in the capital complex. It creates a moratorium on the “reefing,” deliberate sinking, of vessels in Lake Champlain.


‪Sen. Dick McCormack

Windsor County

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