Something to write home about, Jan. 29, 2021

Dear Editor,

Happy Ground Hog Day. Ground Hog Day is no big deal in Vermont because we already know we face another six weeks of winter. But it is the halfway mark between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. Belatedly, I hope you all had a great Ground Hog Day and a woodshed at least half full.


Last week I wrote about S.17, a bill to require the study of civics for a high school diploma. I’ve tried and failed to pass this bill in the past. But this time the reaction, in the Senate, and in the public, has been very positive. Across party and ideological lines, people agree that all citizens of a democratic republic need to know the rules for dealing with our disagreements, and that the U.S. Constitution is the rule book. I’m encouraged and hopeful.

  Capital budget

Vermont senators serve on a morning committee and an afternoon committee – in my case Senate SNatural Resources and Energy (SNR&E), and Institutions. Institutions is the committee of jurisdiction over the Capital Budget, appropriating bonded money for the state’s long-term capital investments, building construction and repairs. Projects are expected to outlast the bonds that finance them, approximately 20 years.

Our bond rating was downgraded a few years ago, but we still have the best bond rating of the New England states. The rating agencies worry about our aging demographics and our debt relative to population and the state’s wealth. We’re not in trouble, but we need to be careful. It’s more satisfying to hold forth on the Constitution, but our bond rating is no small thing. Debt is expensive. Pensions are especially troubling.

Like all appropriations of the taxpayers’ money, the Capital Construction bill originates in the People’s House, the House of Representatives. But the Senate must deal with the bill eventually, so we’re studying the governor’s recommended Capital Budget. Gov. Scott has recommended a two-year capital budget of $123,180,000. This is the work of the Institutions Committee. I’ll keep you posted.

  Senate Natural Resources and Energy

This committee has jurisdiction over forests and parks, the various aspects of clean air and water, fish and wildlife, and land use. The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over energy utilities, but SNR&W has jurisdiction over energy per se including energy efficiency and climate change.

This week our efforts have been centered on land use, specifically Act 250. Gov. Scott has issued an executive order to affect ambitious alterations of Act 250. He calls for the significant downgrading of the District Environmental Commissions, moving land use review from local communities to the state level, and making the process less accessible, more esoteric, and more expensive. I’m highly skeptical. But Gov. Scott and I have a long history of working well together – I was his first Senate Committee Chair. I’m willing to hear him out.

That said, the governor’s revisions are ambitious, too ambitious to be implemented through an executive order. They require the legislative process; expert testimony, public testimony, research and analysis, debate, and negotiation. We voted this week to pass a resolution to reject the governor’s executive order. It goes to the Senate for a Senate vote.


Sen. Dick McCormack

Windsor County

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