On September 29, 2021

“Office hours”

By Jim Harrison

Fall is a good time to start planning for the upcoming session (begins in January) with the sharing of ideas and concerns. I hope you will stop by during one of my upcoming “office hours” (sometimes referred to as “dump and donuts”), especially while we can still enjoy being outside.

Friday, Oct. 1 4-6 p.m., Chittenden Transfer Station
Saturday, Oct. 2 8:30-10:30 a.m. – Bridgewater Transfer Station
Saturday, Oct. 2 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Killington Transfer Station
Wednesday, Oct. 6 9-10:30 a.m. – Mendon Town Office

On the defensive

Most Vermonters give Governor Scott and his team, including Health Commissioner Mark Levine and Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, high marks for the state’s handling of Covid in the past year. No doubt it was reflected in the 40-point margin re-election victory for Scott as Vermont consistently ranked among the lowest in case count, deaths and now in percentage of vaccinated.

However, with recent Covid positives going up significantly because of the Delta variant some, including Democratic leaders (Senate pro tem Becca Balint, Speaker Jill Krowinski and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray), are questioning whether the governor is doing enough. The Scott administration has taken steps to recommend that all schools require masking (which all but one district has adopted) and require vaccines or weekly testing of state employees. To do more would require a return to declaring a state of emergency, which in governor’s mind is not warranted and a possible abuse of power.

The governor has hinted that some of the criticism was politics, which may or may not be true. After all, the Legislature could return itself in October to pass new mandates, such as universal masking or vaccine mandates, but thus far have chosen not to.

Nonetheless, Scott appeared to be defensive in his press conference last week when he took pains to explain why a new state of emergency was not necessary at this time. Case counts are disappointedly high, but the real measure is the state’s hospital capacity, which currently appears to be adequate. State officials have also reiterated the much more contagious Delta variant is causing the uptick in hospitalizations because we still have many unvaccinated residents over 12, and it is within the power of those to get inoculated now.

It’s ok to question decisions by our leaders, including the governor. No one among us has all the answers. However, given Vermont’s overall experience during the pandemic, I suspect most of us still prefer Scott’s steady hand on the wheel.

Other highlights

  • August revenues continued a positive trend for the fiscal year that began July 1, especially with personal income tax receipts. The state’s general fund, transportation fund, and education fund receipts were a combined $13.25 million, or 6.97% above monthly expectations from the July 30, 2021, updated revenue forecast.
  • The governor extended the emergency housing for certain vulnerable individuals (hotel vouchers) for another 30 days following public urging by Vermont Legal Aid and others, while efforts for more permanent solutions are found.
  • The pension task force, charged with addressing the growing unfunded pension liability for state employees and educators, continues to meet in hopes for coming up with a plan. Pension contributions from the state have been growing each year and accounted for 13% of this year’s general fund budget.
  • The Legislature’s rules committee has adopted a mask requirement in the State House for legislators, employees, and visitors until further notice.
  • Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer released a report critical of the state’s Covid-19 Emergency Economic Recovery Grant Program, claiming some businesses received grants last year more than their losses. The $117 million program designed to assist businesses survive the pandemic, was funded by federal stimulus dollars.
  • The Wheels for Warmth program will be returning on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Casella Construction, Route 4, Mendon. Used tires will be offered at discounted prices with proceeds benefitting heating assistance programs through the Bennington-Rutland Opportunity Council (BROC). Drop off for used tires will be Thursday, Oct. 28 and Friday, Oct. 29 at Casella. More details to come.

In closing, I wish to add my congratulations to Doug Casella of Casella Construction on the new marble monument erected in his honor for the tireless efforts to rebuild a major section of Route 4 in Mendon destroyed by Irene 10 years ago.

Jim Harrison is a state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at: JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.

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