By Evan Johnson
As the state’s legislative session nears its conclusion, local elected reps gave updates at a legislative breakfast on some items that will have a lasting impact in Rutland County and the state.
Growing Rutland’s economy
The Howe Center is going to be the site of a new cookie factory operated by Westminster Cracker will open in the coming weeks and employ some 40 people.
Lyle Jepson, executive director of the Rutland Economic Development Corporation, said Lucy’s Gluten Free Cookies nearly decided to not bring the factory to the Rutland area, as it would be too expensive. The company finally was finally convinced to come to Rutland when Joe Giancola, who manages the property, arranged an attractive lease that the company couldn’t turn down.
With more trucks coming to the center, Giancola petitioned the legislators at the breakfast to consider a bill that would permit more signage in the Rutland area that would direct large trucks to the correct entrance.
Sen. Kevin Mullin said the legislature is weighing creating six additional sx tax increment financing districts, called TIF districts. With a TIF district, communities can bond infrastructure improvements that promote business developments in that area, then retain a percentage of the new property taxes to pay off the debt. There are nine active TIF districts in Vermont, none south of Route 4.
Teachers’ health care
As one of the last items in the session, lawmakers and the governor are locked in a standoff over teachers’ health care plans. The current Affordable Care Act requires renegotiations of all teacher health insurance plans by Jan.1, 2018, allowing the state to save money by dropping expensive insurance plans with high premiums. In Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal, the National Education Association would negotiate directly with the administration and not with individual school districts.
“This has been swirling around,” said Rep. Butch Shaw. “They’re trying to make butter but it hasn’t been working.”
The negotiations are currently stalling the passing of other bills for issues including economic development and housing.
“Nobody is going to get anywhere with a veto,” Shaw said. “It’s going to be a real mess.”
The Legislature will reconvene later this week to take up the remaining business.
Sen. Peg Flory had a mix of good and bad news regarding improvements on Vermont’s roads: while roadwork continues on many roads, the headaches of negotiating summer roadwork will be many. Work will continue on Route 7 in downtown Brandon this summer, which has been noted as having the highest rates of fender benders in the state. Flory said while the federal government works out a balanced budget, she said the state’s federal highway funding would remain stable.
In a surprise move last week, the Vermont Legislature voted to legalize marijuana, making Vermont the first state to legalize pot by legislative action and not a ballot item. Gov. Phil Scott has not indicated if he will veto the bill or allow it to pass into law without his signature. The Bill, S. 22, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and home growing of two mature and four immature plants. Should the bill pass into law, it would not take effect until July 2018.