In the statewide political battle surrounding a tax hike on gasoline, the Republicans picked the easier side in the debate â€” affordability â€” while the House Democrats have to defend a more complex position: that the tax is a better mechanism to raise needed revenue for a host of reasons, none of which can be boiled down into a politically palatable sound bite.
But take a moment to inspect the issue. The first question is: Is the additional revenue the proposed gas tax would raise really needed?
The Vermont House approved a bill that would raise gasoline taxes by 4 cents per gallon (to 24 cents) and by 6 cents per gallon on diesel fuel (to 32 cents per gallon). The increased taxes would generate $26 million that would be used to leverage more than $100 million in federal highway funds â€” a bump in transportation funding approved by the U.S. Congress and Bush in this era of burgeoning deficits. (If you donâ€™t raise the needed state match, you lose out on the federal dole.)
The story of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLayâ€™s fall from power to disgraced politician who had to pull out of his own House race for fear of embarrassment is a simple story of greed and power. Whatâ€™s amazing is that DeLay was able to hide his lust and his scheming, underhanded immoral ways under the guise of promoting â€œmoral values.â€? Christians conservatives, in particular, who bought into DeLayâ€™s temple of misbegotten rhetoric need to carefully review how they were misled, lied to and taken advantage of, if they are to avoid future deceptions by politicians who have no qualms about lying to their constituents.
Gov. James Douglas created a stir late last week by suggesting he would veto the state budget if the Legislature does not include his college scholarship proposal. The governor says the 15 year, $175 million program is â€œvital to the stateâ€™s economic future.â€? Whereâ€™s the proof to back up such a claim? There isnâ€™t any.
Rather, the governor has a hunch that his program might keep a few Vermont high school graduates from moving out of state to attend college and, perhaps, they would then settle down and raise a family in Vermont. The program would pay up to 1,000 students a maximum of $5,000 a year to attend college in Vermont. What the state gets for its money is a three-year obligation from the student to work in the state after they graduate.
The public should note with alarm a recent tactic by the Bush administration to distort the conclusion by American intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons of mass destruction and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the March 2003 invasion.
The method chosen by the Bush team, and conservative Republican colleagues in Congress, was to push for putting 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents on the Web so anyone and everyone can play â€œintelligence analystâ€? and second-guess American intelligence officials.
Weâ€™re certainly supportive of this administration putting pertinent government information on the Web for all to review. Critics of the administrationâ€™s energy policy would love to see the volumes of information that came out of the closed-door meetings with oil executives and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Weâ€™d also like to see the complete file on the Valerie Plume case, not to mention more complete documentation of corporate corruption that has plagued private contractors in Iraq as well as during the Hurricane Katrina clean-up; and hundreds of other instances. Weâ€™re all for such openness.
When the stateâ€™s congressional delegation, joined by Gov. James Douglas, files a protest to a private company for dismissing a long-time employee, the average reader should be interested. We canâ€™t recall another time in Vermontâ€™s history that itâ€™s happened, which makes the outrage and disappointment expressed by Gov. Douglas and Sens. Patrick Leahy, James Jeffords, and Rep. Bernie Sanders, all the more poignant.
The protest is over the sudden dismissal of Chris Graff. A familiar face on Vermont Public Televisionâ€™s â€œVermont This Week,â€? Graff not only worked as the Associated Pressâ€™ bureau chief for the past 27 years, but he has been one of the stateâ€™s most prominent and well-respected journalists â€” as the managing editor of a staff of fine reporters, as a keen observer of state politics and history, and as a moderator of numerous political debates and public forums. He has become, as one editor recently wrote, an institution in Vermont.
The war and town meeting
In 57 towns across the state residents discussed a resolution during town meeting concerning the use of National Guard troops in the Iraqi war, their role within the state, Â and a request for the president and Congress to take steps "to withdraw American troops from Iraq, consistently with the mandate of international humanitarian law."
In 48 towns, the resolution (in one form or another) passed. In three towns it was defeated, and in four it was effectively tabled. In Craftsbury, the resolution ended in a tie. In Addison County the measure was approved in Middlebury, Monkton, New Haven, Salisbury and Weybridge, while it was tabled or passed over in Bristol, Lincoln and Starksboro.
The news that Bennington residents rejected a town-initiated size cap on big-box retail stores reinforces the notion that the proposed state regulation on this issue should incorporate provisions to allow an appropriate measure of local control. Benningtonâ€™s vote does not, however, cast any doubt on the wisdom of a statewide initiative.
For readers not abreast of the news in Bennington, residents there rejected a proposed bylaw to cap any single big-box retail store at 75,000 square feet.Â That measure was defeated 2,189 to 1,724, with a respectable turnoutÂ of 40 percent for a single-issue vote. The measure became a referendum on Wal-Mart, which had stated its intention to expand its existing store there from 50,000 square feet to 112,000 square feet. In a well-financed advertising campaign, Wal-Mart developer Jonathan Levy, of Ohio-based Redstone Investments, outspent proponents for the selectboardâ€™s bylaw by a 3-1 margin.
A petition proposing interim zoning measures to cap big-box stores at 50,000-square-feet in Middlebury has one primary purpose: to maintain the intent of the current town plan and zoning statutes. Doing nothing leaves the town open to costly lawsuits by applicants who could easily fight the nebulous wording in the town's current Â plan.
Â Â Â
In Middlebury, the issue centers on the clear intent within the town plan to limit any large-scale development that would cause "undue adverse economic impact on the downtown." The town fathers' intent, clearly, was to put into place measures that would maintain the vibrancy and vitality of the downtown retail district, and promote the growth of locally-owned, independent businesses throughout the community. Â