Shumlin praises legislators, weighs in on natural gas

MIDDLEBURY — Gov. Peter Shumlin said on Monday he could not have imagined a more successful inaugural legislative session as the state’s new chief executive officer.
“It was truly extraordinary,” Shumlin said of the 2011 Legislature’s accomplishments, which included passing health care reform; balancing a fiscal year 2012 budget that was saddled with a $176 million revenue shortfall and no federal stimulus funds; and advancing the administration’s goal of extending wireless broadband access to all parts of the state by 2013.
“I sent out a really ambitious agenda in January and I never thought we’d get all of it through,” Shumlin said. “But we did.”
The governor discussed his impressions of the recently concluded session during an interview with the Addison Independent. He touched upon:
•  H.202, a bill that puts Vermont on a path to a single-payer health care system. Shumlin vowed to sign the measure into law.
“I think that we passed the perfect bill,” Shumlin said.
It is a law that Shumlin said will allow Vermont to connect to a federal health care exchange that will allow the state to invest in new technology to streamline billing and access to medical records. The bill also gives Shumlin permission to appoint a Green Mountain Care Board that he said will “do the tough thinking and come back with an implementation plan that will work to contain costs and deliver quality health care.”
•  Recidivism legislation. The legislature passed a bill that seeks to reduce the number of repeat offenders within the state’s corrections system by emphasizing treatment, job training and more opportunities for house arrest and ankle bracelets for non-violent offenses.
“It will help us make happen some of the things we were talking about in the campaign, where we are investing in services on the ground so that we are not watching our budget for nonviolent offenders grow,” Shumlin said.
•  Enhanced marketing of Vermont agricultural products, as well as for the federal EB-5 program. That EB-5 program makes available Green Cards to foreign nationals who commit to investing in American industries and jobs. Vermont has used this program to great success, and Shumlin wants to do more to promote EB-5 investment opportunities in the state.
•  Government transparency. Bill S.67 requires, among other things, that judges grant attorney fees to those who are wrongly denied access to public records.
“I think we just passed the most open government transparency bill in the country,” Shumlin said.
•  The 38-cent hike in the cigarette tax. Some legislators in the Senate had recommended bumping the cigarette tax up by $1 to not only raise more revenue but serve as a deterrent to smoking. But Shumlin argued that raising the cigarette tax by $1 would have cost Vermont $5 million in revenues derived from shoppers from New York, a state where smokes cost $2 more per pack.
“It’s bad public policy but good fiscal policy,” he said of the 38-cent cigarette tax increase.
•  The proposed extension of natural gas pipeline into Addison County (see related story, Page 2A). He supports Vermont Gas’s proposal to help finance the $60 million to $70 million project through the current rate structure. Instead of passing on future reductions in the wholesale price of natural gas to existing customers, the company is asking the Vermont Public Service Board for permission to set aside that money into a “system expansion and reliability fund.”
“Historically, we are now in the ninth rate decrease for natural gas,” Shumlin said. “Natural gas is now roughly half the cost of oil. My feeling is that it is entirely fair to pool that money from folks who have already had eight decreases and — if the project goes ahead — use it to expand the markets.”
Shumlin cited a few disappointments related to the 2011, among them the Legislature’s decision not to act on the so called “Death with Dignity” bill that would give terminally ill patients the ability — under controlled circumstances — to end their own lives.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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