Gov. Scott: State complies as a ‘sanctuary site’

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott insisted on Thursday that Vermont is in compliance with federal laws and asserted the U.S. attorney general “had not done his homework” before including the state on a list of so-called sanctuary sites threatened with the loss of federal funds.
“We believe we’re on safe ground,” Scott said.
The governor said the state law that triggered a warning letter from the U.S. Justice Department had been legally reviewed and found not to be in conflict with federal rules.
The law, the first piece of legislation Scott signed, prohibits state and local police from participating in some federal immigration enforcement efforts without the governor’s approval. The legislation, S.79, was introduced shortly after President Donald Trump took office and tried to clamp down on immigration policies.
The Justice Department sent letters to 29 cities, counties and states late on Nov. 15 warning they might not be complying with a law required to receive federal law enforcement grants. The program brings Vermont about $700,000 a year.
Scott said he planned to reply to the letter.
At his weekly news conference, the governor also declared he was committed to the cleanup of Lake Champlain despite an administration-led group’s failure to provide draft legislation on a long-term funding source for phosphorus reduction programs. The state is under orders from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of phosphorus in the lake over the next 20 years.
The Legislature this year required the working group, led by Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore, to come up with a funding source by Nov. 15; instead the group recommended using largely capital budget funds to pay for the cleanup for the next several years.
The governor downplayed the missed deadline and said state revenue downgrades and income and corporate tax slowdowns made passing a new tax even more difficult. Scott ran on a pledge not to raise taxes and has consistently said he does not want to raise additional monies for the lake cleanup.
“We’re going to have to look and see what we can do with the existing funding and come up with a source” for funding in the future, Scott said. He would not give a timeline.
State Treasurer Beth Pearce, attending the news conference, was reluctant to criticize the working group report but said the Legislature needed to adopt a long-term funding source next year. Money from capital projects that aren’t ready to go has covered the first two years of the cleanup, but Pearce has been adamant that capital funds cannot be used exclusively to fund the estimated $25 million the state needs for the next two decades. She has said no more than half of the money should come from the capital budget.
“I’m looking forward,” said Pearce, adding, “I’m not going to comment on whether I’m disappointed or not. I concentrate on going forward and working together and finding a solution.”
The working group report pointed out problems collecting a fee on land, the revenue source that Pearce recommended last year and which the working group conceded was “the most viable and equitable long-term funding method.” The report noted problems with administering and collecting the fee.
Moore also said it didn’t make sense to develop a funding source until it was known how much money needed to be raised.
On Thursday, Scott called a per-parcel fee an additional property tax that he would oppose. He also cautioned against “spend(ing) money for the sake of spending money.”
“We want to be as efficient and effective as possible,” he said.

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