After briefings, Scott more comfortable with vetting of refugees

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

MONTPELIER — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says he has become more comfortable with the vetting of Syrian refugees after learning more from state and federal officials about the process. Listen: Vermont Press Bureau Report for VPR News

Scott, who is a candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, called for a pause in allowing Syrian refugees to be relocated in Vermont following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Former Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman, Scott’s primary opponent in the gubernatorial race, has called for a similar halt to the program. The attacks have sparked a debate across the country, and in Vermont, about whether Syrian refugees pose a national security risk. Continue Reading →

Story + Video: Shumlin meets with refugees

Gov. Peter Shumlin visited a classroom of refugees ranging in age from 18 to 60, participating in a class teaching basic English at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue Tuesday morning. (Times Argus/Jennifer Langille)

BURLINGTON — Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday visited with refugees from around the world that have settled in Vermont to welcome them to the state as a debate rages around the country regarding the acceptance of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn nation. The governor spoke to about a dozen refugees living in Vermont as they attended an English language class at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington. They have arrived in Vermont from several nations, including Bhutan, Somalia, Myanmar and the Congo — some within the past few months and some years ago. Shumlin, one of the few governors who has spoken in favor of welcoming Syrian refugees since concerns were raised following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris, told the new residents he wanted to “come and thank you on behalf of Vermonters for being Vermonters.”

“I can’t tell you how excited we are that you have joined the best state in the country. Continue Reading →

Concern raised with off session legislative work

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

MONTPELIER — Vermont has always had a part-time Legislature comprised of ordinary, civic-minded Vermonters, but one representative says that characteristic is threatened by the growing level of engagement outside of the regular legislative sessions. Stowe Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, took to social media Friday to lament the extensive work performed by some legislative committees since the official session ended in mid-May. “Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th adjournment? Report, after report, after report has legislative committees meeting and conducting legislative work just about full-time,” Scheuermann wrote. “While there have always been some summer study committees during the off session, I have never seen the amount of legislative work being conducted as I am seeing this year.”

Is anybody else as frustrated as I with the amount of legislative activity that has happened since our May 16th… Continue Reading →

State revenue growth to continue, but remains volatile

Justin Johnson

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin Administration says revenue forecasts will likely remain unchanged going into the next year, while acknowledging revenue streams have grown more volatile. Administration Secretary Justin Johnson hosted an Internet forum Monday afternoon to inform the public on the pressures lawmakers will face as they craft the 2017 budget, and took testimony from the public on the effects budget cuts might have to social services. In a good news-bad news sort of statement, Johnson discussed the trend of revenues coming into state coffers. “Revenue is growing. It has been growing consistently, year over year, since the global financial crisis in 2008,” Johnson said. Continue Reading →

Trailing Bernie: Sanders casts himself as FDR 2.0


en. Bernie Sanders’ campaign is on the air in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire with two fresh television ads that continue to focus on his core economic message. The 74-year-old democratic socialist is looking to reignite his insurgent campaign against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton by focusing on income inequality — even as many Americans have focused their attention on foreign policy following the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. One of the new ads, titled “Works For All of Us,” calls for wage increases and pay equity. Continue Reading →

Commentary: Our Enemy Is ISIS, Not Refugees Fleeing ISIS


ast Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to make it almost impossible for people from Syria and Iraq, fleeing the brutality of ISIS and Bashar al-Assad, to find refuge in the United States. It is worth reflecting on what this means for our country. Just a few weeks ago the world came together, stunned and heartbroken over the image of a three-year-old Syrian child’s lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach. His tragic death focused our attention on the desperate plight of so many Syrians who have fled the horror of ISIS and Assad’s army. We called it the humanitarian issue of our day. Continue Reading →

Treasurer: Pension funds need financing changes


MONTPELIER — Vermont’s three pension funds were battered by the Great Recession and are currently funded below levels recommended by actuaries, but the state has made some adjustments to improve their positions and state Treasurer Beth Pearce says she will seek long-term changes to the way they are financed to further ensure stability. Vermont, like many other states, has struggled to fund the retirement benefits promised to teachers and state and municipal employees. The cost of health care benefits for retirees has grown faster than revenue growth, and the pension funds the state manages saw market losses during the Great Recession. The three pension funds managed by the state — for teachers, state workers and municipal workers — provide retirement benefits, including health care, to tens of thousands of Vermonters. There are more than 8,000 active state employees, and nearly 10,000 active teachers and more than 6,600 active municipal employees. Continue Reading →

Watch: Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami joins the panel on Vermont PBS’ Vermont This Week. HEADLINES:
Syrian Resettlement Opens Vermont Divide
Smith Ends Campaign for GovernorSanders Defines Democratic Socialism
Marijuana Legalization Bill Taking Shape
Lawmakers Consider Revising Act 46
Swanton Voters Reject Turbines
Stewart Ledbetter, Moderator
Paul Heintz, Seven Days
Neal Goswami, Vermont Press Bureau
Robin Smith, Caledonian Record Continue Reading →

Syrian refugee issue draws protesters, supporters

Crystal Zevon, of Barnet

MONTPELIER – Security or compassion? Those two positions drew approximately 50 people to the State House on Friday in demonstrations in opposition to and in support of Vermont accepting refugees from Syria. The demonstrations — overwhelmingly in favor of allowing Syrian refugees in Vermont — follow a statement earlier this week from Gov. Peter Shumlin, who said Vermont would welcome refugees from Syria, a position that finds him at odds with many other state governors who have said they did not want refugees from the war-torn failed state following recent attacks in Beirut and Paris that left nearly 200 people dead. In a  subsequent interview with The Vermont Press Bureau, Shumlin said rejecting the refugees would not reflect the values of the nation. “It is not the way that we as Americans and as Vermonters promote a free and just society that is the foundation for the greatest democracy in the world,” Shumlin said. Continue Reading →

Unemployment remains at 3.7 percent

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s seasonably-adjusted unemployment remained level in October at 3.7 percent, the Vermont Department of Labor announced Friday. October’s unemployment rate matched the revised number from September. The national average in October was 5 percent, according to the department. The October rate, the eighth-lowest in the country, makes the night consecutive month of unemployment below 4 percent. Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan noted a sharp drop in the labor force from September to October of more than 2,000 people. Continue Reading →