Neal P. Goswami

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Senate advances budget and tax bills unanimously

MONTPELIER — The Senate advanced its version of the 2018 fiscal year state budget and a corresponding tax bill Wednesday on unanimous votes. The Senate’s spending plan, passed on a 30 to 0 vote, includes a $1.56 billion General Fund, which is 1.7 percent higher than the current 2017 fiscal year budget. It is slightly lower than the House-passed version, however, which grew 1.8 percent over the current year. Overall, the Senate’s total state budget including all state and federal funds totals $5.83 billion — slight more than the House’s $5.815 billion in total spending. The Senate version spends more than $13 million in ways that differ from the House proposal, which cleared the House on a 143 to 1 vote. Continue Reading →

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Scott seeks teacher health care overhaul as Dems, union balk

MONTPELIER — With the legislative session winding down, Gov. Phil Scott is pushing a proposal for a major overhaul of the way Vermont teachers negotiate their health care benefits, leaving Democrats puzzled as to why he did not present a detailed proposal sooner. Scott held a State House news conference Tuesday, surrounded by superintendents and school board members, to tout his proposal to have teachers across the state negotiate their health care benefits with his administration, rather than with local school boards. He said the state is in a unique position this year to save Vermont’s property taxpayers $26 million. That’s because the health care plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative are changing as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. As a result, all local school boards across the state are negotiating new health care benefits with teachers. Continue Reading →

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Senate rejects raising the legal age for tobacco products

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate rejected legislation Tuesday that would have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The legislation, S.88, was sidelined by its supporters several weeks ago when it became apparent that it lacked the votes to pass the chamber. But Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairwoman Claire Ayer, D-Addison, brought the bill back to the floor Tuesday where it was defeated on a 13 to 16 vote. Ayer said before the vote that she thought it was “possible” it would pass, but interest groups seeking to raise the legal age to purchase and possess tobacco products to 21 said it still lacked the votes. Ayer, and Sen. Debbie Ingram, D-Chittenden, a strong proponent of the bill, said they were willing to risk its defeat. Continue Reading →

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Finance commissioner to depart at end of fiscal year

MONTPELIER — Vermont Department of Finance and Management Commissioner Andrew Pallito is planning to leave his post at the end of the current fiscal year for a position with the Green Mountain Care Board. Rebecca Kelley, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Phil Scott, confirmed Monday that Pallito is planning to work for the administration through the end of June before departing. “He is leaving but he is committed to seeing the budget process through. He will continue to work with us on that and will be with us through the end of the fiscal year,” Kelley said. “There should be no change in how we’re moving forward on the budget process.”

Pallito did not return phone and email messages Monday, but Susan Barrett, the board’s executive director, said Pallito has accepted a position to become the director of health system finances for the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health care regulatory body. Continue Reading →

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Senate passes marijuana legalization bill with tax-and-regulate language

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Senate, frustrated by inaction in the House and hoping to apply pressure on the chamber down the hall, advanced a seed-to-sale marijuana legalization bill Friday by a veto-proof margin. The action in the Senate Friday was no surprise — members of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday a plan to amend a House bill to include language creating a tax-and-regulate legal marijuana market in Vermont. After clearing procedural hurdles, the effort prevailed on a 21 to 9 vote — large enough to override a potential veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, was the lead sponsor of the amendment that mimics legislation passed last year by the Senate, but failed spectacularly in the House. Members of the Senate were expecting the House to pass its own version of marijuana legalization this year, but that effort stalled when the bill made it to the House only to be jettisoned by Democratic leaders in the House back to committee because it lacked the votes to pass. Continue Reading →

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Scaled-back paid leave plan clears tax committee

MONTPELIER — The House Ways and Means Committee passed a paid parental and family leave bill Thursday that would provide six weeks of paid time off to Vermonters, but the bill still faces long odds. The committee’s version of the paid leave legislation was drastically scaled back from what the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee passed earlier this year. That committee’s version, which was sought by interest groups, included 12 weeks of 100 percent paid time off and a 0.93 percent payroll tax, which raise about $80 million to pay for the benefits. The Ways and Means Committee version passed Thursday — on a 7 to 4 vote — offers six weeks of paid time off and includes a 0.141 percent payroll tax on the first $150,000 of wages. It will cost about $17 million per year. Continue Reading →

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Senators look to advance discussion on legal pot

MONTPELIER — Frustrated by a lack of action in the House, the Senate will consider two amendments in the coming days that would put the state on a path toward legalizing marijuana. The Senate Judiciary Committee laid out its plans Tuesday to offer various amendments. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said there is “general frustration” in the Senate that the House has been unable or unwilling to act on its own bill this year, which prompted a review among some senators on how to move the conversation forward. “We had fully counted on the House passing H.170 this year. When they got to the floor I think there was a big deflation for us in the Senate. Continue Reading →

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Listen: Capital Beat Podcast 4.19.17

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Stewart Ledbetter, an anchor and the senior reporter at WPTZ, joins Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and Vermont Public Radio political reporter Peter Hirschfeld on the podcast. Topics include the Scott administration’s concern about an appointment to the Green Mountain Care Board by the previous governor, Gov. Phil Scott’s first 100 days in office and the latest wrinkle in the effort to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Vermont Lottery Commission. Subscribe on iTunes for the latest episodes of the Capital Beat Podcast. Continue Reading →

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Liquor-Lottery merger shelved

MONTPELIER — The House sidelined a bill Tuesday that would have created a working group to study a merger of the Department of Liquor Control and the state’s Lottery Commission. The Democrat-led House was set to debate and vote on legislation Tuesday to create a group to study the merger sought by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. The governor signed an executive order in January to merge the two entities, but the House passed a resolution last week that nullified it. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the House is also interested in a merger, but wants more details on what it would look like. The legislation up for debate Tuesday, H. 525, was a compromise, she said, that would have continued the conversation with potential action by the Legislature next year. Continue Reading →

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Scott: Nomination flawed but acceptable if confirmed

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday he will accept an appointee to the Green Mountain Care Board made by the previous governor if the Senate votes to confirm her, even as his administration continues to voice concerns about whether she should be confirmed. Robin Lunge was appointed to a six- year term on the Green Mountain Care Board, the state’s health care regulatory body, by former Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin in mid- November before he left office in early January. She began serving in an interim capacity as a board member on Nov. 28 because the Senate was not in session and could not immediately act to confirm the nomination. But as Vermont Public Radio reported Monday, the paperwork that i s typically filed when such an appointment is made could not be located when the Senate Health and Welfare Committee recently tried to act to confirm Lunge’s appointment. Continue Reading →

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