Also – paid family leave, broadband shortcomings discussed
By Guy Page
If you’re a State House leader looking for more committee room space, don’t expect Gov. Phil Scott to surrender his ceremonial office.
With its sunny, airy space, historic paintings, racy light fixtures, and chair built from the timbers salvaged from the renovation of the U.S.S. Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), the second-story corner office is one of the crown jewels of the beautiful, historic People’s House. Governors use it for coffee gatherings, bill-signings, press conferences, and any other occasion calling for a large, impressive venue. It’s always been the governor’s office, and Gov. Scott plans to keep it that way, he said at his press conference Tuesday, January 24.
The exchange begins at 19:12 on this video on the Governor’s Facebook page. To be clear, no-one in the Legislature has been lobbying to take over the office – the question was solely my idea.
“Governor, several of us in this room have been asked to leave committee rooms because there’s not enough room in those committee rooms,” Vermont Daily Chronicle asked. “Pretty nice digs you have here. Any chance of this room to be used, repurposed, for committee meetings?”
The governor’s answer was swift and unequivocal.
“No,” with a shake of his head.
“Why not?” VDC rejoined.
“This is my State House office. This is the governor’s office, and will remain so. We are part of this institution as well, and we need a place to land. We’re part of the process. There’s plenty of space.”
The governor then interrupted another reporter’s question to continue:
“There’s plenty of space by the way. 133 State has all kinds of room, 109 [State] has all kinds of room, it’s been identified and saved and empty for the last couple of years. There’s plenty of space available, if they want to stretch out. It’s been reserved, and they’re paying for it.”
Paid family leave bill explained – In the House General and Housing Committee Thursday afternoon January 25, Rep. Emily Kornheiser ( D-Brattleboro) described how her Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave bill would provide up to 60% of earnings for all working Vermonters, employees and employees alike.
People earning $20,000 or less would be exempt from paying into the program, but would still receive its benefits. Earners whom Kornheiser called more “privileged” would fund the program with an employee and employer tax. Kornheiser, who waits tables on Saturday nights, said she recently saw a fellow worker undergo a miscarriage while on the job. This horrific experience demonstrated to her that Vermonters need to be free to take time off for medical and family needs, she said.
She likened the bill, H66, to a road map for Vermont’s social infrastructure.
Committee chair Tom Stevens reminded committee members, many new to the Legislature, that House General is a policy committee, not a finance committee. If the bill clears House General, it will go to House Ways and Means, whose job it will be to find the revenue.
Senate Republican leaders said in December universal paid family and medical leave would require $29 million in new taxes. Gov. Phil Scott’s voluntary paid family and medical leave program would cost far less.
Kornheiser said universal PF & ML would help solve another major economic problem Vermont faces: attracting and keeping new workers.
Broadband plan too costly, lacks transparency, competition, critic says – A longtime critic of Vermont’s $100 million broadband initiative spoke Tuesday afternoon in the House Energy and Environment Committee about the lack of financial and informational transparency and design problems in the state’s effort to bring high-speed internet to every community.
The Vermont Community Broadband Board last year received $100 million in pandemic recovery funding to implement a statewide plan, working through regional Communications Union Districts.
Stephen Whitaker of Montpelier outlined several problems he sees with the current plan:
Healthy competition is lacking: “Vermont statute….lays out our telecom planning process. The Vermont Community Broadband Board is operating in gross violation of both of those. Specifically in 202c, competitive choice for consumers. Consumers [should] have a choice of who to go to for broadband service or telephone service. This Board is granting monopolies.
“Secondly, open access for competitors. These networks are not being designed to support Open Access, meaning multiple providers. There was one opportunity in Franklin County for Google Fiber to come in and design and operate a network that other competitors, Comcast, Consolidated could get onto and delivery service. That’s consistent with our goals. That’s not what the Broadband Board is doing.”
Redundant, costly design: “The most cost-effective design would be to use the existing power utilities as the pole owning utilities. You wouldn’t have spent tens of millions of dollars on pole inventories. They already know where their poles are. Then their crews would be trained in — union scale, to repair the fiber. When we have a big storm come through, this fiber is blown down and there’s not going to be anybody here to fix it because we didn’t engage our pole owning utilities in building and owning the fiber. Instead of stringing wires from existing utility poles, it wants its own poles. Apart from supply and construction cost concerns, a separate poll system will require upkeep and repairs. When a big storm come through, this fiber is blown down and there’s not going to be anybody here to fix it because we didn’t engage our pole owning utilities in building and owning the fiber.”
There’s plenty more on the video. He concluded with a suggestion to committee members to “catch me offline and learn to ask tough questions.”
“Okay, thank you,” Chair Amy Sheldon said. “Members have questions?” No-one did.
Categories: State Government