Legislature adjourns, leaves permit reform for summer

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(Host) After five months in Montpelier, the 2003 Legislature adjourned last night. Lawmakers were unable to reach a compromise on permit reform, but Governor Jim Douglas is urging them to continue to work on this issue over the summer. If the House and Senate can agree on a plan, Douglas says he’ll call a special session to consider the issue.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Sound of Freed adjourning session, gavel bangs.)

(Kinzel) With a swing of his gavel, House Speaker Walter Freed (R-Dorset) marked the end of the session. Legislative leaders pointed to a bipartisan plan to reform Act 60 as one of the top accomplishments of the session. The proposal creates a two-tiered property tax system – one rate for residents and another rate for businesses. The sales tax will be increased by 1% on October 1 to help reduce some of the burden on the property tax.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dick Marron (R-Stowe) said the plan would help reduce the divisiveness over Act 60:

(Marron) “What we have done this year is that we have continued to comply with the Constitution of Vermont as interpreted in the Brigham decision. This bill will reduce the reliance on the property tax for education funding and it will create an education law that will eliminate the need or incentive for towns to engage in private fundraising to avoid education tax obligations.”

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders also pointed to a number of other accomplishments, including:
– a farm relief measure
– a jobs bill that increases the lending capabilities of the Vermont Economic Development Authority
– a proposal to increase the minimum wage
legislation to reform the process to review hospital expansion projects
– additional funds for substance abuse programs.

Finding a compromise on permit reform dominated the final day of the session. The House and Senate could not agree on a plan to consolidate the appeals process and the likelihood of developing a compromise during the summer is very uncertain.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch (D-Windsor) was very disappointed that the House rejected the Senate’s final offer:

(Welch) “Look I’m extremely disappointed. We had that within our grasp, we could have passed it, we should have passed it, and we didn’t. What we’re going to do over the summer, I don’t know. Frankly I think it was just a way for the governor to say goodbye. It wasn’t anything he discussed with us, so I don’t know what he has in mind.”

(Kinzel) But House Natural Resources Chairman Bill Johnson (R-Canaan) said the Senate came up with their plan much too late in the session for it to be considered seriously:

(Johnson) “They didn’t do their work they shut down their committee natural Resources several weeks ago with the announcement that they were not going to do permit reform only to a few days later open the committee back up and start doing work on permit reform.”

(Kinzel) As the sun was setting over the Statehouse, lawmakers said their goodbyes, crammed their belongings into cardboard boxes and headed home.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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